The Privilege of Holiness
Topic: Topical Passage: 1 Peter 2:4-10
This morning, I’d like to revisit our theme for 2021, “Devoted to God.” On January 3, I introduced the theme by looking at 1 Corinthians 6:19–20. We talked about the fact that Christ purchased us on the cross, and we are now temples of the Spirit. God has set us apart from the world; therefore, we must glorify him in every aspect of life. We must be holy as God is holy.
But as wonderful as our calling is, we all know that our flesh doesn’t view holiness as a privilege, and it strongly resists the pursuit of holiness in day-to-day life. Notice how 1 Peter 2:11 describes the struggle (read). Your sin nature is “warring” against God’s work of sanctification.
This war doesn’t always look the same. For some, the war is fiercest in the realm of status. You want to be respected and accepted. That may mean looking very worldly, or it may mean putting on a hypocritical, religious show. Others just want to feel good. Their flesh pushes them to whatever feels good in the moment—laziness, gluttony, sex, substance abuse, or raunchy entertainment. For still others, your flesh pushes you into worldly ambitions. You obsess over money, politics, or a hobby.
Regardless of your struggle, the world, the flesh, and the devil are all working hard to distort our vision of holiness. Therefore, I want to challenge us today to see that holiness is a privilege. This is so important, because you will never thrive spiritually if your heart is not in it. But if you see the honor God has bestowed on you, and you are motivated to flesh it out, you will enjoy the pursuit and you will be far more successful in the pursuit. To make this point, I’d like to consider 1 Peter 2:4–10.
It’s important to point out that Peter wrote these words to a church that was enduring significant persecution. They weren’t worried about indulging every fleshly impulse; instead, they just wanted to blend into the culture, so people would stop hating them. Therefore, before Peter gets to our privileged status, he grounds it in the fact that…
I. God accepted Christ.
I recognize that this is one of the most obvious statements ever. “Of course, the Father accepts Christ.” But Peter brings it up, because like us, Jesus was rejected by the world. Therefore, Jesus could relate to the hostility they endured. And his victory means that he will also lead his people out of suffering and into to victory. Verse 4 points out the fact that…
The world rejected Christ. Verses 4–5 draw an analogy based on ancient building practices. Specifically, when ancients constructed large buildings, they would cut large stones from a quarry to very specific dimensions. The foundation stones could be massive. Archaeologists have uncovered one ancient cornerstone that measured 69’ by 12’ by 13’.
They would then transport these stones to the construction site, where the engineers would examine them to make sure they were the appropriate dimensions and that they were strong enough to use. If the stone did not meet their standards it would be rejected.
Similarly, Peter states that when the Jews examined Jesus, he didn’t fit their criteria for what Messiah must be. He wasn’t a glorious king; instead, he was a humble carpenter. Jesus didn’t come on a warhorse determined to defeat the Romans; instead, he came on a donkey to bring peace.
Because of that, Peter says, Jesus was “rejected indeed by men.” And ultimately, he was crucified. And Peter’s readers could identify with the hostility Jesus endured. I’m sure they were tired of being outcastes and of missing out on all the pleasures that others enjoyed.
Thankfully, we don’t face the same level of hostility, but v. 11 states that Christians will always be “sojourners and pilgrims” in this world. We don’t fit in, and we never will. Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Peter reminds us of the fact that while the world rejected Christ…
God accepted Christ. Verse 4 states, “(Christ is) chosen by God and precious.” God fully accepted Christ, even as the world rejected him.
And v. 4 calls Jesus “a living stone.” Remember that Peter is making a building analogy, and he is particularly thinking of building a temple. The temple in Jerusalem had once dominated Peter’s life. He worshipped in the temple many times, and he sat there for hours listening to the Savior preach. The temple was very important to the Jews.
But Peter states that the Father is building an even greater temple through Christ (vv. 6–7). Of course, this temple very different from the stone structure that dominated Israel’s past. Christ is a “living stone” (v. 4), and v. 5 states, “You also, as living stones…” God is building a human temple to himself, and this temple is far more glorious than any physical structure.
We’ll come back to the nature of this temple and our role in the temple, but for now, I want to park on the fact that looks can be deceiving. Specifically, when Jesus was carrying his cross to Calvary, it looked like Satan had won and God had lost.
However, that was not so. Verses 6–9 quote several OT prophecies about Messiah in order to say that the death of Christ and the establishment of the church were God’s purposes all along. Therefore, instead, of signaling defeat, the cross gloriously fulfilled and advanced God’s purpose.
As a result, v. 6 promises, “He who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Christ will not fail; he will provide a solid foundation for the church and for our lives. Because of that, those who believe on Christ will not ultimately regret making this decision. We will not be “disappointed.”
