“Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix 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 former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 peter 1:13-16)
Duncan Campbell has said, “A Baptism of holiness, a demonstration of godly living is the crying need of our day.” The cry for holiness rings throughout the Bible. In Leviticus 11:44 God says to His people, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy…”And again in Leviticus 20:26: “Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.”
To the Thessalonians Paul said, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification (holiness…For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7)
And Peter adds his voice: “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16)
What Is It?
The Old Testament Hebrew word for holiness, kadesh, means “something which is cut off, separate or set apart.” It means to be antisecular, in a category all its own, to elevate out of the sphere of what is ordinary.
In the New Testament the word used most frequently is hagios which also means “set apart, separate, in a class by itself.”
According to these definitions, to be holy basically means to be separated from common use and set apart, or reserved, for special use. In both Old and New Testaments the term is applied to (1) things, (2) persons, and (3) God.
When applied to God it designates Him as the lofty, the heavenly, separated in space from men−dwelling on high. He is the majestic, the morally lofty, separated from the human, not only as a finite material creature, but as a sinful, impure creature. To Israel the name “Holy” or “Holy One” was the highest expression for God. It was the name for God absolutely;; the name for God as transcendent above all the created world. He is wholly other; He stands utterly above the created world. He is in a category all to Himself.
When applied to things and persons, the basic idea of holy is not moral purity but relationship. To call a thing or a person holy is to say that they belong to God, are used in His service or dedicated to Him, or in some special way are His property. Nothing, except for God, is holy of itself or by nature. It becomes holy by being dedicated to God and His service.
It is God’s holiness that sets Him apart from everything else, and it is our holiness that sets us apart and makes us distinctive from the world. This word sums up every obligation of Christian living and every demand made upon us by the Lord.
For the Christian, then, holiness means belonging to God and becoming like the God to Whom we belong.
Belonging to God: We are holy because we are His. Nothing in us makes us holy; belonging to Him makes us holy. This means that holiness is not primarily negative, but positive. We have been set apart for Him, for His pleasure, and for His purpose.
Becoming like the God to Whom we belong. I stated earlier that the basic idea in holiness is not moral purity but relationship. But because of that relationship, moral purity becomes a necessity. Belonging to God we cannot belong to the world; being dedicated to Him we cannot be devoted to anything else. If a bride is to keep herself for her husband alone, she must keep herself from others. Sexual infidelity would make her unfit for her husband, thus making her impure. She would be, in biblical terms, considered unclean, not so much because of her conduct but because her conduct made her unfit for her husband.
If we are separated to God then we are also separated from the world. If we are called to be holy even as He is holy, then the character of God must be considered. Thus the character of God becomes the standard of our own character, we become like the God to Whom we belong.
Our Holiness is the Purpose of Conversion
“You shall be holy…” (1 Peter 1:16)
God’s holiness is evangelistic and redemptive. It causes Him to seek and to save those who are lost; its purpose is not to drive men away but to draw them near. When Isaiah saw the thrice-holy God, high and lifted up and sitting upon His throne, he was smitten with a sudden awareness of his own vileness and cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) But his confession, made under the crushing revelation of God’s holiness, resulted, not in condemnation, but in cleansing. “Behold…your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:7)
It is God’s holiness that causes Him to save us and He saves us so that we may become holy “even as He is holy.” We have been called to holiness. In Ephesians 1:4 Paul writes, “…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” And in the fifth chapter he tells us that Christ’s purpose in cleansing the church is “that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:27)
It may surprise some Christians to learn that God did not save them just so they could go to heaven when they die. Heaven is a bonus−a king of by-product of salvation. The real purpose behind God’s saving grace is holiness, not heaven.
As mentioned earlier, to be holy means that we are set apart for God’s special purpose. And that purpose is the manifestation of God’s character to the world. Having been bought with a price, we belong to God and are to glorify Him in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). To glorify God means to reveal God as He is, to demonstrate His character. God is glorified when men see Him for what He is. What He is, is holy, and if we are to reveal Him as such, we must be holy.
Several years ago I learned that someone else in town had my name−first, middle and last name. At that time my office was on MacArthur Blvd. And the other Ron Dunn had an apartment on MacArthur Blvd. The MacArthur Blvd. Address was printed on my checks and his apartment address was on his checks. What do checks have to do with this story? Everything. For, you see, the big difference in that Ron Dunn and this Ron Dunn was that he had a habit of writing hot checks. It was more than a habit; it was a career. That is how I found out there was another Ron Dunn in town. I started getting phone calls from irate merchants. It got so bad that before my wife would write a check she would announce to the clerk: “We are not the Ron Dunn you are looking for!” I never imagined the problems and embarrassments that could arise from having another Ron Dunn in the same town.
