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Like Newborn Infants

Series: Elect Exiles

Sermon by David Strain on Sep 22, 2019

1 Peter 2:1-3

Well would you please take your Bibles in hand once again, this time turning to the New Testament and to the first letter of Peter, 1 Peter. We’re beginning chapter 2 this morning as we continue to examine the message of what really is a manual for living a life on mission together. Peter describes, you will remember, he describes Christians as “elect exiles” of the Dispersion. We are sojourners; we are temporary residents. This is not home; we are passing through. We are cultural outsiders, marginal people really, fringe people, because we follow King Jesus. And because that’s true, Peter does not want us to back off or to withdraw from society around us, nor does he want us to compromise and blend in with society around us. Instead, he wants us to bear costly witness to Jesus Christ in an increasingly hostile context. And so our question as we read through 1 Peter, again and again really needs to be, “Okay Peter, how then should we live so as to bear witness to the power of redeeming grace in a dark world? How should we live?”

And we’ve begun to see the first two parts of Peter’s answer to that question. We looked in chapter 1 at verses 13 through 21 as Peter says, “Well first I want you to think in a Godward direction.” His focus is Godward. He points us to the return of Jesus and he reminds us that God is holy and we are to conduct ourselves in holiness, living before God with fear because He is both our Father and our Judge. There’s a Godwardness to it first. And then beginning last time, we started looking at chapter 1, verse 22 and following, where the focus is much more about one another. Peter calls us to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” So those are the two parts of his answer to the question, “How shall we live in such a way as to please God and serve Him and bear witness in a dark world?” He says, “I want you to love God and I want you to love your neighbor,” which summarizes the whole duty of a Christian. You remember how Jesus summed up the moral law. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two.” Love for God - chapter 1:13-21. Love for one another, beginning in verse 22 of chapter 1. 

And as we come to our text this morning, chapter 2:1-3, I want you to notice that Peter hasn’t quite finished with the second part of that summary of faithful Christian living. If you’ll look at the passage, you’ll see the same themes from chapter 1:22 and following continue on in these first three verses of chapter 2. So for example, the call, the positive call to brotherly love continues on here in the negative call in chapter 2 verse 1 to put off malice, deceive, hypocrisy, envy and slander. Or the fact of the new birth - you’re born again by the living and abiding word, chapter 1:23-25, is pressed on our consciences. In chapter 2, verses 2 and 3, we are all, he says, “like newborn infants,” and we must, therefore, “long for the pure milk” of God’s Word. So this is one of those places, to be quite frank with you, where the editors that inserted into our English translations the chapters and verses, got it completely wrong. Chapter 2 should begin where verse 4 starts because verses 1 through 3 of chapter 2 really belong to the section prior to this one. They continue the thought and finish off the thought. But actually seeing that, making the correct connection, putting the beginning of chapter 2 where it belongs in connection with the end of chapter 1, helps you understand a little bit of what Peter is really doing here. He is calling us to love one another sincerely, earnestly, from a pure heart. Now he’s giving us some practical help on how to do it. 

And if you’ll look at verses 1 through 3, I want you to notice that Peter says essentially two things. If you’re going to live for Christ in a dark world, you need to do two things. He says you need to dress the part. You need to put on a new wardrobe. And he says you need to eat right. You need to cultivate an appetite for the right kind of food. You need a different diet. Do you see that in verses 1 through 3? First he says we need a new wardrobe. “Put away” or “Put off” - like worn out old garments, these vices that he lists; remnants of our old life. You need a new wardrobe. Then verses 2 and 3, we need a new appetite for a new diet. We are newborn infants, he says, so you need to long for the milk that will help you grow. We need a new wardrobe and a new appetite. We need to dress the part and eat right if we’re going to live for Christ in difficult days. And so we’re going to look at those two themes, these two exhortations of the apostle Peter. Before we do that, let’s pause once again and ask for God to help us. Let’s pray.

O Lord, come now please by the Holy Spirit, and illuminate our understanding. Lead us back to Christ. Show us the bankruptcy of life on our own terms and help us, despairing of self, to find hope and rest only in the sufficiency of our Savior. Enable us, by Your Word, to walk in paths of new obedience. O Lord, sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. For Jesus’ sake, amen.

