Hope and Holiness are Health for the Heart2
“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. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1.13-16).
God wants to transform your life! He wants to change your relationship with him from one of enmity and alienation into one of love and reconciliation. He wants to change the way you think . . . the way you feel . . . the way you desire . . . the way you choose . . . . He wants to change how you act and how you speak and what you enjoy and what you despise. He wants to transform how you live and how you work and how you love.
If you are happy and pleased with where you are in life, if you are content with the condition of your soul and the state of your mind and the impulses in your heart, you aren’t going to like what Peter has to say in this passage.
God is all about transforming lives. He delights in transforming those with addictions into people who know the depths of freedom. He rejoices in transforming those in bondage into people who walk in liberty. He is passionate about changing self-centered souls into God-centered ones. He loves to turn broken marriages into relationships of intimacy and trust. He desires to take wounded people and heal them, guilty people and forgive them. He loves to take cynical people and infuse them with faith. He delights in taking depressed people and giving them hope.
God is all about changing us.
But he never brings about change for change’s sake. Mere change, as an end in itself, is of no use to anyone. God wants to change us to be like himself!
Did you see what Peter said in vv. 15-16? “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
Just think a moment about the way the word “holy” is used. We say holy Moses, holy cow, holy mackerel, holy Toledo, holy smoke, and holy roller, just to mention a few. It should come as no surprise to us that people are singularly unimpressed when the Bible talks about God as being holy and the importance of our becoming like him.
So, needless to say, we need to do so some serious work in carefully defining and describing what holiness is all about. Unfortunately, Christians have contributed to this terrible reputation that “holiness” now has.
The so-called “holiness” of the church has not always been what we would call a grace-empowered desire or passion to be like Jesus. It all too often degenerated into a hideous form of legalism in which one's maturity was measured by the number of activities from which one abstained. I remember reading about the National Holiness Movement that emerged in the latter half of the 19th century. I’m not sure it was very national in scope and I’m even less convinced that it had much to do with true biblical holiness. Their concept of a Christian was a person who avoided the theater, ball games, playing cards, dancing, lipstick, tobacco, alcohol, all forms of female makeup, the curling or coloring of one's hair, neckties for men, Coca Cola, chewing gum, rings, bracelets, or any form of worldly “ornamentation,” etc. One was prohibited from attending a county fair, lodge meetings, or being involved in political parties or labor unions. Life insurance was seen as a lack of faith in God and medicine was generally viewed as poison.
Wow, that makes me want to join up immediately!
So, yes, God is all about changing our lives, but not like that.
In the first 12 verses of 1 Peter 1 there isn’t a single command: no imperatives, no admonitions, no exhortations. The first 12 verses, which in the Greek text is actually one extremely long sentence, there is nothing but glorious affirmations and declarations of the saving grace of God in Christ to you and me. Nowhere in these 12 verses does Peter tell us what to do. He focuses exclusively on what God has done. But that’s about to change!
Here in vv. 13-16 Peter turns his attention to the moral and ethical responsibilities that we must embrace as the children of God. But be absolutely certain that you get the order straight.
The call to obedience and holiness is rooted in the realities of grace! It is because we are God’s chosen pilgrims and because we have been born again and because we have been given an incorruptible inheritance and because our salvation is so great and glorious that we are now called on to obey. Don’t ever reverse the order! The imperative is always based on the indicative. To get them backwards is to fall into legalism and works righteousness.
There is critically important truth wrapped up in that little word “therefore” with which v. 13 begins. This word tells us that all of Peter’s exhortations that are soon forthcoming depend on the grace that he has been expounding in vv. 1-12.
I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important it is for us to understand the flow of Peter’s argument:
Since God has elected you according to his foreknowledge (v. 1), and Since God in his great mercy has caused you to be born again (v. 3), and Since God has given you a living hope (v. 3), and Since God has bequeathed to you an incorruptible inheritance (v. 4), and Since God is guarding you by his power through faith (v. 5), and Since God is refining your faith by the fires of suffering (vv. 6-7), and Since God enables you to rejoice with joy inexpressible (v. 8), and Since God has provided you with such a glorious salvation that both prophets and angels stand on tiptoe, as it were, to see this marvelous work of grace . . .
