Be holy in all your conduct (3)
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
Once again we begin where we left off in 1 Peter chapter 1.
We’re continuing to work our way through 1 Peter chapter 1 and we remain in the second section of the letter. In the first twelve verses Peter was preoccupied with blessing the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and encouraging believers in Christ. They might be “scattered sojourners” in this world but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ had elected them and given them spiritual life by the Holy Spirit and was continuing to refine them and to preserve them so that they have a certain hope of an eternal inheritance that is “ready to be revealed in the last time”. So, they have every reason rejoice and to join with Peter in blessing the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was noticeable that throughout that first section Peter gave no imperatives or commands. He was preoccupied with blessing God and impressing upon believers the blessings of salvation. The emphasis changes dramatically in the second section of the letter. It begins at verse 13 and it contains a whole series of imperatives. We immediately saw the first of those imperatives or commands in verse 13. That first command, perhaps unexpectedly, was to “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed”.
Then, in verses14-16, Peter went on to say: “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”. That contained Peter’s second commandment of the Christian life. We see it there in verse 15 when he says: “be holy in all your conduct”. That is the overriding command in these verses. So, following the command to hope fully in the grace of God we have this command to be holy.
Last time we concentrated on verse 14. That’s the prelude that paves the way for the command in verse 15.
We’ve preciously considered that verse by using three headings beginning with the letter “C”:
Children, Character and Conformity.
We saw that Peter was specifically addressing those who are children of God. We saw that children of God are characterised by obedience to God and we saw that such obedience to God involves not conforming to the passions associated with what we once were before we became God’s children through faith in Christ. In this installment we’re going to continue by concentrating on verses 15 and 16. We’ll do that under three more headings beginning with the letter “C”. They are:
Command, Calling and Conduct.
So, let’s start by considering the:
We don’t actually find the word “command” in the text but, nonetheless, there is a very clear imperative there. We’ve already seen that verse 15 says: “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct”. Very simply, the command there is to “be holy”. We need to ask ourselves what does it mean to be holy? Well, the first indication of its meaning is given in the immediate context. You’ll notice that verse 15 begins with the word “but”. That suggests a strong contrast with what Peter is now saying and what he had just said. What had he just said? Well, he ended verse 14 by saying: “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” and now he goes on to say “but”. He’s saying “instead of that”, rather than that”, “in place of that”. What? “be holy”. He’s saying “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but …….. be holy”. So, we immediately see that being holy is the opposite of being “conformed to the passions of your former ignorance”.
Now, as we saw last time, conforming to the passions of ignorance is the prevailing attitude of the world. By nature, people are ignorant of who God is and what He is like. They are separated from Him. So, by nature, human beings disregard the claims that God has on their lives as their creator. They simply try to look after number one. They want to satisfy their every desire – whatever those desires might be and regardless of how those desires arise. The present context makes it clear that to be holy is to be different from that. It’s to be other than that. It’s to have a different attitude and outlook and disposition to that which prevails in the society around us. It’s to put God first and to be conformed to the passions that arise from being in a family relationship with Him. That’s why Peter described us as “scattered sojourners” at the beginning of the letter. We’re called to be different. We don’t fall into line with the ways of the world and its attitudes. We want to fall into line with God’s ways. We want to please Him rather than please ourselves. We want to do His will rather than go our own way.
Now, as we saw last time, it’s only those who have become children of God who can attempt to obey this command to “be holy”. That’s why we noted last time that this command isn’t addressed to all and sundry but specifically to those who have become God’s children through faith in Christ. We see that same emphasis again and more of what it is to “be holy” when we notice that Peter went on to speak of:
In verse 14 Peter refers to “he who called you”. You see, the command to “be holy” is given specifically to those who have been called. Now, you often hear Christians speaking of having been called or having received a call. They’ll say that they’ve been “called to the ministry” or “called to the mission field” and so on. That’s a very individualistic and personalised way of thinking of calling and it’s very difficult to know whether such an assertion is true or not. We certainly mustn’t think that that is the sense in which Peter is using the word “called” here. If it was, then the command to “be holy” would only apply to those who consider themselves to have been called to a particular, special service or a prominent position. But, you see, Peter spoke of “he who called you“. Who did Peter mean by “you”? He meant believers in Christ. In the first instance it was all of those “scattered, elect sojourners” that he was addressing the letter to but it’s equally applicable to all who subsequently are also “scattered, elect sojourners”. That is, all who are believers in Christ.
Peter actually mentions this calling several times in the course of his letter and when he does so it is very evident that he is speaking about believers in general having been called. He’s speaking about the calling that every believer in Christ has received. For instance, if we look at chapter 2v21 we read: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps”. Who has been called? It’s those who Christ suffered for. Not those that He didn’t die for. Not only some of those that He did die for. To what have they been called? Well, the preceding verses make it clear that they’ve been called to endure suffering for doing good.
