Sermons

Hopeful Holiness

September 8, 2013 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers

Passage: 1 Peter 1:13–1:16

Hopeful Holiness

The title of the message is “Hopeful Holiness.” Those are two words that we don’t normally put together. You don’t normally hear Christians talking about hope and holiness in the same context, at least I don’t normally hear it. Part of that may be due to the fact that in the minds of many Christians, hope and holiness are on opposite ends of the spectrum. We like to talk about hope. Hope sounds encouraging and comforting and uplifting. On the other hand, we don’t really like to talk about holiness. Holiness sounds rigorous and difficult. The word causes many people to think of how often they fail to actually pursue holiness. In other words, holiness to many Christians sounds like the opposite of hope. One is encouraging, while the other is often discouraging. The two ideas really do seem world’s apart.

As is often the case, the Bible challenges us on this. Our passage this morning brings together hope and holiness is the most encouraging way. Far from what we might typically think, the apostle Peter shows us this morning that not only do hope and holiness go together, but that hope actually leads to holiness. The two ideas are not on opposite ends of the spectrum; they are complementary components of what it means to live in this world as God’s chosen people. As we study God’s word this morning, let’s pray for soft hearts and open minds, that our thinking might be shaped by Scripture and truth, and not by any misconceptions that we might bring to the text.

I have three main points in the message this morning, and I want to give them to you in advance in order to serve you in listening to the message. Here the three main points: hope in God’s grace, how to hope fully, and the hope of grace leads to holiness. With that out of the way, let’s get started.

 

Hope in God’s Grace

The first truth we see is that believers are called to hope in God’s grace. V13 contains Peter’s first command. The letter opened in vv1-2 with Peter’s greeting, which was like a theological roadmap for the entire book. Then, in vv3-12, Peter offered praise to God for his grace in the gospel. But in both of those sections, there were no commands, nothing that believers were told to do. Then, we get to v13, and Peter finally gives his first command, or his first imperative. And what is that command? To set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. The command is not do this or don’t do that; it’s not even necessarily a tangible, physical action that we must accomplish. Rather, this first command is an act of the mind and heart – set your hope.

Now, we’ll come back to the command in a moment, but before we try to understand what it means, we need to first understand its context. Where does this command come from? What is it built upon? As we ask those questions, we see in v13 that this first command flows from God’s grace.

Before Peter gets to the imperative, note that he begins the verse with the word Therefore. This is an important word in that it signals that what Peter is about to say is built upon what he has already said. The Therefore indicates that the command of v13 is built upon the teaching in vv3-12. That naturally raises the question – what did Peter say in vv3-12? Let’s briefly remind ourselves, so that we can better understand the command.

Beginning in v3, Peter said that God has caused believers to be born again to a living hope. From v4, God has given believers an unfading inheritance that is kept secure in heaven. From v5, God is not only guarding the inheritance, but he is guarding believers by his power working through faith. From v7, God is producing in believers genuine faith, even through the difficult process of trials, and this faith will be worth more than gold on the last day. And from v10, God has revealed to believers the fulfillment of what he spoke long ago through the OT prophets. That’s a quick summary of vv3-12.

Now, back to our question. What is the command of v13 built upon? Quite simply, God’s grace, given to believers in Jesus Christ. Because these things about God’s grace are true, we hope fully in Christ. Believers are not commanded to set their hope so that they might receive God’s grace. They are to set their hope because they have already received God’s grace in Christ. It’s God’s grace in vv3-12 that grounds God’s command in v13. This is certainly true of our passage this morning, but it is also true generally for all of God’s commands. Throughout the NT, we see that the commands of the Christian life are built upon God’s grace, given to us in the gospel of Christ. Peter calls Christians to set their hope fully on God’s grace precisely because they have received that grace in the gospel.

We must grasp this important point, if we want to think biblically about obedience and holiness as Christians. If we miss this point about God’s grace grounding God’s commands, the Christian life will quickly get disjointed. We miss this, and we distort God’s grace. Instead of obedience flowing from grace, obedience becomes the means of attaining grace. We get the elements of the Christian life confused, and the results are disastrous! Grace becomes law. Salvation becomes condemnation. Holiness becomes hypocrisy. Joy becomes drudgery. All because we miss that Therefore. True Christian obedience can only thrive when it is built upon the foundation of what God has accomplished in Christ. Before we wrestle with the imperative of v13, we must see and embrace God’s grace in vv3-12.

