The societal earthquakes of the last year, like all the trials we inevitably experience, expose our hold (or lack thereof) on ultimate reality. They reveal whether disciples of Jesus will trust and pursue Jesus even when life is not neat and undisturbed. And as the ground under our feet is still trembling, we need to ask: Does anything still feel real and sure?
God calls those who remain steadfastly, relentlessly awake to reality “sober-minded” (1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; 5:8). When we hear sober-minded, we might hear “lucid,” “coherent,” “somber,” “grave,” or even simply, “not drunk.” Sober-mindedness in Scripture, however, is something far more compelling.
The sober-minded are not lukewarm, unimaginative, downcast, uninspiring. They are serious about serious things — about God, about sin, about holiness, about joy. But they’re also humble and self-aware enough to not take themselves too seriously — to admit when they’re wrong, to focus on the needs and interests of others, to ask for help and learn from the wise, to regularly smile and laugh.
Because they are so strangely humble, stable, and Godward, the sober-minded stand out and inspire confidence, especially in societies on fire.
How to Become Sober-minded
So, what does God say sober-mindedness is, and how does he tell us to cultivate it? Where does it come from?
“The sober-minded are serious about serious things — about God, about sin, about holiness, about joy.”
Sober-mindedness comes, it seems, not from focusing on sober-mindedness, but from regularly meditating on ultimate, all-important realities, and prayerfully striving to align our lives with them. To think and feel, act and speak, work and spend, love and serve, as if all that God is and says is true.
The apostle Peter mentions sober-mindedness three times (1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; 5:8), and all three are driving, in different ways, to that awareness of and awakeness to spiritual reality. He is pleading with tempted and tried believers not to be lulled into shallow, shortsighted, earthly ways of thinking and living. And those temptations are as real and powerful today as they were then. So, what realities was he reviving in their imaginations? What spiritual realities are we tempted to neglect or ignore?
We Were Bought with Blood
Few truths sober a soul like meditating on the broken, bloody body of Jesus on the cross. As Peter calls for sober-mindedness, he writes,
Preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, . . . conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:13, 17–19)
How often does this eternity-altering reality drift from our imaginations? We were not bought with the wealth of nations, but with the wounds of love. The just, holy, innocent Son of God bore our griefs, carried our sorrows, and was crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4–5).
The Son of God really came in the flesh, really grew and lived sinlessly for three decades, really suffered unjustly under sinful men, really was condemned, tortured, and executed — all to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). The thorns in his head and nails in his flesh were driven into the deepest recesses of reality, promising life and healing to all who are found in him — and swearing awful, never-ending judgment on all who oppose him. All things will one day be tied together by and for the slaughtered and risen Lamb (Revelation 5:12; 13:8; Ephesians 1:10).
Do our lives bear the weight and hope of this reality: the Son of God was slain for us?
Our Enemy Devours Souls
The sober-minded also know that they live opposed, disrupted, hunted lives. They know they walk with Christ through a minefield of affliction and temptation. They know that their relationships can be the playgrounds of demons. They know their ministry shakes the foundations of hell — and awakens its fury. They have heeded the counsel, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). How watchful are we?
Many of us would be far more sober-minded if we took Satan more seriously — if we lived as if the whole earth still lies under his cruel and seductive sway (1 John 5:19), as if he really commands vast armies of spiritual darkness (Ephesians 6:12–13) as the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). We cannot afford to underestimate or ignore him. To face reality, as a follower of Jesus, is to face the devil in battle each and every day.
Judgment Will Come
The sober-minded treat today as if the end will one day come — and soon. “The end of all things is at hand,” Peter writes, “therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7). This sobering thread weaves through all three passages in Peter (1 Peter 1:17; 5:10): when Christ returns — and he will return — judgment will fall.
“The sober-minded know that, whatever storms and valleys may come, they are not alone and they are not unloved.”
