December 29, 2019
Early in its history, the church began establishing practices for baptism. It was clearly commanded by Jesus in the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” so they did. For example, the Didache, a very early anonymous document, gave instructions for the practice. It said:
“And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. But if you have not living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot in cold, in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”
That document was written as early as 60 to 80 AD, before some of the NT was even completed. While it is not inspired Scripture, it certainly gives a glimpse into practices of the early church. And so, there was an accepted early practice of baptism, which generally agrees with the biblical record. It was the practice in the early church to baptize new believers in Jesus. Incidentally, there is no early record of baptizing babies – that didn’t come until late in the second century. In the NT, it was always, without exception, believers who were baptized.
We find this throughout the NT – when people became Christians, they were baptized – usually immediately. This, too, was an early practice – get saved, be baptized right away as an expression of your belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, your identification with Him, and your new life in Christ. For example, on the Day of Pentecost when Peter preached what is called the first message of the Christian church, he told them to repent and be baptized. And three thousand of them were that same day – and added to the church.
Now today, we’ve made baptism a bit optional. That is, I’ll repent and trust Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, confess Him as the Lord of my life, and I might even get baptized, one day. If I ever get around to it. And for many, baptism comes long after salvation, if at all. This is all I’ll say about that – baptism was and is an accepted act of obedience upon becoming a follower of Jesus – from the earliest days of the church till now. If you have not been baptized as an expression of your faith, I encourage you to do so – further, Jesus commanded it. Our next baptism is scheduled in the next few weeks. Follow Jesus’ example and command to be baptized.
Well, it was also fairly early in church history the practice of baptism was separated from the conversion experience – and I suppose with good reason. This is how it went. If you became a Christian, you would become a catechumen. You would enter classes to be discipled, catechized in your new faith, and be given the opportunity to prove the genuineness of your faith. And if you were successful in all that, you would then be baptized.
The church would have a special baptism service on Easter Sunday. Think about the rich symbolism of all that. While not necessarily biblical, it was full of meaning as people would be baptized on the day the church remembered the resurrection of Jesus. As Jesus was crucified, buried and raised again – so also would His followers die to themselves, be buried with Him, and be raised to new life in Christ. It was a cool practice. In fact, they would also do this. They would remove their outer clothing and enter the baptismal waters almost naked, and when they came out the other side, they would be wrapped in new white robes. This symbolized taking off the old self and its sinful practices, and putting on new life in Christ.
And this idea was not without biblical precedent. Through the NT, we see this idea of the old being gone, and putting on the new. I want you to keep that in mind – that’s what I’m going to encourage you to do today. II Corinthians 5:17 says, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” Ephesians 4 says it this way:
22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,
23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, [etc…]
The picture was that of talking off your old, filthy garments and putting on Christ. Galatians 3:27 says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Do you see that white robe of Christ’s righteousness? Colossians 3 says:
9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices,
10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—
Through the NT, we are encouraged to keep on taking off the old self like a dirty shirt, and put on the new self – cleanly robed in the righteousness of Christ. We are to be new. And this imagery was intentionally duplicated in the early church in the waters of baptism.
The New Year is upon us, and I can think of no better message than to remind us – let’s put off the old – the failures and even sins of this past year, and put on the new. I’m not necessarily talking about resolutions; I’m talking about putting on more and more of Christ.
This is the picture Peter draws for us as we return to our study of the book of I Peter. Keep putting off the old self, and keep growing in your new salvation. You may look at this past year – 2019 – and be discouraged. That’s ok – put it off, and put on the new. Before our Advent series, we finished I Peter 1 – which actually concludes with a bit of an unfortunate chapter division. You’ll remember Peter spent the first half of that first chapter reminding his suffering, persecuted readers of all the benefits they enjoyed in Christ. They had been richly blessed by God the Father to be born anew, and receive a new inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled, reserved in heaven for them. So that they could greatly rejoice, even though now, for a little while, they faced various trials. But all that just tested their faith, proving it genuine, resulting in praise and glory and honor at the coming of Christ.
So, because of all these blessings of this great salvation, Peter then gave some commands. Starting in verse 13, Therefore…and he gave four commands through the end of the chapter. We looked at those:
- First, fix your hope on the grace to be yours at the second coming of Jesus Christ. We, of all people, should be most hopeful. Yes, we may struggle, but we are hopeful, knowing the best is yet to come.
- Second, be holy in all your behavior, because God is holy. Since the character of God our Father is holy, we, too, should be holy. Like Father, like son.
- Third, conduct yourselves in fear. There should be a reverential fear because of all God has done for us. After all, we’ve been redeemed not with perishable things like gold or silver – we’ve been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. There should be a fearful respect for God, leading to fearful, holy conduct.
