As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."
For twelve verses Peter gave no commands and no admonitions and no exhortations. He just celebrated and blessed the God who elects and regenerates and refines and preserves. Then in verse 13 we saw last week the first commandment of the Christian life: "Hope fully in the grace of God." Keep yourself mentally fit and morally sober to fight the fight of hope.
So hope is first. Today we see the second command: be holy (vv. 15, 16). Now we have two commands: Be hopeful in the grace of God; and be holy like the holiness of God. You can see that both of these commands call for a thoroughgoing orientation of life on God.
- Be a hope-filled person, and let the hope that you are filled with be hope in God.
- Be a holy person, and let the holiness that you have be like the holiness of God.
So when you are hoping, you are God-centered, and when you are holy, you are God-centered. The grace of God is the source of your hope and the holiness of God is the standard of your holiness.
Christian Living Is Permeated by God
Sometimes when we wrestle with biblical realities like holiness and hope we miss the forest for the trees. The forest is this: Christian living is living permeated by God.
- God in the morning,
- God in the midday,
- God in the evening.
- God as motive,
- God as guide,
- God as moral standard,
- God as comfort,
- God as strength,
- God as truth,
- God as joy.
What emerges from 1 Peter and the whole New Testament is that the Christian life is a life lived in God.
- Ever aware of God.
- Ever submitted to God.
- Ever trusting God.
- Ever guided by God.
- Ever hoping in God.
What amazes me again and again today—and defines my life and ministry—is that when I look into contemporary American cultural life, the most awesome, stunning, frightening reality is the thoroughgoing insignificance of God. And when I look into the New Testament, the most awesome, stunning, frightening thing is that God is everything (1 Corinthians 3:7).
Tell Israel to Remember Their Maker
Sometimes in a season of weakness I am so numbed by the normal insignificance of God in contemporary life that I don't feel the magnitude of the evil and the danger I am a part of. Then God speaks me in some pointed way as he did last Thursday.
I take Thursdays off and so I can just read in bed if I want. So I was reading in the prophet Hosea and came on these words (8:9): "Israel has forgotten his Maker, and built palaces." Sometimes I might just read right over that. But not Thursday. Thursday God spoke powerfully. And I laid down the Bible and closed my eyes and felt again the ever-recurrent call on my life: Tell Israel to remember their Maker; and warn them about their palaces. Preach it on Sunday; teach it on Wednesday; put it in poems; write it in books; take it to conferences; live it before your family and staff and elders. The main thing to think about and feel about and act about in the world is God. Being caught up with anything more than God is idolatry.
Well there goes over a third of my sermon time! But that's where my heart was when I read these verses. Verse 16: "You shall be holy for I am holy." Verse 15: "Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your conduct."
God Is the Standard of Holiness
First, be hopeful in God (v. 21). Now be holy like God. God is the source of hope. God is the standard of holiness.
Now what does that mean?
The Meaning of Holiness
Holiness has the root idea in the Old Testament (quoted here) of being separated from what is defective and evil and separated for God. So the Sabbath is holy to the Lord: separated from the pursuits of other days and dedicated to the Lord (Exodus 31:15). Priests are holy to the Lord, set apart from ordinary pursuits and dedicated in a special way to the Lord (2 Chronicles 23:6). And things could be holy by setting them apart from ordinary use and dedicating them to God.
How God Is Holy
When you apply that definition of holiness to God himself, something interesting happens. God is holy in that he is set apart from all that is evil and defective and impure. That's the first half of the definition. He is absolutely free from any taint of evil or deficiency.
But the other half of the definition is that God's holiness is his set-apartness for God. Now we have to be careful here lest we wipe out all the biblical distinctions between the holiness of God and the glory of God and the righteousness of God. Let me try to give a simplified picture of the relationship between these three for you to test as you read the Scriptures.
God's Holiness, Glory, and Righteousness
The holiness of God is the most fundamental reality of all. It refers to the reality that God is utterly unique and in a class by himself—that's his set-apartness—none compares with him. There is no other Creator, no other sustainer, no other final measure of good and evil. "There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed, there is no one besides thee, nor is there any rock like our God" (1 Samuel 2:2). He is utterly set apart in a class by himself, unequaled, unrivaled, totally underived, absolute in his being and perfection, without beginning or ending or improvement. In a word his holiness is the supremacy of his infinite worth among all that is.
