We are Called to a Living HopePastor Lutzer | January 16, 2011
A faith that can’t be tested is a faith that can’t really be trusted.
Selected highlights from this sermon
For believers in Jesus Christ, there is a living hope that all of us can be confident in. We are saved to an inheritance that is imperishable—it can’t be touched by anyone or anything. It’s reserved in heaven, and it’s eternal.
We can also be assured that we’re being guarded. The devil may tempt us. He may even try to destroy us, but God Himself will guard us all the way to heaven—your arrival there is a fact that’s guaranteed by God.
And while we’re waiting for heaven, we need to remember that the trials we face are sometimes necessary (to refine us and our faith). They come in all shapes and sizes, and they can be painful.
But all trials are revealing. And all trials are temporary.
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The problem was not Katrina. The problem was that the levies broke. If the levies hadn’t broken Katrina would not have been the catastrophe that it turned out to be. We’re living in a time in history when there is a great storm on the horizon here in the United States and I’m sure around the world. We’re living in a time when secularism is gobbling up all the public square that used to be occupied by at least some kind of a Christian consensus. We’re living in a time when Islam is making tremendous gains in Europe and a lot more gains here in the United States than you and I are aware of. Morally and spiritually we are a nation that is filled with rot. The question is will the levies hold?
Just this morning it so happens that I read in the Scripture that if God does not take care of the city, those who oversee it and watch it labor in vain. I believe that the Church is God’s last big hope and our last big hope for this nation, for ourselves and for the Gospel.
In this series of messages we are going to be talking about the Church. You know that years ago here at the Moody Church we established a promise statement. The promise statement was only fifteen words. “Moody Church is a trusted place where anyone can connect with God and with others,” and we continue to hold to that promise, and isn’t it wonderful to see the kind of diversity that God has brought to us?
But today I’d like to also introduce you to a mission statement. The mission statement is that Moody Church is a community called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ, and in the next couple of messages we’re going to unpack that and find out what that means
If you have your Bibles it is very important that you open them today to the book of First Peter. There’s a verse that I want you to memorize which is kind of the anchor verse for this series and that is First Peter 2:9. Put this on your refrigerator because at some point I’m going to ask all those who know it by memory to stand, not today but in the future. “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 has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” That says it all.
The first two messages in this series are going to deal with what it means to be called. The other messages will deal with what it means to be a community, and I’ll speak more specifically at that time casting vision for Moody Church.
Today I decided that since it says that we are a chosen race that what we will do is look at the first nine verses of First Peter to find out what that is all about. I also determined that today is a day in which I believe that the word of God is going to bless us so much that at some point you are going to say to me, “Pastor Lutzer, stop. We can’t take all this blessing anymore.” I hope that when it’s time for me to stop that’s where you’ll be.
You’ll notice that it opens by saying that this is a letter to the elect exiles of the dispersion (Because of the persecution Jews and Gentiles went everywhere.) in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia (Asia means Asia Minor), and Bithynia (and this is basically the land of Turkey today). Rebecca and I have actually been to Cappadocia, one of the most remarkable places in all the world.
And so Peter is writing to people who are in the midst of persecution. They are going through hard times, as people have always gone through hard times, and he’s going to write to them, but first of all, I want you to see how Peter anchors his remarks in God, and that’s what I want to do as well.
If we could think of the Church as being a tree, today we’re going to talk about the roots going down deep. The first two messages in this series are about how deep the roots go, and then we’ll talk about the fruit of it all, proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
You’ll notice that God determines the salvation of you and me. Peter says that unashamedly and unapologetically. You’ll notice he says that he’s writing to those who are the elect exiles, and then in order to continue the sentence he gives us who those are and then he says, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”
I want you to see how the whole Trinity is involved in salvation. I’ve been mulling around the idea of sometime preaching a series of messages just entitled, “What God Had to Do to Save You.” He really had to have a very far reach and God was involved and the entire Trinity is involved and we can see it here.
First of all we are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. It is the Father who elects us the word is used 22 times in the New Testament “Well did he choose in relationship to foreknowledge?” In other words he foreknew those who would believe and then chose them? If this were a classroom and I had fifteen minutes I’d show you that the word foreknowledge really means to foreordain. In fact, in verse 20 of this chapter it talks about Jesus Christ who was foreknown. It doesn’t simply mean that God had knowledge. It means fore loved, and God chose you, and when did he do it? He did it before the foundation of the world. Now think of your name right now, of who you are, where you grew up, and who your parents are. Did you know if you are a believer today that God already back then before you appeared chose you? I’m glad that he chose me before the foundation of the world because if he had waited until I showed up he might have changed his mind, but he chose me before the foundation of the world. Just accept that.
