Victor Frankl endured a Nazi concentration camp in the Second World War. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he writes about a fellow prisoner who had lost hope.
This man shared a dream in which a voice told him that he could wish for something and it would be answered. He related to Frankl, ‘And do you know what I asked for? That I would like to know when the war would be over for me. You know what I mean. I wanted to know when we, when our camp would be liberated, and our suffering come to an end.’
‘What did your dream voice tell you?’, Frankl enquired. Furtively he whispered to me, ‘March thirtieth.’ When [he] told me about his dream, he was still full of hope…but as the promised day drew nearer, the war news which reached our camp made it appear very unlikely that we would be free on the promised day. On March twenty-ninth, [he] suddenly became ill… On March thirtieth …he became delirious and lost consciousness. On March thirty-first, he was dead. To all outward appearances, he had died of typhus.
…those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man… and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope…can have a deadly effect… Any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength…had first so succeed in showing him some future goal.[i]
This reveals the power of hope in life. Hope is what carries people forward. What are we placing our hope in and how does that affect our lives now? Peter was writing to inspire believers scattered abroad with the reality of the message of the good news about Jesus. Most believers in the first century felt that Jesus’ coming again was imminent, but time was slipping away and still Jesus had not returned. They were living in very difficult times, hope was waning, and spiritual fervour was diminishing. Peter pointed them to a living hope in their future inheritance. It is the inheritance that all believers will receive. In our moment when difficulties press into our lives, hope becomes a powerful source of encouragement to continue. The question is, how should we live in this present moment? A biblical understanding of our relationship to God brings us to an incredible truth. All that we are or ever hope to be comes because of God’s grace. It is God’s undeserved favor enriching our lives. Peter instructs us as to what we ought to be and do because of our relationship with God. As a result of God’s love expressed through His grace, Peter challenges us to live a holy life.
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.[ii]
But what does it mean to be holy? Or maybe an even more important question needs to be answered: How can I be holy when I’m living in an unholy world? There are three things we need to consider regarding one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Scriptures, namely holiness.
I. WE NEED TO CONSIDER WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HOLY
The idea of holiness is that we are set apart for God’s purpose. The lifestyle of a believer should reflect a different value system than the people around us.
A. Too many people have weird ideas about what holiness means.
That has been true throughout the church age. Some people felt that if a person was holy, they would have to retreat from society. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prays that we are not taken out of this world but rather protected from the prince of this world, Satan, and become sanctified or holy.
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
They are not of world, even as I am not of it.
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.[iii]
Yet, people thought that the only way to be holy or sanctified was to retreat from this world. In the ancient near eastern world, some believers retreated into the desert to be alone. They became known as the ‘desert fathers.’ Later they form small communities which was the birthplace of monastic life. Monasticism flourished in the middle ages. Other people thought that to be holy, one would have to be ruthless towards their bodily appetites. Self-denial was practised with a vengeance during much of the church age period. During the bubonic plague, one of the extreme responses to the plague was groups that called the ‘flagellants.’ They would use whips to strike themselves until they bled. Medieval society was organized into three groups; those that worked, fought, and prayed. The flagellants saw themselves as performing the work of penitence on behalf of others. The problem with these two approaches is that they are not what the bible had in mind when it speaks on the issue of holiness. Though we are not to be partakers of a sinful lifestyle, Jesus did not call us out of the world, but rather to be salt and light in our society (cf. Matthew 5:13-16). We are to be people who live within our society fabric with a purpose of embracing God’s values.
For those who felt that self-denial was a means to holiness, they did not realize other subtle forms of sins arose that were as deadly. What are called ‘sins of the spirit,’ such as pride, envy, jealousy, and lust came from deep within a person’s essence. The major reason why self-denial does not work is that it does not produce holiness. When the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Colossae, he explained why asceticism does not transform a person. The problem with sin and worldliness is that it is at the core of our being, and we need a power greater than ourselves to experience change from the inside out.
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!?
These rules, which have to do with things that perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teaching.
Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgences.[iv]
Self-denial does not have the power to transform the human heart, only by submitting to God’s Spirit and word within our hearts can real change come about.
B. The word holy is taken from the same Greek word for saint, and both imply the idea of being set apart for God’s purposes.
To be holy means that Christians must conform their thinking and behavior to God’s character. …The character of God was first revealed through the covenant God made with the people he had chosen for himself. The moral aspect of that covenant was summarized in what we commonly called the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 5:1-22).[v] Living in a right relationship to God demanded obedience to these commandments.
When Israel lived according to God’s law, they lived a distinctly different lifestyle than their neighbours. They were set apart as God’s people, revealing the character of God to the nations around them. When you and I as believers live in conformity to God’s standards as revealed in His word, we also reveal the character of God to those who know us.
Holiness is what should be one of the distinguishing features of a Christian’s life. Holiness is designed to bring healing to the broken places in our lives.
