“…the standard of daily life among professing Christians in this country has been gradually failing. I’m afraid that Christ-like charity, kindness, good-temper, unselfishness, meekness, gentleness, good-nature, self-denial, zeal to good, and separation from the world, are far less appreciated than they ought to be. The vast increase of wealth in the last 25 years has insensibly introduced a plague of worldliness, and self-indulgence, and love of ease into social life. What were once called luxuries are now comforts and necessaries, and self-denial and enduring hardness are consequently little known” – says J.C. Ryle in the middle of the 1800. If Ryle felt this way 150 years ago, what could we write about today’s Christianity which is saturated with secularism more than any generation of Christians before? Today’s Christianity is soaked with the values and practices of the world!
But the command of 1Pt 1:6 is valid today, too: “you shall be holy, for I am holy“. This command doesn’t give us room to be passive or to be ignorant, but it requests an action. Holiness is active. Ryle says this: “Is it wise to teach believers that they ought not to think so much of fighting and struggling against sin, but ought rather to “yield themselves to God” and be passive in the hands of Christ? I doubt it. A holy violence, a conflict, a warfare, a fight, a soldier’s life, a wrestling, are spoken of as characteristic of the true Christian.”
Holiness is a required opportunity.
Opportunity – because it is only available to those who are described by Peter this way: “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your soul”. (1:9) The opportunity to live a holy life is open for those who obtained salvation. We don’t pursue holiness to receive salvation, but because we are saved, we have an opportunity to live a holy life.
Required – “I doubt, indeed, whether we have any warrant for saying that a man can possibly be converted without being consecrated to God.” – says Ryle. The security of salvation by grace doesn’t release us from the requirement of pursuing holiness. A true Christian has an ongoing desire to live a pure life. Although our salvation is by grace through faith, Peter warns us that God “judges impartially according to each one’s deeds.” (1:14b)
Peter gives us three helpful, practical steps to help us to live a holy life:
1. “Preparing your minds for action…” – our mind directs our actions.
The battle over holiness won in our mind – not in our feelings. We decide what kind of information and values we allow to become our convictions. And we know that our conviction guides our actions. Whatever we fill our minds with, that’s what we become. That’s why Peter tells us what kind of knowledge we need to absorb: “knowing (not feeling) that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things… but with the precious blood of Christ…”(1:18) The real knowledge of our sin and salvation is what helps us to pursue holiness. As Ryle writes: “Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption. …right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity.” The more we see how much our inherited deadly disease (sin) hurts God’s basic characteristic, His Holiness, the more we will want to pursue holiness in our everyday life. The growing knowledge in the truth about our own state and about God’s person is the very first step that leads us to live a holy life. Holiness starts with recognizing our disgusting, sinful nature and continues with the recognition of God’s pure holiness.
2. “…set your hope fully…” – our conviction about our future determines our deeds in the present.
The lost person lives in the slavery of his/her past. The saved is freed by his/her future. While the lost person’s present is determined by his/her past, the saved person’s present is determined by his/her future. We, Christians, live in the present from our future. Our hope in our future changes our present. Because we set our hope fully in the future we have, that’s why we will not live determined by our past. It is a great motivator for holiness to look ahead to the grace we will get when Christ comes back. But also it is a great motivator if we look ahead to the account we need to give when He comes back. Both the thankful heart and the fearful heart should motivate us to live a holy life. “Conduct yourself with fear…” – says Peter. There is a place for the fear of God. God is good, but He is holy. We should be fearful to commit sin.
3. “…do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance…” – in order to leave behind the old sin we need to set new patterns, determine clear boundaries and make firm decisions.
Peter uses a graphic expression here: we shouldn’t slick to the shape of the world and of our old desires. The world and our flesh has a shape, a form with it’s values, customs, deeds, desires, thinking, arguing, etc. That’s the old shape. We should not slick into that form. We have a new shape, a new form that we need to be conformed to: the shape of Christ. We need to have new customs, new values, new ways of having fun, new ways of saying things, new ways of thinking, arguing, etc. The new pattern, the new shape, the new model is God’s holiness. Slick to that. The hardest daily battle in living a holy life is when we have to take each of our old customs, habits, practice, behaviors, etc. and weigh them on the measure of God’s holiness. And with each we need to make a decision and set boundaries that we will not follow the old practice and habits, but develop new ones. Developing godly practices is the practical daily step of holiness.
What would it be like if we would really life a holy life? We should live it, because we can live it!