- Fourth, we should love one another fervently, from the heart. Remember, I suggested these commands go from upward to inward to outward. We look up, awaiting the return of Christ. As a result, we look inward, seeking to be holy, conducting ourselves in reverential fear. Then, we look outward, toward one another, loving one another deeply.
After all, we have been born again/anew – from verse 3 where God caused us to be born again. We have been born again by the living and enduring word of God – that is, the word preached to us in the gospel. Therefore, chapter 2 verse 1. That’s the unfortunate chapter division. We are still talking about being new people – born again, resulting in loving one another. This brings us to Peter’s fifth command and our text this morning – I Peter 2:1-3.
What a perfect text for the New Year. The new command? Long for or crave the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow in your salvation. That’s the command, the main verb of the sentence. But like the other commands, this one is supported by a participle in verse 1, that actually connects it to the previous command of loving one another deeply. Let me give you the outline as we make our way through the text. Very simply, we:
- Put Off the Old Self (1)
- Nourish the New Self (2-3) After all, we have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
Peter has just told us to love one another fervently, from the heart. We talked about that –Christians are family. We have been born again, not by perishable seed, but by the living and enduring word of God. Our conduct should then be different, especially toward one another. People should be able to tell we are Christians by our love for one another. We have a community that cannot be rivaled by anything the world has to offer. So we love one another deeply. Are you lonely, alone, neglected, isolated, uncared for? You can find community here. You can be cared for, here.
We want to be a loving community, so first, we should put off, like a dirty, soiled, nasty garment, anything that is not consistent with a deep love for one another. Thom Schreiner says, “The sins listed tear at the social fabric of the church, ripping away the threads of love that keep them together.”
This is the participle of verse 1 that supports the main verb and command of verse 2. Putting aside anything that destroy community; that destroys family relationships. That are not consistent with a deep love for one another. Do you see? Even in biological family relationships, these sinful actions slip in and separate families. Some of you know that all too well. You’ve experienced it. You’ve just come through a Christmas holiday that should have been joy-filled – spent with family as you love one another. But actions in the past have splintered and broken the family. These should not be part of the church family – we’ve been born anew. What is the list of things Peter gives that destroys community?
First, we put aside all malice. The word speaks of evil generally, and to it Peter adds the word all. Wickedness or evil should not be part of the Christian life – but in this context, it’s talking about any evil that destroys the Christian community and relationships. It is malice or ill- will toward others that destroys the benefits of community.
It’s kind of the umbrella word under which the rest fall. But we could add, beyond this list, anything we might do that harms each other. That’s not the way we are supposed to act. We act in loving ways, sacrificing for each other, serving one another, caring for one another. Any sinful act that hurts others, especially in this family, needs to go. I mean, the list would be long if Peter included everything: like greed and jealousy and pride and gossip and backbiting and covetousness and lying and stealing – on and on. Most sin is committed against another – don’t do that. This is your family – rather than sinning against each other, we should love one another.
To that, Peter adds some specifics. We don’t know if he had certain things in mind that perhaps he’d heard were happening in Asia Minor. Likely, these are sins most common in destroying family relationships. Putting aside all malice or evil, which includes all deceit. He uses the word all three times in the verse to speak of ridding ourselves of all sinful practice. All deceit – any and every kind of cunning, treachery or deceit is the idea. Any falsehood with one another – lying, deceiving, mistruths. We, as children of God, are to be people of truth. There should be no lying or deceit with one another – especially for our own supposed gain. We should people of truth for the good of those around us. We don’t withhold anything – we speak the truth in love.
It’s interesting to note, the word deceit is used again at the end of the chapter. There, Peter is encouraging us to follow in the steps of Jesus – He is our example of how to live. Verse 22 says of Jesus, He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth. Jesus was man of consummate integrity – you could trust what He said. The same should be true for us. It takes no imagination to know what lying and deceit does to true community. How it destroys it.
Next, we are putting aside hypocrisy. Many of you are familiar with that word. It’s the word hupocritos in the Greek, and speaks of one who wears a mask. Actors in the Greek plays, for example, were hupocritos – ones who wore the mask. You remember seeing the masks for Greek tragedies or comedies. If the actor was to be sad because of some tragedy, he wore the appropriate mask. If he was to be happy because of some comedy, he wore the appropriate mask. The point is, it was all fake. It wasn’t who the actor truly was – he was playing a part, wearing a mask.
The word came to speak of those who were hypocrites – who wore masks – they were fakes, putting on a show for everyone to see. But it’s not really who they were. You’ll remember Jesus used the word for the Pharisees – looked really good on the outside, but were dead on the inside. They were like whitewashed tombs – shiny and clean on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones on the inside.
