Jam 1:1-8; 16, 17 | Knowing Before Asking

James 1:1-8;16,17
Augustine said, “Grant me, Lord, to know and understand which is first, to call on Thee or to praise Thee?? and again, to know Thee or to call on Thee?  For who can call on Thee, not knowing Thee?  For he that knoweth Thee not may call on Thee as other than Thou art?”

In other words, unless we know God, we may ask Him to do something contrary to His nature.  So before we call on Him we must know Him. Knowing precedes asking.  We can’t pray effectively unless we know God adequately, or else we may be asking God to do something contrary to His character.  This may well the answer to much unanswered prayer.

Prayer is responding to God’s nature.  Prayer isn’t born in the need of man but in the nature of God.  That which draws us to Him should not be our need but His character.

In James one, the appeal and encouragement to pray is based on the nature of God.  “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all me liberally….(1:5)  ” The verb “giveth” is a participle, which indicates nature, something that is continually done.  It is God’s nature to give. He is a giving God-that’s His character.  When we ask God for something, we are not asking Him to do something contrary to His nature.  Giving is what God does.

Therefore, as Luke 11 tells us, we don’t have to beg God, using vain babbling, as the heathen do, trying to talk God into giving.

1.    He gives to all men Generally. “He giveth to all men.” No one is excluded, no one is favored above others. If you are a believer, you have as much right to pray as Paul or Peter.

2.    He gives to all men Generously. “liberally.” This word refers both to the abundance of the gift and the attitude of the giver. God isn’t tight! In Jesus parable on Prayer in Luke 11, He tells that the friend will rise and “give him as many as he needeth.” The is told that Alexander the Great gave a servant a golden cup. The servant said, “It is too much for me to take.” Whereupon, Alexander said, “It is not too much for me to give.”

Thou art coming to a King,
Rich petitions with thee bring,
For He grace and power are such,
That none can ask too much.

3.    He gives to all men Graciously. “and upbraideth not.” No rebuke.
When we get ourselves in a mess and ask God for wisdom, He doesn’t say before giving, “How could you be so stupid as to get yourself in such a mess?” Know what I mean? I hate to ask people for something who preaches me a sermon before they give it. I had just as soon not ask them-and I don’t. I think James inserts this phrase lest we might think we come to God too often, that we will wear out His patience with us. If we think that, we do not know God as we should.

The key to effective prayer and acceptable praise is to first know God.

That I May Know Him

As many of you know, I have been ill for the past seven months and haven’t preached since September. I lay in the hospital for six weeks, then spent an additional six months at home in bed. At the same time my daughter Kimberly was in a car wreck in November and, because of severe infections, had to have her left foot amputated a couple of weeks ago.

Recently Kaye was diagnosed with lymphomic cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. While I was lying helpless in the hospital with lung disease, I thought I was going to die, then, in bed helpless at home, I thought I was going to be an invalid; it looked as though my preaching days might be over. I know now that I will preach again (starting May 13th) but the doctor tells me I will never recover my full lung capacity and will not be able to pursue my ministry as aggressively as before.

But before I knew that, I lay in bed thinking, “Of what value am I now?” Everything that made my life purposeful seemed to have been cannibalized by my disease. During this time I was led to start reading and studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians. God both rebuked me and encouraged me.  He said to me that there was more to being His child than preaching, and if I found my worth only in health and strength and preaching, I was missing a big point.

The big point being that my ultimate aim in life was none of these, but “THAT I MAY KNOW HIM.” In Philippians 3:10, Paul brings to a conclusion the story of his conversion and sets his goal. In verse 7 and 8 he speaks of counting all his gains as loss that he might gain Christ; gradually he leads up to the ultimate goal. Read it like this:

I might gain Christ
be found in Him
having the righteousness that is from God
based on faith in Christ

I may know Him.

“That I may know Him.” That I may know Him more intimately, that my relationship with Him may grow deeper and deeper, never ceasing nor slowing this growth until I see Him in the final resurrection.