Therefore, fix your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you . . . Therefore, do not be conformed to your former way of life . . . Therefore, be holy as God is holy!
If you don’t understand this sequence you may well end up in some form of religious experience, but it won’t be biblical Christianity!
Christianity is, first, God graciously, sovereignly acting to save his people; and, second, men and women hoping fully in that grace and seeking to live like the God who saved them. That's the essence of Christianity. The commandment “Do!” is always based upon a divine “Done!”
There are two basic exhortations in this passage. The first is a call to hope and the second a call to holiness.
(1) The Call to Hope
He exhorts his readers to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). This is a commanded obsession. Fixate fully! Rivet your soul on the grace that you will receive when Christ returns. Tolerate no distractions. Entertain no diversions. Don’t let your mind be swayed. Devote every ounce of mental and spiritual and emotional energy to concentrating and contemplating on the grace that is to come. Don’t settle for half hoping or moderate hope or measured hope or tempered hope or constrained hope or anything less than wholehearted and happy hope in the grace that is to come. What grace is that? It is the grace of the heavenly inheritance described in vv. 3-6!
Clearly, thinking about the grace and glory of heaven is profoundly practical! It is life-changing. It does not exempt a person from earthly responsibilities. It empowers a person to fulfill them! Many say that people are so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good. In some cases that may be true. But for Peter you will never be of any earthly good until you are thoroughly and completely heavenly minded!
Peter is not telling us to fly off into some ethereal dream world in which eschatological speculation renders us useless in this life. He does not recommend that we dull the pain of life on earth by flights of heavenly fancy. One does not fixate fully on the grace that is to come by sitting in the lotus position while putting your brain in neutral, only to drift off into some passive and ill-defined meditative state.
No! Peter is very clear and to the point as to how we are to set our hope fully on the grace that is to come. You do it by “preparing your minds for action” and by “being sober-minded” (v. 13). Let’s look at each of these in turn.
First, literally, “gird the loins of your mind”!
In ancient times men wore loose fitting, free flowing garments which, although graceful and dignified in appearance, were a hindrance to rigorous activity. They weren’t suited for strenuous exercise or running or working. Thus it was often necessary to gather up one’s garment and tuck it into the best so as to leave the legs free to move. Read 1 Kings 18:46. It is equivalent to our “roll up your sleeves”! Cf. Exodus 12:11; Luke 12:35-36.
Note that the realm or focus of this action is the “mind”! You can’t obey Peter’s command without thinking! You concentrate on the glory and grace of heaven by devoting all your mental energies to what God has in store for you and what it will be like to see Jesus and how it will feel to be free from sin and evil and corruption.
But we still need to ask the question: What is the mind supposed to be doing so actively that it produces hope? It is to be fixed on Truth! Hope happens when our minds are girded up with truth, and active in truth, and fill and inundated with truth. Note Ephesians 6:14 - "Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth." Girding up the mind in truth and letting it be active in truth is the way in which you sustain your heart in full hope in God's grace.
So Peter is telling us to engage the mind with truth for the sake of building up hope in your heart. And that truth is most clearly and comprehensively given to us in Scripture. Devote yourself to the truth of Scripture. Work with the truth of Scripture. Live in the light of the truth of Scripture. "Whatever was written in former times was written for our instruction, that by the steadfastness and encouragement of the scriptures we might have HOPE" (Romans 15:4).
Second, you do this by “being sober-minded.”
When used literally this word referred to the avoidance of drunkenness. Here it is used metaphorically, but with the notion of the intoxicating effects of alcohol very much in the forefront of his point. It means mental alertness and self-control and disciplined attention.
We are to shun the intoxicating effects of this world. Avoid the mental and spiritual intoxication that blurs your vision of the beauty of Christ. It means, if you really want to obey the command to hope fully in God's grace, don't let your mind drink in things that numb or anesthetize the mind (and heart) to the value and glory of God's grace. What does physical drunkenness do? It distorts reality by making the mind insensitive to what is true and real and valuable.
You know what it is in your life that distorts and warps and leads to spiritual disorientation. You know what leads to spiritual drunkenness and blurs your vision of the splendor of the grace that is to come. For some it is money, for others the ambition associated with a career, for most it is the mind-numbing, soul-dulling, spirit-anesthetizing effects of TV. For others it is video games and computers and whatever trivialities in life detract from a single-minded focus on Jesus.
