1 Peter 1:17
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, (ESV)
This morning we will be considering verses 17-19 of 1 Peter chapter 1. I suspect that this passage will be challenging. We are going to have to think deeply about God and His very great salvation, but that is why we do this. That is why we go to God’s Word again and again. We need God to refine, adjust, and correct our thinking. We need God to renew our minds. We need to have our unbiblical assumptions challenged and replaced with biblical ones. We want to be people more and more conformed to the mind of Christ and so we must come humbly to God’s Word asking that He would open the eyes of our heart to see, understand, and submit to His Word so that we would stand in awe of His glory, hope in His grace, and be holy in all our conduct.
This morning we are going to focus in on verse 17 and the command to conduct ourselves with fear throughout the time of our exile. But for context let’s read…
1 Peter 1:13-21
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.
Conduct Yourselves With Fear
What we need to do this morning is to make sure we are receiving this command as Christ intended us to receive it and so we are going to try and make sure that we understand,
#1. What this command means
#2. The proper place of this command in our lives
#3. The importance of this command
1. The Meaning of Holiness
As we begin, we need to make sure we understand what Peter has in mind here. Does Peter really mean to say that we are to be holy as God Himself is holy? We are to be holy in all our conduct? Yes. This command is incredibly pervasive and incredibly high. We are not talking about anything short of God’s own holiness. We are in fact talking about, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I want to make sure we grasp the height of this command.
As the seraphim proclaimed that God is Holy, Holy, Holy, at the very least, they were saying that He is infinitely righteous and good. He is totally and completely pure and He is totally and completely separate from sinners. We are called to this radical holiness. As it is written, “You shall be holy for I am holy.”
Just as Israel was to be set apart from the nations and set apart unto God, so we are to be holy. All our conduct is to be godly and righteous, turning away from sin. We see in the giving of the Old Covenant that in order for God to dwell with His people they must be holy. Over and over God said, “you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44,45; 19:2; 20:26; 21:8).
On and on went the written code, delineating what things reflected the character of God and what things did not. There are things that God loves and there are things that God hates and which are detestable to Him. He hates sin and cannot dwell among sinners. Israel was to be holy, set apart to God alone, walking in all His ways.
But as the Old Testament demonstrates loud and clear the Old Covenant standard of holiness only condemned Israel. They failed to be holy as God is holy and God drove them out of the land.
Peter is here drawing on this same idea of absolute holiness and applying it now to New Covenant believers. “…as He who called you is holy, so you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15). You shall be holy for God your God is holy. Peter does not see the New Covenant as becoming more lax in its standard of holy conduct for the people of God. It is not as if the Old Covenant was about holiness and the New is about relaxing that standard. No! Christians are the people of the holy, holy, holy One and we are to be holy in all our conduct.
But let us now take very careful note of the proper placement of this command in our lives as New Covenant believers.
What I mean, when I say we need to understand the proper place of this command in our lives, is that we need to see how this command fits into God’s glorious salvation of our souls. This command does not function in our lives in exactly the same way that it functioned in the Old Covenant. In other words, if we do not understand how this command functions in this New Covenant, we will be in danger of undermining the gospel of the glory of Christ and we will be cutting ourselves off from the only possible means of obeying this command to be holy.
Unfortunately, there are people who do not fully understand the seismic change that has taken place from the Old Covenant to the New. What did Christ come to do? If we are placing our faith and trust in Christ only for the forgiveness of our past conduct, but living now as if we are on probation – we have not yet understood what Christ has done. If you live in fear that God is just waiting to zap you when you step out of line, than you have yet to grasp the glory of the gospel.
If you have read the pilgrim’s progress, and I highly recommend that you do, there is a scene when Christian comes to Calvary and we see that Christian is an utterly changed man when he gazes upon the cross. Christian’s burden of sin and guilt is forever loosed from off his shoulders and falls from off his back and tumbles down the hill and into the tomb and is never seen again. Christian is given rest by Christ’s sorrow and life by His death. And, Bunyan writes,
…three shining ones came to him, and saluted him with ‘Peace be to thee;’ so the first said to him – ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee;’ the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment. The third also ‘set a mark on his forehead’ and gave him a roll with a seal upon it, which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it at the celestial gate: so they went on their way. Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing:
Thus far did I come laden with my sin;
Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came [here]; What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bind it to me crack?
