Holiness: Why It’s Worth It

Hope-Eternal---MM

Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-21

Why should I?

Why do I put up with this?

If you’ve ever heard them, it would have been at a time when things were tough and our fuse is short. They are words breathed and prayed when Christians react against God’s call. I’ve heard them when I’ve challenged a husband to stay faithful. I’ve heard them from a young woman bent on destructive choices. And Peter’s readers may have breathed them. They were under great pressure. Following Jesus was proving to be a costly decision.

These words may even have been on your lips: in the heat of challenge, in a moment of desperation, when it all seemed too much.

Why should I put up with this?

Think about the emptiness you’ve left behind

Peter mentions three powerful reasons which comprise a compelling rationale for a life of reverent fear. To keep living God’s way. To stay on the path of holiness. The first of Peter’s reasons is found in v.18

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,” (1 Peter 1:18, NIV)

Peter’s challenge is to think about the futile life you’ve left behind. Eugene Peterson gets a little more into our faces, calling it the ‘dead-end, empty headed life you grew up in’.

That’s about an 8/10 on the arrogance scale, right? Why live God’s way? Because your old life was futile. Vain. Empty.

Is this true of you? Perhaps more than you realise. Maybe you’d say you were only trying to get ahead and be financially secure. But perhaps your trust was in your wealth. You had made security your idol, and you trusted yourself to deliver it. Money is a good good, but it makes a lousy god. And so it’s useless as a doorway to hope. What’s all your money going to do when you’re on your death bed? What will your cash do for your feelings of guilt, or failure?

Another scenario: Your life has revolved around your kids, setting them up, meeting their wants and needs. Maybe you’d say you were just loving your family, wanting the best for them, and doing what every good parent should. Then again, maybe your sense of purpose, worth and significance was invested in your family. Loving your family is good. Making your family god isn’t. Seeking your security and significance in your children places all sorts of expectations on them, and doing so will never really deliver the love and security you ultimately seek.

We could go on. We could talk about how people numb life’s frustration and pain with alcohol. Or shopping. Or hoarding. Or aggression. Or secret relationship. Or overeating. Or a constant yearning for affirmation.

That’s the deceit of the human heart, isn’t it? It takes what’s good, and makes it god. It lets us down every time. That’s sin for you: it promises the world and delivers nothing. It’s futility. Worthlessness. Uselessness.

So, Peter is saying, “sure, it may be tough. But what is best? A wholesome life of eternal purpose even though it may be tough, or an easier existence in the here and now that will never deliver what you seek?”

This was something Paul knew all about, too. He had dedicated a large portion of his life to seeking God’s approval and the approval of others through scrupulous religious devotion. His peers at the time agreed: this man has made it.

Then, Paul met Jesus. Or rather, Jesus met Paul. And Paul realised all he’d been trying to do, had in Christ, already been done. The perfection he was very unsuccessfully trying to maintain had already been met. He looked back, observed all his supposed achievement, and said “it’s all useless, empty, futile.” In fact, he went further: Paul used the Meatybites rule. You know, you put the meatybites in one end of the dog, and what comes out the other end? The word translated as ‘garbage’ is skubala (see Philippians 3:8). It can mean garbage, but that is a little sanitised. Dung, stinking refuse, or other forms of offensive waste are more in view.

He was making a very humbling confession: When I look at all my achievements, my obsession with religious devotion before Jesus, everything I had ever done, even though everyone else saw it as perfect and blameless, I now recognise it now as poop.

Now, when you’ve been striving for perfection all your life, but all it has achieved is poop, that is futility. And it’s a pleasure to be rescued from it.

By Jesus as Redeemer, God has rescued people from the futility of trying to fill their own lives with hope and meaning. He has delivered us from the terrible worthlessness of glaring imperfection. So we live in holy, reverent fear in honour of our great redeemer.

Think about where you’re headed

So, (1) think about the useless stuff you’ve left behind. And, (2) think about where you’re headed:

“Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17, NIV)

The God who has become your Father in Christ is also your Judge. One day you will stand before him.

Think about that.

Carefully.

See, sometimes we think that Christians will not be judged. That the errors of our ways will remain undisclosed. That our secret and concealed sins will never be known. Well, they are known. They are known to God, Christian, and one day you will stand before him.

That’s serious, isn’t it?

Yes, God is our father. He is gracious and loving. He gave his one and only son for us. We’re redeemed. Forgiven. Cleansed and free. But the day will come when we all stand before him. Paul writes:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV)

When we stand before the judgement seat, what excuses will wash there? Do you think it will work to blame others, or circumstances, then? What good will it be to delete the history then, on that day when all secrets will be laid bare?