1 Peter chapter 2 at the first verse. This is the Word of God:

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation - if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Amen, and we praise God for speaking to us in His holy, inerrant Word.

Put on a New Wardrobe 

About a week ago now - you may have seen this on your newsfeed or social media - about a week ago a major search operation for a missing tourist took place at a canyon in Iceland’s southern volcanic region. She had been reported to the tour bus driver when she failed to return with her tour group at the appointed time. The driver waited around for about an hour and when she did not show up, he went to the authorities and the description of the hiker was then circulated amongst the search and rescue teams who were dispatched to the area. They were to look for a 5 foot 2 inch Asian woman in black clothing. And the search continued on until 3am the next morning when they finally called the search off because the woman had been found, herself participating in the search! It turns out, it turns out that the headcount on the bus was wrong and when the woman came back with the rest of the group at the end of her hike, she changed clothes and freshened up a little bit and so when they read the description of her, neither she nor anyone else recognized her in the description of the missing person, so she threw herself into the search trying to find this person that no one could find because she was right there in her midst all along!

The whole thing happened just because she changed her wardrobe. It’s an extreme example I’ll grant, but it makes the point, doesn’t it - that sometimes what you wear is not entirely superficial. It can have significant implications. That is certainly the case in chapter 2 verse 1. The first thing Peter says we need if we are to live for Christ in these dark days is a new wardrobe. Would you look at chapter 2 verse 1 and this wardrobe he says will make all the difference? Chapter 2 verse 1, “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” The verb translated in our versions “put away” is the word “to take off a garment.” It’s used fairly consistently throughout the New Testament for ethical instructions like this one. You find it in Paul’s writings, in places like Romans 13:13, Ephesians 4:25-32. You find it in James, James 1:21. You find it in Peter right here in our text. It’s the classic New Testament metaphor for the believer’s active combat and engagement and removal of patterns and habits and actions of sin in their lives. 

And that really is the key here. Peter is calling us not to passivity but to activity. He does not have in mind the sort of passive melting away of sin. I wish that was how it happened, but that’s not how it happens. Making progress in Christian godliness doesn’t happen while you’re looking somewhere else and it just sort of, you know, you just ease into it. I wish that was how it happened but it’s not. We sometimes hear people talk about it this way. “Just reappropriate again the glory of your justification. See the wonder of the righteousness of Christ reckoned to you. It’s so thrilling that your heart will melt with gladness before God and you won’t want to sin!” Well there’s truth in that, for sure. If you capture the glory of grace, the freedom, the generosity of God in bestowing such kindness upon us, it will incline our hearts to want to please Him, for sure, but that’s not the whole picture. The Scriptures call us, as Christians, to an active, direct engagement with the habits and patterns of sin in our own lives. We have to take decisive steps to kill it, to put it off, to turn from it. Yes, we need the expulsive power of a new affection, yes. Yes, we need to see the wonder of grace and have our hearts thrill with gratitude and long to please God because of the cross and the empty tomb, yes. But we also need to take the mallet and the nails in our hands and crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. There is no passivity possible in pursuit of Christian holiness.

Organic Connections between Different Vices 

And look with me for a moment at these five vices in particular that Peter says we must put off, actively put off. They come, remember, this instruction comes in the context of a broader exhortation to brotherly love. “Love one another earnestly, from a pure heart,” he says. And these five vices really are designed to describe love’s opposite. This is anti-love - malice, hypocrisy, deceit, envy, slander. It’s the opposite of brotherly love. And there are a number of things we need to notice about this list. Number one, I want you to notice the organic connections between these different vices. Malice is an evil desire to wound someone else; that’s malice. And deceit is the principal weapon that malice uses to strike at its target. Deceit. Hypocrisy is the reaction of a malicious heart when they’re called on their sin. The self-righteous instinct to justify yourself and condemn someone else. Envy lies at the root of so much of our malicious feelings. We want what others have. We want to be as others are. And when we can’t, what do we do? We try and tear them down a peg or two with slander. Sam Storms in his commentary puts it this way. I find it so helpful. He said, “By shining a light on someone else through slander, we may be able to deflect attention from our own darkness.” Isn’t that insightful? That’s what we’re doing when we spread abroad other people’s faults and failures, shining a light on their weakness, their mistakes, their problems. We’re just simply trying to distract other people from the darkness festering away in our own hearts. 

