Get Your Mind in Gear
1 Peter 1:13-16
September 5, 2004
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (I Peter 1:13-16).
We do live in strange times. Someone has called this the Age of Anxiety, and it seems appropriate enough. This week as I’ve ridden my bike a little more than usual, I’ve noticed a lot of road rage. People honk at the slightest provocation. Patience is in short supply everywhere. Near the end of the week, I ran across this little poem that seems to describe American life in 2004:
This is the Age of the Half-read Page
And the Quick Bash, and the Mad Dash
The Bright Night, with the Nerves Tight
The Plane Hop, with a Brief Stop
The Lamp Tan in a Short Span
The Big Shot in a Good Spot
And the Brain Strain and the Heart Pain
And the Cat-Naps, till the Spring Snaps
And the Fun’s Done!
The words fit, don’t they? It’s the nature of the beast in the 21st century. We live in a hurry-up, get-it-done-now, grab-the-gusto kind of world. That poem was written in 1949, but it seems so current.
All week long we’ve been reminded about the uncertainties of life … the tight race for the White House … Hurricane Frances … the massacre of the children in Beslan, Russia … an exploding flashlight closes down a major American airport … more killing in the Middle East. Truly we live in dangerous times.
The Paradox of Our Time
And while I was thinking about all that, I ran across an article that has been floating around the Internet in various forms. Although it is sometimes said to be anonymous, other sources indicate that George Carlin wrote the original version. It’s called “The Paradox of Our Time.”
The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways but narrower viewpoints. We spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences but less time. We have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgment; more experts but more problems; more medicine but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little of God’s Word, watch TV too much, fast too rarely, give too little, and pray too seldom.
We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living but not a life. We’ve added years to life, not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We’ve conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things but not better things. We’ve cleaned up the air but polluted the soul. We’ve split the atom but not our prejudice. We write more but learn less. We plan more but accomplish less.
We’ve learned to rush but not to wait. We have higher incomes but lower morals. We have more food but less appeasement. We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever but have less communication. We’ve become long on quantity but short on quality.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men and short character; steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the times of world peace but domestic warfare; more leisure but less fun; more kinds of food but less nutrition. These are days of two incomes but more divorce; of fancier houses but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throw away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stockroom.
Every part of that seems very true, but I was especially drawn to this sentence: “We’ve conquered outer space but not inner space.” Everything you need to know about modern life is in that sentence. Everything we build is bigger, stronger, faster, and larger. We’ve come a long way in a short time. The engine of human progress hums right along. We send men to the moon, satellites into orbit, and radio waves to the stars. But inner space is another problem. We’re not even close to conquering that. The human heart seems as unruly as ever.
“O God, Speak to Us”
This summer my wife Marlene and I spent a month on the road. We were in Michigan for a week, then in New York, then back to Oak Park for a few days, then out to California. Before we left, we asked God to speak to us about things he wanted us to know. I’ve learned that’s not a prayer to pray lightly. If you truly want God to speak to you, buckle your seat belt because God always speaks to those who are willing to hear. As we journeyed from place to place, we prayed and watched and listened, and we talked together about what we felt God was saying to us. We wrote down pages of insights the Lord was giving us. A lot of it came through things we “happened” to hear, and conversations where little pieces of truth were revealed to us. Sometimes it came as insights that seemed to drop from the sky. And we wrote it all down so we could think about it later. Among the many things God showed us, two stand out.
The first is the principle of intentionality. By that I mean, living life on purpose, and not just drifting through one day after another. It’s so easy to go through a day, and be very busy, and yet come to the end and say, “What did I do today?” Busyness is no guarantee that you are actually doing anything important. Busyness may be a cover for a lack of purpose in your life. Too many times we sit on the banks of the river while the current of life rushes right by us. And then one day, we wake up and die. God spoke to Marlene and me very clearly about living intentionally, with purpose, not just filling each day with activity, but finding out what really matters, and then going and doing it. Not everything matters equally. Some things we spend lots of time on don’t really matter at all. But it’s easy to let those things clutter up our days. We came back with new resolve to invest our lives in the work of the Kingdom in a new way. We’re still thinking and praying and working that out each day. But just the simple resolve to say (with the Apostle Paul), “This one thing I do,” has made a huge difference for us.
As we continued our travels, God spoke to us about his will. Usually we think of God’s will in geographic terms: Should we live in San Diego or Jackson or Baltimore? But the Bible speaks more often in terms of character and spiritual growth. The Lord impressed on us that who we are is more important that where we are. And what we are on the inside is more important than what we do on the outside. After all, if you are the right sort of person on the inside, you are more likely to do what God wants on the outside. The heart matters more to God than geography.
