God’s Gift Giver

gift give

Acts 1:4-5 “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”

Martin Luther once said in a Christmas Sermon, “If I tell you that someone on a certain mountain peak has picked up a hundred gold coins, you will say, ‘What is that to me?’ But if you are the one who has picked it up, you will be joyful. What is it to me if someone else has goods, honors, riches, and a pretty wife? That does not touch the heart. But if you hear that this Child (Christ) is yours, that takes root and a man becomes suddenly so strong that to him death and life are the same.”

God wants us to “own” Jesus’ priceless work by faith. When we do, it makes a far greater impact on our lives than having the Hope Diamond sitting in our jewelry box. It gives us a new life. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to bring us Jesus’ gifts and make them our own.

Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he promised his disciples that gifts were going to be brought to them by the Spirit. We should not think that Jesus’ disciples lacked the Holy Spirit altogether. If that were true, they wouldn’t have been gathered here with Jesus. You see, sin so infects us that we are unable to believe in him on our own. Spiritually, we are a little like Brennan Hawkins, a Boy Scout from Utah who spent four days lost in the mountains fifteen years ago. He would have been found earlier, but his parents had drilled it into his head that he must avoid all contact with strangers. As a result, each time rescuers got close to him, he hid so that they could not find him. He had been so programmed to avoid strangers that he couldn’t recognize them as rescuers, as people on his side, when they came.

That’s what sin and Satan have done to us. They have so programmed our minds and hearts that, on our own, we can’t recognize our Rescuer when he comes. That’s why “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). It’s why we confess in the Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ my Lord nor come to him, but the Holy Ghost has called me by the gospel…” We need the Holy Spirit to overcome our natural fear and opposition, and lead us to Jesus. We need the Holy Spirit to get us to stop trying to rescue ourselves, and let Jesus rescue us instead.

This much the disciples already had. So do you and I. And this is where the new life really begins. Paul reminded the Romans, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” He wrote the Galatians, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

The Holy Spirit has convinced us of God’s love for us, the love he demonstrated by giving us Jesus and taking all our sins away, and led us to trust in him. The Holy Spirit has given us the faith to know that God is our dear Father, and we are his dear children, and we enjoy all the rights and privileges of membership in his family. The Spirit is the one who has given us this new life. And once we have that, we are ready to receive the many other gifts God has prepared for his children.

Perfect Suffering

Jesus tear

Hebrews 2:10 “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

God intended to make our Savior perfect through suffering. Does that sound strange? We rarely think of pain as a good thing. We spend billions of dollars fighting it every year. But what if everything else about our lives remained unchanged, and all pain and suffering simply disappeared? How would you know how seriously you twisted your knee when you tripped on the steps? What would tell you that the ulcer in your stomach had grown dangerously large, or that your fever had climbed so high it was life threatening?

More serious still, how would we know the damage our selfish behavior had done to our relationship with husband or wife, parents or children, friends or neighbors if we did not suffer for these things? Would we realize the damage that has been done to the most important relationship of all–our broken relationship with God? In one way or another all our suffering, whether aching bodies or aching hearts, is a warning signal. It exposes the brokenness of our world, the ruin of our own souls, so that we cannot deceive ourselves with the illusion that we are okay just the way we are. It is a foretaste of a greater condemnation to follow. It leads us to turn our hearts to God and repent while he still gives us breath.

So suffering may be fine for us. But what need did Jesus have for it? Heaven was his home, a perfect paradise with no disease or injury to threaten health or life. His whole being was pure love. He knew no selfishness or carelessness. The heavenly Father’s only words about him were, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” Jesus alone could say that all his suffering was undeserved.

Still, “It was fitting that God…should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Was there some flaw in Jesus that had to be corrected so that he could become perfect and holy? No, the word for “perfect” in this case is not the word that refers to sinlessness. It is a word closer to “complete.” It’s the kind of word you would use if you were putting the finishing touches on some project–decorating a cake, or remodeling a room in your house. As you put the cherry on the top, as you tighten the last screw on the last light fixture, you say, “Now it’s perfect.” Your mission is accomplished. Everything looks just the way you wanted it.