Blessed cross! Blessed sepulcher! Blessed rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!
Bunyan understood that a Christian is one who has been utterly changed by Christ and His death and resurrection.
But I fear that some people, when they think about their Christian lives, have this wrong notion that we come to Christ by faith, yes, we look to him and our past conduct is forgiven, yes, we’ve come to Christ and our past burden of sin is removed, yes. But we now journey on beyond the foot of the cross. We believe Christ has our past taken care of, but as we look forward into our future Christian life, we look away from Christ. He’s behind us. And what’s before us is a lonely and dark road full of pitfalls and snares and temptations. And as we walk the burden of sin and guilt and fear begins to grow again upon our back.
But this is not the picture the New Testament paints (nor the picture Bunyan painted).
We must think rightly about what God has done in Christ. What are we trusting Him for? We must think rightly about what it means to be a New Covenant believer and this command to be holy in all our conduct.
Not our Hope
So let’s look at our passage. First of all remember from last time that Peter called us to set our hope fully upon grace, the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Before the command to be holy came the command to hope in God’s grace in Christ alone. Grace is unmerited, undeserved favor. Peter said, set your hope completely, utterly, fully on one thing: the sure and immovable grace of God in Christ.
Let’s make sure this is crystal clear. Peter did not say fix your hope upon your holy and righteous conduct. He said fix your hope on grace in Christ. And then, and only then, he says, be holy in all your conduct.
Mark carefully that this is not how the Old Covenant functioned. The Old Covenant held forth the standard of holiness and said, “…if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” But, “If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting” (Deuteronomy 28:1 and 58-59).
Peter is not reestablishing the Old Covenant Law with its blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Instead, he is commanding us to set our hope fully upon grace in Christ Jesus. Where the Old Covenant said, “Do,” the New Covenant says, “It is finished.”
Add to this that in verse 14, Peter says, “As obedient children…” The importance of this statement for our understanding the placement of this command cannot be overstated. Peter is not simply using the analogy of a child to bring out how we are to behave. Rather, He is highlighting a fact about us. He is pointing out the massively important identity that is ours as believers. We are obedient children of God.
Notice who Peter says our Father. Peter makes it clear in verses 15 and 17 that God is our Father. The magnitude of this should stagger us. One of the reasons I think it may fail to stagger us is that we don’t see it as the massive undeserved privilege that it is.
All God’s Children
I think one of the roots of underestimating our privilege as God’s children is that we tend to think that everyone is a child of God. If you do a Google search for “All God’s Children” you will find that there are all kinds of organizations and campaigns, focused on different things (some focused on adoption, some on human rights, some on promoting an LGBT agenda), but all those organizations use the slogan “All God’s Children.” The underlying assumption being that everyone everywhere is a child of God, that is, God is their Father. The assumption is that God has only kind and benevolent intentions toward all people alike, as a loving father does for his sometimes silly kids.
If this is our starting assumption about God’s relationship to all people, than Peter’s words here will not strike us with the glory they are intended to. They will not form the foundation they are intended to. Peter has already emphasized the fact that Christians are chosen by God and he will shortly say that Christians are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession. These are things not true of all people.
Here Peter is emphasizing that Christians are children of God, but if we do not understand that this is a massive privilege, a thing not given to all people, a thing true only of those in Christ Jesus, we will not have the necessary foundation for understanding the command to be holy.
The Seed of God
Do you remember in verse 3 of this first chapter of 1 Peter, we praised God for causing us to be born again? And there we talked about the fact that this is a spiritual rebirth. Once we were dead, darkened in our understanding, alienated from the life of God and without God in the world. This is the universal experience and condition of the natural man. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).
As Peter says in verse 14 do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance. There are passions that flow out of spiritual darkness. There is conduct that makes sense to blind and ignorant and natural men. But you are not blind or ignorant or natural. You are a spiritual person. You have been born of spiritual seed.
There is a massive difference between the unconverted person and the Christian. The unconverted person cannot call upon God as his Father. He cannot understand spiritual things, because he does not have the Spirit of God. He cannot expect anything from God but wrath. Rather than the popular notion that God has only benevolence toward all people alike, we need to recognize the clear biblical truth that God is furious with sinners and condemnation is all they can expect.