You say, “Well what about those who aren’t chosen?” Listen those of you who aren’t believers today. At the end of the message today I’ll tell you how you can find out whether or not you are chosen, so that’s the deal.
So the Father chose you. Notice that the Spirit sanctifies you. The Holy Spirit of God works in our hearts to give us a love of holiness, keeps teaching us that sin is a bad idea because the Holy Spirit wants Christ likeness in us and he invites us to follow him and to be dependent upon him. The filling of the Holy Spirit ’d like to deal with some time ’s son, not only forgives our sins, but the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin.
I can imagine that there are some of you here today who are forgiven but you are not cleansed. I remember a woman speaking to me who had had an abortion, and whenever she saw a child in a shopping center that would be approximately the age of hers she was overwhelmed with grief and had to run somewhere just to weep. She’d been forgiven because she had received God’s forgiveness but her conscience wasn’t cleansed, constantly condemning her.
Listen, First John 1:9 says, “He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us,” and the cleansing of the conscience is something that the blood of Jesus Christ always does.
A woman said to me one time over the telephone, “I cannot take steel wool to my heart and scrub it,” and that’s right. You can’t. You need a detergent that goes down so deep into the crevices of your heart where no person has ever gone except you. You need cleansing in those closets within you that you have tried to hide from God and to hide from others. You need the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. The Father chooses us, the Spirit sanctifies us, and the Son cleanses us. The whole Trinity has to be involved to save you. This was a major project. It was God’s greatest project. So Peter is saying, “Remember that your salvation is rooted in eternity in God.”
So God does this. Now what else does God do? Well God has an inheritance for us and he secured that inheritance. He prepared it and now on our journey all the way to heaven what has God got waiting for us? You’ll notice that the text now says in verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again.” By the way, did you make the decision as to whether or not you would be born? Did your parents ask you and say, “Well you know it’s not really right to bring somebody into the world unless we ask them whether they want to be here first?” No, that decision was not made by you, and you know that decision that you made to receive Christ and become a member of his family was made by your Father in heaven, and you were just responding to what your Father already decided to do.
Now you’ll notice it says, “Blessed be the God and Father.” He caused us to be born again to a living hope. This is a living hope to be distinguished from a dead hope. A dead hope is wishful thinking. A dead hope would be something like we hope that when we elect new leaders here in Illinois that they will lower our taxes. That’s a good definition of a dead hope. (laughter) That’s a dead hope. That’s wishful thinking. This is a living hope. It’s a growing hope. It is hoping in that of which we are already assured. It is the hope that is secure. It is the hope and the sure knowledge that we belong to God and this is a living hope, and you’ll notice that it comes as a result of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and now we get to what is going to be waiting for us when we die. This has got to be so exciting that when the end comes and I ask those of you who would like to go to your inheritance today I might actually find a huge response.
Look at what it says. It says that we are saved (verse 4) to an inheritance, and now he defines that inheritance. We are waiting for something, and that inheritance is imperishable. It is eternal. It can’t be affected by the stock market. It can’t be affected by who is in power. It can’t be affected by your friends who dislike you. It can’t be affected by employers who are chiseling you. No, no, no! It is imperishable. It will be there no matter how long you live because it is unaffected by time. It is an eternal inheritance. Notice it is not only imperishable (All this is in verse 4.) but it is undefiled. It is very holy.
Imagine when we are holy. You see if we have to be holy to live in a place that is that holy, imagine being so holy that you don’t mind if anyone knows your thoughts, that any thought that you have would be a thought that you’d be glad to have if your mother were to know it, or your wife, or your daughter, or anyone else because we are in a place that is holy and undefiled. And God makes us undefiled so that we can live there. If we went there the way we are right now we’d spoil that place so soon. It would get so dirty the moment that we arrived. So it is a place that is being prepared for us that is undefiled, that is unfading. It never gets depleted. It’s not like honors and flowers and everything else. However beautiful they may be they fade away, but this is unfading, and my friend, it is eternally unfading.
