1 Peter 1:13-16 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. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Good morning. This sermon is the third and final part of a series intended to answer two questions from 1 Peter 1:13-16: (1) What kind of holiness is Peter calling God’s people to in 1 Peter 1:13-16, and (2) How do we get that holiness.
Two weeks ago we saw that the holiness to which Peter is calling us is as-God-is-holy holiness. We also saw that God is holy in that he is set apart from everything else, and in that he is morally pure. Because we are already set apart by God as holy, what we need, and what Peter commands, is moral-purity holiness.
Last week, then, I gave you the first two of four principles (I originally said six principles, but ended up combining two sets of them for this sermon) meant to answer the question of how we gain moral-purity holiness. This morning we’ll consider the final two.
Please pray with me that the true nature of the holiness to which we are called would be increasingly clear and beautiful and characteristic of our lives.
BE HOLY AS GOD IS HOLY
Again, in order to obey Peter’s command—”…as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct”—that is, in order to answer the question of how we become morally-pure holy, I’ve offered four biblical principles.
Very quickly let’s review the first two, which we considered last week.
1. The moral purity which we are commanded to have is nothing other than conformity to the moral nature of God.
Because we are called to as-God-is-holy holiness, Peter’s charge is really for God’s people to conform themselves to God’s moral nature.
If we are to be holy—to be morally pure—we must be clear on what type of moral purity we need.
2. God’s holy word is the only definitive source for knowing God’s moral nature and, therefore, it is the only definitive source for knowing the nature of the moral purity which we are commanded to have.
It is in the bible alone that we find definitive descriptions of God’s moral nature and the specific moral commands that flow from it. Growing in the holiness that Peter commands, then, necessitates knowing all that God’s word says about God’s moral nature and commands.
If we are to be holy—to be morally pure—we must know where to find moral purity and what, specifically, it is.
As I mentioned last week, rightly understood, these first two principles are altogether overwhelming, which is why the next point is so significant; indeed, necessary.
3. God’s grace is our only hope for achieving the moral purity which we are commanded to have.
If we are to be holy—to be morally pure—we must know from where our strength for it comes.
We are incapable of obeying Peter’s command—of being morally pure as God is morally pure—if left to our own strength and devices. But, Grace Church, as you know, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that the children of God are never left to our own strength or our own devices.
God has promised that all who have received his saving grace will also receive his sanctifying grace; all who have been made his children will be made pure. That’s Paul’s point in Romans 8:29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…”.
It’s also his point in Philippians 1:6: “…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…”.
Knowing, then, that we do not possess the strength to obey Peter’s command to be morally pure, but also knowing that God has promised to graciously be our strength, there are two more initial comments I want to make on the sanctifying grace of God.
First, the grace of God for the moral purity of Christians flows from the cross of Jesus. It is only because Jesus was pure, and offered his sinless self to the Father as a sacrifice for our sins, that we can be made pure. He is our righteousness and our strength for righteousness. What we were powerless to do, and then too weak to do, he did for us and then does in us. This means that the moral purity of God’s people is another aspect of the good news of the gospel won by Jesus at the cross.
And second, the Holy Spirit is primarily charged with bringing the sanctifying grace of God. The Spirit is not called holy only because he is holy himself, but also because that is his main work in Christians. Peter himself notes this sanctifying work of the Spirit in chapter 1 when he speaks of “the sanctification of the [Holy] Spirit…”. The Father calls his children to holiness, the Son earned and modeled it, and the Holy Spirit works it in us.
Grace, we are commanded by Peter in 1 Peter 1:15 to be holy as God is holy in all our conduct. While none of us are perfectly obeying this command now, and while none of us will finally obey this command until we go to be with Jesus (more on this in #4), it is nevertheless before us; nothing lesser and nothing mushier. We fight to obey it knowing that God’s grace is upon us because of the blood of Jesus, in the person of the Holy Spirit.
4. God’s purifying grace comes to his people by his Spirit through his various means.
And this leads us to the next question which leads us to the next point: How, exactly, does God’s sanctifying grace strengthen his people to obey his commands?
There is a great deal that could be said in this section. In simplest and most straight forward terms, though, it comes down to this: God’s grace comes to his people through God’s various means. We see this in Scripture from beginning to end. God provides for his people in the Garden, but he does so with fruit trees and rivers. God protects Israel, but he does so through kings and armies. God instructs his people, but he does so through prophets and priests. God shepherds his people, but he does so through pastors and elders. God saves his people, but he does so through the human proclamation of the gospel. God disciplines his people, but he does so through his Church. And on and on.
