Some police cadets were taking their final exam before graduating. There was just one question: ‘You are on the beat in your uniform when you see smoke billowing up from a nearby house. You get to the house and realise that there is a family trapped inside. The smoke has become so bad that it is restricting visibility on a nearby road which causes a multi-car pileup. One car, coming round the corner is going too fast and loses control, rolling down a hill towards a fast-flowing river. As you are watching, the most wanted man in the town gets out from one of the damaged cars and starts running away. What do you do?’
The shortest answer to the question went: ‘I would remove my uniform and blend in with the crowd’.
I think this is often how we feel as Christians. We feel bewildered by the challenges we face in our world today. We feel our faith is being privatised, marginalised and pushed to the edges of society. We feel the temptation to blend in with the crowd and take off our Christian uniform. But we mustn’t do this. Peter commands us to stand out from the crowd and wear our Christian uniform without fear or shame. So, what are the elements of our Christian uniform?
Hope of coming grace, v.13
Peter says: ‘Set your hope fully on the grace to be given to you when Jesus Christ is revealed’ (v.13). There is a lot we could hope in: our bank balances, our family or our position in society. Instead of hoping in these things, we are to set our hope fully upon our returning King. We are to focus our hope on the fact that when Christ returns he will shower grace upon us. Peter knows that this will be difficult and so he explains how to do this. It can be achieved as we ‘prepare [our] minds for action’ and are ‘self-controlled’ (v.13). It can be achieved as we ‘roll up our sleeves’ and put in intentional effort to set our hope in the right place and on the right object. The way we put in this effort is by being self-controlled, sober and in control of our faculties, thinking clearly about the return of our King.
We are to be in no doubt that Jesus is coming back and that his return will mean grace coming to us. This is to be our hope. It is always to be on our minds. We are to deliberately and purposefully set our minds on this and live in light of its reality. We do this by reminding ourselves of these truths daily; by disciplining ourselves to recall the gospel and the work Christ has started in us with the grace he will bring to us at his return.
Holiness in everything, vv.14-16
Peter commands us: ‘Be holy in all you do’ (v.15). Peter contrasts this with living in our former evil desires: ‘Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance’ (v.14). We are no longer to conform to those desires that used to run riot in our hearts before we became Christians. In those days we were ignorant of God and his gospel. But now, as Christians, we know God, the light of the gospel has shone upon us, and so we have no excuse for evil living.
The apostle tells us why these things matter. Firstly, because this fits with our new identity: ‘as obedient children, do not conform (v.14). God, who is holy, has made us children in his family and so we should be obedient children who imitate him. Secondly, because this fits with the one who called us: ‘just as he who called you is holy’ (v.15). God has called us to belong to him. He is holy, distinct from the world and different from it, and so should we be. Thirdly, because this fits with God’s dealings in the past. Peter quotes the Old Testament here: ‘For it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy”’ (v.16). In the Old Testament, God commanded his people to imitate his holiness. The command that God’s people are holy in all they do still remains.
Are we fighting the evil desires that once drove us, whatever they might be? Or have we begun to settle down and make peace with them? If we want to put these desires to death, we need to prayerfully reflect and meditate upon who God has made us to be. We need to learn to be obedient children who delight to imitate our holy, heavenly Father.
Reverence as exiles, vv.17-21
Peter instructs us further: ‘Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear’ (v.17). We should grasp who we are and resolve to live out our time as strangers in the world and as exiles who don’t fit in. This needs to be done with a constant awareness of God and a reverent fear of being accountable to him. We are not called to settle down and be comfortable. Instead we are called to exile living.
What are some more motivations for such behaviour? Firstly, we are accountable to a just Judge: ‘Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially’ (v.17). Although we call on God as Father, this does not mean that he is not also a judge who examines each person’s work fairly and without favour. Secondly, because this is the purpose of our redemption: ‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ’ (vv.18-19). The wonderful redemption that God has won for us in Christ has liberated us from the empty ways of living we were once captive to. We have been set free from them to live as an exile.
Are we prepared for exile living or are we getting comfortable here? We are not to be surprised at finding ourselves on the margins of culture and society. God calls us to live as exiles and has set us free through Christ for this very purpose.
Love for other Christians, 1.22-2.3
The apostle commands: ‘Love one another deeply from the heart’ (v.22). This love is to come from the heart and be genuine. When Peter’s readers ‘purified themselves by obeying the truth’, they began to have ‘sincere love for [their] brothers’ (v.22). They have love for others already, but now they are to go on loving one another. Peter grounds this command on the reality of their new birth: ‘for you have been born again’ (v.23).
He defines love as not doing certain things: ‘Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander’ (2.1). Putting these things to death in our lives will be the means by which we love one another. Peter knows that this will be hard so he commands us to be refreshed by God’s grace and goodness so that we will be able to carry on loving others: ‘Crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good’ (2.2-3). By tasting more of God’s goodness we will be able to keep on loving others.
Are we growing in our love for others in the church? If we are serious about this, then we need to put off all the anti-social sins in verse 1. We must get rid of malice, not backbiting with our words; of deceit, not covering up hatred with a smiling face; of slander, subtly putting others down to make ourselves look good; of envy, harbouring secret bitterness at what someone else has; of hypocrisy, saying we love others but gossiping about them. The resources for this are only found in being born again and in continually tasting God’s goodness.
The challenge to us
The temptation will always be to take our uniform off and blend in with the crowd. We need Peter to urge us on to better things. We need him to tell us how we should live as Christians. We need to hear his call to keep on wearing our Christian uniform of hope, holiness, reverence and love without shame or embarrassment.