But that’s not all the apostle says; he goes on to describe what this deeper knowing of Christ involves: “The power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” To know Christ means to know the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.

Some observations:  It is strange that he should speak of power and sufferings in the same statement. We normally think power would cancel out any sufferings, as I’m afraid many do. But Paul asserts there is no inconsistency between the power and the sufferings. Both are part of the same experience.

Note the sequence: power, then sufferings. We would probably have reversed the order: sufferings, then power. And of course, with Christ that was the order: He had to suffer before He knew the power of the resurrection. For us, it is the opposite — first, the power and then the sufferings. The power of the resurrection is the life-giving power of God, manifested in the raising of Christ from the dead, which also works in us (Ephesians 1:19). When we are saved, we experience the power, but then we experience the sufferings. It is the power of the resurrection than enables us to share in His sufferings.

That the “sufferings” were the ultimate experience is plain by it’s coming after the power of His resurrection, and that Paul further amplifies it with, “being made conformable to His death.”

So the bottom line is that we are to share in His sufferings, enabled to do this by the power of His resurrection that resides in us. This is what it means to “know Him” in the way Paul meant.

To take as our ultimate aim in life “to know Him,” is to have an aim and purpose that nothing can interfere with or take away. Stripped by sickness, affliction or poverty, or anything, else cannot prevent us from coming to Him in a deeper and more intimate fashion.

A Tribute to Ron Dunn

On this day as we remember the life of Ron Dunn and celebrate his home going, it is with deep regret that I cannot be present in person.  I was on the last leg of my flight to Manila somewhere between Japan and the Philippines when Ron went home to be with the Lord.  I would like to pay tribute to one of God’s gifted preachers and a man who it has been my privilege to be his pastor for the past 18 months.

I suppose the preacher in me will not permit my sharing without first taking a text of Scripture.  I choose Philippians 3:10: “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.”  I choose this verse for several reasons.  In the last year of his life, Ron was enamored with the book of Philippians.  He fed on it regularly during the hard times of this past year.  In the last Bible Conference he preached, appropriately and by God’s sovereignty in his home church of MacArthur Blvd., all six of his sermons were taken from this book.  I predict these sermons will become treasured classics and will be sought by hundreds of preachers.

But this verse is also auto biographical for Ron.  During his lifetime, God had given him not only to know about  Christ, but to know Him in an intimate way.  He also knew of the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.

For almost 30 years, Ron Dunn was involved in an itinerant preaching and writing ministry.  When I first moved to Dallas in 1975 to attend college, I quickly learned about Ron Dunn and the amazing revival that had swept through MacArthur Blvd. Baptist Church.  Twenty-five years later, I had become his pastor.  Although I had heard him speak a couple of times and had read most of his books, he was unknown to me personally until 18 months ago.

During the latter 2/3 of these 18 months, Ron was very ill.  I visited him in the hospital and at his home.  We talked on the phone several times. Strange as it seemed to me, I was now the pastor of a man who was looked upon by many young preachers as their pastor.  Though I was his pastor, I felt much like Timothy in the presence of Paul.  I left those meetings feeling very much like the one who had been ministered to rather
than the one who came to minister.  I came to discover first hand what I had been told…Ron Dunn loved pastors.

Ron’s life points us to the God he knew so well, the Savior he loved so well, and the Bible he preached so well.  In a culture where many of our preachers preach horizontally, that is preaching to felt needs-cotton candy, 5 ways to be happy sermons-Ron Dunn  preached vertically – extolling and exalting God before the people as the only one who could meet their needs.  While other preachers served up junk food, to dine at “Dunn’s Place” was to enjoy a full-course meal.