And then you notice it is kept. We could translate it reserved. I like that word better. You know what it’s like to arrive in this place and all these people are pushing and shoving and hoping that they can get in, and you’ve got tickets and it is reserved and so you walk past everybody else because you have a place that is reserved for you. My believer friend today, let me tell you that in heaven there is a room that only you can enter. There is a crown that only you can wear. There are clothes tailor made just for you. It’s waiting there, reserved in heaven for you.
Now notice the text goes on to say that in the process we are being guarded. Well, you know if you have a treasure like this you’d expect to be guarded, wouldn’t you? I mean you are glad that you are being guarded so that you get there. Verse 5 says, “Who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” The word guarded is a military term because on the way to our inheritance the devil tempts us. He wants to destroy us. He is sometimes given awesome power to discipline us. That’s why we go through his hassles. He’s disciplining us. God is using him ultimately for our good, and enroute there are people who would rather that we not inherit anything. We have human relationships that are so difficult to untangle, and we have economic issues. We’ve got all kinds of problems and so God says, “I’m going to guard you all the way to the time of redemption.” God is going to do the guarding and no army on earth is going to affect you, and no army on earth is going to affect your inheritance that is waiting there for you. That is secure and the fact that you will arrive is guaranteed by God. Satan can destroy but he ultimately cannot thwart God’s purpose. It is guarded there by God. It’s waiting for you. And I’ll tell you, things are going to get very, very good some day.
Now, what do we do in the meantime while we are waiting? You know waiting becomes, what shall we say? We lose patience in the midst of waiting. So what are we supposed to be doing while we wait? Here we live on earth with all of our problems, all of our issues, and we’re supposed to be waiting for the inheritance. What’s happening between now and then? Well, the truth is that not only does God determine our salvation, and he determines and preserves our inheritance, but also we honor him by faith. And here what we’re going to do is to see four things about trials.
Now, how many of you would say, “Pastor Lutzer, I have never had a single trial”? Could I see your hands please? I’m looking in the balcony particularly for those of you who perhaps came late and you didn’t have an opportunity to know all the good things that are going on here. And the answer to that question is that all of us have had trials. And if you are not having a trial now you are going to write this down because it’s coming. You’ll notice that it says that, while it tells us what we should do. But first of all, let me say four things about trials. I’m in the middle of verse 6. It says, “Though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.”
First of all, they are temporal. It’s just a little while. Somewhere I remember reading a story and I wasn’t able to track it down but it was about what it would be like if you were going to a mansion, like say the Biltmore Mansion, which is out in the Carolinas. Rebecca and I have driven past it many times but we’ve never gone in. But let us suppose that you knew that you inherited it, you had the papers, but you had to get there by horse and buggy, and it’s cold and it’s rainy, and in the mud there’s a wheel that comes off of the buggy, and the horse gets sick and you are ten miles from the place, and you are weary and you are tired. Wouldn’t you be inspired though, knowing that you can endure that because not too far down the road there is this mansion that is prepared - there is this inheritance?
Listen, that’s the way life is. It is short. Think of how long eternity is. Think of all of the flakes of snow that have fallen in Chicago and in New York and in all of the United States of America, or the world for that matter, during a winter. Billions upon billions upon billions have fallen, and let’s suppose that every flake were a year. That’s a long time. Eternity will scarcely have begun when we have lived that long in heaven. And now we’re spending our life complaining? And some of you, I know, are going through terrible trials, and I’ll talk about that in a moment, but we just think that life is tough. Yes, life is tough but think of what is coming. There is a place that is reserved in heaven for us, kept by the power of God, and we are guarded from point A to point B by God’s power.
Now, what about trials? First of all, they are temporary. Secondly, they are necessary and needful. Listen, how would God solicit faith from you if he didn’t bring trials your way? They are needful because God’s got a different agenda than we have. Our happiness is not nearly as important to God. Have you ever noticed this? Our happiness is not nearly as important to God as it is to us because there are times when he doesn’t seem to be making us very happy at all, and with a little bit of help from heaven things could go much better. God has a different agenda so they are necessary.
And you’ll notice that it says also that they are varied. There are a variety of them. They are multicolored. They come in different sizes, and different shapes. They last longer. There are health issues, economic issues, and relational issues ’s pain, fear, and suffering. They come in many, many different ways and for a little while now you are, if necessary (and it is), involved in these trials, and you’ll notice that they are painful.