“Be Like Me”
And what is it that God really wants from us? Our text puts it very simply: “Be holy because I am holy.” Simple and clear as those words are, holiness remains a mystery to most Christians. We know what the word means, but we have a hard time explaining what it looks like. So here’s another interpretation. God says, “Be like me.” That’s right. God wants us to be like him. Holiness is at the essence of who God is, and God says, “Be like me.”
In your going and coming, be like me.
In your buying and selling, be like me.
In your sleeping and waking, be like me.
In your thinking and dreaming, be like me.
In your words and deeds, be like me.
In all parts of your life, be like me.
Talk about raising the bar. That’s a high standard. It goes far beyond the usual list of dos and don’ts that we associate with being holy.
This is a sermon about practical holiness. To put it that way seems stuffy and boring. But it’s obvious that Peter didn’t feel that way at all. To him, being holy is being like God. And that’s the most exciting thing in the world. Holiness means being so much like God that you change the world. Or to be more precise, holiness means to be so much like God that the world begins to change around you.
But if you doubt my words, would you accept the words of C. S. Lewis? This is what Lewis said about holiness:
How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing … it is irresistible. If even ten percent of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year’s end?
He’s right, of course. People who think holiness is dull don’t understand what it really means. When you meet a truly holy person, you feel drawn to them because they are so much like God. We’ve all known at least one person like that—someone whose life radiates God in such a way that you were drawn to them. Almost always such people are filled with a kind of contagious joy. They were like God—and they were filled with joy! What a fantastic combination. That’s what the Bible means when it speaks of the “beauty of holiness” (I Chronicles 16:29). Maybe that’s our problem. Holy people have holy joy. They enjoy life because they are full of God. Maybe we aren’t enough like God, and so we are easily resistible. If Lewis is right, if only 10% of Oak Park had this sort of holy joy, we’d see the whole village converted by the end of the year. Maybe the people around us have seen us and our religion, but they haven’t seen enough of God in us, and not that much joy.
To be holy means to be full of God in every part of life. What could be better than that? And how do we get from here to there? Where do we start? What changes do we need to make? Peter suggests five things that we need for our lives to be filled with God. Remember what the man said. “We’ve conquered outer space but not inner space.” If we’re going to be filled with God, “inner space” is where we must begin.
I. We Need a New Mindset 13a
The NIV says, “Prepare your minds for action.” That is exactly what Peter means, but it is not exactly what Peter says. A literal translation would be, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” That sounds strange to us. If I told you, “When you go home, I want you to gird up the loins of your mind,” would you know what I wanted you to do? In the first century men wore long flowing robes with a belt around the middle. Whenever they got ready to do hard work or to go into battle, they would shorten the robe by tucking it into the belt. That made it easy to move fast. That was called girding up the loins. An equivalent expression today would be, “Roll up your sleeves, take off your coat, and get to work.” That’s why the New English Bible translates it “Be like men stripped for action.”
Notice he says, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” That means “Don’t let your mind get fat and lazy.” The mind wanders unless we strictly control it. Spiritual trouble always begins with a lazy, undisciplined mind. All our problems start between our ears. First we think it, then we dwell on it, and then we do it. So it is with anger, bitterness, impatience, lust, greed, and every other sin.
If you want to be holy, you’ve got to control your mind. God has no use for a believer with a flabby mind. We need to learn to think, think hard, and think things through carefully. The Apostle Paul uses a similar expression in Ephesians 6:14 where he instructs us to stand firm with the “belt of truth” buckled around our waist. The only way to “gird up the loins of your mind” is by using the “belt of truth” to cinch it tight with God’s Word. Last night I got a phone call from a young man who was in an argument with a friend about homosexuality. He called to ask for some Bible passages. I gave him Romans 1:24-26, I Corinthians 6:9-11, and Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah). The call didn’t last 60 seconds, but that’s all he needed. God bless that young man. He’s standing firm by buckling the “belt of truth” around his waist.
If we are going to be strong in these days of immense moral confusion, we must “gird up the loins” of our minds. And the only way to do that is with the “belt of truth,” the Word of God.
II. We Need a New Focus 13b
Peter’s next instruction is very simple: “Be self-controlled” or “Be sober.” The underlying Greek word means “wine-less.” It speaks of the need to be free from the clouding influence of alcohol or any other narcotic stimulant. Alcohol and other stimulants drag us away from God because they cloud our moral and spiritual judgment, causing us to lower our standards and compromise our values. In a broader sense, the Greek word means to be free from anything that clouds your moral or spiritual judgment. After I preached this message, a teenager asked me if this would include anger. Absolutely, I replied. Anger clouds our judgment to the point where we totally lose control.
