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2. The Cross And Holiness (1 Peter 1:13-16)

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It’s not easy to live in a world of suffering and sin and maintain a holy walk. But when Christ died he delivered us not only from the penalty of sin but also from the power of sin (Rom. 6:6). We are told to “present our bodies…holy…” (Rom. 12:1), “to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1), and “to pursue peace with all people and holiness” (Heb. 12:14).

1 Peter is a letter of hope in light of suffering. Peter encourages the believers to live in hope and walk in holiness (cf. 1 Jn. 3:2-3). Peter’s argument is that the hope of salvation should motivate us to holy living. The reception of salvation must issue in a life of holiness, reverence and love. His point, then, is this: The prospect of our ultimate salvation at the return of Christ should radically change our lives now

The theme of our passage has to do with holiness based on the bright prospect of our salvation. In this passage, Peter issues four imperatives for a holy lifestyle that should accompany salvation. In this article, we are going to consider the first two of these imperatives.

I. Focus Your Mind On The Realization Of Your Hope (1:13)

“Therefore” refers back to the salvation blessings that are ours in Christ as described in 1:3-12. We have been born again to a “living hope” (1:3) which has as its substance a guaranteed, imminent inheritance at Christ’s return (1:4-5), at which time we will experience the completion of our redemption, the “salvation of your souls” (1:9-12). On the basis of such a hope-filled prospect, the first and overriding change that should take place in our lives is to think differently. By nature our minds are “reprobate” (Rom. 1:28) – i.e. void of judgement, morally debased – and “fleshly” (Col. 2:18; Rom. 8:7) – i.e. vainly puffed up, lustful. Someone has said that “The relationship of a man’s soul to God is best evidenced by those things that occupy his thoughts.” By contrast, the minds of those who have been born again must be trained and focused on a different occupation. This takes place in three ways…

1. Focus on the imminent realization of your hope through spiritual preparation (1:13a): Therefore, preparing your minds for action…” Another translation puts it: Gird up the loins of your mind!” In other words, “Be prepared; be alert!” The picture here is of an Ancient Near Eastern dress and custom. In Israel they wore a long sleeveless shirt that reached to the knees or ankles. When they needed to work or run or engage in strenuous activity, they gathered up this long robe by pulling it between the legs and then tying it around the waist or tucking it into their belt so that their legs were free – unhindered, uncluttered.

“Pull your thoughts together! Be mentally prepared!” Peter’s allusion pictures a mind prepared for active work. “Prepare your minds for action,” he is saying. “Resolve to focus your minds by being ready.” Spiritual readiness is a preparatory response to God and our hope in Christ. If we are living in the light of the Lord’s return, we must be mentally and spiritually prepared. There must be a readiness to see God work.

Paul echoes this same thought: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2). Mind renewal is a prerequisite for Christian service. The Holy Spirit shapes our thinking, renews our thoughts, controls our attitudes, transforms us mentally. We must gain victory over our thoughts. There is so much around us to influence our thoughts. When your thoughts are centred on Christ and you live accordingly, you escape many of the worldly things that might encumber your mind and hinder your spiritual progress. Woodrow Wilson said: “He that will not command his thoughts will soon lose command of his actions.”

So, focus, Peters says, on the imminent realization of your hope through spiritual preparation for the Lord’s coming. Then, he says…

2. Focus on the imminent realization of your hope through spiritual concentration (1:13b): “…and being sober-minded…” “Be calm, steady, self-controlled.” This is not a reference to physical sobriety but mental sobriety - it’s a metaphor. Peter is saying: “Don’t be mentally intoxicated but be mentally sober!” Just as physical drunkenness causes loss of control of the mind, so when Christians are mentally intoxicated with the things of the world, they lose focus. “Don’t be overcome with the intoxicating attractions of this life, the things that pull us under their control, the things to which we have the propensity to become addicted. Keep your mind clear so that you can make good judgements, so that you don’t lose focus on the imminent revelation of Christ, so that you can concentrate fully on the hope set before you.”

It’s so easy to lose spiritual concentration. We can lose spiritual concentration through mental intoxication with worldly things (cf. Mk. 4:19; Col. 3:2-3; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). We can become mentally addicted to careers, position, possessions, power, recreation, reputation etc. Susceptibility to mental intoxication has to do with lack of discipline. Mental intoxication inhibits spiritual discipline and alertness. Through mental laziness the passions overrule the intellect. Laziness of mind lulls Christians into sin through carelessness. When our mental guard is down, we are vulnerable to sin, unholiness. We need clear, sound judgement and a mind and will prepared to resist anything that would deflect is from the hope set on Jesus’ return.