Our father is also our judge, and an impartial one at that. Just because we are children of the father does not mean we are free to live however we like. Think of your earthly father. When you did that thing that made him so angry. Did you ever try the ‘hey, you can’t give me a beating because I’m your son!’ No, it’s actually because you are my son that I can utilise the ‘board of education.’

Fathers impose boundaries. The Christian who has been born again of the Father must live in fact as a child of God. If those boundaries are ignored, resisted or rejected, there will be a day of reckoning.

So, think about your life. Consider your behaviour. It needs to be holy. And you know there are bits that aren’t. This has not escaped God’s attention. One day you will stand before him to give account for everything you have done.

Yes, in Christ, forgiven.

Yes, in Christ, guilt has been atoned.

Yes, in Christ, no condemnation – punishment has been taken.

Yes, in Christ, raised to life.

Yes, in Christ, new heart, new soul, new beginning.

But we will still all stand before the living Lord of all, the creator God, the Righteous Father, and he will ask us to give account for the things we have done.

So, why should you? Why follow? Why live a holy life? Just think about where we are all headed. We will all stand before the Judge to give account for everything we have done. So walk in godly, reverent fear.

Remember: God has given you all the guidance you need: v.12 You have heard the Gospel. You have the Word. It’s a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. v.2 You have the Spirit. He is sanctifying you, leading into holiness, drawing the glorious character of Jesus to gloriously beautiful expression in your life.

Think about what it cost

So, (1) Think about the emptiness you’ve left behind, (2) Remember: you’ll stand before the Judge. Two powerful reasons. But Peter’s final point is the clincher:

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

Why live a holy life? Think about what it cost God bring you into it. It wasn’t silver. It wasn’t gold. Which, incidentally, is how they used to redeem slaves in Peter’s day. The slave would be taken to the temple of one of the gods on that region. Money would be paid, theoretically to the god, but passed on to the slave owner. After that, the slave would be recognised as free because he had been redeemed by that deity. So Peter’s non-Jewish readers would have clearly understood the image.

His Jewish readers would also know the Old Testament redemption imagery:

“… it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:8, NIV)

As good as the exodus story is, it is dwarfed by the ultimate redemption of the Cross. The Passover was fulfilled in Christ’s crucifixion. The blood of the lamb meant the redemption of the people of God.

Why should I? Because you’ve been redeemed at great price.

“… you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

I wonder: Have you ever really thought that through? The depth of God’s love in Christ? His eternal desire to free you from sin and bring you to life?

Think: Would you lay down your life for a family member? What about someone down the street? Or a stranger? An indigenous person? A refugee?

Jesus did more. Considerably more. He poured out his precious blood for rebels, for sinners, for people who hated him, for these very people who crucified him.

So, He did this for me? Then the only question is: where do I sign up? How could I not live a life of reverent godly fear? Why would I not want your glorious, gracious new life character to overflow from mine?

Think of what it cost your Saviour, friends!

And the amazing footnote Peter makes is that God has planned your holiness, your obedience, your redemption, from before the creation of the world.

“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20–21, NIV)

The world was in wretched sin, rebellion and futility. Broken with a humanity that rejected him. Screwed up his image. Killed his prophets. Rejected his messengers. Crucified his own dear son. But the Father’s heart is to restore his world, to mend the broken and ravaged world human sin had brought.

Your God knew and planned the complete program of redemption even down to the detail of making you a part of it. Grafting you into the vine, reconciling you through his son, and drawing you into his family, making you an heir, putting his Spirit in you, and all of that with the one goal that his broken and twisted image in you would, through Jesus, be gloriously redeemed, restored and eventually recreated in all its beauty.

Why should you? Knowing this, how could you not? Because you mattered to God, living in godly fear should matter to you.

It matters that you live in the fullness of his holiness. It may mean you’ll the flack like a refugee in a foreign land, living his way, revealing his character, in the full beauty of godly reverent fear. But it’s worth it. Look at what you’ve left. Look at where you’re headed. And look at the cost to Jesus.

You cannot find a more compelling reason for us to be holy as our great God is holy.

From Hope to Holiness – Group Study Questions

Share a few stories about times when you were really focussed on achieving a very important goal. What was it like to be so focussed? How did it impact on your life and relationships?

Read 1 Peter 1:13-16

Looking at the passage above, what does Peter want his readers to focus on?

If they follow Peter’s call, what impact might this have on their lives?

Thinking about our culture, what might the average people in our neighbourhood expect a ‘holy person’ to look like?

What does a holy life look like according to Peter?

What does this mean in concrete practical terms for a) individuals?    b) local churches?

What would your church community need to do differently for such holiness to come to greater expression?

For Peter’s readers, living a holy life would have come with many challenges and risks. Looking at the context of these verses, what would have given them strength and resolve to face these challenges courageously?

