What Should You Do This Year?

Maybe another way to put the question is: “Why are you here?” And I am not asking: “Why have you come to Rekindle?” Because the answer is obvious, you were tricked by a vague link or misleading social media post. The questions I am asking are: why do you exist; what is your purpose; why are any of us here? These are heady considerations with many odd, dissatisfying and more perplexing answers. So at the start of 2019 I hope to convince you that you do have real purpose and value, given by God. This purpose will not change over time, or year to year, and functions as the foundation for everything we do.

WhaleIn Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy there are numerous memorable moments; one of those is the moment when, against all probability, a fully grown sperm whale comes into existence in the outer atmosphere of the planet Magrathea. Adams writes, “Since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this poor innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity as a whale before it then had to come to terms with not being a whale any more.” He goes on to list a few of the whale’s thoughts from the moment it began its life until the moment its life ended: “Ah! What’s happening? Er, excuse me, who am I? Hello? Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life?” Much like Adam’s confounded sperm whale, all of us are thrown into life and, between birth and death, have to come to terms with our identity and purpose. What does a life well spent and lived with purpose look like? To get a satisfactory answer to that question we must turn to the one who made us: the Creator God.

God does all things for his glory

I realise this seems like a strange place to begin and hope that you will shortly see why there is no other starting point. Whatever God does is to display his greatness, to bring him glory. His works are designed to move people to adore and delight in him, to worship him. When you read the first fourteen verses of Ephesians this becomes patently clear: not only does Paul introduce this section by praising God (1:3), but we are told three times that all God does should end in the praise of his glory (1:6, 12, 14). We bristle at this point, for numerous reasons. But I think the real reason we struggle with this truth is that we are self-centred, “glory thieves” (John Piper). We do not want our lives to be God-centred because we want them to centre on us. However, as we read in Ephesians, we learn that God works all things for his own glory.

Therefore you exist for God’s glory

Following from our previous point, if God does all things for his glory then it is not hard to see where we fit in. The purpose installed in each person is the glory of God. But the grand narrative of the Bible teaches us that we are more concerned with smaller glories than God’s. Therefore, in Ephesians 2:1-7 we are told that everyone’s status before God is separation and spiritual death. However, Paul goes on, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourself, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:8-10). Do not miss in those quoted verses that the Christian is remade or recreated, by and for God. Why are any of us here? To bring glory to our Creator. Why does God save? So that his people and church might bring him glory (3:20-21).

So live in a way that brings God glory

Becoming a Christian means discovering what you were made for. It follows then that being a Christian involves doing what we were made for (2:8-10). Before you grumble that those works have not been revealed to you, read through Ephesians 4-6 where we are repeatedly told how to walk, or live. It is this obedience, godliness and faith in whatever situation we find ourselves that brings God’s glory. All of us will accomplish a wide range of things in our lives. The trap to avoid is evaluating success and fulfilment by the world’s standards. What makes a life of purpose and meaning is not one that is strewn with worldly triumphs and plaudits but a life lived in constant pursuit of God’s honour and fame. So Paul urges Christians, later in Ephesians, “To live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1).

I do not know what you should do in 2019. But one thing is clear: a life spent in pursuit of God’s fame is not wasted but worthy. Living for God’s glory has less to do with what we do and everything to do with how we live. God created us with purpose and faith in Christ involves the rediscovery of that purpose. I do not doubt that you have goals and ambitions for this year. However, if bringing glory to God wherever he places you is not both at the top of your list and the desire undergirding the remainder of the items you will waste your year.

What is 1 Peter all about?

1 PeterIn 5:12 we read, “I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” Peter gives us a threefold purpose for writing, to: encourage Christians; testify to the grace of God; and help us stand fast or persevere. Throughout the letter, Peter does just this. So under a few – far from comprehensive – headings we are going to explore how Peter achieves his purpose: encouraging, testifying, and strengthening.

We have a living hope

In 1:3 the letter opens by praising God who in his great mercy (see 2:9-10) has given us a living hope. What God has promised us is certain and can never be taken from us (1:5). The word ‘salvation’ is often used to refer to becoming a Christian, or being born again, but notice that in 1:5-6 we rejoice in our hoped for salvation that is still to be revealed. This is what Peter comes back to in 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Christians should rejoice as we await our glorious future, despite the shifting sands and struggles of this life. We must live in light of our sure salvation that is to come. And as we persevere in this life our faith is proven genuine (1:6-7; 4:12).

