“Called to be Holy”
1 Peter 1:13-16
August 19, 2012
How can you be holy as He is holy?
I. Set your hope on grace. (1 Peter 1:13)
II. Don't conform to the evil of the world. (1 Peter 1:14)
III. Do conform to the character of God. (1 Peter 1:15-16)
I didn’t get to watch a lot of Olympics this year, but I saw enough to remember how much work it takes to be an Olympic athlete. You basically have to decide what perfection looks like in your sport, then forsake everything to pursue it. Some athletes, like Usain Bolt do so with bravado that borders on self-worship. Others, like Gabby Douglas and David Boudia glorify God. But Christian or not, all of them shape their lives around an ideal and a goal.
And I believe God would have all of us show that same devotion to an ideal and a goal. The question is, what ideal and goal are we supposed to be pursuing? I think the answer of Scripture is clear: we are called to be holy. Twenty years ago when I first preached this passage I introduced, perhaps for the first time, two people who have become frequent contributors to our thinking, and who affirm that the goal of the Christian life is sanctification or holiness.
J. I. Packer wrote in his book Rediscovering Holiness “If we play down or ignore the importance of holiness, we are utterly and absolutely wrong. Holiness is in fact commanded: God wills it, Christ requires it, and all the Scriptures call for it. In reality, holiness is the goal of our redemption. As Christ died in order that we might be justified, so we are justified in order that we may be sanctified, and made holy. Holiness is the object of our new creation. We are born again so that we may grow up into Christ-likeness.”
In the same way Chuck Colson, who went to be with the Lord earlier this summer, wrote in Loving God “Salvation, therefore, is not simply a matter of being separated from our past and freed from our bondage to sin. Salvation means also that we are joined to a holy God. By pitching His tent in our midst, God identifies with his people through His very presence. But God demands something in return for His presence . . . that we identify with Him - that we be holy because He is holy. Holiness is not optional - it’s essential.”
I. Set your hope on grace. (1 Peter 1:13)
These two contemporary writers echoing the thoughts of Peter. Our text for today is 1st Peter 1:13-16, and we’ll see the call to holiness clearly in this text. But we also need to be thinking about the application, thinking about the question ‘how can you be holy as God is holy?’ 1 Peter 1:13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
How can we obey Scripture’s command ‘you shall be holy as I am holy?’ These verses give three central principles we can apply to our lives as we pursue this ideal and this goal. The first is ‘set your hope on grace.’ Twenty years ago when I preached this text, my first point was ‘be prepared to be holy,’ but that isn’t my first point now. Part of the reason is I’ve switched translations. The New International Version at that time translated this verse ‘Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.’ That translation has three imperatives: prepare your minds, be self-controlled; set your hope. The imperative ‘prepare’ is the one that governed my first point.
But it turns out that in the Greek there is only one imperative - and this is captured well in the English Standard Version that I now use: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The imperative, the command is ‘set your hope fully on grace.’ ‘Preparing your mind’ and ‘being sober-minded’ are participles, ‘i-n-g’ words that describe action that goes along with the main verb. For example we could craft a sentence that said ‘running full speed, Sanya won the race.’ The main clause is ‘Sanya won’ but ‘running full speed’ was an important action that went along with and was essential to winning. So preparing yourself, and being sober minded are essential actions that go along with the main imperative of this sentence ‘set your hope fully on the grace to be given to you.’
But before I explain these phrases further, notice that the sentence starts with a ‘therefore,’ This is one of the important ‘therefores’ found so frequently in the New Testament. This one reminds us that holiness follows salvation; the greatness of salvation was Peter’s last topic. As Packer said "Holiness is the goal of our redemption. As Christ died in order that we may be justified, so we are justified in order that we may be sanctified and made holy."
Think about that! Christ died so that we would be justified, and we are justified so we can become holy. It’s ludicrous to think about becoming holy without salvation. It’s like being a caterpillar and trying to fly. It won’t work: the caterpillar must first be made over into a butterfly. Then and only then can it fly. And we must first be justified by faith in Christ: we must be saved and cleansed from sin and made new by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ before we can even attempt to be holy. And if we have been saved, if we have been made into a butterfly, it's tragic for us not to fly, not to live a life of holiness. But we foolish people . insist on trying to fly while we are still caterpillars - trying to be holy by our own works, or we insist on failing to fly when we become butterflies failing to grow in holiness after we have been saved.
So, having been saved, you are commanded to ‘set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’ Twenty years ago I minimized this part of the sentence. I didn’t ignore it, but I also didn’t say as emphatically as I do today that this is a grace system. That having been saved by grace through faith we walk by grace, we grow by grace we are sanctified or made holy by grace, grace alone, not by merit not by works. Our hope is not in ourselves but in God’s sure promise of holiness. You and I will not reach complete holiness in this life, and we may not make as much progress as we would like, but we have a sure hope, a certainty of something not yet seen; when he appears we shall be like him, holy and complete, for we shall see him as he is - and we will be transformed into his likeness.
