Please open the Bible to the place where it is written, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.”
This text was initially penned by the Holy Ghost through the apostle Peter to all of the saints in the northeast portion of the Mediterranean region. It is the introduction to the first of two such general letters to these saints which He wrote through Peter before Peter’s death. God wrote these two letters through Peter to His children out of Peter’s vast experience with Himself, apparently to emphasize fundamental principles of the Christian faith.
Since this is a general letter specifically addressed to a large number of saints dispersed over a wide area of cultural and civic boundaries, it is general enough, in my opinion, to consider this letter to be a letter from God to all of His people since that time, a letter which encapsulates and summarizes general fundamental principles which broadly affect our practical Christian life. I take this letter as such, as though it was written to me personally, and to the saints of our present day, as an overview of the Christian life and perspective given to me by my Father.
It is enlightening to note that the very first principle which God mentions to us in this letter is that of election according to the foreknowledge of God, through the separating influence of the Holy Ghost, unto obedience. This is a single principle with three distinct, imbedded parts: election, sanctification, and practical holiness. This principle is basic to the Christian walk and God describes us, His intended audience, as already having been affected by this principle in our basic natures.
God says to us His children that we have been chosen by Him according to the fact that He knew us from before, that His choosing of us was actually accomplished by the Holy Spirit, Who set us apart from other people whom God did not know before, and that the result of this activity is that we, His children, will be obedient, and that we are being sprinkled with the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. God begins His letter with this description of His children as if that is the essence of our identity and the substance of our being, almost a definition of our spiritual status before Him. Obedience is the central practical focus of this definition.
God continues to emphasize obedience in this letter, after reminding His children of the richness of our inheritance in Him, and of the value of our sufferings before Him, by commanding us to walk before Him as obedient children, as follows: “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance; but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy.”
Our Father tells us here to prepare our intellects in a diligent and careful way, as though for extended strenuous activity, by strengthening and preparing our minds, paying attention to what is going on about us, and giving earnest mental strength to understanding the truth: “gird up the loins of your mind.”
Next, He tells us to be “sober,” to walk in an attitude of alertness and carefulness in our wills, not in carelessness and foolishness and haphazardness.
Thirdly, He tells us to never quit expecting that He will bring grace to us when Jesus Christ is revealed.
He emphasizes these three things; preparing our minds, being sober, and hoping for grace, as significant in the context of our being generally obedient to Him in all things. In doing this he covers our mind, our will, and our emotion, totally encompassing our entire frame in the context of obedience.
God commands us to do these things in the context of obedience to Him, and He tells us that we ought to continue in our spiritual development according to these three things, in direct contrast to the way that we were walking before He effected our salvation and brought about our separation from the world. He says that at that time, before He turned us to Himself, that we were ignorantly developing ourselves according to our own lusts, our own wants, our own desires… according to what we wanted to do, according to the way we wanted things to be, and according to what we thought would make us happy. We were not doing this in knowledge but in ignorance. We were not doing this in obedience, but in disobedience.
In contrast to this selfish orientation, God commands us to be holy in all of our behavior. He says that He Himself is holy and that He has called us to Himself. Since He is holy, we are to be holy in the same way that He is holy, in all respects, and this holiness ought to exude from our innermost being into every detail of our lives — “in all manner of conversation.” This is more than a proclamation that we as believers are already holy, it is a command to work out this holiness in our behavior and activity: the “fashioning yourselves.”
There are many motivations for walking in holiness that might be considered appropriate for God to appeal to as He commands us to be holy. He says the reason that we are to be holy is because it is written, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” This is quite profound.
God does not appeal to us because of the great love that He has shown to us through His Son Jesus Christ, that it is thus a reasonable thing for Him to command that we walk in holiness, since Jesus Christ has shed His blood for us.
He does not appeal to us based on the great grace that He will show to us at the revelation of His Son, that it should free us to be holy out of gratitude and love for His abundant and indescribable mercy towards us.
God does not appeal to our personal welfare in His exhortation to us, that it will be well with us and that we will be happy if we obey him.
Neither does He appeal to His basic Lordship over us, to His sovereignty and majesty as the ultimate Ruler of all things, or to the fact that He created us and that He can do whatever He pleases with us or to us simply because He has made us.