It says that you are grieved by various trials. Well might you be grieved. I got an E-mail the other day from a relative and I can’t believe this. His wife is so sick that she screams because painkillers don’t help her. She needs surgery but he is postponing it so that he can take care of her, and they don’t have any money. They don’t know where the rent is coming from so Rebecca and I try to help them, but the point is this. I mean, I read that and I thought where does it stop for some people? You are grieved by various trials. They are painful, these trials are, and so what he says is that they are short, they are needful, they are painful, but they are very revealing. Oh I’ll tell you what trials won’t do for you.
Notice what the text says. It says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith .” What do you mean gold that perishes? Gold has been the standard that people have used throughout the centuries. I mean the minute there’s some economic twitters people are going to gold, and the price shoots up. I don’t quite understand this. I realize that investing in gold might be a good idea but have you ever thought of the absurdity of it? I mean you buy this little ounce for God knows how much, and it can’t help you. It can’t feed you. It can’t do anything, but gold is the standard and it is known to be imperishable.
He says, “Gold that perishes though it be tried by fire.” He wants to make a point here that this is pure gold you know point 99999 percent gold, and the way they used to do it is to take gold ore and throw it into a furnace in a pot and they heated it very, very hot and the gold began to basically boil and all the impurities came to the surface and they would siphon it off and they knew they had pure gold when they could see their faces in it ’s siphoning off the soot because he wants something that is more precious than gold that perishes, and some day it will all perish, and that is your faith that is going to outlast gold. And then the phrase that he uses here, “That it might be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” can be interpreted in two ways and I’m going to interpret it both ways today. You get all of that and heaven thrown in.
It could be that our faith (and I think that this is probably the primary meaning) is found to bring praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. What happens is this. Jesus returns to earth and the question is what do we have to give him? And the answer is our faith and through that he receives glory and honor because of our faith, because without faith it is impossible to please God. And so we give Jesus something when he returns. You say, “Jesus, I don’t have anything to give you but you know you did take me through all those trials, and I sometimes doubted you. Sometimes I was angry with you. Sometimes I didn’t even go to church because I didn’t like your people, but I hung in,” and Jesus will say, “Through that you give me praise and honor and glory.”
But there’s another way to interpret it. It could be that it’s a reference to what Jesus will give to us because of our faith. He gives us back praise and honor and glory because remember when we have our inheritance God makes no distinction between how much Jesus inherits and how much we inherit because we are found in him and we are his brothers and sisters. He wrote us right into the will “Your place in heaven is assured,” and the fact that we kept on believing him he says, “Thank you, Peter and Joe and Frank and Mary and Ruth, because I put you through the pressure cooker, and even amid many doubts you kept believing that I was good when you looked around and there was no reason to believe it except my bare word, and you honored me, and I want to honor you ”
Now follow this carefully. Where does our faith come from anyway? It’s really a gift of God. You know the ability to believe on Jesus is a divine gift. As we grow in the word and we continue to believe him he keeps giving us grace and he keeps giving us faith. Think of it. The faith that honors him is actually the faith that he gave us. And here he’s going to honor us as if our faith were our own when in point of fact he gave it to us in the first place. We’re astounded at his generosity. We can’t take it in. He gives me the faith to believe. He saves me. He chooses me. He washes me with his blood. He gives me the faith to hang in when times are tough, and then he says, “Thank you very much. You gave me praise, honor and glory because you wouldn’t abandon your faith no matter what I put you through.” And so he honors us and we can’t believe it.
No wonder the Bible says in verse 8, “Though you have not seen him you love him.” If you’ve been to prayer meeting at Moody Church you know that often (not always) I tell people in the prayer meeting to speak out loud to Jesus simultaneously because I have this view that God is able to hear us all simultaneously no matter how many prayers are being offered to him at the same time. He doesn’t have the same problem as AT&T where the lines get jammed after a certain number. And so what happens is people talk out loud to Jesus and tell him why they love him. They’ve not seen him. I heard Charles Swindoll say that it’s like a mother who is blind. Does she love that child? Yes, she loves that child? Has she ever seen him? No, she’s not seen him but she loves him. One of the greatest proofs that you belong to God, if you are wondering if you are saved or not, the question is do you love Jesus because the moment you are saved and you begin to understand the Gospel God implants within you a love of God and a love of Jesus whom having not seen you love. So I’m going to ask you today do you love him? If I were to go by the clapping I’d say 25% of you are saved and the rest of you aren’t. (laughter)
“Whom having not seen you love.” I hope that you go on record saying, “I love him.” “Whom having not seen you love and though you believe on him and you rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory .” Well, you say, “That’s not true of my life.” I can tell you why it’s not true of your life. It’s one of two reasons. One is that you have succumbed to cynicism and unbelief. That’ll do it for you. The other thing that will do it for you is sin. Depending on where you were last night, what you did last night, what you saw last night - that all affects whether or not you can worship God here today with joy inexpressible and full of glory because if we can think of a cup of joy or a pail of joy, sin is like taking a nail and pounding it into the bottom of the pail and the joy just runs out. And then you say, “Where’s the joy?” But for those who are obedient, and when we are cleansed even in the midst of trials we can rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory because we know where we are headed.