Jesus’ suffering finished God’s plan to save us. It made his mission complete. Now, Jesus’ project looked just the way God wanted it. His death on the cross removed every sin for all time. We know this suffering was not easy. He expressed his dread in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating great drops of blood and praying for another way if possible. But he carried the project all the way to its end. As Jesus was breathing his last, he cried “It is finished.” His Father could say, “Now, it’s perfect.” Forgiveness could be freely distributed to all. The whole world could know the depths of God’s love. Now, “He’s perfect.” Jesus looks like the gracious and merciful Savior and Son of God he is.

Dear Christian, do you see the glorious place you and I must have in God’s own heart? How deeply he must love you, how dearly he must treasure you to trade his throne for a manger, and trade his life for your soul. This Savior suffers to bring many sons and daughters to glory. Someday that will mean the heavenly glory from which he came. But already, that glory begins with being the objects of his love, the people so precious he embraced such suffering to bring them home.

Imagine

Sky

Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”

In 1971 former Beatles member John Lennon wrote and recorded his most famous song, Imagine. Not a loud and grating hard rock number, no avant garde musical experiment, I have to think that the tune is universally appealing. It is soft and melodious–almost like a lullaby. The theme of Imagine is a call for world peace. Maybe that dream seems too utopian, the goal unrealistic. But it’s hard to argue with the sentiment.

What’s not hard for the Christian to argue with is the route to world peace the song proposes. Do you know what the very first words are? “Imagine there’s no Heaven.” Why? The answer comes three lines later, “Imagine all the people, living for today.” That’s fine, if you are a spoiled rock star, and you make millions of dollars, and you are surrounded by people who tell you how wonderful you are. But what if you suffer from chronic pain, and there is little or no hope for a cure for your condition in your lifetime? What if you have just buried a dear loved one, someone whose life was tightly woven into the fabric of your own, someone upon whom you depended deeply? What if the only life you have known has been in a painfully dysfunctional family, or unrelenting rejection and loneliness, or abject poverty in some third world country living out of a card board box and sifting through the garbage for something to eat? What if you are simply part of the unremarkable mass of humanity spending your rather unremarkable life getting through one day to the next. Imagine there’s no heaven? That’s supposed to be a happy thought?

Fortunately, the vision in John Lennon’s song is nothing more than a fantasy. The vision in the Book of Revelation is real. There is a heaven in our future, and it won’t be long before the heaven Jesus’ promises us will be ours. “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”

While we live in this world, it seems we Christians take one beating after another. We go from defeat to defeat. Does the world embrace our message? No, more and more the things that we believe are rejected and we are pushed off to the fringes. We see it most clearly on issues like creation, the life of the unborn, and the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. But long before these things ever became issues, Jesus’ love at the cross had been rejected, his resurrection considered irrelevant. How else do we account for the fact that 80% of our fellow citizens avoid God’s house each week?

Closer to home, temptation still wins far too many battles for my heart’s affection and my life’s direction. How can it seem that our lives end in anything but defeat when every one of them will end in death?

But things are not as they appear. Even now we have the promise that God gives us the victory, even over death, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Every sinful failure has been atoned for and forgiven by his death on the cross–every one, in full. In Jesus’ death, our death sentence has been served, and our deaths have been miraculously transformed from a horrible end to a wonderful beginning. At our death our souls step through a door, where they become more truly alive than they have ever been before. That is victory. And our broken bodies aren’t finished. They are only resting until they join in the victory when Jesus returns.

This is the reward Jesus is bringing. Christian singer Bart Millard of Mercy Me wrote the song I Can Only Imagine about the real heaven Jesus has prepared. It isn’t a make-believe utopia. It’s the real thing. Today we have to use our imaginations a little to grasp what it is like. But very soon we will see it ourselves.

The Whole World FROM His Hands

Potter

Genesis 2: 7 “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Not all religions have seen their gods as the makers of the world in which they live. The Greeks believed that their gods sprang to life from an eternal earth. The creation story in the Babylonian epic The Enuma Elish similarly has various gods developing out of the material of the universe already present. Then they bring order to that universe with their abilities to control certain forces of nature.