This promise is so important to remember as we struggle for holiness in a broken world. After all, we are in the minority, and it’s hard to watch as people around us pursue their fleshly passions, seemingly without consequence. We can wonder if it’s worth it to say no to the flesh, to worldly ambitions, and to worldly acceptance.
Remember that looks can be deceiving. Sometimes a beautiful car has a blown engine. A beautiful cake may taste terrible. Sometimes, the runner who dominates the first mile fades at the end. Yes, it looked bad, when Christ was on the cross, but he won, when he rose again.
And similarly, the pursuit of holiness may look like a losing cause today, when you stand Christ in victory, you will give thanks for the privilege of serving him and of making every sacrifice. It is a privilege to be devoted to God and to spend our lives pursuing his glory.
Remember that this week, when the world, the flesh, and the devil begin to tug on your heart. And also remember that Christ has been there. He knows what it’s like to be rejected, he is sympathetic to the loneliness, and he will carry you through. So, the 1st major truth I want us to see in this text is that God accepted Christ. The 2nd major truth is…
II. God accepts us.
Notice again the language Peter uses in vv. 9–10 regarding how God has set us apart to himself, because it is very significant for our 2021 theme (read).
Chosen Generation: First, this phrase reminds us that we have received a very unique love. We are “chosen” by God. Don’t ever lose sight of how amazing it is that God set his love on you, when you did not deserve it.
And the idea behind “generation” is of a people with a common heritage that binds them together. We all know how we are naturally drawn toward people with whom we share common roots. For example, I am a Cubs fan, and I notice anytime I see someone wearing Cubs gear out here in enemy territory. I feel an immediate connection, and I may even yell, “Go Cubs, Go!”
Similarly, Christians share a common heritage through the new birth. We were all once “lost in darkest night,” we “had no hope,” and we “refused” God’s love. But then God opened our eyes to the glory of Christ and the gospel, and Christ changed everything about us.
This common experience creates a special bond among us. Therefore, we are not just devoted to God, we are also members of a new community. We are so blessed that together we are God’s chosen generation.
Royal Priesthood: This language draws heavily on OT worship. Israel’s priests were set apart to God, and they enjoyed direct access to him. And the Bible teaches that there is no greater privilege we can enjoy than to be near to God. The fact that we can draw near to God through the gospel in worship, prayer, and the ministry of the Spirit is a marvelous gift.
Yes, holiness distances us from the world, but it brings us near to the God of heaven. The prize is more than worth the cost.
Holy Nation: Again, this phrase is rich in OT significance. Exodus 19:6 states that when God brought Israel out of Egypt, he set them apart from every other nation in the world to be his alone. They were a holy nation, not in the sense that they were more righteous than the other nations, but in the sense that Israel uniquely belonged to God.
Peter is saying that God has done the same with the church. He has set us apart as his special people. We enjoy a unique relationship to God that the rest of humanity does not have.
This doesn’t mean that we are better than everyone else, because it’s all grace. But it does mean that we are different. Many of the laws that God established for Israel regarding what they ate, how they dressed, and so on, weren’t so much about making them righteous but about reminding them that they were weren’t just another nation. They were different. They were God’s holy nation.
We need to remember that also. If you are in Christ, the very core of who you are is different from the unbelievers around us. And the church is not just another community group. We are a holy nation.
Yes, that oftentimes makes life difficult, and it puts a target on our backs. But whose acceptance will stand the test of time and lead to greater blessing—the world’s or the Lord’s? There’s no comparison. Don’t ever forget that it is a privilege to be set apart to God.
Fourth, v. 9 describes us as “His Own Special People.” This phrase is also rich in OT significance, and it again points to our unique relationship with each other and with God. How awesome is it that we can say, “We are Infinite God’s ‘own special people’”? It is a marvelous privilege to be devoted to God.
I’m going to come back to the purpose clause in the middle of v. 9. For now, notice that the passage ends with 3 contrasts between our status before and after we came to know Christ.
First, v. 9 concludes by saying, “(God) called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” The Scriptures frequently describe those without Christ as being in darkness. Total darkness is very unnerving isn’t it? When I was in high school, our family visited Hannibal, MO, which is the hometown of Mark Twain. During our stay, we toured the cave system outside town, which came up in the story of Tom Sawyer.
The cave system is massive and confusing. If you didn’t know where you were going, it would be very easy to get lost and never find your way out. When we were deep in the cave, the guide shut off all of the lights, and it got dark. He had us flick our fingers right in front of our faces, and you couldn’t see a thing. That kind of darkness inside a maze of pathways is unnerving.
The Scriptures describe the life of unbeliever as being in this kind of utter darkness. They cannot see God for who he truly is, and they don’t realize how sin is deceiving them. They will never find their way on their own. And Peter reminds us that we were also once lost in complete darkness.