I have a couple of transforming thoughts as we conclude. First of all, did you know that when you were born again unto the living hope that we talked about in verse 3, are you aware of the fact that you are actually born into a family? I mean you know we all have the same father if we’re born again, and it was God’s intention that this family exist in community. We’ll be talking more about that in the future, but do you know what we have to offer you here at Moody Church (in addition to some good music and ministry of the word) that you can’t get at home listening to a computer (though we are glad for all those who are listening today thank you for listening)? It’s community - commitment to one another, commitment to our TMC communities, and commitment to each other. It isn’t simply enough to come Sunday morning. You are a part of something that is much greater, and we are born again, and the fact is we’re going to share all of eternity together in our inheritance. I’m going to live next door to Rebecca and then our kids are going to be up there, but you know across the hallway there’s all the deacons and the elders and maybe the pastoral staff (laughter). I’ll tell you we’re going to live there all of eternity. Let’s get used to it now.
Secondly, a faith that cannot be tested cannot really be trusted. That’s why faith is so important to God. We don’t know all the reasons why faith is important to God. Notice what the text says. It talks about testing the genuineness of our faith. Are you a true believer? Well, one of the ways to test that is can you go on believing when times are hard or is it just a religion of convenience? You accept Jesus and then we don’t see you again. My friend, today if I may speak metaphorically for a moment, will you remember that over there your wounds will become crowns? Will you remember that your tears will become jewels on that crown? And will you remember that your sorrows and your pain will be turned into joy?
When Paul says elsewhere that the trial of our faith is precious, and he says that the suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us, what he really was saying is, of course, not just throughout all of eternity God will be able to make up to us what we experienced, but he hints at something else. The more trials here, the more glory there. Do I have an amen or am I all alone up here today? (applause) The more trials here, the more glory there. Don’t become cynical and angry with God. He is there for you even when the rug is pulled out from under you. God is there.
Finally, faith is not only the way in which we live the Christian life but most importantly, faith is the way you begin the Christian life. Do you remember that I began this message by saying that God chooses those who would be saved and some of you winced a bit at that? And now I’m talking to those of you who (A) have never received Christ as Savior and know it, and (B) those of you who think you have but haven’t, because there’s really no love in your heart for Jesus no matter how much you admire him. You don’t understand the Gospel. So let me speak to you now very specifically. Here’s the way you find out whether or not you are chosen. Would you come to Christ today? Would you say, “Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and I long for your salvation. I want your blood to cleanse me. I want to belong to God. I know that I have kidded myself and I have fooled myself into thinking that I am a believer. I’ve talked myself into it but there’s been no heart transformation. I want Christ as my Savior today.”
Now if you come to him the assurance is he’ll never cast you out, and that’s the only way you can know whether or not you are really chosen. And by the way, if you don’t come to Christ, do you have a right to complain about the fact that maybe you aren’t chosen? Apparently you don’t want to be chosen. So I urge you today to trust Christ as your Savior and when you do, for you, there will be an inheritance undefiled and unfading. It fades not away. It’s reserved for you with your name on it, preserved for all of eternity. (applause) Meanwhile from point A to point B while we wait for our inheritance we can trust God for tomorrow. Let’s pray.
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that you might invigorate us with the great joy of knowing that we are saved to something more than attending church. We are saved to something in all of eternity that is great and wonderful and meanwhile there’s a job to do and there are promises to believe, and we ask in the name of Jesus that you might give us great faith. For those who are going through trials we ask that they shall be cleansed. We confess unbelief as sin and we ask today that you’ll help us believe and to prove the genuineness of our faith. And for those, Father, who have never trusted Christ as Savior would you create within them a sense of conviction, and a sense of need that they might come to Christ at this moment, even where they are that they might pray and say, “Jesus, today I receive you as mine.”
Now let’s take a moment just to pray and you pray to God.