A month ago, when we first approached this scripture, I didn’t intend for it to become a series. I simply wanted to teach a lesson on the priesthood of the believer. But as we have seen, that is only one of the blessed privileges which the Lord has given to His children. There are six relationships listed, each of which are a blessing to my heart, and I hope to yours as well. “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. You have been called “out of darkness into (God’s) marvellous light.” “Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
This evening I’d like to conclude it all by considering what Peter said in the midst of all these blessings. “That ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Then he went on, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you and strangers and pilgrims……” Verse 15 – “For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” The Lord has infinitely blessed us, but there was a special purpose in it. Before we get to the Lord’s purpose in saving us, let me ask a question seems to come out of left field.
Why are religious people religious?
George Gallop and Pew Research, two major survey groups, say that between 37% and 39% of the people of this country attend church regularly. The American population is just under 350 million, so roughly 133 million attend church every week. You can dismiss those numbers if you like, but it gives us a place to start this evening. It is also estimated that there are about 350,000 religions congregations in the United States. So there is roughly one church building for every thousand people in this country. Why do those 133 million attend those 350 thousand churches? And then, how many people claim to be “religious” but who never attend church? There is no way of knowing. And what about those millions who claim to be “spiritual” but who deny that they are “religious”?
What motivates those millions of people to become religious and to attend church? I suppose that sociologists have asked that question and published their answers, but I haven’t read any of them, and I don’t really care what they say anyway. But I ask myself, I read my Bible, and I listen to Christian brethren I know. Why are religious people religious?
Skipping over Adam and Eve because they were a special pair of people, coming directly from the hand of God, we come to their first children, Cain and Abel. The Bible shows us that both men were “religious” because they religiously brought offerings to God. However only one of those men was “righteous.” It was the Lord Jesus who told us that Abel was righteous. We can assume that man had been regenerated by the Lord, because no man is righteous through his own strength or religion. Genesis 4 tells us that Abel regularly brought a proper blood sacrifice to God, and “the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offerings.” There is no way for us to judge Abel’s motivations, but I have Bible grounds to think they were good. Cain also was religious, bringing offerings to the Lord’s altar, but on at least one occasion, he broke with tradition, for that’s what it was to him, and brought an improper sacrifice of fruits or vegetables. Because there was no blood to his offering, the Lord had no regard.
Why did Cain persist in his religion when it appears he had no love or respect for the Lord? Was it due to habit? That was the way he was raised, growing up in the family of Adam for 20 plus years. Was he compelled to go to church? It doesn’t appear that he had any fear of God motivating him. Was there some secular reward for his religious faithfulness? Was he trying to keep his father off his back or his mother from nagging him? Maybe there was some woman that he was trying to impress. His religion was not spiritually motivated, so what in his secular life might have pushed him?
To be honest, we don’t know what kept Cain’s sham religion moving forward. But we do know people around us today whose religions are similar to Cain’s. They go through the motions without any godly emotions, for some of the reasons I’ve just suggested and perhaps hundreds which I’ve not mentioned.
It has been suggested, and I believe it to be true, that there is an innate need for religion built into all human beings. “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.” Part of that image and likeness is a spiritual nature which pushes every human being toward some sort of religion and some sort of god. But as the generations of man got farther and farther away from our created parents, many people began to imitate the religion of Cain. They were “religious” but it became self-centered rather than God-centered. Their religions created new definitions for holiness and worship. They offered selfish sacrifices of worldliness and personal ego. In the rejection of the testimony of
Adam, Noah and Enoch, there remained in their souls the need for some kind of god, but he was reshaped into their own image.
In some cases, the explanation of a person’s religion can be quite practical. Balaam, for example was a religious man – a religious thorn in the side of Moses and Israel. In Numbers 22, the king of Moab, expressed fear of the approaching Israelites who were still in their forty-year march to the Promised Land. King Balak, turned to a highly religious and outwardly spiritual man, named Balaam, hoping that he would use his religion to destroy Israel. It may not have always been the case, but Balaam’s religion eventually came under the control of his greed. In the later part of his life it could be said that he was “religious” because there was money to be made. There are still hundreds of thousand of Americans who are religious for financial reasons. Some are church leaders, drawing huge salaries or selling millions of books. Some are business men networking in order to strengthen their careers. And some people attend church, thinking that God will be forced to bless them.