The more modern idea is to turn things completely around. Man becomes the maker of God. Atheistic anthropologists suppose that our concept of god is nothing more than a product of the human imagination, even a product of human evolution. Over time we have developed the concept to make god more and more to our liking. Now that is an idea that appeals to human pride, if there ever was one. We get to dictate to god what the rules are, the standards of morality, even whether he gets to exist. Just a few minutes pondering human depravity, cruelty, and selfishness will tell you what a frightening idea this is. Man making the rules for the god he has made is a certain recipe for disaster.

No, “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground…” God the Father is often symbolized as a hand from heaven. From what we know of creation from Genesis 1, I suppose that a giant mouth might also be an appropriate sign for our Maker, since he spoke most of the world into existence with his commands. But people, the crown of his creation, were not made by an impersonal command. The Lord formed us, like a potter working the clay between his hands, shaping it and molding it until he has something both functional and beautiful. Then he took this lifeless collection of creatively arranged dust particles, and intimately he breathed life into them.

Isn’t this picture of God’s hand forming us from the dust of the ground at one and the same time humbling and awesome? It is humbling as it puts us in our place. Our origin is nothing more than dirt. Since the fall into sin, we cannot escape the fact that someday our bodies will return to that humble origin. Indeed, the process has already begun! We are like Cinderella at the ball, and the bells on the clock are already chiming midnight, and soon, too soon, we will return to what we were before the magical transformation.

But consider the awesome power of God to turn dust into the miraculous, complex, multi-talented bodies we inhabit. Consider the awesome love of the LORD that so freely blessed us with our being. Only when his Son adopted a set of human hands for himself, and let them be pierced and made powerless to redeem us, has he shown more free and faithful love than this.

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” Christians have been confessing for thousands of years. Many question this simple statement of faith in our time. But it is more than an abstract piece of theology we should fight to defend. It is evidence of God’s love that we want to believe.

Seeking To Be Found

hide-seek

Isaiah 55:6-7 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

Mankind leaves almost no stone unturned in its search for God. Some seek him in quiet strolls through nature, the moving sight of a beautiful sunset. Others spend hours in meditation thinking about themselves, staring at their navels, hoping that they will discover the “god within.”

The one place we can be sure to find him is not a place where we see him with our eyes. It is a place where we hear him speaking. This one place is in his word. While his Holy Word is preached to us, read to us, and printed for us, God can be found. He is near. His words bring us the Lord himself!

Do you note a sense of urgency in Isaiah’s encouragement? Why such an earnest, emotional plea? Israel didn’t lack the opportunity to seek God. The truth of his word was all around them. Prophet after prophet delivered the message. Over hundreds of years it was written down and copied. As the Apostle Paul wrote the Romans, “Theirs is the adoption of sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.”

But for all that word of God, all that opportunity to seek and find him, the people of Isaiah’s day were unwilling. Past generations had been known to repent of their sins. Israel had a heritage as God’s chosen. But now they followed their own ways. They followed other gods, pursued other ambitions–making a living and seeking fun. Most ignored Isaiah’s plea: “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.”

Is it hard to see the warning for ourselves? We may have grown up with law and gospel properly divided, the Gospel purely preached, the sacraments rightly administered. But God’s plea for us to daily, hourly repent of our sins is no less earnest. Repentance is not the idea one man I know had of it. “Repentance is something I did a long time ago, pastor, when I first became a believer,” he told me. But it’s not just a one-time event from the past we go through, and then we are done. The very first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses says, “When our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent ye,’ he meant that the whole life of the believer is to be a repentance.” The sins that you and I are committing today are dangerous and damnable. “Let the wicked forsake his way.” “Seek the Lord while he may be found.”

For just this purpose, the promises of God become so precious, so important. Threats and warnings can’t turn us around by themselves. Why seek a God who is only mad at you? His promises, on the other hand, hold out so much more: “Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

Do you really want to know God? There is no place we can get to know him better than in his promises of mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes we may be tempted to look at these promises like the children of Israel looked at the manna. It sustained their lives for a while, but after having the same old thing long enough they “detested this miserable food.” Isaiah’s words help to renew our appetite for God’s banquet of grace.

