Peter, Paul, and the other NT writers, remind us of who we were, but also lead us to delight in who He says we are.
As we read through the epistles of Peter these next several weeks, it will be a while before he gets to his description of who they were. But we will get there. Sometimes, Paul gets there quickly in his letters–other times he seems to hit the “who were were apart from Christ” topic often throughout.
When describing who were were apart from Christ, the apostles do not use graphic details, their descriptions are general enough to apply to all their original listeners, but also through the Holy Spirit we know they apply to us. But as they rehearse “who we were,” what do we do with this information? Is it meant to be memorized, and kept in our hearts?
Beloved–I have memorized Titus 2:11-3:7; which contains one such list from Paul, and I tell you it is encouraging. Part of this passage describes my (our) past, and in Christ–I am a new creation! His grace is magnified in my being as I remember that this was me. Was. Not is. I was disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, full of envy, hateful even… Was.
I now make my boast in the cross (Galatians 6:14-15). I can now relish the depth of His grace, because I’ve not forgotten how much He has done in me, for me.
And so, beloved, we don’t keep our past ever before us as a cudgel, keeping ourselves down in the mud, not willing to lift our head or to dare believe we could have joy and peace in His presence. I reiterate: we do not. We are those who understand and know that He is the God of steadfast loyal unchanging love. And it is that love that is displayed in the cross of Christ. And on that cross He redeemed us from our sin, and reconciled us to the Father. He took our sins, and gave us His righteousness; and in Him we have all the promises of God! We know we are His beloved, and that we have the boldness to call out to our Father. We know we are His beloved.
Read the epistles, looking
In the New Testament epistles, from Romans to the letters written to the seven churches in the beginning of Revelation, we usually find sins being addressed–whether they be outward behaviors or inward attitudes. We sometimes see the past being brought up. What are we to do with these ‘lists’ as we read? How has the Holy Spirit used these parts of the Word to teach and guide the church in other generations, and in ours?
You will find in Ephesians the sins they used to struggle with, and the description that they were separate from Christ, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God; that apart from Christ they were dead.
In Philippians we see mention of sins they are currently struggling with, as well as Paul’s own struggle with the past pride and false righteousness he struggled against. But in these descriptions, Paul is not teaching that they are identified as their struggle, or that their struggle is unchangeable.
In Colossians you will find the familiar “who you were apart from Christ” description in the first chapter, as well as a teaching of how they need to view their current struggle in chapter 3.
Notice how quickly the list of past sins is followed by up a description of reconciliation? We grieve the Spirit when we slice up the Word and try to separate the two in our minds. He wants us to ponder who we are with all of this sentence altogether–the “Before Christ…” with the “but now in Christ…”
To be truly human is to be made new in Christ, to be renewed to His image, and renewed to the knowledge of who He is–knowledge we all suppressed in our sinfulness (see Romans 1). In Christ, we can rightly view our past, and delight in who He says we are, no longer defining ourselves as our sins. We can appreciate the pruning, and the ways He leads us out of our sins, abounding in hope all the while.
Your True self
See ourselves in His eyes. His Word, and His Spirit will lead you in this, and you will grow deeper in a prayerful life, delighting in the One who delights in you, as you do. His banner over you is love. The Father loves you with the same love He showed toward His Son. Think of His extravagant pronouncement “This is My Beloved Son!” And now imagine how He thinks of you, His beloved child.
Jesus is not ashamed to call you “sister” or “brother.” He is pretty excited about all His brethren. The Church is His bride, and He has gone to great lengths to secure you and me, to love us, and redeem us.
As His temple, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He does not shrink back from making us His home, His dwelling. He also patiently and with great compassion reveals our sins and leads us to crucify them (Romans 8).
The Father sent His only Son because of love; Jesus loved me and gave Himself up for me; the Spirit of God has lavishly poured His love into me. And nothing can separate me from God’s love! (John 3; Galatians 2; Romans 5; Romans 8)
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Romans 5:5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
This does not relinquish us from the call to obedience, or the ongoing need for repentance and faith in our lives. As we make our way through 1 Peter we will hear that we ought to act like obedient children, rather than being conformed to our former lusts (1 Peter 1:14). This simple phrase reminds us that actions flow from our inner man, our desires. Lusts led us to sin, where will godly desires lead us? Peter will teach us a lot about desires, thoughts, and the way these inner workings of our hearts impact our well-being and behavior.
Listen also to Colossians 3:
Therefore, treat the parts of your earthly body as dead to sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is because of these things that the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, rid yourselves of all of them: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you stripped off the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created it—
For Your Consideration
Spend some time this week “treating the parts of” you that once engaged in sin “as dead to those sins.” Do not resurrect these sins, do not consider them as your identity. You are a new creation in Christ! Next, consider the things that the Holy Spirit is showing you are lingering, the flesh that He wants you to crucify. (vs. 8) Rid yourselves of these; ponder how you can do this, and with confidence run to His throne for grace and help! (Hebrews 4)
At one point in our lives, as He was first awakening us to truth, as the light was shining into our hearts “to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” we may have felt repulsed by our sinfulness, and wanted to crawl into a hole and die thinking we were worthless wretches. This is the cry of the creature who has just realized God is holy, and we are not.
What did Jesus do when Peter had this reaction? Peter saw a miracle and knew who Jesus was; Peter said “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (see Luke 5:1-11) Did Jesus leave? Is Peter in hell? NO! Jesus is holy, Peter was right about his “whoa is me” statement–it was good to realize that Jesus was too amazing, too wonderful, too magnificent! Yet Jesus spent the next few years patiently teaching, and changing Peter. Peter does not walk around stuck in that mindset, always crying out “depart from me Lord I am still a sinner stuck in my sins forever…”
When given the chance to repent of the huge sin of denying Jesus, Peter expressed love and was given the grace to grow and move forward. Read the epistles of Peter these next few weeks in light of this. Peter is not stuck in his past, nor does Peter claim any of his past sins as his identity.
This is not the mindset the Spirit calls us into and leaves us in either. We are called out of the darkness and into the Light. Out of our bondage into His freedom. Out of our past and into His joy, peace, love, goodness, etc. We are called into knowing God, delighting in Him, enjoying Him, joining in His kingdom work and purposes. We are being sanctified, knowing He will never crush a bruised reed. He brings healing. He is Life. He calls us into His abundant life, not into fear and slavery and despairing of life.
He will prune (remember John 15) and He will discipline–but always to produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness, making us more like Jesus, not making us cower as though we could only be worms and wretched beasts. He shows me my sin, and I don’t focus on it too long–I look to Christ, and He leads me and I follow Him and He restores my soul.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash