This sermon was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 29th day of January 2017:
Introduction: How We Act in God’s Family
I read a story recently about a boy named Roger who had a difficult time getting adjusted to his foster family. His parents had died from a drug overdose, and there was no one to care for Roger. So a kind Christian family decided they would raise him as their own.
At first, it was difficult for Roger to adjust to his new home. Several times a day, you would hear the parents saying to Roger, “No, no. That’s not how we behave in this family,” or “No, no. You don’t have to scream or fight or hurt other people to get what you want,” and “No, no, Roger we expect you to show respect in this family.”
In time, Roger began to change. Did he have to make those changes to become part of the family? No. He was already part of the family by the grace of the foster parents. But did he have to work hard because he was in the family? You bet he did. It was tough for Roger to change, and he had to work at it. But he was motivated by gratitude for the amazing love he had received.
That story captures well what it’s like to live the Christian life.
We have been adopted into God’s family by His redemptive grace. And since it is a new way of life, sometimes we will fail and sin, and the Spirit will say to us, “No, no. That’s now how we act in this family.” And we make those changes in our lives through God’s grace because we are His sons and daughters—not so that we can become a son or daughter—but because we already belong to Him. And this process of learning how to act in God’s family is known as sanctification. Sanctification is “the process of God’s grace by which the believer is separated from sin and becomes dedicated to God’s righteousness.”¹
It’s growing in holiness because God has declared us holy in Christ; it is a holy cleansing; it is daily overcoming the power and presence of sin in our daily lives through the power of the Spirit and the work of the Word. It is becoming adjusted to God’s family.
And it doesn’t happen overnight, and the reason it doesn’t is because you haven’t always been in God’s family – in fact, you were “alienated” from the family of God (Eph. 2:12), you were God’s enemy (Rom. 5:10); you were “children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).
But God saved you and now you are a part of God’s family – and learning how to live as God’s child in God’s family will be tough, and it will take time. And overcoming our sinful behaviors and living obediently as His child is what the Bible calls sanctification.
Sanctification is sanctifying ourselves from ungodliness and associating ourselves with God and His word, like the blessed man in the first Psalm:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).
Sanctification is being set apart through God’s word, as Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:17:
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Sanctification is living as those who have been brought from death to life:
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Rom. 6:12-13).
Sanctification is possible only through God, by His grace:
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
And here in our text for this evening, we have a passage of Scripture that spells out sanctification in more detail. It is 1 Peter 2:1-3, and in this passage we have three things that are necessary for us to live lives that are continually being sanctified. Now let me say at this point, just from hearing these passages of Scripture about sanctification, and relying on your current biblical knowledge about sanctification and holiness, you probably understand the importance of sanctification in the Christian life. Every day perhaps you strive to be more holy and walk straighter on the narrow path. It is necessary and crucial to know and understand that we need to be living lives that are consistently being sanctified – but what if you don’t know how? Do you know what sanctification looks like practically? Do you understand how to live sanctified as well as you understand why you are to live sanctified? If someone approached you, seeking to grow in their sanctification, would you know what to say to them? How does one truly live a sanctified life? It’s not enough to know that we need to, but we must know how.
Maybe that’s you today. Maybe you understand that you really need to live sanctified – you really need to live a life that is holy unto the Lord, and you really want to. But maybe you don’t know how. Well, with unwavering confidence I can truly say that this passage of Scripture is for you. Because in this passage, Peter tells us exactly what we need to live continually sanctified lives. This passage is the triad of Christian living; three essential components for obedience to God; the triangle, if you will, of sanctification. We will see that three things are necessary for our sanctification: renouncement of sin, craving the word of God, and a constant examination.
The Text: 1 Peter 2:1-3, ESV
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
I. The Renouncement for Sanctification (v. 1)
First, we see in this passage that for our sanctification, we must renounce sin. At the most fundamental level, this is exactly what sanctification is—the process of God’s grace by which the believer is separated from sin and becomes dedicated to God’s righteousness. Sanctification involves a daily renouncing of sin.
So Peter writes, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” He begins this passage by commanding his readers to put away sin from their lives—that’s what it means to renounce. Renouncing is to abandon something, reject it, and put it away from you.
And as you can see here, he gives a list of five things to put away (and we will look at these in more detail later), but what is most important to notice at the beginning is the reason he gives for putting away and renouncing sin. When Peter says, “So put away,” this command is not alone. By using the word “so,” or as some translations render it “so then,” he is pointing back to what he has just dealt with in the previous passage. So is a conjunction – a connecting word. This means that Peter is giving this command to put away sin, solely on the basis of something previously stated. Here’s a few examples of using this conjunction:
Pokémon Go is the greatest virtual mobile game for phones, so then, download it for free.
Justin Bieber is the girliest, most unmanly excuse for a pop artist, so then, do not buy his albums.
In Peter’s use of the conjunction, he is essentially saying that because of something that has already taken place, his readers are to put away sin from their lives. So what is that something that has already taken place? The believer’s salvation.
Notice in the previous verses that he talks about a salvation that has already taken place in the lives of his readers:
“since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1:23-25).
Peter stated there that these believers were born again, and that the gospel had been preached to them – all indicators of their salvation which has already occurred. So because they have been “born again,” Peter says they should put away sin from their lives. In fact, the Greek actually adds more emphasis to it than do most of our English translations. The Greek reads something like, “Having laid aside all malice, and all deceit, and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Renouncement of sin, according to Peter, is something that actually should already be taking place because of salvation—but because of the tendency to fall into those sins again, Peter reminds them to put away these sins from themselves because they have been saved.
Several times throughout this letter, Peter describes the Christian life this way—that we should be living obedient and holy lives simply because of the salvation and regeneration that we have experienced and received. Often times in this letter, the only reason he says we should live a godly life is because of salvation—and really, it’s the only reason he needs. Because true salvation will always lead to sanctification and a holy life. True salvation always results in a godly life. When God saves us, inevitably we live saved lives.
In 1:3-12, Peter says that God has “caused us to be born again to a living hope” (v. 3), and then spells out many other blessings of being a believer. Following this immediately, he then commands them: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 13). Because they are born again, they should set their hope on God’s grace and it should transform the way they live their lives.