Do you see how that all fits together? There is an organic connection between these vices. They go together. When you find one of these weeds growing in your heart, beware because all of the others thrive in the same fertile soil. When one of these poison fruits grow on your life, do not be surprised to find the rest right there with them. If you indulge one of these vices, all the others will begin very soon to demand your attention as well. They’re organically connected. 

Helpful Realism Regarding Besetting Sins 

The second thing to notice about this list is its wonderfully helpful realism. It’s wonderfully helpful to see how honest and straightforward Peter is being with Christians. Just because he can say to his readers, say to us, “You have been born again not of perishable seed but of imperishable through the living and abiding Word of God,” you’ve been born again, just because you have, doesn’t mean you are not going to struggle with these vices. He’s not describing the devil in chapter 2 verse 1, is he? He’s describing me and you. He’s describing followers of Jesus and their besetting sins. 

I seem to recall, I think it was in McCheyne’s diary and life, Robert Murray McCheyne, he’s visiting the docklands in Dundee and he’s appalled at the open display of depravity and wickedness he can see all around him in that part of the city. And as his heart is reacting in sort of judgement, it suddenly occurs to him that, “The seeds of every conceivable sin dwelt in my own redeemed heart also.” That’s exactly right. The good news is, the reign of sin, the mastery of sin is broken in your life if you’re a Christian, but the presence of sin, like a persistent malignancy, carries on in our hearts. When you became a Christian, you were like a freshly mowed lawn. Don’t you love to see a freshly mowed lawn? The heads of all the weeds have been removed, it looks great, but we all know unless you dig out the root, those weeds are coming right back. That’s what Peter is saying. He’s saying there has been real change, but you need to spend the rest of your days rooting out the weeds from your heart. It will take till you go to be with Jesus to get it done, but that is our task. And Peter is very realistic about that. He doesn’t say just because you are a Christian everything is sweetness and light from here on out. No, he says now begins the hard work, the hard heart work of rooting out these vices. 

No Place for Moderation in Putting Away Sin 

So there’s an organic connection between them. There’s a helpful realism about all this. Thirdly, there’s an important reminder in that little word, “all.” Do you see it there in verse 1? He wants us to put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. It tells us that when it comes to putting away sin, there is no place for moderation. “Moderation in all things” is terrible advice when it comes to dealing with sin. We can never allow ourselves to rest content with a little progress. That’s my great temptation. I’m sure it might be yours too. You make some progress and you feel so proud of yourself that you take a break. “You know, after all, not all sin is equally serious, so doesn’t that mean I don’t need to take all sin equally seriously? Don’t sweat the small stuff! Cut yourself some slack. Live a little, why don’t you!” Don’t you say those things to yourself? 

That’s how we think, but we’ve forgotten, haven’t we, that every sin, howsoever small, is an offense against the infinite holiness of the triune God. We’ve forgotten that every sin, howsoever small, required the lifeblood of the Son of God to make atonement for it. And yet here we are indulging it, playing with it, coddling it, giving it permission to thrive. Hell, I’m sure, will be filled with people who said, “You know I was a good guy. I thought the little things didn’t matter.” Don’t rest, Peter is saying, until all malice, all deceit, all hypocrisy and envy and all slander is rooted out of your heart. That will take the rest of your days. It will take till you’re face to face with Jesus to finish the work, to be sure. But since Jesus died to atone for your malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander, will you now fail to live every day to put them off? That’s Peter’s question. 

And so he says we need a new wardrobe. We need to take the grave clothes off. You remember last week we talked about Lazarus when we talked about new birth, new life. By the Word of God, Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb and he came forth. He came forth dressed in grave clothes and we are still dressed in grave clothes. You’re alive, but the grave clothes are still hanging to us and we need to put them off. The remnants of your old life - put them off; take decisive action. We need a new wardrobe.

