The letter of 1 Peter is addressed to “God’s Elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood!” (1 Peter 1:1-3).
In simple terms, it is addressed to all Christians wherever they may be. That means it is relevant and important for each one of us. Peter was writing to a church in crisis. Persecution was very real and very personal. The government was actively seeking to search and destroy those who were followers of Christ. Families were divided because of decisions to become Christ-followers. To stand out as being different from what society considered to be normal was to set one’s self up to be targeted. We know from historical records that many, because of their faith, were tortured with methods too horrible to imagine. Hebrews 11 spoke of how many even in Old Testament times were treated: “…There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11: 35b-38).
In the 1st century, there were Christians who were covered with tar and set on fire to be torches in Nero’s Gardens. Many Christians had to flee from their home towns and even their home countries and live in exile as they fled the persecution directed at them.
When we realize the seriousness of the world conditions in which Peter was writing, the admonition to be holy takes on a very important significance. To be holy, was to be different. It was to be set apart from secular society. It was to become visible to a world that was hostile. It meant complete devotion to Christ.
And then the words Peter writes in 1 Peter 1: 15-16 leap off the pages and pierce our very hearts: “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.’”
During this period of time between Easter and the Day of Pentecost, we are going to revisit some of passages of Scripture that focus on God’s command that we be holy. We are beginning with this passage in 1 Peter.
I. GOD IS HOLY.
a. What does that fact say to us about God? When we reflect on God’s Holiness we think of many aspects of that “holiness.” The first thing that comes to my mind is “Purity”—there is no sin in God. He is altogether goodness. But then I think of the Omni—characteristics: He is Omnipresent—He is everywhere. The Psalmist pointed out in Psalm 139 that wherever you go, God is there—there is no escaping His presence. He is Omniscience—that means He is All knowing and All wise. He knows everything—from the smallest detail to the enormous concept, the microscopic to the telescopic. And he knows the future as well as the past and present. He is Omnipotent—All Powerful. That covers both the power of creation and all physical strength, as well as the power of authority—He is Sovereign. All things belong to Him and are subject to Him. When I think of His Holiness, I think of those virtues of compassion and mercy and grace, as well as those of divine justice. And as I reflect on His Holiness, I have to think of His Divine “otherness.” He is Creator, not creation. Add up all the aspects of creation, the universe and all, and they simply point to what God has done. Creation does not explain the essence of God—it simply displays the creativity of God.
b. The great Christian Missionary Alliance Theologian A. W. Tozer made this statement: “Holy is the way God is. To be holy he does not conform to a standard. He is that standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is. Because he is holy, all his attributes are holy; that is, whatever we think of as belonging to God must be thought of as holy.”
c. God is HOLY, and all that belongs to Him.
II. A HOLY PEOPLE
a. Peter, writing to the scattered and persecuted Christians, reminds them (and us) that since God is Holy, we are to, “Be holy in all you do, for it is written; ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
b. Holiness is positional, ethical, and moral….
i. We are Holy because of our position in Christ. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). We are all created and God is the Creator. But because of sin, we are separated from God. But when we confess our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness and place our faith in Christ, we are adopted into his family. And as God’s children, we are holy because we now belong to Him.
ii. We are Holy because of the Blood of Jesus Cleansing us from sin. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin…If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:6, 9) There has to be a forgiveness and cleansing from sin. That comes by true repentance and acceptance of Jesus’ death on the Cross as payment for our sinfulness.
iii. We are holy because of our obedience. “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” (1 Peter 1: 14). “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14: 15). Christians, because of their love for God, seek to do His will. Implied is a desire to know his commands. And we learn his commands by searching and studying His Word!
iiii. We are holy because of the work of the Holy Spirit within us. In Matthew 3: 11-12 John the Baptist declared, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worth to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” It is the Holy Spirit who awakens within us the awareness of our need for Christ and forgiveness. It is the Holy Spirit who takes what Jesus did on the Cross and applies it to our lives today. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us, teaches us, enlightens us, rebukes us, and enables us to live the Holy Life that God calls us to live.
v. So, to be the Holy People of God, we must belong to God by being adopted into His family. We must have our hearts cleansed from sin and made pure and clean. And we must seek to follow His Commands with all our heart. And all that comes out as Loving God with all our heart, soul, mine, and strength, and Loving our Neighbor as our self.
III. HOLINESS UNDER FIRE
a. We pointed out at the beginning of this message that Peter was writing to Christians who were being persecuted severely by the government and by those who rejected Christ. In those horrendous circumstances Peter told the Christians to live as the Holy People of God. Among other things, Holiness means “being set apart” and specifically, “being set apart to be used of God.
b. It is easy to buy into the popular notion that Christians will have a charmed life, have riches poured into their laps, and never be sick. But the Bible clearly teaches that the life of a Christian will be one that is under fire. Jesus reminded his disciples that while they are in the world they will have troubles.
c. One of the powerful accounts of being Holy while being persecuted dates by to the early 2nd century in the city of Smyrna. An old Christian Bishop named Polycarp lived there. The Roman were cracking down on dissident groups and requiring all people to declare Caesar as Lord and to offer a pinch of incense to be burned in worship of him. To refuse to do so meant being burned at the state. Polycarp was well loved by the people and they begged him to give in just this one time. Polycarp responded, “Eighty and Six years I have served my Lord and He never has failed me. How can I fail Him now?” And he willingly went to the stake and was burned alive, faithful to Christ to the very end. That is an extreme example of holiness, but that loyalty and commitment to Christ is essential in being the Holy People of God.
A W Tozer Quotes on Holiness
Go to God and have an understanding. Tell Him that it is your desire to be holy at any cost and then ask Him never to give you more happiness than holiness. When your holiness becomes tarnished, let your joy become dim. And ask Him to make you holy whether you are happy or not. Be assured that in the end you will be as happy as you are holy; but for the time being let your whole ambition be to serve God and be Christ-like.
This morning, let me again repeat Peter’s words—but instead of the words being directed to those scattered over the Roman Empire, understand those word are directed to each one of us.
“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.’”
Have you answered God’s Call to be Holy? Isn’t it time to do so?
1. Repent of your sins and ask for God’s forgiveness and cleansing and then trust Jesus to make it so.
2. Commit your whole self to God and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you and to remove any nature of sin that is within you.
3. Learn His Commands and pursue obedience to those commands every day.
4. And practice Love—His Love in you, radiating from you, reaching out to others!