As followers of Jesus, we don’t wear masks. We are true with one another. Transparent with one another – pursuing holiness, confessing sin, seeking righteousness. We don’t put on mask when we enter this room, and take it off when we leave. We aren’t one person on Sundays, and other people during the week. We are people of integrity. To be a person of integrity is to be whole – it speaks of being undivided. Who you are here is who you are at home with your families. On the job, with your coworkers. We seek to be faithful people of integrity.
We are also putting aside envy. What is it to be envious? It is to be self-focused, and therefore envious or jealous of other’s successes and joys. It is the opposite of love, for instead of wanting the best for others, it wants their downfall, and prefers self-advancement rather than joy for others. It is to want what they have, and for them not to have it. Don’t be that way – rather, we are to rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. We celebrate growth and spiritual success. Because we are family, and we rejoice and celebrate and with those who do well, and weep with those who don’t. We want the best for other family members. In fact we would sacrifice for the good of others. We find no joy or personal satisfaction in the failures of others. It hurts us, because it hurts them.
We are putting away all slander. Slander speaks of every kind of evil speech. Gossip, backbiting, malicious talk – slander. We don’t speak evil of others in the family – we speak to and of their good, and for their encouragement. Even if what we have to say is critical – it brings us no personal joy. Now listen: Christians are really good at disguising slander under the façade of prayer. I share this with you so you can pray for this person. All the while relishing in their failing. As people of God’s family, we pursue holiness together, holding each other accountable, desiring the best for one another, grieving rather than slandering.
Which brings us to our second point. Continually putting off the old self, the command of the text is to long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you can grow in respect to salvation.
Like newborn babies, crave spiritual milk. In other NT passages, milk is used of spiritual immaturity – that’s not the way Peter uses it here. He says, like a new baby craves its mother’s milk, so also should we, as born again ones, crave spiritual milk. Anyone who has had or been around a newborn knows how they crave milk – every two or three hours.
I was thinking about that. Then as they grow, the hours between feedings grow, and before you know it, they no longer crave milk. Again, we could talk about growing to maturity, but that’s not what Peter is saying. He is saying we should continue to crave spiritual milk. Don’t “grow” to the point you think you don’t need it anymore. Continue to strongly desire spiritual milk so you can grow in respect to salvation – it is, after all, a lifelong process.
In respect to salvation is an interesting way to say it. When we are saved, we are born anew. New creations in Christ. The old is gone, then new has come. But it takes a lifelong pursuit to grow in holiness and Christ-likeness. We’ll reach full maturity when we die, or when Jesus comes back. Until then, we grow. We’ve all known people who prayed a prayer, asked Jesus to be Savior and Lord, but have grown very little since. Don’t be that way – take the steps necessary, empowered by the Spirit, to grow. Your life won’t be perfect – we still struggle with sin. But we should be different people than we were last year, and the year before – going back to the day we were born anew.
Now, there is a lot of discussion about the pure milk of the word – to what is that referring? A more literal translation would be pure, spiritual milk. The word pure is unadulterated or pure or genuine. Long for pure milk of the word is how my translation has it, but of the word isn’t technically in the Greek. That’s a translation of the word logikos, and is notoriously challenging to translate. It only appears one other place in the NT – in Romans 12:1, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” You’ve likely all heard different translations of the end of that verse.
Most agree it speaks of that which is spiritual, that which is of God. So Peter says, crave pure spiritual milk. What is that? Remember the context from the end of chapter 1. He’s just spoken of the living and enduring word of God – that which was preached to you in the Gospel. So most agree pure spiritual milk at least includes the word of God – the word of the Gospel. It may include other spiritual disciplines and practices – but we can all at least agree it includes the word of the gospel. I’ve said it many times – we need the truth of the gospel not only on the day we were born anew – but we need it every day of our lives. As one author says, we preach the gospel to ourselves every day.
And certainly, that gospel is most clearly proclaimed in the word of God – hence, my translation. As newly-born people – crave the pure milk of the word. What a perfect message for the New Year. You see, every year as we approach the New Year, many of us make commitments to be in the Word of God more – which is great. I want to add my voice to that commitment. We, as followers of Jesus who want to:
- Fix our hope on the return of Christ.
- Be holy as God is holy.
- Conduct ourselves in holy fear.
- Love one another deeply.
We must then be more and more people of the word of God – and long for other spiritual disciplines that help us grow up in our salvation. Can I encourage us, let’s make 2020 a better year than last year, and the year before. And the only way we can do that – the only way we can love one another deeply and live in committed spiritual community is to be people of the Word. Charles Spurgeon said, “You cannot expect to grow in grace if you do not read the Scriptures.” I agree. As you make a new commitment to be in the word this year, can I encourage you to actually do it. There are lots of great reading programs – to include those Bible apps we talked about last week. Pick one, and stick with it. Read it, consume it, study it, digest it – and allow it to grow you up this year. After all, we have tasted of the kindness of the Lord, and found that He is good, have we not?