Sermon 04-30-17: “The Great ‘Therefore'”

May 7, 2017

The following is mostly a sermon about one word, “Therefore.” It appears at the beginning of verse 13. It means that everything that Peter commands us to do—and there are four commands in this passage—is in response to what God has already done for us. I conclude by reflecting on Peter’s emphasis on the mind: living a Christian life must involve thinking rather than just feeling. The main way that we “prepare our minds for action” is by devoting ourselves to God’s Word, the Bible.

Sermon Text: 1 Peter 1:10-21

Much to my parents’ horror, my best friend in eighth and ninth grade was a guy named Jason. My parents were horrified because over the course of those two years, Jason became a punk-rocker—during a brief period of time when punk and punk-rock fashions were popular among a small subsection of my high school. Not only did Jason listen to punk rock, he shaved his head into a mohawk—not a “faux”-hawk, a real mohawk—and dyed it orange. He wore safety pins in his ears. He wore ridiculous punk-rock clothes, including a fashionably torn blue-jean jacket with these words painted on back: “Non-conformists unite!”

Non-conformists unite! He became famous, or infamous, around high school for this slogan, which he eventually spray-painted on an outside wall of the high school, an action for which he got suspended. But everyone knew him as that “non-conformists unite” kid—and I was known as the friend of the “non-conformists unite” kid. Regardless, Jason apparently failed to see the irony of the slogan “Non-conformists unite!” “Hey, all of you non-conformists out there!” he seemed to say. “Why don’t we all get together and form a social club?” It was as if he were saying, “Non-conformists conform!”

Which just goes to prove just how difficult it is to be a non-conformist. Going along to get along, by contrast, is much less lonely than being a non-conformist. All the kids listening to Prince and wearing polo shirts with their collars turned up had more friends!

In today’s scripture, the apostle Peter gives four imperatives—four commands—in these verses. One of them is “do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” There are three other commands. Verse 13: “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That’s number two. Verse 15: “Be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” That’s three. Then verse 17: “Conduct yourself with fear throughout the time of your exile.” Four commands. Why are these commands important for us to follow?

Because, as I said last week when I introduced this sermon series on 1 Peter, the most important theme of the letter is one that couldn’t be more relevant for our lives: How can I be truly happy in life—how can I be satisfied in my life; how can I be fulfilled in my life; how can I know true joy in life—regardless of whatever it is that I’m going through right now? Peter is writing to a group of Christians who are suffering. They are being persecuted for their faith; some of them are even facing death—martyrdom—for their faith. That’s in addition to the routine suffering and hardship they experienced not as middle-class Americans living in the 21st century, but as mostly poor people and slaves living in the first century. Can you imagine? He compares the trials that these Christians are enduring to a fiery furnace used to refine gold—to purify it, to make it stronger, more precious. We can be confident, Peter says, that God is using all the bad stuff to make these believers into better, more faithful, stronger Christians.

But in the meantime, Peter says, even as they’re in the midst of these trials, something amazing can happen: you can have joy; you can have deep and lasting happiness. Listen. Verse 6: “In this”—in what? In this “inheritance” that we have waiting for us in heaven—“In this you now rejoice.” When do you rejoice? Right now. He goes on in verse 8: “You rejoice”—you rejoice when? Now. “You rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

Don’t you want that? Don’t you want some “inexpressible joy,” which you can experience regardless whatever you’re going through? I mean, let’s put things in perspective: We’re probably not being persecuted very much; we’re definitely not being arrested and killed because of our faith—praise God! And yet if you’re like me, you still have enough hardship, and suffering, and trials, which can easily knock you off balance and keep you from being happy and joyful. Amen?

See, we usually view the trials that we face as interruptions to our happiness. We usually view suffering and joy as mutually exclusive. Right? We say, “I can be happy… so long as I still have my job next week.” “I can be happy… so long as my team wins.” “I can be happy… so long as she’ll say ‘yes’ and go with me to the prom.” “I can be happy… so long as I don’t need hip replacement surgery.” “I can be happy… so long as my kid is able to keep the Hope Scholarship next semester.” “I can be happy… so long as our church can pay its apportionments.” I say that! “I can be happy… so long as my marriage is O.K.” “I can be happy… so long as that biopsy turns out to be negative.”

