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  • Writer's pictureWayne Shelton

Gospel Purification

“‘Don’t work harder, work smarter!’ That is, some tasks are completed by planning and ingenuity rather than through brute strength. The solution to some problem may come more readily when we stop trying to force it to happen and approach the challenge in an entirely different way. Perhaps when it comes to being holy, we Christians don’t need to work harder but work smarter.

“‘Working harder’ in this context leads us back around to the false idea that holiness is measurable and quantifiable – gauged by how well we can keep the ‘dos and don’ts’ – as opposed to how one nurtures a relationship with God. Focusing upon duties more than a relationship with God can lead to viewing Christianity as a rigid legalistic system rather than a dynamic journey. Upright behavior follows from one’s intimate relationship with God, not merely from a sense of duty. We keep the Lord’s commands because we love him.” (from Dennis R. Edwards, The Story of God Bible Commentary, 1 Peter)

Yet no one can behave perfectly all the time, noted Dennis Edwards. “Therefore, when we fail to live impeccably – which is inevitable – we might end up trying to convince ourselves that we must work harder next time, as if all that is required for holiness is to roll up our shirt sleeves, grit out teeth, and apply greater determination” (Edwards). Even though we are called to ‘work out’ our salvation (Phil. 2:12), holiness is not achieved through human effort. As the Philippians were also told, it is God who works in us ‘to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose’ (Phil. 2:13). So instead of working harder, we need to work smarter. This means that we receive the divine resources that God has given to his people and let them exert their full impact. The resource that Peter focuses upon in 1:22 – 2:3 is the Word of God. God’s Word is the glue that binds this section together.

Although the emphasis in this section is on the Word of the Lord, Peter also urges the believers toward practical holiness. Sincere love, as well as the absence of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander, is especially important for holding together a Christian community that is undergoing suffering. How can we love others as God commands?

Peter exhorts these exiles to crave God’s Word because they have already ‘tasted’ the goodness or kindness of God. Chapter 2 verse 3 is an allusion to Psalm 34:8 (‘Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him’). Because God had already displayed goodness, God’s people can trust the Word of God to also be good for them. ‘In short, the Word of God, the good news, is efficacious in generating, cultivating, and sustaining new life.’

The Word of God has the power to influence our behavior, including drawing us to salvation in Jesus. Augustine’s conversion is an example of the converting power of the Word. For years Augustine resisted the call of Christ upon his life. But in a garden in Milan he heard a child playing nearby and chanting words to a game, which he understood to mean that he should pick up the Bible and read (he had brought along a copy of the Bible). Let him tell his story:

“Suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which – coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, ‘Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it’ [in Latin, Tolle lege, tolle lege]. Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon….

“I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof’ [Rom. 13:13-14]. I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”

Years ago the National Dairy Board used the advertising slogan: ‘Milk. It does a body good.’ We could say of the Word: ‘It does the body of Christ good.’ Peter instructs his readers to ‘crave’ the Word in the same way that a newborn desires milk. Oh, how we pray that you will hunger and thirst for the Word of the Lord. For not only do the Scriptures give us right theology; they provide power to purify our souls, power to build community through love, and power to nurture our spiritual growth and development.

It is true, you cannot achieve holiness through mere human effort. That is why ‘working harder’ at holiness will have to give way to ‘working smarter,’ that is, ‘obedience to the truth’. Join us this week as we look at ‘Gospel Purification’ from 1 Peter 1:22-2:3 to learn how this Word works in our lives. Come and taste the goodness of the Lord.

Grace upon Grace,


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