Sometime before Peter wrote his first epistle, Nero, a deranged emperor, induced mass panic in the Roman Empire by setting fire to his own capital city. While he was likely making room for his profligate building projects, Nero cast blame on Christians who were already mistrusted for turning Romans away from the Greek gods.
Peter writes to encourage persecuted Christ-followers who were scattered across the empire and uncertain about the future. He challenges them to look beyond this present world to Jesus’ second coming and to focus on living a holy life in this present age.
1 Peter 1:13-25.
13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: 18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, 21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. 22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: 23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
A single-minded focus on our eternal salvation should lead us to live a life worthy of our Savior while we are passing through this world.
A Single-Minded Focus on Our Eternal Salvation (1 Peter 1:13)
Christians are “saved” — present tense — from sin. We have a here-and-now salvation. But Peter also looks forward to a future salvation — when we will be delivered from this sinful world. He calls Christians to live with a single-minded focus on this future, eternal salvation — to “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v.13).
THE REVELATION OF JESUS
The “revelation of Jesus” is when “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16), with the ultimate purpose of taking his saints to heaven. Earlier in the chapter, Peter celebrates this as…
- “a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5),
- “a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3),
- “an inheritance ” (1 Peter 1:4), and
- “the outcome of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls” (1 Peter 1:9).
SET YOUR HOPE FULLY ON THIS
We are to “hope to the end” for this wonderful salvation — to “hope fully” in this promised deliverance. We do not hope in this world’s cheap and illusory promises.
- We do not hope in Donald Trump’s campaign.
- We do not hope in American dominance.
- We do not hope in our financial portfolio.
- We do not hope in the organized church.
- We do not hope in our spouses.
- We do not hope in ourselves.
Our hope is fully anchored in Jesus and especially the fact that Jesus is coming to save the righteous (Titus 2:13). “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
TIE UP THE LOOSE ENDS OF YOUR THINKING
“Wherefore” — because our eternal salvation is at stake — we are to “gird up the loins of our minds.” Other translators prefer “preparing your minds for action” or “with minds that are alert and fully sober,” but “gird up the loins of your mind” preserves the original Greek, which alludes to the ancient practice of gathering up one’s flowing robes so as to move unhindered at work or in battle. We all have loose ends in our thinking which need to be tucked in.
Before we were saved, we were deeply influenced by this world and “the god of this world [who] hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We are in a process of renewing our minds (Romans 12:2) — straightening our priorities, rejoicing in what is right, and avoiding distractions from what really matters.
Loose ends in our thinking are hazardous when going into spiritual battle. If we do not tie them up, we may lose our faith before Jesus comes, and “be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28).
Holiness starts in the mind.
That is why Peter goes on to say, “be sober” — be serious. To be sober is to think about spiritual things with a clear and discerning mind. It is the opposite of being intoxicated with pleasure or clouded by agenda.
Many stumble through life without clear spiritual vision — without spiritual discernment — like the disciples to whom Jesus said, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” (Mark 8:17-18).
The church world is spiritually hungover from decades of diluted preaching. We need to return to the pure Word of God and allow it to clear our heads. Holiness starts in the mind. It must be etched clearly in our mind’s eye that Jesus is coming and everything we do in this life matters.
A Life Worthy of Our Savior While We Are Passing Through This World (1 Peter 1:14-21)
A single-minded focus on our eternal salvation should lead us to live a life worthy of our Savior while we are passing through this world.
WE ARE NOT OF THE WORLD
Life on earth seems like “forever.” “Forever” to the wide-eyed child anticipating the school bell. “Forever” to the giddy teenager counting the days until her wedding. “Forever” to the young married couple eager for their first pregnancy. “Forever” to the first-time home buyer trying to pay off his debt. But everyone soon concedes to that troubling question, “For what is your life?” and answers with James, “It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14); or, as Job testifies, “my life is a breath” (Job 7:7).
We are, in fact, just passing through. Peter says, “pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” or “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Peter 1:17). Recall that the people to whom Peter was writing were actual exiles, feeling displaced and unwelcome in their homes. They were actually sojourning. (To sojourn is to stay somewhere temporarily, like when someone studies abroad for a semester.)
But Peter is not using the word “sojourning” or “exile” in a temporal sense; he is using it in a spiritual sense. He is saying that every Christian is an exile. We are not at home in this world. We are on a journey through this life, and our destination is heaven.
Every Christian is an exile. We are citizens of a different country. This world is not our home.
When Jesus prayed for the believers, He emphasized, “They are not of the world” (John 17:16). We are citizens of a different country. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). God is our King. We belong to a different Kingdom.