Spiritual concentration has to do with mental alertness, mental vigilance…

a) Vigilance for the Lord’s coming. Because the day of the Lord is coming as a thief in the night, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober (1 Thess. 5:6).

b) Vigilance in defending the truth: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded (i.e. watchful), endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

c) Vigilance in prayer: “Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Pet. 4:7).

d) Vigilance for the attack of the enemy: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

So, Peter says, focus on the imminent realization of your hope, first through spiritual preparation, second through spiritual concentration, and third…

3. Focus on the imminent realization of your hope through spiritual expectation (1:13c): “…set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Our current manner of life is to be characterized by renewed thinking, focusing our minds on the expectation of Christ’s return by being spiritually alert and ready (“preparing your minds for action”) and by self-controlled, clear thinking (“being sober minded”), which two aspects of the Christian thinking and lifestyle are preparatory for the ultimate realization of our hope “at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The fact is that we have a strong, expectant hope of Christ’s return. “Hope” in the N.T. isn’t wishful thinking; it’s not a dream; it’s not “iffy,” not pie-in-the-sky thinking. Rather, it is a confident expectation, an expectation that is strong enough to act on. It is a hope that is so certain that it controls how we live – viz. “as obedient children” (1:14a).

To “set your hope fully” stresses that there is no doubt about it and that there is no room for any other hope. Our hope in Christ and His return is complete and certain. “Set your hope fully (totally) on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

“The grace” that is to be brought to us “at the revelation of Jesus Christ” embraces the whole concept of our salvation, in particular the completion of our redemption at Christ’s return when we will receive blessings which will not be transitory or corruptible rewards of this world (i.e. not silver or gold) but eternal rewards that do not fade or corrupt, reserved in heaven (1:4). At the present time we enjoy only the beginning of his “grace” bestowed on us, as we are being transformed more and more into his likeness. But when Jesus appears we will receive the consummation of that grace. The whole focus here on our spirituality is rooted in the work of Christ on the cross, the full benefit of which we will receive at his second coming.

So, how does this hope affect our holiness? This hope affects our holiness because of its moral implications. There are certain moral implications of our hope in Christ which we must obey. The joyful anticipation of the blessings that are ours at Christ’s return ought to produce an ethical transformation in our lives. The vivid expectation of future blessings ought to radically change how we live now. If we can grasp the prospect of our completed redemption at Christ’s return (1:1-12), and if we can visualize the “grace that will be brought to (us) at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (i.e. the store of undeserved blessings which God will bestow on us), then we will be mentally and emotionally and spiritually ready to strive for ethical holiness.

Grammatically, then, this verse suggests a sequence of actions. We could paraphrase it like this: “First, prepare your minds for action – wrap your minds around the truth that Christ is coming. Then, when you have prepared yourself mentally and spiritually for the Lord’s return, keep your minds concentrated so that you don’t lose focus. And the way to not lose focus is to be in a state of constant, confident expectation of Christ’s glorious return.” Then, from this perspective, certain changes in our conduct should be evident. In Paul’s words, we will be a people who are 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:13-14).

The first imperative, then, for living as God’s holy people in view of the Lord’s return, is: “Focus your mind on the realization of your hope.” The second injunction for holy living is…

II. Conform Your Desires To Christ’s Holiness (1:14-16)

To be God’s “children” means that we belong to God’s family and, therefore, our conduct must conform to that family relationship, living in obedience to and conformity with God because He is our Father and we are his children. Obedience springs from our love for Him as our Father.

To be God’s “obedient children” means living in holiness of life. God is holy, therefore his children must be holy. To be holy means to be separate from sin and separated to God. Holiness of life implies a radically different lifestyle than before we were saved.

Living as God’s obedient children has both a negative and positive effect on conforming and purifying our desires to Christ’s holiness…

1. Put negatively: Purify yourself by not conforming to your fleshly nature (1:14b). “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” To be conformed to something means to pattern your life after it. The Christians to whom Peter is writing had been imitators of the world in their lustful desires. Peter says: “Don’t pattern your life after your former lusts base don ignorance. Don’t be conformed to the culture around you.” Or, as Paul puts it: “Do not be conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). “That was your former way of life – a period of ignorance before you were saved, when you were conformed to your fleshly desires, the longings of fallen humanity, your evil impulses.”

These base desires were once the motivating principles of their lives. To conform to them is to go back into that lifestyle that they abandoned at their conversion. “Now,” Peter says, “control your desires rather than being controlled by them.” Base, fleshly desire goes after anything that satisfies it and most people are controlled by it.

Doing God’s will is the opposite of doing what our sinful nature desires. “Before you became Christians,” Peter says, “you acted in ignorance, ignorance of God and His ways” (cf. Eph. 4:18). “Before you became Christians, lustful passions dominated your life - sinful desires led you to direct disobedience to God’s laws. But now as God’s obedient children we must recognize these lustful desires - these acts of passion - and strive not to be influenced by them, to not let our lives be patterned after them.

“Don’t be like you used to be!” is the point here. You are now under a different operating system – like the different operating systems that control computers. You have a different master now. You are indwelled by the Holy Spirit who governs the pattern of your life, not your fleshly, carnal desires. Those were in the days of your ignorance; now you have the wisdom of God.”