In 2:4-10, he says that believers have “come to [God]” (v. 4), and that they are now a “chosen race, a royal priesthood” (v. 9). Even more, “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” (v. 10). Then he commands them because they are those who have received God’s mercy: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (v. 11).²
Indeed, becoming a Christian is no four-step initiation into a social club, but a complete life change from the inside out because we have been “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5). All of that was a brief look at why we should renounce sin—because we are saved and born again. And it was crucial that we spent time looking at it, because if you’re wondering why it is a problem to continue living in sin, it is because it is an eternal issue—you’re not saved if you’re not being sanctified.
So after giving the reason for renouncing sin, what does it actually mean to renounce sin in the first place? Well, Peter says we should “put away” sin. He doesn’t mean the kind of putting away like we would put away leftovers in the refrigerator, or put away dishes that we’re just going to use again. The kind of “putting away” he is referring to is putting something away for good. In the Greek, the command “put away” denotes something like taking off and laying aside old clothes. So Peter is picturing Christians taking these sins off like you would with old clothes, and then casting them far away.
That’s what you do with old clothes that are no longer wearable—you take them off and put them in the garbage. That’s what Peter says to do with these sins. To renounce them, to put them away from us, to stop wearing them, to be rid of them all together.
He has a list of five sins that we should put away from ourselves. And the important thing to notice here is that these sins are sins that affect relationships with people, namely people in the church. Peter isn’t listing these here in random order, or just because he thinks these are worse than adultery or stealing. He lists these here because they are sins that will harm our fellowship with others, especially Christians.
And renouncing these sins are absolutely essential to our sanctification, because sanctification cannot be done alone. Sanctification is meant to be done in the Christian community—the church! If we have these sins present in our lives, we are hindering our own sanctification and the sanctification of others. So when we go through this list, if you happen to notice even slightly that these sins may be present in your life and in the way you view others, then pray as you hear them that God would create in you a clean heart (Psalm 51:10), and renew a right spirit within you.
Malice. Malice is best defined as “the intention or desire to do evil.” It is like premeditated murder—it is planning on committing sin. Malice is a force that can destroy Christian fellowship. This should not even be named among the congregation of believers. Malice is a grave sin because it is the intention and desire to commit sin before we even do (which by the way, is committing sin already). If we intend to gossip about someone, or a church member, or say in our hearts, “Man the next time I see them, I’m gonna . . .” Or if we intend to mistreat someone and disrespect them in the church, then we have a problem with malice. We must put it away and cast it far from us.
Deceit. Deceit is speaking or acting with a motive for deception. It is lying or living in a manner that is deceptive. We cannot live our lives together lying to one another, and we cannot live lives that are deceptive and untruthful. We are to be those who present God’s truth to each other and to the unsaved, both by our words and actions—we are to be lovers of truth, not deceitful. We must renounce and put away deceit far from us.
Hypocrisy. We cannot live double lives. In Greek theater, a hypocrite was one who played different parts in a drama. And it is no mistake that Peter names hypocrisy right after deceit, for they go hand in hand. Deceit and hypocrisy are two branches of the same sinful weed that should never be growing in the life of one who abides in the True Vine (John 15:1-4). We must be honest about our faults and shortcomings, and our behavior in the church and our behavior at home or in the workplace should be consistently the same. We must put away hypocrisy from ourselves.
Envy. Envy is synonymous with jealousy. It is a desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute which belongs to someone else. It is when we desire what belongs to someone else. It might be a position in the church, nicer clothes, someone’s boyfriend/girlfriend, a nicer home, or a shinier vehicle—but we must put away envy from ourselves.
Slander. And finally, we have slander. It is defined as “making a false statement about someone.” It is lying about another person, gossiping about them, or any type of speaking that is false or unhelpful. Paul says in Ephesians that we should speak only that which “is good for building up” (4:29), and slander is the opposite of this. In fact, it is more satanic than any sin in this list, for the word devil in the NT actually means slanderer or “one who slanders.” So committing this sin is contributing to Satan’s notorious schemes. We should put this sin away from ourselves.
These are all sins that should not be found in our lives, but like old clothes, we should put them away from ourselves. Renouncing sin is something we did at our conversion, and it is something we must continually do throughout our Christian life. The moment you were saved was only the beginning of a lifelong process of sanctification unto God, to be set apart from sin daily for God’s glory.
How can we renounce these sins? Repent when you see it present in your life, and pray for a clean heart. Ask for trusted brothers and sisters in Christ to keep you in check—be accountable to them, a mutually watch your lives and confront each other with grace and correction when these sins are present. For our sanctification, we must renounce sin.
II. The Nourishment for Sanctification (v. 2)
Second, we see in this passage that for our sanctification, we must long for the word of God: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (v. 2).
After exhorting his readers to renounce sin, he says that they should be longing for the word of God, the “pure spiritual milk.” Peter had described in v. 1 what they should not do (commit those sins), and now he turns to the positive and describes what they should be doing. That in itself teaches us that sanctification is twofold in this sense: it is overcoming sin, and doing good things. It is not enough to avoid committing sin and resist temptation, we must also be doing good things.
They should be craving and longing for the word of God. Peter uses a familiar image here of a newborn baby longing for its mother’s milk, to illustrate how the believer should long for the word of God in order to partake of it, and grow by it. He tells them, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk.” He tells his readers that they should do something just like newborn infants do. And by the way, this is the only passage of Scripture in the whole Bible where we are commanded to be like infants. All other places in Scripture exhort us against being an infant and tell us to grow up (Eph. 4:15).
So Peter’s readers, like newborn infants, should long for the pure spiritual milk of the word. The phrase “long for,” carries a deal of weight to it in the Greek. It is epipotheo, which speaks of an intense desire or longing for something. It is the intensified version of the Greek word potheo which speaks of simply longing. It means to long greatly for something.
What is the object of their longing? The pure spiritual milk. And of course, he is referring to the word of God and nothing else. It was the preaching of the word of God that brought about their salvation (1:25b), and now it is the word of God they are to consistently long for.
It is pure, meaning it is stainless, clean, and free of contamination. This confirms the truth that Scripture is perfect and without error because it has been inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is spiritual, meaning it is more than just milk because it deals with our inner being. But it is like milk, because we can take it in and be nourished by it. We can long for it, and we can digest it. So to sum up what Peter is saying in this part of the verse, in the same way that newborn infants long for their mother’s milk to satisfy their hunger and be nourished, so we should long for the word of God in order to be nourished for our sanctification.
