Monday, 05 January 2015 10:44

Three Pictures Of True Christians

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With this first Banner of Truth broadcast for 2015 we will look at three pictures Peter gives us describing true Christians. We find them in I Peter 2:1-12 where Peter compares Christians to something else using the little word “as”. Let me first read that passage to you. Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, 2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: 3 If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. 4 To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. 9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. 11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” Did you catch it where Peter says God’s people are “as newborn babies” - vs.2; “as lively stones” - vs.5, and “as strangers and pilgrims” -vs. 11? Let us look at one picture at a time and then at all three together. The first picture speaks of Christians being as new born babies. But what does Peter mean with that? We need to notice the picture Peter gives actually only focuses on one characteristic of babies. And what is that? It is the fact of an infant’s ongoing thirst and hunger for more milk, more food. Isn’t this common to almost all babies? On a regular basis a newborn child cries out for food! Really the picture of our text is of a baby on his mother’s breast, enthusiastically drinking with contentment and regularly, three, four, five, six times a day, and at nighttime too, looking for more. “As newborn babies”, exhorts Peter to the believers in his day, “desire [crave for] the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” The focus of this picture is to do so with the appetite of a baby. As a baby has constant appetite for his mother’s milk, so you, when you confess God’s name and call yourself a Christian ought to have a constant appetite for the sincere [or pure literally unadulterated] food of God’s Word! Indeed, this is what describes the true believer, says Peter, an ongoing hunger and thirst for the Word of God. Is this picture one you picture in your life, dear friends? Does your life reflect an unceasing longing to be fed by God’s Word? Are you one who just cannot live without feeding on the gospel day by day and week by week, and especially on the Lord’s Days? This baby picture hungry for more isn’t just for new Christians or young Christians. It should be the picture of even the most mature and long-term Christian. Yes, all our lives in fact, if it is well. Let us look closer at the picture of believers being as newborn babies and notice some other truths that can be learned for this inspired picture. We should ask, for one, why does Peter speak of desiring, longing, for the sincere or pure unadulterated milk of the Word? Two words are used in the original here describing the milk as real. And isn’t Peter emphasizing with this to feed daily on the true and whole Word of God, and to do so in spirit and truth? What can so easily happen also with believers is that you focus just on certain Scriptures, on the parts you can swallow and that you like. But you leave out other parts that you really ought to digest as well if you would grow and develop as God’s children in this world. Peter is saying we need to take in the whole Word of God which is pure and good. It is that which can feed the soul and cause you to grow and grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God”, says Paul in II Timothy 3:16, “and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect [that is, grow into complete maturity], thoroughly furnished [equipped] unto all good works.” Just as milk is the reasonable and the best food for babies, so God’s Word in all its fullness is the best and only right spiritual food for God’s people. Again and again we must drink and draw from that source, the holy Word of God, which reveals to us in both the Old and New Testament the blessed gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, that gospel called also the bread and water of life, more to be desired than gold and sweeter also than honey, and the honeycomb [Psalm 19:10]. To desire the sincere milk, the gospel food of the Word, with appetite, what is very important is that sins not be allowed in our lives. It is here where vs. 1 is an important part of the picture. The verb “lay aside” is connected to the action verb “desire” the sincere milk of the word in vs. 2. You could translate it as ‘desire the sincere milk laying aside other negative things’. In other words, says Peter, except you lay aside, and put off from you all malice, and all guile and hypocrisies and envies, and all evil speakings you won’t really have the constant appetite for the Word as you might and should. If you don’t put these evils away from you, you won’t readily and repeatedly desire God’s Word as your daily food and drink. Every true Christian will tell you this when honest. You won’t have and you don’t have and can’t have a hunger for God’s Word when you are dwelling on things and indulging in things in contradiction to the Word. Even as a baby in real life when distracted with noise or other negative things won’t drink but often hesitates and fusses. So indulging in sin in conduct or doctrine in any way at all diminishes hunger for the pure milk, the real food of God’s Word. If we drink from the Word and the world at the same time or from the Saviour and from Satan both, we won’t grow in grace and Christlikeness. Instead, we will wilt in depravity and deformity. We need to notice also that Peter doesn’t say you have to put off the evils of vs. 1 before desiring God’s Word and drinking it in. No, vs. 1 & 2 go together and work together. Truly craving and drinking from God’s Word goes together with putting off sin and evil. When once we have tasted that the Lord is gracious to sinners, most gracious through the gospel of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Saviour, then this should become your and my picture that we are one who never can have enough of God’s Word in our life! Are you reflecting this picture of Christian grace? When you and I picture in our lives the picture Peter gives us here, the Bible doesn’t stay closed all week but every day you want to open it and prayerfully read from it. Attending church regularly where God’s Word is opened and preached from faithfully is a priority matter for you. When this is your picture, you attend a Bible based church faithfully if at all possible. You will come with longing and eagerness even to worship and learn from God’s Word every week again. It is the evidence and exercise of true spiritual life, hungering and thirsting