September 12, 2017

September 10, 2017 - 1 Peter 1:13-16

A Christ-centered Spirituality…
1. Seeks maturity.
2. Is serious about the serious
3. Hopes completely

“Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide.” Amen.

Today we talk about spirituality. I don’t know about you but I tend to find spirituality to be a difficult word to understand. I think that’s partly because it is such a broad-ranging word in our culture. The dictionary defines it as the “quality of being concerned with the human spirit and soul as opposed to material or physical things.” This definition helps us see that spirituality deals with the areas of life that are beyond our five senses. All humans are spiritual creatures. We know this because God tells us so. We are His creation. He is a Spirit. Therefore, we have a spiritual element to our being.

But, we also know this by experience. We wrestle with feelings and emotions. We have cares and desires. We use logic and reason to think. These are all immaterial things. The rational world alone cannot explain their existence or their ultimate use. Here’s where spirituality becomes a difficult thing. We are talking about the immaterial realm of life, but so often people use the material to learn about it. A person’s spirituality will govern what the immaterial parts of life mean for them – how it shapes who we are. Therefore, it is absolute foolishness to understand one’s spirituality in terms of possessions, money, pleasure, or societal acceptance. How much more foolish to be led spiritually by these things!

To truly know the spiritual, to truly be led in the right direction by it, we need someone who is already spiritual. That’s where God comes in. He is Spirit and Truth. He has existed from the beginning. He controls everything in heaven and earth. And so He is our teacher, guide, and Savior when it comes to spirituality. A Christian’s spirituality is based on the cross of Jesus and what He did for us there. One Christian writer puts it this way: “Spirituality is not any kind of content-free, theologically-vacant quest for transcendent experiences, rather spirituality has to do precisely with content, what fills theology, and gives real substance to the everyday life of the Christian.” Every person is looking for some spiritual fulfillment, but are they looking to Christ? Are we? We see from His Word today, He is more than ready to care for and bless our souls – to fill us spiritually:  

1 Peter 1:13-16 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

Some may tell us that we’re nothing more than mortal and material – that after this life everything is over. But try as a person may, you simply can’t escape the reality of the spiritual. With this reality comes a natural desire to feel satisfied in our souls. We long to do something in life that matters. We take joy in making a difference in someone else’s life. These things all reach back to our need to fulfill ourselves spiritually. A big problem we face, however, is to fill these spiritual longings with worthless fluff. We have a tendency to make unserious things serious, and serious things unserious. It’s fitting that we think about this on the opening week of football season because I have a story to that effect.

About 10 years ago a die-hard Baltimore Ravens fan decided he would sit on the roof of a bar until his beloved team won a game or fired their head coach. As ridiculous as this sounds, he stayed up there for about a week and started gaining media attention and popularity. He was heralded as a loyal fan who deserved better from the big, rich NFL team. He became a local symbol for the Ravens faithful. After the whole thing died down it came out in the news that he was delinquent in his child support payments by several thousand dollars. As quickly as his celebrity had been established it was gone. He was now despised by the general populace. At first, this man’s story perhaps made people chuckle a bit, or even admire him. But, dig a bit deeper, and you feel anger and sorrow over the lack of priorities in his life.

We like to distance ourselves from people like this man, but the truth is we’re not so different. When the facts all came out, what he was in the end was a person who took his football fandom more seriously than his family. Now, I enjoy football just as much as anyone. But, in many ways it has overtaken our culture. As popularity and attendance at stadiums increases, church membership is on the decline in our nation. It doesn’t always mean we have to choose between a game and our Lord, but often we do and often the wrong choice is made. 

Even if football isn’t your thing, I’m sure there are a more than a handful of things in life that you take super seriously, that really aren’t all that important. We often move heaven and earth to get these things because we convince ourselves we need them, when the reality of it is that very often the more material things fill our lives the more empty we feel on the inside. The issue here is a matter of spirituality. We are trying to find fulfillment in worldly things and not in God.

As Peter writes, we need a certain level of maturity in our lives. He describes it as be sober-minded, putting away former ignorance, and seeking holiness. Again, we want to convince ourselves that our worldly lives are separate from our spiritual lives. We try to act like we can strike the perfect balance between the two. Sometimes, we are even offended that anyone would venture to suggest we have an unhealthy ratio in our lives; or even that that could be the very cause of some of the problems we experience.

