First Peter 2–3 says God called us to Himself “so that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light,” and in context, Peter is focusing on our conforming our behavior to the beauty of God’s character. We’re told to “keep [our] behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that…they may because of [our] good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” We’re to be willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness, without reviling others or uttering threats, because “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” We’re to “be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” And if, when we conform an aspect of our character to God’s character, “[we] should suffer for the sake of righteousness, [we] are blessed.”
It’s at this point that Peter says the famous apologetics phrase: “And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Notice that your defense begins with your obedience to Christ as your Lord. As you become more like Christ, yes, you will suffer, but your good deeds will also “proclaim His excellencies,” and this will lead to curiosity from some and a chance to make a defense of the truth about Christ.
Never has character been more important for ambassadors for Christ than it is now. The people of our culture are depending more and more on feelings and impressions, rather than arguments, for building their belief structures. This means that the beauty of God they see in you matters a great deal, and we all need to be cultivating that beauty, “putting to death” our sin by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8).
Tim Keller spoke at the New Canaan Society on the topic of “How to Change Deeply.” Killing your sin starts by being able to recognize your sin, and we only have the strength for that kind of humility if we’re secure in the fact that we’re united to Christ, chosen and loved by Him on the basis of His perfect work, and free from God’s condemnation:
If the basis of your self-image is that “I’m a good Christian,” not “I’m in Christ,” that “I’m an obedient, decent, moral person,” not, “I’m righteous only in Him,” unless you really know who you are in Him, you will not be able to admit what’s wrong with you….
Jesus is the only one who can really get the stain [of sin] out. And Jesus went to the cross to get that stain out. You need to know that, if you are going to face what’s still wrong with you—that He’s taken it away. There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So I’m only here to say, don’t be afraid to get back into the muck. Admit what’s wrong with you, use grace on it. If you can’t handle looking at your sin, go back to the grace. The more you see your sin, the more you’ll be forced to see the wonders of His grace.
Often, we don’t realize how much we are depending on our identity as “a good person” until we come face to face with an ugly sin and feel guilt and fear. When that happens, don’t hide from the truth about your sin; instead, remind yourself of the Gospel. In other words, don’t try to convince yourself your sin is not quite as bad as it looks; rather, increase your understanding of the Gospel as being great enough to cover that sin. Rest in that. Your experience of God’s grace, and your trust in Christ’s work for your unshakable acceptance by God, will grow deeper every time this happens.
It’s worth listening to Keller’s entire message below.