(2) The Call to Holiness
This call to holiness has two sides, one negative and one positive.
Negatively, we are not to be conformed “to the passions of your former ignorance” (v. 14). Positively, we are to “be holy as God is holy” (vv. 15-16).
First, “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (v. 14).
Notice that your former way of life, before you became a follower of Jesus, was governed by your “ignorance”, your lack of knowledge. This ignorance is what gave rise to all the lusts and sinful desires and habits that kept you in bondage.
Ignorance of what? Of God, undoubtedly! We couldn’t see his beauty, so we settled for all the ugly things of this world that we thought were attractive. We couldn’t appreciate his infinite value and worth, so we turned for satisfaction and happiness to the trinkets and temptations of this life. When God brought an indictment against the people of Israel, he said “they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).
But now, by God's sovereign and saving grace, that ignorance is gone, and we are beginning to see and evaluate and assess things for what they really are. Now we see that the holiness of God is the supreme value in the universe.
Peter says this ignorance and the passions it produced are “former” but you may be saying, “Sam, they are very real and very much present today and I’m still struggling with them.” He knows that. But by God’s grace they are fading, even if at times you don’t sense it. And the way you cause them to fade even faster is by setting your hope fully on the grace that is coming!
Second, be holy as God himself is holy (vv. 15-16).
Now that’s a tall order! Let’s think about it for a moment.
First of all, what does it mean to say that God is holy? Most people think of morality or righteousness or goodness, and that is certainly true. To be holy is to be characterized by purity and blamelessness and integrity, both in terms of one's essence and one's activity. In this sense, God's holiness and his righteousness are somewhat synonymous. He is described in the OT as “too pure to behold evil” and intolerant of evil (Hab. 1:12-13). But this is only a secondary way in which God is said to be holy. We need to understand the primary thrust of the word.
The root meaning of the Hebrew noun "holiness" (qodes) and the adjective "holy" (qados) comes from a word that means "to cut" or "to separate". The Greek equivalent is hagios and its derivatives. The point is that God is separate from everyone and everything else. He alone is Creator. He is altogether and wholly other, both in his character and his deeds. He is transcendently different from and greater than all his creatures in every conceivable respect. To put it in common terms, "God is in a class all by himself."
We often speak of something that is outstanding or has superior excellence as being "a cut above" the rest. That is what God is, to an infinite degree. Holiness, then, is not primarily a reference to moral or ethical purity. It is a reference to transcendent and unparalleled beauty!
Holiness, then, is that in virtue of which God alone is God alone. Holiness is moral majesty.
But wait a minute. When Peter then says that we are to be holy as God himself is holy, does he mean to say that we are to strive to be utterly unique in the universe, without rival or parallel? Is Peter calling us to aspire to be transcendently beautiful and altogether in another class? Obviously not! Well, 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. "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”
God’s transcendent otherness results in him being altogether separate from what is defiling and destructive and ugly and evil. In our case, it means being altogether separate from those sinful “passions” that characterized our lives before we came to know Christ. It means distancing ourselves from the lifestyle that used to dominate our existence. It means cutting ourselves off from whatever will desensitize us to sin or blur our spiritual vision or stir our sinful nature. It means repentance! It means acknowledging those things in our lives that are defiling and harmful and walking away from them.
But that doesn’t mean we isolate ourselves from hurting people or that we refuse to step down into the muck of this world to minister and serve and love those who are in bondage.
There is an interesting paradox in the title for God, "Holy One of Israel." The words "Holy One" point to God's otherness, his "set-apartness", so to speak. As we shall see, to be holy is to be transcendently above the creation. Yet, he is the Holy One "of Israel"! He has given himself to an unholy people. They are his people and he is their God. Although transcendent and lofty, he is also immanent and loving. His eternal distinctiveness as God does not prohibit or inhibit him from drawing near in grace and mercy to those with whom he is in covenant relationship.
"For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, 'I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite" (Isa. 57:15).
"Thus says the Lord, 'Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? . . . But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word" (Isa. 66:1-2).