While all of these things would certainly appear to be valid bases from which to work with us, He chooses none of them here. The basis for His command to us as New Testament Christians, who have been set free in Christ, is simply that it is written down in the Old Testament.
This reasoning is blunt and simple and exhaustive. God implies that this one statement from the Mosaic law is sufficient and complete to motivate us to walk in holiness before Him in every facet of our lives. He gives us this command directly, based on this fact — that this principle of holiness is written down in the Old Testament — and He does not give us any acceptable alternatives; there are no options.
The fact that God uses this reasoning to motivate us to walk in holiness is profound because we as New Testament Christians tend to think lightly of Old Testament principle in this age, which we call the “Age of Grace…” as if to say that grace was somehow foreign to earlier “ages.” We say that we are “free in Christ” and that we are not required to obey the Law, as if God has changed in His basic nature from when He gave the Law and that His purpose for revealing His law is somehow obsolete. We find some contending that Old Testament law is no longer relevant to us today, regardless of whether it appears to contain timeless and eternal principles or not.
However, this principle, “Be ye holy, for I am Holy,” is the summary and capstone of the Old Testament Levitical law concerning the eating of unclean animals; it is at the very heart of the ceremonial law. It seems that God might have us reconsider our grace-age thinking.
Peter himself, who wrote these words, was certainly aware of the Lord’s disposition with respect to freedom and grace, yet, after having walked with Him for three years during His earthly ministry, and after having been an integral part of the powerful moving of the Holy Spirit in those early days of the church, Peter still testified at one point, “I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean,” based on his understanding of God’s revelation to Him in the Levitical law.
Later, Peter wrestled, along with the Apostle Paul and the Jerusalem elders, concerning the place of the law in the life a believer. By the Holy Spirit he came to plainly understand how Gentile believers were to perceive the Old Testament law. Peter is not mistaken.
It is Peter himself that God is directing this principle through to Jew and Gentile alike here in the first of his epistles. Peter feels perfect freedom in the Holy Spirit to direct us as New Testament Gentile believers to Old Testament law for a distinct and fundamental principle to guide and direct our lives in Christ.
While it is evidently true that the apostles did not extend any requirement to Gentile Christians to obey the Levitical ceremonial laws, as is evident from their letter to the Church in Antioch to this end, the principle of obedience and holiness does extend to all Christians, and it is based fundamentally upon this law. We must not forget this. Everything we believe should have a solid grounding in the Old Testament. When we omit this foundation, we are likely to find ourselves in serious error.
Our Father continues in His letter to encourage us in obedience by enjoining us to walk in fear before Him due to the fact that we are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ: “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver an gold, from your vain conversation, received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
Here, fearing God is directly linked to our behavior, which will be judged by the Father without any preferential treatment of even His own children. His judgment of our works as believers is to motivate us to follow Him in reverential, careful obedience all the days of our lives. While it is the truth we are forgiven of our sins by the precious blood of Christ, we must still with utmost care purpose to walk in obedience to our Father. He will judge our work. We are to walk in a manner worthy of the Son of God, not trample underfoot the holiness of His blood by drawing from our redemption a careless attitude toward sin.
God continues further in this emphasis on obedience by noting the affect of obedience on our souls. He says, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.”
He reveals to us here that obedience to the truth through the Holy Spirit purifies our souls, and results in fervent sincere love to our brothers and sisters. There is nothing “put on” about this love, nothing corrupt about it: it is from a purified heart. God encourages and directs us to continue in this love. Love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom 13:10)
It is evident also, though not stated here explicitly, that disobedience is outside the influence of the Holy Spirit, it pollutes and defiles our souls, and it is something that He has no part of in us and does not in any manner ever encourage. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren.”
Further, as if to come at this from another angle altogether, God extends His perspective in this matter by defining the essence of those who are not believers as those who are by nature disobedient. Just as He has primarily identified and defined believers by obedience, He describes unbelievers as “them which be disobedient.” He continues His development in the text of the letter, after encouraging us to desire the written Word as milk for our souls, as follows: “Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”
Unbelievers are presented as essentially disobedient, stumbling at the written and spoken revelation of God, and choosing to willfully disobey it for a variety of reasons. Just as obedience is fundamental to the nature of believers, disobedience is fundamental to the nature of unbelievers. They choose to disobey out of an inherently rebellious nature. Yet, even in their choosing of this disobedience, they have been appointed by God to it beforehand. This is a significant development of thought, and it is quite striking in parallel: as believers are “elect… unto obedience,” unbelievers are “appointed” unto disobedience. It would appear that there is no practical difference between this “electing” and “appointing”, and that they are truly, in effect, the same idea.