Now it’s okay for someone else to have my name; I do not have a copyright on it. But what really disturbed me was the fact that people were judging me by what someone else with my name was doing. By his behavior he gave people the wrong impression of this Ron Dunn! I am afraid that is the reason the world has such a distorted view of Christ; it has judged Him by what others with His name have done.
Our Holiness is Patterned After Christ
“But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves.” (1 Peter 1:15)
At first this may seem an unreasonable and unreachable standard. Who can be as holy as God? Surely He asks too much. But God can do no less. To lower the standard would be to betray His own nature.
This standard is held up before us throughout the New Testament:
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
“And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:19)
“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)
“The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 2:6)
There is no getting around it−the standard by which the Christian is expected to live is God’s own holy and perfect character. No Christian has a right to be satisfied with his spiritual progress as long as he is falling short of that goal. But the very fact that God demands such holiness from us means the believer can in some way satisfy that demand. He never demands from us what He does not enable us to do. This is one of those “impossible possibilities” held before us.
David’s great ambition was to rebuild the temple: it was the dream that sustained and drove him. It was a dream he was unable to fulfill, yet God said to him, “You did well that it was in your heart.” (1 Kings 8:18) That is the key. Casting aside the argument that this is an unreachable goal, can you say it is in your heart to be as holy as Christ? Stop telling yourself you cannot be perfect. Act like you can. Live as though the standard is attainable.
The Old Lifestyle and the New
In presenting to his readers this standard of holiness, Peter tells them to abandon their old lifestyle and embrace a new one.
Notice the word of contrast at the beginning of verse 15: “But.” That points us back to verse 14 in which the former lifestyle is described and which is to be rejected in the light of God’s holiness. We are to abandon the old standard and adopt the new standard.
The old standard abandoned. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance.” (1 Peter 1:14) Before our conversion, when we did not know any better, we allowed our lusts to lead us around like monkeys on a chain. Our formative influence was our desires. Our lives were shaped by our lusts; we lived according to a philosophy which said, “If it feels good, do it.”
This was the argument put forth by the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,” they said. The body, created by God, has certain natural desires, they argued, and those desires can be satisfied by means, God Himself provided. Therefore, there can be nothing wrong in satisfying the natural desires. For example, God built into man sexual desire and provided a way to satisfy that desire. Since God gave man the desire, He intended for man to gratify it. If God had not meant for us to eat, He would not have given us a stomach. You must admit, it is a pretty convincing argument. But, says Paul, they forgot one thing: food for the stomach and the stomach for food, but the body is for the Lord! The question, “Is it right or wrong?” is not the question. The question is “Does it glorify God?”
The new standard adopted: “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16)
The formative influence of our lives is not longer our desires but His character. Our conduct is to be shaped by His holiness. We are to walk in the light as He is in the light. (1 John 1:6-7)
Why does God demand we be holy? The answer is simply−because; because He is holy, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” No other reason is given. No other is needed.
For example, we know now that the Levitical laws prescribed by God were beneficial to the body as well as to the spirit. Abstaining from certain foods and practices would result in better health. It made good sense to obey the Levitical laws. God could have cited this as a a reason to obey them, but He only said, “Because…” The only reason He gave for being holy was, “because I am holy.” He appealed to His holiness, not their good sense.
The motivation for all Christian conduct is, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” A thing is wrong because God says it is, not because we can see the harm in it. Conversely, a thing is not right simply because it is innocent and harmless. Even if the psychologists, sociologists, and Hollywood celebrities could prove that homosexuality was physically normal, mentally healthy, emotionally safe, and socially acceptable, that would not make it morally right. It is sin, not because it is unnatural or harmful, but because God says it is. In the ignorance of our arrogance we believe our vote is necessary to elect something to sinhood.
Unfortunately many of our present convictions about right and wrong are being shaped by public opinion and popular causes rather than by the holiness of God. This is evidenced in the church’s changing attitude toward recent moral issues like homosexuality, abortion, divorce and remarriage, the ordination of divorced men and so forth. While we trumpet human rights, we display little interest in Divine rights. The pressure to “treat everyone fairly” and the inordinate fear of “denying a person’s right to be himself” is exerting more influence on us than the holiness of God.
But the church is supposed to correct the spirit of the age, not catch it. Christian ethics has its roots in the character of God, not in public opinion or public morality. This fact deals a death blow to situation ethics.
