Elect Exiles: Be Holy, For I Am Holy

Sermon by David Strain on September 1, 2019

1 Peter 1:13-21

Well now do keep your Bibles in hand and turn with me this time to the New Testament and to 1 Peter, chapter 1. We’ve been working our way through 1 Peter on Sunday mornings and we will be thinking about verses 13 through 17; part of a larger section, 13 through 21. We’ll look at the second half of this, God willing, next week. This morning, 13 through 17; page 1014 in the church Bibles if you’re using one of our church Bibles. 

Beginning in verse 3, really running through verse 12, Peter in one long run-on sentence in the original, has listed for us the great privileges that God in His grace has lavished upon His people. And you will remember back in verse 1, he says it again in our passage in verse 17, that we are described – if we are Christians – we are described as exiles; “elect exiles of the Dispersion.” That’s our identity. That is to say we are social, cultural outsiders for Jesus’ sake. And Peter now wants to show us “How do we live out faithfulness to Jesus as exiles in a hostile world when doing so can be costly?” And he is applying to us the practical implications of the privileges that he’s already outlined in verses 3 through 12. You’ll notice verse 13 begins with the word, “Therefore.” “So in light of everything I’ve said, therefore, here is how I want you to live.” Edmund Clowney, one of the commentators, said that, “The imperatives of Christian living always begin with ‘therefore.’” That’s helpful. The imperatives, the commands to obey, to live a holy life, the imperatives of Christian living always begin with “therefore.” In light of the promises and the gifts of God in His grace, in light of what Jesus has done, “therefore, here is how I want you to live.”

And as we consider Peter’s “therefore” and these implications of the grace of God in verses 13 through 17, I want you to notice with me that Peter is essentially inviting us to look in three directions. He wants us to look in three directions. First in verse 13, he invites us to look forward. He invites us to look forward to the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the age. The key word here is “hope.” He wants Christians to have hope, though now they are experiencing trials of many kinds he says, there is hope – Christ is coming; look forward. Then, he wants us to look backward in verse 14. He reminds them of their old lives before they were Christians. He speaks about the passions of their former ignorance and he is here reminding us of how we are to name our old life and our old ways. It’s ignorance, because he wants to awaken in us an appetite for holiness rather than a return to the passions of our former ignorance. The key word is holiness. And in order to facilitate that holiness, he invites us to look thirdly, to look upwards. To look up to God who is the holy One, and not only our Father who loves us, but our just Judge before whom we are to live during these days of our exile in reverent fear. The key word this time, verses 15 through 17, is fear. So look forward in hope, look back at your old life as you seek motive for holiness, and then look upward to God who is the holy One and learn to tremble before Him in fear. 

Before we read the passage, let’s bow our heads as we pray together. Let’s pray.

Lord, now Your Word is spread before us; we’re holding it in our hands. And we pray as we read it together and as we study it together, that it would be more than words on a page to us but it would indeed be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, that it would be sweeter than honey from the comb and more precious to us than much fine cold. That You would teach us by it that in keeping Your Word there is great reward. And grant, O Lord, that by it Your servants might be warned. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

1 Peter chapter 1 at the thirteenth verse. This is God’s Word:

“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. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but 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.’ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that 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.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy Word.

Look Forward in Hope

We all know instinctively, don’t we, that the direction we are facing, the direction in which we are looking, can sometimes have life-altering consequences. Think about a teenager learning to drive. I’ve had the privilege of teaching a teenager to drive recently. So you’re sitting at the junction and you’re about to turn, and they’re only looking left and not looking right and you resist the urge to shriek like a girl as they emerge into the traffic. That’s never happened to me, of course, but one would imagine such a thing is possible! The direction you’re looking can have enormous consequences. In our passage this morning, Peter is saying to us if we are going to navigate life as exiles, life on the margins as sojourners and pilgrims and outsiders to the culture, if as Christians we are going to be faithful to Jesus, even if that means bearing the cost, it is essential that we learn to look in the right direction. 

