The holiness of God is arguably His most distinctive attribute, and it only stands to reason that those who bear His life and nature in their souls through regeneration ought to be holy as well. Indeed, this is one of the key statements of today’s passage (1:15). The ability to internally produce a holy life is the distinguishing feature of the New Covenant, which church saints enjoy (Ezek. 36:26-27, 37:24; cf. 2 Cor. 3:2-6, 9). Since our disposition and ability to listen to, obey, and delight in God was corrupted at the Fall, God intends to have a New Humanity that will joyfully embrace all of these things. Through the work of Christ this is accomplished for people in the present dispensation, as well as in the future with the nation of Israel.
This week’s sermon is a study of God’s call to holiness. The section is divided into three parts based on the three imperative verbs commanding God’s people to be hopeful, holy, and reverently fearful.
A. Live a Life of Hope (vv. 13-14)
1 Peter was written to suffering believers who needed power from Heaven to endure persecution and sorrow fruitfully and faithfully. In light of the glories of our past, present, and future salvation Peter has just described in verses 3-12, Peter launches into how we apply this hope to our lives. The first command Peter gives is that we orient ourselves towards hope—that we actively, decisively, anticipate and trust fully in what God will do in the future. Biblically-speaking, hope is a confident, though presently unrealized, anticipation of future assured good. It is certain and steadfast. It is faith looking ahead. Hope is the end-goal of God’s written Word (Romans 15:4), our helmet in spiritual warfare (1 Thess. 5:8), that to which God called us (Eph. 1:18, 4:4), a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3), that is our power in the fight for sanctification (Rom. 8:11-17; cf. vv. 20, 24-25; Gal. 5:4; 1 Jn. 3:3). Our “blessed hope” is the imminent, pre-tribulational, premillennial return of Jesus, wherein we shall be made like Him forever (Titus 2:13). Further, Peter tells us the object of our hope is future grace—the grace to be brought to us at Christ’s return. Paul writes that God will shower on us the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us “in the ages to come” (Eph. 2:7). Biblically, we live and believe oriented towards the future, for our hope is certain, awaiting the full consummation of our salvation when Christ returns.
The pathway to this hope is through two things: Girding up our minds and keeping a sober spirit. “Girding up” is the literal rendering of the NASB’s periphrastic “prepare your minds for action.” The idea is whenever a man, usually a soldier, would need to be ready to move and fight, he would tuck the long edges of his robes into his belt so he could move unhindered. It was a picturesque way of saying, “Get rid of everything that prevents and atrophies your hope. This is a war, and if you are to live by hope you must be prepared to fight for it! Make war on everything that distracts you from the coming glory.” Prepare to learn, prepare to think well, to feel ordinately, to grow in grace. Thus takes effort and energy. Then, be sober. Like its physical counterpart, the word carries the idea of freedom from distraction, listlessness and intoxication. It means to have your mental and emotional faculties in top performing shape so they can be fully given to discernment, clear thinking, and wise, moral decisiveness.
Peter expands on this by speaking to our identity in Christ. Dovetailing with the ideas in verse 13 is their root in our identity as “obedient children” (lit. “children of obedience”). Do these things because you are obedient children; it is your nature to do so. Instead of being conformed to the world and its lusts, set your hope fully on Christ and His rule and promises.
B. Live a Life of Holiness (vv. 15-16)
Tied to our identity in Christ and our pursuit of hope, we are commanded to be holy. The implication is that part of holiness is fixing our hope on the coming Christ (cf. 2 Tm. 4:8), which we only do because it is an application of our new nature to a specific truth of theology. For the Christian, theology is never merely academic but dynamic and intensely practical. It always affects how we live when it comes into contact with who we are in Christ. Here, holiness is also tied to God’s call; that effectual, powerful, sovereign commanding of life and breath into the spiritually dead. The One who breathed His very life into us through His Word is blazing, perfect, unfathomable holiness, so we too must be holy in everything. The Christian life cannot be compartmentalized. God does not limit His claims upon us, that we must only live up to His standards in certain areas, and can then make our own decisions independent of His inscripturated authority.
Indeed, it is the binding, verbal authority of the holy text that presses upon us to be holy: “because it is written” (v. 16). The same grammatical construction as in Matthew 4:4—the perfect tense can be rendered “it stands written” and means that from the moment the text was penned until this moment it carries utter, complete, and divine authority because of Whose words they are—means that up to the present moment God’s call for a holy people has not diminished an iota. The Jews were in covenant with God by His divine initiation and revelation. Because their covenant God was holy, they were to be like Him, for they represented Him and manifested His character, Word, and ways to others. Similarly, while Israel is set aside for the duration of the current age, God’s New Covenant people, the church, are called into a divine and covenantal relationship with the one true God that places certain definite, transdispensational obligations on the recipients of His covenant partnership, privilege, authority, and blessing. Chief among them is to press fully into the bond of the covenant and image the ineffably holy God who created, chose, redeemed, and rules over them (cf. Col. 3:10-12).
C. Live a Life of Reverent Fear (vv. 17-21)
Possibly the starkest and most concise descriptor of Old Testament saving and sanctifying faith is “the fear of Yahweh.” Yahweh—the one true God who reveals Himself in His Word and covenant and by His glorious acts in time—was to be feared. The Old Testament contains several most interesting and instructive comments on what this fear is and how it functions. It is caused by the Word (Deut. 4:10, 17:18-19, 31:12-13; Psa. 119:38), it can be taught (2 Kings 17:28), demands turning away from (Job 28:28) and hating (Prov. 8:13) evil, walking in God’s ways (Psa. 128:1), and keeping God’s commands (Psa. 111:7-10; Deut. 6:1-2). Perhaps most significantly, fearing God requires that we be forgiven (Psa. 130:4).
There is no reason to question that Peter means anything other than all of these things when he commands church saints to fear God in verse 17. He knew his Old Testament, and the God who called Gentiles into His covenant did not change His requirements or standard. It is noteworthy that Peter ties the fear of God to calling Him Father—if we call Him Father, we should fear. Why? Because being born into God’s family places upon us certain obligations and standards. Our God is our deeply tender and loving Father, yes, but He is still holy. Further, because our Father is our Judge, we should fear displeasing or rebelling against Him, for the loss of fellowship, reward, and usefulness—for starters—is great. Our choices have the potentiality of impacting the program of God significantly, and God is not above chastening His children. This is not a manifestation of wrath nor condemnation, but Fatherly concern to pry from us what distracts us from our hope and the glory of God.
Further, we are to “fear…knowing” (v. 18). The cognizance of our being purchased with blood, the blood of Christ Himself, perfectly and intimately loved by the Father from all eternity yet who revealed Himself in time as the God-man (cf. 1 Timothy 3:16, KJV) to redeem fallen sinners and who was used by God to create faith in His elect. Indeed, this Christ, the One with precious purchasing and cleansing blood, was raised from the dead and given glory (a reference to His ascension and coronation in Heaven as the Son of David; all this is the “through Him” of verse 17) “so that your faith and hope are in God” (v. 21). The knowledge of the power and worth of this One who so humbled Himself to pay for us with His own blood—the One whose blood was infallibly necessary as the only means of redemption and victory over sin—is to be the main cause of our fearing God. Who Christ is, what He did, what He is doing and will do—and who we are in light of all of that—is meant by God to produce in us a humble, characteristic, devoted, familial, fruitful reverent awe of Him in every area of life.
Christian, do you know whose you are? Do you fully appreciate the cost of your redemption, and its claims on you? The honor of God demands a pure, set-apart, spiritual people, who are fixated on the hope of their Lord’s coming to make all things right, a holy life of joyful obedience to His rule, and a life of reverent, submissive fear in the very presence of God. May God by His grace work these virtues into our lives—starting today!
Nota Bene: I invite the reader to refer to the excellent discussion of the fear of God in Chapter 3 of Dan Phillips’s book God’s Wisdom in Proverbs (The Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources, 2011), on which I relied most heavily for the first paragraph of point C.