Not long ago I was discussing one of these moral issues with a teenager and he said, “But times have changed.” I had to admit he was right−times have changed. But that is all that has changed. Man has not changed, his basic spiritual and moral needs remain the same. God has not changed. His holiness remains intact and continues to be the standard of human conduct.
Our Holiness is to be Portrayed In All Our Conduct
“Be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” (1 Peter 1:15)
Three observations will help us understand the full meaning of this statement.
1. The word translated “behavior” means “dealing with other men, going up and down among men,” and is used of public activity or life in relation to others. It is not enough to be holy in our personal and private lives; holiness must be manifested in all of our dealings with others.
2. The little word all is used without the definite article in the Greek text. When used like that it summarizes a multiplicity of conduct; it means all kinds of conduct; every manner of behavior, whether in business or pleasure, labor or rest, joy or sorrow; nothing is excluded. In absolutely everything, from the greatest to the most insignificant of activities, we are to display the holiness of God.
3. The word translated be means to “show or prove yourself.”
Zechariah closes his prophecy with a strange forecast: “In that day there will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, ‘HOLY TO THE LORD.’ And the cooking pots in the Lord’s house will be like the bowls before the altar. And every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 14:20-21)
Those words, “Holy to the Lord,” were engraved on the plate of gold worn on the turban of the high priest (Exodus 28:36). And rightly so, for everyone knows a priest should be holy and when he entered the Holy of Holies he had better be holy or he would die. No one would dream of entering into the Holy Place without holiness. But Zechariah is saying that when Jesus brings salvation to men and God has His way in their lives, that which was once the exclusive property of the high priest will belong to every one. Even the horses will bear that insignia. Every pot and pan in Jerusalem will be holy. The prophet is saying that when a man rides his horse, or plows his field, or when a woman prepares the family meal, they are to do it with the same degree of holiness required of the high priest when entering the Holy of Holies. All distinctions between the sacred and the secular will be erased. To the Lord all of life is sacred. He demands no more holiness from the minister behind the pulpit than he demands of the housewife behind the stove or the salesclerk behind the cash register.
Here is the test: can I write “Holy to the Lord” across everything I say and do?
Our Holiness is Possible Through God’s Call
“But like the Holy One who called you…” (1 Peter 1:15)
God’s call is our assurance that we can become holy. His call to be holy includes the power to become holy. The word translated called always means an effective call. In other words, it always achieves its intention. When God calls us to be holy it does not mean He is telling us to be holy but rather He is inviting us into His holiness. For example, the call to salvation is not God telling us we should be saved. He is inviting us into salvation. When we respond to that call we are saved. It is the same with the call to holiness. As Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:1, we are to walk worthy of that call.
Our study passage began in 1 Peter 1:13 with God telling us how we should conduct ourselves: the following verses explain why we should so behave−we have been called to be holy. Verse 13, therefore, gives us the ingredients of a holy life. Combining this verse with the others we have discussed, we find three conditions for holy living: the call, a commitment, and our cooperation.
The call to be holy: What God demands He provides. When God calls us to be holy, He imparts to us the power to obey. God’s call supplies the dynamic for holiness.
A commitment to be holy: “Be holy,” God says. Be decisive, settle it once and for all that you will be holy. This calls for a definite choice, a commitment of the will. God will not make us holy against our will.
Our cooperation to become holy:
1. Be serious: “Gird up your minds for actions.” (1 Peter 1:13) This is a reference to hitching up long flowing garments to prevent their hampering our work or activity. The figure is taken from the night Israel ate the Passover in Egypt. They were to eat with their loins girt about them, ready to travel at a moment’s notice. The idea is that we should be mentally awake. We would say, “Roll up your sleeves.” We must pull ourselves together and get serious about this matter of belonging to God.
This is what a student must do if he is to pass his exams, it is what the surgeon must do as he prepares to operate, and the soldier as he goes into battle. The trouble with many Christians is they do not take seriously the high calling of God. But “as a man thinketh, so is he,” so if we want to be holy, we must mean business and take it seriously.
2. Be sober: “Keep sober in spirit.” (1 Peter 1:13) The word “sober” means “not intoxicated, free from improper influence.” The idea is moral alertness. We must not be infatuated with the things of this world nor let anything knock us off balance. The phrase describes a calm, steady state of mind that rightly evaluates things; it is a life of disciplined self-control. If we allow the world to influence us and become infatuated with its pleasures and treasures, we will lose our spiritual balance.
3. Be separated: “Do not be conformed to the former lusts.” (1 Peter 1:14) There must be a definite and daily break with the ways of the world.
God has called us to be holy and He has provided the means whereby we can become holy. All that remains is for us to say with Robert Murray McCheyne: “The greatest ambition of my life is to be a holy man.”