Notice that the apostle Peter is telling us, “You can be happy—I mean deeply happy—inexpressibly joyful—no matter what is going on in your life. And it won’t depend on external circumstances. That’s what I want.

But I feel like God’s Word today is judging me. Is it judging you? Because far too often, I let my happiness depend on all these other things…

Which is why I need to hear these four commands… and you do, too. Because Peter is telling us what we need to do if we want to be happy.

But before we get to these commands we need to notice verse 13. It includes this critically important, often overlooked, little word: “Therefore…”

Therefore. The “therefore” at the beginning of verse 13, like the “therefore” that we find in so many other places in the New Testament, means that what follows the “therefore” is the logical response to what has come before it. In other words, “As a result of everything else that I’ve just been telling you, here’s what you need to do.” And what has Peter been telling these Christians? In 1 Peter 1:1-12, he has given them a beautiful, concise summary of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

He has been telling them all about what God has already done for them. “Before the foundation of the world,” Peter tells them, “God already knew and loved you. God loved you so much, he wanted to rescue you from your sins—so that you could be with him for all eternity. God had a plan for you—you were a part of God’s plan—forever. So he called you, and he gave you the grace to respond to his call. And when you did, he gave you a new birth—which meant you were now part of God’s family. And he gave you power to live your life in a new way. And as if that weren’t enough—he’s guarding this treasure for you in heaven, and he’s protecting you right now so that you’ll be able to receive it one day—either after you die or when Christ comes again. But Peter says that it’s a sure thing, it’s a done deal, as far as God is concerned.”

My point is, before Peter tells us what we have to do, he’s already told us what God has done for us—through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Salvation, he says, is a completely free gift paid for by Christ’s precious blood on the cross; it’s all grace from first to last. There’s nothing we can do to earn it or make ourselves worthy of it. But you say, “Yes, but we have to receive God’s gift of salvation.” Well, that’s true, but our receiving this gift isn’t much! It’s practically nothing!

I have a friend on my blog who’s always arguing with me about this. Not that God doesn’t do most of the work, but we still have to do some things to contribute to our salvation. He said, “Look at Zacchaeus, the tax collector. It was only after he says he’s going to give back all the money that he’d stolen from people that Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, today salvation has come to your house.” And I said, “Yes, but I’ll match Zacchaeus with the thief on the cross, for instance. He’s nailed to a cross. He literally can’t do anything to be saved. Or the woman caught in adultery—she hasn’t done anything before Jesus pronounces her forgiven. Or the paralytic with the four friends. He’s helpless and just sort of lying there—doing nothing. Unlike Zacchaeus, each of these people is saved prior to doing anything other than placing their faith in Christ. And Zacchaeus doesn’t prove my friend’s point anyway: his resolve to give back the money he stole was a sure sign of a saving faith he already possessed.”

See, my friend is worried that if preachers like me talk too much about free grace it will lead to a kind of “easy-believism” that doesn’t demand repentance and good works. And look, I know “easy-believism” happens. But when it does, the problem isn’t that they’ve received saving grace too cheaply; the problem is they haven’t received it at all! That’s why Paul warns us, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”[1] If our lives are not “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance,” then the problem isn’t what we do or don’t do; the problem is that we don’t have saving faith to begin with! Or if you had it to begin with, you don’t have it now. So test yourself and see!

Because the “therefore” in verse 13 means that if we do have saving faith, then the behaviors that Peter describes in today’s scripture will naturally follow… We will naturally want to follow these commands, including the commands to “set your hope fully on the grace” that will be ours when Christ returns, and to “not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,” and “to be holy in all your conduct.”

So, let’s look at the first command: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Notice the emphasis on using our minds. In order to “set our hope” fully on God’s grace, we have to use our minds. Paul says something similar in Romans 12, when he talks about non-conformity: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

This emphasis on the mind would have made perfect sense to the people whom Peter was writing to: If you’re suffering—if you’re enduring violent persecution—you can’t depend on your feelings. Your feelings are telling you that the situation you’re in is hopeless. They need to rely on something deeper than their feelings; they need to rely on their minds. They need to think things through. They need theology. More than anything, they need to know and understand and be able to apply to their lives the truth of God’s Word!