While we are in exile in this life, we should not be swept up in the world’s affairs. We should beware of political entanglements. We should not be encumbered with material possessions. We should not be fixated with a career or a relationship. Those things may crumble in an instant. But our heavenly home — our final destination — will never crumble.
We are far too at-home in the world. Because we are not persecuted, like first-century Christians in Rome or twenty-first-century Christians in the Middle East, we have not had a strong taste of what it is like to be strangers and exiles in the world. For nearly 250 years in America, being a Christian has been a good thing — good for one’s business and reputation. Only in recent decades has that started to change.
But we should not be too alarmed. “Normal” for a Christian is feeling uncomfortable in the world. We should not fit in. How could we? “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides for ever” (1 John 2:16-17).
While we are waiting for our eternal salvation, we should live like exiles. We must reclaim our faith from the American dream and swim against the corrupt currents of this world.
WE DO NOT LIVE LIKE THE WORLD
Peter addresses his audience as “obedient children” who once “fashioned themselves according to the former lusts in their ignorance” (v.14, emphasis added).
There are only two types of people in this world: obedient children, who do what is right, and disobedient children, who do what feels good.
We are all born as disobedient children. We were all once the enemies of God. We have all sinned. But Peter says earlier in verse 2 that obedient children are ones who have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus — they have faith in what Jesus did on the cross.
Jesus makes all the difference.
Jesus cares about disobedient children.
Jesus died for disobedient children.
The person who confesses his sins, repents, and trusts in Jesus has his sins forgiven and is changed into an obedient child. He has a new nature; according to verse 8, it is a nature which loves God. “He is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The obedient children of God’s family do not live like disobedient children of the world; they cannot, for “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
Obedient children are marked by a new nature which loves God.
James 4:4 rails, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Romans 12:2 charges us, “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Peter says that disobedient children live “ignorantly.” They do not think seriously about their actions or their consequences. They are slaves to their desires. But we are obedient children. Because we are living for heaven, we are persuaded that everything we do matters. Nothing is harmless if it weakens our reason, impairs the tenderness of our conscience, obscures our sense of God, or takes off our relish of spiritual things (Letters of Susanna Wesley, June 8, 1725).
Someone’s description of a movie may appeal to our desire for excitement, but if it contains sinful trash, it is not right for us to watch it. A swimming pool on a hot summer day may appeal to our desire for refreshment, but if people are walking around unclothed, it is not right for us to be there. A casual flirtation may appeal to our desire for friendship, but whether or not sexual immorality crouches at the door, flirting is not right.
How many things do we do because they are pleasurable without ever thinking seriously about whether or not they are right? Romans 13:14 is unambiguous: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Not a little provision. No provision! Starve the desires! Do not feed them at all! “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).
WE LIVE A HOLY LIFE, FOR GOD IS HOLY
Just as Peter characterizes the way the world lives as ignorant and pleasure-driven, he characterizes the way Christians should live as holy. The Christian’s right-living is described as a walk of holiness.
“Holy” means two things: set apart and pure. Peter uses God’s holiness as his reference point, for God is wholly set apart and perfect in purity.
The corrupt and polluted world is not our reference point. God’s fearsome holiness is our reference point.
God as Creator is completely set apart from everything that is created. God is infinite while His creation is finite. God is eternal while everything in this world has a beginning and an end. He is wholly other. Likewise, Christians are to be set apart from the ungodly world.
The Bible says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? … Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? …God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ Therefore, ‘Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).
Then, secondly, God is pure. There is no sin in God. Likewise, Christians are to be pure. We are entreated in 2 Corinthians 7:1, “Beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. … For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).
2 Timothy 2:21 unites both principles: “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (emphasis added).
We are to be pure and set apart “in all manner of conversation” — “in every aspect of our lifestyle.”
- Holy in the way we treat our spouses.
- Holy in the words that leave our mouths.
- Holy in the tone of our voice.
- Holy in the company we keep.
- Holy in our jobs.
- Holy in our dress.
- Holy in the music we listen to.
- Holy in the things we look at on the computer when no one is around.
- Holy in our use of social media.
In all of these things, we should be holy — not just better than the world or barely getting by. The corrupt and polluted world is not our reference point. God’s fearsome holiness is our reference point.
As God is holy, so we should be holy while we wait for our eternal salvation. Peter goes on to say we are “a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5) and a “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). Holiness characterizes the people of God.
We should be holy, not just better than the world or barely getting by.
