Depending on the background that you come from, the term “holiness” has several connotations surrounding it. For some, it may mean wearing Sunday’s best and doing your best to “act right”. For others, it may mean that you leave your secular employment and become a full-time minister. For others, it means that you should avoid drinking, smoking, clubbing, certain TV programs, and sexual immorality. If you grew up like me, there was an impression that only certain people are holy. These people were holy primarily because of their temperament and convictions. These were the people in church who were extremely serious-minded, who lacked a sense of humor, who took things very personally, and had very strong convictions concerning peripheral issues (such as sports, TV programs, clothing type, etc.). After awhile, I developed the impression that I couldn’t be very holy since that form of zealousness wasn’t my natural temperament. However, Peter makes the argument that holiness is not an option for Christians, but rather, it is the definition of a Christian. This implies that Christians are defined just as much by their ongoing sanctification as their justification before God. Thus, the true holiness of God must not be related to temperament and thus, every Christian should strive for holiness. A common question to ask is: what are motivations that can drive a person daily towards holiness? After speaking about the hope that produces holiness, Peter gives several motivations for maintaining a holy walk before God:
And if you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourself 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. 1 Peter: 1:17-21
We are called to holiness in all of our conduct as believers – in thought, word, and deed. Our holiness is derived from the holiness of God in that God’s revelation of Himself in the scriptures defines what our holiness should be. We are called elect exiles because we are separated unto God for the purposes of His honor and glory. Here Peter presents an argument and call to holiness of life based on our adoption, the costliness of our redemption, and the demands for God’s justice.
Holiness and Adoption
One of the amazing truths revealed in the New Testament is our adoption as sons of God. Whereas the atonement speaks of God’s infinite holiness and the fullness of His wrath upon sinners, adoption speaks of the great love of God towards us as undeserving sinners. We can call Him Father because He has adopted us as sons. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in applying the redemptive work of Christ to us, we have received adoption as sons and we long for the day when we receive the full privileges of that adoption (cf. Romans 8:15, 23). Consider the words of the apostle John
See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God; and so we are… Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies Himself as He is pure. 1 John 3:1-3
This is a point worth meditating on constantly. Our great God and Savior has set His affections upon us. God could have simply atoned for our sins and left us alone (I note that He would be completely just in doing this). However, God has done much more than this. He has atoned for the guilt of our sins and adopted us as His children. We are God’s own possession and the object of His affection. Personally, this is a point that I often under-emphasize in my devotion and worship due to the overemphasis of God’s attribute of love in our society. God has defined true love and has demonstrated His love through adoption of undeserving, wicked sinners such as I. However, John’s thought doesn’t end there. In the age to come, God’s plan of redemption will be complete and our full adoption will be consummated. It is this hope that serves as the motivation for our holiness. Everyone that makes the claim of sonship with God ought to honor and obey Him. Whoever calls God their Father, and themselves His children, ought to be especially careful that they do not blaspheme that worthy name by which they are called because of their conduct.
Holiness and Judgment
According to Peter, another reason why men should be holy is because God will judge impartially according to each one’s deeds. In other words, this God that is a Father is also a Judge. This is a point worth emphasizing because many professed Christians ignore this attribute of God. Even though the Father has committed all judgment to the Son (cf. John 5:22,27), He will judge everyone by Christ. We will all stand (both living and dead) before the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10) and His judgment will be perfectly just. This will be the first perfectly impartial judgment that any of us will ever receive and woe to us if we ignore this warning. It will not matter what family we grew up in, what denomination we were affiliated with, or what our socioeconomic status were. It will not matter how much we have been “victimized” by others or how imperfect the messengers of the gospel were. It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for us who have been favored with the gospel message and reject it. Again, this will be the first perfectly impartial judgment that any of us will ever receive. God is not a judge that has to look at external, incomplete evidence to come to a verdict. He looks on the heart and He knows the secret motives of all actions (cf. Romans 2:16). He knows the deep depravity in each person and absolutely nothing escapes His notice. He will be the first judge ever to judge based on perfect, complete knowledge and from that knowledge He will pass the sentence. Therefore, as Peter states, what manner of person should we be, in all holy conversation and godliness (cf. 2 Peter 3:11)?
Knowing that God will judge all men according to their deeds, it follows that we should conduct ourselves with reverential fear during our time of exile on the earth. Because we are called as exiles, we should not live our lives without any sense of urgency, but we should be sober and walk circumspectly. Just as the people of God realized that they were sojourners in this world and that they were not of this world (cf. John 15:19), we should realize that our home is in heavens. We are citizens of another city whose builder and maker is God. Because we are born from above, neither our satisfaction nor our settlement are here. Our current earthly bodies and the world that we live in are all temporary and we are awaiting our heavenly home. This means that we are set apart from this world for His purposes and we should live in humility and reverential fear of God.
