Sermons on 1 Peter
Incentives to Holiness
1 Peter 1:13 – 2:2
I need hardly stress the importance of sanctification. Someone has put like this: "Christ comes with a blessing in each hand – forgiveness in one and holiness in the other; and never gives either to any who will not take both."
The section begins with a "therefore…" (1:13). What is the "therefore" there for? The answer to that seems to be that Peter wants to break off and make some application based on what he has said. He wants the Christians, in what we would call modern Turkey, to guard and protect their minds and their thinking especially. The great indicatives of the opening 12 verses, can summarized by three assertions: that Christians possess a living hope, an indescribable inheritance, and an inexpressible joy.
On the basis of what is true about us, we should now live our lives in this way. That’s the gist of what Peter is now beginning to say in verse 13. In particular, he makes a three-fold application:
§gird up the loins of your mind (AV)
Peter seems to be saying that the three evils which blight our Christian testimony are:
It is interesting that Peter should be giving a lot of emphasis on the mind and the way we think. But not only that, but evil-desire which once governed our way of life is to do so no longer. And what Peter is getting is ‘the holiness code" from Leviticus:
"Be holy, as I am holy" (v.16)
The specific way in which holiness manifests itself is, first of all, in the way we think, but the general point that Peter is making is the need for holiness. It is interesting, is it not, that what Peter wants to say most of all to a group of people who are facing persecution and possible death is that they need holiness. It is reminiscent of what Robert Murray McCheyne said (albeit in his case to ministers of the gospel) that our greatest need is our own personal holiness. Nothing is more important than our personal likeness to Jesus Christ. Nothing can prepare for difficulty more than conformity to our Savior.
But, what does holiness mean? And Peter will outline it further with things like freedom from any malice, or deceit, or hypocrisy, or envy, or slander (2:1). Before we look at these in detail, which we’ll do on another occasion, Peter hasn’t actually finished with the incentives for holiness. Having begun to make some application, it seems as though he hears someone say, "But, why should we do this?" And Peter adds an armful of even more wonderful incentives that ought to impel us into greater service and activity for our Lord. There are four of them.
I. The first of which is the
Holiness of God
What does it mean for God to be holy. And what does holiness look like? And what will be some of the consequences for us?
Think of Isaiah 6, when the prophet saw the holiness of God in the temple area: the seraphim which continually cried, "Holy, holy, holy…"Think of how it affected Isaiah (and affect him it did for the rest of his life!). His favorite designation for God thereafter is "The Holy One." Whenever he thought about God or spoke about Him, or wrote about Him, it was God’s holiness that came to the forefront of his mind. He remembered how he had "seen" it in more ways than one. It had depicted spatial, liturgical, and even psychological dimensions to it. The Lord was "high and lifted up." His "otherness" was altogether above and beyond him. There was more to God than he had ever imagined. And it caused the seraphim to worship, to sing, and to praise! And the prophet himself was undone by it. It was as though God’s holiness sifted him. "I am undone," he exclaimed. Literally, the prophet seems to have been saying that the holiness of God tore him apart. God had seen through his native sinfulness and Isaiah knew it.
Holiness is both intimidating and attractive at the same time. Psalm 29, for example, speaks of "the beauty of holiness." But for Isaiah, it was the intimidating nature of the holiness of God that spoke to him the most. He felt as though he could not stand in God’s presence.
Our holiness ought to have similar characteristics. There should be something that sends shudders through unbelievers, and something which attracts.
In the biography of Henry Martyn, a missionary to Persia, his biographer, Sergeant, writes these wonderful lines by way of a description of Martyn’s godliness: "The symmetry of his stature in Christ was as surprising as its height. That communion which he held with his God, and which caused his face to shine, was ever chastened, like the patriarchs of old, by the most awful reverence."
That is the quality that Peter seems to be calling his readers to emulate.
2. A second incentive for holiness is, the
gospel of God
Peter is meditating, as I think he often did, on the incident at Caesarea Philippi. It was there that Jesus had asked the disciples as what people were saying about Him. Who was He? Some had answered Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But Jesus had asked Peter, "Who do you say that I am?" To which he had replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16).
