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.”
As you may remember from last week, in this passage (1 Peter 1:13-16) Peter instructs and admonishes the Church to go beyond merely understanding, believing, and delighting in the gospel. In addition he commands the Church to live according to the gospel. God’s grace isn’t merely meant to be grasped and received with gratitude, it is also meant to produce a change in our lives.
Specifically, Peter charged his readers, in light of the gospel, to do the good works of (1) hoping fully in grace and (2) living holy lives. Last week we saw what it means to hope fully in grace. This week we’re going to see what it means to be holy.
In simplest terms, then, my aim in this sermon is to explain what Peter means when he commands Christians to “be holy in all your conduct.”
Let’s pray that God would grant us understanding of, love for, and strength to live holy lives.
Without a doubt one of the most helpful situation reports I’ve read concerning the Western Church’s understanding of practical holiness comes from Kevin DeYoung’s book, The Hole in our Holiness. In the opening pages he writes,
I’ve never understood the attraction of camping. Although I have plenty of friends and relatives who are avid campers, it’s always seemed strange to me that someone would work hard all year so they can go live outside for a week. I get the togetherness stuff, but why do it in tents with community toilets? As an adventure, I sort of understand camping. You strap a pack on your back and go hike God’s creation. Cool. But packing up the van like Noah’s ark and driving to a mosquito infested campground where you reconstitute an inconvenient version of your kitchen and your bedroom just doesn’t make sense. Who decided that vacation should be like normal life, only harder? …
I know there are a lot of die-hard campers in the world. I don’t fault you for your hobby. It’s just not my thing…I’ve been largely ignorant of camping my whole life. And I’m okay with that. It’s one more thing I don’t need to worry about in life. Camping may be great for other people, but I’m content to never talk about it, never think about it, and never do it….
Is it possible you look at personal holiness like I look at camping? It’s fine for other people. You sort of respect those who make their lives harder than they have to be. But it’s not really your thing. You didn’t grow up with a concern for holiness. It wasn’t something you talked about. It wasn’t what your family prayed about or your church emphasized. So, to this day, it’s not your passion. The pursuit of holiness feels like one more thing to worry about in your already impossible life. Sure, it would be great to be a better person, and you do hope to avoid the really big sins. But you figure, since we’re saved by grace, holiness is not required of you, and frankly, your life seems fine without it.
While that may well describe the current perspective of many Christians today, it is not at all how Peter (or any of the rest of the biblical writers) describes the Christian perspective on holiness. Rather than occasional, burdensome, or optional, Peter describes holiness as constant, godly, and necessary.
1 Peter 1:14-16 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.”
Likewise, Paul explains (in Ephesians 1:4) that we were chosen by God in order “that we should be holy”.
And the writer of Hebrews (12:14) tells us that without holiness we will not see the Lord.
Again, then, holiness is not occasional, burdensome, or optional for the Christian, but rather constant, godly, and necessary. But that leaves us with at least two significant questions: 1) what is holiness, and 2) how do we get it?
To understand what holiness is we must begin with the paradigmatic holiness of God.
The Holiness of God.
God is holy. This is made from the beginning to the end of scripture.
In Leviticus 11:44-45, the passage quoted by Peter, God himself twice declares, “I am holy”.
In 1 Sam 2:2 Hannah, Samuel’s mother, declares, “There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you”
The prophet, Isaiah (Isaiah 57:15), describes God as “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, [and] whose name is Holy…”
The seraphim, God’s spiritual attendants, cry out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Not holy. Not holy, holy. But holy, holy, holy.
In Psalm 103 David commands the people of God to bless God’s “holy name”.
And in Revelation 6:10 the martyrs speak of God as “Sovereign Lord, holy and true…”.
God is holy. In fact, it isn’t difficult to make the biblical case that holiness is the most definitive aspect of God’s nature. Again, though, what does that mean? What is holiness?