Holiness and Redemption
Another motive that Peter gives to reverential, vigilant fear is through considering the costly price of our redemption from sin. We speak often of grace being free, but this is usually an incomplete thought. Our redeeming grace from sin is free to us on the basis of faith, but it was extraordinarily costly for God. No earthly treasure was sufficient for this payment. As Peter states, our redemption is worth more than gold and silver. Despite how valuable gold and silver are, they are both subject to corruption themselves, and thus, they can free no one from spiritual and bodily death. In essence, they are of too little value.
In this passage, we also see the vast difference between the Old and New Covenant. In the book of Exodus, the Israelites were ransomed with half a shekel each, which went towards purchasing the lamb for daily sacrifice (cf. Exodus 30:12-16). Furthermore, the Levites (who were God’s unique possession among the Israelites) were ransomed for five shekels each (cf. Numbers 3:44-51). However, as the author of the Hebrews explains, no lamb or offering was sufficient enough to perfect the sinner for all time (cf. Hebrews 9:9-15). The Holy Lamb of God, who was our High Priest, redeemed us without money or price because Christ ransomed us with something much more precious – His own blood. The Church of God is redeemed from sin and the curse with Christ’s precious blood (cf. Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14; Revelation 5:9).
In these passages, there is a distinct idea of substitution – the giving of one for another by way of a ransom. Man is “sold under sin” as a slave (cf. Romans 7:14) and shut up under condemnation. However, the ransom, Christ Jesus, was paid to the Judge and was accepted as a satisfaction for our sin by God. Moreover, it was the Father’s own love and righteousness that appointed it. In the Law, an Israelite sold as a bondservant for debt (since he couldn’t pay his own debt) might be redeemed by one of his brothers (cf. Leviticus 25:48). Similarly, since we could not redeem ourselves, Christ became like us in order to become our closest brother and therefore our Redeemer. Therefore, it can be said that holiness is the natural fruit of redemption. We were redeemed from sin so that we can be separated unto Christ. True holiness comes from a deepened understanding and gratitude of redemption.
Holiness and Glorification
Another motive that Peter gives for maintaining a reverential fear of God and a holy walk is God’s eternal purpose in Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. As Peter implies, redemption was not an afterthought nor was it a remedy for unforeseen evil. The redemption by Christ was not a secondary plan, but it was His primary and only plan. There are some who hold the belief that the God of the Old Testament was nothing but vengeful and angry until He sent Christ so that the God of the New Testament can be loving and gracious to us. This is a slander on both God’s wisdom (in that He is frustrated because He made a mistake in instituting the Law) and God’s character (in that His essential attributes and nature have changed). He graciously chose His people in Christ before the foundation of the world in love and waited patiently for the fullness of time to complete His plan of redemption.
Furthermore, Peter places the grounds of our faith and hope in the resurrection of Christ. First, the resurrection of Christ from the dead declared openly God’s acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ. The resurrection of Christ showed that Christ was truly triumphant over sin and death (cf. Colossians 2:13-15) and demonstrated openly that Jesus was the perfect propitious sacrifice for sinners (cf. Hebrews 9:11-12). Second, the object and effect of the resurrection of Christ is “that your faith and hope might be in God”. This is vitally important because it means that our faith in Him flows from His resurrection and our hope flows from the Father glorifying Christ. Thus, our faith is not only in Christ, but by and through Christ. The emphasis here is not to exhort us to be faithful, but it is to remember the actual source of our faith. The source of our faith comes from God raising and glorifying Jesus; therefore, we are charged to remain in this grace. Apart from Christ, we could have only feared God (in terms of condemnation), not believed and hoped in God. Therefore, it can be said that our holiness is the fruit of our redemption because the redemptive work of Christ fuels the faith and hope that produces holiness.
What will be our response to the words spoken to us by Peter? Will we have a response of immense awe and gratitude by which we pursue holiness or will we ignore the warning of scripture? There are some who may read this and come to the conclusion that they can ignore the warnings from the scripture since they are justified by faith alone. There are others who will take the opposite approach and will interpret the warnings as a way to prove their holiness before God. To both, I will end with a quote from John Piper:
God’s purpose in the blood of Jesus is our justification and our sanctification. Our pardon and our purity. They cannot be separated. Therefore, if in our conduct we are tempted to act as though the preciousness and the permanence of the blood of Jesus were impotent to hold us back from sin, then we should fear. Because if our lives bear constant witness to the powerlessness of the blood of Jesus, then Jesus is not really our hope and joy. And we do not belong to him. And that is a fearful prospect. The sum of the matter is this; hope in the grace of God! And fear not hoping in the grace of God! Fear the behavior that would show you don’t trust in the all-satisfying preciousness of the love of Jesus.