The most powerful action words are often the simplest. Consider the power of “if” and the possibilities it unlocks or blocks. We feel moved to do something that requires courage but are blocked by “if only….” Or the doors that are unlocked when the condition of “if” is met. There’s another small word in today’s walk through 1st Peter that is equally powerful. A small word that reveals assurance, purpose, and value to our faith in Christ.
Welcome to our fifth installment of Walking through 1st Peter. If you’ve just discovered us or missed a previous article, they can be found on our website – lambchow.com. This week we are taking a closer look at 1st Peter 1:13-16. “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:13–16, NASB95)
Whenever we encounter a “therefore,” we need to glimpse back. In the previous verses, Peter unfolded the grace, joy, and provision of salvation through Jesus. He is, in essence, saying, “because you have partaken of God’s mercy and grace to discover the new life found only in Jesus through faith do this…”
Peter begins with an idiom, a word picture of his readers girding their minds in the same way that folks girded their loins before pants were invented. Paul uses similar language in his letter to the Ephesians, “Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” (Ephesians 6:14, NASB95) To aid the picture consider this, it’s hard to be fast, quick and agile in a dress. Although I can’t say that I’ve actually tried it. But greater freedom of movement can be found by cinching the dress and tucking under a belt creating a kind of Pantaloon. That’s the picture, but what does it mean for us?
How do we prepare our minds for action? Words like focus, freedom from distraction, intent, foundational truths, and agility come to mind. We are to lay aside every distraction and focus on Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2) Be intent on the things above, not on the things of the world (Colossians 3:2). Truth and the pursuit of truth are the belt that holds everything together. Agility of mind doesn’t mean that we are easily swayed but that we adjust our thinking when truth is revealed.
This means that we don’t approach faith and walking with Jesus on a strictly emotional basis. Nor do we simply believe every word or story that passes by. We should be neither super cynical or super gullible. Paul advised the Thessalonians, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NASB95)
Peter’s direction to “keep sober in spirit” is about anything that can intoxicate us from the truth. While alcohol and drugs are certainly in view, they are not the only things Peter has in mind. Paul wrote, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18, NASB95) It’s not our purpose here to argue whether followers of Jesus can or should drink wine and such. For both Peter and Paul the point is to avoid becoming intoxicated with anything other than the Spirit.
What else can intoxicate our minds so we forget the truth? Desires, jealousy, passion and excesses of just about anything can steer us in the wrong direction. I recall some sales training I had a long time ago. In it, the author stated that before anyone said yes to a large purchase, there is a moment of insanity. A moment where concrete thoughts give way to emotional impulses. A moment when considerations of actual need, the cost of the purchase, and the expense of having are pushed aside for the passion of owning.
Even good things can intoxicate us in a way. Our passion for a cause or a certain truth can lessen our ability to follow Jesus. That passion may become an idol that must not be touched or ignored, and all others must bow down to. Being jealous of someone else’s place, ability or gifting also can block us from walking in what God has given us. We can even become intoxicated with criticalness and the need to uncover the faults and offenses of others; blinding us to our own faults and their good qualities.
Peter doesn’s say how to stay sober in spirit, just that we are to do so. I think humility and self-control goes a long way towards meeting Peter’s direction.
Peter also commands his readers to “fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Hope is an anchor that keeps us steady when everything else is falling apart. But it’s not just hoping for hope’s sake. Peter is explicit – fix your hope on God’s grace through Jesus. Paul wrote, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17, NASB95)
What’s your hope fixed on? So often we have our “if only” list. If only… then life would be better, perfect, or bearable. Those “if only” items become our hope. But that’s like anchoring to a blob of jello, hard to catch and difficult to hold. A little bit later in his letter, Peter will declare that Jesus is the cornerstone, the only sure foundation that is just and true. Jesus is the only solid perch for hope, everything else is fleeting.
Compare and contrast
Continuing the “therefore” that we began with Peter provides a comparison that reveals our powerful little word. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Whether we realized it or not we were shaped and molded by the world around us. We conformed to the accepted behavior be that good or bad. We still have a tendency towards that if we’re not careful. But, therefore, because of the grace revealed through Jesus, we can break free from that mold. The power is held in that one little word “be.” Peter is specific, be holy which means set apart and has the connotation of purity. God is set apart, He is completely other; creator instead of creation, infinite instead of finite. God is pure in all His ways. We can never match the holiness of God, but we are new creatures in Christ. We don’t make ourselves holy, we already are although we may not be living or behaving like it.
I look at it this way, we are to grow into being holy, into letting what God has planted in our hearts become who we are. It may be a silly example, but salvation is a lot like a rock becoming an apple tree. We were rocks, shaped by the world around us but powerless, lifeless, and helpless. But God (things always change whenever you put those two words together) gave us the ability to grow, created life, and granted hope when we trusted in Jesus. Be holy or becoming holy is all about throwing off our old dead stony life and growing into our new life in Jesus. This affects everything; our thoughts, our desires, our passions, our joy, our happiness, our words, and our behaviors.
Putting it all together
To be or become holy, we must prepare our minds for action, we must remain sober (not somber) and alert, and we must fix our hope on Jesus. All of this is summed up in the two letter call to action, “be.” An apple tree doesn’t try to be an apple tree, it is an apple tree. But for an apple tree to produce fruit, it does need the conditions of sun, water, minerals, and warmth. In the same way, for us to produce the fruit of holiness we need the sun of truth, the water of the Holy Spirit, the minerals of God’s word, and the warmth of hope in Christ. Our job is to let it out, to throw off the dead stoniness of our existence before Jesus and embrace the life and changes and ways of our real life in Christ.