It’s not that these fleshly lusts don’t exist anymore for the Christian. They do exist, or else there would be no need for this injunction. But we must “not be conformed” to them - not dominated by them, not fall in line with them – but keep them inactive in the place of death. For, as the apostle Paul puts it, those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). The Holy Spirit’s regenerating work has broken the rule of those desires; now you can have victory over them.

That’s the negative side of the implications of being God’s obedient children - Purify yourselves by not conforming to your fleshly nature. Then…

2. Put positively: Purify yourself by conforming to God’s holy nature (1:15). …but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” “But” indicates a strong contrast with what went before: “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but… be holy.” This is a totally different kind of life than you lived in “your former ignorance.” Instead of being conformed to your lustful passions, “be holy.” How do you do this? By patterning your life after God. “Just as the God who called you is himself holy, in the same manner you yourselves are to be holy.”

“He who called you” is God the Father. God called us, He initiated our conversion, not only by sending His Son but also by drawing us (calling us) to himself, bursting into our darkness to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

God’s call was a powerful, effectual call, a calling of efficacious grace, a calling that we could not resist, a calling to live for God and be like Him. Just as Israel were the called people of God in the O. T., so now Christians are the called people of this new age, called to God out of the world. And mark this, “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:7).

The God who called us is himself “holy.” Holiness is an essential part of God’s character, for God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). God Himself is the altogether holy One (Ps. 71:22; 78:41; Is. 1:41; 5:29; 6:3). He is separated from sin, wholly other and higher than we are.

In the same manner that God is holy, “you also be holy in all your conduct.” To be called by God is to imitate Him, for God cannot fellowship with anyone who has an evil lifestyle. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:6-7).

We are to be separated from evil just as He is, dedicated to a life of holiness. This is clear from the “not…but” contrast – “not conformed…but holy.” To be holy involves separation from whatever is unclean and total devotion to God. To be holy as God is holy is a full, pervading holiness that permeates every aspect of our lives. It is the avoidance of sin, complete separation from it. And it is the delight in God and his holiness as a way of life.

We can be holy. Many people think that is not possible, that God’s command to be holy is the ideal but that it can never be attained. But Jesus’ death delivered us from the penalty and power of sin. “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:6). We will not live perfect lives, but we do not have to sin at any moment. To the extent that we submit to God and live as he has commanded and as he enables us, so we can live holy lives.

God takes us into his service and separates us from this age, making us holy, set apart for Him. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4).

The scope of holiness embraces “all your conduct” - i.e. in all manner of life. It’s not possible to be holy in part of your life only – it demands all of your life. It’s a pattern of life that transforms every day, every thought, every action.

There is a pattern of life of unbelievers. They trust in “perishable things” (1 Pet. 1:18). They conduct themselves in the “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph.2:3). And there is a pattern of life of believers. Our conduct is patterned after the things that are to come, not the things that are here and now (see 2 Pet. 3:11). Our pattern of life is to reflect the nature and character of God, so that it points others to him (1 Pet. 3:15).

So, what’s the reason Peter gives for his injunction regarding the all encompassing nature of holy living in God’s people? “Since / because it is written: ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1:16). Peter roots his injunction in the authority of Scripture (Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:7). This wasn’t something new in the N.T. The holiness of God governed God’s requirements in both Testaments - namely, that his people be holy. That is the basis of our relationship with him and there is no other basis. This is the underlying basis for ethics in the N.T. In citing this O. T. command, Peter rests his argument on firm ground. In fact, Jesus echoed this teaching when he said: “You therefore must be perfect (holy), as your heavenly Father is perfect (holy)” (Matt. 5:48).

Final Remarks

What conclusions can we draw from these rich imperatives which are rooted in the cross of Christ and anticipate the return of Christ?

1. God’s gracious election of sinners involves responsibility as well as privilege. He has chosen us in Christ “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). The only way to be holy is to imitate him and thus glorify him. It is the nature of children to want to imitate their parents. We, as God’s obedient children, should delight in imitating God because he is our Father, because his moral excellence is inherently beautiful and desirable. Any holiness which we have in character and conduct must be derived from him (see Eph. 5:1; 1 Jn. 4:11).

2. Imitation of God’s moral character is the ultimate basis for how we live. It is the reason why some things are right and some things are wrong. It is the reason why there are moral absolutes in the universe. God delights in what reflects his moral character and he hates whatever is contrary to his character.

3. In the light of such a standard we might cry out: “Who is sufficient for these things?” Who can measure up? How is it possible to satisfy God’s demands for holiness? We need to understand that Christ’s death on the cross was not only sufficient for the cleansing of our past sins, but also for our present and future sins. “Christ Jesus…became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). The Holy Spirit clothes us with righteousness when he gives us new birth, and he applies that righteousness to us every hour of our life. Thus, the provision is made and the demands of holiness met.

Well, may God help us to set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2) and, as a result, may our desires be pure before him. May we cry out: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).

Related Topics: Christian Life, Sanctification

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