Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be sober-minded and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance. But as the one who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, “Be holy, because I am holy.” If you appeal to the Father who judges impartially according to each one’s work, you are to conduct yourselves in reverence during your time living as strangers. For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was revealed in these last times for you. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.1 Peter 1:13-21
A number of few years ago the Catholic Church declared the late Mother Teresa to be a saint. Because I grew up Roman Catholic, I heard a lot about saints. Saints were the Christians who were especially holy. In the NT all believers are saints. And the noun ‘saint’ comes from the Greek verb which means “to make holy.”
But what does it mean to be holy? Some of you might remember when they used to say things like, “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls (or boys!) who do.” There are people who see going to church and being a Christian as a set of dos and don’ts, rules and regulations. For some people, holiness is about morality. The better your behaviour, the holier you are.
At the centre of our passage this morning Peter writes, as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct. And this certainly makes it sound like a matter of our behaviour. So this morning we’re going to talk a little bit about what it means to be holy. Because Peter is here calling his readers to live as holy as God is holy. The question is: what does he mean?
Psalm 99:9 says: Exalt the Lord our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the Lord our God is holy!
If the Scriptures teach us anything about God, it is this: God is holy. God is other than creation. God is utterly distinct from all that he has made. God is perfect in every way. There is no comparison between God and anything else. In Isaiah 43:3 God says: For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
According to Peter, it’s because God is holy that we’re called to be holy. 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.” In fact, this has been the case ever since God called the Israelites to be his people. Peter is quoting Leviticus 19:2 where it says: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, you shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
So, we need to think about the word holy. What does it mean? And how is it remotely possible that we who are sinful and finite can be holy as God is holy? Joel Scandrett, in his article, “What does God mean when he asks us to be holy as he is holy?” says, “The most basic meaning of the word is to be “set apart” or “dedicated” to God—to belong to God.” He goes on to write that “biblical holiness describes a unique relationship that God has established and desires with his people . . . As long as our notions of holiness are limited to doing certain things and not doing other things, we can go through our entire lives obeying the rules (or at least maintaining the appearance of doing so) without dealing with far more fundamental questions: Whose are we? To whom do we give our first love and loyalty? God’s call to be holy is a radical, all-encompassing claim on our lives, our loves, and our very identities. To be holy means that all we are and all we have belongs to God, not ourselves, and that every aspect of our lives is to be shaped and directed toward God.”
Put simply: Living as holy means belonging to God. This is why Peter tells his readers: Be holy in all your conduct. It’s not only about behaviour but about the fact that we belong to God from start to finish and in every which way: our finances, our relationships, our attitude towards our possessions, how we participate in our community, what our priorities are for ourselves and our families.
Peter’s audience had once been largely pagan, following pagan religions, participating in pagan cultural life with their neighbours. Becoming followers of Jesus meant a complete 1800 turn. It meant a much more clearly radical break from the societal norms around them. It’s why he says to them: Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance and you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.
For many of us the contrast might not seem as obvious or glaring. Many of us grew up in a culture that was deeply shaped by Christian values and moral standards. Many people in our culture, even if they didn’t grow up Christian, more or less seemed to live as if they had.
In some ways, this is a disadvantage to us because when we’ve lived in this kind of culture we can easily lose the sense of what it means to be distinctly Christian. Cultural values become so intertwined and perhaps even confused with biblical values that we can underestimate or misunderstand the seriousness of the commitment Christ calls us to make.
One of the themes of 1 Peter is hope. Peter relates our future hope to how we live now: 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. When Peter talks about preparing your minds for action, it literally means, “Gird up your loins for action.” It’s a vivid metaphor of a Middle-eastern worker preparing for action by hitching up his robes so as not to be impeded. Norman Hillyer says that “Peter is referring to a Christ-centered attitude of mind that shapes and directs personal conduct.” So being holy does involve our conduct. How we live matters. But “girding up our loins” requires hope. Peter makes this clear. Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. To act as holy people in the present—to live as people who belong to God—we have to have confidence in our future: hope.
Living as holy is only possible because of the hope I have in Christ. The reason is this: being holy in an unholy world can be difficult, challenging, unrewarding, and painful. That was certainly true for Peter’s first century readers. And I think it might increasingly so for us. As the values and accepted norms of our surrounding culture diverge more and more from biblical norms and values, it will become more and more challenging and noticeable when we live distinctly Christian lives.
So our hope is that whatever happens to us because of our allegiance to Jesus in this life, God has our future—our eternal, good, life-filled future—in his hands. Our hope makes our holiness possible.
When you think of our community, in what ways do its values and norms diverge from your understanding of biblical norms and values? What does being holy have to do with suffering? How is our hope in Christ important for living holy lives now?
So, in the end what really makes us holy? Again, if you were to ask people on the street, I bet most of the answers would have to do with our actions: our good behaviour, whether we go to church, whether we stay away from bad people, places, and things. And if we do all the supposedly right things someone might call us holy, or even “holier-than-thou.” The problem is that this makes it all about us.
But if we make holiness primarily not about behaviour but about to whom we belong, then we get a different answer. We talked about living as holy as meaning that we belong to God. The question is this: what makes it possible for us to belong to God?
Peter tells us. He says: 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. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Our belonging to God, and therefore our living as holy, is only possible because of what God has done through Jesus. In other words: Living as holy is about what God has done in Christ not what we do.Peter tells us that we believe in God through him. He says that it’s because of the resurrection of Jesus that your faith and hope are in God. We were ransomed from [our] futile ways . . . with the precious blood of Christ.
You could say this: the first step towards living a holy life is realizing we are far from holy. It’s in realizing that left to ourselves we would be far from God. Jesus brings us near to God. Makes it possible for us to belong to God. And our holiness largely consists in our realizing and accepting our need for Jesus and what he’s done. Because it is our faith and our hope that make us distinct from those around us.
How do most people see holiness? What really makes us holy? Is our holiness mostly about our behaviour or about belonging to God? Does this make it easier or more difficult to live a holy life?How might God be calling you to a more holy and distinct life?
Here’s the thing: I’m sure every single one of us can find at least a few people who aren’t Christian who live more exemplary lives than some Christians you know. They’re better neighbours, more generous, kinder, more active in their community. Does that make them holier?Holiness includes our behaviour but is about much more than our behaviour. We are holy because we belong to God. We are holy because of our hope in God. We are holy because we’ve been brought to God through Jesus.