We are to be like newborns, craving and starving for the word of God so that we can gain strength and sustenance for our sanctification.
This intense desire for the word of God has been characteristic of God’s people since the time of Job. I love how Job describes his intense longing for the word of God in Job 23:12:
“I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food” (ESV).
Let me just stop right here and ask: When have we ever longed so much for the word of God that we would rather read His word than eat a meal when we are hungry? Have we ever had a desire like that? When you first wake up in the morning, do you wake up hungry for the word, or are you scrolling through Instagram, checking Facebook, and looking at Snapchat? Let me give you a word of advice, if you want to grow spiritually and hunger for the word of God, you need to be opening your phone and getting into His Book, and chatting with Him daily!
And in Psalm 119, the psalmist speaks often of his desire for the word of God:
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (119:103).
“Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above find gold” (119:127).
Peter says that this is the kind of intense longing for the word of God that we should have. And we should crave it because we need it. That’s why a newborn infant does—because they need the nourishment from it. That’s the idea here: the word of God gives Christians sustenance, nourishment, and growth—just like milk gives sustenance, nourishment, and growth to a newborn baby.
But what is the purpose of longing for the word of God? Why is it such a big deal to long for and crave the word of God? According to Peter, “[so] that by it you may grow up into salvation.” Peter says that we should long for the word of God so that we will grow up into salvation. Once again, that’s what sanctification is—growing up into salvation.
And why will longing for the word of God result in growing in our salvation? Because once we long for the word of God, we will partake and be nourished by the word of God. I’m sure you don’t believe that you hunger for no reason. You’re not hungry just because you want to be. I mean sure, Subway is pretty good, but you still don’t hunger for it randomly. You hunger so that you will eat. Your physical hunger is an indicator to your consciousness that you need nourishment. So what do you do when you’re hungry? You go get something to eat.
Same principle here: we must crave and intensely desire the word of God so that we will read it, study it, take it in and digest its precepts for our lives. We are to have a hunger and craving for God’s word, because we need it. Deuteronomy 8:3 illustrates this perfectly:
“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
And so the expected result of craving for the word of God is “growing up into salvation,” as Peter says here. Of course, we are already saved, but salvation is also ongoing—that’s where sanctification comes into play. We are being saved daily from the power and presence of sin in our lives. And we need to crave and hunger for the word of God like a newborn infant, so that we ill partake of it in order to be nourished and strengthened to live the Christian life!
So how can you crave the word of God? First, understand your utter dependence upon the word of God for sustenance and growth. Understand that you need the word of God for your Christian life and growth. You don’t have anything else in the entire world that can take its place and cause you to grow spiritually. So measure your spiritual strength and growth by your time spent in the word of God. If it doesn’t bother you to go without the Bible for a few days, then something is definitely wrong. You must understand that the transformation effected by God’s word cannot be replaced by anything else. Secondly, understand that craving is directly correlated to tasting. I’ll never forget the first time I tried the arroz con pollo at Los Amigos Mexican Restaurant close to where I live. It’s a beautiful dish of rice topped with chicken and cheese. Well, let me tell ya, I’ve been hungering for it ever since I tried it. But I never had a hunger for it until I tried it. And as you taste the word, as you feast on the Scripture, as you have your breakfast of God’s word every morning, you will notice a deep desire for more of the word of God like you’ve never had before. The more you read the word, the more you want to read the word. The more you study it, the more you want to study it. As you find out just how delicious every verse of Scripture really is, you will keep coming back to it like your favorite meal. If you don’t have a hunger for the word, then perhaps it’s because you haven’t tasted it. For our sanctification, we must long for the word of God.
III. The Examination for Sanctification (v. 3)
“if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (v. 3).
Third and finally, we see in this passage that for our sanctification, we must examine our lives. Once Peter has exhorted the believers to renounce sin, and crave the word of God, he finally calls them to examine themselves. Notice the if (some translations since) in this verse. Most of the time in the Bible, it is the smallest words that make all the difference. Peter is saying that if we have tasted that the Lord is good, we should be renouncing sin and craving the word of God. “Renounce sin and crave the word if you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
This verse functions as an examination for sanctification. In other words, if we are daily being sanctified, we should be seeing evidence of these two things in our lives. Of course, if you know your Old Testament even remotely, you will recognize that the phrase “tasted that the Lord is good,” has its origins in Psalm 34. There, the psalmist gives a loud, open, outstretched and broad invitation to anyone within his hearing to experience the Lord God:
“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (v. 8).
That verse in the psalm is an invitation to those who have not experienced the Lord, saying essentially, “Just see for yourself how good the Lord is!” But notice that the way Peter uses the phrase is past tense: “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” In the Psalm, it is “taste and see.” In Peter it is, “you have tasted.” So if Psalm 34 is the invitation to experience the Lord, then Peter assumes that we and his readers have already responded to that invitation.
So if we have been saved, if we have responded to this invitation in the Psalms, we should be able to see clear evidence of renouncing sin and craving the word in our daily lives. If we have responded to God’s invitation to experience Him, our lives should demonstrate a positive response to that invitation.
A young man once asked me a stunning question. We were having lunch and talking about Scripture and he asked me, Is it a sin to doubt your salvation? He struggled with the assurance of his salvation at the time, and he asked me in this restaurant if it was a sin to doubt your salvation and to have no assurance of salvation. As I pondered this, I answered in this way: “Well, it really depends on what brought about the doubt in the first place.” I went on to explain that the Scripture does command us to seek assurance for our salvation, and to rest in that assurance (there are a plethora of Scriptures that speak to assurance). So in that sense, it would be sinful if you fail to seek out those Scriptures that talk about assurance and then gain assurance by reading and believing them. But if your doubt arises from an inconsistency in your Christian life—then that is a good doubt to have! If you see no evidence of renouncing sin and craving the word in your daily life, then you have great reason to doubt your salvation!
One Scripture came to mind as I was talking with him. It was in 2 Peter 1, where Peter lists off a range of godly qualities that should be present in our lives. He names things such as “self-control, godliness, brotherly affection, love,” and many others. And listen to this—Peter says that the reason we should see these godly qualities in our lives is “to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (v. 10, KJV). And I told him, “The life you’re living should be enough evidence to confirm your salvation. If you see no transformation, you never had salvation.”