His preaching was intensely spiritual, but always perfectly Biblical and thoroughly practical.  Like Ezra before him, “he blessed the Lord God” in his preaching and “all the people answered, Amen, Amen…and they worshipped.” (Nehemiah 8:6)

Unlike many modern preachers, Ron Dunn never endured the disgrace of having his sermon received with blank stares and feelings of boredom.  Whereas, some listeners wait for the end of the sermon as if it were a relief after a root canal, people listened to a Ron Dunn sermon, however long, on the edge of their seats and were disappointed when he decided to say no more.

Eloquent nonsense abounds in pulpits today.  Sometimes it is not even eloquent.  The eloquence of Ron’s preaching lay in his firm commitment to and exposition of the text when he preached.  I admired him for the fact that he always looked at his Greek New Testament when studying a passage to preach.  In a day when People’s Magazine provides about as much sermon fodder for some preachers as the Bible, Ron’s paramount commitment to expositional preaching was welcome tonic.

Tapes of Ron’s sermons have traveled around the world.  His tape ministry provides a source of encouragement to countless pastors.  I smile when I think of how many Ron Dunn points, illustrations, and even entire sermons have been preached by preachers whose inspiration and information came from a Ron Dunn tape.

He was known for his superb ability to take biblical truth and cast it in such a profoundly simply way.  He knew so well where we all lived.  He was the master illustrator in his preaching.  His illustrations, because they were taken from common, everyday experiences of life, adorned his sermons like freshly cut flowers with a pungent fragrance.  Last year, at a preaching conference at the Criswell College, the guest speaker, who was from London, England, made reference to the importance of illustrative preaching.  He paused and said: “The man who does this better than anyone I know is a fellow named Ron Dunn…who I think lives somewhere in Texas.”  From the back of the room I grinned, knowing that he lived not 20 miles away and I was his pastor.  The anecdote illustrates the far reach of Ron’s ministry.

Many people, however, know Ron Dunn not as the preacher but as the author of many books.  He will be remembered preeminently for his tri-fold focus on prayer, faith, and suffering in his writings.  How many thousands of God’s hurting children were, are and will be blessed and uplifted by the potent yet practical words which lept from the page of a Ron Dunn book to their heart.  Many are closer to the throne and have had their troubled paths cleared of disappointment and cheered with God’s grace because Ron Dunn, in the midst of a busy preaching schedule, took the time to write.  There is an unmistakable wisdom and wit to his books that will live on.

Speaking of wit, Tom Elliff, the pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church in Dell City, Oklahoma, and Ron were good friends for many years. The last sermon Ron preached was on a Sunday in Tom’s church last May.  Tom told me several months ago that Ron Dunn was the Columbo of Southern Baptist preachers. He suckered you in to thinking he was a bit bumbling in his way, then, when you least expected it – Wham!  He would nail you!

Last year at our Encouraged Conference at MBBC where Ron was preaching, I found out just how true this is.  I took on Ron Dunn…and lost. Like the Aggie who bet on the game and lost, then bet on the replay and lost again, this past May I took Ron on a second time…and lost again. They were the most pleasant defeats I have ever received.

Ron Dunn cared about pastors, especially pioneer pastors.  That is why in 1975 he began at MBBC an annual conference for pioneer pastors called ”the Encouraged Conference.”  Since that time, more than 250 pastors and their wives have been treated to a week of encouragement.  Only heaven knows how many ministries were saved as a result of his visionary act.  One of the last things Ron said to me a few weeks ago was how he wished some of the larger churches with great resources would catch the vision for ministering to pioneer pastors.  Perhaps now that he has gone, his wish will become a reality.

Ron Dunn’s legacy to us all, expressed in his preaching and writing, is his emphasis on walking with God every day.  Although some Christians
become so mystical in their approach to the spiritual life that they become wall-eyed and spiritual wall flowers, Ron Dunn’s brand of spirituality had about it the fragrance of the real thing.  He was in constant demand as a speaker at the Keswick Conventions in England as well as other conferences focusing on the deeper spiritual life.  His deep spirituality always blossomed forth in a concern for lost souls and an evangelistic heart.

