The Church’s Holiness pt. 2
1 Peter 2:11-12
As human beings, we are masters of deception. In his book Predictably Irrational, researcher Dan Ariely claims that most of us are masters at deceiving ourselves and justifying our actions. In particular, we typically make decisions based not on what’s right, but on what we want.
He tells his own story of buying a car. “When I turned thirty,” he writes, “I decided it was time to trade in my motorcycle for a car, but I could not decide which car was right for me. The web was just taking off, and to my delight I found a site that provided advice on purchasing cars.” Professor Ariely describes how he answered all of the questions on the website, which then recommended that he purchase a Ford Taurus. He describes his reaction this way:
The problem was that, having just surrendered my motorcycle, I couldn’t see myself driving a sedate sedan. I was now facing a dilemma: I had tried a deliberative and thoughtful process for my car selection, and I didn’t like the answer I got. So, I did what I think anyone in my position would do. I hit the BACK button a few times, backtracked to earlier stages of the interview process, and changed many of my original answers to what I convinced myself were more accurate and appropriate responses .… I kept this up until the car-advertising website suggested a Mazda Miata. The moment the program was kind enough to recommend a small convertible, I felt grateful for the fantastic software and decided to follow its advice.
Commenting on what he learned in the process, Professor Ariely says, “The experience taught me that sometimes we want our decisions to have a rational veneer when, in fact, they stem from … what we crave deep down.”[i]
Your shopping cart looks a lot different when you shop with a full stomach than when you’re hungry, doesn’t it? The food we eat, the movies and shows we watch, the books we read, the way we drive, even the places we go are heavily influenced by “what we’re in the mood for,” aren’t they? As much as we like to think we, at least most of the time, make rational decisions … decisions based on a deep sense of conviction, with the executive function center of the brain fully engaged, we often don’t. Our moods, our feelings, our physical urges and drives influence us far more than we’d like to admit.
Even when our brain is fully engaged and we’re thinking, not just acting out of impulse and urge, our thoughts betray us. Most of us would like to assume that we’re the masters of our own thoughts. But marketing professor Jonah Berger argues that we’re influenced much more than we’d like to admit by “triggers.” Triggers are subconscious thoughts that influence how we act. Berger gives two examples.
First, a research team examined how music triggers can change how we shop at the supermarket. They subtly replaced the store’s Muzak with music from different countries. Some days they played French music while other days they played German music. Then they measured the type of wine people purchased. When French music was playing, most customers bought French wine. When German music was playing, most customers bought German wine. By triggering customers to think of different countries, the music affected sales. The triggers spilled over into behavior.
Second, in 1997 Mars candy bars experienced a sudden spike in sales. The company was surprised because they hadn’t changed their marketing plans. So what caused the surge in sales? That was the same year when NASA undertook their much-publicized Pathfinder expedition. Pathfinders destination? The planet Mars. The media attention the planet received triggered people to consume Mars candy bars.[ii]
This morning we’re going back to 1 Peter 2:9-12. Last Sunday we looked primarily at Vv. 9-10, where Peter describes Christ’s followers as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people owned by God. Wow. That’s a lot. And it isn’t something we were born with. Look at V. 10. When we place our faith in Christ, a fundamental shift, a transformation, happens in us, and it impacts us in two big-picture ways. The first is that we each, as individuals, by admitting our sinful state and accepting Christ’s death on our behalf, receive God’s mercy. Our past sin, our present sin and struggles, and our future sin are forgiven in Christ. But a shift also happens in another place. We become a part of a new people. We become a part of a new community. We become a part of the body of Christ. We become citizens in the Kingdom of God. All of the words Peter uses to describe us as followers of Christ are communal words – race, priesthood, nation, a people. People do not follow Christ in isolation. We are connected to Christ and because of that, we are also connected to others who are also following Christ. We don’t GO to church. As our sermon series title says – Together, as followers of Christ We ARE the church. We’re connected. Connected to Christ, and to one another.
And that happens for a reason. Fortunately, Peter tells us exactly what that reason is. Look back up at the second half of V. 9. We declare God’s praises. When we hear that, our minds automatically go to worship, right? Like we gather for worship, we sing songs to God, we praise God for who God is and what God has done, right? Of course as the people of God we do those things. But a worship service isn’t what Peter has in mind here. When we gather in a worship service, we declare God’s praises to God and to each other, encouraging each other, right? But the watching world doesn’t benefit from that. What Peter is talking about here isn’t so much about our gathering in here to worship. He’s talking about us declaring God’s praises OUT THERE. In front of the watching world.
One of the primary biblical analogies for what happens when we place our faith in Christ is that we go from living in darkness to living in the light. I want you to imagine for a minute that you are living in complete darkness. There is no light in your world. No electric light. No sun or moon or stars. Just darkness. When you’re in complete darkness, not only can you not see, you’re completely blind, but you also tend to get disoriented, right? I once came home from a youth group mission trip late at night. I’d been gone for a week or so, and when I came inside the house, everyone was already in bed and I didn’t turn on any lights because I didn’t want to wake up the dogs, who would bark and wake everyone else up and I’d get in trouble. The kids were little at the time. Wasn’t easy to get them to sleep. So I walk quietly into the house and don’t turn any lights on. In fact, to be extra cautious, I had turned off the outside lights that had been left on for me before I opened the door to the house. What I didn’t know is that Becky had moved the furniture in the living room. And you have to pass through the living room to get to our bedroom. I thought I knew where everything was. I didn’t. I tripped over a recliner, stubbed my toe on a table, and walked right into the couch. I finally had to flip on a light, after I found one, carefully crawling around. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was where it was when I had left the week before. That’s what life is like apart from Christ. We might think we’re doing ok, but we’re really blind and disoriented.