But sometimes we backslide don’t we? Of course we do. And God will give us grace to move forward on His path as we seek His strength and power to do just that. But if you don’t see sanctification and transformation in your life, if you see no evidence that you have “tasted and seen that the Lord is good,” then there are basically two options on the table if you’re not living a sanctified life:
Option #1: You are spiritually sick and unhealthy. You are malnourished in your soul if you see no regular transformation. What do you feel like doing when you’re sick? Nothing. Do you act like yourself when you’re sick? No. Do people want to be around you when you’re sick? No. Now, apply all of those questions to your spiritual health. Are you doing anything in the Christian life? If not, you may be unhealthy. Are people positively influenced by you? If not, you may be unhealthy. If you’re not craving the word and renouncing sin daily in your life, I urge you to go the Physician who knows your heart—and get as much of His prescription (the Bible) as you possibly can.
Option #2: You are unsaved. Not only does the unsaved person have no desire for the word of God, he has no desire for God (Rom. 3:11). Obedience cannot proceed from a heart that has not been changed. Perhaps you don’t see evidence of these things in your life either—and I ask you, Can you honestly think of a time in your life when you realized you were a sinner, and surrendered your life to Jesus Christ for salvation
Peter has explained in this passage that these are the necessary requirements for living a life that is continually sanctified. We must renounce sin (v. 1), we must be nourished by Scripture (v. 2), and we must continually examine ourselves for evidence of these things (v. 3). Sanctification is part of the Christian life from beginning to end, and we know what is required in order for sanctification to take place—and just like Roger, there will be times when God says, “No, no. That’s not how we behave in this family.” But it will be said to us because we already belong to Him—and because we are continually being set apart for His purposes and His glory each and every day.
Is God saying that to you tonight? Is God saying to you, “You know you don’t need to be in that relationship,” or “You know you need to get that pornography out of your life,” or “You know you need to apologize to him,” or “You know you need to start getting into the Bible more.” If God is saying things like that to you, He wants you to respond to Him. Confess that sin to Him, and ask Him for His sustaining grace to help you. The good news is that you can change and you can live faithfully because God has already given you everything you need for it.
But perhaps God is saying something different to you – maybe when you look down through the history of your life, you have never renounced the sin in your life; maybe you’ve never craved or desired the word of God; maybe you don’t have a relationship with the Lord. If you’ve never been saved and you know you need to be – let me tell you something: God is telling you right now that you need to be saved and have a relationship with Him. You need to understand that God is holy and requires holiness of you. You need to understand that you have sinned against Him, you have not lived a holy life, and God considers your sins to be as crimes. And like any crime, He will punish them if there is no payment for them. The good news is that He sent Jesus Christ into the world to live a perfect life, and die on the cross to pay for your sins. All you must do is realize you are a sinner, turn away from sin, and trust in Jesus Christ to be your Savior – believe that what He did on the cross is enough for your salvation.
So I read to you again this text: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk of the word, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
- Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1986), 948.
- Peter states here that a costly war is taking place in the Christian’s life. You can read more about that in one of our past Bible studies here.
This message was preached on January 17th, 2016 in Sevierville, TN during Winter Retreat 2016 hosted by First Baptist Church, Barlow. This message was also preached on May 22, 2016 at Ohio Valley Baptist Church in Barlow, Kentucky. Recently, this message was also preached on August 14th, 2016 at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Cadiz, KY.
Introduction: Something Small Can Be Deadly
How many of you have ever wanted a snake as a pet? Probably not many of you. Most of us do not like snakes because we recognize how deadly they are, don’t we? Not very long ago, I was researching the world’s most deadliest snakes, and I came across many of the familiar ones: the rattlesnake, the viper, and finally the black mamba.
The feared Black Mamba is found throughout many parts of the African continent. They are known to be highly aggressive, and strike with deadly precision. They are also the fastest land snake in the world, capable of reaching speeds of up to 12 mph. These fearsome snakes can strike up to 12 times in a row. A single bite is capable of killing anywhere from 10-25 adults. The venom is a fast acting neurotoxin. The victim experiences a tingling sensation in the mouth and extremities, double vision, tunnel vision, severe confusion, fever, foaming at the mouth and nose, and depending on the nature of the bite, death can result at any time between 15 minutes and 3 hours.¹
But they are so small. People who die from their bites are not expecting to die from their bites. People go into areas their not supposed to, and unknowingly, BAM! They get bitten. It’s ironic how something so small can be so deadly. In our passage tonight, James the brother of Jesus, warns us about something very small that can be very deadly—our own desires. We probably don’t think about our desires very often, but it is our very desires that cause our temptations. Our desires are the source of our temptations, and if nothing is done about them, there are deadly consequences.
The Text: James 1:13-15, ESV
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
I. The Goodness of God During Temptations (v. 13)
You’ve probably noticed that I have not included verse 12 in with this passage. In your translation, it is likely that v. 12 is part of the paragraph containing verses 13-15 also. I haven’t included it in this part of the passage because it is a verse that serves as a pause or reflection on James’ previous thought. He had just finished talking about enduring trials (1:2-11), and now he is beginning to talk about temptation and personal sin. So for this sermon, it is better to start where James starts his new thought, and that is in v. 13.
I want us to notice first that James talks about the goodness of God during our temptations in v. 13. And the idea here is that God cannot be responsible for our temptations because He is a good God. James writes first a word of warning and of comfort: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
James presents a scenario of a man who is being tempted and blames God for his temptation. But James says that nobody has the right to say that, or to blame God for temptation because “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” God cannot tempt and entice you to sin because He Himself cannot be tempted with evil—He doesn’t face temptations. He doesn’t have the impulse or desire to sin, He’s perfect and completely holy. So then, James says, because God is good and cannot be tempted with evil, “he himself tempts no one.”
Not once have your temptations ever come from God. Not a single time in the history of humanity has God ever tempted any person to sin. All that comes from God is completely and entirely good, because He is good. James writes about that in the next passage: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (vv. 16-17).
