Peter comes to our focal passage this morning with a call to holiness where he expected the followers of Christ to become the real deal reflection of God rather than a back street poor imitation. He sets the bar pretty high, but the payoff is the kind of faith that draws you toward the kind of authenticity and authentic relationship with God that can change your life and shape the witness of the Church. Earlier in the service you heard Joe Hodges read our scripture from the New International Version translation. Let me read it again from the New Revised Version. Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’
The heart of what Peter is trying to say is that “A holy God demands a holy people, just as a God of hope creates a hopeful people” (1)We hear this clearly in Peter’s quotation from Leviticus 11 in verse 16 . It is a critical concept. He wants them, and us, to understand that the call to holiness is not a call to self-righteousness or a holier-than-thou mindset. He wants us to understand is a humble, hopeful, meaningful expression of what it means to be the children of God. To make his point, Peter leverages this teaching of Moses to the people “of Israel and applies them unapologetically to the early Christians and to us.” (2)
Let’s dive in and take a closer look. Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Peter’s call to holiness was centered on a way of life where we choose to live our lives in the certainty that we know how the story ends. First he tells them to prepare their minds – to get ready – and then tells them to discipline themselves. The older translations claim a great word that has lost much of its meaning in our current context. He tells them “live soberly.” No, he is not just talking about no drinking too much alcohol, he is talking about designing their lives in a way where they use good judgment, make good decisions; live a life that is not guided by the whims of passion, but one where they are in control of their decisions and actions. The second thing he tells them is that this way of life is built in the hope of grace. Hear me; this is not the “I wish” kind of hope. It is the divine certainty. He wants them set their lives on the promise of the grace that Christ brings – now – and for the forever that awaits them. In other words, live like you know the end of the story, God’s grace triumphs, we are a people of a sure future.
The letter continues; Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. I love how Eugene Peterson describes this in The Message. He writes; Don't lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn't know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God's life. The easy path would be to jump on the parent-child imagery and talk about obedience in that context, but honestly those under 18 are probably weary of claiming that picture every time we talk about what it means to be obedient to God. So, let me try another angle. Obedience is not a blind following of commands, it is the life choice – the every moment kind of choice – to do things the way that God wants us to because of the love we have for God. “Obedience and a life of holiness is not produced from passivity but demands that we each individually make an active choice to cultivate the attitude and initiate right thinking and right actions that lead to holy living.”(3)Obedience is not born in the response to a stern look or the threat of punishment; it emerges from our honest and passionate desire to please God. The central question then becomes whether or not we want to live the kind of lives the please God? Peter tells the crowd hearing the reading of this letter, don’t live the kind of lives you did before you came to Christ and did not know any better, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God's life.
Our focal passage concludes; Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ As children of God we are called to live lives that are a good reflection of the way of God. Back to the picture of the black market watches, hand bags, purses, and shirts. We are supposed to be holy in response and in reflection of God’s holiness. Really, it is the only way we can claim holiness. You see the idea of being holy is exclusively an attribute of God. Our capacity to live the kind of lives that draws us toward holiness is only possible in our relationship to God as the children of God through faith in Christ. It seems some have forgotten this and claim a way of life where they think they can stand over and above others – that holiness is somehow a reflection of their own nature. Their self-righteousness is not turns people away from the church, it has no Biblical basis. They have deceived themselves. Holiness begins and ends with God – our task is to resist the temptation to be a cheap knockoff or poor imitation and instead become a reflection of God’s holiness because our way is shaped by God. Back to Eugene Peterson’s creative take on this verse. He says that we are to live a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, "I am holy; you be holy."
Can you imagine what it would look like to live the kind of live where its energy emerges from the holiness of God? Can you image what it would be to be blazing with holiness because of your relationship with God? Peter tells us how; live life as the victorious people of God knowing that God’s grace forgives, redeems and renews you through Christ. Live the kind of lives born from a desire to please God. Live the kind of lives where you draw so close to God that you can reflect God’s holiness.
It is our choice and it is a choice we make in every moment and in every decision. We can choose the way that pleases us for the moment, but pushes us further and further away from God and the way of God. Or we can choose to live the kind of lives that invites us to become a living reflection of God. So, are we going to be a cheap imitation, a poor knock off, or will we be the authentic – the real deal – reflection of God’s holiness?