There are two defining characteristics to the holiness of God: 1) God is holy in that he is set apart, and 2) God is holy in that he is sinless/pure. While most people tend to think of holiness almost exclusively in the second sense (sinless/pure), without a doubt the first sense (set apart) is the essence of what the bible means when it calls God holy.
To be set apart holy, as R.C. Sproul notes, means that God is separate or distinct from everything else. The word holy “comes from an ancient word that means ‘to cut,’ or ‘to separate.’ To translate this basic meaning into contemporary language would be to use the phrase ‘a cut apart.’”
In its most basic and fundamental sense, then, God’s holiness is that aspect of his nature which sets him apart from everything else. And he is, of course, a cut apart—indeed, a cut above—in every way possible. He is perfectly cut apart. He is infinitely more excellent, more wise, more beautiful, more powerful, more loving, more jealous, more merciful, more fierce, more kind, more good, more caring, more personal, more creative, more … than everything else in existence.
This is why we sing,
Who has held the oceans in His hands?
Who has numbered every grain of sand?
Who has given counsel to the Lord?
Who can question any of His Words?
Who can teach the One who knows all things?
Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds?
The answer to each of these questions is, of course, no one. God is set apart in these ways (and countless more). He is unique in these ways. He is holy in these ways. And so we declare,
Behold our God seated on His throne
Behold our King nothing can compare
Come let us adore Him
When God chose to reveal himself to his people—even in limited ways—they were universally dumbstruck. They were at a loss for words. They had never experienced anything like God. They felt ruined. They felt overwhelmed. In describing their encounters they had to use the word like—like a pillar of fire, like a clap of thunder, like a rare jewel, like a son of man, his voice is like a trumpet, his feet are like bronze, his face is like the shining sun–because there is nothing truly like him.
To experience even the smallest fraction of God’s presence is to know that he is utterly unique, utterly set apart. There is none like our God in nature, purpose, honor, value, worth, or glory! He is utterly distinct. He is altogether above all. Indeed, God is holy in that he is wholly set apart.
The second sense in which God is holy is in the fact that he is set apart in sinlessness/purity. He is more pure than everything else. He is perfectly pure. Of the Father it is written “there is no unrighteousness in him” (Psalm 92:15). And of Jesus, the Son, it is written, “In him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). God is completely and perfectly righteous. There is no moral decay in the godhead. Sin has no appeal to God. He has no taste for it. And, conversely, he delights completely in righteousness and goodness. More spectacularly still, all of this is bound up in his very nature. He can’t be otherwise.
Have you ever been around some older, exceptionally holy man or woman? Someone whose faith is truly exemplary? Someone who seems to have virtually no appetite for sin? More than once I’ve been around people like this. It’s fairly intimidating. It’s a challenge even to find things to talk about. Most of what comes to mind seems too trivial. It even felt like they could see through any pretense.
As a Christian, being in the presence of people like that often causes me to simultaneously shrink away and draw near. I shrink back because it is intimidating. I draw near because it is good.
If unfinished people can produce that effect, the total sinless/pure holiness of God is clearly greater still—infinitely more intimidating and inviting. Indeed, God is holy in that he is wholly sinless and pure, wholly set apart from sin and to righteousness.
What is holiness? Again, God’s holiness is most defined by his set-apartness, and it is particularly defined by his set-apartness from sin.
But what about the holiness to which we are called? It can’t be the same as the holiness of God, can it? It’s obvious that we are not holy like God and it’s difficult to even imagine how we might possibly become holy like him. Peter (and Paul and the author of Hebrews, indeed God himself) must be calling us to a different type of holiness, right?
Grace, it is important, indeed crucial, to recognize that we are called to the same holiness. We are not called to a different kind of holiness. That is why Peter writes in v.15, “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.'”
The kind of holiness to which we are called, indeed commanded to pursue and attain, is rooted in the holiness of God. The holiness that Peter expects of God’s people is as God’s holiness. We too, then, are to be holy by being set apart and pure.
Woah! This emphatically brings us back to the second question, then, doesn’t it: how do we become holy? Or, where does this holiness come from, because it certainly doesn’t seem to be in us now?