Brothers and sisters, is God’s Word one of the most important parts of your life? Is it? Are you reading and studying the Bible regularly—every day? You say, “I don’t have time for that.” But you know that’s a lie. You have time for so many other things that you do every day… watching Netflix. Reading about your friends on Facebook or Instagram. Keeping up with the Braves or the Bulldogs. Driving your kids back and forth to any number of extracurricular activities. I’m not saying anything is wrong with these lesser things, but they are lesser things compared to feeding your mind with the “bread of heaven” that the Lord gives us through his holy Word!

So of course we have time for God’s Word! Our reason for so often ignoring it must be something else.

Do we believe God’s Word? I bring this up reluctantly, especially because my boss is here… But despite what you may have heard, the main question that our denomination is struggling to answer right now isn’t related to sex and marriage, however important those questions are: The main question is, Can we trust God’s Word, or can’t we? We know what it says. Do we believe it? And if we don’t believe it, why not? It’s often said, in these arguments about homosexuality and issues pertaining to the LGBTQ that Jesus never said anything about it. If it were so important, why doesn’t Jesus mention it? Why are we threatening as a denomination to divide over something that Jesus never mentions.

I’m sorry. I don’t think that’s a good argument. In part because notice what Peter tells us in verse 11 about the prophets who wrote in the Old Testament. He says, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” He says that these prophets were writing under the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ within them. We can apply that same principle to all the inspired writings of the Old and New Testaments: The Spirit of Christ spoke through these writers, guiding what they wrote. Would this same Jesus Christ say something to us today that contradicts what he said two-thousand years ago? I just can’t comprehend that.

And you might say, along with many other people in our culture, “But I don’t understand why the Bible says we have to live like this and do these things.”

To which I ask, “Why do you expect to always understand the ‘why’ of what God tells us in his Word?”

You know how young children ask “why” all the time. I was no exception when I was a little kid. I asked “why, why, why?” My mom was famous for answering, “Because I said so!” Which is the most unsatisfying answer of all, of course. Although I tried to avoid answering my own kids that way when they were young, you have to admit that “because I said so” is a pretty good answer. When a parent says that, what they’re really saying is, you’re not mature enough, old enough, smart enough, wise enough to understand or appreciate the answer. So for now, you’re just going to have to trust me when I tell you that I know what’s best for you.”

If that’s true for the relationship between a human parent and child, how could that not be infinitely more true for the relationship between our perfect, all-knowing, all-wise heavenly Father and us, his sinful, fallible, very imperfect and limited children? God says in Isaiah 55, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”

Will you trust what’s in God’s Word? Because the most important thing it’s telling us this morning is… [Invitation.]

1. 2 Corinthians 13:5

21 Responses to “Sermon 04-30-17: “The Great ‘Therefore'””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    As has been clarified in our discussion in the long blog commentary we had, I agree that there is a “decision” to become a Christian, and that salvation vests via that decision, not “as we walk down the road” with the “good works following.” More particularly, that the “works” aspect of what I am talking about does not necessarily have to “precede” the decision. But, naturally, I maintain my prior insistence that a critical PART of the “decision” is, “My life for your life.” “Forsaking all others, I cleave to you.” “I will be faithful to you.” “I pledge allegiance to you.” So, the “easy believism” problem is not dealt with simply by telling somebody, “If you don’t find that you produce fruit, check out whether you believed.” Rather, it is by letting them know “up front” what is involved in the decision. If we do that, we won’t have to worry nearly so much about the “fruit check.” People will realize that they truly must have a “life-changing” experience (by which I don’t mean “spectacular,” but a “change in outlook”) to “become a Christian.”