He reminds us that God has mercy on us. Maybe confession and absolution, maybe hearing forgiveness promised in a sermon, maybe our Savior’s intimate promise of forgiveness in his supper can become perfunctory. We may receive them with little joy or feeling. But they are never given that way by our Lord. God has mercy. His word invites us to peer into the heart of God, where we find that he has made us the objects of his affection. Relieving us of our sins and our sufferings is always a moving experience for him. Here we find a tender-hearted Father who wants nothing more than to see us escape the pain and agony we deserve for our sins.

God’s pardon comes “freely.” The emphasis is not so much on the fact he gives it free of cost. Here he is speaking about how liberal, how generous, how lavish the Lord is with this gift. Stewardship appeals sometimes remind us, “You can’t out-give God.” Here the prophet reminds us we can’t out-sin his grace, either. He has more pardon, more forgiveness, than we can possibly exhaust, though we may sin all day every day.

So don’t be afraid. Seek him now! He wants us to find him.

The Sure Foundation

Foundation Stones

Ephesians 2:19 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

We have been built on a foundation. But before we consider the content of that foundation, note that “built” is a passive word. We didn’t place ourselves on that foundation. We were built there. It’s just like any other building project. The materials don’t do the work. It is the builder who chooses his materials, purchases them, picks a spot for each piece, and then fits it into place.

Isn’t that what the Christian Church’s Chief Architect has done with us? He chose us as his material, even though we were no different than all the other pieces he might have chosen to use. He purchased us for his project at the cross, where his blood paid for us in full. In washing our sins away and declaring us holy and righteous he removed everything that would make us unsuitable for the grand structure he is making. He determined our place in his holy structure and then he fit us into place by calling us to faith. At every step along the way he was active and we were passive, as passive as any brick or a two-by-four sitting on any other foundation we might see. We are built on the foundation.

That foundation is Christ and his coworkers, the apostles and the prophets. The apostles and the prophets lived on opposite sides of Jesus’ life. The prophets worked hundreds of years before Christ, and the apostles directly after him.

But though they were separated by time, their assignments were much the same. These men served as God’s official messengers. Whether they were pointing ahead, or pointing back, they all pointed to Christ.

Nor were these run of the mill Christian pastors. These were the men whose Spirit-inspired words became the Bible that preserves God’s message for us today. Paul seems to be thinking of them already as one unit, like the two testaments of the one Bible we read and believe.

That is a solid foundation on which to build our faith that makes us God’s Church. That foundation does not move. Every generation seems to develop its own philosophies to explain life and search for truth. Those philosophies are a chain of reactions against the one that came before. People reading this have lived through the rise and fall of existentialism, modernism, and postmodernism. There is no lasting, solid ground there. The science of one age becomes the nonsense of the next. We no longer try to bleed people to good health. We no longer explain the transfer of heat from one object to another as the result of the flow of some theoretical “caloric fluid.” At one time, that was all good science. But those foundations crumbled.

God’s word given through the apostles and prophets does not change. Here we know what sin is. More importantly, here we know who our Savior is. And he himself is the chief cornerstone. A cornerstone, as you may know, was more than a decorative, ceremonial concrete block in an ancient building. It was a perfectly square stone, a stone with perfectly carved angles that were used to make sure everything would line up just as it needed to.

Everything, everyone, in Christ’s church lines up with Jesus Christ himself. By faith in his saving work alone each one of us finds our place as part of God’s spiritual house the Church. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.

It is Christ’s choice, not my personal appeal, Christ’s work, not my goodness, Christ’s word, not my intelligence, that joins me to God and his people today. That’s a truth on which we can build with confidence.

Membership Has Its Privileges

Passport

Ephesians 2:19 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…”

“Aliens” has become an emotionally charged word in our time, especially when paired with the word “illegal.” The foreigners and aliens Paul has in mind were not nearly so controversial.

The people Paul was picturing with these metaphors were the Gentiles. For centuries they were not included as part of God’s people. Although that is not true of the Gentiles as a class of people today, Paul’s words still have application to each of us before we came to faith.