WE LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF OUR SAVIOR
The Bible goes as far as to say that Christ died for the purpose of making His people holy.
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27, emphasis added)
Observe that the church is without spot or blemish. Peter says in verse 19, we are redeemed with “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (emphasis added). We are to be a holy church for the holy Lamb! We are to have a spotless soul for the spotless Savior! A life worthy of our Savior is a life of holiness. We are called to follow the Savior; we are called unto holiness!
“Called unto holiness,” church of our God,
Purchase of Jesus, redeemed by His blood;
Called from the world and its idols to flee,
Called from the bondage of sin to be free.
Salvation, Then Holiness
In giving attention to the life of holiness, there is a first-rate, gospel-level issue at stake. Both the Bible author, Peter, and the hymn writer (of “Called unto Holiness”), Lelia Morris, allude to it. We are able to pursue holiness because of the redemption available through Jesus’ blood. We do not pursue holiness in order to be saved. We are saved by faith in a holy Savior, not by works of holiness which we have done.
Before the world was even founded, Peter points out (1 Peter 1:20), God decided to send Jesus, because He foreknew that mankind would transgress His standard of holiness. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus bore the penalty for our unholiness on the tree. Through Jesus, we believe in God — that God raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory — and are saved (1 Peter 1:21). Through union with Christ, God sets us apart from sin and begins purifying our lives.
We are saved by faith in Jesus, which motivates us to live a live worthy of our Savior. Genuine faith always leads to holiness. An unholy person does not have faith. Because of Jesus, our “faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21), as we wait for our eternal salvation.
Holiness and God’s Word (1 Peter 1:22-25)
The bridge which leads unholy people to this faith in the Savior is the word of God, and the same word continues to be the guide to holy living. The life we live is a changed life, consistent with the transforming power of God’s word.
Peter calls this word…
- “the truth” (1 Peter 1:22),
- “incorruptible seed” (1 Peter 1:23),
- “the word which endures forever” (1 Peter 1:23, 25), and
- “the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:25).
He refers to the word as the gospel because the whole word of God, contained in the Bible, is summed up in the gospel. Holiness is not moving on from the gospel to something new. It is going deeper into the gospel that we already have.
God’s word is the only reliable standard for holiness. The holiness which we sing and shout, loud and long, is Scriptural holiness. Wesley summarized Methodism’s purpose as “to spread Scriptural holiness over the land.”
The holiness standard is not a manmade standard, for Scripture was not “ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). God’s word has not been corrupted by human mistakes. It is able to change our hearts and lives. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
When Paul calls the Thessalonians to holiness, he warns, “whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:8).
SANCTIFIED BY THE WORD
If we answer the call to holiness, Peter says we “purify our souls by obeying” the word of God, “the truth.” Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them with thy truth; thy word is truth.”
We do not judge how holy we are by looking at the world. We judge how holy we are by looking at the Word. The world is not a reliable standard. “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away: But the word of the Lord endures for ever” (1 Peter 1:24-25).
Man’s standards change. Culture shifts. But God’s Word is settled in heaven. God’s Word stands the test of time.
If you want to live a holy life, flee to the Word. A.W. Tozer said, “The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of the others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”
A holy people is a Bible people. Read the Word. Spend lengthy periods of time searching the Word. Most importantly, seek and obey the Author of the Word. God’s Word is the only reliable standard.
Peter says that this obedience to the Word is “through the Spirit” — empowered by the Holy Spirit of God. Without the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing. No one is holy without the Holy Spirit of God.
Every holy desire and every holy decision is because of the Holy Spirit moving in our hearts. We should be sure to thank Him. We should call upon His name. We should seek Him constantly. And since the Bible says that He can be grieved, we should be careful not to displease Him by being irreverent or disobedient.
LOVE, THE GOAL OF SANCTIFICATION
Finally, the result of our obedience is “unto unfeigned love of the brethren” — sincere, honest, heartfelt, wholehearted, sacrificial love for our fellow believers. Not petty bickering. Not talking about them behind their backs. Not resenting them in our hearts. But seeking their best interests at the expense of our own.
John Wesley said that holiness — Christian perfection — is nothing more or less than perfect love for God and man. In Peter’s call to holiness, he says it this way: “see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” No matter how conservatively we live, we are not holy if we do not have love. If we are becoming more conservative, but we are not becoming more loving, we are not becoming more holy.
Love is the bright red clothing that holiness wears. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples,” Jesus said, “if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
As we wait for our salvation, let us answer the call to holiness. Let us look to the Word of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to pass our time in this present world with divine love.