But then God called us out of darkness and into “His marvelous light.” God opened our eyes to see him in all his beauty. We understand the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. And seeing God and the gospel clearly allows us to see the rest of life with proper perspective. What a blessing to have our eyes opened to the glory of God. The next contrast is...
“Who once were not a people but are now the people of God.” This statement draws on language from Hosea 2. Israel was wrapped up in idolatry and all sorts of ungodliness. And God called Hosea to take a rather strange step to illustrate the judgment that was coming. He asked him to name his second son Lo-Ammi, which in Hebrew means “not my people.” How would you like to have that name?
Hosea was to give his child this name as statement of God’s rejection of Israel because of their sin. He was about to abandon them to judgment because they had abandoned him. However, God is full of mercy and so he promised in Hosea 2:23, “I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not my people, ‘you are my people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’”
Peter states to his Gentile readers that they also had once been far away from God. But God was merciful to us as well in our sin. He made his people. We belong to God, and he is near to us. Again, it’s a privilege to be devoted to God. Peter concludes with a final contrast.
No Mercy to Obtaining Mercy: First, Peter reminds us that before we knew Christ, we lived in a state without mercy. That’s a bad place for sinners to be. Instead, God’s wrath hung over my head like a dark cloud.
But when I believed the gospel, I received mercy. I was forgiven of my sin and credited with the righteousness of Christ. I went from a state of wrath to a state of mercy. Justice no longer dominates my standing before God; instead, fatherly mercy controls how God sees me and relates to me. Praise the Lord.
If there’s anyone here who has not received Christ as Savior, I hope you will see that right now you live in the 1st part of these contrasts. You are walking in darkness, you are not God’s child, and you do not enjoy the mercy of God. Your sin has instead placed you under the judgment of God.
But Christ bore the judgment for sin on the cross so that you could be saved. We’d love to speak with you today about how you can receive mercy. If you believe on Christ, he will forgive all your sins, and you can walk in the light, knowing God as your Father, not primarily as your judge. Please come to him today.
And if you are saved, vv. 9–10 serve as a weighty reminder of the fact we are different. Belonging to Holy God necessarily means that we no longer fit in with evil world system that is hostile toward our Savior. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matt 6:24). That’s why v. 11 describes us as “sojourners and pilgrims” in this world. It’s so important that we appreciate this reality, because the only way you will truly enjoy your Christian experience is if you embrace your new standing.
And then recognize that what you have gained far more than you have lost. The world’s acceptance can never match the acceptance of God. It is a privilege to be devoted to him. But with the rest of our time, I want us to see that God has a very clear purpose in setting us apart to himself.
III. God glorifies himself through us.
Verse 5 states, “You also…” The grammar clearly sets off the verb “are being built up” as the center of vv. 4–5. Therefore, Jesus died, he rose again, and God chose Jesus as the perfect corner stone. Now he is drawing sinners to himself in order to construct a “spiritual house” or a new temple.
It’s interesting that Peter uses the same word for stone that he used of Christ. It describes a stone that that is shaped carefully to fit a specific spot. Therefore, God has carefully chosen us, and he is continually shaping us as individuals so that he is continually building his church.
As we grow as individuals, and as God continually saves others, he is growing this temple of praise into a more and more beautiful structure.
But the purpose of this temple is not ultimately to bring glory to the temple; rather, God is building this house, and v. 5 adds he has made us priests to himself, why? Peter says, “To offer up spiritual sacrifices…” It’s all for God’s glory. Similarly, v. 9 says that God has shown us this marvelous grace, “That you may proclaim…”
So, how do we glorify the Lord? What sacrifices do we offer? The NT teaches that we can offer a spiritual sacrifice that glorifies the Lord in just about every facet of life. Romans 12:1 says, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” Hebrews 13:15 commands us to “offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks.” Verse 16 adds that we worship God by doing good deeds. And Philippians 2:17, describes Paul’s ministry to the church as a sacrifice to God. So, we have many opportunities to express our love and devotion in response to all that God has done for us.
And he really has done a lot. Christ made the ultimate sacrifice by coming to earth, subjecting himself to the hatred of men, dying on the cross, and winning our salvation. And how incredible is it to think that Christ did all of this in order call broken sinners like us out of the world and into a deep, rich, and personal relationship to himself.
So, yes, God demands a lot of us. “Be holy as I am holy,” is no small thing. Saying no to the flesh, living for eternity, and walking as a lonely pilgrim through this fallen world is not easy. But what we receive in exchange is worthy infinitely more than we have lost. It is a wonderful privilege to be God’s “own special people” and to be devoted to God.
So, embrace your calling, and then fulfill the purpose for which you have been called. “Offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Show the world the beauty of Christ by living worthy of your calling.
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