Again, though, by what means has God determined to bring his sanctifying grace to his people? Won by the blood of Jesus, imparted by the indwelling Spirit, God’s sanctifying grace comes to his people through two primary means: (1) believing the promises of God, and (2) practicing the spiritual disciplines (which are essentially the practical implications of believing the promises of God).
If we want to be morally-pure holy, then, we must, as Peter says, cease being “conformed to the passions of [our] former ignorance.” If we are going to stop acting in ignorant passion we need to become informed. If we are going to stop believing the logic and lies of the world, we must start believing the promises of God. Holiness comes from believing truth. How do we do these things? Consider Paul’s answer in Romans 12.
Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…
Paul says we become holy and acceptable to God by being transformed. But how are we transformed? Of this R.C. Sproul writes,
The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed [holy and acceptable] life is by the “renewal of the mind.” This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Serious education. In-depth education. Disciplined education in the things of God. It calls for a mastery of the Word of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed. True transformation comes by gaining a new understanding of God, ourselves, and the world. What we are after ultimately is to be conformed to the image of Christ.
In order to turn from sinful passions of ignorance toward holy passions of knowledge we must have our minds renewed. And to have our minds renewed we need to be educated in the promises of the gospel. There are countless such promises. This morning, though, I only mean to whet your appetites by naming four categories of promises that I think will be particularly helpful as we battle sin.
First, the bible is filled with sanctifying grace in the form of promises of who we are—our identity—in Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
Romans 6:6 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.
There is great power in Christians coming to realize the true depth of their new identity in Christ. You and I are not defined by our jobs or our families or our relationships or our successes or our failures or our strengths or our weaknesses or our athletic, artistic, or academic prowess. We are not our sexual desires or our gender identity or our political preferences. We are not defined by our sins or our acts of righteousness. The clear teaching of God’s Word is that we are, above all, defined by our union with Christ. In coming to believe that promise rather than the lies of this world, we find a powerful means of God’s grace for holiness.
The second category of gospel promises I’d like to present to you as a significant means of God’s sanctifying grace is that concerning the certainty of the sanctification of God’s people. We saw two of the most direct and powerful promises to this point earlier.
Romans 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…
Philippians 1:6 …he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Again, there is remarkable, divine help for holiness in the promise of God that the grace that justifies also sanctifies. That is, God has promised his people that all of his people will be made holy. God begins to give his sanctifying grace through his various means immediately upon our conversion and does not stop until we are finally pure at our death. That is, the Holy Spirit comes to make residence in every child of God immediately at our conversion. And immediately upon taking up residence in us, the Holy Spirit goes to work on making us morally pure and does not stop until we are. Knowing that we will be pure is a significant means of grace to fight for purity.
Third, consider the promises of the superiority of moral purity above every alternative. One significant lie of the devil is that turning from sin to righteousness is turning from that which is good and pleasing to that which is restricting and oppressive. In our former ignorance we believed that sin is fun and enjoyable and righteousness is dull and boring. But Grace, we must reject this lie and instead believe the truth that the path of moral purity alone leads to God and therefore is superior to every alternative.
Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Proverbs 12:28 In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death…
In our attempt to live a life of holiness, the promise of God that holiness (alone) leads to everlasting joy is a significant means of sanctifying grace.
And finally, in invite you to consider the promises that without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14 Strive for … the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
The simple promise here is that if there is no fight for holiness in you, if there is no striving for righteousness, if there is no mortifying of sin, you are not a Christian. We are made God’s children by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. But we know that our faith and salvation are genuine primarily by our new desires to cease being conformed to the passions of our former ignorance and start being conformed to the moral nature of God. And we are promised that if those new desires are not present we will die.
Again, we are sanctified (made holy) by God’s grace, but God’s grace comes through God’s means. One of God’s means is that God’s people work in the Spirit’s power to believe his promises rather than sin’s lies.
The second primary means by which God brings his sanctifying grace is through the practicing of the spiritual disciplines. Various pastors and theologians have listed these differently, but they all seem to have some version of the list below. The point is this: God has chosen to use these things to grow his people in holiness. Therefore, God’s grace comes to God’s people as we work at participating in these disciplines: Teaching/studying of the Word (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:24; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; 2 Timothy 3:15; Acts 20:32; Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 32:47; 2 Timothy 3:16; Psalm 119:105; 2 Peter 1:19; Psalm 19:7; Romans 15:4), sacraments (Romans 6:2-5; Colossians 2:12; Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38), prayer (Acts 4:24-31; 12:5; Hebrews 4:16), fasting (Matthew 6:16-18), worship (Acts 13:2; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14; James 4:8; 2 Chronicles 20:18-23; Psalm 73:17), Church discipline (2 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Corinthians 4:19-20; 5:5; Matthew 16:19; 18:18-20), financial giving/generosity (Acts 8:20; 2 Corinthians 8:5; 9:6-12), spiritual gifts (1 Peter 4:10; 1 Corinthians 14:12; Ephesians 4:11-16), fellowship (Acts 2:42; Hebrews 10:24-25; John 15:12; Galatians 6:2), evangelism (Acts 2:4; 14-36; 4:8; 31; 9:17, 20; 13:9, 52), and service (Matthew 20:25-28).