    Let me give my personal circumstance in that regard. I believe I was saved when I was five, though I have no memory about it (I remember being baptized by my Dad). I believe this because of my desire to see people become Christians (including witnessing on occasion when I had the courage and opportunity). Also, because generally speaking I tried to live according to the Bible’s teachings. However, starting in late high-school and early college, the “moral” part started waning in some respects. But I do remember that despite this, for example, I witnessed to one pretty girl my freshman year in college in the library when I would have otherwise more have wanted to ask her out on date! Anyway, I started having a big problem with the free choice/predestination issue. I saw the Bible as teaching both, and I couldn’t see how that could be true (contradictory). Being somewhat set up for failure in that regard, I encountered in my Intro to the Christian Religion class textbook at my Baptist university (basically in name only) a contradiction in the biblical text that the author thought was quite funny. Upon seeing that (content not particularly relevant), I thought, “You know what, that really is a contradiction, and I was taught to believe that the Bible is inerrant, and evidently it isn’t, so I am not going to believe it anymore.” Something along those lines.

    Anyway, I did “stop believing” at that point, and also became more convinced than ever of the “bigger” contradiction between predestination and free choice. In fact, between college and law school I authored a “short book” or “long paper” I entitled “Contradictions and Christianity” in which I purported to “disprove” Christianity on that basis. I then “purposefully” married a law school classmate that was not a Christian because I did not want anyone bugging me about Christianity. Meanwhile, I finally decided in law school to “come out” to my family that I had become an atheist. Naturally, they were crushed. However, instead of panicking, they “got down on their knees” and asked everyone they knew to do the same.

    To make this very long story shorter, a number of circumstances occurred, including that my wife divorced me. So, at this point I was pretty miserable in general. I had started going to church with another girl who was a Christian a little bit, and reading my Bible some, but still did not quite “come back.” At long last, however, I visited my family at Christmas, 1984, and went to church with them for the Christmas Eve service (during which the choir director did a moving rendition of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”). When we got back home, I said something to this effect: “You are so happy, and I am so miserable–although I don’t see how it can be true, I am going to try to believe it anyway.” Virtually instantaneously, I started believing, and have “never looked back” since.

    However, I now had a big dilemma. What about getting remarried? I asked my Dad what he thought about that, and at that time he was “old school” and said he thought I shouldn’t, but pointed out that there were any number of Christians whom he admired who took the opposite position. So, I got my next brother-in-line with me, and we went outside and sat in my car, and I prayed this: “God, I don’t know if I am supposed to get remarried, but until you show me otherwise, I am not going to.” Immediately I started crying, and my brother said, “Tom, that is a very powerful prayer you prayed.” So, in fact, I went some six years or so with the mindset that I was not going to get remarried, until one day I took a challenge from a friend to write a letter to Chuck Swindoll (who believed you could get remarried), and as I started studying my Bible again on the subject so I could write a decent letter, I became convinced that I could get remarried. Whereupon, I set aside the letter, started up dating, and at long last found my present wife and had two kids who are now in college.

    So what is my point about all this? I think that in my “believing again” experience, I did two things. I (a) set aside my “intellect” as being determinative, and (b) made a commitment to honor God in a highly important and emotional matter (not that I was right on the subject, but that I was willing to do what was right regardless of what it cost). To me this was somewhat of a “testing” like God gave to Abraham–was I going to follow God regardless of the cost, or was I not? Of course, it is not anywhere near like I never “fell short” of “full obedience” (still do), but that was a “seismic shift” in my life. While everyone’s life does not have to have something as “dramatic” as all that, I do think that it was very important to me to “pass that test” as part of my “reconciliation” to God. I think that was the “level of commitment” that God was looking for from me. Like the rich young ruler was challenged to give up all his goods to feed the poor, and come, follow Jesus, which test he failed. Like Zacchaeus, who under a similar circumstance, passed that “test.” Like Abraham, who was “tested” as to Isaac, as both Genesis and James put it, and passed his test. Like the others in the “roll call of the faithful” in Hebrews 11 are “commended” for. I did not “earn” my salvation, and still don’t, but I did need to “commit” my life to God, which I did.

    This is a primary basis for my theology about “what it means to get saved,” and why this new book about “allegiance” struck a chord with me. “If any man will be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” as Jesus states it. “I will show you my faith by my works,” as James puts it. “Enter in at the narrow gate, for narrow is the gate and strait if the way that leads to life, and few there be who find it,” as Jesus also says. So, my counter to “easy believism” is that people should recognize that they need to be willing to go “all out” for God, and that we should not be remiss in advising them of that. If for some people this view of faith “smacks of works,” hey, I can handle that criticism.

