Spiritual Dynamics of Holiness
1 Peter 1:22-2:3
As Mark pointed out last week, this section of 1 Peter is about holiness (read 1:15). “Holiness” has negative connotations in our culture (“holy roller;” “holier than thou”), so we tend to avoid it (and use a more relevant synonym like “sanctification!”). Actually, the biblical meaning of holiness is intensely positive. Holiness means fulfilling the special purpose for which something or someone was designed. Holiness presumes a designer. Holiness not only brings fulfillment to the holy thing or person—it also brings health and beauty into the world, and it brings honor to its designer/owner. Conversely, to use something or someone in an unholy way is to make it profane.
There is a saying: “The right tool for the right job.” This is a maxim about tool holiness. When I use my wife’s grandmother’s silver butter-knife as a screwdriver or pry bar, I profane it (RESULTS). But when I use it only for nice dinners, I make it holy (RESULTS).
When Peter tells us: “Be holy in everything you do,” he is simply saying: “Live every aspect of your lives the way God designed you to live.” God has created us in his image, and therefore our lives have a high purpose—to demonstrate his character (his love, righteousness, justice, etc.) in this world. To live otherwise is to profane my life—to misrepresent God’s character and to damage myself and others.
For example, I am to be a holy husband. That means (among other things) that I am to be completely faithful to my wife sexually. To profane our sexual relationship would bring great damage to our marriage and family—and it would misrepresent the way God is completely faithful to his people.
I am also to be a holy employee. This means (among other things) that I am to work hard, be honest, be cooperative to my boss and respectful to my fellow-employees, etc. To profane this role by being lazy, dishonest, uncooperative and disrespectful is to misrepresent my God, and introduce chaos at the job.
Peter will say more about what holiness looks like in these areas later in his letter. But it is not enough to merely know what holiness looks like. Moral will-power alone cannot produce true holiness—it can only produce frustration or ugly caricatures (“holier-than-thou”). True holiness requires access to God’s spiritual power. This is why between 1:15 and the specific portraits of holiness, Peter focuses on the spiritual dynamics of holiness. Read 1:22-2:3. This is a complicated passage, but it speaks of two key dynamics—one in which holiness begins, and another one in which it grows. Let’s look at each of these in more detail...
Holiness begins with a new birth.
The first thing Peter emphasizes is that holiness begins with a new birth. Everything he says about holiness in this passage is rooted in the assumption that his audience has “been born again” (1:23). To be born again means to be adopted into God’s family, to be made his son or daughter. Why must holiness begin with adoption? Because adoption provides the foundation for the rest of your development.
Let’s say your neighbors are interested in a certain young child, so they bring him home and enter into an arrangement with him: “You can visit once a week. Learn to bathe and dress yourself. Do well in school. Develop your talents. Get a career. If you do all of these things well, then I’ll make you a member of my family.” You would be outraged! This is cruel, and it will be disastrous! Why? Because they did not start by making this child their son, he will lack the foundation of belonging that is necessary for his development in these other areas.
What we would never do with a child, many people think God does with us! Christian “religion” portrays God this way: “Be good. Learn how I want you to behave, and follow my instructions. If you do this well and long enough, I will let you become my child.” No wonder the people who are raised with this view of Christianity are either wracked by anxiety and insecurity, or reject the whole thing!
God is the ultimate good Parent. He says: “I start by adopting you. This cleanses you from all your sins (1:22a), and makes you my child forever (1:23). On that secure foundation, let me teach you the rest of my purpose for your life.” Don’t you see how this lays the foundation for true holiness? When you are forgiven from your guilt, and secure in your destiny—you want to learn how he designed you to live. Anyone who loves you enough to give you all this must be good and wise enough to teach you the rest of your life-purpose!
So before you consider the rest of God’s holy purpose for your life, start by permitting him to adopting you. All you need to do is “obey/submit to the truth” (1:22)—the truth about Jesus that Peter just declared in 1:18-20 (read). Just agree with God that your life without him has been empty, and ask him to ransom you through Jesus’ death for your sins. He loves you so much that he chose to pay this ransom even before you were born! Here’s how I “submitted to the truth” (EXPLAIN)...
Holiness grows through loving community & God’s Word
Holiness begins with a new birth—but it doesn’t end there. Like new-born children who must grow gradually into physical and intellectual maturity, so reborn Christians must gradually grow and develop in holiness. Arrested growth and development is an aberration and tragedy with both physical and spiritual life. Just as young children require nurture and nourishment to thrive, so Christians require loving community and the nourishment of God’s Word to grow.
But whereas parents bear the primary responsibility to give their young children nurture and nourishment, Peter says that each Christian is primarily responsible to participate in these spiritual activities that are essential for growth in holiness. The verbs “love each other” (1:22) and “crave pure spiritual milk” are imperatives. These are not things that others are required to do for us; they are steps we are required to take for ourselves (see also Acts2:42). If we are not growing in holiness, the first place we should look is right here. Let’s take a closer look at both of these so we’re clear about these spiritual dynamics.
What kind of involvement with other Christians must we have if we want to grow? Christians often answer this question inadequately—to the detriment of their spiritual development. Most American Christians answer: “Become a member of a church” and/or “Attend weekly worship.” Xenoids often answer in a similarly inadequate way: “Come to CT and join a home group.” These steps are good starts—but they will not result in your growth in holiness beyond a very primitive level! Peter’s answer goes much deeper than this (re-read 1:22b)—we need to love one another “sincerely, deeply, and with all of our hearts.”