From his beloved book of Philippians, Ron could say with Paul, :”For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  Were he here today, he would tell us that the Greek word for “gain” which Paul uses is a banking term meaning ”profit one receives from a previous investment.”….Ron invested a lot in his lifetime.  Great is his reward.

Ron Dunn’s life and ministry could be summed up in the words of the great reformer Martin Luther: “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s word…otherwise I did nothing..the Word did it all.

I can almost hear Ron say it today, can’t you?  Listen!…”I did nothing…the Word did it all!”  To God be the glory, great things He has done!

David L. Allen
Pastor, MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church
W.A. Criswell Professor of Preaching, The Criswell College

How to Live the Life of a Branch

Not long ago I decided to take a poll of a number of branches in a certain vineyard to find out how they were managing to take the strain of bearing fruit. After interviewing as many as possible, I came to some interesting conclusions. Not one had an ulcer, was on tranquilizers, was uptight or apprehensive, physically worn out or mentally fatigues. And finally, not one was contemplating giving up on the vineyard.

“What is your secret?” I asked. They said, “We’ve just learned to abide. Have you ever seen a branch struggle and strain and worry and get uptight? We don’t do that, because we understand that the responsibility for production − for results − is on the vine.”

Did you know that is exactly the kind of life Jesus Christ wants you to live? He wants you to live the life of a branch who has learned to rest in the true vine, which is Jesus Himself.

“Abide in Me, and I in you,” He told His disciples in the Gospel of John, chapter 15. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing…”
Abide in Me. What an invitation to a deeper and more intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus! And He gives that invitation to every Christian.


Now, abiding is not simply a matter of coming to Jesus for companionship. Jesus is saying, “Live in Me.” For instance, in Colossians 2:6 Paul tells us, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him…”

But whoever heard of walking in somebody? You can walk with somebody, over somebody, around somebody. But how can you walk in somebody? Jesus is saying, “I want you to find in Me everything you need and everything you are. As a fish lives in water, I want you to live in Me. As an astronaut lives off a support system, I want you to draw your life from Me.”

But somehow we have gotten the idea that we come to the Lord Jesus in the same way that we drive into a filling station and say, “Fill it up,” or “Give me a dollar’s worth,” depending on the magnitude of the task that we are facing. And then we say, “Okay, Lord, thank You for that new charge. And here I go out to serve You. When I run out, I’ll be back.”

That is not the kind of life Jesus has for us. Our relationship with Him is not just to be the means for getting an injection of new strength so we can go out and serve Him in some way.

Jesus Christ is not like a stick of dynamite that gives you a charge once in awhile and does a little blasting here and there. He is a dynamo − and that is a continual source of energy. That’s why He says to you and me, “I want you to abide in Me. I want you to live the life of a branch.”

At this point, some of you may be saying, “Ron, you are talking about passivity − just sitting down and doing nothing and saying, ‘The Lord is going to do it all; I am abiding.’” But this is not what I am speaking of. I’m talking about abiding in the Lord − not idling in Him.

For example, Jesus Himself said, “…The Father abiding in Me does His works,” and “I do nothing on My own initiative…” And yet, I don’t know of a man who was busier that Jesus. The apostle Paul understood the concept of abiding, but he was extremely busy, too. Abiding, then, is not inactivity or idleness. It is, however, a rest of mind and heart.

If you will check out the Greek meaning of the word rest as it occurs in the New Testament (referring to the rest that the Lord gives us) you will find that it means “the releasing of tension.” The same word is used in reference to the releasing of a tight bow string.

And so, a Christian man or woman can work hard and actually wear out physically, but still be at rest. Why? Because there is no tension and no tightness. He is set free from fear and frustration. When something goes wrong, he doesn’t panic because the responsibility for production is not on him; it is on the vine. This means he is even free to fail!

If we are going to learn to abide in Jesus, I believe that we need to know the essential qualifications of being a branch.