Let us remember that proper spirituality takes maturity. A sign of maturity is being willing to admit mistakes. Paul wrote elsewhere, Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12) Little things like football can create big heartaches when they become more serious than they should be. You could apply this to a number of other areas too. Some mornings we would do whatever it takes to get our coffee, even if it meant paying handsomely for it, but do we take a moment in prayer or devotion at the beginning of the day? We check and analyze social media religiously, but are we willing to cut it off if it’s making us self-centered or if it’s giving us an unhealthy outlook on life? You see, we can be disciplined in what we want to be disciplined in, but so often we substitute the unserious for the serious. Most all of us would do anything for our kids. But when they need to talk about the spiritual issues they face in life, the times that they need help in applying God’s Word, are we as disciplined in making sure they get that as we are in getting them to that movie or getting them that cell phone?

All these situations and infinitely more directly affect our spirituality and it takes maturity to make the set the right priorities and provide the proper example. But, the thing about the path of maturity is that it’s a lot like the path to salvation. It’s narrow, difficult, unpopular, impossible for us to traverse alone.

Peter calls for us to be sober-minded. Being sober means more here than just not being drunk. It means being even-keeled, having a temperate, patient attitude. In our culture, that’s often seen as the opposite of spirituality. People automatically equate spirituality with the ridiculous and the supernatural. If someone can do something others can’t, like see visions, or feel the Holy Spirit’s presence, or perform healings, they must be spiritual. Our culture likes to equate spirituality with one’s works. The better you are the more spiritual you must be. Not so with God, though. He wants us to be sober, which is not very fancy on the outside. People don’t often notice the sober-minded ones. Those who stay out of the spotlight aren’t often heralded as the greatest. But it works that way because God operates in the heart.

And doesn’t this make perfect sense with our struggle with spirituality? So far today we’ve reminded ourselves that a major problem we have is making the unserious serious. This happens when we try to find fulfillment for spiritual needs with material things. If this is a problem how does turning to our works help the situation anymore? It will only lead us further into despair and away from the true solution.     

That’s exactly what Peter talks about next by saying, “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The command from God is to “hope.” An adverb tells us about that hope, it is to be a “complete hope.” We are to fully hope in the gift of God’s grace in Jesus. Think about that for a moment. Isn’t the phrase, “hope completely” an oxymoron? Isn’t the very reason we have to hope because we don’t have it completely yet?  Paul writes, For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? Paul writes that if you see what you want, you can’t hope for it anymore because it is there. Your desire for what you seek no longer is hope at that moment. It’s hard to be complete about something when you can’t even see it. It’s hard to believe you have something if it’s not present with you.

This is precisely what spirituality is – confidence in the unseen. Absolute belief about something that is beyond our senses. From our perspective, it does seem contradictory because the only experience we’ve had with reality is in what we sense. God tells us He is more and we are made for more. God says we can hope completely when it comes to His Son, Jesus. The same thing has often been described as the “Now, but not yet” quality of our faith. We have the blessings of Jesus today by faith. Our sins are taken away. We are renewed and forgiven. We have been reborn through Baptism. God has established His covenant with us. Jesus declared on the cross that “It is finished.” All of those things are absolutely true now. And yet, we hope. We wait for the greatest fulfillment. We wait for the final victory over sin and death, at least our ability to fully experience it. Life with God is now, but also not yet. We hope but we hope completely.

Only God could lead us to trust something so profound, so unlike the world we live in. That’s why Peter calls it the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” He gets to enlighten us. It’s His truth to share because He claimed the victory. And so also, the spirituality to live in that faith comes through Jesus. If we are seeking fulfillment for that inner need through worldly things we will always be let down. If our priorities are misplaced we will lack fulfillment. If the best things in life are always right in front of us, like football, or coffee, or shopping or whatever else it is that gives us happiness, we will never have to hope. We can easily be disciplined in seeking these things because it won’t require hope. But spirituality without hope is not of Christ. If we are seeking first kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, then we will always be seeking by faith while we are here.

We seek maturity, sober-mindedness, and wisdom not because they increase our spirituality. We avoid our former ignorant beliefs and we repent of our sins not because do so makes better or more suited than others. We do all those things because they lead us to Christ. They are the patterns that are established when the Holy Spirit is leading us to center our lives on grace of Jesus. And His grace is and always has been the only source of spirituality. May we always be filled by it. Amen. 

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

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