after God’s Word. It is the one thing most needful, being like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet and saying with the psalmist: “My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times….O, how love I thy law, it is my meditation all the day.” [Psalm 119:20&97] A picture God’s people are called to picture. Look like newborn babies in your spiritual appetite, drinking in the Word that you may grow thereby. Is this a picture you reflect and care to reflect? Can it be well with you when it is not so? Let us move on to the second picture Peter gives us. God’s people are not only to be like newborn babies in spiritual appetite. We are to be as lively stones, living stones, being built up into a spiritual house that we might be a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Again, how much Peter says in vs. 4-10 about this all. But let us just focus now on this picture of being lively living stones in God’s house. What does Peter mean with this picture? The context of vs. 5 helps to understand the meaning of God’s people as lively living stones. Peter is thinking here in terms of the temple, and of being God’s temple. The temple in Jerusalem was made of great stones but that temple and the stones thereof were lifeless. In Matthew 24 Jesus had told His disciples those great stones of the temple would all come crashing down one day soon, as happened in 70 A.D. But now Jesus Christ, through Whom God came to “tabernacle” with men, in and through Him, the true and living temple of God is built. By this Peter means God’s church and kingdom. Jesus Christ is Himself the chief cornerstone and the Rock of salvation upon which His church is built. Many Old Testament texts could be mentioned foretelling Christ is the living stone, the Rock of Ages, for the building of His church. In Isaiah 28:16, for instance, as Peter refers to here, God foretold: “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation.” And Psalm 118:22 speaks of the rejected stones that would be the cornerstone of God’s spiritual temple. Jesus Christ the Saviour is the living stone by Whom and through Whom and upon Whom His church is built. And now, says Peter to the believers in his day: “Be lively stones, living members in God’s temple. Be involved and by God’s grace be an integral part of the building up of God’s spiritual house, ever offering up spiritual sacrifices by Christ Jesus, as a holy priesthood.” Be lively stones as opposed to dead weights in God’s church. That is what Peter calls for. That is what God’s people should be. Living stones in God’s temple, each having their own place and function in the whole building of God’s spiritual house, and together rendering offerings of praise and service to God’s honor and glory and for our neighbor’s good. Lively stones in God’s temple. Is that what you are or are you more like dead weights? By nature we are all lifeless, dead and cold stones, spiritually speaking. But when God works the miracle of regeneration and we are led to Christ, the Living Stone, for our salvation and hope and help, then that makes even the hardest, deadest, and coldest of sinners into living stones in God’s spiritual house! Peter brings out you can be living stones only by always coming to Christ, the Living Stone, and ever depending on Him and drawing from Him. Vs. 4 relates this doesn’t it? It is in coming to Christ and being joined to Him in true faith that as lively stones that you also can be built up a spiritual house and a holy priesthood in holy royal service to our God. Without Christ we aren’t lively stones, and without Christ and coming to Him we can’t be and won’t be as lively stones in God’s temple. Doesn’t the apostle Paul teach us the same when he writes in Ephesians 2 about the household of God and all the living members thereof that they are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone? Jesus, the crucified and risen Saviour, though rejected and despised by so many, yet He is the One in Whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto an holy temple in the Lord, in Whom you are also built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit, as Paul says further. Lively stones in God’s house through Jesus Christ and faith in Him is what Peter calls God’s people to be and to show. You can’t be lively stones apart from Christ. That is most certain. How true what one wrote in this regard: “The religion taught in the New Testament, of which our text is a fair specimen, is that Christ is all in all! Christianity, it is His religion; it is all by Him and it is all about Him. He is the author and its substance! Everything in the Christian faith and in the Christian life and in the Christian church is viewed in connection with Christ. Every doctrine, and every precept, every privilege, and every duty, every promise and every judgment relates to Him! The ground of acceptance is in His once for all sacrifice; the Source of light and life, holiness and peace, is His Spirit ministering His gospel to us. The rule of duty is His law; the pattern for imitation is His example; the motives to duty is His authority and grace and love. And the great end of all is His glory and God’s glory in and through Him. He is considered as the great reservoir of spiritual blessings, filled by the grace of God, ever full, and ever flowing to our needy race! Yes, Christ is made of God to men, wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification and redemption, and He, He alone is the foundation for all His church in all ages, and other foundation can no man lay.” You agree, don’t you, how our text makes this so plain? And it tells most somberly too that those who reject Christ as the only Saviour and foundation stone for all our salvation cannot be saved. In fact, if you should continue in unbelief against Christ you will be crushed under the weight of His righteous and just judgment even with eternal punishment in hell. I pray no one will gloss over this gospel truth. If you don’t come to Christ the living stone in true faith and repentance, you never will become lively stones in His spiritual and eternal home. Christ is still calling by His Word and Spirit for all to come to Him but if you will not, then you will perish forever in your sins. No one listening now can say you have not been earnestly forewarned about this. And why will you perish? No, but come to the Saviour and make no delay. Maybe you ask: Why when speaking of the picture of God’s people as lively stones, do you so emphasize Jesus, the Living Stone? Because that is what Peter does too in the text, and this is what characterizes God’s people as lively stones in His temple. God’s