If we are to be holy as God is holy and as Peter commands, we must diligently give ourselves to these spiritual disciplines. Over and over again as people come into my office discouraged at their lack of communion with God and at the lack of their own spiritual growth, one nearly universal constant is that they are lax at best in practicing the spiritual disciplines. In spite of how clear and consistent the bible is on the fact that God has chosen to bring his grace through them, his people neglect them and still expect to receive his grace.
Growing in moral purity means striving for righteousness and making war on our sin. Wanting to do this and having the strength to do it requires God’s grace. And God’s grace comes to his people through the primary means of believing his promises and practicing the spiritual disciplines.
While all of this may, once again, sound overwhelming, know that because of God’s grace, even our imperfect attempts at holiness are pleasing to God when they are offered in faith. In other words, though we will never perfectly believe the promises of God and will never perfectly practice the spiritual disciplines, when we truly give ourselves to obeying them in faith, God receives them as holy. That too is a part of the good news of the gospel.
I want to conclude by bringing us back to the beginning. You and I and all of God’s people are commanded by God through Peter to be holy as God is holy in all our conduct. This means that, having already been set-apart holy by God, we need moral-purity holiness. We must simply receive by faith our adoption as God’s children, but we must fight for our holiness (by working to understand its nature and source, by fighting in the power provided by God, and by striving to know and believe God’s promises and practice the spiritual disciplines).
In my experience, there are a few common reactions to all of this:
1. Indifference. Many hear it, sort of agree with it, but do nothing about it. They are essentially indifferent to whether or not they obey Peter’s command.
2. Deflection. They probably wouldn’t word it this way, but those in this group believe that God’s love for them makes him essentially indifferent as to whether or not they obey Peter’s command. They agree that they should be holy, aren’t, but believe that God loves them enough to overlook their lack of holiness.
3. Frustration. Another group is bothered by the insinuation that any expectations—certainly any specific expectations—are added to their faith. This group is, in their estimation, righteously indignant that legalists/fundamentalists would try to cheapen God’s grace by suggesting that there are any conditions or necessary commands attached to it.
I submit to you, Grace Church, none of those are Christian responses. A person who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit is not indifferent to God’s command to be holy. There may be days of greater and less intensity in conviction and pursuit of holiness, but no one born of God is ever indifferent to the matter of holiness.
Likewise, anyone who understands the gospel understands that God’s love doesn’t make him indifferent to our holiness, it makes him require it. He would not love us if he allowed our appetite for sin to remain. Growing to increasingly despise and fight sin are two of the most definitive marks of the presence of God’s love in our lives.
And those frustrated by Scripture’s (or the Church’s) insistence on the holiness of the saints have not learned that for Jesus to be our savior, he must also be our lord. If he isn’t both, he is either. Jesus died in order to make us holy. To accept his forgiveness, then, is also to accept his right to command our holiness.
The biblically prescribed response of God’s people to God’s commands to be holy is different from all of these.
4. Repentance. This group, having been given new life and new eyes and new taste buds, having been given the Spirit and Word of God, knows that although they were created for God’s glory, they have fallen short of it. What’s more, they long to be more like Jesus. What’s more still, they know they need help to do so. They give themselves to God’s word to know what God has called them to be. They give themselves to prayer knowing that apart from God’s help they will never be holy. They give themselves to the Church knowing that their hearts remain deceptive and their spirits remain weak. They give themselves to the sacraments and God’s various means of grace, trusting in God’s provision rather than their own. They turn from their sin and to righteousness and therein bear fruit in keeping with repentance. They give themselves to the battle for the joy set before them, hoping fully in the grace that is in Jesus Christ and will be finally revealed at his return.
Grace, this attitude, this disposition, this heart, this response is the attitude, disposition, heart, and response of a Christian. Responding like this to the call to holiness is the best indication that your faith is genuine and that the grace of God is truly upon you. If this is your response to Peter’s command praise God. It is his gift. If this is not your response cry out to God through Jesus Christ and he will cleanse you of all unrighteousness and give you a new heart. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.