The Holiness of God’s People.
There are two parts to the bible’s answer to this question (to the question of how we become holy). (1) There is, believe it or not, a sense in which Christians, by the very nature of being Christian, are already holy (set apart), and (2) there is a sense in which Christians, by the very nature of being Christian, are becoming holy (pure).
It is in the second sense—which we’ll get to in a minute—that Peter is commanding his readers to be holy; but to understand it, we must first understand the way in which we are already holy. In other words, if we are ever to successfully obey Peter’s charge to become holy, we must first understand that we already are holy.
At conversion—the moment we first trust in Jesus as our lord and savior—we are made (declared) to be holy in that we are immediately set apart by God. God alone is intrinsically holy—holy in himself. If anything (or anyone) else is to become holy, then, it must be because the Holy One has set it apart. And God has done just that. Throughout the bible we read of God setting many things apart for his glory: buildings and objects and land and food and days and rooms, for instance. These otherwise ordinary things were made holy by God. He chose them to set them apart.
Grace, the gospel of Jesus Christ emphatically states that far more than buildings and objects and land and food and days and rooms God has chosen a people to make holy.
This is what Peter means in the next chapter when he writes of Christians, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). He does not say that they will be one day. He boldly declares that they are. They are holy. They are set apart.
This is what Paul means when he refers to Christians as “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12). Again, Christians are already chosen, already beloved, and already holy in this sense.
And this is what the NT authors mean when they refer to Christians as saints (literally, holy ones)—not that Christians are already morally pure, but that Christians have already been set apart by God. We are set apart as his loved ones, as his children, as the objects of his mercy, as his representatives in this world, as those who will receive his inheritance and blessing and favor.
How do we become holy in the first sense, then? Christians are made holy by God through uniting us with Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, in this first sense, Christians are already holy as God is holy in that we are already wholly set apart by God.
What about the second sense? How, then, do God’s set-apart-ones, his saints, his holy ones, become pure as he is pure? That’s next week. I want to wrap up this morning with three crucial points on Peter’s charge to the Church to become holy as God is holy in purity.
First, we must see the connection between the two aspects of our holiness: Christians are made holy by God (as we just saw) to be holy. We are already set apart in order to become pure.
It is only because we are already holy (set apart for God’s special purposes), then, that we have any hope of becoming holy (pure). It is because Christ’s work on the cross made God’s people holy (set apart) that Peter charges God’s people to be holy (morally pure).
Second, we need to understand that becoming pure, like becoming set apart, is ultimately the work of God. God sets his people apart and God makes his people pure. However, as is generally the case, God has chosen to use certain means to accomplish his work. Next week we’ll look at a number of those means. Here, thought, I want to make clear that our purity is ultimately because God is committed to working it into us.
And third, because our moral purity is ultimately accomplished by God, it is certain for all who are in Christ. For everyone who has been set apart by God, moral purity is guaranteed. Find rest in that, Grace. He who began a good work in you (by setting you apart) will see it through to completion (by making you pure).
Some days fighting for holiness can feel like a futile battle. But we must never forget that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). What is impossible for us is made possible in Jesus.
Jesus died to take away our sins, but also to guarantee our sanctification. The Father has set us apart as a bride for his Son, and so he will make us into a pure and spotless one.
God is holy in that he is set apart and sinless/pure. Peter charges his readers to be holy as God is holy. God’s people become holy only by the work of Christ. That is, Peter commands the people of God to be morally pure because they are already set apart. What an amazing plan of God. What amazing hope. What amazing grace. What an amazing cross.
Our charge is holiness and our hope is the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Our holiness—our ability to obey Peter’s command—rests above all on the Father’s acceptance of Christ’s righteousness on behalf of all who would trust in him. Trust in him today. Place your faith in Christ alone and find this grace, this holiness.
And so we end where we began. Holiness is not like camping. It is not an optional way of hitting that next level of Christianity. It is at the heart of Christianity. It is what we were saved for. That this is possible for us to be holy as God is holy, is the good news of Christianity. Amen.