Now, we can return to the command and ask ourselves, “What does it mean to set your hope fully?” Hope is one of Peter’s favorite topics. We’ve seen already in v3 that believers are born again to a living hope. Later in chapter 1, Peter says that through Christ’s resurrection, believers have faith and hope in God. Then in chapter 3, Peter writes that it is the believer’s hope that catches the attention of the watching world. Hope is key for Peter.

And if we look at the entire letter, we find that hope, according to Peter, is the confident looking forward to what will come to pass. It’s not hope in the sense of wishful thinking, but hope in the sense of confident expectancy. We can see this idea of hope as expectancy in v13. Peter says that believers are to set their hope fully on the grace that will be brought to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ. In other words, believers are to hope in God’s final salvation that will be revealed on the last day. God has already begun his gracious work of salvation in believers’ lives, but that work will not be completed until the last day, when Christ returns. This means that ultimate, final salvation is still in the future. But that future salvation is so sure and certain that believers are able to set their hope on it in the present. Believers live with the confident expectancy that God’s grace will be consummated. That is their ultimate hope. Not things of this life, not avoidance of suffering, not acceptance by the world, but hope in the consummation of God’s grace, which they have already begun to receive now through the gospel. That’s what it means to set your hope fully on God’s grace.

Now, note what happens as we step back and look at v13 with its context. Not only is God’s grace the foundation of the command, it is also the goal! Our hope flows from God’s grace, and our hope is set fully on that same grace. It is so instructive that Peter’s first command is not “do” but “hope.” The beginning of Christian obedience is to hope with confident expectation on God’s grace given to us in the gospel. This first command is not something that we must add to God’s work. Rather, it is our humble response that we actually have nothing to add to God’s work. This first command, then, is nothing more than Peter’s exhortation that Christians keep believing the gospel. God caused us to born again to a living hope, and the first response he commands of us is to keep banking on that hope. Hope fully and firmly in the hope you have received. The Christian’s life of obedience begins with God’s grace, and it continues only in God’s grace.

We see that Peter’s first command is to hope fully in God’s grace. But how do we do that? Has Peter given us this imperative and then left us hanging with no idea as to how to do it? Hardly, and this is part of the grace of God’s word. The Bible doesn’t leave us hanging; the Scriptures always supply what God’s people need to follow Christ. That doesn’t mean its always easy to see, but it is there, if we will pray and dig and study and seek it. That holds true in v13. Peter gives us more insight into what is entailed in hoping fully on God’s grace, which is our second main point – How to Hope Fully.

 

How to Hope Fully

In order to see Peter’s helpful insight, let’s look briefly at the grammar of v13. Now, I know that when I say the word ‘grammar,’ some people’s eyes start to glaze over as they think about 7th grade English class. But I promise not to bore you here with some tedious discussion. But this point is important enough to at least make a few brief grammatical observations. Note that in v13, there are two phrases following the word Therefore before we get to the imperative. Those phrases are ‘preparing your minds for action’ and ‘being sober-minded.’ Those two phrases are participles, and they modify the imperative. There is one main verb – set your hope fully – and the two participle phrases modify that main verb. It’s not three commands, but one command with two modifiers.

As modifiers, these phrases tell us the means to hope. We could translate v13 like this, “Therefore, set your hope fully on God’s grace by preparing your minds for action and by being sober-minded.” You hear it there? The two phrases tell us how to hope. With that grammar out of the way, let’s look more closely at how to hope.

First How – preparing your minds for action. We could translate this phrase literally as “girding up the loins of your mind.” What does that mean? In the NT time period, people wore long garments that hung down below the knee. And these garments were typically worn loose and free flowing. But when the time came to do some sort of work, the person would bind up his garments at the waist so that he could move and work freely. Girding up your garments, then, was essential to activity. With that in mind, we can see that the emphasis of this phrase is on preparedness. Believers set their hope fully by being ready for action. When the trials come, they are not caught off guard with the robes of their mind hanging loosely. Their minds are prepared for action, and thus prepared to hope. That’s the first how.