God cannot be tempted with evil and tempts no one because He is a holy God. The Scriptures testify:
“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45)
“Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!” (Psalm 99:9)
“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)
I think we realize at this point that God is good, but why would James feel like it’s necessary to tell us that God is good? Why does James feel the need to remind us that we can’t blame God for our temptations because He is a good God? I think he has a twofold purpose in mind:
1) So that we understand who is truly responsible for temptations. He is going to spell out later in this passage that we are ultimately responsible for the temptations that we face. But notice how James is eliminating the possibilities of who could be responsible for temptation. Already, he has excluded Satan—he’s not even listed. And he has just said that God cannot be responsible for them. This serves a great purpose: the only one left on the list for being responsible for sin is us.
2) So that we understand that God is good—He wants to help us through temptation, not cause us to stumble into them. Adam tried blaming God and refusing to take responsibility didn’t he? God inquired of Adam and Eve for why they ate from the tree which God commanded them not to—and their response? “The main said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (v. 12). Adam blamed the woman. Listen to Eve’s excuse: “The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v. 13). Eve blamed Satan. For once in the history of the universe a woman was wrong, can you believe that? I saw a sign once that said “ALL MEN GO TO THE LEFT, BECAUSE THE WOMEN ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.” Just joking of course, but only a little.
The point is, since the beginning of humanity we have not taken responsibility for our sin—but listen: do not doubt the goodness of God during your temptations. He is a good God that is for you, not against you, and wants to provide the “way of escape that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
II. The Source of Our Temptation (v. 14)
We’ve seen that God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations, so what is it that causes our temptations? Why are we always slipping up on the same old sins? Why are we being tempted to sin all the time as believers? And why are temptations so frequent? James answers: “[But] each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (v. 14).
The source of our temptation is our own desire. James tells his readers, instead of God being responsible for temptation, “each person is tempted . . . by his own desire.” It’s desire. Desire is the culprit. Desire is problem. Desire is the root and the source of our temptations. The problem is within us—it’s not on the outside, but buried within our innermost beings.
Notice James says that “each person is tempted,” meaning that everyone faces temptations. You can bank on that—you will face temptations. If you didn’t, there’d be no need for this passage of Scripture whatsoever. James uses a fishing metaphor to describe what happens in temptation. Notice the language he uses here: “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
Desire is the problem, but what happens in temptation is that we are lured and enticed by our own desires. The Greek word for “lured” here is exelkó, literally meaning to be “dragged away.” It was used to describe when game (whether fishing or hunting) was lured away from its path to bait. So we have the picture of an animal that is dragged away from its usual path to bait that it thinks it needs. Similarly, the Greek word for “enticed” here means to “set a trap.”
So here you have these powerful Greek words that describe a man being dragged away and falling into the trap of sin. And why do we become lured into sin and fall into it’s trap? Well go back to the fishing metaphor that James is using. When you fish, you bait a hook. Before you drop the line in, you cover the hook with a jig and bait—it is so that the fish sees it as something he needs (food) and he goes after it, seeking satisfaction for his hunger. When he bites the bait, we jerk the pole and snag him—lift him out of the water where he dies and then he fries in fish grease so that we can eat him (if you like fried fish, that is).
It’s the same way with sin in our lives. It looks like something we need—it looks like something we need to satisfy us. Sin never appears to be dangerous, did you know that? Temptation never says, “Don’t do this. This will disgrace the name of God and hurt your witness. This will damage your relationship with God.” No, it sounds more like, “This will be fun! This won’t hurt! No one will ever know. Just do it.”
Our desires are deceptive, and it’s important to realize that our desires are the thing that pulls us in. It’s imperative to realize that the real problem is our own desires. Another Greek word for desire here is “lusts,” it is that passionate longing for sin that we sometimes experience. This is because we’ve been born into this world as sinners—naturally inclined to sinning against God. But if we’re born again, we have new natures and no excuse for continuing in the same sins.
But why has this been so important to know? Because we must recognize what the problem is before we can solve it or do anything about it. About a year ago, my office began to give off an awful odor. I looked everywhere for the source of smell. I cleaned the floors, took out the trash, and searched every corner—still nothing. Around this time we had recently been given a new puppy, and obviously he hadn’t been house trained, for I soon discovered the source of the smell. Behind a small guitar stand in my office lay a pile of hardened, old, dog droppings. That’s what the smell was! I cleaned it up, and soon my office was finally bearable. But you see, I couldn’t take care of the problem (the stench) without identifying it. And it is the same with our temptations—we can do nothing about our temptations until we discover what the real problem is: our own desires.
III. The Course of Our Temptations (v. 15)
We’ve already seen that God is a good God who doesn’t tempt us, and we’ve just seen what the source of our temptations are, but what’s the problem with letting our desires have their way? What is really at risk here, if anything? James answers again: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v. 15)
Our desires, if we welcome rather than resist them, lead to destruction. James uses another image here (as in v. 14) but one of birth. He pictures desire as conceiving and then giving birth, but then giving birth to death. Really, a horrifying image to think about. James has in mind the person who actively responds to his sinful desires. It is a person who has allowed his desires to conceive. And we understand this. It takes effort to conceive a child doesn’t it? It’s never, “Oops, how did that happen?” That’s what James has in mind here. He’s talking about somebody who does nothing about their desires. They welcome rather than resist those desires and then they conceive.
Once conception takes place, then what’s the next step? Birth. So follows James picture here. Once desire has had its way, it gives birth to sin. It doesn’t give birth to satisfaction like you think it does, it doesn’t give birth to pleasure, or prestige, or power—it gives birth to sin. Once birth takes place, then what? Growth and death. And so follows James’ image. He says that once sin has “fully grown,” once it has matured, it brings forth death. That’s where sin ultimately leads—that’s what James is warning us about (Rom. 6:23).
If you do nothing about sin, it will only get worse and worse and ultimately lead to death. Do you know how an avalanche works? What causes one? An avalanche occurs when the snowpack — or the layers of accumulated snow — on the side of a mountain is in some way disturbed, leading to a fracturing of the top layer and a downward torrent of a large mass of the snow. Snow builds over time—it’s not moved, it just builds on top of more snow. Once it gets too heavy, if falls, sometimes killing many people each year.
That’s the way it is with our desires for sin. When our desires grow, when we do nothing about them and they just get worse and worse, then they give birth to sin and then sin brings “forth death.”
