Passage: 1 Peter 1:13-16
This text is probably familiar to most of you, and it’s certainly one of the most well known passages in 1 Peter. If you are familiar with this passage, as I read it a moment ago, you may have had one of three reactions to least at some level. You may have had all three. First, you might feel defensive. Maybe the thought crossed your mind, “Oh boy, a message about holiness. Pastor better not attack my interests. But even if he does, I’m not going to budge.” You may not have had such a strong reaction, but you may have felt a bit bummed because you figure that I’m going to confront some things that you really enjoy but probably shouldn’t. If that’s your reaction, I hope you won’t tune out. I’m going to challenge you to be holy, but this passage gives a perspective that is much bigger than some small issue you don’t want to let go. A second reaction you may have is delight. As I read the text today, you may have thought, “Oh, Pastor is going to git ‘em today! I hope he whips some of these worldly Christians into shape.” You are hoping that I preach hard against some of your hobbyhorses. If that’s your reaction, you may have some legitimate concerns, but I want to urge you to see the arrogance of focusing on what others need to hear rather than yourself. If your first thought is, of how much someone else needs this text, you don’t appreciate the gravity of what it says and of how far you have to go. This not a day for looking across the room at what God needs to do in someone else’s life. This is a day to let God speak to you. A third reaction you may have is despair. When I read the text and especially v. 16, you thought, “I can never do that. Pastor might as well challenge me to run a four minute mile because this text is impossible.” If that’s your reaction, I hope you won’t tune me out because God has a word for you in this text. If you will listen, you can leave today with hope and strength. Our hearts are deceitful; therefore, we must guard against these responses, and we must hunger to hear what God wants to say to me, and we must have the honesty to apply its significance.
As I read through this text, you may have noticed several actions or commands. But when Peter wrote this text in the Greek, he made his central ideas very clear through his grammatical structure. There are only two Greek imperatives, and they are clearly Peter’s central concerns. Verse 13 commands us to “rest your hope…” and v. 15 commands us to “be holy in all your conduct.” Therefore, my outline today, is built around these commands.
But before we get to these commands, I want to make sure we don’t miss the fact that this text begins with the word “therefore.” This means that Peter intends to draw a tight connection between what he has already said in vv. 1–12 and what he is about to say. There are two key ideas in vv. 1–12 that are very important to our text. First, we have seen over the past few weeks that Christians have a great hope. Notice again v. 4. Our text will only make sense if we read it and apply it in light of this great hope. Second, vv. 1–12 emphasize that we have been given a new power. Verse 3 states that we have been born again. In other words, Christians have been made new creatures. Verse 5 says that we are “kept by the power of God.” God’s grace is active in his people. Again, our text will only make sense if we read it and apply it in light of this new power.
And so based on the fact that we have a new hope and a new power, Peter gives us two commands. First, he commands us to…
Focus on future grace (v. 13).
As I already mentioned, the center of v. 13 is found in the command to “rest your hope fully…” That may seem surprising because our English Bibles make it sounds like Peter is giving three commands. In a sense, he is. “Gird up” and “be sober” also have the force of a command, but the grammar sets off the third verb as central. This fact is important for understanding the logic of the verse.
With that in mind, I’d like to make two points from v. 13. First,
Future grace must drive our lives. This is the point that Peter drives home with the central command of v. 13. He commands us to hope “in the grace that it is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This statement looks forward to the Rapture. Someday Christ will return and will gather both the living and the dead saints to himself. 1 John 3:2 states, “When He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” We will be made perfect so that we can enjoy perfect fellowship with God and all of the beauties and glories of heaven for all eternity. It’s interesting that Peter calls this hope “grace,” which is why I used the phrase “future grace” in my outline. The hope that we long for is not a right. Certainly, we will be rewarded for our service. But even our rewards will be rooted in grace, and this grace will be incredible. We saw this clearly in vv. 3–9. This hope is so great that it outshines any hardship we may endure. It is also greater than any pleasure we could enjoy in this life. It’s true that life can offer some great joys, but even the best joys of this life are temporary. But future grace is eternal. Because of that, Peter commands us to “rest your hope” on this future grace. It is to consume our focus. We are to let it shine so brightly in our minds that everything else looks dim and insignificant. Peter commands us to see our hope so clearly that it overwhelms the appeal of lesser, temporary pleasures.