It is of singular importance in this development that the central observed quality in each case, in being elected to salvation or damnation, is that of obedience to God. God is orienting us in our perspective here. Whether we are elected to salvation or damnation is evident in our obedience to Him. Obedience does not bring salvation, salvation brings obedience. God’s election and sancitification in us has a very practical affect in us: we are obedient.
God continues throughout this letter, encouraging citizens to be obedient to authorities in government, encouraging slaves to be obedient to their masters, encouraging wives to be obedient to their husbands. He gives many practical encouragements to walk in holiness, to continue in unfeigned love for the brethren, to walk in suffering with meekness and purity. His call to us is to walk in holy perfection before Him in every facet of our lives. He calls us by way of repeated commands to a diligent pursuit of Him through obedience, and He does this based on the fact that it is written down in the Mosaic law.
What of all of this? Why such a focus on obedience in this general letter to the saints? What exactly is this thing called “obedience” and what does it involve in us on a day-to-day basis? Why such an emphasis on the written Word, on the Scriptures, as the central orientation in our obedience?
Quite simply, in my opinion, it is because we are constantly engaged with those who would move us to damage ourselves and dishonor our Lord through disobedience. We need to be reminded often and clearly that we ought to be careful to walk in obedience in our Lord at all times. The teachings on Christian liberty and God’s grace can quite easily be twisted to diminish the necessity of obedience in our walk with God, leading us to defeat in our spiritual battles and causing us to grieve our Lord.
It is all too common for us to pray for spiritual impressions and “peace” without turning to the written revelation of God because we do not like what He has already told us He wants us to do. It is thus easy for us to succumb to deceiving spirits who come to seduce us and tell us we do not need to obey “the letter of the law,” and that the freedom of grace implies that we are allowed to follow our own heart’s desire. The lusts of our flesh move us to look with dismay upon the commands of our Lord as if He were committing some grand crime against us by requiring obedience of us, and we rationalize that He would rather we were happy than obedient. We are told obedience is really not an issue since we are forgiven. A whole myriad of temptation and falsehood of this form abounds among us in the guise of “Christian” teaching and counseling.
We need to understand what this thing of obedience is; we need to understand how to determine the will of God for ourselves in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we need to be committed to following His will regardless of how we feel or how we are “led” by spiritual impressions which contradict the revelation of God. This, in my opinion, is why our God emphasizes obedience in this first general epistle of Peter. Perhaps I am wrong as to the “why” here, perhaps not. What is plainly evident, though, is the fact that He calls us to it. This, in itself, is enough.
So, what is obedience? It is doing what God tells you to do. It is thinking what God tells you to think. It is being what God tells you to be. It is directing your will to please the Father in matters of the will. It is yielding your heart and mind to the influence of the Holy Ghost in matters of emotion and attitude and belief. It is a commitment in your heart to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.
But objections flood our minds and obstacles block our paths: “I have peace about it,” “I am not able to obey God in my own strength,” “I am forgiven so it doesn’t matter if I obey or not,” “I do not want to be legalistic,” “God told me it was OK,” “I want to be motivated by love, not duty,” “I cannot add to the righteousness of Christ, so why should I concern myself with obedience?” “I am free from the law and no man will bind me under it,” “God is love and He wants me to be happy,” “There is no fear in love,” “It is not the letter but the spirit,” “The letter kills,” “It is for freedom that you have been set free,”… and on and on they drone, in an endless, relentless stream of opposition, flooding in from the flesh, from the openly defiant and disobedient lost around us, from the spiritual wolves parading about as our mentors in the faith, from the devils who coax and woo our souls at every turn, from sincere brothers and sisters who have been mislead by them. They are formidable and confusing and potent, these objections and twistings. No wonder our Father says, “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober!”
Yet, we cannot think our way to the Father, nor can we reason our way to holiness. We are blind and helpless without Him, utterly incapable of the smallest movement in our own strength. “Without Me, ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We cannot fight this battle on our own. We cannot obey Him in our own energy, or change our own hearts to be like His. Jesus Christ is the only One Who can be obedient; He is the only One who can live the life of a Christian. Still, He plainly has commanded us to do what only He can do: “Be ye holy, for I am holy.”