IV. How to Fight the Desires (selected Scriptures)
As we’ve unpacked this passage of Scripture verse by verse, James has taught us several things. First, God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations. Second, our desires are—and always will be, the source of our temptations. Third, if our desires are welcomed rather than resisted, great destruction can take place—even death. But finally, I want us to look at a few practical ways we can fight those desires. If desires are the problem, then our desires need to change and they need to be fought. So how can we do this?
1) Study and know yourself. It’s good to take a long look in the mirror sometimes isn’t it? We need to know what desires we have a problem with and what situations or people cause us to enter into temptation. What desires do you have a problem with? Find out what situations, places, or people, cause you to have desires for sin. Study and know yourself well. Ask God to reveal that to you as well. Pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).
2) Avoid tempting situations. Keep yourself away from the situations that cause you to sin against God and fall into temptations. You know it does no good to pray, “Lord deliver me from evil,” if we thrust ourselves into it. I heard an old preacher say, “You can’t pray “Deliver me, Lord, from temptation,” if you thrust yourself thither!” Avoid the situations that cause temptations. Don’t park a freshly washed car under a tree full of birds. In other words, don’t try to be clean when you willingly go into areas that will make you dirty! The writer of Proverbs presents a picturesque warning for us concerning flirting around with sin, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27). Indeed not.
3) Submit to Christ. When we get saved, we make Jesus our Savior and Lord. He is our Savior because He saved us from death, hell, and the grave. He is our Lord because He takes control. But that’s the part that gets us sometimes. There may be areas of our heart that we haven’t submitted to Christ and made Him Lord over. But we must submit to His leadership and will and allow Him to take control of all the areas of our heart—including our desires. It is taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
4) Get satisfaction from God. Desires seek to be satisfied. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be desires. So since desire is the problem, then our desires need to change. How can that be done? By getting our satisfaction from God. If you don’t believe that God can satisfy you, David invites you to “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Similarly David says to “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). It’s like eating your favorite food—you keep eating it because of the satisfaction it brings your belly! When you get hungry, don’t you desire your favorite food? Of course you do, because you have a mental remembrance of the satisfaction it brings. It works in a similar way with God. If we will get our satisfaction from Him, we will inevitably begin to desire Him.
Conclusion: Enchanting But Deadly
For years, workers and visitors flocked to the sight of silvery dust flakes that floated to the floor in a mill where steel strips rolled over pads in a tall cooling tower. There was a steelworker, Joe Gutierrez who wrote about it. He says that “the snow danced in August.” It was beautiful and enchanting, but it was soon discovered that it was asbestos floating in the air. “Everybody breathed it,” Joe writes. He now suffers from the slow, choking grip of asbestosis, as do many plant workers.
“Can’t walk too far now. I get tired real fast, and it hurts when I breathe sometimes. And to think we used to fight over that job,” he says. Sin is enchanting, sin is pretty and attractive, but it can be a killer. Are you taking the steps necessary to overcoming these desires? Are you avoiding tempting situations? Are you submitting totally to Jesus Christ?
1. Iakhovas. “Top 10 Most Venomous Snakes.” List Verse. March 30, 2011. http://listverse.com/2011/03/30/top-10-most-venomous-snakes/
We’ve been studying through Paul’s letter to Titus, looking at how we can have a healthy church. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t want a healthy church—in fact, there was a survey conducted of the number one question the pastoral search committee asks its possible pastors. When they are interviewed, they are asked, “Can you grow our church?”¹
As Paul writes to Titus, his fellow worker, about church conduct and church order, we glean from this letter principles to have a healthy church—what the church should be doing and what it should look like. Specifically, we’ve been focusing on the first section, verses 1-4, looking at these verses under a microscopic lens, really. We have made it our aim to not miss a single detail of this paramount text of Scripture. We’ve been seeing from this passage principles for true ministry.
If we’re going to have a healthy church, this a crucial part of it—having a healthy ministry. We’ve been looking at several principles involved in having a successful, fruitful, effective, biblical ministry. Again, these principles are straight from Scripture, not a five-step program, or a book on Christian ministry—these principles are scriptural. They were the principles that God gave to Paul for his ministry, and they are the principles that God gives to us for ours. So far we have looked at two principles that God gives to us, and I want to take a moment to remind you of them:
1. Our Character. Out of verse 1, we read that Paul describes himself as an “servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” We saw here that if we’re going to be effective in the ministry of our own local church—it begins with this: we must be servants of God like Paul and Jesus—submitting our wills completely and entirely to God. If we want health in our church, we must be servants of God. If we want health in our homes, we must be servants of God. If we want a healthy, bold witness to our world, we must be servants of God.
2. Our Purpose. We saw from v. 1b that Paul’s purpose in ministry was for people’s faith, and then the building up of that faith: “[an apostle] for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness.” This too is our purpose, to aim at men’s salvation first, then at their sanctification. To get the fish in the boat and then allow Jesus to do the cleaning. We saw that without knowing our purpose, we won’t know what to aim for in our ministries. If ministry is attempted without a clear, defined purpose in mind, it won’t be effective—and most of all, it will not be biblical because in order for it to be biblical and effective, we must follow and fulfill the purposes that God has given us for ministry.
Tonight we will look at the third principle that God gives to us for ministry: our hope (v. 2). Hope is quite interesting—it does something for us that nothing else in this world can do: Hope alters our perspective on reality by informing us about reality. Hope changes the way we see things by informing us about the way things really are.
Hope is something like what General Smith had in mind while he was being tortured. Many of you know the story. He was a great, never-say-die general who was taken captive by enemies and thrown into a deep pit with his soldiers. This pit was wide, deep, long, and filled with a huge pile of horse manure. As he dove into the manure pile, he cried to his men, “Follow me men! There has got to be a horse in here somewhere to take us out!”
Hope functions to change our perspective on things. When the impossible seems to be the only option, our hope in God is that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). In this passage, we will see how important it is to have this perspective. In fact, we will see that our hope is the basis for our ministry, as it was Paul’s. It is what motivates us, it is what gives us the right perspective, and it is what gives us confidence that God is able to do what He promised. And the great part about this is that God has given us hope as a principle for our ministries to our workplace, our families, our church, our community, and our world.