And the first direction he invites us to look in, verse 13, he invites us to look forward. Look forward. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The main verb in that sentence is “set your hope.” It’s one word in Greek – “set your hope.” That’s the main verb. The big idea in verse 13 is looking forward to the revelation of Jesus Christ, the coming of Christ at the end of the age. And he wants us to fix our hope firmly on that coming day. And look at this carefully. Peter says that moment will bring to us climactic grace. The moment when the skies split and Christ appears in glory and every one of His people are swept up to be forever with their Lord, that moment, he says, will bring climactic grace to Christians. Not merit, not payment, even after a lifetime of good work, even after years of faithful Christian service, even then your entry upon your eternal reward will be a gift of extravagant grace. 

Think of it this way. Down the long ages, if that way of speaking is even proper, down the long ages of glory, in the new creation, worshiping around the throne of God and the Lamb, you will never turn to your neighbor and say, “You know what? I’m finally getting what I deserve!” You’ll never say, “By the strength of my own hands have I done this, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding.” You’ll never say, “Look what I did!” Instead, you will see that your very best works, the things that you’ve done in Jesus’ service of which you are most proud in life, are so shot through with self and sin that were your Lord to determine the question of your eternal destiny based on your best works alone, you will see that on that basis you would have no grounds for hope at all, no grounds for hope. Instead, you’re going to look in amazement at the blessedness you receive in reward for very imperfect works, very partial obedience. You’ll see how your beatitude, your blessedness is infinitely mismatched to your merits. You’ll know nothing you’ve done or could ever do deserves the joy you are then receiving. And yet you will hear your Savior say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord.” You’ll hear the Father speak of it as reward and you will say, “Reward? Reward? Surely it’s all grace! After all, wasn’t it Your grace that enabled what obedience I was able to muster in life and now it’s grace that rewards such feeble obedience. Grace upon grace.” 

Peter is saying to the suffering church in his own day, he’s saying to us, “Although you may already have come through many dangers, toils and snares, twas grace that brought you safe thus far, and grace will lead you home.” And so when fiery trials of many kinds come – they will come, they will come – and when they do, what should you do then? When grievous trials come upon you for a little while if necessary, as they were coming upon Peter’s first readers, what should you do then? When you can say with the psalmist, “Darkness is my only friend,” what do you do then? You set your hope fully on the glory to be revealed and on the grace that is still yet to be brought to you. This isn’t it. This, this isn’t it. This is not your best life. If you’re a Christian, you never will live your best life now, but you will live your best life here after; you will. Jesus is coming. “The Lord is at hand,” Paul says in Philippians 4. Climactic grace, consummating grace will be brought to you in that day. Fix your hope there, and press on. “Do not grow weary in well doing, for you will reap if you do not give up.”

And Peter even tells us, if you look back at verse 13 in the first two clauses of the verse, how we are to set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us. He says you are to do it “preparing your minds for action, being sober-minded.” If you’re using an older translation, it actually captures, I think, the Greek a little better. It’s quite picturesque language. The older King James says, “gird up the loins of your mind.” That’s the picture. It’s a great picture of someone in the ancient Near East in long robes and they know they have to get ready for action. And how do they get ready? They have to tuck their long robes into their belt so that they’re free and ready to run. Peter is really saying, “There is no way to weather the storms that will come, there’s no way to persevere through the trials, there is no way to fix your hope fully on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus comes with a mind still asleep, with a sleeping mind. There is no progress in the Christian life with a disengaged brain.” It’s wonderfully practical, isn’t it? Peter is saying, “I want you to fix your eyes on the great day of Christ’s appearing, to long for the world to come, and to get ready for that day, I want you to engage brain.” 

I wonder if you would agree with this assessment – that our culture of entertainment has largely kicked our brains into neutral. It’s like somebody’s bumped the gear stick and our engines are idling. Our brains, we’re just mentally ticking over, coasting along. Peter says, “No, look, if you want to be faithful as elect exiles in a dark day, you want to follow your Savior when doing so will be costly, you must gird up the loins of your mind. You need to get ready for action and be sober-minded.” He doesn’t mean be dour and joyless, but he does mean you need to feel the weight of your calling. You need to feel the urgency of the Gospel. You need to be aware of the dangers of sin. Frivolity is not a mark of Christian authenticity. So Peter says, “I want you to look forward to the great day of Christ’s glorious appearing when grace will be brought to you. And in order to keep that day in view, you need to engage your brains and be sober-minded. Look forward.

