February 21, 2010

“Be Holy, for I Am Holy”: 1 Peter 1:13-22

The principles of living to which our secular culture holds are not Christian. In fact, we have often heard the proverbial libertarian adage: “As long as I do not hurt anyone, anything I do is okay.”

Contrary to our secular culture, however, Christians look to God not only as the source of absolute truth, but also in how to live. So for us, the big question is: “How does God expect me to live in this world?”

We are in a world with temptations, trials, flesh, and Satan, the prince of the world. The Bible tells us it is God’s will that we live in such a way that brings God glory, separated from the values and objectives of the world. In church history, the issue has been dealt with several ways:

From the early centuries in church history, monasticism became popular as a way to be separate from the world and its temptations. Monks, or “holy men,” separated themselves from the world and lived alone or in cloisters, attempting to become entirely separate from the world’s temptations and trials. A few centuries later, the church sought to tame the world with wealth, political, even military might. Beginning early 4th century, countries were “Christian” or “pagan” depending on political affiliations with the church. Being Christian was no longer regarded as having made Jesus Savior and Lord, but in the “Christian” states, the church enforced moral behavior codes, commitment to the church and its increasingly elaborate ceremonies and post-firs century traditions.

Then in what we know as the middle ages, the protestant reformation began with Martin Luther’s protests against the church’s increasingly secular practices and excesses. The movement did not just protest against the church’s institutional and political excesses, however. Rather, the protestants saw that Christianity was a relationship, not a political institution or affiliation. The protestants held that, rather than allegiance to the church, God wants us to know Him personally, to do His will, and live holy lives, separated from sin.

Today, we find all kinds of ways different parts of the church deal with the issue of living to bring glory to God. One of those is what I would label extreme intolerance—formulating extensive lists of rules and behavioral expectations, a practice which denies the validity of any doctrine other than its own, instills a “nobody saved but I” attitude, and so often leads to hating not only sin, but the sinner as well.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is what I would call extreme tolerance, in which almost any creed or lifestyle is acceptable. This is the heart of the full ecumenical idea, in that all religious doctrines are seen as equally valid. Related to this is what I would label as extreme conformity with culture. Some religious groups today, with roots in early American protestantism) promote the idea that all creeds and all religious beliefs contain truth, and these groups tend to hold to the position that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues, such as the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife. In other words, there is no objective spiritual truth.

In thinking through the message for today, I remembered the prayer Jesus prayed in John 17:14-16, a prayer in which He was talking about His disciples (including us): “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

From these words of Jesus, we know that God’s will is not that we physically separate completely from the world, or that we seek to impose Christian behaviors on the world, or that the church become a worldly political or military power. His will is that we recognize we are already spiritually separated from the world, but that we remain in the world. Jesus doesn’t ask His Father to isolate his disciples from the world, but to insulate them from the influence of the evil one. He has left us in the world on purpose for His purpose—to be His witnesses, His only witnesses, to tell people of His love and offer of redemption; to be the living demonstrations of His love and grace.

In the light of this, the question comes to mind: Just exactly how is the Christian supposed to live his or her life in this crooked and perverse world?

To answer that question, we look to today’s passage:

3 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.
—1 Peter 1:13-22

As we begin, notice two aspects of Peter’s message. First, this passage begins with the conjunction “therefore.” Peter is not going to give us just a list of good ideas to consider, but a conclusion based on what he has written in the preceding paragraph—that we have an eternal inheritance and that our hope in Christ is certain. Second, in light of this, he gives us four things we are to do as Christians living in the world.

Rest your hope fully on God’s grace (13)

“Gird up the loins of your mind” means “to prepare oneself for something requiring strength and endurance; ready oneself for action.” The picture here is one of an army of soldiers at the edge of the battlefield, when he prepares for battle by first tucking loose clothing under his belt before battle in order to have freedom of movement. In other words, we are to prepare our minds for action: be self-controlled; set our hope fully on the grace to be given us when Christ is revealed.

This message is simple. God wants us to live our lives in the context of the return of Christ. Doing so gives us peace and confidence in a shaky insecure world: our faith is looking toward the future, our decisions are governed by this hope. God calls us to have disciplined minds in the face of all the temptations, trials, and pressures we face in the world. Instead of focusing on the world around us in finding truth, we are to focus on the reality of Christ’s return; to refuse to be drawn by the world’s values and goals.