Far too many of us live today as if today were not leading to eternity. We live out our stories as if someone had not already told us how it will end — how our earthly lives will end, how our nations and governments will end, how the earth itself will end. God is coming to judge, and no one will escape his gavel. We will either be judged in Christ and welcomed into paradise, or be judged apart from Christ and cast into the lake of fire. If you want to cultivate sober-mindedness today, spend less time (not no time) engulfed in the tasks and worries of today and more time thinking about that awful and glorious day to come.
Grace Will Overcome
Sober-mindedness, however, is not only an awakeness to the horrors of the cross, or the certainty of hell, or the wrath of judgment, but also to the soaring realities of life in Christ. “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” (1 Peter 1:13). The sober-minded are not sour or somber. They have set their hope fully — without hesitation or reservation — on the grace they will experience in the presence of Jesus.
Fascination with grace separates the sober-minded from the morose and cynical. Christians are not known for hopeless skepticism about sin and sorrow in the world. We do not grieve, suffer, or endure as those without hope. We grapple with reality, confront wickedness, weep with the weeping, and slay our own sin, all with surprising joy.
Why? “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). No matter what hardships we face for now, grace has promised us full and forever satisfaction with Jesus. And that experience of grace, the foretastes of that unrivaled pleasure, make the sober-minded unexpectedly warm, winsome, and patient.
The Father Cares for Us
Grace secures our never-ending, ever-increasing joy by bringing us into the family of God. Even when Peter warns about judgment, he says,
If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. (1 Peter 1:17)
The sober-minded know that, whatever storms and valleys may come, they are not alone and they are not unloved. Whatever they suffer or endure, they suffer and endure as children of a good and sovereign Father. That is a sobering, and breathtaking, thought.
Later in the letter, Peter again calls believers to sober-mindedness, but not before encouraging them: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded . . .” (1 Peter 5:6–8). Our sober-mindedness is bathed in the love of a God who cares for us.
Yes, we’re awake to the harsher realities of life in a fallen world, but not without also being awake to the glories of having the boundless, attentive, burden-bearing heart of heaven. As realistic as we are about hardship, adversity, and spiritual warfare, we are all the more confident in the loving and unstoppable promises of our Father.
Loving One Another Is Hard
Relationships are where sober-mindedness, like every other virtue, really reveals and proves its worth. We will not know how sober-minded we are until our hearts rub against the fears, weaknesses, and sins of others. Will we be prepared to suffer, forgive, and forbear as all love requires?
“The call to sober-mindedness is a warning against spiritual sleepiness and laziness.”
“Be self-controlled and sober-minded,” Peter writes. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:7–8). Again, he gives us a world of sobriety in just a few short words. If we seek to love one another well, we will encounter not just the occasional sin, but a multitude of sins. When we are hurt again and again, we will lose heart and hold back (which is why he says to love earnestly). And we will be tempted to give up and walk away (which is why he says to keep loving).
The sober-minded recognize and embrace the costs along the path of love. They expect to be disappointed, offended, and betrayed — and they keep loving anyway. They keep showing hospitality, even when it’s inconvenient (1 Peter 4:9). They keep speaking the truth in love, even when it would be easier to say nothing (1 Peter 4:11). They keep serving, even when it costs them far more than they receive (1 Peter 4:11).
In the end, the call to sober-mindedness is a warning against spiritual sleepiness and laziness. “Let us not sleep, as others do,” the apostle Paul warns, “but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). Sober-mindedness is awakeness to spiritual reality — to the bloody victory of the cross, to the murderous schemes of our enemy, to the unavoidable judgment, to the challenges of love and certainty of suffering, to the sovereign care of our Father and his ceaseless waves of mercy and grace. How real do those realities feel to you?
“Be on guard, keep awake,” Jesus himself says, “for you do not know when [the end] will come. . . . Therefore stay awake. . . . And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake” (Mark 13:33–37). We must recognize our proneness to tire and slumber, to lose sight of ultimate, all-important realities, and to instead fix our eyes all the more on what is real — to stay awake. That is, we must learn to be sober-minded.