    • brentwhite Says:

      As I mentioned on Facebook, my sermon yesterday was called “Against ‘Easy-Believism.'” I told my congregation that it is nothing less than crisis in the UMC. And I challenged them to think of how they may have fallen victim to it.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    Re the above, I have been praying for an old philosophy professor of mine, when I did my undergraduate at Furman, for about 32 years now. His name is Dr. James Edwards. He is a staunch atheist. I sent him a copy of this post. Please pray he will read it and be “persuaded” by it! Thanks!

    • brentwhite Says:

      I will! I know you’ve mentioned him before. By the way, how did you resolve or satisfy your doubts about the alleged contradiction in scripture?

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        I concluded Grant was wrong and I was right! 🙂 Actually, though, at the time I was resigned to “not resolving” the predestination matter. I just put my “intellect” “on hold” for awhile. As far as the specific passage, I am still a little puzzled by it, but again decided to “put that aside.” Now I do as C.S. Lewis said: “Seeing how scripture has proven itself true over and over, I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt on this point.”

      • brentwhite Says:

        “Giving scripture the benefit of the doubt” is excellent advice. Mainline seminary teaches us to take the opposite tack, and so I did—for too many years. If only my profs had said, “But if this writer was inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, then perhaps a more charitable interpretation would be…” They never did that. The Bible was always treated as a collection of ancient writings, nothing less, nothing more. I’m sure that was the attitude of the Furman religion prof you had.

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    One other person you could pray with about this piece is an old missionary kid acquaintance of mine from Korea. David Tabor. He is one of those who I referenced in an earlier comment on another post chain as having now become a “staunch atheist.” Anyway, he sometimes reads my Facebook posts. Please pray he will read this one! Thanks!

  4. Grant Essex Says:

    Just to be clear, Grant doesn’t say that predestination means God is arbitrary, nor does he say that man is not responsible for his choices. I say that there is a mystery involved, in which God is totally sovereign over all things, AND a man must make choices about his relationship with God, and how he will live his life. Emphasis on the word “mystery”.

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Understood, and probably should not have referenced you specifically, even with a smiley face. As you know, it is my view conversely that it is impossible to view choices as other than arbitrary if they are being “controlled” by the one person (here, God) with no “input” by the other persons (mankind), or at least a pertinent “distinction” between the person blessed and the person cursed, who are taking the actions. I know you disagree, but that is how I see it.

      • Grant Essex Says:

        No problem mentioning me 🙂
        I’m pretty certain we’ll both get our answers in the by and by.

  5. Grant Essex Says:

    Herein is a comparative summary on Arminianism v Calvinism. It was written so as to not be judgmental or biased. I think you will find the Arminian summary to your liking, and the Calvin summary fits my thinking as well. It’s a very handy thing to have. One note: The five points were Arminian. The Five “TULIP” points were in response.

    file:///Users/GRANT/Desktop/Doctrine%20/Comparison%20of%20Calvinism%20and%20Arminianism.webarchive

    • brentwhite Says:

      Tom isn’t strictly Arminian: we believe in total depravity and that man is unable to make a decision for Christ apart from the work of the Spirit. However, I think Tom is Molinist.

      • Grant Essex Says:

        Maybe your a “Methoterian” 🙂

      • brentwhite Says:

        I’m not sure. I’m positive that Arminians embrace total depravity. But I don’t think most Methodists are strictly Arminian; I think they just haven’t thought it through. Methodist clergy, especially, aren’t into theology. 😑🙄

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        That’s correct. I believe in the capacity to choose for God.

      • Grant Essex Says:

        HaHa! I once had a participant in a Bible Study Group complain that we were too bogged down in theology.

      • brentwhite Says:

        The UMC has been starving the minds of its congregants for a long time. What many clergy don’t realize is that theology helps us love God more!

      • brentwhite Says:

        Thy think that theology somehow impedes the love of God!

  6. Grant Essex Says:

    %20/Comparison%20of%20Calvinism%20and%20Arminianism.webarchive

  7. Grant Essex Says:

    That is so true. That’s why I have listened to hundreds of sermons by John Piper, Martin Lloyd Jones and James Montgomery Boice. They fill up with a love for Scripture.


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