Holiness describes the character of the church…. Holiness is primarily a statement about the moral condition of a person. But it does have visible, observable dimensions. One synonym for holiness is wholeness. We all appreciate wholesome, balanced people. The term portrayed one who is functioning according to divine intention, one who is fulfilling his intended purpose and is being restored to that purpose. A man who is holy will be growing in his ability to act and function as a whole, integrated, balanced person. Such growth is an observable miracle because no man can reverse the progressive disintegration, separation, and isolation which sin produces. Genuine holiness is not a static quality. Translated into life and action, it manifests itself through such qualities as integrity, justice, righteousness, and freedom from guilt. In summary, a truly ‘holy’ person is a wholesome person.[vi]
Paul Cedar relates:
No wonder we are intimidated by the command of our Lord to be holy. There is only one who is truly holy – God Himself. If we were to be holy, we would have to be like God…. As we are controlled increasingly by the Holy Spirit, the holiness of His presence and power will shine from our lives. If we try to live holy lives, we shall always fail. If we follow Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives and allow the Holy Spirit to live in and through us, we shall be channels for the holiness of God.[vii]
II. WE NEED TO CONSIDER HOW WE CAN DEVELOP A HOLY LIFE
Peter defines some practical instructions to help us live wholesome or holy lives.
“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming (1 Peter 1:13).”
A. First, he tells us to ‘prepare our minds for action (v.13).’
The Greek literally means to gird up the loins of our minds.
This is an almost unintelligible phrase for modern readers unfamiliar with the ancient Oriental custom of gathering up one’s long robes by pulling them between the legs and then wrapping and tying them around the waist, so as to prepare for running, fast walking, or other strenuous activity.[viii]
Elijah, did that very thing when he outran the chariot of the King of Israel, Ahab to the community of Jezreel. The idea in our modern vernacular would be stated, as let us roll up our sleeves. God is calling us to be alert. To be vigilant in our minds. It is speaking of a mental resolve to act in a certain manner.
B. Secondly, we are to be self-controlled or sober.
Not only does it warn us against a drunken condition, but it speaks about not being intoxicated by this world’s pleasures. How tragic to see believers trapped by good and healthy earthly pursuits, to the detriment of their souls. Several examples come to mind. We see the workaholic who jeopardizes relationships because they are consumed by the job. Another distractive pattern is the individual who allows a hobby to consume their lives. Anything that a person pursues with vigour at the expense of spiritual growth in their souls is a distraction from a love for God and others.
C. Thirdly, we are to set our hope fully on the grace of God that is to be revealed when Christ comes.
Hope in anything less than what Christ is about to bring will prove disappointing, fleeting, and temporal in nature. Each of these areas of our lives where we are admonished to ready ourselves for action, to be self-controlled and finally live with the hope of Christ’s return, facilitates a healthy mental attitude. Our attitude determines the quality of life that we will experience. As a believer, we can live a wholesome lifestyle because of a right mental attitude. The great battlefield is in our minds. What are we thinking about? What we believe determines how we live. R. C. Sproul, in explaining the nature of sin, relates that sin is foremost an estrangement and alienation in our relationship to God, and that salvation is primarily our reconciliation to God. He then explains how we are not only estranged or experiencing alienation with God, but with each other and the core of it is that we are estranged or alienated from ourselves. What this means is that there is a fundamental problem with our attitude toward ourselves. Often people hate themselves and the answer to that deep seated problem is that we become reconciled to God, experience his love, and receive healing for the brokenness we are experiencing within ourselves. It is impossible to love others when we don’t even love ourselves.
III. WE NEED TO CONSIDER THAT HOLINESS IS WHAT GOD REQUIRES
So often in life, it is not a problem of information but of application, which means that we need to have a healthy motivation. It is one thing to know something, it’s another thing to do it. What will it take to move our wills to action? Peter gives us a number of motivating factors to help us live out a wholesome lifestyle.
A. The first motivation has to do with our unique relationship with God.
The will to do what is right flows out of a healthy relationship to God. Howard Marshall writes: “In the biblical world the characteristic quality associated with a father was care for his children (Ps. 103:13; Mt. 7:9-11), and the corresponding characteristic of children was obedience to their father.”[ix]
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.[x]
The true believer is called an obedient child. F. B. Meyer writes: “Obedience is not holiness; holiness is the possession of the soul by God. But holiness always leads to obedience.”[xi] The apostle Paul describes our lives before our surrender to Christ as ‘disobedient children’ (cf. Eph. 2:2). Now ‘as obedient children, we are not to conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance.’ We are to no longer surrender the members of our body to sinful pursuits. Just like an obedient child responds to their father, we are to obediently respond to God. I’m convinced that most children desire to obey their parents as an expression of their love to them. When a child doesn’t believe it is possible to please their parents, the child becomes frustrated and discouraged and then doesn’t care anymore. I am not talking here about reasonable requests but rather unreasonable demands by the parents.