We cannot say, “I have no strength, therefore I have no duty.” It is enough that it is right for us to be perfect, it is irrelevant that we are impotent to follow through. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) He commands us to be perfect because it is right for Him to do so, not because we have the ability to perform it. We have a tremendous obligation to do as He has commanded, even though we cannot even begin to fulfill this righteous requirement.
However, for those of us who are elect unto obedience, His children, it is the deep longing of our spirits to obey Him. This longing itself we cannot create in our own strength, yet we find it within. Truly, “blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Longing to obey, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, is itself obedience to a command far beyond our reach. Yet this plainly resounds in the bosom of every child of God. It is central to our identity, fundamental to our spiritual nature. It is actually Jesus Christ within, blended into the very fabric of our innermost being, that longs for righteousness within us, and Who fulfills it. It is, “… not I, but Christ liveth in me.” He really is there… and He is very much alive. Feel Him long for righteousness within you, even now, in the deep places of your heart. He is there living and breathing in the Spirit within you, if you have ever believed on His precious name.
There is nothing about us that existed before our election that will walk in communion with the true Father, the majestic Creator of all things. Yet we believers find ourselves walking with Him and communing with Him daily as His children.
Before He came to us, we withdrew from Him in revulsion, in enmity, in hatred. We may not have perceived this in our blinded love-laced religious perversion, though we may have even been openly appalled at the God we found revealed in the written Word, especially in the Old Testament, rejecting Him as a lie. Many of us were wooed by seducing spirits, who helped us fashion a god to worship out of our own lusts, and we thought that this was the essence of the Father.
Yet now, He has brought us out of this darkness into His marvelous light. We revel in every facet that we see in Him: His love as well as His hate, His suffering as well as his majesty, His yielding as well as His sovereignty. We are coming to know and love Him as He truly is, to know His mind and heart as He reveals Himself to us through His Word, and we are deeply in love with Him. This is Jesus Christ in us, Himself our new man, renewing our minds with His own glorious Mind, and fellowshipping with our Father from His own glorious Heart within us. This is the real us, the Christ in us, the hope of glory and the mystery of godliness.
This Christ within has given us freedom to be obedient. Our Christian freedom is inherently bound up with Christ in two ways: our forgiveness and our new nature within. Freedom is not a tossing away of God’s righteous requirement that we walk in holiness. We are now free, both because we are not going to be punished for our current sin committed when our old man is active within, and because we now have an obedient nature, the nature of Christ, that is beating and throbbing in our breasts.
The former aspect, our forgiveness, frees us from the dread and terror of eternal damnation, which we would even now justly deserve for our sin were it not for the intercession of Christ and His vicarious suffering of all the Father’s wrath toward us. The latter aspect, that of our new nature, is rich in that this Christ frees us from the corruption that is in the world through the lust of our old nature by being Himself our new nature. He dwells within us, working in us both to will and to do according to His good pleasure. He tells this to us early in His second letter through Peter, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that be these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
While it is the believer’s basic nature to obey, and the life of Christ with the believer gives the strength to actually be obedient, the believer may still become deceived by the enemy into some twisted doctrine, may become discouraged in trial, or may simply become tempted by the common cares and pleasures of this life, to walk in disobedience against the Lord. The Father continues with this second letter of Peter to believers with this in mind, exhorting each believer to diligently pursue a walk of practical holiness before Him, even after having reminded us that we have already escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, charity.”
Believers are to pursue these qualities diligently, not sit back and carelessly wait for them to arise spontaneously from the life of Christ within. It is as though God is pleased to work through our focused will and our diligent concern, not circumventing our mental and emotional facilities in working holiness in us. He appears to be pleased to draw us actively into the process of sanctification, as God reminded the Philippians: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Php 2:13) This is obviously not a call to seek to earn salvation through obedience, for our salvation is complete and finished in Christ, but this is a call to work out through obedience the spiritual victories in this life that the Father has already provided for us in Christ. It is God working in us, but He does not lay aside our wills and treat us like robots in the process: He actually wills and works through us, permeating the very essence and fabric of our being in a harmonious and natural way. His call to diligence in obedience is consistent with this: it is not a call to independent struggling in our own strength, but a call to earnest, dedicated union with His life as we abide in Him and He works in us.