From Hope to Holiness

1 Peter 1:13-16

Hope-Eternal---MM

Last night the New Zealand All Blacks defeated the South Africa Springboks 20-18. Tonight, The Wallabies will meet the South African Pumas, and the winner will play New Zealand in the final on October 31. Most Australians will be praying that the referees will be on our side in these coming games as much as they were when we played Scotland…

The stakes are always high in the world cup. And opposing teams are going to ridiculous lengths to gain an advantage.

  • There are accusations the English have been spying on the Australian teams with high tech photographic equipment. One report notes “a man with a very long lens was chased away from the Australian training venue”
  • There are reports of drones being used to film opposing team training sessions
  • The All Blacks have covered the fences of their Lensbury base in plastic – presumably all black plastic – and that they have stationed security guards around the perimeter

Why would a team go to such lengths? Because their eye is on the prize. And when your eye is on the prize, that one outcome will determine all your actions.

Set your hope fully

We see this in what Peter is saying:

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV)

He is saying, “Keep your eye on the prize! Look at what will happen in the end times!” Which is both odd and liberating.

Odd, because most people tend not to think of end times discussion as something that will bring anyone comfort. Most discussions around eschatology revolve around things that seem to vary on a scale from weird to cryptic: the rapture, the beast, the tribulation, the antiChrist. While many of these these things are mentioned in the Bible, teaching about them is often far from clear. Are they present things? Are they symbolic? Have they already happened? Should we be worried? Why can’t we understand it all? Seriously, a trawl through the end times section at your Christian bookshop will turn you off your burritos for good. Wasn’t it last week, or the week before, that some other Christian group claimed the world was going to end a few Wednesdays ago or something? Guys, if Jesus didn’t know how it was all going to play out, you can be sure it’s something we don’t need to know. He didn’t know. The people who claim to know don’t know. And you won’t know the timing either. So, yes, it may strike us as odd that Peter raises this as a reason for comfort.

It’s also liberating, because the comforting reality Peter writes about here is the proper focus of end time discussions:

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV)

Not: set your mind on all the stuff you can’t understand. Not: set your mind on working out when it’s all going to happen. But: set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. Keep your eyes on the prize. Outcome determines action.

Remember: Peter is writing to people who are being persecuted. They are undergoing ridicule and rejection for following Jesus. And he’s saying: this may be happening now, but don’t give up! Set your minds on what will happen then! Keep your eye on the prize! Now, for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. Now, it’s tough. Now, you’re under pressure. But then, when Jesus returns, it’s all going to be grace and celebration! Your saviour will welcome you with open arms!

You don’t have to fear punishment – that’s gone in the cross! You don’t have to think about God’s anger for sin – that’s fully and freely forgiven in Jesus! You don’t have to be hassled by your guilt and failing – there’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. You don’t even have to worry about death, because all that’s waiting for you is life, more life and better life than you’ve ever dreamed. Keep your eye on the prize. That outcome will determine your action.

In fact – and this is the point of this passage – Peter is saying: because you know what’s coming to you, it’s going to change the way you live. That’s clear from the first part of v.13:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV84)

Interestingly, the old KJV used to read, “Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind…” Think: parable  of the lost son. The father sees the son coming in the distance, tucks his outer cloak into his belt, and runs to meet him.That’s the point: we need to be ready to move. Ready for action. Be alert. Be sober. And let’s get going.

So, the flow of thought is this: You Christians are under pressure and doing it tough. You don’t want to live in denial, but don’t let circumstances dominate you. Think about the goal. Keep your eyes on the prize. A beautiful day of grace is coming your way. Let this outcome determine all your actions. So sleeves up, head down, and let’s get busy…

Be Holy

Which brings us to our second point:

“…But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:14–16, NIV)

When you have your eye on the prize, the outcome determines your action.

In this respect, we need to know what it means to be holy. Many think being holy means doing holy things: read your bible, say your prayers, go to church, take up a collection. As the old hymn says,

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Take time to holy, speak oft with thy Lord / Abide in him always, and feed on his word…

No doubt: the Christian disciplines of reading, prayer and public worship are part of ‘being holy’. The problem is there is confusion the rest of it. So, allow me to deliver some clarity: to be holy is to be like God. How are we to be like God? By reflecting his character.