How, then, were we like foreigners and aliens? Such people struggle with the language and culture of the country they have come to. Those foreign to God’s kingdom find the communication problems only worse. Not only do we not know the meaning of terms like justification, sanctification, grace, or redemption. The very concepts are unknown. We can’t comprehend being saved by forgiveness without our good works. We don’t speak God’s language of salvation, and that leaves us with deep suspicions that work against trust and faith.

Such non-citizens may have as much trouble with the law as they do with the language. Spit your gum out on a street or sidewalk in the United States, and the person who winds up with it stuck to the bottom of his shoe may be annoyed, but you won’t have the police on your tale. Try that in Singapore, and you may find yourself a thousand dollars poorer. It’s the law. When I was growing up in Minnesota, I remember Vietnamese refugees being arrested or fined by the game warden because they would be caught with 5 or 6 times their legal limit of some kind of fish. They didn’t have such limits in their home country.

Foreigners and aliens to God’s kingdom may be just as ignorant of some of his laws. A man new to the Christian faith was taking premarriage classes in one of our churches. He was shocked to learn there was anything wrong with premarital sex. The unbelieving world openly rejects many other laws of God’s kingdom. Abortion and euthanasia, homosexuality and no fault divorce are just a few of the things our Lord condemns but the world embraces. Those who approve of these things live as citizens of a different ruler and a different country. They may be unaware of the horrible sentence God will pass on those who defy his law.

For those who believe, that was the past. Paul says that something has changed. “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…” Why would God take someone whose values are so different than his and give them official standing as a member of his holy, spiritual nation of people? Why would he be willing to make it so easy to become one, and so costly for him? Those who want to become citizens of the United States go through a course of study, and take a test, before they can take the oath. Our Lord did all the work for us by giving us Jesus. The process was complete the moment he first kindled faith in our hearts.

Such heavenly citizenship certainly has its privileges. We have immediate access to the ruler of the country. He will hear our case and consider us in his policies and decisions.

Better yet, we are privileged to live under his gracious rule. His government provides public services and protections like no other government on earth. He provides for the health of our souls by distributing forgiveness at no cost to us. No deductible or co-pay has to be met. His system of education provides truly higher learning. An army of angels defend us from our enemies, and he miraculously and mysteriously turns the evil we do suffer to work for our good.

But he gives us a position even more intimate and privileged than that. We have been changed from foreigner to family member. We are members of God’s own household. He has made us family.

Doesn’t the mention of family fill most people with an immediate sense of security? Children in the family have all their needs provided. They don’t worry about shelter, clothing or food. Mom and dad simply take care of that for them.

It is in God’s spiritual family that we find a Father’s love, love so deep and so completely devoted that he would not spare anything, even his own Son, to make us his own and save us from sin and death. It is in God’s spiritual family that we find the love of fellow brothers and sisters in faith who support and encourage us on our journey through life and help keep us on the way that leads to our heavenly home.

Membership has its privileges. Nowhere is that more true than the spiritual nation in which God has given us citizenship and divine family into which he has adopted us.

Confident To Declare His Praise

Megaphone

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Some people go on and on about themselves, about their hobbies or opinions or tastes. Jesus has given you something actually worth talking about. He has called you to be his spokesmen, to do endorsements for him. He didn’t hire a supermodel or the number one rated athlete in the world. He called you. He has not made us all his door to door salesmen, but he calls us to speak from the heart, and tell what we know, when the opportunity presents itself. Nationwide Insurance once claimed to have “the world’s greatest spokesperson in the world” in its commercials. Jesus has called you to be the world’s most important ones.

What we declare are his “praises.” The word Peter uses for “praises” does not refer so much to the act of worship, words or songs that express, “Our God is awesome.” They include the record of his deeds, the accounts of his kindness, the characteristics of his person that make it so. We are talking of the hand he has had in all human history: sending us a Savior, and seeing to it that the message salvation in Jesus has reached you and me.