Application: It’s essential that we see the connection between this command and the next command to pursue holiness. I mentioned in my introduction that we sometimes react to holiness by becoming defensive. This is because we like the pleasures of sin. Because of that holiness often requires sacrifice and denial, and we don’t want that. For example, there have been many times when Heidi and I have been watching T.V., and an ad for a new movie comes on. The movie looks entertaining and exciting, and we are immediately excited to see it. But then we see what the movie is rated and why it has that rating, and we are bummed because it doesn’t meet the standards we have set. Why are we bummed? It’s because we see something that looks appealing, but we have to say “no.” And pursuing holiness is going to bring up these disappointing moments time and time again. How do we keep holiness from being drudgery? We do so by fixing our hope on future grace. The only way holiness makes sense is if we see it in light of eternity.
Future grace must drive our lives. That brings me to my second point regarding the first command.
Focusing on future grace takes discipline. The idea that we can overcome our love for the world by focusing on eternity sounds great, but we all know it’s not easy. Because of that, Peter gives some help with the first two verbal ideas in v. 13. He commands us to “gird up the loins of your mind.” This statement sounds strange to us, but it was very familiar in Peter’s day. In ancient times, people wore long, undivided garments, kind of like ankle-length skirts. That’s fine for walking around, but have you ever watched someone run in a long skirt? They are not designed for running sprints or doing manual labor. Therefore, when someone needed to run, fight in a battle, or do something else strenuous, they would tuck these long garments into their belt. And Peter is saying that for us to fix our hope on future grace, we must tie up the loose ends of minds. In other words, we’ve got to take control of the many things that distract our attention from an eternal focus. Next, Peter commands us to “be sober.” The literal idea is that we are to maintain a sober mindset. Sobriety speaks of disciplined focus on the task at hand. Someone who is sober minded doesn’t meander thoughtlessly through life. They are focused on where they are going, and they will not be distracted. With these two sub-commands, Peter teaches that maintaining an eternal focus requires clearing our minds of distractions and intentionally focusing on the prize. This focus is greatly needed because there is no denying that the church in America is worldly. We do not reflect the holiness of our God like we should. But it’s not just people out there who aren’t as holy as they should be. I’m not as holy as I ought to be and neither are you. Why is that? There are a number of reasons, but a major reason is that we long for the world and do not discipline ourselves to look at life in light of eternity. Imagine a child whose mother made a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies. The house is filled with the aroma of fresh cookies, but mom says the cookies are for later, and puts them in the cookie jar. Mom walks away, but the child continues to stare at the cookie jar. What is going to happen eventually? He is going to come up with a reason to justify taking one. The same is true of us. If we live our lives focused on the world and imagining the pleasures it offers, we will never be as holy as we should be, and the holiness we achieve will be drudgery. The only way we can have holiness with joy is if we discipline our minds to see our hope clearly. We must make God’s Word and God’s church the greatest influences in our lives, and we must drive out influences that dull our hearts to godly affections and actions.
The first command God gives is to focus on future grace. The second command is to…
Conform to God’s holiness (vv. 14–16).
Remember that the central point of vv. 14–16 is the command in v. 15 to “be holy in all your conduct.” To appreciate this command, we need to recognize how Peter develops it.
