For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

1 Peter 3: 17

Peter was aware of two realities that had faced him as he followed Christ, and he was also certain that they would face every other person who traveled that same path through life. Firstly, suffering and pain would come to each of us in the wake of our encounter with Christ, and secondly, all of our thoughts, words, and actions would order under one of two headings as they would be either good or evil. Although these categories or divisions of the content of life may seem extreme or even as overly simplistic and harsh, they represent the reality of how the content of all people’s lives are ordered when it comes to their most basic of descriptors. We effect good, or we bring about evil. Neutrality is not a part of what it means to serve a master in this world, and all of us are ordered under someone to whom we pledge our allegiance.

Christ leads us into that good side of the equation of life, and His Spirit works within us to bring about change that permeates the deepest aspects of our beings so that these changes have a positive impact upon the way that we think, and so, they also transform the words that we speak and the things that we do. In this process of change our will can come to our aid or it can work to hinder the progress that we will make in assimilating Christ as our identity and image. For as we yield to Christ and surrender control of the deepest aspects of our selves to the work of the Spirit, then we are most profoundly impacted by the presence of the Lord in our lives. When we hold on to areas of our beings that we find comfortable and deem as important to us, we tend to retard that same growth into Godliness.

I am not suggesting that this form of deep and highly personal surrender is easy, for it tends to involve aspects of our identity and being that have been developed over the entire course of life to date, and it also impacts us in places where we find some of our greatest sense of security and self-determined peace. Yet, even these aspects of life are ones in which Christ is asking us to enter into a form of the suffering that the righteous journey requires of all travelers along the holiness road. When we place the prized possessions of our egos and our escapist thoughts and actions upon the altar of Christ’s cross, we begin a journey of faith that will take us upon an often painful journey into transformative healing for those places within our souls that have been rubbed raw by our days of living in this harsh and broken world. The decision to accept whatever pain may come in the process, whether it is ours internally or derives from external sources, is a first step into pursuing good and rejecting evil. 

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We were buried therefor with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6: 4

The idea of baptism, as it has been practiced as a right and a sacrament by the church since days before Paul, is certainly being discussed here. Yet, it is not this act that brings about the important result that is mentioned. Without contemplation of means or of method, that is absent discussion of immersion verses sprinkling and babies and/or adults, the act of wetting down a person does nothing beyond announcing and proclaiming the reality of a relationship that is formed in the heart and is made real by virtue of the work of the Spirit of Christ within a person. Thus, the real baptism into Christ’s death takes place in the realm of the mystical and carried out by the Spirit. This is a work that is done as a part of that wonderous event that we often call conversion or new birth in Christ. In fact, this death of the old self is an essential part of the life-long journey of faith that is commenced when each of us surrenders our life to Christ.

We are allowed to experience the shame of the criminal’s death on the cross through Jesus’ literal pain, agony, and death there. He was innocent and undeserving of that fate, and we are each guilty and have more than earned the punishment that Christ endured. More so, the shame of this torturous implement is also ours as our sinfulness is viewed in contrast to God’s standard of holiness and righteous living. So, God requires that we surrender ourselves in full and total submission to Him; thus, we do place the comforts, the selfish pleasures, and the defining compulsions of our prior lives upon that altar of redemption. We undergo the process of dying to self with its literal, if spiritual, burial of who and what we were in a grave that also leads to our spiritual union with Christ. From this earthy and darkened place, we are raised up into the light of new life, and this is also something that is accomplished by the work of the Spirit alone.

From this point forward, we are called upon by Christ to seek to live out our days as followers of God’s way and doers of His will. Although this is something that we participate fully in as we are asked to set our eyes on Christ and ground our minds in God’s Word while surrendering our hearts to the leading of the Spirit, the strength needed and the power that living out this transformed life requires is provided by Christ through the presence of His Spirit. So, this is how we walk in the newness of life, and this is what it means to live in the fullness of the kingdom of God as it has come to be our own reality. In Christ we are made new, and through Christ’s work, as it is carried out in our bodies, the world that we touch is also transformed into a place where the Godly characteristics of love, justice, mercy, and peacemaking are tangibly present. Although this walk in the newness of life in Christ will never be easy as it operates in direct opposition to the ways of this world, it does place us in the center of the redemption that Christ has caused to exist here as a result of His resurrection in which we have now been joined.           

Open to me the gates of righteousness,

   that I may enter through them

   and give thanks to the LORD.

Psalm 118: 19

When this psalm was written, this was a real place, and it was the portal through which people could go into the temple in Jerusalem as they came together to worship God. The righteous were people who God had selected and designated as His own; so, these were primarily those who were born Jewish. The fact that there are people who God sees as righteous and as thus having a special right to stand before Him in worship is still true today, but the place where they are to gather for this purpose and the fundamental nature of who they are and of how they obtained this right has been altered significantly by God. Now there is no specified building to come to, no human constructed portal to pass through, and access to God is granted to people of every nationality, race, gender, family origin, religious background, and societal position. Today there is truly no Jew or gentile in the fullest sense of what that expression means.