What would cloud our spiritual or moral judgment? Any number of things. A wrong friendship could do it. A harmful TV show could do it. A habit you know is hurting you could do it. Certain music can do it. The atmosphere where you work can do it. Certain mementoes from the past can do it. Love of new fads and fashions can do it. Desire for acceptance can do it. Let me put it this way:
There are some people you ought not to be friends with.
There are some books you ought not to read.
There are some TV shows you shouldn’t watch.
There are some places you shouldn’t go.
There are some movies you shouldn’t watch.
There are some Internet sites you shouldn’t visit.
There are some people you shouldn’t date.
There are some relationships that are no good for you.
There are some jobs you shouldn’t have.
There are some habits you need to break.
There are some songs you shouldn’t listen to.
There are some people who only drag you down.
I can’t issue a definitive list of TV shows or movies you shouldn’t watch, or books you shouldn’t read, or places you shouldn’t go, or things you shouldn’t do. And I certainly can’t tell you which friends to avoid or who you shouldn’t hang around with. That list would differ from person to person. And what bothers you or drags you down might not bother me at all. The point is: You know the truth about all these things because the Holy Spirit lives in you. If you will listen to the Spirit, he’ll give you clear guidance. But even the Spirit can’t help you if you reject his leading.
Keep your eyes open. Don’t let anything cloud your vision. That’s Peter’s message to us.
III. We Need a New Goal 13c
“Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (v. 13c). We all set our hope on something. A student sets his hope on graduation, a bride sets her hope on the wedding day, a candidate sets his hope on winning the election. We all set our hope on the true controlling interest of our lives. Peter says, “You will see Jesus when he returns to the earth. Keep your eyes on the prize.” The Christian life is not a 100-yard dash; it’s more like a marathon. Keep on running, and don’t stop until you see Jesus standing at the finish line. The race is so hard, so long, so difficult, and at times so discouraging, you’ll never finish if you don’t keep your eye on the goal.
Sometimes the slightest distraction can be disastrous. In the recent Olympic Games in Athens, American Matt Emmons was one shot away from winning a gold medal in the Men’s Three-Position, 50-Meter Rifle competition. Leading by three points going into the final round, he needed only to hit near the bulls eye to win. He took careful aim, pulled the trigger, and waited. But the target never registered a hit. It turns out that while standing in Lane 3, he hit the target in Lane 2, an unbelievable error at that level of competition. The judges gave him a zero score, dropping him from 1st to 8th place, and out of the medals altogether. It happened because he took his eye off the target, and aimed in the wrong place.
The same thing can happen to any of us spiritually. We hear a lot about climbing the ladder of success. That’s well and good, but pity the poor fellow who climbs to the top of the ladder only to discover it’s been leaning against the wrong wall.
Peter is very clear in what he says. Precisely to the measure that we believe in the Second Coming of Christ for us, in that same measure we will find power to be holy. Often we tend to downplay what we believe about the Second Coming. We talk as if we’re faintly embarrassed to be so outspoken. We joke about setting dates and making charts. Such a viewpoint is sad and sadly mistaken. If we lose sight of Christ’s coming, we also lose our #1 motivation for Christian living. But when we keep the coming of Christ squarely in view, we will have zeal to share the gospel, courage to face suffering, and strength to turn away from the fads of the world. After the first service on Sunday, one of our elders reminded me that the coming of Christ also makes us accountable. “There is no more powerful agent of change in human behavior than accountability.” If we know that one day we will give an account to the Lord Jesus Christ for how we have lived, if that truth ever grips us on the inside, it will change the way we live, the choices we make, the friends we keep, the words we speak, and the path we follow.
So Peter says, “Keep your eyes on the goal.”
IV. We Need a New Lifestyle 14
Peter calls his readers “obedient children” and contrasts that with the way they used to live before they came to Christ. Do you know what you were before you came to Jesus? You were ignorant. You did what you did because you didn’t know any better, and even if you knew better, you had no power to change your life. The message is simple: Don’t slip back into your old way of life. Peter is talking about your outward life, the part other people can see. That’s what the word “conformed” means. Back then you didn’t know any better. Now you do. So watch how you live. When we adopt the habits, mannerisms, dress, speech, and distinctive traits of the world, we are covering up our true identity as God’s children. We are believers masquerading in the costume of the world. Don’t do it. Let your life by its outward character demonstrate the inner change that Jesus Christ has made.
We must make a decisive choice, a character-shaping decision to break with the old life once and for all. We will be exactly what we choose to be.
