“Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory, and the litter up of mine head.’ ” —Augustine, The City of God
There were multiple apostles, but there is only one gospel. Peter was entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised, Paul, to the uncircumcised, but this speaks not of two gospels, but of the one gospel being preached by both despite distinct ministries. Phil Ryken comments, “The church can allow diversity of mission only where there is unity of message.”
Today this has been inverted. So many act as if we are all on the same mission despite the variety of messages. Paul is at pains in the first part of his letter to the Galatians to establish his apostleship and the gospel on which it was centered. In 2:1–10 he goes on to demonstrate that when the apostles compared notes, it was clear that were all sitting under the same teacher—Jesus Christ. Their gospel math was identical. Jesus is everything. Add anything to Jesus, and you lose Jesus.
There is the gospel and there are other gospels, which are no gospels. When one preaches Christ, even out of envy or ambition, Paul rejoices (Philippians 1:15–18). When one preaches a perversion of Christ, Paul pronounces a divine curse on them (Galatians 1:8–9).
The apostles didn’t lay multiple-choice foundations, but one foundation, perfectly square with the cornerstone Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19–20). A shared name on the church sign doesn’t mean there is a shared foundation. With our eyes glued to the screens, we’ve failed to look down and see the cracks beneath and the abyss visible below. We are spectators instead of inspectors. If the crowd is big and the show is good, we assume all is well. Neil Postman was afraid that Western society was amusing itself to death. I’m afraid the western church is entertaining itself to hell. Yes, the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, but as I look at much of the modern church, judging by the foundation, she’s not the church anymore.
Incomparably more glorious than Rome, is that heavenly city in which for victory you have truth; for dignity, holiness; for peace, felicity; for life, eternity. —Augustine, The City of God
“He did not consider that republic flourishing whose walls stand, but whose morals are in ruins.” —Augustine, The City of God
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” —1 Peter 2:4–10 (ESV)
Who are you?
How did you answer that question? With your name? Your vocation? Your heritage? Your ethnicity? Your nationality? Your alma mater?
There are multiple ways this question could be rightly answered. Context will determine much. In the workplace you won’t answer by explaining who your great uncle is. At the family reunion you will not reply with your job title. But in a vague context, where your mind goes first can be revealing. When you think about who you are, do you ever think “saint” or “child of God?” Beyond this, do you find yourself only thinking in individualistic rather than corporate categories?
Ours is an age that emphasizes the individual at the expense of any corporate identities. Yet we wonder why we’re so lonely, detached, and isolated and we continue to gasp at rampant consumerism and selfishness. Church, Peter’s aim in these verses is clear. He wants us to know who we are. Being a Christian has implications for each of us individually, but you cannot think of who you are as a saint independently, apart from the body of Christ.
While it is clear that Peter wants us to know who we are, what is less clear is why? Why does Peter want us to know who? Peter doesn’t spell this out, but I think we all realize something of why as we look at who, and it is that who speaks to why. Who determines purpose. When your identity consists of being “elect exiles” (1:1) this has radical implications for why and how you live.
How many of the church’s problems stem from a failure to understand who she is? She is full of people acting like individuals, approaching church and spirituality as consumers looking to fill their personal needs. The church corporately responds to this by marketing herself to this individualism. How often do you get the sense that what really makes a church tick is the desire to express her individualism? It is not enough to simply be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be a unique one.
Jesus has adorned the church. She doesn’t need to doll herself up. Any such effort won’t be an improvement. The church’s make-up identity skills suck. She hamfistedly globs on the mascara trying to attract the wrong kind of guy. What the church needs is to realize who she is in Christ and act accordingly. Instead of behaving as a prostitute whoring after the world, let us strive to be faithful to the one who has loved us into beauty. In Him we are a temple, a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a treasured possession. If we realized this, we’d quit trying to tout our uniqueness and start offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable in Christ. We’d start declaring the glories of Him who called us out of darkness and into His light.
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” —1 Peter 1:22
This is no simple command. Love is given lip-service world-round. Nearly anyone can sing, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.” Most nod the noggin to “All You Need Is Love.” Those songs are classics. They are hits. I enjoy them, but let the listener understand. That such songs are so popular while malice, deceit, hypocrisy, and envy flourish, speaks louder than any lip service given to “love, love, love.”
That pure and simple love would bring world peace, is a Pelagian lie. Pelagius was that heretic who opposed Augustine saying that man wasn’t born fatally depraved, but righteous, and thus could will to live righteously of himself. Man cannot simply fix the world by choosing to love. Man, left to himself, hates the One who is love. All this talk of love is both a dim reflection of the Creator in whose image we are made and a mask for covering our hatred of him.
