September 11, 2008
by Patrick Lafferty
"...this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it"
1 Peter 5:12
The astronomers call it an elliptical orbit: A body continues in a stable trajectory around two complementary gravitational forces. If either of those forces is affected, the body circling them falls out of orbit.
Peter writes to a community where the temptation to drift from faithful and true obedience remains ever present. And so he supplies those two complementary realities which all true obedience must circle around. If either of the two shifts or weakens, one's obedience degrades into something that is unsustainable.
What are those two realities? The holiness of God and the grace of God.
His holiness sets before us the mark of what it means to be His, what it means to be truly human. He defines for us what is true, good, and beautiful—deviation from which means a corresponding loss.
His grace reveals how distant we are from the center of His holiness, but also how willing He is to meet us in that place and restore us to Himself and His holiness.
In Christ and His cross we see those two realities plainly and dramatically.
When Peter first encounters Jesus aboard his fishing boat, all Peter can say is, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). To be aware of the holiness of God is to see one's own inclinations as so deeply at odds with what is true and good. In that moment, Peter saw holiness.
When Peter later exhorts his listeners with the encouragement that the Lord will "restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you," it is because he has experienced that grace firsthand—grace that looks past egregious self-interest.
These two realities—His holiness and His grace—are distinct and inseparable. But it remains an ever-present struggle to keep both in view as we live.
Which of the two have you grown less sensitive to, so that your obedience has degraded into something unsustainable?
Have you forgotten His holiness—how what He demands of you is indeed exacting and high? Has the pull of that reality weakened so that you have no sorrow for your disobedience?
Or have you forgotten His grace—that though you offend Him, He will not let you go? Has the pull of that reality weakened so that you have given up the fight to persevere in holiness?
If we are to stand firm in the true grace of God, it will mean we keep both holiness and grace firmly in view. They are the realities our obedience must orbit; they are the only proper motivations for true, sustainable obedience.