Second How – being sober-minded. The opposite of being sober-minded is to be drunk, but Peter is not talking about literally drunkenness at this point. By sober-minded, Peter means be aware and ready to exercise self-control. Drunkenness dulls your senses, makes you unaware of your surroundings, and causes you to be out of control. To be sober-minded is to have your mind keenly aware, sharp and perceptive, and ready to exercise control over yourself in any given situation.

What do we takeaway from these phrases? For one, there’s a warning here. It is possible to be lulled away from hope in Christ. It is possible to have your mind so dulled to spiritual realities that Christ doesn’t look hopeful or glorious. You don’t hope fully in God’s grace because your spiritual senses have been dulled to that grace. In one sense, it’s a warning.

But more than a warning, we take from these phrases an exhortation to action. Hope is not haphazard. It doesn’t just happen. Hope requires deliberate, purposeful action on our part. We must prepare our minds and hearts to hope in Christ. If we’re not prepared, then we’re like the man who needs to run but doesn’t have his robes girded up. He may start to run, but his robes get in the way, he trips and falls flat on his face. Why can he not run? Because he wasn’t prepared. In the same way, we must prepare in advance, so that when the time comes to hope in Christ, we are ready for action; we’re ready to hope.

In light of those takeaways, let me suggest two questions that might help us be prepared and sober-minded. First question – is there anything in my life at this point that dulls my awareness of my need for God’s grace? Anything that keeps you from the things of God; anything that subtly dulls your spiritual senses. Think of this question in the terms of Peter’s word sober-minded: Am I taking in things that will create in me a state of spiritual awareness or a state of spiritual drunkenness? Ask the hard questions, so that you might develop a sense of spiritual awareness that can see through the fog of dullness in order to hope in Christ.

Second question – am I daily rehearsing the gospel? This is how we prepare our minds for action – by daily rehearsing the gospel of God’s grace. If our hope flows from God’s grace, and if our hope should rest on God’s grace, then our minds should be engaged in remembering that grace. We find that grace in the gospel. We must daily rehearse the gospel, not as some sort of magical mantra, but as the daily practice of preparing our minds for action.  Learn to rehearse the reality of the gospel – God has caused me to be born again to a living hope; he has given me an unfading inheritance in heaven; he’s using trials for my good. Learn to rehearse the certainty of the gospel – the inheritance is kept for me in heaven, and I am kept by God’s power. And learn to rehearse your need for the gospel – without God’s grace in the new birth, I would be dead in my sin; it is only through Christ’s resurrection that I have the hope of eternal life. Rehearse the gospel as the way to prepare your mind for action. Or, we could say it like this – rehearse the gospel so that you are prepared to hope fully in that gospel.

That’s the first command – believers should hope fully in God’s grace, given to them in Christ. But there is another command in this passage, and it’s found in v15. It’s the command to be holy in all your conduct. This is our third main point – the hope of grace leads to holiness.

 

The Hope of Grace Leads to Holiness

As with the command to hope, we should note the context of this command for holiness. Note in the flow of the passage that holiness follows from hope. As we hope fully in God’s grace, the result is holiness. Holiness is the fruit of hope set fully on God’s grace. When a believer turns from sin in order to pursue obedience to God, it indicates that his hope is in heaven, that he has been born again. If our hope were of this world, then we would live as the world lives. But since our hope is from above, then our lives should display the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. The hope of grace leads to holiness. 

To be holy means to be set apart. That is, through their lives and conduct, believers indicate that they have been set apart from the world for a life lived to God. This understanding of holiness makes sense, considering the teaching of v3. Believers have been born again to a living hope, which gives them a new identity as God’s children. Therefore, their lives should evidence that new identity. The new birth results in new living. Our living hope produces holy living. This is the necessary outcome of God’s gracious work of regeneration.

This necessary holiness is demonstrated in our conduct. Look carefully at what Peter says in v15: “you also be holy in all your conduct.” A holy life should be visible for the world to see. It should be manifested in obedience to God. Remember earlier we talked about the need to keep God’s grace and our obedience in the proper order? At times, out of fear and concern to do that, we fail to say clearly that holiness requires obedience. We don’t want to sound like legalists, or people who distort God’s grace. But keeping God’s grace central doesn’t minimize the need for obedience. We must emphasize both, because Scripture emphasizes both. So at the risk of stating the obvious, there is no holiness apart from obedience to what God commands in Scripture. If we are to be a holy people, we must be an obedient people.

