Is Your Religion Real? part two

10 Sep

I probably wouldn’t have turned to 1 Peter 1:8 and 9 on my own to define saving faith.

I had to be led here. But I was led here by someone who spent a great deal of his life trying to answer this very question.

His name is Jonathan Edwarfds.

And I think he is a trustworthy guide. He lived about three hundred years ago now, and as you can probably tell from reading this blog, I talk about him, probably too often, but that’s partly because he was a really great man, some think he was the godliest man who ever lived in America, and it’s partly because he lived in this really exciting time, where this unusual movement of the Spirit of God was taking place.

They called it the Great Awakening, and if you look at all of church history, it’s hard to find a time, besides maybe the Reformation, where greater spiritual upheavals were taking place. This was a time of real, genuine spiritual revival, to the point where people were kind of looking up, and like, is Jesus coming back?

And it started, in Edwards’ community, with him preaching a series of sermons on Justification by Faith, in 1734, and he says after that, it was like the Spirit of God just rained down on his town, and then eventually on all of what they called New England.

There were a series of remarkable conversions.

Starting with “one of the greatest company keepers in the whole town” as Edwards politely put it.

After which spiritual things became the thing that everyone wanted to talk about, “all” quoting Edwards “seemed to be seized with a deep concern about their eternal salvation; all the talk in all companies, and upon occasions was upon the things of religion, and no other talk was anywhere relished; and scarcely a single person in the whole town was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world.”

Which is awesome.

I mean imagine that. Instead of going to the taverns or clubs or whatever, they all just wanted to go to the pastor’s house and Edwards said, it was like, in some cases, there was an acceleration of the Christian life, of spiritual maturity, where it used to maybe take someone a year to grow in a certain area, it seemed to happen in a week, and it, spilled out from his town, which was called Northampton to all over.

People would come because they heard about the revival, sometimes on business, but sometimes also to make fun of what they heard, and they would leave, saved themselves.

People were being saved all over the place.

Even Edwards who was pretty careful about saying someone was saved, “he guessed that about three hundred people” in his community “had been converted in six months.” And this wasn’t a city, it was seriously a pretty small town.

And that awakening in 1734 was just the start, really. That’s not even what put the great in the Great Awakening. That happened about five years later, when this man named George Whitefield came to America, and bang, it happened again, only with an even greater intensity, which of course is another story in and of itself, but the reason I bring it up at all, any of that, is because what happened in the middle of all this, was that certain people began focusing on these unusual kinds of emotional and physical responses people were having during the services. Because, what was happening, as the preachers were preaching, was that people started crying, sometimes they were yelling, like Jesus save me, sometimes they were even falling over, some of them honestly almost going into what people thought was a trance and this was strange, not normal, culturally these were people, who normally wouldn’t even clap in church, and so certain preachers obviously saw that and were getting excited about it, and they were like this is it, and they started preaching just so that kind of stuff would happen.

And what’s more, it’s like they didn’t think anything was happening spiritually if that stuff wasn’t happening, and so, it was getting a little wild and chaotic in place, and when people started talking about what it meant to be a Christian, that’s all they could think, yeah I fell over in church, and when others started looking at all this, they were like, no, no, this is crazy, this is too disorganized, this is not Christianity.

Christianity is reasonable, and courteous, and not all emotional, and proper, and they really emphasized the intellect, that was their thing, it’s all about the intellect, it was all about the brain, it was all about the mind, the thinking.

And so on the one hand, you had these people over here, who were emphasizing the externals, the emotions, the physical responses, and saying, this is Christianity, you know you have faith, if you have all these emotional experiences, and on the other hand, you had these others over here who were saying, no, it’s none of that.

That makes me even question if you are a Christian.

It’s can you say the right things that matters, do you go to church, are you are a good person, a good citizen, and in the middle of all that, Jonathan Edwards was like, everybody, let’s wait a second, let’s go back to our Bibles and think about this from the ground up.

What is the nature of true religion, what is at the essence of saving faith, what is at the heart of a relationship with Jesus Christ, what does it even mean to be a Christian, in the first place?

And one of the key passages he turned to, as he was thinking about all of this was 1 Peter 1:8.

He actually wrote a whole book on it, it’s a classic, it’s called Religious Affections, and a lot of what I am going to say to you, comes straight from there. If Jonathan Edwards were reading this, maybe he would think I was stealing his sermon.

Where he’s looking specifically at this place where Peter writes,

“Though you have not seen him, you love him.”

1 Peter 1:8

“Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

This was, as one other pastor puts it, was quintessential Christianity for Edwards, and that’s a great English word, quintessential, but, it means the perfect example of something, my wife is the quintessential wife, I would say, and Edwards says this is the quintessential, the perfect example of what faith looks like.

For one thing because, Peter says, it has been tested genuine.

We know this faith is a great example of real faith for three reasons, the first is because it is a tested faith.

That’s how Peter describes it.

In verse 7.

“The tested genuineness of your faith.”’

Peter’s talking to people who are being persecuted.

That’s the context.

He calls them elect exiles of the dispersion in verse 1.

Chosen refugees.

And throughout the letter we see just how difficult they have it, but he’s been talking specifically about the way in which they have been persecuted over the past couple of verses in chapter 1.

Especially, verse 6.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.”

Even though they are suffering, these believers are rejoicing.

In this you are rejoicing.

And one reason they are rejoicing is because they are sure they are being guarded by God’s power for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Verse 5.

“Who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed…In this you rejoice.”

And one reason they are sure they are being guarded by God’s power is because the trials they have experienced have proven that they have saving faith.

That’s what trials do.

 They prove either that you have it or that you don’t. They test whether or not our faith is real.

When faith comes through trials, you can say that’s the real thing, and that’s what Peter says happened to these people to whom he is writing, in verse 7.