Our hope is fixed on grace; there is nothing else to stand on but grace. God is not glorified if we can take credit for our holiness, God is glorified if we know our holiness to be entirely his gracious gift. We were designed to be dependent; we are redeemed to become dependent creatures, and all the wonderful things God plans and promises for us are pointed to making us perfect dependent creatures, set entirely apart for his use.
But the mystery of our faith is that God’s gracious work in us is never divorced from our cooperation. We cling to him to receive salvation by grace, and in this sentence the participles show us cooperating with the grace by which he sanctifies us - being sober minded and ‘preparing our minds for action’ In the King James it says ‘girding up the loins of your minds.’ This is the image of someone getting ready to run. It's hard to run in those long, Middle Eastern robes. So the custom was to pick up those outer robes and tuck them into your belt, thus preparing yourself for action.
Peter says, do that to your mind - make it ready for action. Just as no one ever won an Olympic medal without preparation, so no one ever becomes holy without mental participation and preparation. We’ll see next week that a huge part of that preparation is immersion in the imperishable word of God.
Preparing your mind for holiness is the personal part of setting your hope fully on grace, just as running hard is the personal part of winning. And the second participle is like it ‘being sober-minded’. The NIV says ‘self controlled.’ The implication here is that hoping in grace and growing in holiness requires a clear head. My personal experience is I’m far more vulnerable to sin when I’m not mentally alert, when my thinking is muddled. It seems this seems like the pattern whenever I fall into sin. Whether it is irritation, or impure thoughts, or an uncaring attitude, or whatever, when I look back on a specific temptation, I almost always find that I wasn't thinking.
Don't you find that when you sin, one of your frequent reflections is "I know better than that! How could I have been so dumb?" As I always say, sin, or more specifically, temptation, makes you stupid. Satan works through muddled thinking and lack of thought; sin thrives there. God and holiness work in mental preparation and clear thinking, telling yourself truth from Scripture.
II. Don't conform to the evil of the world. (1 Peter 1:14)
But the preparation of your mind and even the focus on hope are directed at bringing the blessings of holiness into your life. Peter expresses this holiness first as a negative ‘do not;’ then as a positive ‘do.’ Verse 14: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.”
Do not conform to the passions, or evil desires of unbelievers. This command is to be holy by not being sinful. Peter addresses us as children: the relationship we have with God is one in which he is our Father, and we are his dependent children; newborn babes, but also brothers and sisters to each other. But don’t miss the key word Peter slips in: we are to be not just dependent children but also obedient children. In one sense holiness comes down to this: In your relationship to God, are you an obedient child?
I read a biography of Audrey Wetherell Johnson, the founder of Bible Study Fellowship. Her desire was to teach as an overseas missionary. And she did, in China, until the Communists kicked the missionaries out. Returning to the US, she didn't know quite what to do, until five women at her church asked her to lead a Bible Study. She didn’t want to do it: she asked herself "What have I come to? Am I to give more to those who already have so much?"
But as she prayed, she recalled the verse in Zechariah "For who has despised the day of small things?" and she felt God had said "will you not do this one little thing for me" So out of simple obedience, as God’s child, she started to teach. And the result was Bible Study Fellowship - now an international organization that has turned many hearts and lives to Scripture.
So we are children - we are obedient children, And we are not to conform to the passions of our former ignorance. This is the only other occurrence of the word that is used in Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world.” Or in the Phillips translation: do not let the world press you into its mold.
Interesting implications here. First that these were desires you used to have but when you had them you were ignorant - either of the desires themselves, of the evilness of the desires, or of the consequences. Second, in saying do not now conform to these passions, Peter implies that you still have them, or at least you still now have the habit of conforming to them. So that you can still fall into the sins that used to characterize your life.
Third, though you used to be ignorant of these passions and their consequences, Peter expects you to be ignorant no more. He calls us to recognize these evil desires, and to deal with them so that we do not conform to the world.
But what are these evil passions? The term is somewhat vague. Perhaps it would help if I shared some of the lists of evil desires that we find elsewhere in the New Testament. Take for example the words of Jesus in Matthew 15:19 He says “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” If you don't find yourself in there, consider Paul's words in Galatians 5: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” Here’s a third one, Colossians 3: Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”
As you think about these lists, God may bring into focus some specific sin you’re struggling with. Ask God for his help in temptation; repent of any instance where you’ve succumbed; seek God's forgiveness and strength to deal with this evil desire. Each of us has these passions, but to give in or conform to them is to forsake holiness.
III. Do conform to the character of God. (1 Peter 1:15-16)
So don't be ignorant of these things; don’t let temptation make you stupid. Being alert, sober minded and self-controlled, cooperate with the grace of God that wants to make you holy. That’s Peter’s alternative to these negative behaviors: Do conform to the character of God. Verses 15 and 16: but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Our holiness is grounded in the holiness of God. We are called to be holy because He is holy. This is the best, most compelling reason to strive after holiness: that God himself is holy, and sin has no place with him.