Our Father calls us in this diligence in obedience and holiness so that we will grow in our knowledge of Him. “For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Without these qualities, even as believers, He says we are blind, unable to see things at a distance, and forgetful of the value of our salvation in Him.
Our Father understands that we need to be reminded of these things continually because they are so vital to our spiritual health and stability, and also because there are forces constantly at work to frustrate us in this by pulling us away from these principles. When we stray from His path, He rebukes and disciplines us because He loves us: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Be zealous therefore and repent.” (Re 3:19) He gave Peter a passion for believers in this regard, as an ultimate purpose in his final days, to set before us a constant reminder to pursue holiness diligently. “Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance: knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.”
Given these truths, it is apparent that we as believers really have two paths before us. We can walk in careful joyful obedience to the Father in union with our new nature, in union with the life of Christ beating in our breasts, in every trial and circumstance He leads us through, or we can at times turn from Him to walk after our old man, in open conflict with our new nature, trampling underfoot His commands to us, in the lust of our own hearts, outside the life within us, to our own temporal peril and destruction.
The former path is energized by the life of Christ within and is consistently directed and governed by the written Word of Christ. The latter is directed by the flesh, ignores the guidance of the written Word, is vulnerably subject to the wiles of the enemy, and is indifferent to genuine obedience. It is quite possible for us to disobey our Father for a moment, as David did in his sin against Uriah, even though we are elect unto obedience. It is to encourage us to choose the former path at all times that the Holy spirit exhorts us to walk in holiness in His Word.
One might consider that the need to walk in carefulness is contrary to the above truths of Christ’s indwelling and of our election. One might presume to walk in passive comfort, in a careless freedom, feeling impregnable to the wiles of the enemy due to the grace and power of Christ within, so long as one is not openly giving oneself to rebellion and disobedience. However, this attitude is not of the Father. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (He 3:12) He accomplishes sanctification in us by means of this appeal to be sober and vigilant, using it to convict and motivate His children. Though He elects us to obedience and sanctifies us by the Spirit, He appeals to us to be watchful and careful. It is as He moves in us to be sober and vigilant in response to His command that He sanctifies us practically.
One can easily become hardened in sin if a diligent watchfulness is not maintained to prevent it. “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err my beloved brethren.” (Ja 1:15-16) Once hardened in any type of sin, the believer is left open to attack, further deception, and eventually destruction: the consequences of continued willful disobedience in any matter are entirely unacceptable.
There is an earnest purpose of heart that our Lord encourages His children to pursue as they “cleave unto the Lord.” (De 13:4) A careless or lax attitude in this is inappropriate. Note carefully the concern of the apostle Paul for believers in Thessalonica: “For this cause, when I could not longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.” (1Th 3:5) God also instructs the Colossians to be “admonishing one another,” (Col 3:16) or lovingly rebuking and correcting one another, even in their singing. It was central to their meeting together.
The Hebrews were instructed similarly, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (He 3:12) This would not be necessary if obedience was a peripheral matter for the believer; it is a central matter and it is vital for the believer to be constantly reminded of it.
It is quite possible for believers to be deceived and confounded by the enemy. God exhorts us wisely, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith.” (1Pe 5:8) Paul’s exhortation to walk in obedience was based on similar reasoning: “ lest Satan should get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2Co 2:11)
It is with a genuine struggle and fight that we are to walk in this obedience before our Lord. “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” (1Ti 6:12) This command to fight is not given as an option: it is confirmed as an explicit command by the Lord: “I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Jesus Christ, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Ti 6:13) Our Lord clearly demands and expects us to walk in obedience, purity, and uprightness before Him in all things. When we fail, He is quick to tell us, “I have not found thy works perfect before God.” (Re 3:2) He is serious about our obedience.
This obedience extends to all areas of our life, our conduct, our thought, belief, and doctrine. Our Lord says we are to be, “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience.” (2Co 10:5) There is no realm in our being that should remain outside the scope of our care in this matter of obedience.