I’d like to note four principles about pursuing holiness from these verses. First…
Holiness must be rooted in grace. Verse 13 talked about future grace, but God’s present grace is also essential to pursuing holiness. Verse 14 begins with “As obedient children.” The idea is that Christians are “children with a nature for obedience.” Obedience is part of our nature. It’s who we are. Peter is referring again to the new birth. When someone gets saved, they receive new life and a new nature. Therefore, holiness is not foreign to us; God has enabled us to obey and to become holy. Verse 15 also points us to grace when it mentions that Christians are “called” by God. This is a reference to God’s initiative in choosing us for salvation but especially for holiness. God hasn’t just told us to be holy; he has decreed that Christians will progressively become holy, and he is enabling us to get there. I mentioned that one our reactions to this command might be despair, because vv. 15–16 seem impossible. But holiness is possible because it isn’t foreign to us. It’s actually our nature to pursue holiness. We are children of obedience who have been called to holiness. This doesn’t minimize the choices we must make for holiness or the hard work we need to do. But it does give hope. Christians can obey this command. Don’t look at vv. 15–16 as God’s impossible demand. Peter says that holiness is in reach for God’s people.
The second principle about the command to pursue holiness is…
Holiness requires separation from the world (v. 14). Peter tells his readers not to be conformed to their former lusts from when they were ignorant. Peter’s readers were Gentiles who were saved out of paganism. Before hearing the gospel that were ignorant of the true God, and they lived for the lusts or pleasures of this world. It’s interesting that Peter calls worldly values “ignorant.” Unbelievers cannot see what is truly valuable. They are ignorant of the glories of God and of heaven, and so they pursue the temporary values and pleasures of the world. But while Peter’s readers had ignorantly followed the course of the world, now their eyes had been opened to the glory of God and his inheritance, and now that they had been called to life of obedience, Peter commands them not to conform their former value system. They must not embrace world’s value system and the sinful practices that result from it. Peter is not telling us to be weird for the sake of being weird. The fact that unbelievers do something doesn’t make it sinful. The issue is the ignorant lusts and the deceitfulness of sin that drive them. When the world thinks something or does something that is opposed to godly values and commands we must not conform. The fact he says we are not to conform demonstrates Peter’s assumption that a temporal mindset is not consistent with who we are as God’s children. Our eyes have been opened to eternity. We can see the foolishness of the world, and most importantly, we have a new allegiance. Because of that, we must not conform to ignorant sinful mindset of the world. This is an important challenge we need to receive. Far too often, our thinking is not much different from the lost. We live for what we can enjoy right now. We feed on entertainment that is driven by sinful passions and that rejects God’s will. Very often there is little that distinguishes Christians from those who reject God. This simply can’t be, and we are lying to ourselves if we think differently.
Holiness requires separation from the world. The third principle about the command to pursue holiness is…
Holiness requires complete conformity to God’s character (v. 15). As I already mentioned, the second major command of our text is found at the end of v. 15 where God commands us to “be holy in all your conduct.” What Peter means by “holy” is defined in the first part of the verse. God commands us to conform to the holiness of God.” This conformity to God’s holiness is set in strong contrast to conformity to the world. The “but” that begins v. 15 is a strong adversative. Peter says do not conform to the world; INSTEAD, conform to the holiness of God. As I said in v. 14, the primary issue at stake is our value system. We must view life in light of eternity and the fact that this is God’s world. And then we must conform to his absolute purity in every area of life. God demands holiness “in all your conduct” not just some of it. What a powerful statement! First John 1:5 states, “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.” God is not pure some of the time or even most of the time. There is no taint of darkness in him. He is pure light. And God demands the same of us. Every aspect of your life, every action, every thought, and every motive must conform to God’s absolute purity. As I mentioned already, this is a challenge that I need and you need. Don’t look around the room and think about what someone else needs to hear and let’s not make this about what’s wrong with American Christianity. Let’s make this about what’s wrong with me. Ask yourself where does my lifestyle not measure up to the holiness of God. Where do I consistently fall short in my obedience? Where am I not loving people and serving people consistent with the love and humility of Christ? What secret sins am I tolerating that fall short of God’s holiness? What sinful passions and imaginations am I harboring that Christ would never consider? It doesn’t matter what excuse you may have for why you may think are justified to tolerate your sin. It doesn’t ultimately matter what you have been through or what someone else has done to you. God doesn’t say be holy, unless you’ve had a hard life or unless someone is a jerk to you or unless it’s really hard. He says don’t conform to the world; instead conform to my holiness. He commands us to do this because it is reasonable. If you are saved, you have received new life; you are a child of obedience, and God has called you to holiness. God is telling us to stop making excuses and to put all of our effort into pursuing holiness.
