Christians sometimes have the tendency to make their faith little more than a list of dos and don’ts. When this happens, Christianity becomes nothing more than a moralistic way of life. We aim for behaviour without getting to the heart of the matter.
The apostles did not make this error. To be sure, they were never afraid to exhort toward ethical behaviour, but they always rooted their ethics in the gospel. In 1 Peter 1:13–2:8, Peter offers an array of exhortations to Christian ethics. But, as we saw yesterday, he began with the gospel (1:3–12). The suffering believers in Asia Minor needed to be reminded of their deliverance through the gospel before they would pursue gospel ethics with right motives. Their behaviour needed to be rooted in their belief.
The driving theme through all of this is that of hope. The suffering Christians needed hope and Peter offered that hope through the gospel. That hope, then, flowed to everything they did. In a real sense, the exhortations he offered to gospel ethics were hopeful exhortations. The first of those exhortations was an exhortation to hopeful holiness (1:13–16).
Holiness sometimes conjures images of dreariness. The story is told of a little boy in church whose father reprimanded him several times for fidgeting during the sermon. After the service, a kindly old lady observed his downcast expression and asked him what was wrong. The boy replied, “It’s hard to be happy and holy at the same time!”
Too many Christians betray this same attitude. Holiness becomes a drudgery. It appears to be a mark of spirituality that Christians do not openly display joy. The phrase “Resting Baptist Face” has been used as a joke in this regard, suggesting that the default face of a Baptist is a dour one. There is a meme that has done the rounds for several years now of four famous Baptists from the seventeenth century, each with a particularly unimpressed look on his face, captioned: “Baptists: refusing to smile since the seventeenth century.” The Puritans have an undeserved reputation for being especially joyless. A proper understanding of holiness should deliver us from this mentality.
Make no mistake: Christians should pursue holiness. Peter exhorted his readers, who were suffering because they were different (because Christlike) to continue being different. (At its root, “holy” means apart—it means different.) They must not conform to the world. Conforming to the world was the quickest way to avoid suffering, but he exhorted them to persist in Christlike holiness. They could do so joyfully and hopefully for two reasons.
First, they could be hopefully holy because they had been changed. The word “obedient” (v. 14) is a reference to their obedience to the gospel. Since they had obeyed the call of the gospel, they had been radically changed by God, which enabled their holiness. God does not leave unchanged those whom he saves and therefore he empowers, by his Spirit, everyone he saves to live a holy life.
Second, they could be hopefully holy because they were “children” (v. 14). As children, they shared the likeness of their Father, and since their Father—God—was holy, they could be nothing but holy themselves (vv. 15–16). God’s children share his divine nature, and since he is essentially holy, they cannot be but holy themselves.
This pursuit of holiness is an action that they must deliberately pursue. They must “prepar[e] [their] minds for action” and intentionally “set [their] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [them] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 13). This intentional pursuit would embolden their hope, which would empower their holiness.
Christian, God calls you to intentionally pursue holiness. But he does not leave you without the power to do so. Instead, by your conversion—because he has made you his child—he gives you a new nature, consistent with his, to empower your pursuit of holiness.
This has intensely practical implications. In every area of life, are you pursuing holiness? Can you say that your choice of entertainment is marked by holiness? Can you profess that your browser history is marked by holiness? Can you claim that your relationships are marked by holiness? Are your thoughts marked by holiness? Is your marriage marked by holiness? Holiness won’t happen by accident. It must be intentionally pursued. You must choose to live like your Father and decide to stop living like the unbelieving world. You are empowered to do so through the gospel, which has changed you and made you God’s beloved child.
This morning, as you reflect on this exhortation to holiness, thank God for the gospel which empowers your pursuit of holiness. Then be intentional in pursuing hopeful holiness in obedience to the one who has called you.