Each of us decides to accept what is offered by to us by God. That is, Christ seeks after people without regard to any of the distinguishing or separating factors that humans hold as barriers to engaging in relationships; then, it is up to each of us to accept the gift of salvation and relationship with God that the Lord is placing before us. In Christ, we have the Spirit in and with us. He is our entry into the contemporary version of those historic gates of righteousness. The presence of Christ also seems to bring about a desire to go thorough those gates on a very regular basis, for my heart wants to express the strong feelings that I have about and for the Lord. Yet, there is something challenging and even, at times, troubling about going to this place of worship with its call to be open, honest, and sincere about all that is taking place inside of my mind, in the deep places of my heart, and by the actions of my hands. 

These same gates of worship that are a portal for entering into personal and corporate expressions of joy and thanksgiving are also an opening to a safe place where each of us can enter into repentance and grieve over all of the harm that we have caused to others and the sorrow that our sinfulness has brought to the Lord. Repentance and joy, grief and salvation; these are all of equal importance and are each granted the time and the space needed for their full expression when we pass through those holy gates. Christ is our true High Priest, and He ministers to each of our needs in a way that leads us deeper into healing for all that is damaged or lost within our hearts and minds. The Lord calls us into His presence as individuals and as His gathered body. He provides us with the freedom that we need to express our thoughts and emotions in a manner that fits with how He has designed and constructed us as He leads us through those gates and into the courts of His temple of praise where joyous thanksgiving choruses are sung throughout every hour of each day.     

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4: 16

People around the world celebrate the rolling over of the calendar at the end of the current year and the beginning of the new one. We look ahead with anticipation and with hope that things will get better than they have been in the prior twelve months. This change suggests a new beginning, a fresh start, and a reset for some of life’s ledgers that record our wrongs, shortcomings, and failures. Yet, in all of this effort and planning that is focused around refreshing life, there is one calendar, a singular clock that is never set back and that moves forward with relentless pace and purpose, for in the real world, no one gets even a second younger or a day less aged when the new year tolls its entry. Every day that we live in one more to mark off the allotment of days that we have received. Each year that goes by will contain events, situations, and circumstances that have a negative impact on the probable longevity of our lives. This was one of the two primary subjects that Paul is bringing up here.

Paul knew physical and emotional stress as he had experienced them in great and powerful ways and on numerous occasions. His body had to be a bit worn and often a lot tired as a result of the life that he was living in serving Christ with true diligence in a world that was mostly hostile to that message and to its author. The Apostle was fully acquainted with the hardships of travel, he had experienced shipwrecks and been arrested and locked away in jail, he was forced to flee from angry mobs, and he had been mocked and rejected. The lines of care must have been deep on his weathered skin, and the spring surely had gone from his step. Yet, his passion for the Gospel of Christ and his zeal for proclaiming its life-giving truth had not grown any less powerful. He continued to love people and to speak forth Christ until the very end of his life on this earth. I can envision Paul during those later days with his body battered and bruised and with aching joints as he went to the Lord in prayer regularly while continuing to repent for the sinfulness in his own life and seeking out wisdom and counsel for following Christ along the path that was to be his during the day to come. 

The Spirit was present with Paul just as He is with each and every one of us who know Christ. As we yield ourselves to the Spirit, He brings us the cleansing of God’s grace, the fresh water of God’s truth, encouragement for our spirits, and wisdom to renew our hearts and minds. The Spirit’s work within and upon us does what it did for Paul, it sets us back upright when we are knocked down, and it gives us the courage and the strength that we need to continue on Christ’s righteous path of engagement with our world. The Spirit also points our hearts and minds to the reality of that journey, for Christ takes us into the realm of the spiritual and reframes all of life within the bounds of God’s kingdom come to this world. So, this is the other subject that Paul is discussing. We live in a world that is hostile to the spirit of truth, justice, righteousness, and love that is the essence of God’s realm.  In serving Christ we are breathing in conflict; so, we will experience the abrasive and harsh impacts of those encounters in our bodies, minds, and hearts. This is where the Spirit also works as He brings peace to troubled days, grants rest when the nights are long, and provides shelter when the heart is weary and in need of time to regroup and recover. This life will be hard and its challenges are going to be continuous and grueling, but the Spirit of Christ is more than sufficient to take each of us through it all so that even when the body is broken down and the heart is feeling overwhelmed it is His strength that enables activity and His love that fuels the spirit into living out Christ’s will for this day.     