B. A second motivation flows out of our proper understanding of the nature of our Heavenly Father.
One reason people struggle with obedience is that they have an improper concept of who God the Father is. “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear (1 Peter 1:17).” The message is that God is fair. He is an impartial Father. He will address sin in our lives no matter who we are. There are no favorites with God. He does not wink at sin in one person’s life and deals with it in another person. People may do that, but not God. He will deal with the issues in all of our lives because He loves us too much to let us die in our own sinfulness.
C. A third motivation is found understanding the nature of God’s redemptive work on our behalf.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.[xii]
What Peter is explaining is the O.T. concept of a ransom of silver being given for the atonement of the soul.
The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives.
Receive the atonement money for the Israelites and use it for the service of the Tent of Meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives.[xiii]
Though the concept teaches that atonement is costly, it soon degenerates into an external religious expression and loses the reality of an inward understanding of the severity that sin creates in alienating us from God. Peter calls this as an empty way of life handed down by their forefathers. The Psalmist recognized that the soul could never be truly redeemed or (purchased) by silver.
No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – so that they should live on forever and not see decay.[xiv]
Howard Marshall also enlarges upon this concept as not all readers would have a Jewish background, but all would be acquainted with the Roman ancestral pressures to live a virtuous life and the cost involved.
The former state of the readers was one of bondage – bondage to a particular way of life inherited from their ancestors. For the Romans, ancestral traditions were praiseworthy, but not so for Peter. …The way in which Peter frames the thought makes it clear that the reminder is not so much of the redemption itself but rather of the cost of the redemption. Christians can easily take their redemption for granted. The way to avoid this attitude is by remembering its infinite cost.[xv]
God’s love was demonstrated to us by the giving up of his son to die in our place. When Peter is talking about the blood here, he is talking about all that Christ’s death has given to us. This is a substitutionary death. Not only are we delivered from sin’s penalty and power, but as Wayne Grudem relates: “…but it’s the blood that cleanses our consciences (Heb. 9:14), we gain bold access to God in worship and prayer (Heb. 10:19), we are progressively cleansed from more and more sin (1 John 1:7), we are able to conquer the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:11), and are rescued out of a sinful way of life (I Pet. 1:19).”[xvi]
It is through Jesus Christ that we are reconciled to God the Father. Jesus’ death was planned before the worlds were created. It is through acceptance of what Christ did on the cross that brings us near to God. It is as we acknowledge that we have not lived for God and the greatest sin is not to love the creator and lover of our souls. We need to recognize that God stands ready to forgive us, but we must embrace His son. He is the One who died for each of us. It was “God that was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Cor. 5:19).
Holiness then is the character of God that is within us. That character can only be developed in our lives as we freely surrender to Christ as Lord. It is as we take responsibility to prepare our minds, to be self-controlled, living a life of sobriety, living in the hope of God’s grace and desiring to please him as an obedient and loving child that we reflect His character. Our motivation stems from our intimate and unique relationship to God, as our Father. As we keep in mind His incredible love which was demonstrated on Calvary’s cross by the Lord Jesus Christ, we will become like Him. Holiness is actually the character of our Heavenly Father that has been allowed to develop in our lives. We can say yes, Lord! Or we can resist His work of grace in our hearts. But when we come to the end of the journey, we’ll have to ask ourselves, “what in life was of real value?” What will be our spiritual legacy? What is the essence of who we are? I like the following poem because it addresses that very issue:
‘Not, how did he die?
But, how did he live?
Not, what did he gain?
But, what did he give?
These are the merits
To measure the worth
Of a man as a man,
Regardless of birth.
Not, what was his station?
But, had he a heart?
And how did he play
His God-given part?’[xvii]
[i] Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, (New York: Washington Square Press, 1984, 96 as quoted by David Helm, 1-2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 55.
[ii] 1 Peter 1:13-16, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[iii] John 17:15-17.
[iv] Colossians 2:20-23.
[v] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 112.
[vi] Joseph C. Aldrich, Life-Style Evangelism: Crossing Traditional Boundaries to Reach the Unbelieving World, (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1981), 26-27.
[vii] Paul Cedar, I Peter, Communicator’s Commentary, 125.
[viii] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 17, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989, 76.
[ix] I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: I. V. P Academic, 1991), 52.
[x] 1 Peter 1:14-16.
[xi] F. B. Meyer, Tried By Fire: Exposition of the First Epistle of Peter, (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 48.
[xii] 1 Peter 1:18-20.
[xiii] Exodus 30:15-16.
[xiv] Psalm 49:7-9.
[xv] I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, 54-55.
[xvi] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, 84.
[xvii] Michael Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 239.