Pursue a New Appetite 

Secondly, Peter says we need a new appetite. Look at verses 2 and 3 please. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation - if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Notice how he speaks about us first. We are “like newborn infants.” He doesn’t mean here that his readers are immature in their faith. That’s not really the point that he’s making. He’s not saying that if you’ve been walking with Jesus for forty years you can switch off now. This doesn’t apply to you. That’s not the point. He’s actually saying every single believer is in a sense like a newborn infant because the means by which you must grow is that for which you all must long. The only way of growth is by the pure spiritual milk that he mentions to us in verse 2. 

Drink Pure Spiritual Milk 

Growth happens by drinking in the pure spiritual milk. Look at that phrase, “pure spiritual milk.” This is the nourishment he says that is necessary for you to grow. It’s an important phrase worth breaking down a little bit. First of all he says that this milk is pure. I don’t usually like to bring up Greek words, but just hearing the different sounds of them helps you see what Peter is really doing that doesn’t come out in our English translations. So the word for “pure” is the Greek word “adolon.” It’s the opposite of “dolon,” which is the word he used for “deceit” back in verse 1. So he’s saying, “I want you to put off deceit and by extension all the malice and the envy and hypocrisy and the slander. I want you to put it off.” And he says, “Instead, I want you to drink in the true, sincere, reliable, real milk, this spiritual milk, so that by drinking it you might become true and real and sincere and reliable and authentic.” The quality of the milk produces that character in us. That’s what he’s saying. The fullness of salvation into which we grow up, a holy life that pleases God and helps us love one another that puts off all the vices of anti-love, such a life grows, he says, as we drink this pure, sincere, spiritual milk.

And notice the other adjective Peter uses to describe the milk that we need. It’s “spiritual.” It is “pure spiritual milk.” This time the Greek word is “logikon.” It’s the same word Paul uses in Romans 12:1 when he invites us to “offer our bodies, living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. This is your logikon; your spiritual worship.” But Peter is using it here certainly to mean spiritual but it is a play-on words. It’s echoing language he’s used earlier in the passage that we considered last week. How is it that you were born again? Verse 23, you were born again “by the living and abiding Word of God.” The Logos of God. The Word, the Logos of God gave you life. How are you going to grow now that you live? By the pure logikon milk, the milk that is the Word of God. That’s what he’s saying. The spiritual milk is the Word of God. You need to drink it in. 

There’s an interesting parallel passage, James 1:21, that uses almost the same vocabulary that Peter uses here. So James 1:21 says, “Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness.” You see the same language. And instead of saying, “Long for pure spiritual milk,” he says, “Receive with meekness the implanted Word.” The pure milk is the implanted Word. You put it off, you put off sin, and you drink in the Word. That’s how you’re going to grow. Why am I not making more progress as a Christian? Why is it that I stumble so often and seem to know so little power in my daily combat with my remaining sin? Why do my besetting sins sometimes seem so very strong and why is my appetite for spiritual things, for worship and the fellowship of the saints and the praises of God and the preaching of the Word, why is it that my appetite for spiritual things is so very weak? Well there may be all sorts of reasons peculiar to you, but Peter suggests the place to start is with your neglect of the Word of God. “The living and abiding Word of God, by which God caused you to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead,” is the same word He now says will cause growth, help you and nourish you and bring you to maturity.

I don’t know why I find this to be - this was a revelation to me - I don’t know why I didn’t realize it; it seems so elementary. But I have found it to be a principle in my own Christian life that when I fail to be consistent over a period of time in reading the Scriptures, every vice seems stronger and every grace seems weaker. But when I persist in reading the Scriptures, the opposite is true. And having immersed myself in God’s Word, I’m better equipped and able to live for Him in other areas of my life. I don’t know why that was such a revelation to me. Of course! Of course! How are you going to grow? How are you going to engage in the combat with sin and put it off? By being in the Word, that’s how. By drinking in the Word. Open the Book! Dig your nose in the Book!

