BE’s of the Bible, Part 1

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In Scripture, the little word “be” when it is spoken by the Lord is always part of something He wants from us; it always precedes a command or is part of an admonition. When the Lord uses “be” it’s always an imperative – the one to whom He is speaking is left with a choice: either do what the Lord is saying and be blessed, or don’t and be prepared for trouble. That’s one good thing about the Lord that a lot of people who aren’t part of the Christian faith don’t get. Christians aren’t robots; we aren’t being forced to serve God; we aren’t coerced into living righteous lives. The very God who created us and saved us also gave us a free will and He expects us to use it, along with our reasoning minds and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. So God always gives us a choice: be what He wants us to be or not. It’s always a choice.

Let’s take a look a few examples of the choices God wants us to make as we examine the first “Be” of the Bible.

Be Holy, 1 Peter 1:15, 16

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (NIV)

That’s pretty simple. Believers are expected by God to be holy people. And this isn’t a new idea, by the way, so to back up this New Testament admonition, Peter quotes from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. The notion of God wanting His people to be holy is as old as God Himself; it’s not a new idea.

Peter wrote his first letter to both Jewish and Christian believers – believers who were scattered all over.

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia… (1 Peter 1:1 NIV)

You can imagine that these believers, some of them living in hostile areas, needed to be encouraged to keep the faith; to be patient, to remain hopeful, and to continue living lives of holiness in the pagan cultures in which they were living. Merrill C. Tenney put Peter’s aim in writing this letter like this:

Peter teaches his readers how to live out their redemption in a hostile world.

That’s right. Just because it may not be popular to be a Christian or just because it may be inconvenient to live a righteous life, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. In the darkness of a pluralistic society or secular world, Christians are supposed to shine all the brighter. And they do this outside of the church; they shine for Jesus at work, at the market, at school, in town, everywhere.

Chosen

For people who were having a hard time living out the Christian faith, knowing that they were chosen by God was important. Some of these people had been forsaken by their families and friends, but never by God. How could the God who elected and then chose them, simply walk away from them?

To God’s elect…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood… (1 Peter 1:1, 2 NIV)

These believers, as all believers have been, were “chosen” by God. In fact, as Peter explains it, each member of the Trinity is involved in the salvation of a person. In the first place, election is “according to the foreknowledge of God the father.” Each believer’s election began in the mind of the Father as part of His great plan of redemption. Secondly, the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is involved in his sanctification, which carries with it the idea of being “set apart” or being “made holy.” It is a work of the Spirit to conform the believer into the image of Jesus through spiritual growth. And lastly, Jesus Christ is the member of the Trinity that shed His very blood and gave His life as a sacrifice so that man could enter into a relationship with God.

So important and significant were these believers that each one of them received the personal attention of each member of the Godhead. That’s a powerful thought, and it’s a motivating factor for the things Peter will be dealing with later on in this letter.

Deferred gratification

And so believers are chosen or elected by God. That’s a comforting thought. But sometimes the real world hits us like ton of bricks. It’s relatively easy to live a holy life in the safety of our church. It’s easy to be a Christian when you’re among Christians. But eventually you have to go to work. At some point you will encounter resistance to your faith; you will be questioned; you will be forced to take a stand and defend what you believe; you will have to explain why you abstain from certain activities that all your friends are participating in. At those times, it’s good to remember some of the things Peter wrote:

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3 – 5 NIV)

We need to pause for a second to consider that phrase “great mercy,” because it’s not just a throw-away phrase. His “great mercy” actually reveals something about God’s character: He is all beneficent, and because He is, He is the source of our hope as believers. And it was the resurrection of Jesus that proved God’s acceptance of His sacrifice on our behalf. Because the Father raised the Son, we have the abiding hope in a future “inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” That may not sound like a big deal to you, with the imagined security of a job, a warm home, and healthy retirement account, but to these struggling, first century believers who had nothing and were slightly better off than nomads, it meant everything!