Look Backward at the Old Life 

Then he says, verse 14, “I also want you to look backward.” “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” He’s inviting us to look back at the old life and to think about it correctly. Don’t glamorize the old life. Don’t toy with the ways and the words and the works of an ungodly life. It wasn’t cool and it wasn’t fun. Peter says it was ignorant. It was stupid. You didn’t know the danger you were in before you came to know Jesus Christ. The damage you were doing, the dishonor you were paying to your God. And so when the old passions well up within you again, as they will from time to time, learn to name them correctly. They’re not old, familiar friends offering you relief. They are the enemies of your soul and they will destroy you if you let them. Do not be squeezed into the mold of your former ignorance. Don’t let the old passions hold sway, he says. Instead, I want you to long for holiness. 

Look Up to God 

Which brings us to the third thing he says. Look forward, look back, then look up. How will you generate a longing for and motivate and propel Christian obedience that you might be holy? I want you to look up. I want you to look up. Verses 15 through 17, “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance but” – so instead of former passions, here’s the alternative; here’s the path of holiness – “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.’ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” Look up to God. Look at Him in His holiness. You are to be obedient children. You call on Him as Father and your Father is holy, and He commands His children to be holy. He’s looking for the family likeness, you see. 

Here, I think, is a real help to us in our pursuit of holy conduct – study the holiness of God. Look up. Study the holiness of God. Learn to love the holiness of God. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness. Join the seraphim around the throne singing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of Your glory!” Make the holiness of God your great study and the cause of your praise. Because listen, no one who learns to delight in the holiness of God can ever be content with ungodliness in themselves. No one who learns to delight in the holiness of God can ever be content with ungodliness in themselves. 

They say you get like those you live with. Maybe you know an older couple like this and they’ve been married for many decades and their mannerisms and their way of carrying themselves, they finish each other’s sentences, and their behavior, their whole lives – so that they begin to resemble one another. You can tell they fit together. They go together. Peter is saying the God who has called you and adopted you and made you His children in whose household you have come to dwell by His grace, this God is holy. Look at Him. Live close to Him and you will become like Him and begin to bear the family likeness.

And to help with yet another layer of motivation and incentive, notice in verse 17 that this God who is our Father, who has adopted us, the holy One, Peter says is still also our judge. You see that in verse 17? He judges impartially, according to each one’s deeds, he says. That’s a solemn thought, isn’t it? “He judges according to our deeds.” That’s a solemn thought. I dare say it’s a subject we don’t often entertain, but beloved in Christ, we do need to face it. You and I, we will stand before God on the last judgment one day. We will not escape a judgment according to works. Now wait a minute, Peter. Back in verse 13 you said when that day dawns it’s all going to be grace. The grace that is to be brought to you, you said, when Jesus comes. And now you’re saying when we stand before God in the judgment it’s going to be according to deeds? How do we put those two things together? Either it’s a judgment according to works or it’s all grace, but it can’t be both. Can it? 

It’s a good question. Peter does give us some help, even in the context. If you look at verse 18 it’s very clear that Peter understands that our sin is paid for in full. Right? You see that in verse 18? Look there please. “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.” Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, and He washed it white as snow.” “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” If you are a believer in Jesus, your sin is paid for. “It is finished.” Paid in full. The debt cancelled. The guilt removed. The sin atoned for. Praise the Lord! And so there can be no double jeopardy, right, in the heavenly tribunal. When you stand before God on the last day, there is no question of your sin being counted against you. Your sin has already been judged in Jesus Christ, crucified in your place. 

So what does it mean then for us to be judged according to deeds? We won’t be judged according to our sin; we will be judged according to deeds, according to our works. Here’s what I think Peter is saying. When the last judgment comes and the books are opened and the vast assembly that no one can number is gathered around a judgment seat of God, waiting for the divine verdict, not the sins of Christians, not your sins, believer in Jesus, but your works will be counted. Not as the reason or the grounds upon which God will bestow heaven and blessedness and salvation, but as the great evidence that grace has accomplished its work, that God’s promises are true, that His righteousness is vindicated, that His actions for us and in us for our salvation are trustworthy, His righteousness shown, every mouth stopped and all the glory go to Him alone. Our sins won’t be judged, they’ve already been judged at the cross, but our grace-produced, Holy Spirit-wrought good works will be judged. And Peter is saying there is an awesome gravity to that that ought to weigh on us if we are believers. 