In his second letter, Peter condemns fleshly, sinful, but religious people by pointing to Balaam. They have “forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Jude did the same thing saying, “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward…”
In the New Testament, there are two major divisions among the religious Jews – the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Both were secularly motived towards their religions, but for very differently reasons. The Sadducees were religious liberals who usually rejected any literal interpretation of the scriptures. For example, they didn’t believe in angels and they denied God’s miraculous intervention in the affairs of men. But by the days of Christ Jesus, those Sadducees had become the leaders of the nation, religiously and even politically. One of the Sadducees was usually named High Priest and their party governed the Sanhedrim – the legislature of Israel. I won’t be so foolish to say that all Sadducees were motived by the same desire, but I have no doubt that many chose that particular branch of religion in order to become powerful and wealthy.
The other major Jewish sect of the day were the Pharisees. Christ spent more time condemning the Pharisees than the Sadducees, because they were the far more dangerous. The Pharisees produced a certain kind of religious awe which dazzled the eyes of the ignorant. But Jesus exposed and condemned them – “All their works they do for to be seen of men; they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues… and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.” “Woe under you , scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.”
These illustrations are just the hem of the garment when it comes to reasons for people’s religiousness. Power, pride and compulsion are just the beginning. Guilt, gain, self glory, even a desire to accomplish some perceived social good, might play a part. But none of these things are praised by God or taught by God’s saints.
Now I have to admit that the people Peter describes in this chapter are “religious.” But they are more than that – they are spiritual – because they have been given spiritual life. They have been chosen by God to be regenerated – Peter’s first couplet – “a chosen generation.” For these people the question becomes –
Why has God regenerated them?
It is sad to admit, but even Christians can become confused and answer this question incorrectly. For example, no one has been born into God’s family because he has deserved to be born again. There are no Christians in this world because God wanted to reward them for their honesty, diligence or the suffering they have endured. We are not a part of God’s holy nation so that we might feel good or feel good about ourselves. Yes, God’s saints have been given eternal life, but they were not saved for that end. The Lord didn’t reach down and deliver us in order that we’d stop sinning or hurting ourselves. Even true Christians, in ignorance, might perceive incorrectly the reasons for which the Lord saved them.
The Bible describes two reasons for salvation, and upon consideration they blend into just one. In the Book of Romans, Paul first explains and describes our sinful condition. Then he talks about salvation by grace through faith. “We have all sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” “Therefore being justified by faith, we have with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ But God didn’t save us simply that we might have peace. From there Paul talks about our ongoing struggle against sin. Romans 6:17 – “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the SERVANTS of righteousness.” Verse 22 – “But now being made free from sin, and become SERVANTS to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” The Bible teaches directly and indirectly that the Lord saved us in order that we become servants of God and of righteousness. Romans 12 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Paul describe himself as one of God’s “servants.” And he praised others, like the Thessalonian saints, for their SERVICE. He said, the way you live tells the world “how ye turned to God from idols to SERVE the living and true God.”
But here is the thing – God has not redeemed us in order to make us His SLAVES. Quite the opposite, we have been made a part of God’s chosen generation in order to be “royal priests.” Our priesthood is not slavery, bondage or servitude; it is the opportunity to bring glory to our Saviour. “That ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” We have been given mercy and made people of God for the primary purpose of bringing glory to His name.
Have you recognized how prominent this theme is in God’s word – in both testaments? Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and GLORIFY your Father which is in heaven.” Paul said, “All things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.” In Romans 9 to which we referred this morning, Paul said, “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” Philippians 1 – “This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” Ephesians 1 – God, “having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.”
Peter’s words are similar to these but just a bit unique and therefore interesting. “That ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” The word “show forth” is found in no other scripture but this one. It is “exaggello” (ex-ang-el’-lo) and if you listen carefully you can hear the root word – “angelos.” We have been redeemed to be like the angels – the messengers of God – declaring God’s praise. And for you who know a little of the Greek language, you might think that “praises” would be “doxa,” like most of the scriptures which we just read, but that is not the case. This is another relatively rare word translated “praises” only once, but four times it is rendered “virtues.” We have been saved “That we should loudly proclaim the virtues“ of our God.
And what are those virtues? They are the things which make Jehovah the one true and living God. Mercy and grace are two of the Lord’s virtues. His attributes of omnipotence and omniscience are among His virtues. We could run through the entire list of divine attributes. And above them all would be God’s holiness.
We who have been saved, have been left on this earth for one primary purpose, the glory of God. The service we give is that of a royal priest – offering praise to God for His divine virtues. Actually, each and every aspect of our salvation have been given to us for this purpose. That means our tongues should be worn out singing and testifying of God’s mercy and grace. Our secular jobs should be the means of sustaining us in our primary work as royal priests. Our hands should reflect sanctified hearts, doing things which can bring our Saviour glory. Our primary purpose in this world is to serve the Lord in these ways. Everything else is secondary. “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people … Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”