God’s Word for You
1 Peter 1:15-16 To be holy
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 25, 2022
15 Rather, just as the one who called you is holy, so also be holy in everything you do. 16 For it is written, “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Johann Gerhard said, “In this life let us aspire to that to which we shall be exalted perfectly in the new life” (On the Nature of God, par. 112). This is the same thing Peter is saying. In practical terms, think of a child who admires his father, who might be a farmer, a soldier, a sailor, a pastor, or a doctor. The boy imitates his father, at first without knowing why his father’s actions are important. He plays with a toy plow, he learns to stand at attention, he struts by the railing of the fire escape as if it is the deck of a ship, he tips over a cardboard box to make it a pulpit, or he carries a little doctor bag. Later, he asks questions and begins to really learn some of the things his father does. The farmer, pastor, or doctor might bring the boy along into the field or into the office or to make a home visit. The sailor might teach his son about boats, or at least to swim.
So it is with the Christian aspiring to be like his heavenly Father. In heaven we will be holy and free of sin in every way. We can scarcely imagine what that would be like. The sinful nature sees its own destruction and becomes afraid: What about all of the things I do that I know are sinful but that bring me pleasure or help me to relax or pass the time? The sinful nature imagines, because of its puny limitations, that heaven will be boring if it is unlike the fallen world. But what it is we are striving for is to live according to the will of God. His will is especially that we would be holy.
This is enough to crush us, to pulverize us. I can’t be holy, because everything I do and think is full of sin, spattered by sin, infected with sin, and stained with sin. When I try to empty out a part of my life—a habit, for example—of its sin, the stain is still there. The guilt remains. And unless I am very careful, the sin will come crashing back if I do nothing to fill the void in my life and habits. But “As great as God is, so great is his mercy.” Our salvation “doesn’t depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16). God’s mercy and faithfulness are eternal, they endure forever (Psalm 117:2).
This means that God’s mercy, which is one of his attributes, is part of his immutability, his unchanging faithfulness. His mercy does not change, just as the sun does not change in its brightness and gifts even though people might turn away from its light and heat and deprive themselves of its gifts and benefits.
But God does not only demand holiness, he is also Savior, coach, and guide. Christ is our Savior before all. The pietists, who in American history were the Pilgrims, the Amish, and their branches, put Christ as guide before Christ as Savior, and this leads to a mistaken idea about how salvation occurs: is it entirely the work of God, or does man contribute? The differences between the denominations are not merely “different traditions,” but key differences in whether we trust in Christ for forgiveness or want to supply it ourselves. This shows the mistaken (and sinful) attempt to inject oneself into Jesus’ words, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It’s the error of confusing the order of justification and sanctification. God cannot allow the sinner to say, “I came to the Father and Christ helped me.” This circumvents God’s holiness; it is an attack on Christ, on the Gospel, on the doctrine of Justification, and on faith. It is an attack on the shepherd by his sheep, led by wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15).
First, under justification, we know that our Savior Jesus Christ supplies everything we lack. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). True Christian preaching does not merely present lots of interesting facts about Jesus and his times, but proclaims that the Son of God reconciled the world to the Father so that the Father does not count men’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Next, under sanctification, we know that our Savior Jesus coaches us in holy living. He urges us to live holy lives as a way of saying thank you to God, stepping away from and avoiding temptation. Jesus preaches the Law of God so that we see what is truly inbounds and out-of-bounds. “You have the gospel (you are the light of the world),” our Coach says, “don’t hide it” (Matthew 5:14-15). “When you think about your personal righteousness,” our Coach says, “you should strive to be more righteous than the most righteous people you know” (Matthew 5:20). “You know ‘Don’t murder,’” he says, “but that means ‘Don’t be angry for sinful, selfish reasons” (Matthew 5:22). “You know ‘Don’t commit adultery,’” he says, “but that means don’t even lust” (Matthew 5:28). Instead, think of the beautiful woman as your little sister, and protect her. Think of the man you’re angry with as your own son, and correct him with love if he needs correcting. This will set your gospel light on a stand for everyone to see.
But also under sanctification, Jesus is our guide. He points out great things for us to know about, like the right way to pray, and the way God gathers his kingdom. A lot of this Jesus did with the parables, which are there to set God’s ways side-by-side with events we can relate to from life: a man planting seed, a woman looking for a coin, or you and I searching for a lost lamb.
As we turn our minds more and more toward the will of God, our words and actions will follow. This is how we strive for holiness. We won’t achieve it perfectly. Some days there will even be setbacks. There will be years we look back on as wasted. But we strive. “Let us aspire to that,” Professor Gerhard says, “to which we shall be exalted perfectly in the new life.” We see our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus behaving a certain way, and we imitate it. This is part of our striving. But we dig into the Scriptures to find our why, and finally we begin to grow. We begin to understand. We want to be holy because our God is holy.
Pastor Timothy Smith