Jim Murkett is assistant pastor at Lower Kingswood Evangelical Church, Surrey.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)
The riots in a number of cities last summer shocked us all. There were banner headlines about the ‘end of an era’, a constant barrage of grim forebodings from the media, endless political argument and social confrontation. But all this has left us not so much keyed-up to new resolve, as indifferent and only wanting to be left alone to get on with our own lives.
Can we do just that — any of us? We have heard about how we must or must not shape our future society. We have heard a good deal less about how our society has been shaping us. Perhaps if leading politicians had understood this a little better, they would not over recent months have assumed that the people they were addressing are just the same in attitudes as those of even a decade ago. They are not. Attitudes have changed rapidly and radically; and we need urgently to look now at some of the pressures that have thrust in upon us.
I know this personally. I worked and lived in the midst of the social revolution of a working-class slum clearance area being transformed into high-rise concrete tower blocks in a major inner city development project which took place in the 1960s. This set in motion social pressures out of which a new kind of society emerged.
When the bulldozers moved in they did more than tear down streets and reduce whole neighbourhoods to mud and rubble; they also swept away a way of life. The unhealthy living conditions were no more, and the modern 18-storey blocks were equipped with all mod cons. That was the plus side, but what of the minuses? The big picture windows were lovely — but when you looked out of them you could only see people as ants far below. Front doors opened on to bare corridors. When the kids played out, you did not know where they got to. The old sheds and gardens had gone.
Now in these places, if you are old and living alone, no one knows what is happening to you. You may not even know who your next door neighbour is. Housing estates contain a hotchpotch of strangers from different backgrounds and different races. There is little sense of community life. Everyone is a stranger — united only in the problems they face.
Materialism and meaning
The first obvious pressures today are materialism and a materialistic outlook, pre-eminent in our national and social life? What we have got, what others have got, what we can get, how we can get it and at the least cost! You judge and are judged solely by what you have got, not how you got it.
But there is a debit side to it. There is, for instance, the loss of meaningfulness in life, so characteristic of our new society, and responsible for many of its social problems. For the old meanings — traditions, standards and values as well as belief in the ultimate authority of God and his laws — have been swept away and in the name of permissiveness we are left with meaninglessness. For when you take away an ultimate standard and authority, what ultimate meaning is left in anything?
We see the miserable effects of this malaise working out among our inner cities. Some young couples have luxury homes, but there is boredom, loneliness and a sense of futility. There are queues of women in the doctors’ surgeries waiting for anti-depressants. Playgroups for children have to put up with mothers too, because they cannot bear the tedium of being on their own. Social services multiply their workers but the problems arising from meaninglessness continue to multiply among all age groups. The old, sitting alone watching the world go by on their TVs, feel their lives hold no meaning for anyone any more — not even for themselves. All the values they were brought up with and based their lives upon are now being rejected.
Growing into lethargy
And the kids, growing up in this climate of meaninglessness, understandably grow into lethargy. Nothing seems worth making an effort to attain — except money, and even that can be got easily if you know how. Why go to school? Truancy is a major problem in the cities. Why work hard or aim high? Why bother being honest or telling the truth? Why not smash and vandalise? At least it alleviates the boredom of living.
Inevitably tied up with this is the loss of identity in our society. Who are you anymore? You travel more, see and hear more, but many no longer have the sense of belonging in a community or to families as they did. Older folk are put in homes. Fathers or mothers go off with new partners, leaving the rest of the family, or introducing new ‘mums’ or ‘dads’ to confused children. Many, indeed, do not know who of the various adults in a household they belong to. Homelessness among youth is in fact causing grave concern at the present time. And add to all this the numbers of children in care because their parents cannot or will not assume responsibility for them. Is there any wonder that insecurity abounds among the youth of our society, or that they tend to gang together for protection in an alien world?
Loss of responsibility
There is another loss, very characteristic of this emergent society. It is a loss of responsibility. It is quite possible to allow the state to take over responsibility for keeping you, rather than working for a living, and other members of the family, and even neighbours. Instead of going in to see if your elderly neighbour is all right, you leave it to the welfare. And it is surely a symptom of the times that little consideration is given to people as having feelings and minds and wills of their own. You simply use them to gratify yourself in some way or regard them as a number or a mere statistic.
Lastly, there is the loss of integrity. In a society that lacks meaning, there is no encouragement to be consistent and reliable in what you do or say. You may let yourself and others down as much as you like. For what you do is all according to how you feel. There is no need to stand firm, for there is nothing firm in life to stand on — everything is a sliding scale. In fact, having first thrown out an ultimate meaning in life, our new society is fast causing us to lose purposeful meaning in our own personal lives. And that is surely just another way of saying that the pressures of our new society are dehumanising and deadly to true human development.
These deadly pressures — loss of meaningfulness and identity, responsibility and integrity — are not suddenly a new phenomenon in our society. They have long been at work. What is new is the extent to which old standards and values have not just been set aside, but have been totally denied as existing at all, and so our new society is left with no other basis than a great void of ultimate nothingness. This is indeed a tragic dimension, and from it the most urgent of our problems stem. We see the process with terrible clarity in those areas where people are most cut off from the old undergirding standards, but the sombre truth is that these hungry people are in every social grouping.
But we thank God that Jesus said, ‘Come unto me all you that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11.28) and ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14.6). It is him that our society needs.
This experience is shared by Elizabeth Braund, who for many years has run Shallowford Farm to help inner London city children.