Andrew Watson: Walking in the light of hope
A lifestyle characterised by gratitude, reverence, holiness and love is the hallmark of God's people, says Rev Andrew Watson
FOURTEEN centuries before Christ, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, though numerous, were among the slave class in Egypt.
Subjected to enforced labour and the cruel slaughter of their children, they cried out to their forefathers' God for rescue. And God heeded their cry, was moved to compassion and acted on their behalf.
He humbled the false gods and proud Pharaohs of Egypt with a series of plagues and sent Moses to lead His people out of their bondage to freedom, independence and prosperity in the 'promised land' of Canaan. We read of their journey in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Why is this important? Because it is the background to what the Apostle Peter's words that we read in 1 Peter 1:13-2:3.
As a Jew, Simon Peter was familiar with his nation's history and actually quotes from the Mosaic book of Leviticus. But Peter is not writing to Jews only. By the middle of the 1st century people from all backgrounds were welcoming the message of Jesus - from its beginning, the Church was truly diverse, people of differing races and social circumstances wonderfully united in common faith.
There's a parallel with Exodus: Christians are also people on a journey, travelling to the 'promised land' of heaven and resurrection. This will characterise how we live in the here and now.
Firstly, we will be a grateful people. We have been saved from the "empty way of life" we once had, a life subject to the slavemaster of sinful attitudes and desires and as such inviting God's judgement.
Secondly, we will also be a reverent people. The Israelites were never to forget the night of the Exodus when their homes were sheltered and protected by the blood of lambs marking their door posts.
The destroying angel 'passed over' God's people and visited the Egyptian homes with terrible retribution. Israel was being reborn as a nation but this was only possible through the shedding of blood.
Redemption comes at a high price. All the silver and gold in the world could never atone for sin. A life had to be sacrificed in place of ours.
Never forget, writes Peter, the life offered on our behalf - the perfect life of Jesus, God's Son, given for us on the cross. Yes, we will sing and celebrate our freedom but we will also kneel in penitence and solemn recognition of its cost. We will not merely profess the name of Jesus with a few nominal rituals, we will submit our lives daily to Him as our risen and living, reigning Lord.
Thirdly, we are called to practise being a holy people. The Israelites in Exodus had never experienced freedom. They had never known human rights. Life had been precarious, often brutal, sometimes a ruthless 'survival of the fittest'.
So could they now do as they pleased? Could they prosper without considering others? Even abuse and exploit other people as the Egyptians had done them? Is that what freedom means? The postmodern 21st century is still wrestling with such questions.
To flourish, humans need more than freedom. We need order as well and what we find in the Bible is that God gave these freed slaves a comprehensive series of laws and structures to help shape a community that was safe, fair and compassionate for all.
Responsible now for their own choices, people were to treat other people with respect, starting at home.
Peter says followers of Jesus must do no less. We are on a journey to eternal life and on the way we are learning to be holy, pleasing to God and a blessing to one another.
Instead of being driven by malice or motivated by things like envy, Peter writes we are to practise self-control. Paul says in Galatians that this is one 'fruit', a natural result of being led by the Holy Spirit.
You wouldn't hear too many people these days express the ambition to be self-controlled. It seems much more common for people to be openly filled with greed and lust. We dream of getting rich quickly or holding and possessing things that look attractive but sadly people often find themselves bound, addicted, in another kind of slavery to such desires.
Yet Jesus sets his people free, free to be holy - this means exercising self-control in line with what God sets down in His Word.
We are to be a loving people, people who forgive one another and even love enemies, so that the Church may become a powerful force for God and for good throughout His world.
We are on a journey. Our goal is nothing short of heaven. God's people are called to walk in the light of hope, a lifestyle of obedience to God that is informed by the Bible, a lifestyle characterised by gratitude, reverence, holiness and love.
The Rev Andrew Watson is minister of the Presbyterian congregation at Cairncastle, Co Antrim. He blogs at wordsurfers.com.