And when we place our faith in Christ, it’s like the lights are turned on and we can see things more clearly. We can move around without stubbing our toes. We don’t have to trip over things, stumble around blindly anymore. “I once was blind, but now I see.” And that kind of life looks weird to the watching world. Doesn’t mean we don’t stumble and fall. Physically, most of us are perfectly capable of tripping over something we see darn well, because we aren’t paying attention. And the same thing can happen to us spiritually too. We can stumble and fall into sin because we aren’t paying attention. We can see, but we aren’t looking. We’re following our appetites and mood, doing what feels good, which we are really good at convincing ourselves makes it right. We’re really good at justifying things we know are sin, believe me. And I’m as good at it as you are. Look at V. 11.
Because we aren’t living in darkness anymore, stumbling around and running into stuff, because we are living in God’s light, our lives look weird, alien, to those everyone else. Sometimes, like moths drawn to a flame, people are drawn to Christ alive in us. But often, they just make fun of us, or roll their eyes, or try to make us turn out the light. They put pressure on us to conform. To live as if the lights are still out. And sometimes it feels good to do that. And when Peter uses the phrase “the passions of the flesh,” he’s talking about us going along, driven by moods and feelings and desires and rationalizing it, instead of living according to what we know is right.
And that’s when the Holy Spirit starts to remind us that we aren’t living in the darkness anymore. We are perfectly capable of seeing the things in our path that will trip us up or cause us to hurt ourselves and others. We can choose to avoid those things. But we have to be paying attention. Living intentionally. Doing things ON PURPOSE, not just because our physical or emotional desires or some subconscious urge is driving us.
We as the people of God are supposed to declare the excellencies of God with the way we live our lives in front of a watching world, AND by using our words to point others to Christ. Now, we have to be careful here, because some people interpret this as meaning that we’re supposed to be forcing other people to live the way we want them to live. God has never done that. God is always inviting us into a relationship with him. But he won’t force us into one. We cannot force others to live the way we think everyone should be living. Our words should be invitations, not demands. Oh, there is a price to pay for not entering into a relationship with God, but ultimately that is their decision, not ours. We cannot force people to live the way we want them to. We can only invite them into a relationship with God. As the church, the people of God in the world, we are a countercultural flow within our culture. We aren’t taken in by our culture, but we aren’t separated from it either. We engage and interact and are a part of things. But we’re living as sojourners and exiles, aliens and strangers. Constantly inviting people to step out of the flow of this world, to step out of the darkness and into the light with us. Look at V. 12.
John Wesley, the Anglican priest who became the founder of the Methodist and Wesleyan movement, once said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Why? So that God will like us. No. So that we will be able to go to heaven when we die? No. No matter how good our lives are, apart from Christ we cannot earn heaven, because the standard is absolute perfection and not one human who has ever lived can live up to that standard. No, we need Christ.
So why bother with being good, doing good? I mean, it doesn’t save us. Because God is calling out to the world around us through us. Through the way we live our lives. Through the words we speak. We are to keep our conduct honorable among unbelievers so that they will glorify God themselves. Who can glorify God? In 1 Corinthians 12:3 Paul says, “… no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” And who has the Holy Spirit? Followers of Christ, right? So what is Peter saying here? That because of our testimony, empowered by the Holy Spirit, others will be able to join us in “proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Listen friends, none of us is perfect. We all fall into sin. As followers of Christ, we aren’t stumbling around in the dark, but so often we aren’t paying attention and we stumble and fall over something we’re perfectly capable of seeing and avoiding. But we are holy, set apart for God’s work. We belong to him. And holiness is a thirst, a drive to know God more fully than we already do and to grow in our ability to obey God, regardless of the cost to us. As followers of Christ, we are in a relationship with Christ and called into relationship with one another as the body of Christ, the people of God in the world. Sometimes we still trip and fall. But when we do, we help each other up, even as God picks us up, dusts us off, puts the wound in a bandage or puts the broken bone in a cast, and puts us back on our feet to walk in relationship with him. That’s what it looks like to be a community of grace, transformed by grace. We are a demonstration, in time and space, that Jesus keeps his promises.
There’s an early Christian document known as the Epistle to Diognetus. It was written somewhere between A.D. 120 and 200, and it is believed to have been written by a man named Athenagoras. In one important section the author describes how Christians are alike – and different from others:
The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, or language, or customs. Christians do not live in separate cities of their own, speak any special dialect, not practice any eccentric way of life. … They pass their lives in whatever township—Greek or foreign—each man’s lot has determined; and conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits. Nevertheless, the organization of their community does exhibit some features that are remarkable, and even surprising. For instance, though they are residents at home in their own countries, their behavior there is more like transients. … Though destiny has placed them here in the flesh, they do not live after the flesh; their days are passed on earth, but their citizenship is above in the heavens. They obey the prescribed laws, but in their own private lives they transcend the laws. They show love to all men—and all men persecute them. They are misunderstood, and condemned; yet by suffering death they are quickened into life. They are poor, yet making many rich; lacking all things, yet having all things in abundance. … They repay [curses] with blessings, and abuse with courtesy. For the good they do, they suffer stripes as evildoers.[iii]
We are sojourners and exiles in this world, aliens and strangers, because we are chosen and holy, a people owned not by this world but by God. As such, we are called and empowered by God to declare his the goodness and greatness and love of God not just to one another, but before a watching world. And we do that in the sincere hope that they will join us in worship, as fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God, following Christ along with us.
[i] Jim Samra, God Told Me (Baker, 2012), pp. 50-51
[ii] Adapted from Jonah Berger, Contagious (Simon & Schuster, 2013), pp. 70-71
[iii] James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Community (IVP, 2010), pp. 28-29