“You have been grieved by various trials so that the tested genuineness of your faith…”

It’s actually cool if you look at this.

Because with these believers, Peter looks at this as already having been done here, if you put your finger there on verse 7, you have been grieved by various trials so that the tested genuineness of your faith and that’s like an adjective here, tested genuineness, your faith is tested genuine, he’s not hoping, your faith will be tested genuine, he’s looking back, it has.

To catch the slight difference.

James actually uses the same phrase in James 1, verse 3, to talk about trials, but he looks at it as right in the middle of the process, he says, trials test your faith. He uses it as a word of exhortation, consider it all joy, because trials are testing your faith, where Peter’s not exhorting these believers like that, at all, he’s actually, just worshiping God for them, because the trials have proven their faith is real.

In other words, he’s a pastor.

Peter.

And as a pastor, when things are going well for someone, you are happy, but it’s kind of hard to know if their faith is real or not, are they are only believing in God because it is easy but when someone goes through a trial and they are still trusting Jesus, that’s when pastors start getting excited, and what’s happening here, in this text, is that Peter’s watched these believers and he is convinced that the trials they have experienced have proven their faith is authentic.

He’s like, blessed be God, because I am looking at what you are going through and the way you are responding, and man, I am just sure, it means you are the real deal, you have got saving faith. In a number of different places in those opening verses, Peter actually emphasizes that. Verse 5, “you are being guarded through for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Verse 9, “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Peter’s sure they are Christians, they are being saved.

And that’s precious.

This is the second way we know this is quintessential faith.

Because Peter says, their faith is going to result, in praise, glory and honor when Jesus returns.

“So that the tested genuineness of your faith,” he writes, “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

You can see Peter’s making a contrast.

He’s taking something everybody values, everybody is happy if they have gold, obviously, because that’s precious, it’s valuable, but at the end of the day, its value is limited, because it will be destroyed.

In the end.

It perishes.

It is not eternal, gold.

It’s not going to go into the next life with us, and yet, the results of the genuine faith of these believers, will.

It’s going to outlast the world itself.

Which is why Peter’s like, it is so precious.

Even though their life was difficult, they had something better than comfort and material possessions, because what they had was going to result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus returns.

Peter’s sure of that.

 Which all I am saying, is obviously, a pretty high commendation for their faith. If their faith is going to result in all of that when Jesus comes back.

Now, in terms of specifics, it’s a honestly a little hard to know whether or not Peter’s saying praise, glory and honor for them as believers or for Jesus especially, though I think really biblically, it’s both. Either way, what’s going to look beautiful on the day Jesus comes back is not, how many houses you owned or what cars you drove, that stuff is gone, nobody is going to receive praise, glory and honor for that, God’s not going to be like, hey Josh come up here, guys, he drove a nice car, look at him, can everybody clap, not at all, instead what’s going to be honored is the way you trusted Jesus, even in the middle of suffering for him, that’s going to make you look beautiful forever and Jesus is going to receive praise, glory and honor for it, as well.

Trials have a purpose.

The stuff we go through, helps us know we have faith, and it puts our faith on display.

Not just now.

But at the end of the universe.

It’s kind of like, I guess, if you go to buy a diamond. Sometimes they will take the diamond and put it on a dark cloth, because the contrast helps you see the beauty of the diamond, and God is doing that in this life with the trials we experience. The trials are the dark cloth he’s using to make the beauty of our faith stand out and we see that beauty now of course, but we are going to see it even more clearly on the day Jesus comes back, because it is going to result in eternal praise, glory and honor for us and of course, ultimately for the One who saved us.

Which is part of what makes the trials these believers were going through something they could rejoice in, because, Peter’s sure, that’s what God was accomplishing in them.

Their faith had been proven genuine.

That’s number one.

And then number two.

They had the kind of faith that God was going to put on display at the world’s end.

We should look at their faith, because at the climax of everything God was doing in the universe, he was going to use their faith to bring honor to Jesus and to them.

And then three, because their faith was purified by the difficulties they were going through, right now.

I mean, are you seeing this?

There’s a lot to recommend these believers faith.

It was tested genuine.

He says.

Verse 7.

And as a result it is more precious than gold because gold perishes. But at the same time it was also a little like gold, look at it, in that gold was also purified by fire. In the future, it’s going to look beautiful, but it looks pretty beautiful now, because it’s been purified.

Now obviously, I am not an expert in making gold better, but apparently in the ancient days, maybe even now, I don’t know, the way you would get rid of the impurities in gold would be to sit next to a hot fire with gold that had been melted into liquid form and put into a container and then you would stir and skim the impurities out of the gold as it was sitting in there in that container over the fire.

The fire obviously, wasn’t pointless, in other words, it was necessary, because after you had put the gold through the fire, it was going to be more pure, and as a result, more valuable, because you can taken all the junk out. And Peter is using that as an illustration of what happened, to these believers’ faith, like gold it had been purified as a result of the persecution they had experienced, which of course is exactly what makes Peter says next so important.

You are catching it?

Right?

This the whole point.

This is why we are talking about 1 Peter 1:8.

Because, Peter’s looking at these Christians, and he’s saying you have got the kind of faith, I am convinced is genuine.

It’s come through trials.

And you’ve got a faith that is so beautiful that it is going to result in glory, honor and praise when Jesus returns.

And really, you have got the kind of faith, that’s been refined by fire.

I think the trials you have gone through, have really taken a lot of the impurities out of your faith.

Which means, in my mind, basically, you have got, a beautiful saving faith in its pretty much its purest form.

The quintessential faith.

Which is what makes this perfect for us, because this is the whole question, we are asking, which is, what exactly does that kind of faith look like? 

And we’ll see Peter’s answer, next time.

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