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Sermon September 1, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1410

September 1, 2019 1 Peter 3.8-22

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Why Are You a Christian?”

 

8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

 

  • Christian Character

 

Peter ends this section of his letter with a list of qualities that mark Christian character. Character is perhaps the most crucial aspect of our witness as Christians. I would take a person with solid character with less skills than one with great skills but little character.

 

Unity of mind – in the individual, a unity of faith, that is a deep trust in God, so deep that nothing will knock us off the faith. In one sense I think about this as a clarity within our self. We become secure in our faith.

In the community, which I’m sure is what Peter intends here, – that we are all on the same biblical page! Unity of mind is about an agreed understanding about the Bible and the issues surrounding the Bible. Our society touts diversity as the end all to life, but when you have diversity of mind, you have more chaos than order. Diversity is fine when it comes to race, economic status, and things that will not divide the church (or a nation). But when it comes to unity of mind on the things of God, that is when the church needs to be on the same page. We may not agree on every single issue, but the essential aspects of Scripture are important to the faithful witness of the church. Our unity centers in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our essential beliefs help us to remain centered on what really matters in life and what witness we give as individuals and as a community of faith.

 

I cannot speak on every characteristic raised in these first verses, but I will highlight a few more. Brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind are three that stand out for me. Each of them speaks of the kind of attitude and disposition that we all should seek to develop. Brotherly love is the familiar word philadepron from which we get cities that claim to be of brotherly love, Philadephia. This is love of fellow believers, love of neighbor, love of others expressed in friendship and compassion. Tender heart also speaks of kindness in love, sympathy of spirit, and gentleness to one another. The last one I want to highlight here is having a humble mind. We start with a unity of mind, but we also must exhibit a humbleness in our character that shows no condescending attitude or haughty behavior. We cannot take the attitude that thinks we are better than others, whether inside or outside the church.

 

In all of these things we are seeking to develop in our lives and in the life of the church the same mind as Christ:

 

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2.5-11).

 

We seek to empty ourselves as well that we might nurture a servant heart like Jesus, that we might have an obedient heart like Jesus, that we might foster humility of heart and mind like Jesus. It is in building this kind of Christian character that we might then honor the holiness of Christ, which is my next point!

 

 

  • Honor Christ’s Holiness

 

Peter writes in 3.15 that we are to honor Christ as holy. How do we honor Christ’s holiness? Holiness is purity and sacredness and being set apart. God called the Sabbath day holy because he set it apart from the other days...another reason to honor this day. Holy is is the term we attribute to God and Jesus and certainly the Holy Spirit. We call the Bible Holy. We are reminded by Peter in the first chapter of this letter to be holy as God is holy. God had set Israel apart (holy) and sets us apart as well as a people in Christ. We are holy when we live out the Christian character as described in verse 8 and following in today’s reading. We are holy when we love God and neighbor and fulfilling the great commandment. We are holy when we live like Jesus. And this is how we honor Christ’s holiness, by living a life set apart from the world, set apart from our old sinful nature, and set apart to be a witness to the holiness of Christ.

 

 

  • Prepared to Defend Our Hope

 

The next way be might honor Christ is to be prepared to defend the hope that is in us. We are called to be ready to give testimony to the gospel, to our hope, which is Jesus Himself. And we are called to give that testimony with gentleness and respect, which I think means to give it with good Christian character. Be ready to give your defense with a clear conscious, seeking righteousness, confessing sin, self-aware, that is, living holy lives! This does not mean we can live completely without sin, but that we are pursuing holiness, seeking first God’s kingdom, thinking about and reflecting on what we might be led to say if asked about what we believe. My last point in the outline will come back to this, so let’s move on to 1 Peter 3.18, alive in the Spirit.

 

  • Alive in the Spirit

 

Because of what Jesus has done, taking our sin punishment, atoning for our weakness, we have been crucified to the flesh and made alive to God. Without Jesus we live only to the flesh, only to our passions and selfish desires, completely at the behest of our sinful nature. But in Christ, because of what He has done, we are now alive to God! Life! That is what God gives us in Jesus. Consider two other passages, first from Galatians 2.20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We have been spiritually crucified with Christ, and the old nature of sin is dead to us, and yet, we still in our fleshly existence, but now by faith in Jesus.

Or Ephesians 2.4-10 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We were once dead in our sins, dead! And God made us alive in Christ by the grace of God.

These passages lead us back to the question of defending the hope within us.

 

  • Why Are You a Christian?

 

Why are you a Christian? There are many ways to answer that question:

I grew up (was raised) in the church.

My family has always been Christian.

Most Americans are Christian.

 

I had an experience of answered prayer.

 

Jesus changed my life.

 

I believe there is a God.

I believe God is with me.

 

Because I want to go to heaven.

 

Above are not sufficient answers, might be good, but they come a bit short especially when talking to a non-believer or someone in a false tradition. Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Buddhists, any other faiths could use the same responses.

Where I was raised does not separate Christianity from other beliefs.

An experience does not separate Christianity from other beliefs.

Change in one’s life does not separate Christianity from other beliefs.

That God exists does not separate Christianity from other beliefs.

 

Because I believe in Jesus as my (our) Lord and Savior. Better but still not quite there.

I am a Christian because the Scriptures are true. Jesus is real. I am a Christian because of what God has done in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because Jesus took my sin on the cross and rose from the dead that I might have life.

Romans 5.8; Galatians 2.20.

 

We can certainly start with I was raised in the Church, but we will also need to say more from there like I was raised in the church and have come to believe…

But we can also know God’s love and grace even if we have not known anything about the church.

God has extended His grace to me for reasons I do not understand, but I find that that grace is so marvelous, so incredible, so amazing, that I can do nothing to deserve it but simply receive what God has given.

Only in Christ is life worth living. Only in Christ does life have meaning. Only in Christ is know true love, true hope, true salvation, true purpose, and all things true.

 

Because in Christ there is life. Rest. Hope. Peace. Love. Forgiveness. Freedom.

 

Write it down! Invest some time in the answer to that question. Also, invest time in developing, investigating, praying over, practicing Christian character.

 

What brought you to the faith? Why do you believe? Use a Bible verse to help you, something like 1 John 4.19, We love because he first loved us. Just tell your story. As I was thinking about this, we are not just prepared to defend our faith to the non-believing, but also to those who believe. Every story is an encouragement to other believers. I’m as excited to here a believers story told to me as I would be for that same story to be told to a non-Christian.

 

As an invitation to discipleship, I want to encourage you to take some time this week to write down your answer to the question, why to I believe in Jesus? Why am I a Christian? Why do I have this hope within me? Do it! And then find someone who will listen to your defense of the hope within you. Amen.