The commands in the Bible are like a set of railroad tracks. The tracks provide no power for the train but the train must stay on the tracks in order to function. The law, in other words, never gives any power to do what it commands. It shows us what a sanctified life looks like but it has no sanctifying power. Only the gospel has power, as it were, to move the train. This is why the Bible never tells us what to do before first soaking our hearts and minds in what God in Christ has already done.
The pursuit of holiness requires sustained and vigorous effort. It allows for no indolence, no lethargy, no halfhearted commitment, and no laissez faire attitude toward even the smallest sins. In short, it demands the highest priority in the life of a Christian, because to be holy is to be like Christ—God’s goal for every Christian.
At the same time, however, the pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise it is doomed to failure. That statement probably strikes many people as strange. A lot of Christians seem to think that the grace of God and the vigorous pursuit of holiness are antithetical — that is, in direct and unequiv- ocal opposition to one another.
To some, the pursuit of holiness sounds like legalism and man-made rules. To others, an emphasis on grace seems to open the door to irresponsible, sinful behavior based on the notion that God’s unconditional love means we are free to sin as we please.
Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a lifelong pursuit of holiness. Yet many believers do not understand what it means to live by grace in their daily lives, and they certainly don’t understand the relationship of grace to personal discipline.
Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, 12-13.
There is in us an envy, and wicked emulation. Oh, how hard a matter is it to rejoice in the gifts and graces, and services of others, and be content with the dispensation, when God will cast us by as unworthy, and use others for the glorifying of his name! Therefore that we may refer the choice instruments to God, we need go to him and say, Lord, ‘hallowed be thy name;’ do it which way, and by whom thou pleasest. We are troubled, if others glorify God, and not we, or more than we; if they be more holy, more useful, or more serious, self will not yield to this. Now by putting up this prayer to God, we refer it to him to choose the instrument whom he will employ. It was a commendable modesty and self-denial in John Baptist, which is described, John iv. 13, ‘He must increase, I must decrease.’ When we are contented to be abased and obscured, provided Christ may he honoured and exalted and be content with such a dispensation, though with our loss and decrease. Many are of a private station, and straitened in gifts, and can have no public instrumentality for God; now these need to pray ‘ Hallowed be thy name,’- that they may rejoice when God useth others whom he hath furnished with greater abilities.
[2.] A submission for the way; that we may submit to those unpleasing means and circumstances of his providence, that God will take up and make use of, for the glorifying of his holy name. Many times we must be content, not only to be active instruments, but passive objects of God’s glory. And therefore if God will glorify himself by our poverty, or our disgrace, our pain and sickness, we must be content. Therefore we need to deal with God seriously about this matter, that we may submit to the Lord’s will, as Jesus Christ did: John x11. 27,28 ‘Save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour : Father, glorify thy name. And there was a voice from heaven that Said, I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ Put me to shame, suffering, to endure the cross, the curse, so thou mayest be glorified. This was the humble submission of Christ Jesus, and such a submission should be in us. The martyrs were contented to be bound to the stake, if that way God will use them to his glory. Phil. i. 20, saith Paul, ‘ So Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death :’ if my body be taken to heaven in glory, or whether it be exercised or worn out with ministerial labour. We need to deal with God that we may have the end, and leave the means to his own choosing; that God may be glorified in our condition, whatever it be. If he will have us rich and full, that he might be glorified in our bounty; if he will have us poor and low, that he may be glorified in our patience; if he will have us healthy, that he may be glorified in our labour; if he will have us sick, that he may be glorified in our pain; if he will have us live, that he may be glorified in our lives; if he will have us die, that he may be glorified in our deaths: and therefore, ‘ Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s:’ Rom. xiv. 9.
–Thomas Manton, Works, 1:77
She looks away from the troubles and miseries and obstacles of life that seem to make the future bleak, and she focuses her attention on the sovereign power and love of God who rules in heaven and does on earth whatever he pleases (Ps. 115:3). She knows her Bible, and she knows her theology of the sovereignty of God, and she knows his promise that he will be with her and will help her and strengthen her no matter what. This is the deep, unshakable root of Christian womanhood. And Peter makes it explicit in 1 Peter 3:5. He is not talking about just any woman. He is talking about women with unshakable biblical roots in the sovereign goodness of God—holy women who hope in God.
–John Piper, This Momentary Marriage, pg.97
In preparing for this week’s Sunday School class on 1 Peter 1:13-2:3, I was seeking to discern what this one important imperative truly means:
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”
–1 Peter 1:22-23
What, then, does it mean to show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters, to love each other deeply with all your heart? What does such brotherly affection look like? How do we believers live out this important biblical command (something my frequently dad tells me I must do and not just say!) ?
In my reading I came across this long but enlightening quote by Richard Niebuhr. His explanation is apt and profound:
What then is love and what do we mean by God and by neighbor when we speak of the ultimate purpose of Church, and so of theological education, as the increase of love of God and neighbor among men? By love we mean at least these attitudes and actions: rejoicing in the presence of the beloved, gratitude, reverence and loyalty toward him.
Love is rejoicing over the existence of the beloved one; it is the desire that he be rather than not be; it is longing for his presence when he is absent; it is happiness in the thought of him; it is profound satisfaction over everything that makes him great and glorious.
Love is gratitude: it is thankfulness for the existence of the beloved; it is the happy acceptance of everything that he gives without the jealous feeling that the self ought to be able to do as much; it is a gratitude that does not seek equality; it is wonder over the other’s gift of himself in companionship.
Love is reverence: it keeps its distance even as it draws near; it does not seek to absorb the other in the self or want to be absorbed by it; it rejoices in the otherness of the other; it desires the beloved to be what he is and does not seek to refashion him into a replica of the self or to make him a means to the self’s advancement. As reverence love is and seeks knowledge of the other, not by way of curiosity nor for the sake of gaining power but in rejoicing and in wonder.
In all such love there is an element of that “holy fear” which is not a form of flight but rather deep respect for the otherness of the beloved and the profound unwillingness to violate his integrity.
Love is loyalty; it is the willingness to let the self be destroyed rather than that the other cease to be; it is the commitment of the self by self-binding will to make the other great.
H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its MInistry, Reflections on the Aims of Theological Education (New York: HarperCollins, 1956), pp.34-36. Quoted in David R. Helm, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), pp.69-70. Emphasis mine.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving flows from constantly remembering that God first forgave us and that we need his forgiveness daily, as the Lord’s Prayer reminds us: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12; cf. Luke 11:4).
When we suffer injustice and don’t know why God is letting it happen to us, we can respond in 1 of 2 ways:
- we can deny God’s hand in it, and become self-righteous and bitter,
- we can discern God’s hand in it, and trust he is making us more Christ-like through it.