Beginning in v14, Peter uses two phrases that clarify what it means to be holy. The first phrase is in v14, where Peter says, “As obedient children.” Again, Peter takes us back to v3. Believers have been born again by God’s grace, which makes God our Father. We were by nature children of wrath, but now by grace, we have become children of God. As such, we should live now as obedient children. Just as natural children should obey their earthly fathers, so also must we obey our Father in heaven. But note importantly here – we do not pursue holiness so that we might become God’s children. We pursue holiness because God has made us his children. We are his children; therefore, let us live as his children, as those who belong to God and not as those who belong to this world.

The second phrase is in v15. The ESV translates it, “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” The idea is to be molded after a pattern, in this case, the pattern of sinful and worldly desires. Before our new birth, we lived in conformity with the passions of this world and the desires of our sinful nature. We suppressed the knowledge of God and thus were ignorant and disobedient. But now that we have been born again, we must no longer conform to those sinful, worldly desires. Instead, we must live in conformity with God’s commands, precisely because we have been given a new identity as God’s children. To live in conformity with our sinful desires would be to deny our new identity and instead chose conformity with what no longer defines us. Holiness requires that we pursue obedience to God’s Word because that is what must flow from our new identity as God’s children. As the letter goes on, Peter will have much more to say about this fight for holiness, but this clarification is foundational for what will come later. As we move forward in 1 Peter, let’s remember this – the command to be holy is given in light of our new identity as God’s children, and it requires that we no longer conform to the passions of this world and the desires of our sinful nature.

Before we close this morning, there is one more point we need to make. Often, when Christians begin to talk about holiness, our minds can kind of drift into this pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. We hear holiness, and we think, “Yep, here comes all the stuff that I’ve just got to bear down and get down.” When we think like that, we divorce two realities that must always go together – God’s grace and our holiness. It seems wise that we finish out these verses by noting, once more, that holiness comes by grace. Yes, holiness requires obedience, but the entire pursuit comes by grace. 

But that is not just me talking; Peter makes this clear in the passage, in a couple of ways. First, note where Peter writes in v15, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” We see the command there, but note what comes before it – a reminder that they have been called by God. What precedes their pursuit of holiness? The Holy God’s calling them out of darkness and into the light of the gospel. In other words, what precedes the pursuit of holiness is grace! We engage in the pursuit of holiness because God first called us. We don’t pursue holiness so that we might be called, but because we have been called. And it’s not God’s grace at the start, but then our work for the rest. It’s grace that calls us, and it’s grace that leads us on to holiness.

Second, note v16 where Peter writes, “since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” This is a quote from Leviticus, and Peter uses it here to ground the command for holiness. Why should believers be holy? Because it is written in Scripture that God’s people must be holy as he is holy. Now if we go back to Leviticus and look at each instance of this phrase, what do we find? We find this dynamic – because God made Israel his people, they should therefore pursue holiness in their lives. Listen to just one example, from Leviticus 20.26: “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” God’s gracious work to save Israel is the reason they should pursue holiness. God doesn’t say, “You shall be holy so that you might become my people.” He says, “I made you my people; now be holy as I am holy.” What this means is that holiness is the call to live out of the identity that we have graciously received from God. He has given us a new identity as his people, and our response is to live out of that identity.

Overall, then, we see that holiness comes by grace. It’s God grace that has made us his people, and our calling now is to live out of that grace. This is the pathway to true, lasting holiness – when we realize that we’re not trying to live up to status, but living out of a status freely given. When we embrace that truth, we will find holiness that comes by grace.

Hopeful holiness. The two ideas are not opposites at all. Hope and holiness go together, as complimentary components of what it means to live in this world as God’s chosen people. Because we have been born again to a living hope, we can hope fully and firmly in the final fulfillment of that hope. And that hope in God’s grace is so powerful that it leads us to live as God’s holy, obedient children in the meantime. It’s hopeful holiness. And both the hope and the holiness flow entirely from God’s grace. May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ continue to grant us grace that we might hope fully in that grace, and thus live holy lives now as we wait for the consummation of that hope.

More in 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers

March 2, 2014

Stand Firm in God's Grace

February 23, 2014

Humble and Vigilant

February 16, 2014

Shepherding the Flock of God
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