Once again, it’s a call to be different from the world. In the world if someone suffers unjustly the natural response is to retaliate. The believer in Christ is called to be different. Instead of retaliating we’re to endure. Why? – “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps”. It speaks of believers having been called to follow Christ’s example. It was foretold that He wouldn’t retaliate, even as He was taken to the cross. We read in Isaiah 53v7: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth”. That, of course is exactly how Jesus did conduct Himself as He was falsely accused and put to death on the cross.
We have a similar example of Peter speaking of calling in chapter 3v9 where we read: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing”. The world would naturally think in terms of repaying evil for evil. It seems the obvious thing to do but believers in Christ have been called to be different. It’s not only that we are to not to retaliate. More than that we find that, instead of replying in kind, we have been called to bless those who do evil against us or speak badly of us. Once again, Jesus is our supreme example. What did He say of those who were putting Him to death on the cross? – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. So, we’re called to be contrary to the world’s ways by being like Jesus.
Quite often people use the term “calling” in quite a vague, general way. They might refer to their career or vocation as their calling. That’s quite an abstract concept. However, notice that in verse 14 Peter spoke of “he who called you”. As believers in Christ we haven’t been called in a vague, general way. Speaking of having been called isn’t just a way of describing what we just happen to be. No, someone has actually called us. Now, both of the verses we’ve looked at so far have spoken of our having been called but they haven’t mentioned who has done the calling. Peter sheds some light on that when he mentions calling again in 1 Peter 2v9 where we read: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. Again, it doesn’t actually say who has done the calling but it makes it clear that someone has because it refers to “him who called you”. What’s more, it’s someone very special because it speaks of “the excellencies of him who called you”. The implication is clearly that it is God who has done the calling.
Besides that, this verse supplies a lot more information about this calling.
Firstly, it tells us what He has called us from – “out of darkness” and what He has called us to – “into his marvelous light”. That very much reflects what we saw in verse 14 doesn’t it? He’s called us from the “darkness” our “former ignorance” and into the “marvelous light” of being “obedient children”. He’s called us from being estranged and enemies to being members of the family of the one who has called us.
Secondly, we must note that His calling is effectual.
When we hear the word “call” we often think in terms of an invitation that we can accept or reject. Someone is saying to us “I would like you to do this but you can suit yourself”. In 1 Peter 2v9, in mentioning those who had been called “out of darkness into his marvelous light”, Peter wasn’t speaking of people who had merely been invited to do so. He was referring to those had actually been brought “out of darkness into his marvelous light”. This call isn’t a call that just offers a possibility. It’s powerful and effective. It actually brings people “out of darkness into his marvelous light”. We find that Paul uses similar language in Ephesians 5v6-8 where we read: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light”. He’s speaking to believers in Ephesus, those who had been called, and he says of them “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord”. You see, that change had been brought about. They’d been “sons of disobedience” and in darkness but now they were “children of light”. How come? They’d received this call and it had powerfully and effectually brought about a radical change in them.
Thirdly, we must note the corporate nature of this calling.
Those who have been effectually called in this way are described as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession”. I’m sure we’ll think about the significance of those individual terms when we come to chapter 2v9 but for now I just want you to notice from them that this calling isn’t on a purely individual basis. Peter uses the terms “a race”, “a priesthood”, “a nation”, “a people”. These are all collective nouns. They speak of being called to be part of a group, a body, a family. To be sure, the call comes to us as individuals but it’s not a call to continue as individuals. It’s a call to be part of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession”.
Now, we’ve seen that there is someone who has done the calling and we’ve noticed that all the indications seem to be that that someone is God. If we look at 1 Peter 5v10 where Peter again mentions calling we see that he makes it clear that, as we suspected, it is indeed God who is responsible for that call. We read there: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you”. Who makes the call? It is “the God of all grace”. It’s God who makes this effectual call and He does so because He is gracious. In this verse we’re told that He “has called you to his eternal glory”. However can we sinful human beings hope to enter his eternal glory? Of ourselves, we can’t but Peter says that “the God of all grace” has called us “to his eternal glory in Christ“. He has graciously provided Jesus Christ to bring many sons to glory.
So, it is God the Father who has called us into His family.
He has done so by grace because He is “the God of all grace”. In our text, what else does Peter tell us about God the Father who called us into His family? He said: “as he who called you is holy”. So, the one who has called us is “holy”. Peter backs that up by going on in verse 16 to quote from Leviticus. He says: “since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy””. God is often described throughout the Bible as being holy but what does that actually mean? It’s one of those words that we tend to attach a certain mystique to but, very simply, it means morally perfect, utterly pure, without sin and separate from all that is sinful. That is what God is like. He is the holy one.
Notice that Peter says in verse 15: “as he who called you is holy, you also be holy”. You see the logic there? It’s “as he who called you ….. you also be”. It’s “like father like son” isn’t it? If God the Father has called you to be His son then you must be like Him. What is He like? He’s holy. So, His sons must be holy too.
What does it mean for us to be holy?
