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. (NIV)
The point of this morning's message was that God takes pleasure in his name. Specifically, he chose a people for himself in order that they might be for him a people and a name and a praise and a glory (Jeremiah 13:11). One text that we didn't refer to this morning is Isaiah 43:21. Here God refers to his chosen people as
the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise.
In other words God formed a people for himself that they might make a name for him—that they might spread his reputation and increase his fame and promote his renown.
God's Purpose for the Church
Now we come tonight to see how this relates to the church, the New Testament people of God. 1 Peter 2:9 gives the answer. It describes God's formation of the church in terms taken straight from the Old Testament, and the purpose of the church is stated in just the way we would expect if God continues to act for the sake of his name:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Why has God chosen us and made us a possession for himself? The answer is the same as this morning's: to make a name for himself. The way Peter says it is that you were chosen to declare God's excellencies, his wonders, specifically his saving work in bringing you from darkness into light.
God has given us the joy of spiritual sight so that we might spread the reputation of our eye doctor. Or you could say that we were caught in a deep mine shaft and it was caving in on us, and Jesus came down into the collapsing shaft of our sin and guilt and fear, and he put us on his back, and at the cost of his own life got us out. Why? So that we would spread the reputation of his courage and strength and kindness.
That is the point of verse 9: "You are a chosen race . . . that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." God has chosen us and brought us from darkness to light so that we would spread his reputation and be for him a name and a praise and a glory.
How Are We to Make a Name for God?
Now the question arises: How are we to make a name for God? Verses 11–12 get at the heart of this matter. Together the verses say that we have two battles to fight in order to make known the glorious name of God: one on the inside in relation to our passions, and one on the outside in relation to our deeds. Let's look briefly at each.
The Internal Battle
Verse 11 describes the internal battle to be fought if we are going to make the glories of God known in our society.
Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul.
This is probably the most crucial battleground of all—the internal battle for our desires. In this week's Christianity Today there is a report of a gathering of 50 evangelical leaders to plan a meeting called "Leadership '88." They discussed the resources and legacy that a generation of older leaders could leave a new generation. I found it amazing that at the top of their list was "the cultivation of the inner life with Christ."
And these were people very sensitive to the cultural and social issues of our day. Nevertheless, they said the number one resource to pass on to the next generation of leaders is the cultivation of the inner life with Christ.
I think the reason is simply that this is the motor that drives everything else. If the motor dies, it doesn't really matter which way the car is pointing.
And so let us fight first of all to be aliens and exiles in the world of the passions and desires. This means making God your passion. Fill your mind with things that exhibit the greatness and value and beauty and truth of God. And shun all the things that stimulate desires that compete with God. Regulate your life in order to cultivate a passion for God and the things of God. Be ruthless in cutting out of your life everything that stirs up desires displeasing to God.
Remember Proverbs 4:23: "Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life."
The External Battle
And so let us turn to that outer life that flows from the alien heart of love for God. If the marvelous works of God are going to be made known, and the reputation of God is going to spread, we WILL have to get beyond desires, to deeds that people can see and hear.
Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
This is Peter's clearest statement as to how we can make a name for God. It is a paraphrase of Jesus' words in Matthew 5:16: "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your father in heaven."
Here is the lesson I would stress tonight from this verse: DOING GOOD DEEDS BEFORE AN ONLOOKING WORLD IS A NECESSARY PART OF DECLARING GOD'S MARVELOUS WORKS AND MAKING HIM A NAME ON THE EARTH.
Paul made the same point when he said in Titus 3:14,
Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
Similarly in Galatians 6:10,
As we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially those who are of the household of faith.
James teaches the same thing, that our religion is just not real if it only results in thoughts and feelings and not in practical good deeds. In James 1:27 he says,
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Three Possible Steps in Response to Our Lives
Now Peter spells out for us in verse 12 some of the dynamics of making a name for God. He describes three steps that the world may go through in response to us as Christians.
1. There May Be a Hostile Atmosphere
First he says that there may well be a hostile atmosphere in which we have to live. Verse 12 says that Christians were being spoken against as wrongdoers. "Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers . . . " In the early days of the church Christians were sometimes the scapegoats for other problems in the society and were blamed as wrongdoers. They were spoken against.
2. Many Will See Our Good Deeds
Second, Peter says that if we maintain good conduct and don't grow weary in well-doing, our good deeds will eventually be inescapable. Men will see and some at least will have to own up to them. "Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds."
They want to believe that Christianity has no power to change lives and to create loving people out of selfish people, and so they begin by calling Christians wrongdoers and they seek ways to justify this. But Peter believes that the good deeds will win out over this prejudice.
He says it again in verse 15: "For it is God's will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." Doing good for others, Peter says, is the way to silence the unwarranted criticism of the church and of Christ.
So that is the second step. First, people try to criticize the church and say that they are no better or even worse than others in their behavior. But then, as they go on seeing the good deeds of Christians, they are hard put to hold this position and they may be silenced.
3. They May Be Won Over
That brings us to the third step Peter mentions. These good deeds that Christians keep on doing may cause some to give up their opposition and be won over and give glory to God. "Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."
The "day of visitation" here could be the day of Christ's coming or it could be the day of their conversion when they are visited with the converting power of the Spirit. In either case, the overarching point is that God gets glory when his people persevere in good deeds.
How We Can Fulfill Our Purpose as a Church
So what we have here is a clear statement of how at Bethlehem we can fulfill our purpose as a church. Our purpose according to this morning's message is to make a name for God in this city and to spread the reputation of his greatness around the world. According to 1 Peter 2:9 our purpose is to declare the glorious deeds of him who called us from darkness into his marvelous light. These are really the same purpose and 1 Peter 2:12 tells us how to fulfill it.
Be a people zealous for good deeds. Be a people who are not enslaved to worldly comforts, but who consider it more blessed to give than to receive. Be a people who dream not about the comforts of bigger salaries or days of vacation and retirement, but who dream about how many different and creative ways we can make a name for the glory of the grace of God in this city and around the world.
This is why I am so happy that the church has made this decision to call David Michael as Associate for Urban and Social Ministries. He shares this great vision of adorning the gospel of God with deeds of love and justice that the ignorance of foolish men may be silenced and the many might see and be drawn to a Savior who can so fully satisfy the hearts of his people that they overflow in goodness to others.