1 PETER 1:13-16 ESV
13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,
15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,
16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Last week, our theme from Adam Hamilton’s book Revival! was that grace is a free gift and that holiness doesn’t come from striving. Pastor Derek and I wanted to make the point that the grace of God is something that is given, not taken. Therefore living holy for Jesus is a work that Jesus does in us first, and through that work we are enabled to live faithfully.
Now, in regards to our text today, the apostle Peter is writing to a people who are ravaged by persecution. The Roman Emperor, Nero, was actively looking for things to pin on Christians, being that they were viewed as a threat to the social, religious, and political life of Rome.
Because Christians’ feared for their lives, their hope was in the return of Jesus Christ. But to long for the return of Christ in order to save them from this present darkness, they must first be associated with Christ. To be associated with Christ is to be in right relationship with Him and that means that they must be holy. Beginning in the Old Testament, God has called people to holiness, or a ‘sacred otherness’, because it is only when the Holy God is living in them that they share in communion with Him.
Holiness means that God’s character lives within us, ruling our hearts, and then out of that holy character comes holy actions and holy activities. Now holiness is not boring, stiff behavior. There is joy in holiness; a joy that expresses itself in worship, in praise, in love, and in giving. There is peace and contentment that surpasses even the worst of circumstances.
In this case, the worst circumstances were the dreadful persecutions of the emperor Nero. The emperor had just blamed the Christians for the great fire of Rome, was feeding them to wild animals for entertainment in the arena, and even putting them on crosses and lighting them on fire in his garden by night so that he could enjoy it in the evening.
Peter had every reason in the world to instruct believers to hope in Christ and be found in relationship with him. His encouragement to them is that they should long for holiness, to be associated with God in the most intimate of ways so that they would experience God in both power and peace.
John Wesley knew the joy of holy living, of a life of holiness and the importance of longing for it. During his days as a professor at Oxford, he led a small group of college students who met regularly, studying the Bible, learning the classics, and praying together often. Their structured and methodical meetings led to a term that deemed his later following and our denomination today as “Methodists.” But that methodical campus ministry led to the small group reaching out to young and old, doing ministry and visitations to people in the surrounding area, and even motivating them to put their funds together to hire a teacher to educate local children.
This wasn’t something Wesley and his students did because they needed to check off the to do’s of Christian living. This was an expression of the overflowing love that came from living in the love of Christ. They were living holy because the holy God was living in them. God was literally using them to grow in grace and care for others. This is what it means to be holy, to live a life of sacred otherness. They did what God instructed and they did it out of love in their hearts.
But the key is in recognizing that all this is possible by staying in the word of God, in prayer with one another, and in ministry to those around us. Wesley’s group wasn’t the first group to do this and neither are the Methodists of yesterday, today, or tomorrow. This was the life that came right out of the book of Acts, from the lifestyle and worship of the first apostles.
John Wesley and the early Methodists were experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit as the first apostles did. Listen to Acts 2:42-47 (ESV),
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
That is holiness!!! Sharing in life-changing fellowship with God and one another. And this should be our longing, too. We should long for this way of living, for these movements of the Holy Spirit. And a huge part of that longing comes through prayer. Are we praying for the Spirit to move? Are we praying for God to move in us? Are we asking Jesus to enter into our community and heal the brokenness that we experience every day? We need people who will live holy. We need prayer warriors. We need teachers of the Scriptures.
Hear it again, but this time, with a longing for holiness: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Long for holiness. Pray for the movement of the Holy Spirit. Stay in love with God through fellowship, worship, and study. Come, Holy Spirit. Amen.