These are the praiseworthy qualities and deeds of the God we worship, the things that bring him fame and praise. Jesus has called you to tell this story. He calls you to tell people who he is and what he is like. It’s not a hard thing to understand, not a complicated message to deliver. If you can talk about the great game your child had on the soccer or baseball field, if you can describe your favorite qualities in your best friend, you can do this. As a Christian, it is part of your calling. It is one of the reasons that Jesus’ made you one of his distinguished people.

A few decades ago one of my professors was applying to enter a doctoral program at the University of Minnesota. The director of the program scoffed at first. He thought he was just a backwards fundamentalist from a Bible college.  “You don’t seem to have the academic background,” he said. “To even enter the program you have to know ancient Akkadian.” That’s a language used in parts of the ancient Middle East and written with a stylus on little tablets of clay. It looks like a collection of triangles. “That’s okay,” said my professor. “I’ll teach myself over the summer.” And he did! Later this program director was heard quipping to a colleague, “The guy knew more than I did.”

My professor had a rare gift, but you couldn’t see it. What distinguished him was real, but it was hidden for the most part. So it is with you. You have a rare gift: your faith, your identity, your calling, your privilege. These impact how you live. They make a difference in your life. But to most people, most of the time, they are hidden. That makes them no less real, and no less important. Own your new identity as God’s people. Know that you are special to him. Then be confident to declare his praises to others.

The Christian’s New Look

Bride-Mirror

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

If God has forgiven all of our sins for Jesus’ sake, if he has declared that not a single mistake stands against us, then we must look different to him than we did before. This is why he starts referring to us with terms of endearment like “children,” or terms of respect like “saints,” in the Bible.  It’s not that we have stopped sinning, or that our old sinful nature is any less real, or any less bad, but with all our sins forgiven God holds a different image of us in his mind now.

And he invites us to start looking at ourselves the way he sees us. Peter says that you are a chosen people. That is a powerful statement of how God feels about us. Why is it that children take it so hard when they are chosen last for a team, or not chosen at all? Why is it that adults take it so hard when they lose an election? Is it not because there are feelings of rejection here? It seems as though nobody likes us or wants us. Our election by God is more than a cold, hard fact, like some mathematical principle. We are people that God wanted to be his own. We are the desire of his heart.

You are also a royal priesthood. To have God declare us royalty makes all the difference in the world. Royalty rules. God’s royalty rules all things. It isn’t always obvious to us, it isn’t even usually obvious to us, but as God’s royalty we rule and all things serve us–all things! Jesus promises his kings and queens by faith, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Paul assures us, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The letter to the Corinthians pledges, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”

As royalty, nothing and no one stands above us in our relationship with God. As priests, no one stands between us and God. Each and every priest, each and every Christian, can take his needs, or his requests, or his service to God directly since Jesus has given us all direct access to the Father.

Again, by forgiveness and faith, you are a holy nation. You are purer in God’s eyes than the most sterile environment on earth could make you. And not only has the last whisper, the last trace of impurity been removed by Jesus’ holy blood, but as a holy nation you have also been set aside by God for his special purposes. There is nothing common, or ordinary about any of you. Do you have dishes at home that only come out for a very special meal, clothes in your closet that only come out for a very special occasion, heirlooms you use only under special circumstances? In a similar way God has made you his holy nation not for any run of the mill purpose in his creation, but to be holy means to be set apart, and the special purpose for which God has set you apart will be made more clear in just a moment.

Peter concludes his list by calling you a people belonging to God. God looks at you as his own treasured possession. Cruel images of slavery may get in the way of appreciating the privilege of belonging to someone else, so think of God’s claim on you this way: When children have a favorite toy, what do they do? They put their name on it and you drag it along everywhere they go. When adults have some favorite tool or utensil, what do they do? You put their name on it, and guard it a little, and don’t lend it out very willingly. Or this is even better: if you can find that one other person with whom you would like to share the rest of your life, what do you do? You put your ring on his or her finger. You claim him or her for life. You treat this one as your most treasured possession. When Jesus found you he put his name on you, and made you a Christian, and now he treats you like the dearest thing he has in all the world.

This new identity, this new image that God has given to us by grace, is not merely a potential. It is not something he hopes you will become someday. In Christ, by faith, this already is the Christian’s new look.