The apostle Peter has spent the first portion of his letter speaking about the inheritance that has been promised to believers. This promise is secured based upon the work of Christ in redemption, the character and power of God, and the authority of the OT scriptures. Peter proclaims that Christians have received astounding blessings and a heavenly inheritance that dwarfs any earthly inheritance that a person could receive. Peter also notes that these promises will be received in the age to come, which means that Christians are longing for this day in the future. Therefore, a series of questions can be asked: what do believers do in the present age? What do we do now as we wait for this inheritance? How do we guard this hope while living in this world? Peter answers these questions in the next passage.
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”. 1 Peter 1:13-16
The Folly of Earthly Hope
The inheritance promised to us as believers should primarily motivate us to fix our hope entirely on our future reward. This is one of the simplest truths of the Christian life, yet it is often the most difficult to apply personally. Because of our indwelling sin, we are naturally prone to set our affections on things that we can experience in this world. If we were honest, this is the root cause of many of our earthly ambitions. For some, it is the hope of earthly riches; for some, it is the hope of professional success; for some, it is the hope of having successful children; and for others, it is the hope of having a comfortable life. Regardless of the ambition, we discipline ourselves and make sacrifices in the hope that we will accomplish our ambitions. The life of Solomon serves as a cautionary tale for those who have set their hope on this world.
In his pursuit of wisdom, Solomon concluded
And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:17-18
In his pursuit of pleasure, Solomon concluded
I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
In his pursuit of riches, Solomon concluded
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this is also vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep. Ecclesiastes 5:10-12
There are some today who hope that their service for God will cause God to give them a special blessing in this present age. This is not a new thought, for Peter himself asked this question to Jesus. Jesus responded to this question saying
Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. Matthew 19:28-30
Again, Jesus is telling Peter that the fullness of his hope will only be realized in the age to come and, therefore, he should set his hope on the future reward, not only the earthly reward. This is a lesson that Jesus had to emphasize multiple times with the apostles because of their expectation of an immediate earthly kingdom with Jesus. We have the same inclinations as the apostles. We are constantly tempted to fix our hope and confidence on an earthly reward, despite the wonderful promises of our future inheritance. This hope starts out as a simple wish, but in time, it will evolve into an expectation and a pursuit that will ensnare us.
The account of the rich young man (cf. Matthew 19:16-22) is a cautionary tale for all of us in this manner. Here is an individual who comes to Jesus for eternal life and, in effect, Jesus presents him the option of exchanging his earthly riches for eternal life. The rich young man realizes that he cannot obtain eternal life because he refuses to give up his wealth for Jesus. Interestingly enough, the young man is not angry at Jesus, but he is deeply sorrowful because he is too attached to his riches to obtain eternal life. As Paul states, the pursuit of earthly riches is a snare that plunges many people into destruction (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9-10). We should take this warning seriously by adhering to the words of Peter to fix our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Peter states that we ought to fix our hope entirely on this future reward by preparing our minds for actions. This phrase alludes back to Jesus words in Luke 12:35
Stay dressed or action and keep your lamps burning and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.
This is an image taken from the way in which the Jews ate the Passover with the loose outer robe, as ready for a journey. Workmen and pilgrims (both are descriptions commonly used of Christians) gird themselves up, both to shorten the garment so as not to impede motion and to gird up the body itself so as to be braced for action. The believer is to have his mind collected and always ready for Christ’s coming. Again, it is easy to slip back into our natural disposition to place our hope in earthly treasures or to become spiritually disengaged. Since angels desire to look into the great mysteries of God’s grace towards us, we should apply our minds diligently and fix our hope upon the grace of God. The only true way that we will have our minds fully engaged is if give ourselves fully to the scriptures and meditate upon them constantly. Meditating on the scriptures is one of the most neglected forms of worship in our day because of our constant distractions. However, men of God throughout history and in the scriptures have reached deeper depths of maturity through meditation and we ignore it to our peril. A great deal of our shallowness is due to a lack of true meditation and devotion to the scriptures.
Peter also states that we ought to fix our hope entirely on this future reward by being sober-minded. The exhortation to sobriety is repeated in multiple NT passages (cf. Romans 12:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8) and it always speaks of thinking rightly and sensibly about ourselves and about the world. The problem that we have as believers is that we tend not to be sober-minded about the world around us; rather, we have an inflated, unbiblical view of this present age. We live in an evil world that has been subjected to futility and under the bondage of corruption (cf. Romans 8:21). We live in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation that has been blinded by the work of Satan (cf. Philippians 2:15; Ephesians 2:2). We live in an evil and fallen world and it’s by the grace of God that we have been delivered from this present evil age (cf. Galatians 1:4). Most importantly, the world that we live in is temporary and fleeting (cf. Isaiah 40:6-8).
We do not think sensibly about the world because we are prone to distraction by many things. Our modern age has lulled many to sleep, believing that our world will basically remain the same. Because we do not see the true transitory nature of the world, we are prone to fix our hope upon it. The apostle Peter tells us that it’s irrational to live our lives, believing that this world will remain the same. If we would think beyond our lives and look at the lives of average people around the world throughout history, we would see how frail humanity is. Truly, all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. Moreover, if we look at the accounts of God’s judgment on the earth, we would see how frail and transitory our earth is as well (cf. 2 Peter 3:4-6). This present age that we are living is passing away along with all of its desires; therefore, our hope should be constantly fixed upon the grace to come.
Motivations for Holiness
The final charge from Peter is to live holy, which in the immediate context implies a separation from evil. By God’s decision, we’ve been called exiles on this earth and so our behavior should reflect our calling. We are pilgrims passing through this present age and so we are called to live separated from evil. This implies being separated from the evil of our present age and from the passions of our former life. When we were sinners, we were enslaved to our idols and lived according to the course of this world. Yet because of His great mercy, we have been delivered from this age and united with Christ for the purpose of being conformed to His image. Because of His grace, we are no longer in a state of ignorance, but we are convinced of our sinfulness and are ashamed of idolatry that we once enjoyed. We are now called to obedience, which implies great effort fueled by faith in the work of the Spirit. Peter’s point here is that the motivation behind such a holy life is the reality of the age to come. The hope of this inheritance produces a true pursuit of holiness. When we think sensibly about our age and the age to come, it fuels faith-filled effort towards holiness.
In this letter, Peter calls us to holiness by thinking sensibly about the true riches of our future inheritance and the transient view of the current age. This world and all of its riches will pass away and so the question becomes what sort of people should we be? Should we be individuals who have a backup plan in case God doesn’t keep His promise? Or should we be individuals who forsake earthly treasures because we have set our hope on true heavenly riches? Therefore, our holiness is a separation from evil conduct as well as a transformation of our mind and hope.
In addressing the false teachers of his time, Peter gives a fitting closing thought and statement concerning the points emphasized here.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 2:10-13