But how many churches have the same vain focus on love? They might speak of Jesus’ death as love, but the emphasis is on the sacrifice of Christ as an example for us to follow. If we are to love, we need something to stand on, and too often the church, like the world, is attempting to build a castle in the air. There’s no foundation. Try to build love on this world that is fading, this world of sand, and you’ll find it’s too weak to support something as massive as love. You cannot build love on hatred.
All the world’s talk of love is in the imperative. It is a command. It’s sheer law. But we first need a declaration—a transforming declaration. Before we are told to love, we must be told that we are loved. We need a love that transforms us.
Peter’s command to love is buried in this sentence. It’s buried deep in gospel truth. Peter gives reasons why we are to love. Not reasons that lie out in front like “love is good,” but reasons that lie behind pushing love forward and out. Peter tells us not simply that we should love, but establishes why it is that we can love. From one angle we might say that the command to love is buried in this sentence, from another, we can say that Peter lays a foundation for the command to rest on, v. 22.
“ …in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord…” —Psalm 15:4 (ESV)
Nowadays there is fresh emphasis on Jesus as a friend of sinners. This is a welcome reprieve from the kind of legalism and fundamentalism that withdrew into a “holy huddle” refusing even a brother who enjoyed a beer in moderation. But just as fundamentalism could go to one extreme, there are many sinner-friendly folk veering off the other shoulder.
There is a problem if your theology is reactionary. We shouldn’t determine truth by seeing the consequences of folly on the other side. Republicans who set their policies based upon Democrat stupidities are only prepping to be a different kind of ninny head. Trying to stay far away from the extreme left means veering towards the alt-right. We should not react, but be principled people who act upon the truth of God. If we’re only reacting, someone else is determining the agenda; we’re not driving, we’re being driven.
I’m afraid that when many say “Jesus was a friend of sinners,” they’re looking for a Biblical text to support their reaction, rather than having digested Biblical truth and then acting upon it. The evidence in support of this is that often only one thing is being said.
Our relationships to people should reflect God’s relationships people. God both hates sinners and graciously determines to save sinners. God’s wrath abides on man and yet he is long suffering and benevolent to humanity. You should both love your neighbor as yourself and despise the vile person. This isn’t easy. The Spirit must give wisdom based on Biblical principles.
If we start with how to relate to some extremes I think it’ll help make sense of the middle. We honor the apostle Paul, missionary Adoniram Judson, and orphanage founder George Muller. We despise Nero, Hitler, and Kim Jong-un. We do this knowing that Paul was once detestable and hoping that all whom we despise might be so transformed. In Genesis 14 Abraham receives a blessing from Melchizedek but refuses rights to the spoils from the King of Sodom. This is the kind of discretion that is called for in this world. In-between is where most people are and in-between is how we need to relate to most people.
Now, back to a general dichotomy. Douglas Wilson offers a helpful paradigm. We must learn to distinguish apostles of the world and refugees of the world. The Israelite spies treat Rahab differently than Phinehas deals with the Midianite woman. Elisha speaks to Naaman one way; Moses speaks to Pharaoh another. While Paul was preaching the gospel to Sergius Paulus he turned to Elymas the magician and called him a son of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, and full of deceit and villainy. Likewise, we should speak one way to the woman broken after an abortion and another concerning Cecil Richards and Kermit Gosnell. When the forbidden woman of Proverbs tries to entice us, we flee, and when the prostitute wishes to fall prostrate at Jesus’ feet washing them with her tears, we welcome her.
This kind of wisdom comes from the Word. Marinate in Proverbs for some time and you’ll find yourself honoring the wise, faithful, diligent, righteous and just while despising the fool, liar, slothful, wicked, and evil. You will value an excellent wife over an alluring adulteress. Spurgeon said Bunyan’s blood was bibline. Prick him and he’d bleed Bible. This is why Bunyan could write honorable characters like Hopeful, Faithful, and Old Honest and despicable ones like Hypocrisy, Talkative, and Formalist.
If we soak in the Psalms, we’ll not only think and talk this way, we will sing this way. If you are fearful this will curb a gracious spirit, can you think of many figures more merciful and magnanimous than David? David forgave as big as he fought and fought as big as he forgave. Ingest the Bible and you’ll learn to read the characters of this world and you’ll read them hoping that God will rewrite them just as He has you.