To keep us from victory in walking in holiness before our Father, there are many forces that would entice us and woo us by various means and subtleties. Without carefulness and an upright, diligent concern for the truth, we can easily fall prey to their wiles. John wrote to us for this very reason: “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” (1Jn 2:26-28)
This admonition indicates we are to be aware of those that would seduce us to depart from the truth. Additionally, we see that when we are disobedient in this, when either willfully or through deception we continue in alienation from our Lord by departing from the truth, we are not only playing into the hand of the enemy that seduces us, but we deeply displease our Father. Shame will come on those who wander from abiding deeply in Jesus Christ, as well as on their caretakers in the faith, at the coming of their Lord for them in His displeasure.
Thus, it is not merely that we are in danger of the devil, that we are exhorted to careful obedience in following our Lord, but we are to fear the displeasure and revenge of the Lord Himself. God warns believers who would harm their fellow believers through their own uncontrolled lust, of God’s vengeance: “that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.” (1Th 4:6)
God’s displeasure in His own disobedient children will be clearly revealed at the judgment seat of Christ. “Wherefore we labor, that, whether present of absent, we may be accepted of Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2Co 5:9-11) For this reason, Paul preached Christ, “warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Col 1:28) This judgment of the believer is a powerful motive in inducing us to careful diligence in our path before Him.
We, as believers are personally commanded to deal with disobedience in the Church, as well as being obedient ourselves. The effect of disobedience on the Church is such that we are firmly commanded to separate ourselves from those will not turn from their sin: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us… and if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” (2Th 3:6,14-15) This type of stern firmness may be considered harsh by some, yet indicates the Lord’s attitude toward this principle of obedience.
In fact, harshness is not outside the scope of God’s dealing with sin in the Church, because of its defiling affect on the body of Christ. The Lord sternly deals with those polluting the Church, and rebukes the Church for tolerating sin in its midst and going along with it. “Awake to righteousness and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” (1Co 15:34) Those who walk in carelessness and sin are found to pollute the Church, wound their brothers and sisters in Christ, and grieve their Lord Jesus. “When ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ … Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me… grieve not the Holy Spirit of God…” (1Co 8:12, Mt 25:40, Ep 4:30) It is deeply shameful for a believer to allow himself to come to such a state as this, after having been given the life of Christ within.
God’s intense displeasure in our sin is also apparent in the powerful admonitions given to five of the seven churches in the text of the Revelation, against whom He actively held grievances because of their toleration of impure doctrine, their lack of love for Him and their defilement in the world. It is not a light thing to be grieving the Master: He exhorts them soberly and plainly, “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly… and I will give unto everyone of you according to your works.” (Re 2:16,23)
Paul wrote passionately of disobedient believers, those careless in the faith, who have been trapped and snared by the enemy, walking after their flesh, and polluting the church. Apparently this was quite common, even in the early days of the Church, “For many walk, of who I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” (Php3:18-19) He sometimes warned such believers by letter, giving them a chance to reconsider their ways before he approached them personally, “being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.” (2Co 13:10)
This danger of destruction before the Lord, when taken lightly and sin is pursued as a manner of life by a believer, results in premature death. When we see a loved one turning from the Father and going off into sin we should warn them lovingly and pray for them: “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death .” (1Jn 5:16-17)
Consider the deaths of Ananias and Saphira when they lied to the Holy Ghost about how much money they had obtained in the sale of their land. Consider also the deaths of many of the Corinthian believers who partook of the Lord’s table unworthily and were judged by Him, and God’s displeasure toward this same church for tolerating fornication in its midst: “With the power of our Lord Jesus Christ… deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.” (1Co 5:4-6)
While genuine believers cannot end up in the eternal fires of hell, they can certainly be judged in this life. We ought therefore to be very careful in the church, even to the point of watching over our fellow brothers and sisters in this matter. “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions.” (He 10:24:32)
It is evident that believers are constantly in danger of temptation and sin and that there are significant and intolerable consequences for departing from a careful walk of holiness and sobriety in the Lord. We should soberly recognize this danger and our own inability to walk in uprightness in our own strength, heeding the warnings and commands of our Savior, cleaving unto Him and abiding in Him, and recognizing the seriousness of our sin before Him. We should walk before Him in such a way that He would write to us, as Paul did to Titus, “ Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee.” (Phm 1:21) We must, with all diligence, walk in holiness in the strength of our beloved indwelling Lord Jesus Christ, “Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption, that according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”(1Co 1:30-31)