You need a system. Find a system that helps you be a man or a woman of the Book, of the Word. Lately I’ve been using a Reader’s Bible that has no chapters and verses in it and I just set a timer for twenty minutes on my phone. And I find that without a chapter to tell me that I’m done, I just keep reading and I read ten chapters. And it’s been wonderful for me. It’s just a different mechanism. Find the mechanism that works for you. Someone else earlier today told me they read six chapters during the week and five chapters on Sunday and that gets them through the Bible in a year. Someone else told me they have an accountability mechanism to keep them in the Word so he and his friends text each other the passage they read that day. Find a system that works for you. There are systems that will get you through scripture in systematic fashion in a year or in two years that will help you go deeper or read larger chunks. But have a system, have a plan that gets you into the Scriptures. You’re like a newborn infant. You’re not going to grow unless you get milk!

Long for the Word of God 

“But pastor, I have such a hard time getting motivated. I find a million other things to do whenever I think about reading the Word of God. So how do I awaken a longing for the pure milk of the Word?” That’s a really good question and I’m so glad you asked! It is interesting, isn’t it? Do you see this in verse 2 that Peter commands longing. “Long for the pure spiritual milk that you may grow into salvation by it.” It’s a command. It’s an imperative. You must long! But doesn’t he know that’s now how it works? Longing is my whole problem! If I longed for the Word, I’d read it! My problem is, I don’t long for it. So how do I awaken a longing for the Word? How do I obey Peter’s command? 

I think verse 3 gives us a clue. Look at verse 3. So long for the milk of the Word - “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” The word translated here “if” really should be translated “since.” “Since you have tasted the Lord is good, long for the Word.” What is Peter saying to you? He’s saying the way to awaken your appetite for more is to taste. A taste will awaken your appetite for more. Haven’t you found that to be true? It’s dinner time. Some loved one - your wife, your husband, maybe your children - someone, a friend has prepared a meal for you and you don’t want to sit down and say, “I just can’t face it.” But you don’t have any appetite until that first bite, and before you know it, you’ve cleaned your plate. What’s happened? A taste has awakened your appetite. 

Peter here is referencing Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” He’s saying something remarkable. He’s saying, “I want you to do more than just taste the data, the information on the pages of Scripture.” He’s saying, “No, no, when you drink in the Word, you’re drinking in the goodness of the Lord.” What is it that you get in the Word? You get the Lord Himself in the Word! He comes to you in the Word. You get Christ in the Word! That’s an extraordinary thing. You’re holding in your hands the means by which you may have fellowship with Christ who is, right now, seated at the right hand of God. And Peter is saying, “Look, just drink Him in.” Anyone who has tasted the goodness of Jesus Christ to the salvation of their soul will long for more. The more you have of Jesus, the more you will want of Him. 

So Peter, in a sense, is saying what our call to worship said at the beginning of the service. “Come, everyone who thirsts. Come to the waters. Come, him who has no money; come buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy?” You’ve been running every which way looking for nourishment and it’s been junk food when the pure spiritual milk by which you will grow, that brings Christ to you, is right here gathering dust on your shelf all along. 

So we need a new wardrobe, don’t we? Now that we’ve come to life, raised like Lazarus from the tomb, we need to take off the old grave clothes, put away the remnants of our old lives. A new wardrobe. We need a new appetite for a new diet. And you can awaken it by tasting the goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ who comes to you Himself in the holy Scriptures. Drink Him in. Drink Him in, by faith in His Word, and put away all that remains of the old life and live for God’s glory in a dark world. 

Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we confess to You our neglect of holy Scripture. And when we have read it, we’ve read it to tick a box, to solve our consciences, or we’ve read it and not understood it and so we don’t return to it. Forgive our neglect of Your Word. And we’re so surprised when all our vices are stronger and our graces weaker, though we neglect Your Word. Have mercy on us and forgive us. Show us the wonder of what is available to us in the Scriptures - not mere data and information, arid and dessicated and dull, but Christ Himself, the living Word, the Lord who comes for the nourishment of our hearts by His holy Word. Help us, please, by Your grace, to drink Him in and taste the goodness of the Lord. Awaken in us an appetite for more that takes us to the well to draw water and live, that takes us back to Scripture. And we pray for any here who have never tasted of the goodness of the Lord. Show them the utter bankruptcy of all the alternatives, how every other cistern is broken, and draw them instead to the only fountain of living water, the Lord Jesus Christ, and grant that by faith they may drink Him in. For we ask it now in His precious name, amen.

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