That hope is found in Jesus Christ

Peter suggests this a few times in his opening: “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3); “you believe in him” (1:8); and “the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow” (1:11). But 2:24 is perhaps clearest, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.” Christ’s death is our hope, for on the cross he bears our sins in order for us to be forgiven. Christians throughout the ages have called this the ‘wonderful exchange’. Something Peter lays out in 1:18-19, “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” Therefore we must confidently trust in that costly work of Christ on our behalf, for both forgiveness and our future.

But in 2:21-25 Peter says that Christ’s suffering does not only save us and give us real hope, for he also calls it an “example” (2:21; also see 4:19), an example of how we should suffer as Christians.

Suffering as Christians

Suffering is not inconsistent with our faith but part of the Christian life, while we await our glorious salvation (5:9-10). Because 1 Peter was written to churches that were suffering the letter has much to teach us about it: God commends those who suffer for doing good (2:18-25), going as far as calling it a blessing (3:8-17), since it is blessed to do good not evil; on at least three occasions we read that suffering fits within the will of God (3:17; 4:2, 19) explaining why it might be necessary for us to suffer for a time (1:6, see ESV); and similarly to Christ, all affliction, hardship, suffering, and grief will give way to glory (4:13; 5:1, 10). One of the dangers we face as those who are not persecuted for our faith, suffer little, and enjoy many first world comforts is that we forget that glory is yet to be revealed and fall into the trap of living for this world

Though it might be part of God’s will that we suffer, and suffering certainly has a place within the economy of God to test, strengthen, and ultimately prove our faith, we know that we have a living hope and the promise of glory if we persevere. That hope is found through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ alone. But, knowing all of this, how should we live as Christians while we wait?

Holiness

Coming back to the wondrous exchange that took place as Christ died on the cross (2:24), where he sets us an example for suffering, Peter writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” God has saved us with purpose, which we will read more about below, and that purpose requires holiness, being noticeably set apart or distinct. We can no longer lived like we used to, when we were ignorant (1:13-14). We must pursue holiness (1:15-17), for we have been redeemed or bought by Christ’s precious blood (1:18-19), and should therefore “live as God’s slaves” (2:16). We are not our own; we belong to God. As Peter writes in 2:10, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Our salvation, past and present results from the work of Christ and a persevering faith. But Peter is warning us against accepting the mercies of God and not responding to them by becoming increasingly holy. Practically, this touches on all sorts of things: abstaining from passions of the flesh (2:11); obedience to God’s truth, his word (1:22-25); speech (2:1-3); serving each other as the people of God (2:4-10; 4:7-11); submission to authorities (2:13-15); and our relationships with each other (2:17; 3:1-7).

Why should we pursue holiness, purity, and transformed lives? Is it just because Christians are better people than everyone else? No, Peter gives two reasons, under the next two headings.

Purpose of holiness: witness

In 2:11-12 we are told to, “Abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (also see 4:4). There is an evangelistic edge to godliness. More than merely silencing the ignorant (2:15), our holiness, eager hope, and how we suffer can point others to Christ and the glory that awaits those with faith in him.

Our ultimate purpose: God’s glory

The word “glory” is frequent in 1 Peter. While we are promised to share in God’s glory, for that is an aspect of our future hope (5:1, 10), the purpose of final salvation, holiness in the present, and Christ’s work on the cross is foremost for the glory of God. On the day that he is revealed, our witness may be the cause of some glorifying God rather than being judged (2:11-12). In using whatever gifts God has given us we must readily acknowledge him so that he is glorified, not us (4:7-11). Even our suffering, so long as it is for good and involves persevering faith can be to the glory of God (1:6-7; 4:16). Christ’s death and resurrection, which we must place our faith in, meant glory for the Jesus (1:11, 21). Is this your perspective, your purpose? All that we do and don’t do can be for the glory of God.

Peter’s challenge to you

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (5:1-4).

Though this is often treated as a passage on those in leadership in the local church. It is almost an assumption in the New Testament that older or maturer Christians will be leaders in the local church. The responsibility is given to watch over and care for others in the church, like shepherds. There is no gain in this but the promise of glory for those who eagerly serve in humility and set an example of holiness for others.

If you enjoyed this overview I have written a few others like it: wisdom and works in the epistle of James; Exodus as the journey of God; and a series of posts in Galatians.