And we absolutely need it—ministry is impossible without it. What we do in ministry is unthinkable, really. I know that sounds pessimistic, but think about it. We are pleading and begging dead sinners to receive life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-3). We are trying to get a dead person to take medicine that will give him life. We are trying to get sinners to go against their nature and trust Christ—it’s not natural. Think about all the people you know who aren’t saved. It is discouraging when our message is constantly rejected. We wonder about them, we weep for them. It’s an impossible task, but the unshakable, unwavering confidence and joy that we have is in the grandest truth in all the universe that God saves. We do not save, God saves. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Jonah 2:9), and we have confidence in this God who has the power to save according to His sovereign will. That’s the hope we have.
But let’s see deeper what this great hope is that God gives us for ministry. We’re going follow Paul’s order of describing it by seeing first the object of our hope, then the person of our hope (God), and finally the surety of our hope—God’s sovereign will. After this we will look at a few practical ways to put this principle into action.
The Text: Titus 1:1-4, ESV
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”
I. The Object of Our Hope (v. 2a)
Notice first the object of our hope: eternal life. Paul says first, “In hope of eternal life.” I think that it is imperative first to notice where this verse is. It really does make a difference. Paul names this principle after he talks about his purposes as an apostle.² Those purposes being, “[to bring about] the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.” This means that as he carries out his tasks of ministry that is, aiming first at men’s salvation, then their sanctification, all the while — having this hope, never losing it, but always having it on his mind.
It’s also another thing that belongs to God’s elect. Remember what two things belong to God’s elect that Paul described in v. 1? They are those who possess “the faith,” and “the knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness,” and also here, “the hope of eternal life.”
So we can infer from these two truths to say that Paul is really describing the hope that he shared with God’s elect, as he was one of them. While he carries out his ministry with its hardships, difficulties, and victories, he set his mind on this hope. This was a confident expectation of eternal life that he had for himself and for those he ministered to. In fact, this hope was the reason behind everything he did, it was the motivation he had for his mission. It was his confident, future expectation of endless life that the believer will have as a gift from God through Christ Jesus. It was the “gift of God [that is] eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). He describes this hope in other places in Titus as his eager expectation:
“Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
“So that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).
This hope functions in two ways for Paul: for himself, and those he ministers to. First I believe that this hope is what he looks forward to—that’s the way it’s expressed in the text. Second, I believe that his expected goal for those he ministered to was eternal life. He had hope for himself, and hope for those he ministered to.
1. Paul had this hope for himself. When ministry got tough, when people failed him, when people rejected him, he did not despair. Speaking of all the struggles of ministry, being “afflicted in every way,” “persecuted,” “struck down” (2 Cor. 4:8-9), he says in 2 Corinthians:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (4:17).
Philippians 3:20 expresses Paul’s confident expectation of heaven perhaps more than any other text: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” He endured more suffering than any of us ever will (lashes, beatings, stonings, etc.). But Paul could sacrifice anything anytime because of this—he knew what awaited him. He could endure any persecution or suffering for ministering to people—he knew what awaited him. What about you? Are your sacrifices joyful because of this expectation of eternal life, or are they drudgery because you have nothing to look forward to? When you are rejected and persecuted for your faith, do you still have this joy? Does this joy determine your response to persecution, or does your sin nature determine your response?
2. Paul had this hope for those he ministered to. We read in Acts 18, that Paul was struggling to share the gospel in Corinth. He was having some great success, but immediately met opposition by some Jews. “they opposed and reviled him” (v. 6), and he likely wondered if he should spend any more time sharing Christ with them. In fact, he said, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (v. 6c). But we read a few verses that God said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (vv. 9-10). God promised Paul that there were still people who needed to be saved—people that God would save in His own time. God had people in that city who were His. Because of this we read that Paul didn’t leave, but stayed “a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (v. 11)
God’s sovereign election ensured Paul’s ministry—he continued to share the gospel because God promised him that He would bring about the salvation of souls in His own time. God had people everywhere in that city that He had chosen to save, and because He chose them, they would be saved. Paul was to simply continue his ministry and wait for God to do His work. So Paul also had this hope of eternal life for those he ministered to—he expected men to be receptive to the gospel because salvation belongs to the Lord, it is God’s work and He is sovereign over it, bringing it to fruition in His own time.
When I think of hope, I’m thinking of what the great Puritan Thomas Watson wrote about it. I believe he illustrates it well for us: “Hope is an active grace: it is called a lively hope. Hope is like the spring in the watch: it sets all the wheels of the soul in motion. Hope of a crop makes the farmer sow his seed; hope of a victory makes the soldier fight; and a true hope of glory makes a Christian vigorously pursue glory.”³
Praise the Lord! That’s what hope does for us: God promised eternal life for us, so no sacrifice we make for Him in ministry can be too great, and no persecution or rejection can be so great because we have eternity to look forward to. And another thing hope does for us is give us confidence for ministry to the unsaved, as it did Paul. We plant the seed of the gospel expecting salvation of souls, because God has sovereignly chosen to bring about the salvation of many souls. Our hope causes us to enter our areas of ministry to our families, our workplaces, schools, and communities because we expect people to be saved and respond to the gospel.
Do you have that expectation? Are your sacrifices measured by your confident expectation? That is, how often are your daily sacrifices for God determined by the truth that God will usher you into heaven one day? Do you expect people to be saved when you minister to them?
II. The Person of Our Hope (v. 2b)
We’ve seen the object of our hope, which is eternal life. Notice second that the person of our hope is a trustworthy, faithful God. Paul is moving on to talking about God’s person and actions concerning eternal life to prove that our hope of eternal life is unshakable. See v. 2b, “which God, who never lies.” He is attempting to prove the validity of our hope because it rests in God’s character. Paul is giving a strong, reinforcing argument to support the validity of our hope of eternal life because it is based on and sustained by a trustworthy, faithful God. He’s pointing to God for proof that our hope of eternal life is true and trustworthy.
Saying that God never lies echoes the Old Testament; this great truth that God never lies has its roots in the OT:
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23:19)
“And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” (1 Sam. 15:29)
But talking about God this way is also in stark contrast to the culture that Titus ministered in. They were known as a lying culture. Crete was a small island, about the size of Western Kentucky, and the name Crete comes from the phrase: “to play the Cretan,” which in other words meant, “to lie.” So this was a place named because of the prevalence of lying in their culture.4 But notice also in v. 12 of this chapter, Paul says, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Even their religious leaders were proud to admit that everyone on the island was a liar, and they were always that way. We live in a culture just like this don’t we?
