Be holy in all your conduct (1)
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.
Today we’re going to start to look at verses 14 to 16.
In those verses we see what we could call Peter’s second commandment of the Christian life. We read in those verses: “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”.
Did you spot the commandment there in verse 15? It’s “be holy in all your conduct”. That is the overriding command in these verses. So, following the command to hope in the grace of God we have this command to be holy. We will begin “children’ followed by a second session focusing on “character”, “conformity” and then, Lord willing, we will also include “Calling” and “Conduct”.
You see, the first thing for us to notice about those who Peter commands to “be holy” is that he referred to them as “obedient children”. That is a semitic term that should more literally be translated as “children of obedience”. Now, when you, as a twenty first century westerner, hear the word “children” you might well think in terms of those who are young or immature. They’re perhaps sometimes noisy, demanding, even annoying. They’re not yet fully grown adults. They’re still developing and growing. The point is that they are young.
The term “children”, as we commonly use it, says something to us about their age more than anything else. The term covers the age range from toddlers to teenagers. However, the semitic use of the term is much more relational than that. It indicates the sense of belonging to a family and conveys the idea of children loving and honouring their fathers and knowing that their fathers love and care for them. Even middle aged adults and beyond would be referred to as children because the term spoke of the real and special relationship that exists between children and their fathers within the family context rather than defining their age.
Now Peter is using the word “children” in that relational sense here in verse 14. That becomes clear when we see what Peter will go on to say in verse 17 where we read: “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”. Calling on Him as Father implies or presupposes the relationship. The only ones who can call upon someone “as Father” are the Father’s children.
If I was to come to you and say “please help me with this, Father” you’d be puzzled and confused.
It’s only those who are in that Father/child relationship that can do so. Now, in the immediate context, it is clear that the one to be called on as “Father” in verse 17 is God Himself because verse 17 is referring back to verses 15 and 16 which speak of the one who called us and who declared of Himself: “I am holy”. That is God. No-one else can truthfully declare themselves to be holy. So Peter’s command to “be holy” is directed to those who are in God’s family. It’s directed to those who are children of God. It’s directed to those who know God as their Father and so can call upon Him as Father. That’s in keeping with what Peter had already said at the outset of the letter about the “scattered, elect sojourners” that he was addressing the letter to.
Back in verse 3 he’d said: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. Believers in Christ might be “scattered, elect sojourners” in this world but they have been “born again”. They’ve been spiritually reborn into the family of God so that He is now their Father and they can call on Him as such.
Now, the important thing for us to notice from this is that the command to “be holy” is given specifically to those who are children of God. There’s no point in commanding those who are outside the family of God to be holy. They can’t begin to hope to even attempt to obey such a command. Why is that?
Well, the next word beginning with “C” for us to consider is:
You might be struggling to find where that word comes in the text so let me put you out of your misery and tell you that you won’t find it there because it isn’t there! The word itself might not be there but the concept certainly is. You see, we have this term “obedient children” or more literally that should be translated as “children of obedience” and the idea there is of children who are characterised by obedience. In its semitic usage the term conveys the place of the child in the family relationship as being one of obedience to the Father.
So, the idea that Peter is conveying is that children of God are characterised by obedience to Him as their Father. This isn’t so much a command for those who are children of God to obey him as the Father. Rather it is saying that if someone is a child of God then they will have that disposition. Their character will be such that they want to obey God. That’s just as Jesus did. Remember that Peter referred to God as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and Jesus said that it was His meat and drink to do the will of His Father. It was His inclination and delight to obey His Father.
Now, in its everyday usage we probably tend to think of obedience in a very legalistic way. We perhaps think in terms of “the law of the land”. If you do what the law says and don’t do what it forbids, then you have been obedient. You might have done it grudgingly or half heartedly but, if you’ve done it, you’ve been obedient. But the obedience that Peter is talking about is obedience in this relational, family context. That isn’t just a matter of doing as you’re told. It’s a matter of love and respect and living according to the relationship that exists.
Peter places a great emphasis on such obedience.
He mentions it twice more in this chapter alone. Right back at the beginning of the chapter, in verses1 and 2, he said: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
You see, right at the outset Peter spelt out the fact that God the Father had chosen them and was sanctifying them and that was specifically “for obedience to Jesus Christ”. Of course, to obey Christ is to obey God the Father. Apart from the grace of God and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit such obedience is impossible. That’s why those who are outside the family of God can’t obey such a command to be holy.
Later in the chapter, in verses 22 and 23, we’ll read that Peter goes on to say: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God”. You see, he doesn’t speak of their obedience to any kind of law but of “obedience to the truth”. That is to be obedient to God. How come they’ve been able to be obedient to the truth? Peter says it’s “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God”. There is nothing natural about such obedience to God. It comes about through being born again into the family of God. It is only those who have become children of God who have this characteristic of obeying God as their Father.
So, the commandment to be holy can only be obeyed by those who are in God’s family.
Those who are outside of His family aren’t characterised by obedience to Him. Quite the opposite! They are characterised by rebellion against Him. They don’t want to be holy as He is holy. So, when we preach the gospel to unbelievers, our message isn’t “be holy”. They can’t “be holy”. Only those who are in the family of God can begin to obey the command to “be holy” so, first and foremost, their need is to become children of God. How do they do that? Well, we read in John 1v12-13: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God”. So, the gospel message must be “receive Jesus Christ, believe in His name”. It’s in doing that that people are born of God and become children of God and can then obey the command to be holy.
Look for us to pick it up “conformity” in our next session!
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!