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8: 16, 17

 

People like tangible things. We want to be able to see, touch, smell, and taste everything that we encounter, and I must admit that I am not different from this. I like for my world to be comprised of things, situations, and experiences that are understandable by virtue of being seen, having dimensions that I can grasp, being formed of substantive material, and admittedly, being mostly under my control. One of the truly challenging aspects of the life that Christ calls upon His people to live is that it defies much of this description as it is a life that is formed and established in the spirit, is guided and informed by Christ’s Spirit, and it operates mostly in the realm of the spiritual.

 

Yet, we are not left with nothing solid or tangible to rely upon as we consider what it means to live out our lives as followers of Christ. We are provided with real evidence such as that which would be presented in the most exacting of courts of law, and this evidentiary material is placed before us to examine at the most intimate and personal of levels of our hearts and minds as it is laid open for our spirits to search and to interrogate. In Christ we are different people, and this occurs from the inside of our hearts and is then expressed by our inner selves and by our outward actions. We are made alive in spirit and we are given a living and vital understanding of righteousness that flows directly from the Spirit and is then informed and shaped by the Spirit’s revelation of the deeper truths contained within God’s Word.

 

In obedient following of Christ, our lives take on a form and are shaped by the way that Christ lived as well. He entered into the pain, grief, and desperation that fills our world, and He brought healing for these suffering souls by virtue of granting those who believe in Him a new reality that exists within the presence of God and that is lived out daily in His kingdom as full heirs and as chosen ones who are adopted into a new form of life that is experienced here and now and onward into eternity. This new life is not without its pain and suffering, for it is lived out in the shadow of the cross, and it is one wherein sacrifice and service to others are its guiding principles. However, in suffering along with others and for the sake of granting to them the hope, justice, and dignity that God desires to see conferred upon all people, we enter into the glory that God poured out on His Son, and we bring true glory to the name of Christ, the Redeemer of the world.

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

Matthew 20: 1

 

Jesus is doing something that He did frequently. He told stories that illustrated principles about life wherein the story had a framework that was readily identifiable to His audience; yet, the stories always carried within them a depth of meaning that was much greater than the simple facts that were being presented. Since the actual teaching point of the story is concealed or buried within the facts of the tale and requires the reader to think and to consider what the true implications might be, we refer to many of these stories as parables, for they use real life people and situations to teach about a broader life principle.

 

I think that this must be a way of communicating that God considers to be highly effective in connecting with people; for, the Old Testament is also filled with stories of how people lived, the way that God interacted with them, and the outcomes of those relationships. The entirety of the word of God is filled with stories that are intended to tell us about the people who are featured in them, and that are also given to us to guide us into an understanding of just who God is and of how He relates to people much like us. The Lord wants us to continually seek to know Him better, and He has provided us with a full, rich picture of His kingdom and of His ways of ruling it in His word. The Lord also has given us a guide and an interpreter for the mysteries of these stories in the Holy Spirit.

 

People who know God are already living inside of the Kingdom of Heaven; the Lord has provided us with the perfect, complete, and ultimate guidebook to living in this wondrous place in His word. The more time that we spend in searching out the hidden treasures and the extraordinary sights of our homeland, the more we will get to know our Father who rules over it. Today is a day that will be spent in the presence and in the company of the Lord, today we are living in His land, and today would be a great day to seek out one of those hidden treasures that His guidebook has ready to reveal to anyone who seeks after them.

 

For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;

In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Isaiah 30: 15

 

If only they had listened. In the days of Isaiah, God tells it like it really is, and His people still go off on their own and try to do it all in their own strength and based upon their human wisdom. The result is nothing but disaster. They are taken captive and their land is decimated and then occupied by foreign invaders. The simple take-away from all of this is that when God speaks, we should listen and respond. Yet, this is not often the way that people engage with God. We are truly a stubborn and a proud bunch that are filled with a sense of our own importance. We might like to have God around for comfort and for a sense of ritual order, but we aren’t all that willing to live as He directs.

 

So what was it that God wanted of His people in the days of the prophet? The Lord asks for something that we all struggle with giving as He asks them to return. This means that God wants their repentance, a turning away from the sinful path that the people have found to be so enticing. Like He did then, today God wants us to stop following the ways of culture and the seemingly easy course of our world. Then we can enter into a time of confession and prayer wherein we recognize the painful reality of our ownership of the harm that we have caused to ourselves and to creation and the grief that our separation from God has caused for Him. God calls the people of this world to confession and prayer that is followed by listening and responding to His voice by living out the truth of His holy word.

 

As we return to God we can truly rest in His presence. Over the long term of history the Lord has demonstrated His faithful love and His unchanging righteousness. His character and His word form the foundation for all that is trustworthy in our world. We can rely upon that word and follow the teaching of the people who were inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit to set out its instruction and direction for us. There is freedom to be found in doing this. Our worried minds can find rest and our troubled souls will be soothed by the quietness that comes from the presence of the Lord, and from this position of quiet rest, the Lord will grant to us the strength that is required to live today in the truth of His unchanging will.