Peter isn’t talking about an attitude or a theology; it’s our way of life in light of our the absolute truth of the future He promises us.

Be holy (15)

The second product of our hope is holiness.

What do we usually think of when you hear the word holiness? Holiness is “conformity to the character of God,” as the text says, “Be holy, because I am holy.” In the character of God, we see everything we can be to live a full life reflecting God’s own character in our lives and relationships: love, compassion, grace, justice, strength, courage, mercy, self-control, power. That is what holiness is—being like God, being separated from sin. That is what God has called us to be.

At its very root, holiness means to be set apart in some special and exclusive way—set apart from the world—not physically, but by what we know to be true and how we think and live as the result of that. This is the way God wants us to deal with the world; for example, to begin each morning with the prayer, “Lord, I set apart my mind for your today. I set apart my passions. I set apart my eyes. I set apart my ears. I set apart my motives. I set apart my discipline. Today I set apart every part of my body, mind and spirit to Your will.”

Conduct yourself throughout the time of your stay here in fear (17)

We do not hear a lot about the fear of God in our churches today. For many of us, it conjures images of a fire and brimstone, a picture from the judgment given to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the people’s moral sins. But the biblical concept of “fear of the Lord,” to which Peter is referring, is not merely a feeling of terror, but an attitude of absolute reverence, complete respect, and submission to authority. The concepts of fear (of disobeying a master or lord) and reverence (submission to the mater’s or lord’s authority) were intertwined in this culture in Jesus' time.

There are two facts which produce a lifestyle of reverential fear. First is that God is a judge. He is not a pushover. He is a judge. The judgment Peter is referring to is the judgment seat of Christ. He is not referring to our salvation, which has been once and for all time given to us by God’s grace and not our merit. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul addresses this by reminding us that as believers we will stand before God and give an account of our faithfulness to him while on earth. We are eternally bonded to Him, but will be rewarded according to our faithfulness and obedience.

The NIV gives a slightly different perspective on verse 17. The NIV says, “Live your lives as strangers in reverent fear.” That is a good translation. The point Peter is making with this language is that what we see and experience around us (i.e., the world) is not our home; not our permanent state of being. We are merely strangers here, foreigners, aliens, and ambassadors (representatives) for our Lord. All we physically sense around us and the values and objectives of the world are temporary; we are just visitors passing through.

Another aspect of Peter’s message is that it is not just fear of judgment that must motivate us, but total respect and reverence for who God is and what He expects of us. This is not the fear of judgment; it is knowing the disappointment we feel when we do not live as we know God wants. I can look back to my teenage years for an example of what Peter is telling us. Like all of you, when I was a teenager, I was not an angel. But there were some things I did not do just out of respect for my parents, not merely because I feared punishment, but that, knowing their values, I feared that I might disappoint them. That is the kind of fear Peter refers to.

The point is, because I address God as Father, then I want to conduct my life in a way that reflects my respect for who He is, what He represents, and what He expects. That is what it means to walk in godly fear. My concern is not what is He going to do to me, but what am I doing to him?

Love one another (22)

Finally, we are summoned to love. And not just to love each other, but to love each other fervently. The word Peter uses indicates unconditional love (agape). It is a love which does not hesitate to love the unlovely. Because we are unlovely ourselves and experience God’s love for us, we also can love with a kind of love that has God as its source. In other words, God’s will for us is that we demonstrate the unconditional He showed to us by unconditionally loving each other. This is a change that Jesus and the indwelling Holy Spirit bring into our lives as believers, a love that is virtually impossible to see outside the Christian faith. It is the kind of love the Amish community in Pennsylvania showed to the family of the man who walked into one of their schools and shot several children to death several years ago. They prayed for him and His family. They offered their help to his wife and children. That’s the kind of demonstration of unconditional love of which a Christian is capable.

If we allow the love of God to do its work in us, we experience a redirection of our thoughts toward others. We do not have to “try” to love. We can respond to people in need, reach out to them regardless of their unloveliness, knowing that the love of God is the foundation of our feelings for each other.

These four things are the outgrowth of our salvation: we rest our hope fully on God’s grace, we strive to be holy in every way, we conduct ourselves in referential fear and respect for God, and we love each other unconditionally.