“Be holy because I am holy – just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do”

Not just reading your Bible, or your prayer time, but in all you do. The scene was set in vv.3-5

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3–5, NIV)

to be holy is to be like God … reflecting his character

Long before Peter wrote, the Lord had revealed his character to his people, calling them to live such a distinct life as a nation as they entered the land of promise (see Leviticus 19:1-2). For Peter’s New Testament people, as for ancient Israel, the rationale for a holy life was the same: the Lord in his grace had provided a glorious deliverance. Petes point is that this new birth and living hope “necessarily implies a decisively altered way of life” [Karen Jobes, 1 Peter]

A holy life is not so much a religious life as a changed life, a different life, a distinctive life. A life set apart from others by how your character reflects God’s character, Jesus’ character. It certainly involves prayer, Bible reading, and worship meetings. It certainly involves moral behaviour: honesty, integrity, keeping marriage as the place for sexual fulfilment, keeping your language beautiful, instead of polluting it with profanity – all that is included.

A holy life is not so much a religious life as a changed life, a different life, a distinctive life…

But holiness goes deeper than external behaviour. It penetrates to the heart: to the deeper values of life, how we strive to live; the kind of world we are working for. Holiness is about love, mercy, humility and justice. Isn’t that what the Lord requires of us (see Micah 6:8, Matthew 5-7)?

When the Lord spoke to the people in Isaiah’s day, they made the mistake of thinking all he wanted was religious behaviour like fasting and worship. The Lord’s response was sobering, especially when you change the word ‘fast’ to ‘worship’…

“…You cannot [worship] as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of [worship] I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call [worship], a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of [worshipping] I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:4–8, NIV)

It is interesting some months ago I preached a series called ‘A Time for Justice’. In that series we were reminded how God calls us to a holiness which is beyond mere morality and religious actions. A holiness of love, mercy and justice. A few people found that confronting. One or two said they couldn’t relate to it. Friends, being holy, living a distinctly different life, is to reflect the character of our holy God. And if we struggle to relate to love, mercy and justice we’re going to struggle to relate to God himself.

Here,  Peter is saying: You do relate to God. More: your life is now defined by his Son’s life. And because your life is now defined by his Son’s life, you’re looking forward to the fullness of his grace transforming you and your world completely. So, because you are headed for an eternity of love, mercy and justice why not start living it now?! Stand up and stand out! Roll up your sleeves! Heads down! Let this holiness be seen in everything you do, everything you seek, everything you are and every will be. 

It’s true: Holy lives, Christian lives, stand out.

That’s challenge for us, isn’t it? Christians are more and more in the spotlight, facing more and more opposition, having to manage rejection. And the temptation is for us to pull back or go soft, right? But Peter is saying “be holy, be distinctly Christian, live out God’s character, be noticed.”

Here’s the question: Is this true of you? Your workmates, your neighbours, your acquaintances – Do they see your different life and behaviour, and know that you’re a follower of Jesus? If those around you cannot see that, what needs to change?

Can people see the holiness of God’s character in our church

Can people see the holiness of God’s character in our church? Are we worshipping by loosening the chains of oppression? Do we even know where oppression exists in our community? Do we want to know? What needs to change so that we can know that?

See, it’s not just about people seeing your faith or convictions. As good as that is, it’s actually about people seeing your God. As Peter says in the next chapter, that even though God’s people are misunderstood and maligned. they should let their holiness stand up and stand out “…so people will see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 – NIV)

That’s why we should not conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance. That is, the ‘before Jesus’ life. Peter’s readers remembered that time. Back then they were affirmed by all around. They had less trouble in their life. They weren’t maligned for their views. Life was easier. But they were ignorant of God. They weren’t his people. They lived without hope. They lived without mercy. They were headed to a Christless eternity.

But now, God has called them out of darkness, into his marvellous light. They stood up and they stand out. They stand out like a city on a hill. But they feel the pressure. Life is hard. They have a daily diet of ridicule, rejection, and misunderstanding.

Why do this? Because their eyes on the prize. Their vision is directed toward the goal. And holiness overflows as Christ pours his grace into them. Christ points them to a new day when the fullness of grace will be theirs as they live in a forever of love, mercy and justice.

So, let me ask: What is God saying to you in all this? Your life: is it holy? Are we living this holiness together?

In the power of Christ and his inheritance, looking forward to the abundance of grace to be poured into us, are we revealing God’s character in our communal life? What needs to go? What needs to be seen more? Is there behaviour which is tangling us up? Listen: God is speaking: You have to get rid of that. It’s blocking my character.

You may wonder whether you can do it, or why. The answer is: in Christ you have a glorious inheritance! You already know how its all going to end: Christ will pour his grace into your life. You are going to live his love, mercy and justice for all eternity. Even today he’s given His spirit to bring this life out of you now, to comfort you now, to encourage you now. Christ is with you, always. He’s your strength, your endurance, your ability to go on. To stand up. To stand out.

So today our eyes are on the prize, and that glorious inheritance will determine our every action. And we shall be holy, and God is holy.

That great outcome determines our individual and communal action

And our greatest joy is to have God’s holiness, his character, overflowing from our own.