V. We Need a New Standard of Conduct 15-16)
This the ultimate reason for holiness: “Be holy, for I am holy.” We know God and God is holy. Holiness is the essence of what it means to be God. If you are a Christian, there ought to be a family resemblance. God’s children ought to reflect their Father’s basic character to the world. When I was a child, I often heard people say, “He’s Dr. Pritchard’s son.” My father’s reputation went along with me. I was expected to live up to his good name. On Friday afternoon I got a phone call from Buddy Nichols in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When I was a student in college in Chattanooga, Buddy was one of my professors. We became good friends for several reasons, not the least being that Buddy and I come from the same small town in northwestern Alabama. Although we both grew up in Russellville, Buddy is about ten years older than I am so I never knew him until I attended one of his classes. But Buddy and his family knew my father quite well. On Friday he mentioned that he had been back to Russellville recently, and had visited the hospital where my father was a general surgeon. I haven’t been to that hospital in over 30 years. Buddy said that in the foyer of the hospital there is a “Hall of Fame” with pictures of notable doctors and others who have served there over the years. “Your father’s picture is up on the wall, Ray. It’s a great picture of your dad in his prime,” Buddy said. Then he added, “I could see the family resemblance.” He couldn’t have said a nicer thing to me. Nothing makes me happier than for someone who knew my dad to say, “You remind me of your father” or “Your dad would be proud of you.”
But there is another name I bear. As a Christian, I bear the name of my Heavenly Father. And so do you, if you know Jesus Christ as Savior. To be holy means to live so that others will think well of him. To be holy means bringing credit to our Heavenly Father by what we say and do. It means living so that those who don’t know him, know him because they know us.
Being holy means living so that others will say, “He serves a wonderful God,” and so that God will look down from heaven and say, “That’s my boy!” or “That’s my girl!”
It is said that in the days of Alexander the Great, a soldier was charged and tried for desertion in battle. The Emperor heard about it and called the young soldier in. He heard the charge and then he asked his name. The reply came beck, “Alexander, sir.” With that the Emperor looked him sternly in the eye and said, “Soldier, change your behavior or change your name.” We bear the name of God everywhere we go, and that ought to make a difference in the way we live.
Every Department of Life
Notice one final thing in the text. Verse 15 says, “Be holy in all you do.” Phillips says “in every department of your life.” Holiness begins with the trivial details. If holiness does not show itself in the small things of life, where, pray tell, will it ever be seen? Most of life is made up of small things. We can’t say, “It doesn’t matter what I do” because it does.
The true standard of living for the Christian, the true model to be copied, is nothing less than God himself. Peter is saying we are God’s children and there ought to be a family likeness. God says, “Be like me.” Holiness is not a set of rules and regulations. Holiness is about God!
God when I wake up.
God in the shower.
God around the breakfast table.
God on the way to work.
God in the classroom.
God in the showroom.
God in the office.
God in the factory.
God at lunchtime.
God during the break.
God on the way home.
God at the supper table.
God while watching TV.
God while reading email.
God while surfing the Internet.
God on the telephone.
God at bedtime.
God while I sleep.
God in the morning all over again.
God in every detail.
God in every place.
God in every relationship.
God in every word.
God in every thought.
God in every deed.
God in my private moments.
God with my friends.
God with my enemies.
God when I am happy.
God when I am sad.
God in the good times.
God in the bad times.
God in my faith.
God in my doubts.
God when I succeed.
God in my failures.
God above me.
God below me.
God before me.
God behind me.
God around me.
God within me.
God always and forever. God first and last. God under my feet. God above my head. God all around me. God guiding all I do and say. God in my deepest thoughts. Always God, always there, always with me, now and forever.
This is true holiness. This is true joy. This is the purpose for which I was created. And without God, I have no meaning, no purpose, and no reason for being here.
What did that man say? “We’ve conquered outer space but not inner space.” He’s exactly right. “Inner space” is where we must begin. A message like this calls for searching self-examination. It’s always easy to point a finger and say, “So-and-so really needed to hear that.” Remember the old spiritual, “It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” When it comes to being full of God, we all have a long way to go.
And it is precisely at this point that the message of the gospel becomes so powerful. Jesus Christ came to bring God to us and us to God. He is the very fullness of God in bodily form. He came to save us, and he lives now to help us. If you want to be more like God, it can happen. If you want holy joy, the first step is the hardest—and the simplest. Ask for it. Ask God to reveal himself to you. Ask the Lord to fill you with the fullness of who he is. Ask the Lord to make you holy in every part of your life. Here’s a practical step. Go back to that long list that starts with “God when I wake up” and ends with “Always God, always there, always with me, now and forever.” Use that as a prayer guide this week. Use it to remind you that God must be all in all, and in every part of your life. Tape it on your mirror. Put it in your Bible.
If we want to be holy, we must conquer our “inner space.” Begin there, and your life will change, and the world will change around you. Amen.