BEFORE AND AFTER 1 Peter 1:13 – 16, July 30, 2020
Reflection | “Therefore.” The use of this word to begin the next part of Peter’s letter signals that what he is about to share is applicable because of what he has previously written. Peter already has said quite a bit in the first twelve verses. He has spoken of the joy we can have in the midst of the trials of life thanks to the God who is able to work all things for our good. He has called us to marvel at the full manifestation of the grace of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ that the prophets of old anticipated and that even angels long to understand.
The through line in what has already been shared is the unchanging reality of our salvation in Christ – our “new birth into a living hope” (v. 3), our “inheritance” as children of God, one “that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (v. 4). Having vividly described the good news that is ours thanks to Jesus, Peter is now going to tell us something about how we live in response to this Gospel. Let us understand, however, the particular emphasis of this “therefore.” What follows is informed by what has come before. In other words, the actions Peter prescribes to us are the results of abiding in God’s grace, they are not the conditions for receiving such grace.
Peter starts by focusing on our mental alertness – “with minds that are fully alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you” (v. 13). What gets lost in translation here is Peter’s usage of common saying of his day and age. He literally writes, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” Part of the fashion of the ancient world included the wearing of a long tunic that hung down past one’s knees. Whenever it was time to go to work – to engage in physical labor – a person would “gird” or tuck up their tunic into their belt so that they wouldn’t get encumbered, dirty, or otherwise tripped up by their clothing.
Much like such clothing, life’s struggles, worries, and even pleasures have a habit of getting in the way. They can tempt us to put our hope in other things besides Christ – things that cannot truly satisfy – wealth, achievements, or prestige. Therefore, the living hope we have been given in Christ is the hope upon which we must repeatedly set or fix our attention. This takes deliberate effort. As Peter outlines, we need to be alert – aware of what our minds dwell upon, of what occupies our hearts, in how we invest our thoughts, passions, and energy. We need to remain sober – keeping our heads clear and our hearts pure rather than yielding to confusion and becoming impaired by foggy thinking.
“As obedient children,” Peter goes on, “do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” (v. 14). Everyone who comes to faith in Jesus has a before and an after. If ours is a journey of faith – of following Jesus – then we who are in Christ experience many before and then after moments. We all have moments from when Jesus first grabs hold of our heart and mind to the many breakthroughs that the Spirit of Christ works in us as God refines and transforms our character.
The before moments of our lives with Jesus are when we lived in ignorance. When we did not know, did not understand what was true, what was real, and what mattered. The after moments of our lives with Christ are when it was revealed to us, when we learned, when the grace of God took hold and changed not just our point of view but our capacity to grow. Our transformation in Jesus isn’t about going back and living in the past; it is about ever moving forward – deeper into who we are meant to be and advancing towards the everlasting future that awaits us together in Christ. As Peter calls us, not just children of God, but “obedient children,” he isn’t directing us so much as to what we should do. Rather, Peter is calling us to live out of who we are – those who have not only been brought into the family by Jesus but also empowered to live differently.
And how have we been empowered to live? “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (v. 15). As if to reinforce this, Peter, in the next verse quotes a well-known direction given by God to His people Israel from the book of Leviticus: “Be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7). The point is, living and being holy as an expression of our identity and our relationship to the Lord is not a new idea.
Still, if we hear the call to holiness as something we have to do rather than to be, Peter’s words can sound very discouraging because on our own, answering such a call is impossible. If holiness was something any of us could achieve, then we wouldn’t need grace. Jesus would be our inspiration and our role model and not our Lord and Savior. Far from perfect, broken and flawed creatures that we are, we cannot make ourselves holy. Understanding divine is to recognize and appreciate that God is the One who makes us holy.
Being holy isn’t about being perfect. Being holy IS about continuing to rely on God’s grace and forgiveness as we remain works in progress on this side of eternity. Being holy isn’t about trying to appease God. Being holy IS about seeking to please our Father by reflecting the glory of His character to others. Therefore, being holy isn’t about trying to be better than others. Living by God’s grace means living graciously – humbly and lovingly towards others. Being holy IS about being sensitive and responsive to the leading of the Spirit – which includes living graciously – humbly and lovingly towards each other.
Through Jesus Christ, in one sense, God already HAS made us holy – set us apart and saved us. At the same time, God also is making us holy – whole and perfect – as through the Holy Spirit, God is reshaping and transforming us into our best selves – who God always created us to be. Peter is calling us to live out of this identity – to abide in the One, apart from whom we can do nothing but in whom nothing is impossible.
Consider & Discuss | Define or describe “holiness” in your own words. How important is it that your life is characterized by holiness? What occupies your thoughts, your feelings, your energy? How would intentionally focusing on the living hope we have in Christ reorient your thoughts, feelings, and energy? Are you learning from Jesus or choosing to remain in ignorance – habits and patterns of the past – despite breakthroughs the Holy Spirit has made/is working in you?
Prayer Focus | Loving Father, I long for that day when every problem is resolved, every story is complete and everything that perplexes me now will make sense. Thank you that what I long for is a living and secure hope thanks to Jesus. As an heir of the holiness of Christ, I seek to be who You say I say, to become, by the gracious work of Your Spirit, who I am in You. Give me an alert and sober disposition so that I do not forsake the hope You have given me. Spur me forward so that I live not in the “befores” of my life but the “afters” of my encounters with You. Encourage and empower me to reflect Your glory – to make Your grace visible and real – to be holy as You are holy – encouraging, loving, and blessing everyone I meet – leading them to You and to Your salvation through how I live. Amen.