First, there must be a confession of our own inadequacy − our own weakness. Remember that in John 15:5 Jesus says, “…Apart from Me you can do nothing.” You may say, “Oh, I have done something.” You may have been involved in much Christian activity and it may look impressive. But please do not mistake work for fruit.

You see, work is something that man produces; only God can produce fruit. Galatians, chapter 5, speaks of work as a product of the flesh (our own energy), but fruit as a result of the Spirit of God.

We can define fruit as the outward expression of an inward nature. The inner nature of a Christian is Jesus; if Jesus is living within a person, there is going to be some visible manifestation that He is there. If someone says he is a Christian and yet there is absolutely no evidence of the character, the gentleness, the compassion of Jesus in his life − that person does not know Jesus. The fruit of the Christian is the Christian life, and the fruit of the Christian life is other Christians − that is, other people will come to know Him through the life and words of the Christian.

This fruit, produced as God works through individuals available to Him, is the only product that God considers of lasting value. There can be much work and activity, but no fruit. And do you know what God wants His branches to do? Bear fruit.

We just need to remember that we are branches, incapable of producing fruit apart from the vine.


Second, there must be communion. It is necessary for that branch to stay in constant contact with the vine. The lines of communication must be kept open. Can you imagine a branch that is too busy bearing fruit to have time to spend with the vine? It is this intimate communion with our Lord in secret that determines what happens outwardly in our lives day by day.

Most of us would like to be that man in Psalms 1, verse 3, who is described as “a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” But you can’t start at verse 3; you have to back up to verse 2 to find out why this man was so successful: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”

You see, I observe this strong, beautiful tree and ask, “Where does it get its strength?” And I find that it gets its strength in secret, from its union with the roots.

In other words, you are no closer to the Lord Jesus Christ in public than you are in prayer. It is that “hidden life” that you have alone with the Lord that is going to determine your vitality, your strength, your freedom from anxiety, your freedom from pressure. Make certain there is a time every day that you can get alone with God. Make it the time when you are most alert.

The third qualification the branch must have is commitment − availability. I have already mentioned that the responsibility of the vine is to do the producing. The sole responsibility of the branch is to simply be available − to place itself at the disposal of that vine and say, “I have no other reason to live except to let you bear your fruit through me.”

If you and I will learn how to communicate with the Lord Jesus and daily make ourselves available to Him, He will see to it that we are fruitful.
Until a few years ago I worried a great deal about whether or not I as a pastor was doing enough for the Lord. If I had one of those days of just answering letters and administrating, I would lie in bed at night saying, “Lord, I haven’t even witnessed to a single person today; I was so busy doing these little things.” There was always too much work to do, and I lived in a constant rush, giving hardly any time to my family.

But one day as I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that the water faucet was looking a bit discouraged. When I asked what the problem was, the water faucet said, “Well, I am really down because I know I have failed you today, master. I haven’t washed your hands once, I haven’t quenched your thirst once, I tried to turn myself on, but only squeezed out a few drops. I know that you are displeased with me.”

“Water faucet,” I said, “I have passed by you a hundred times today. If I had wanted you to quench my thirst or wash my hands, I would have turned you on. I don’t want you turning yourself on − you’ll just waste water and make a mess. You have been a pleasure to me today because you have been available. I don’t measure your faithfulness by how much water you pour out in a day. I measure your faithfulness by your availability.”

You know what? I can come to the end of a day now and say, “Lord, I didn’t do such and such today, but I was available, and if You had wanted to use me in that way, You could have.” It is such a peace, such a relief. I’ve come to that great discovery that no matter how hard I work, I will always be behind, so why worry? God is not my responsibility. I am His responsibility. My relationship with Him comes first, my family comes second, my ministry third.

Now I just tell Him, “Lord, I am Yours. I am available. Whatever You want to do with me today, You can. I am just a branch abiding in the vine.”

Called to be Holy

“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? Because.

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 Part

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.”