“Sincerely” means unhypocritical—not putting on a mask or being superficially nice (2:1), but being honest and open about what’s really going on in our lives. “Deeply” and “with all your heart” means with intense commitment—not just when it’s personally convenient and enjoyable, but when it’s costly in terms of time and emotional investment and forgiveness/apology/repentance (2:1). Peter is describing more than a large network of casual acquaintances; he is describing a kind of involvement that involves close and committed spiritual friendships.
If you want to grow in holiness, you must build and maintain close and committed spiritual friendships with other Christians. I had to learn this the hard way. I spent the first 9 months of my Christian life treading water spiritually because I was unwilling to do this (WHY). Miserable and discouraged, I heard an older Christian say: “Isolated Christians are defeated Christians.” That convicted me deeply, and God called on me to open my heart to Dennis. That began spiritual friendships with him and a few others—and my spiritual life lifted off. I cannot imagine what my life would be like had I not allowed God to teach me this!
What about you? Are you stuck spiritually? Are you without close spiritual friends? Have you connected the dots? Have you agreed with God that you need this—or are you trying to grow without spiritual friendships? God is ready to personally tutor you in learning how to be a good spiritual friend (1Thess.4:9). But you must tell him you want this and follow him in the steps he leads you to take. Yes, it will require a time commitment. Yes, it will be scary at times (EXAMPLES). But you will be amazed at how God’s love becomes more real, how he transforms your life, and how he blesses others’ lives through you! You will grow in holiness!
In order to grow in holiness, we also need the nourishment of God’s Word (re-read 2:2). For many Christians, this means listening to a weekly sermon, or attending a weekly Bible study, or even reading the Bible daily. Again, these are good starts, but they will not result in extensive growth in holiness. Peter says that in order to grow, we need to “crave” the milk of God’s Word like newborn babies crave their mother’s milk. Peter is not merely saying that we need regular exposure to the Bible; we need to become addicted to it!1 The point is not just that we learn biblical truths; it is that we delight in what God says (as in Ps.119:16,47,70). I remember feeding my new-born daughter for the first time—she was anything but blasé about the milk (DESCRIBE)! It is this craving for, this delight in God’s Word that enables us to receive his nourishment and grow in holiness.
How can we get and keep this health-giving addiction? I know what it’s like to feel confused by the Bible, to feel intimidated by others’ knowledge of it, etc. But God plants this craving in every true Christian—that’s why brand new Christians often display it more than older Christians (EXAMPLE)! On the one hand, we can’t simply make “switch on” this craving or delight. On the other hand, we can do things to maintain and cultivate it. Here are some pointers:
Remember that the Bible is not first of all an owner’s manual or a rule book. It is first of all God’s love letter to you—written by One who loves you, and written so that you may continue to “taste” (experience) his kindness (2:3). This is why I looked forward so much to Bev’s letters and why I mused over them so carefully. And this is (more than anything) will motivate us to do the same with God’s Word!2
In spite of this, we can still feel apathetic and/or aversive to God’s Word. When I was a young Christian struggling with this, I heard a teacher say: “Pray that God will give you an insatiable hunger for his Word.” I did—and he did! Ps. 119, the psalm that extols God’s Word, contains over 40 prayers for this kind of help (eg., 119:18,135).
Sit under Bible teaching by people who are not only knowledgeable and gifted, but who also delight in the Word. They are contagious. God speaks through them not only to inform you, but also to impart to you the joy of living in his Word!
Discuss what God is teaching you from his Word with your spiritual friends (Col.3:16). Consider these words from Ajith Fernando, which explain how spiritual “bull-sessions” deepen both craving for God’s Word and spiritual friendships:
“One key to a deep friendship is time spent in long conversations... Many people do not seem to have time for long conversations. They have so many things to do! When they have free time, it is spent on entertainment... We can’t bear the thought of just sitting and discussing issues... (But such discussion) has a richness to it. It satisfies the deep desire in our hearts implanted by a God who is committed to truth. God’s understanding of truth includes more than facts. Christian truth has a qualitative and experiential aspect to it. So truth can be enjoyed only if we are willing to linger with it, to ask what its implications are, to ask how it should influence our thinking and acting... Those who set aside time for enriching discussions on issues, on the things of God, will rediscover the joy of truth. They will bring new depth of true personal fulfillment to their lives. We need to bring long chats back into our schedules, allowing significant slots of time for truth-related discussions... It is in such times that minds meet, that we experience together the joy of truth which is one of the most precious forms of joy. People who let long conversations eat into their schedules—and that is a sacrifice—will know the joy of minds meeting on a deep level. From such depths true friendships will be forged...”3
SUMMARIZE the two dynamics: What step does God want you to take?
1 Epipotheo means “earnestly desire,” “long for,” even to “lust.” This is the proper counterpart of epithumeia (idolatrous over-desires). Edmund Clowney says: “Christians must be addicted to the Bible.”
2 “What quickens our desire for the life-giving word of God?... Those who read the word of God... must never forget why the word is given and whom it reveals. The word shows us that the Lord is good; his words are sweeter than honey to our taste because in them the Lord gives himself to us.?” Clowney, The Message of 1Peter.
3 Ajith Fernando, Reclaiming Friendship (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1993), pp. 28-35.