But when a person comes to Christ by faith, his relationship to God radically changes. He himself is radically changed. He is clothed with the righteous robes of Christ. His eyes are opened; his heart is regenerated.
And here Peter is emphasizing that the converted person is an adopted son. His relationship to God has radically changed and he has become spiritual. He is now “of” God and knows God. God is now his Father. As Peter will say in just a few short verses we have been born again of imperishable seed. That is, we have been made God’s children by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ. We are a new humanity. And now in Christ God is for us.
In or Out
This makes all the difference. What is your relationship to God? This is not a grey area question. Is God your Father, that is, is the Almighty for you? Do you have all the benefits of a beloved heir? or is God at enmity with you? The judge who will condemn you? It is one or the other. There are only two choices. Either you are outside of Christ and you are under the wrath of God or you are a child of God by faith in Christ and all the privileges and rights and joys of a son are yours and they will never be taken away. Either you have entered the family of God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, or you have not.
If you are placing your hope in Christ you have entered into privileges of eternal and infinite proportions. Not only is your everlasting possession secure, but your present condition is that of one over whom God Almighty rejoices and in whom God Almighty is at work. There is no longer any condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. There is no longer any enmity. There is only and always grace. God is only and always on your side. Christ licked up all the wrath reserved for you – Christ fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law. This is the New Covenant foundation!
Command for Children
Now, this makes all the difference as Peter comes to us as “obedient children.” Peter is not saying, “become obedient children.” Instead, He is emphasizing a current reality: you are an obedient child. If you have come to faith in Christ you have become obedient. As Peter says in verse 22 of this chapter, our souls have been purified by obedience to the truth, that is the truth of the gospel (see also 1:25).
You are already an obedient child if you are in Christ by faith. Now, upon this firm and immovable New Covenant foundation comes Peters command to be holy in all your conduct. In other words, as one who has God Almighty forever and always working for you and in you, as one upon whom the favor of God has come and in whom the Spirit of Christ has taken up residence, be holy in all your conduct.
This command to be holy can only bear good fruit if you are a child of God. Simply holding forth the standard of holiness to the natural person will make no one holy. In fact it will condemn and bring death. The pilgrim whose burden of sin and guilt has not been forever loosed and sealed in the tomb cannot
begin to obey this command. Those outside of Christ have no capacity to obey this pervasive command to holiness.
But you do.
It is spiritual people, children of God, those born of imperishable seed, those who have God for them and in them who will bear much fruit.
Sons and daughters of God, you have God for you and in you, now and always. You have what you need to fulfill this command. Those who know the bliss of having had their burden forever loosed and sealed in the tomb, the bliss of being a beloved child of God will give three leaps of joy and go on their way singing of freedom, sing of the cross, singing of the tomb, yes singing of the risen Christ! They will receive the command to be holy in all their conduct not as a threat or a burden, but as a joy to be embraced, a privilege to be pursued, a blessing to be obeyed.
There is no hint of threat. There is no hint of condemnation. There is no hint of judgment. There is life and joy and peace and righteousness and holiness in Christ.
As we bring our time together to a close I want to make sure that we are putting this together.
Will New Covenant believers continue to struggle with sin in this life? Yes. Until the day Christ returns we will drag this flesh around with us. But the flesh – the inclination to sin, evil desires, disordered affections – is not who you are anymore. You are a child of God, born of His seed and an heir by faith in Christ. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
And because this is true of you, put that old man, which is corrupt through deceitful desires, which belongs to your former ignorance, off.
And instead, because God is for you and never again against you, because you are an heir, an obedient child, a new creation, be renewed in your thinking, setting your hope not in your performance and not in the passing pleasures of sin. Rather, hope in Christ alone and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. As He who called you into His family is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, searching out HIs character, what He loves and what He desires in all of Scripture, since it is written, “You shall be holy for I am holy.”
The only possible way to pursue holiness is to pursue it as one who is already a victor, a son, a new creation by grace. We get this wrong we lose the gospel. The New Covenant is designed to create what the Old Covenant could not, a truly holy people who are zealous for good works. Therefore, set your hope fully upon the grace of God in Christ and pursue complete holiness in all your conduct and in the joy of the Lord.