Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Acts 2:14 and 36-42 and 1 Peter 1:13-25

 I’m sure you’ve heard this one:  “Imitation is the sincerest form of ______.”  One of the recurring themes we find in Scripture about discipleship is the idea of imitation.  We should be like Christ, and in so doing, we become like our Heavenly Father, because Christ is the “exact representation” of the Father.  Peter says it as, “You must live as God’s obedient children,” and “Be holy because I am holy.”  

We don’t have quite the same level of expectation in our society that they did in the first century world when it comes to children imitating their parents.  In the first century world, pretty much every culture had a strong expectation that children would be just like their parents, and especially that sons would be like their fathers.  They expected sons would look like their fathers, act like their fathers, and go into the same profession as their fathers.  We don’t expect that quite as much today, especially not in our highly individualistic culture, but we still aren’t surprised by it.  “She looks just like her mother!  Are you going to be a _______, just like your dad?” and so on.  

Today we also have a more scientific understanding of this kind of likeness between parents and children.  We know about DNA.  We know that each of us has half of the same DNA as each of our parents, so similar looks are expected.  And we understand more about the influence of nurture.  As children we tend to take on the characteristics, good or bad, we see in our parents.  

In the first century world, children were expected to imitate, to try to be just like the parent.  Peter relates that cultural idea to our faith:  Be like Christ.  Be like Jesus, who is the exact representation of the Father, and in so doing, imitate God.  Share in his character and his behavior.  Both of today’s texts speak to that idea.

In verse 13, Peter starts out by saying, “think clearly,” or in the original Greek, “gird up the loins of your mind.”  This refers to the clothing of the average first century Hebrew.  People wore a tunic, basically a long shirt that came down to the knees, and over that they wore a cloak, something that would look like a bathrobe.  A cloak had long sleeves, came down to the ankles, and was tied shut at the waist.  If you wanted to work or do something active in a cloak, you had to “gird up your loins,” which meant to gather the excess material and tuck it into your belt.  The modern equivalent is to say to someone, “Roll up your sleeves.”  

Then Peter says, “Exercise self-control,” or more literally, “Be sober.”  Obviously, sobriety means not being drunk.  But there is more to it.  It also means to be steady, balanced, and in-control.  

The point of these admonitions is to remind us that we should not be content with an unexamined faith.  We should know what we believe.  We should know why we believe it.  And we should be able to relate what we believe to our lives and to the world around us.  

Peter continues, “Look forward to the salvation to come.”  We are a people of hope.  We have a hope for our future.  And hope is what allows us to endure present difficulties because of the promise of what is coming.  We have a future that is blessed beyond our ability to understand.  And so we don’t give up when we face trials.  

“Don’t slip back into your old ways.”  If we have a past before Jesus, that past is always going to be a temptation for us.  There will be a little voice, and not from God, that whispers into ears:  “Weren’t things better, easier before you got worried about all this God stuff?  Didn’t you enjoy when you could do whatever you wanted and not worry what God would think?”  

We need to resolve to let go of our sinful past.  Peter speaks about the same idea in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost.  He tells the crowd in Jerusalem, “Repent of your sins.  Turn away from them, and turn to God instead.”  That’s the meaning of the word repentance; to turn around, to stop going in the way that we have been going, stop doing the things we have been doing, and seek God instead.  Both parts are essential.  We can’t seek God if we don’t let go of our sins.  And we can’t let go of our sins without seeking God.  

Repentance is more than just being sorry for our sins.  It’s also turning away from them.  A certain wife of mine has been heard to say to certain children of mine, who shall go nameless, “You’re not really sorry if you keep doing it.”  She’s said it once or twice, or a thousand times.  But it’s true.  We haven’t really repented of our sins if we allow them to linger in our lives.

Unrepented sin will hinder our relationship with God.  God is holy, and if we allow something unholy to keep hold in our life, it will hinder our walk with a holy God.  It can even be the thing that destroys our relationship with God.  If our actions and our beliefs do not line up, eventually, one of them is going to give way to the other.  And

often, it’s our beliefs that yield to our behavior, because it’s usually easier to change beliefs than behavior.

 Peter also reminds us that we are still accountable to God.  He will judge or reward us according to what we do.  Our eternal life may be secure in Christ, but we still have to answer for what we do with the new life that we have received.  Are we using our new life wisely?  Are we showing God’s holy character and his love to the world around us?  Are we living differently from the world?  That’s the most basic meaning of holiness, being different, set apart, and fit for sacred use.

 We are to live in reverent fear.  We don’t live in abject fear.  We don’t live in terror of God.  After all, we are children of God.  We know God’s love and goodness.  But we should still have that holy respect for God.  God is not a tyrant that we should fear him, but he is also not just “our good ol’ buddy.”  He is holy and should be treated as such.  

 We should remember who God is, and we should remember who we are.  We are “resident aliens,” foreigners on the earth.  This world is not our home.  We live here, but we don’t belong here.  Our values and behaviors should be different from the world around us.

 And perhaps most of all, we should remember the price that was paid for our salvation.  We were redeemed from an empty life.  Life apart from Christ is empty.  Apart from Christ, we can’t truly know God.  God is revealed to us in Jesus.  Apart from Christ, there is no salvation.  There is no way for us to save ourselves from our sins.  

 We were purchased out of that empty life by the highest price imaginable:  Not gold or silver, but the blood of Christ, the sinless and spotless Lamb of God.  The description of Jesus as a lamb should reminds us of the Passover, when the Hebrew people were delivered from slavery in Egypt and preserved from the angel of death by the blood of lambs.  Christ is our deliverance from slavery to sin and death.  The highest possible price was paid for our salvation.  We should live holy lives in recognition of that.  

 Christ died for you.  What will you do for him?  

 Verse 22 says, “Now you can have sincere love for each other.”  We know love, AGAPE, because of Jesus.  His death on the cross shows us the full measure of love.  “So see to it that you love one another intensely.”  One of the ways we stand out from the

world, that we show our holiness, is by becoming a community of genuine love and care.  

 This also helps us to avoid the temptation of falling back into the old life.  In Acts 2, Peter told the crowd to be baptized.  What was the function of baptism?  First, it was a public profession of conversion, of new faith.  It was harder to turn back from your faith if you stood publicly before others and professed it.  There were people who would hold you accountable to keep your vows of baptism.  

And second, baptism is entrance into the community of faith, becoming part of the Church.  Acts 2:41-42 says that these converts were added to the Church, the Body of Christ, and they joined together in worship, teaching, fellowship, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and prayer.  There was no hint of coming to Jesus and then just going home to go about life.  To be a disciple of Jesus meant to be part of the Body of Christ.

The life of discipleship is not easy.  There is still a spiritual battle going on.  Satan would love nothing more than to see us turn away from Jesus and go back to that old life.  The world will still tempt us to think that we can “have it all without God.”  

Being part of the fellowship of the Church is no guarantee that we will not lose our faith, but it certainly makes it easier to keep up the life of discipleship.  I would say that everyone I’ve ever known who has given up on following Jesus lost their vital connection to the Body of Christ before they stopped following Jesus.  

If we want to be like Christ, then we should surround ourselves with a like-minded community of people who are trying to do the very same, so that we can learn from each other and encourage each other to go on to deeper faith.  

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