Robert Leighton, who is the Episcopal Bishop of Glasgow, my hometown, in the 17th century in Scotland, he put it like this. He said, “This verse is teaching us to say, ‘I will not sin because my Father is my Judge. But for my frailties,’ so when I stumble and fall, when I do sin, ‘I will hope for mercy because my Judge is also my Father.’” The verse is saying, “Because He’s the holy Judge, I tremble at the thought of transgressing His Law. I love Him! And I’m in awe of His majesty and greatness and my heart shrinks back appropriately from betraying His love toward me. I will not sin because my Father is a just Judge, but for my frailties, when I do sin, I don’t fall into despair but I have hope in His mercy because my just Judge is also still my Father in Jesus Christ.” 

That is Peter’s point, isn’t it, in verse 17? “Therefore, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” He’s not talking about spiritual uncertainty and abject terror. He’s not talking about the servile fear that is appropriate to you if today you’re not a Christian. If you’re not a Christian today, what we’re talking about right now ought to strike real terror into your heart. God is just and holy and you will stand before Him at the last day! And unless you find in Jesus Christ alone a Rescuer and a Deliverer for your sin and guilt, you will stand exposed to His righteous wrath. That’s something before which we ought all to tremble. But the fear in the heart of a child of God is not servile fear; it’s not terror of judgment. There is no condemnation for you. But it is the reverent awe, the trembling fear that should fill our hearts at the very thought of transgressing His holy Word, of betraying His love. We know Him to be holy and we want the world to see in our lives some echo, some family likeness of that same holiness. And when we stand in the great assembly on the last day, we want our lives to adorn our profession and say, “God is good and just and right, and look at what He has done in me in testimony to His goodness and grace.” And so we live here in holy fear. 

Let me ask you – Do you fear God? Do you fear God? Do you know what the fear of God is in your own heart? We’re uncomfortable with that vocabulary, aren’t we? We’ve been taught to focus on love, focus on God’s kindness, appropriately. But the Bible speaks often about the fear of God. Do you fear God? Let me say, we are in serious spiritual trouble if we do not fear God. That was brought home to me several years ago by the case of a dear friend of mine who was a young minister in the United Kingdom. He was a faithful man. He was enjoying the blessing of God on his writing ministry, his preaching ministry. He was beginning to receive the wide approbation of the church in the United Kingdom, recognition for his gifts and usefulness. The Lord was using him. And then suddenly, the news broke that he had been having a secret affair and his marriage ended; his ministry was ruined. And he tragically departed from the faith. And I remember asking him, “How did this happen? How is it possible? How did it happen?” Heartbroken, asking him, “How did you get here from there?” I’ll never forget his answer, his chilling answer. He said, “David, I simply stopped fearing God. I stopped fearing God. That’s how I got here from there. The fear of the Lord no longer gripped my heart. The weight of His holiness no longer rested upon my consciousness. And so instead of trembling before Him, remembering that my Father is also my Judge, in presumption I said, ‘He’ll forgive me. That’s His job,’ and lived as I pleased.” 

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Do you fear God? The fear of the Lord says, “I will fight tooth and nail to kill my sin because my Father is my Judge. And when I do sin, I will hope in His mercy because my Judge is still my Father in Jesus Christ.’” 

So Peter says look forward. There is grace coming. There is grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. What a day it will be when sin at last will be wiped from us, eradicated from us, and we will shine with the reflected brillance of our glorious Redeemer. And look backwards. Remember the old life. Don’t glamorize it. Don’t long for it. Name the old passions properly. They’re not your friends; they are your enemies out to destroy you. Flee from them. And look up. See the One seated on the throne, high and lifted up, the holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty. Live close to Him that you may become like Him. And remember that your Father is your Judge, that you may live throughout the time of your exile in holy fear. Let’s pray together.

O God, deliver us from presumption. Abba Father, forgive us for flippancy, for dull minds, for our this-worldliness that does not set our hope fully on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We praise You, Father, that You love us and have provided atonement for us, for our sin, in Jesus. There, we rest our faith and find peace. But we still yet tremble because we know that Abba Father, You are infinite in Your holiness. We tremble not as the objects of Your wrath, but as Your beloved children whom You call to be like You. Work grace in all our hearts that we may indeed live near You, nearer tomorrow than we did yesterday, that we may be like You – holy as You are holy – for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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