Holiness requires complete conformity to God’s character. Peter then drives home the significance of this command by making one final point regarding the command.
Holiness is God’s fundamental moral demand (v. 16). Verse 16 quotes a command of God that is stated multiple times in the Bible. It appears several times in the Law, and Jesus cited this command when he said “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Peter quotes it here to drive home the significance of the command in v. 15. Peter wasn’t making a suggestion or offering his opinion. He was giving a command that is consistent with God’s repeated statements. God’s holiness always has been and always will remain the standard he demands of human conduct. The pursuit of holiness isn’t a matter to be taken lightly or which we can simply ignore. No, in the mind of God, this pursuit is crucial. Therefore, all of us need to feel the weight of this command. God demands holiness of you and of me.
In sum, God teaches us in this text that believers must pursue holiness by focusing on future grace and by conforming to the character of God.
I’d like to conclude by bringing us back to the three responses I mentioned in my introduction.
Defensive: There is a temptation for every sinner to get defensive when we read this text because it calls us to deny the desires of the flesh. If you still feel that in your heart, I want to urge you to drive it out. God commands you to be holy, and do not say “no” to God. But as well, I want to urge you to see that little thing that you might be clinging to in light of your eternal hope. How can we possibly compare a movie that lasts for a couple of hours with eternity in paradise? Maybe you don’t want to conform to God’s holiness in a particular relationship because that person hurt you. How does sticking out your chest in pride and demonstrating that you are right before a fickle person really compare to future grace? God has a great inheritance awaiting us, and we must see the pursuit of holiness in light of this great hope.
Delight: The second response I mentioned was delight in everything God needs to do in other people. I certainly think there is a place for noticing where others need to grow, and we should be grieved by the state of Christianity in America. But all of those other Christians are not in this room. It was God’s will that you hear this sermon today, and none of us have mastered what it says. We all need to be humbled before the holiness of God. We must see where we fall short, and we must commit ourselves to change.
Despair: The third response was despair. When you really ponder what God demands, it can be overwhelming. How do we normally respond to an impossible demand? We give up; we don’t even try. I’m not going to say that this command is easy, but I want to drive home the fact that God gives hope in this text. If you have been born again, you can pursue holiness. Believe that holiness is possible, and press forward.
Evangelistic Call: Before I close, I’d like to mention one other application. It might be that you have never seriously pondered God’s demand of holiness. You’ve always assumed that you are right with God because there are lots of people who are worse than you are. But God never said he would accept us into heaven if we know someone who is worse than we are. No, the standard of acceptance is the holiness of God, and Romans 3:23 states that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You do not meet God’s standard; you are not good. Because of that, Romans 6:23 states that you deserve death. But the verse goes on to say that “the gift of God is eternal life.” Jesus took on himself the punishment for sin, and he provides a righteousness that we cannot achieve on our own. The only way you can be right with God and enjoy the eternal inheritance our text describes is if you turn from your sin and believe on Christ. I want to urge you to do that today. I hope that you will talk with me about how you can receive this great gift.
I’d like everyone to bow your head and close your eyes. We’ll sing in response to God’s Word in a moment, but before we do so, I’d like to give you an opportunity to do business with God. Maybe you need to confess a sin. Maybe you need to plead for grace to help you change. Maybe you need to be saved. Take some time to talk with the Lord.
Let’s stand and close by singing #76 “O, Great God.” I trust that this song will reflect the prayer of your heart that “no vice or sin would remain” and that God would “own it all and reign supreme” in your life.