people as living stones in God’s house throb with love and devotion for Christ and unto them who believe, as Peter says in vs. 7, “he is precious”! When lively stones in God’s house then Christ is most precious to you and His people, His church and His gospel cause of primary importance and top priority in all of life. To all unbelievers, Christ is not precious. And His cause, His church and His kingdom, is not foremost and uppermost then in their lives. No, but so much of this world and of self then has the center stage in your life and the focus of your attention. But again, living that way you will stumble and fall and ultimately come to destruction. However, the way of life and fullness of life is being as lively stones in God’s house and temple, for now and forevermore! Are you not most interested in this as well? “As lively stones” in God’s temple is the second picture of God’s people that Peter gives us. Our text describing God’s true people as lively stones being built up a spiritual house goes against the idea you can be a true and healthy believer just on your own, by yourself. It speaks against the notion that you don’t need others in your life, and that you can do without the church. Some think and promote this wrong idea of teaching that you can be a good believer and a true and fruitful Christian without the communion of saints and apart from corporate worship. But Peter, led by the Holy Spirit, teaches us here otherwise, along with so many other Scriptures as well. When someone says they are a Christian but they don’t go to church and don’t need church, they are a simply living a lie, and very likely not truly saved at all. True Christians show the pictures Peter gives and calls for in our text passage. Are you as a lively stone in God’s house? That is the calling for God’s people. This is the picture we are called to reflect and picture in our lives. Is this the picture you want developing in your life too, being as lively stones in God’s spiritual house, helping the church to be always the pillar and ground of the truth and a bright light in a world full of sin and misery, confusion and darkness? With that question I want yet to turn to the third picture Peter gives us. God’s people are called to be as newborn babies with hungry spiritual appetite for God’s Word always and to be as lively stones in God’s temple in true and endless worship of God. And, says Peter in vs. 11, to be as strangers and pilgrims in this world. The word ‘strangers’ means literally in the Greek to live “beside your house” and the term ‘pilgrim’ means literally living as resident aliens for the time being. In other words, God’s people are called to live in this world being in it but not of it, and as people more passing through this world to the eternal city to come then people all caught up in what this world gives us and offers to us. We are to be a people consciously conscientious that here is not our home but we look to the eternal city and the eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth promised by God for all His people. God’s people are to have their treasures and expectation not in the things of this life but in the heavens where Christ is. “Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth,” exhorts Paul to the Christians of Colosse in Colossians 3. Peter makes clear that as strangers and pilgrims not only must our mindset and our goals be different than this world, having a heavenly and eternal and godly perspective in this life compared to an earthly temporary, and self-centered perspective. But also we are called to live blamelessly before men and before God, in submission to all God’s law and will. What is clear too from vs. 9 is that as strangers and pilgrims on this earth, God’s people have a calling to show forth the praises of our Saviour God who has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light when truly saved. In other words, as you and I live this life, it should be clear by the way we live that Christ is our Lord, heaven is our home, the lost is our burden, and the gospel cause is our top priority, and the Bible always our guide and final authority. Is that the way it is in your life, dear friends? How many, isn’t it true, are the temptations and distractions and allurements to get all settled and comfortable in this world, to become more or less like the world around us, and to fail to be strangers and pilgrims as Peter calls you and me to be. The Lord calls us to not just be different than this world but to be a light in this world and a positive Christian influence and voice in this world. And again, how wonderful that what the Lord here calls for through Peter, He also promises to grant us as we follow Him. With none of these three pictures are we called to develop and demonstrate in our lives, to picture to others, in our own strength and by our own resources and resolve. No but it is in abiding in Christ and staying with His Word, and being Christ’s followers and members of His body and His church that we can and will be what Peter also calls God’s people to be then and still now. Pictures we are called to picture, being as newborn babies in spiritual appetite, as lively stones in God’s church and kingdom, and as pilgrims and strangers in this world. Do you and will you, by God’s grace, picture these three pictures in your life? Peter would tell us this is what true Christianity is really all about. Are you convinced and convicted of this as well? Let us not promote an ungodly view of being a Christian, but the Scriptural view, the only faithful and right perspective always. This brings me to the last point I would make yet, considering all these three pictures together. Pictures God’s people are called to picture. Isn’t it important and helpful to mention while having looked at the three pictures Peter gives of the Christian life, how crucial to realize and reflect these pictures also belong together? That is, you can’t have the one without the other. Do you acknowledge this with me, how the three pictures are connected and belong together? And do you reflect this reality in your life, personally and as families? For sure, if even one of the three pictures is not duplicated and developed and developing in your and my life then the whole three-fold picture we are called to picture will be blurred and blotted so that no clear picture of the Christian life is given at all. Will we each take this as seriously as we should, especially when confessing ourselves to be a true Christian? Even so, a blessed New Year to you all! Amen. Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor
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