Quite often in the Old Testament we read of things and people being holy in the sense that they are set apart for God. So the temple was holy and its equipment was holy in that it was dedicated to God’s service. In a similar way, the priests were holy. Is that the sense in which we are called to be holy? Does the very fact that God has called us to Himself make us holy? In a sense it does. If God has called us He has set us apart as His own so, in that sense, we are holy.
However, there is more to it than that for New Covenant believers as we can see from 1 Corinthians 1v2. The NIV puts it as: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours”. He describes those in the church at Corinth as being “those sanctified in Christ Jesus”. In other words, he’s saying they’re holy. That’s what “sanctified” means – to be made holy. They were holy in terms of their position before God. He’d set them apart for Himself in Christ. But then Paul went on to say: “and called to be holy”. They were already holy in principle but they were called to work that out and be holy in practise. As New Covenant believers we have a new nature and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit so we can begin to be holy in practise.
That’s exactly what we see as we go on to consider third “C” word in our text. Notice that Peter speaks of:
He said: “as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct“. So, in what sense are we to be holy? It’s clear that it’s not just a case of resting in the knowledge that we’ve been declared to be holy. Neither is being holy a matter of being pious. It’s not a case of affecting a saintly look or using particular “religious” words or doing “religious” things like going to church on Sunday. The holiness we’ve been called to is to affect our conduct. That is, it is to affect what we do in our everyday lives. Our being saved is to be worked out in our lives.
We see exactly the same emphasis in the writings of Paul.
We previously quoted Ephesians 5v6-8 where we read: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light”. Paul was saying “you were once “darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” but he didn’t stop there. He went on to say: “walk as children of light”. That is to “be holy in all our conduct”. What’s the consequence of the salvation we’ve received? What’s the consequence of now being light in the Lord? We’re to walk accordingly. That means being holy in our day to day living.
We noted that Peter often uses the word “called”. Well, “conduct” is another word that he often uses. So, we read in 1 Peter 2v12: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation”. You see, our conduct, what we do, should bring glory to God. If we’re not holy in our conduct it won’t bring glory to God.
Then, in 1 Peter 3v1-2 we read: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct“. This is speaking in the context of the conduct of the wives of unbelieving husbands. What is their conduct to be like? It’s to be “respectful and pure conduct”. That’s “holy conduct” isn’t it? It’s good conduct, sinless conduct.
So, our holiness is to be evident in our conduct. It’s not merely notional. It’s intensely practical. It’s essential that we grasp that. Having done so, it’s also important to notice that Peter’s imperative went further than “be holy in your conduct”. It was to “be holy in all your conduct”. How we’d love to be free to omit that little word “all”! We’d like to be able to pick and choose. We’d like to be able to think that being holy in some of our conduct or at least most of our conduct will do. After all, that’s a lot better than we used to be isn’t it! But no – we’re to “be holy in all our conduct”.
I can’t help but be struck by the fact that back in verse 13 Peter had said: “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed”. Now he’s saying: “be holy in all your conduct”. In both cases there are to be no half measures. There’s to be no holding back. We’re not to be half hearted either in our hope or our holiness. As God is holy in all that He does, we are to be holy in all that we do. I don’t know about you but I find that incredibly challenging. How whole hearted are you about being holy in all that you do?
In closing I’d like us to look briefly at the passage from Ephesians 4 that we read earlier because it gives some good examples of what it is to be holy in all our conduct. Beginning at verse 17 we read: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart”. Does that sound familiar? That’s the darkness that we’ve been called from. That’s the “former ignorance” that Peter had spoken of back in verse 14.
Then, in verse 19 of Ephesians 4 we read: “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity”. That’s speaking of conforming to the passions of that ignorance and it results in impurity or unholiness. Remember that Peter had said “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance”.
Then, in verse 20 we read: “But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”. He’s saying that, if you’ve come to a saving knowledge of Christ, then you have a new self which Paul says is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”. We’re to put on that new self. In other words, we’re to live according to the “righteousness and holiness” of that new self.
Now that could sound a bit theoretical or ethereal so Paul goes on to spell out what it means in practical terms. In verse 25 he says: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another”. Being holy in our conduct means not only putting away falsehood but positively speaking the truth. That’s not just avoiding saying things that are untrue. It’s speaking the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.
We read in verse 26-27: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil”. Being holy in our conduct means not being angry in a way that is sinful. It also means not allowing legitimate anger to not fester and become twisted so that it leads to sin.
We read in verse 28: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need”. Being holy in our conduct means not only not stealing but doing honest work and that not simply to meet our own needs but so that we have something to share with the needy. I think you’ve just had your harvest festival and donated foodstuff to give to the needy. That’s great but is it something you only do at this time of year when something has been planned? If we’re being holy in our conduct we should always be ready to “share with anyone in need”.
We read in verse 29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear”. Being holy in our conduct means not only not speaking in a way that is unwholesome or harmful but speaking in such a way that it does people good and communicates God’s grace.
Paul sums it all up in the remaining verses: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”.
Has God, in Christ, forgiven you? If so, He’s called you to “be holy in all your conduct“.
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!