Peter quotes from Leviticus where God repeatedly says through Moses "You should be holy because I am holy" Holiness is one of the chief characteristics of the eternal God. In fact Holy is used as a prefix to God's name more often than any other attribute. Isaiah calls God "the Holy One of Israel," and when the angels gather around the throne It is this characteristic of God that they praise: “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God of Hosts.”
This holiness is God’s entire separation from sin, and his moral excellence and purity. As one commentator said God is totally good and entirely without evil. This is why Isaiah 59:2 says “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Habakkuk says of God: “Your eyes are too pure to look upon evil.” God's pure, undefiled character is completely separate from impurity and sin. To seek to bring impurity into the presence of holiness is to seek to have God be two things. A one can't be a zero if it's a one; light can't be darkness if it's light; matter and anti-matter can’t exist in the same place. A Holy God cannot tolerate un-holiness and remain a Holy God.
In a sense holiness is a place: it is a region you can arrive at where God's pure and undefiled character is unchallenged by sin or impurity or evil. That is why the temple in the Old Testament was Holy, and within it was the Holy of Holies, the most holy place where God’s presence was made known. Everything that came into the sanctuary had to be purified, so that it too was set apart for the service of God. To be holy, then, is to be separated to God, and only that which is pure and undefiled by sin can be separated and brought into that place where God's purity is unchallenged.
And this is a tremendous motivation for us to be holy in all our conduct - so we can be intimate with God. Leadership magazine is a journal for pastors and Christian leaders. In 1982 Leadership published an article called "The War Within." It generated more response from readers, than any other article they had ever published. The author, who does not give his name, tells about his ten year struggle with lust and pornography He talks of his guilt, he talks of his shame, he talks of his prayers and his vain attempt to control his desires.
His healing began when he read a book by Francois Mauriac which claimed holiness to be the one motivation that could conquer this powerful sin. He says: “After disassembling the most common arguments I had heard against succumbing to a life filled with lust, Mauriac concludes that there is only one reason to seek purity, the reason Christ gave in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Purity, says Mauriac, is the condition for a possession superior to all possessions: God himself. If we sin, we forgo the development of character and Christlikeness that would bring us closer to the living God.” The author says: “The thought hit me like a bell rung in a dark silent hall. So far none of the scary, negative arguments against lust had succeeded. . . but here was a description of what I was missing by continuing to harbor lust: I was limiting my intimacy with God. The love he offers is so transcendent . . . that it requires our minds and hearts to be purified and cleansed before we can possibly begin to grasp it.”
God's holiness motivates our holiness: we can only have a close relationship to him if we become holy. And Peter gives us one more valuable clue as to how we can be holy. He says "as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct." This pushes the pursuit of holiness into daily behavior. In all that we do we imitate God’s character. We don’t get there only by ridding ourselves of sin and impurity, but by consciously imitating his goodness, purity, excellence and love. J. I. Packer says that holiness for the believer is living a life of service to God and becoming like the God one serves. It is taking God's moral law as our rule and God's Incarnate Son as our model.
That may be why Peter earlier called us obedient children. Because children by nature imitate the character of their parents. As I have studied the lives of great Christians, I’ve found repeatedly that those who we call most holy, define holiness as imitation of the character of God. It’s not just a list of don'ts, of sins we must avoid: it is what we substitute for sin. Holiness is the words we speak, the acts of love we do, the way we pursue our relationships, the witness we bring to un-beleivers, the service and sacrifice we bring to the church, and to the needy and to the oppressed. It is in the quality of our daily Christian lives, striving to be like Jesus in all that we say, do, and dare.
Let me tell you one more Chuck Colson story as we end: On Christmas day 1985 Colson was preaching at a women's prison in North Carolina. After the service a prison official asked if he’d like to visit Bessie Shipp, a prisoner in solitary confinement. "You should know,", the man said, "that she has AIDS". At that time little was known about how AIDS was transmitted. Colson says that he tried to think of an excuse to avoid seeing this prisoner. Then he remembered seeing Mother Theresa on TV, at an AIDS hospice in New York, and she had said "They need to know God loves them." Chuck Colson visited Bessie Shipp in her prison cell. It was Christmas, she was alone, and she was dying. He held her cold hand and gently talked to her about Jesus, then prayed with her as she received Christ as her Savior.
How can you be holy as God is holy? Like an Olympic athlete, we have an ideal and a goal: the character of God, Christ-likeness; sanctification; sacrificial love. But we know we can’t achieve this ourselves: we have to set our hope fully on the grace God promises, on holiness that will be fully realized in eternity. But even as we cling to this hope we are called to prepare our minds and order our thoughts so that temptation can’t make us stupid. We are to be non-conformists to the passions of the world that would consume us. Instead we are to strive to bring Christ-likeness into every circumstances of our lives. This hope and these principles turn an impossible challenge into a gracious call: be holy in all that you do.