A Gracious Thing

One of the things this current pandemic has done is highlight the disjointed nature of the individual Christian. We are of this world, we have responsibilities amongst our neighbors, a duty to serve, protect and care for others. Yet, we are a peculiar people who have their eyes on the horizon, looking off to something beyond this age. Our hope is not rooted in the outcomes of the here and now but in the promises of Christ. These are promises which have us long for something that has not yet been revealed to us. So, as we want to love our neighbor and protect them from this virus, or to help them keep their business during the lockdown, we also stand with an unmovable spirit before the specter of fear and death knowing this age is temporary and will fade as the withering grass.

Your calling as the people of God is a perspective shifting paradigm. It alters the situation in which you find yourself in this world. You live similar lives to everyone else. You are not necessarily better off than the unbelievers who work beside you. You have similar stresses, good days and bad, mortgage payments needing to be made, children to take care of, and friends to stay in touch with. You struggle with depression and anxiety. You have worries about the future and regrets about the past. Yet, there is something more about you. You know something that sets you apart. You know the Word of God has declared to you, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” In fact, God says to you, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

By His love, by His calling, you are made into the people of God. But there are consequences to this. To be the people of God is not a benign thing; it gives a confidence in this life, a courage that startles people. It means you do not live embraced in the same fear as others. Know this though, your callousness before the specter of death and fear will not bring the applause of the world but their anger. It exposes their inability to overcome by the works of their own hands. They will not tolerate your calm assurance, unfailing hope, and message of forgiveness because it will mock their sense of control and dominance over this age. As a result, your life as the people of God will be marked by unjust suffering and great sorrow. I know what it is to have the things you hold so precious to be ridiculed or even worse treated as indifferent nothings. You all can share stories how doing what was right in the eyes of God, being faithful and not being swayed by the world, brought you suffering and ridicule. It is not easy to strive for righteousness in a world which prioritizes immediate pleasures and satisfaction of the appetite.

Saint Peter says suffering in the life of a Christian, the struggles that mark your disjointed life in this world, are in fact a gracious thing. Now this is a strange thing to say. How can suffering be a gracious thing? He says, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure; this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Peter 2:20). To experience hardship and suffering as a punishment is no big deal, it is what everyone else does all the time. But to suffer while doing good, to face trial and tribulation while faithfully enduring in the one true faith, this is a mark of grace in your life. Why? Because this is your calling. It is tied up in your identity as the children of God. To be His own people is to endure in suffering for being faithful. To be His children is to not be of the world. To be the chosen ones is to not go with the flow of the rest of society. To be His is to take up your cross and follow.

Peter says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Our suffering directs us to look to our Lord, to His suffering, His ordeal. Our calling follows His calling. As we turn from our suffering and hardship to look upon His, ours pales in comparison. The tough decision to face ridicule and mocking from those around us because of a conviction of faith does not quite compare to being completely sinless, faithful in every line of the Law, and yet brutally crucified outside the city. He was truly innocent, pure, and holy before God, yet He was treated as a scoundrel, a plague on society and suffered in ways we can hardly even imagine.

By turning to our Lord as the example we are given a great blessing in our suffering. By looking to His cross when life gets turned upside down, we are told of something crucial, something we desperately need if we are going to make it, if we are going to endure. Aside from seeing His great sacrifice, apart from the depth of His love which is on display, there is the message that suffering does not mean the absence of God. Trial, hardship, pain, these things do not mean you are abandoned or cut-off from God. In fact, suffering just might be the mark of God’s great work. The Cross is unjust and terrible to look upon. Yet, it is precisely there God is doing His great work of saving us all. There your sins and atoned for. There freedom from death and the grave are proclaimed for your assurance. This suffering is truly a gracious thing.

So, what has a hold you? Perhaps it is the call of this age or a desire to please everyone else but your Lord. It could be the enticing desire to fit in, to play the part, to go with the flow and live a life marked by ungodliness and sin. To resist is to suffer, to feel the ridicule and mocking of the spirit of our age. It could simply be the hesitation to swallow all the so called wisdom of the age, to give a pause to our digesting of everything flowing into our homes through the news and the worldview espoused by the talking heads we watch every day. To turn instead to the Word of God, to listen attentively to His promises and even build our plans and goals off what He has given will be seen as the height of foolishness. But these are gracious things. These are the works of the people of God. These are what is expected for those who have been marked and set aside by our God.

As the suffering comes, as opposition raises its head, we look not to ourselves, not to our accomplishments or our priorities but to our Lord. We look again to the One who set the example. We hear again the words of Peter in our ears, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). His suffering proved to be your healing. So, as you struggle and hesitate to endure the suffering, as you waver and fail to walk the narrow path, He is there for you. He is healing you as you strive and struggle. He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. You cannot stop His love for you.

This is our confidence. This is what is means to be the people of God. We are separated from the world of unbelievers because we live, breathe, and move throughout the day in the unconquerable work of His love. He is the gracious Shepherd of your souls and He has gathered you into His presence. Yes, there is suffering here, there is opposition, there is pushback from a world trapped and bound to sin. But there is hope here as well. There is also confidence and the offensive boldness to live disjointed from this age, eagerly awaiting the return of our Lord.