Last week, we dealt with bracing for suffering as it is inevitable. One way we brace for it is to prepare. But let us move on to performance. We have talked about preparing our inner-selves (thoughts and hopes/emotions), now let us move to our outer-selves. And I want you to notice that Peter began with the inner-man, before he went to the outer-man. If the inside changes the outside cannot help but change. But one can change behavior on the outside in any real and lasting way without actually changing the heart and mind on the inside.
So we have prepared our minds: this is Who God is and this is what God expects. This is what I am about—living as God expects. So Peter wrote,
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, (1 Peter 1.14-17, ESV).
We have prepared our minds to be obedient children. Therefore we must not conform to the passions of our former ignorance. Peter calls us obedient children because of our receiving and loving Christ, thus receiving an inheritance, as Paul said, joint-heirs with Jesus. We are children, and we are to be obedient, and thus we put away that which was disobedient. We put away the old passions.
How do I know what was a former passion and what was a new passion? As pragmatic and as subjective as it is, an easy way of doing it is ask yourself an easy question: “Can I, with all honesty, say that I could see Jesus doing this or loving this?” Can’t get enough of those steamy novellas? Can you see Jesus reading those? Can’t stop watching such and such television show? Can you honestly see Jesus watching alongside you? Can’t stop eating this; can’t stop drinking that; can’t stop taking the other? Would Jesus do those things? Can’t get out of bed? Would Jesus be so lazy? As trite as it sounds, the question does come to “What would Jesus Do?” And be honest about it.
So often we want God to stop these things for us, but in reality, God has given us the ability to stop, but will we tap into that ability? Jerry Bridges wrote in his book, The Pursuit of Holiness,
I once discussed a particular sin problem with a person who said, “I’ve been praying that God would motivate me to stop.” Motivate him to stop? What this person was saying in effect was that God had not done enough. It is so easy to ask God to do something more because that postpones facing up to our own responsibility.
We have probably all done the same thing at one point in life, or something like it. I asked God to remove this desire. I’ve asked God to give me strength to have victory. I’ve asked God to do this and that. God hasn’t done it. It doesn’t work that way. God, by the death and resurrection and making us alive together with Christ has already put the ability within, but too often we are unwilling to work for it or to work hard enough for it. We aren’t working for salvation. We could never work hard enough for that. We are working for that which we were saved for: holiness.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them, (Eph 2.8-10, ESV).
God has every right to demand holiness from every person. He Himself is holy and since He created us, He can demand that we be holy. And that is doubly true, so to speak, about those whom He has recreated, created anew. Peter tells us that if we dare call Him Father then we had better act like His children. That’s what Peter is getting at in verse 17. This verse is an if/then statement. “And if you call on him as Father…” and in the ESV there is no then, but it is an understood then, “Then conduct yourselves with fear and trembling.” It is not that we are trying to receive God’s love through our actions, but it is that we are seeking to regard God’s love with our actions. I loved my dad greatly, and he loved me too. Most of the time that I abstained from doing wrong is because of the mutual love that we had for one another. There was a loving fear that came in the relationship. I knew he loved me and I knew I loved him. And so I acted as if I loved him, but I also knew that at any moment I could receive his discipline in my life precisely because he was such a loving father.
Performing well when things are going well will help us to perform well when things are going poorly. Vince Lombardi once said that it is not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice that makes perfect. The story of Tony Dungee is an amazing one. He had a new strategy about building a winning football team. He wanted his players to practice differently and to think differently. The problem was that the players, coaches, and big wigs didn’t trust this new-fangled strategy. When the games were on the line, Dungee continuously told his players to stick to the plan and perform as they practiced. But when games (especially big games) were on the line they would always ignore him and play as they had before he was coach. They would constantly lose. However, when Dungee’s son committed suicide, things changed. The players needed to support their coach no matter what. They bought into the plan and performance out of necessity, and the team went on to be virtually unstoppable.
Stick to the plan. Perform well now in order to perform well in troubled times. Brace yourself for the suffering now in your action.