We have been focusing this year on two themes during our chapel gatherings, both of which have continued to lodge in my mind for further reflection. We have considered the fruit of the Spirit and the way God does His work of personal transformation during our teaching chapels. We have learned that each of the fruit describes the character of a person who is filled with the Spirit, walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh.
Then, for our mission chapels, we have been thinking about what it means to be God’s missional people. We understand that mission is not our idea, but God’s. God is doing something in our world today and, remarkably, He works that plan out in us and through us. Our mission, rightly understood, is to join God in His work of redeeming all things.
Reflecting on these themes, I am drawn again to a passage of Scripture that brings these two ideas together in a very particular way, 1 Peter 2:1-12. A confronting thought stands out in those few verses: we are being built up to be a holy priesthood (v. 5), and we are called to be “a holy nation” (v.9). Mission begins in the holiness of God’s people, who give first priority to the nurturing of their own souls and who never lose sight of their true identity as redeemed men and women who are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. If we lose that, we lose everything. If we ignore that, we have no message.
“Mission begins in the holiness of God’s people”
Sadly, I have seen over the years many men and women who have spent their lives devising strategies and attempting to come up with the latest techniques and innovations in bringing the Gospel to the nations. And I have seen it all lost in a moment when the true condition of their character was exposed for all the world to see.
Peter reminds these people of their true identity as God’s children: You are a holy priesthood, you are a holy nation.
Holy—the very word that describes our God is the same word used here to describe us. Holy—it seems like such an archaic word, and that’s too bad. At its core, this term holy has the idea of being set apart, of being distinctive and different. This is the term that is used in some of the most powerful passages describing God’s character and nature. Think, for example, of Isaiah 6 and that tremendous vision of heaven, where the seraphim circle the throne calling to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” He is the thrice-holy God, and Isaiah tells us that no other god or idol is equal to Him in any way.
And we are called to be holy as well. Peter’s words naturally take us back to Old Testament passages like Leviticus 19:2, where God commands the Israelites to be holy because He is holy; in essence, God is saying, “The very term that describes Me shall describe you as well.” And He continues throughout the chapter with the somber refrain, “I am the Lord your God.” He’s saying to His people, “I am holy, I have called you Mine, and you are to be holy as well.” It’s a terribly sobering thought.
When we think about being a missional people, too often we lose sight of this most basic and foundational truth: The first part of being a missional people is paying attention to our own personal holiness. If we are people who preach about the transforming power of the Gospel, to what extent are we allowing that work to be done first in us?
So often our understanding of mission comes from familiar New Testament passages like Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:8, where we are exhorted to make disciples and to be witnesses. But here Peter draws on another understanding of God’s mission, and that’s a mission of transformation—a mission of being the unique people of God who will be so different from the world around them that it will get people’s attention and draw them in.
There is a powerful witness when God’s people look more and more like God Himself, giving a glimpse of His character and His nature to the world around them. Or, as Peter says in verse 12, when people “see your good deeds and glorify God in the day of visitation.”
Over the years, one of the things that has grieved me most in my experiences in ministry is in having to deal with leaders who fall. I have walked with too many men through the agonizing experience of putting a life back together, and in virtually every situation, there was a greater emphasis on the work, at the expense of their own soul. The greater challenges in ministry and mission are not so much a lack of strategy and technique, but a crisis of character.
“The greater challenges in ministry and mission are not so much a lack of strategy and technique, but a crisis of character.”
Everything we do as individuals, as a church, as a college, as pastors and missionaries, is not merely a reflection of our own character, it is a reflection of the God we represent.
Peter’s words here in verse 11 look much like Paul’s in Galatians 5. Paul says, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Peter says, “Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” The life of holiness is life in the Spirit, and it reminds me that this is the work that God is doing in each of us—conforming us into the image of Jesus. The questions to consider are these: To what degree am I cooperating with God in that work? And to what degree am I resisting him? This is a daily commitment, to be reminded of our true identity as God’s holy people, not calling attention to ourselves, but to God. We are to mirror Him and give people a glimpse of our holy, holy, holy God