The glory of God is the radiance or the outward expression of that perfection and value. As you might say that light is the glory of the sun, and fire is its holiness. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:3).
And the righteousness of God is his faithfulness or commitment to act always in accord with the beauty of his glory and the value of his holiness. His righteousness is his allegiance to uphold and magnify the glory and the holiness of himself (cf. Psalm 143:11). If God were ever to act as if his glory were not the supreme value in the universe, he would be unrighteous. His action would be untrue.
How Should God's Holiness Impact Our Lives?
Now the New Testament tells us as believers in Jesus to build our lives on the righteousness of God and the glory of God. But in this context Peter focuses on the holiness of God. So we want to ask, How does the holiness of God make its proper impact on our lives?
Peter quotes God in verse 16, "Be holy, for I am holy." Does that mean be utterly unique in the universe the way I am? Probably not. What then?
The key is found in comparing verse 14 and verse 15. Verse 14 tells us what the opposite of being holy is in contrast to the command to be holy in verse 15. Verse 14: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior."
I see five steps in the way God brings his holiness to expression in the lives of believers.
1. God Calls Us
First, God calls us—verse 15: "Like the Holy One who called you." This is virtually the same as God's giving new birth back in verse 3: "He caused you to be born again to a living hope." Paul said, "Those whom God foreknew he predestined . . . and those whom he called he justified" (Romans 8:29–30). This call is the effect of God's life-giving word that brings us out of rebellion into the submissive attitude of faith.
2. We Become the Children of God
Second, the effect of this call or this new birth is that we become the children of God. Verse 14: "As obedient children." This is crucial because this shows that something really changed inside of us when God called us, namely, the Spirit of God came in. Paul says, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God these are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14). So the Holy Spirit enters us and begins to work the holiness of God in our lives. But how?
3. We See Things Differently
Third, being called and made children of God we no longer see things in ignorance the way we once did. We see things differently. Verse 14: "Do not be conformed to your former lusts [desires] which were yours in ignorance." Now that we are called, born of God and children of God, we are not blinded by what Paul calls "deceitful desires." They don't deceive any more. We see through them. We are not foolish anymore like a little child that takes a nickel instead of a dime because it's bigger.
Now we know better. But know what better? Mainly God. We know the holiness of God. We don't assess human reality as superior to God in value. We are not ignorant of God's infinite worth (1 Thessalonians 4:5). Once we were blind to the value of God. We turned away from the fountain of life and tried to hew out cisterns for ourselves that could hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13). Now, by God's Spirit, that foolishness and ignorance is gone, and we are beginning to assess things for what they really are. Now we see that the holiness of God is the supreme value in the universe.
4. We Put Away Old Desires and Experience New Ones
Fourth, the replacing of our former ignorance with truth about God leads to putting away old desires and experiencing new ones. Verse 14: "Do not be conformed to the former lusts [that is, "desires," it's a neutral word] which were yours in your ignorance." When we assessed God wrongly, we had deceitful desires. But now Peter calls them "former" desires. They are fading into the past. As much as we might have to fight them back with truth, they are not the defining power in our lives anymore. They are "former." They are not us.
5. We Obey God
Finally, these new desires and the dethroning of the old ones lead to obedience to God and non-conformity to the world. Verse 14: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former desires."
When these five steps happen, then we begin, as verse 15 says, to be holy in all our behavior. So my answer to the question how the holiness of God comes to expression in our lives goes like this:
- The holy God calls us powerfully to himself;
- he gives us his Holy Spirit to bear witness that we are his children;
- he opens our eyes to overcome our ignorance about the suicidal nature of desires that wage war against the soul (2:11) and enables us to assess the supremacy of his worth, his holiness, properly;
- the upshot of new apprehensions of truth and value is a whole new field of desires: the former ones begin to die as foolish and suicidal; the new ones grow with increasing realization of the worth of God's holiness;
- and so in all our behavior the holiness of God becomes the dominating, all-shaping reality of life.
So I exhort you with the apostle Peter: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior."