Be holy in all your conduct (2)
1 Peter 1:14-16
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, You shall be holy, for I am holy. ESV
We begin where we left off in 1 Peter chapter 1.
We’ve been working our way through this letter that Peter addressed to “scattered, elect sojourners”. That is His description of believers in Christ in this world. Throughout the first twelve verses of the letter Peter gave no commands or exhortations or instructions. There were no imperatives. Throughout that first section of the letter he concentrated on celebrating and blessing the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because it is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who elected His people. It is He who regenerates them or gives them spiritual life by the Holy Spirit. He then refines and preserves those who are “scattered, elect sojourners” so that they have a certain hope of an eternal inheritance “ready to be revealed in the last time”. So, although Peter acknowledges that “scattered, elect sojourners” will be “grieved by various trials” during their earthly lifetimes, he’s emphasising the fact that they have every reason rejoice and join with him in blessing the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Last time we looked at verse 13 and recognised it to be a turning point in the letter. It marks the beginning of a new section. Having shown the fact of salvation and the blessings that flow from it, Peter moves on to show the impact of that salvation and the effect that it ought to have on us. Yes, we should rejoice in the fact of our salvation but what should we do as a consequence of being saved by the grace of God? What does God expect of you and me? How should that salvation work out in our lives? Well, in verse 13 we came across the first imperative or command to be found in the letter.
Many other imperatives are going to follow in due course but the first imperative that Peter sets before us is perhaps not what you might have anticipated. He doesn’t mention any of the obvious Christian activities that might spring to immediately to mind. His first imperative is to “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed”. If you like, we could describe that as Peter’s first commandment of the Christian life. You’ll notice that it’s not really a command to do anything as such. The command is to set your hope, not just in part, but fully in the grace of God. The command is to not trust, even a little bit, in anything that you do but to trust fully in what God has done through the Lord Jesus Christ. That sets the tone for the Christian life. We’re saved by God’s grace alone and we must trust in God’s grace alone.
Once again we’re going to start to look at verses 14 to 16.
Now, it had been my intention to look at verses 14 to 16 in one go as a whole to see what they tell us about this command to be holy. I was going to do so under five headings and I must apologise for not having been able to resist the urge to indulge in some alliteration. The five headings all begin with the letter “C” and they are as follows: Children, Character, Conformity, Calling and Conduct. However, in the course of preparing I realised that there was more to say on each point than I’d anticipated so it would end up being quite a long sermon. Because of that I’ve decided to cover these verses in two parts. So, we’ll concentrate on verse 14 today and that will cover the first three of those five points and then we’ll look at the last two points from verses 15 and 16 next time. So, the next “C” word for us to consider is the third word:
Having described them as “obedient children”, before giving the command to “be holy”, Peter goes on to state in negative terms what is required in order to obey the command to “be holy” by saying “do not be conformed”. Now, I’ve used the heading “Conformity” to maintain the alliteration but really this is speaking of nonconformity! Peter is saying that “Obedient children” are to be holy by being nonconformists! That’s not speaking in the ecclesiological sense of the word “nonconformist”. It’s not referring to dissenting from an established church such as the Church of England. Personally, I think it is right and proper to be a nonconformist in that sense but merely being a nonconformist in terms of your understanding of the church and in terms of your church practice doesn’t make anyone holy.
Peter says that what you are to not “be conformed to” if you are to be holy is what he refers to as “the passions of your former ignorance”.
What does Peter mean by “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance”?
Well, to “not be conformed to” has the sense of not acting or living according to the dictates or requirements of something. The only other place in the New Testament where the expression occurs is in Romans 12v2 where Paul said: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. J B Phillips famously paraphrased it as “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould”. By “Do not be conformed to this world” Paul meant don’t shaped by the demands of this world. Don’t follow the ways of the world, don’t be subject to the prevailing attitudes of the world, don’t embrace the values of the world. Why? Because as members of God’s family, although we are living in the world, we are no longer of the world. We no longer share the values of this world because we have our own family values as the family of God. That’s why we are “scattered, elect sojourners” in this world.
Now Peter is expressing a similar idea in saying “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance”.
That word “passions” could equally be translated as “desires”. In our stiff upper lip British way of thinking we tend to view passions or desires in a negative way. Or perhaps I should say in our English way because Welshmen like Neil take great pride in being passionate! We English tend to be suspicious of any sort passions. Well, we mustn’t allow that national trait to affect the way in which we understand what Peter is saying here. It could very easily make us think that Peter must be urging us to ignore all of our passions or desires. That’s perhaps what we’d naturally tend to be comfortable with.
However, the word itself is quite neutral. We need to recognise that there are good passions and there are bad passions. You can have good desires and you can have bad desires. John Piper famously wrote a book entitled “Desiring God” and Peter certainly isn’t saying that we are not to be conformed to that desire. If you desire God, if you have a passion for the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ then conform to it as fully as you can! Those are good passions to have. Pray for passions and desires like that. Encourage passions and desires like that.
The passions or desires that Peter says we are not to conform to are specifically what he describes as “the passions of your former ignorance”. You see, he’s referring to what they had once been. He’s telling them to not conform to the passions that had previously characterised them. They’d once been in ignorance. Of what had they been ignorant? Well, primarily, they had been ignorant of God. They might have entertained certain ideas about Him but they hadn’t known Him. They’d been like those that Paul had had spoken to in Athens. We read in Acts 17v29-30 that Paul had said: “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent”. Their notions of God had stemmed from their own imaginations and had fallen so far short of reality that they were really in ignorance of Him. Now that Jesus has come to make God known no-one has an excuse to not know Him so God commands “all people everywhere to repent” of that ignorance.
Now, Peter was speaking to those who had repented and come to faith in Christ.
They’d been born again into the family of God and he’s reminding them of what they were formerly. They had been very different in the past. Now God is their Father and they desire to obey Him but previously they had been in ignorance of Him. So, when Peter speaks of “the passions of your former ignorance” he means the passions and desires that arose from that ignorance. He means the passions that were associated with that “former ignorance”. He means the sinful desires that had characterised their previous godless existence. John makes it clear in 1 John 2v15-16 that everyone either loves the world or they love God the Father. We read: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world”. You see, certain worldly desires result from loving the world. Loving God the Father give rise to a completely different set of desires.
There are two things we need to recognise from the fact that Peter needed to give the warning to “not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance”.
Firstly we need to recognise that it means there is a real danger of conforming to such passions.
Although they were no longer in their “former ignorance” but had become God’s children and members of his family with the desire to obey Him, Peter still needed to give the warning to “not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance”. Those passions linger in the lives of believers. They try to exert influence over us. So, we mustn’t be complacent. We must be on our guard to make sure that we don’t conform to them. In this life as believers we are in a battle between what we once were when we were in our “former ignorance” and what we now are in the family of God. Does that sound a bit discouraging? It needn’t be. We’re not to set our hope on what we are now or how much progress we think we’re making. Remember that we are to set our “hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed”.
But, secondly, we need to recognise that Peter gave the warning….
Because if we have been born again into God’s family we can realistically avoid conforming to those passions. When we were in our “former ignorance” those passions dominated us. Telling us to not conform to them would have been a waste of breath. We couldn’t do anything but conform. But now, through faith in Christ, things have changed. Paul says in Galatians 5v24-25: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit”. We can have victory over those old passions and desires. That’s not accomplished by supreme effort on our part but through the power of the Holy Spirit who is now at work in us. Those passions will still be there but we don’t have to conform to them. Let us rather conform to our desire for the glory of God to be seen in us through us.
So, we’ve noticed that, in verse 15, Peter gives his second commandment of the Christian life. That is to “be holy in all your conduct”. So far, from verse 14, we’ve seen that the command is specifically addressed to those who are children of God. We’ve seen that children of God are characterised by obedience to God and we’ve seen that such obedience to God in order to obey the command to be holy involves not conforming to what we once were.
Lord willing next time we’ll look at verses 15 and 16 where we have the “C” words “calling” and “conduct” and we’ll think about the holiness of God and the holiness that believers in Christ have been called to.
Dr. Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!