This is an important point in the life of Jesus, as Matthew tells us, for it is from this point onwards that Jesus begins to speak about His mission, especially the fact that it will end in crucifixion in Jerusalem, with even greater clarity: "From that time Jesus began to teach… handed over to be killed." (Matt. 16:21)
But Peter could recall his own reaction to all the talk about crucifixion. He had uttered two words which can never be put together, "Never, Lord." And it must have come as such a blow to him that Jesus rebuked him, adding by way of salt in the wound that he was actually siding with Satan. He was thinking of the "things of man" rather than the "things of God."
I can’t help but think that Peter thought about this a lot, and he was ashamed it. Why? Because the cross had purchased him.
But not only the language and significance of redemption, but also the way in which Peter adds that this is why Jesus had come into the world: "He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him…" (1 Peter 1:20). Do you see, Peter seems to be asking, that nothing less is required to make me holy. It took the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, and in this way, to make you holy!
What Peter seems to be asking us to do is consider the manner and cost of Jesus’ coming into the world. We must grow in our love for what Christ did for us. It ought to move us to laying down our lives for Him in service and obedience.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe;
Sin hath left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow
3. A third incentive that Peter alludes to is the fact
that we are now constituted the family of God
In recent years it has become fashionable to use the language of "born-again" Christians (to distinguish from nominal Christians). In actual fact, there are no other kinds of Christians than those who have been born again. But what does it mean? Often it depicts little more than some vague religious experience and nothing very specific. The idea of regeneration or new birth was not limited to the Christian faith in the first century a.d. There were many mystery religions who used this language also. That is why it is important to understand what it means, and in the New Testament it means that we have come to share in the risen life and power of Jesus Christ, and have entered into vital fellowship with Him. Peter has just mentioned the resurrection of Christ in verse 21, and then immediately goes on to spell out the consequence of this for our Christian lives. As Christians we have to share in the risen life of Christ.
In fact, Jesus prophesied that a final "new birth" or regeneration" would take place at the end of time (Matt. 19:28). His resurrection from the dead was the firstfruits of this great event (1 Cor. 15:20). By it He became the "firstborn among many brothers." God’s ultimate purpose is make us like His Son and the resurrection of Jesus, and our re-birth are parts of that great end.
Not only have we come to enjoy a relationship with fellow (re-born) Christians (so that Peter can say, "love one another deeply"), but we have also come to share a relationship with our "elder brother," Jesus! It is this very thing that Jesus seemed to have been wanting Mary Magdalene to understand (though the church has understood it in the very opposite way, too) whenever He said to her, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God’" (John 20:17). The resurrection of Jesus implied that His children have come to know the same Father as His and to share in that family nature. What an incentive for holiness!
A fourth and final incentive comes from Jesus’ words regarding the final judgment of God
We can’t avoid this as an incentive for holiness, because the Bible doesn’t. In verse 17, the emphasis falls on the pilgrim, transitory nature of life and the certainty of judgment: "Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear." Actually, "reverent fear" may be too comfortable a translation since the original simply has "in fear." It is reminiscent of what Paul says to the Corinthians, that "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor. 5:10).
But note v.13, where it is combined with the coming of Christ, the consummation, the glory, that grace that has been given to us! Peter thinks of the day of judgment—not with terror but with joy! It is that joy that evokes the longing to grow. We have an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, cannot fade away (1 Pet. 1:4-5). It is non-perishable, non-spoilable, non-fadeable.
Living our lives with a measure of accountability will always imply that we do so with care and precision. Knowing that everything we do has to be scrutinized by the Almighty God will keep us on our toes. It is not the cringing fear of a slave who fears death, but the desire of a son to please his Father that motivates us here.
Great God, what do I see and hear!
The end of things created!
The judge of mankind doth appear
On clouds of glory seated!
Beneath His cross I view the day
When heav’n and earth shall pass away,
And thus prepare to meet Him.