Falsehood is all around us. A statistic I read said that 60% of people can’t go ten minutes without lying. 40% of people lie on their resumes, 69% of people lie to their spouses, and without surprise 90% of people lie when dating online.5 Lying is a weakness, and when we discover we’ve been lied to, we feel like we can’t trust that person anymore. We trusted their character enough to believe anything they said. But we don’t have to worry about that with God. When He promises eternal life, He is 100% truthful. He doesn’t lie to us about anything, and He never has to live with the guilt of lying—He never lies; not in the past, not now, and never in the future. He is completely trustworthy. The point that Paul is making here is that our hope is based on God’s trustworthy nature. Our hope is unshakable because it rests in an unchanging, trustworthy, faithful God. Let me tell you a few things this truth about God should do for us: This should encourage us—we’re telling people the truth when we share Christ. This should give us confidence in our hope—it’s a sure thing. This should give us strength and security and rest—our hope rests not on ourselves, not on our good works, not how good we can be, it doesn’t rest on anything but God’s unchanging, immutable, loving, trustworthy, faithful nature. Even when we fail to do our ministry: He cannot fail us: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).
God cannot lie because it is against His nature. It is something He cannot do. It doesn’t go against saying that “God can do anything,” or “God is all-powerful.” Some question if we truly believe that God can do anything, if we affirm that He cannot lie. Thomas Aquinas and Anslem, some ancient church theologians argued that God cannot sin or lie because it is a weakness, not a power. God cannot lie because lying isn’t a power—it’s a weakness.6 Paul’s point is that we can have this hope for ourselves and this hope for those we minister to because it is based on God’s trustworthy character. So when we minister this hope of eternal life to people, we can know that we are telling them the truth, we can know that when God promised to bless our gospel sharing efforts, He meant it. If God never lies He is deserving of our full trust—that is great encouragement for ministry. If you trust God during your ministry efforts, you won’t be discouraged when your efforts aren’t enough.
III. The Surety of Our Hope (v. 2c)
We’ve seen the object of our hope, eternal life, and the person of our hope: an unlying, trustworthy God. Notice third that the surety of our hope is God’s sovereign will. See in this verse finally that Paul describes God’s action concerning the hope of eternal life. What did God do about it? How is it possible? Because “God, who never lies, promised it before the ages began” (v. 2c).
We see here two things: God’s action concerning our eternal life, and the time when those actions took place. That is, eternal life doesn’t come to us abstract, it comes to us graciously through what God has done, and at a cost. We see here that God did something about eternal life, and we see the time when He did something about it. And like our last point, Paul is attempting to build confidence and surety about our hope of eternal life because of God’s trustworthy character first, and second (here) because of God’s action concerning it.
First we see that God promised it. Anytime one makes a promise, it is a personal declaration made to another person that certain conditions will be met. When I asked my fiancée to marry me, it was a promise I was making to her that we would get married. Our relationship is grounded in that promise—we look forward to enjoying union together; all because we promised each other that we would be life partners.
Promises are central to the way God relates to us as well. He has made us so many promises—in fact, the Scriptures function like a promise book God gave to us. But there’s a special promise He made to His people. The promise that He made was that He would save them and be in a relationship with them. It is a covenant God made “before the ages began,” before we were ever born—and not because of anything good in us or foreseen in us, but because of His mercy and free grace. He promised eternal life to His people long ago, in eternity past, “before the foundations of the earth” (Eph. 1:4). This is a hard truth to understand, and theology calls it election.
This is a hard truth to understand, but if we believe that God saves, we must believe it—for He saves according to His plan and will, not ours. This means that our work will always be fruitful—it doesn’t mean that everyone will be saved when they hear our message, but it does mean that we have confidence that God’s word will not return back to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).
Christian conversion takes place because of God’s promise and election. Recall your conversion. Did you plan for that to happen? Did you know and plan to walk up the aisle? Did you know the details of your conversion before it happened? No, because you didn’t plan it. But God did. That’s the beauty of election and God promising eternal life. He is the One who planned it, and He is the one who will finish it and usher us into eternity with Him.
We believe because we were chosen: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:4-5a). Here Paul says that we can confidently be sure that God has chosen us because the gospel has come to us and transformed our lives. And when it comes to our ministry, there are people all around us who might be days away from that moment; weeks away; years away; decades away; but God is using our ministering efforts right now to lead them to that moment, just like He did us. Just like His plan of salvation is His plan in His own time, He has also chosen to use us as His tools to reach people—no other way will they be saved without the preaching of our gospel.
Do you have confidence in God’s promise of eternal life like Paul did in Acts 18? Do you rest in God’s sovereign plan of salvation?
IV. How to Use this Principle in Ministry
We have seen what this principle is, but it is no good to us if we don’t know how to use it. So how can we have this hope of eternal life? How can we develop this kind of perspective for our ministries to our workplace, family, church, community, and world? I offer a few practical suggestions:
1. First, make sure you’re saved. I think this is self-explanatory. You have to have Christ as your Savior and Lord to look forward to eternal life and have this hope, and to share it with the unsaved.
2. Ponder often the truth of eternal life. Read about it in the Scriptures. As Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). With this principle and great truth in mind, there is no sacrifice too great that we can make if we know that heaven is our home. There is also no persecution or rejection so great that can remove the place Jesus is preparing for us in eternity. Think about this hope at work, at the home, by your bedside. Let it permeate your being.
3. Examine your motive for Christian service. Do you minister to those around you because you are expecting them to be saved? I think we should expect more people to be saved. God is graciously at work in the lives of people everywhere, there are people on your path that God is just waiting for you to share the gospel with them. Our motive and reason for Christian service should be yes, God’s wonderful grace. But here, Paul says that his reason for ministry was this hope of eternal life—that’s one of the greatest expressions of God’s grace. So our motivation for Christian ministry should be joy and gladness in response to God graciously promising us an eternity with Him.
4. Expect people to be saved. Not everyone will believe our message, but God has promised to bless our gospel sharing efforts. If you never expect anyone to be saved, it will damage your gospel sharing efforts. Think of the farmer who doesn’t expect a crop to grow. Will he water the seed? Will he ensure it has the right amount of sunlight? No, and indeed he will not plant it at all. Neither will you share the gospel with someone you expect to reject it and discard it into the garbage. When you share the gospel, expect people to be saved.