All believers are heirs of God and an inheritance awaits them. We’re all familiar with what an inheritance is, but the one God has reserved for us is a permanent one – it is perfect every way; we can never use it up or break it; it will never deteriorate or disappear. This inheritance from God is being kept absolutely secure for believers, who are being kept for it. The word translated “kept” really means “guarded,” which means that our inheritance is being watched over and protected for us by God!

In a world where everything is so temporary, this is something to look forward to. It puts into perspective the riches of this world.

As if the idea of our eternal inheritance being guarded by God isn’t enough, believers are likewise “shielded by God’s power.” But this shielding by God is activated by having faith in His power. He has the ability to keep or shield every believer who commits his life to His care. And that’s the rub. Not all believers are that committed to God. Are you? Or are you like a lot of believers who have confessed Christ but have distant relationship with Him? You may be close enough to Christ to get into heaven (for now), but not close enough to receive the kind of “shielding” God has for you. Living like that is, to say the least, very precarious. There is eternal security for the believer – but it’s not unconditional. It takes faith, which itself involves mental assent and personal commitment.

There’s a purpose

With verse six, Peter gives his readers the “why” everybody wants to know.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:6 NIV)

All the things Peter wrote about up to this point were cause for his readers to “rejoice,” but the reality of the kind of lives these people were living comes out: they were suffering “grief in all kinds of trials.” That’s a big pill for any believer to swallow. Sure, the future looks great for believers, but what about the here-and-now? Unfortunately there are a lot of believers who think there is something wrong with their faith if they are suffering “grief in all kinds of trials.” That’s just not necessarily true, according to Peter. When the bad times comes, there is a reason and purpose behind them –

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7 NIV)

Yes indeed, joy and grief may be present in the believer and that’s completely understandable and normal. The key is understanding why the grief is coming. The problem of suffering is something that has always bothered Christians, yet Jesus Himself told us not to be dismayed – that in this world Christians would have trouble. In Hebrews we are told that God tests His people by trials. James said that testings come from God. It’s not a popular thing to say, but the Bible is very clear on this: the path to glory always leads through opposition. But this opposition – trials and suffering – serves to purify the soul and display the soundness of the believer’s faith in and love for Jesus Christ.

The thing is, our trials are only temporary. Like the riches of this world, the trials of this world will pass. Paul understood this –

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (1 Corinthians 4:17, 18 NIV)

Our salvation demands holiness

Our eternal inheritance is cause for us to rejoice, and the rough times we experience here on earth are serving a purpose that, in the end, will greatly benefit us. Now we learn how precious our salvation both is and will be. God’s plan for the redemption of mankind is so unusual; so intricate, we are told by this – Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12b NIV)

Man’s salvation boggles the angels! They didn’t need saving, so they can’t possibly understand the magnitude of God’s incredible plan. Too bad we don’t appreciate it that much. And that brings us to the first “Be” is this series. In light of everything that believers have received from God, God expects something in return –

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do… 1 Peter 1:15 NIV)

God calls and man responds. God gives man the pattern to live by and it is man’s responsibility to adopt it. There’s no mystery to holiness for God has modelled it.

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6 NIV)

A lot of people misunderstand what holiness is all about. Even among Christians, there is wonky idea that a holy person is a super pious person. A holy person to some is the weirdo who never leaves his house, doesn’t have a TV or radio, always wears a shirt and tie and when you do chance to see him through the fence, he’s always reading C.S. Lewis and the Bible.  But that’s not it all.

God wants all of His people to enjoy life – to get the most out of living. It is possible to experience life to the fullest without sinning. Holiness is to the spiritual life what health is to the physical life. Holiness is not a superficial thing; it is not accomplished through deprivation or rituals. Our holiness is not an attribute like God’s holiness is. He’s perfect but we never will be. But God wants us to be spiritually fit. Holiness means resembling Him. Because of man’s nature, this is wholly possible! The possibility of being holy makes it our duty to become holy. A holy Christian is a healthy Christian and that’s what God wants of us. To live like Jesus did is what will please God. And that should be our goal.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 NIV)

 

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