In 325 AD the Nicene Creed defined the Church by giving it 4 marks saying this in the last paragraph: “And we believe in One, Holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.” Today we turn our attention to this second mark of the Church: Holy. The subject of holiness is of the deepest importance for every Christian. I am aware that, in speaking of the Church this morning, I could have chosen a subject perhaps more agreeable, and I know for a fact I could have chosen a subject easier to handle than holiness, but I’ve chosen such a topic this morning because I aim to make you aware that few things are as profitable to the eternal well-being of our souls than the subject of holiness, so to this we now turn.
When I was young and thought of the word ‘holy’ I would think of certain people from history like Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and even Jesus. But when someone spoke to me of holiness I would think of rules, regulations, laws, structure, discipline, and work. My thoughts as a young boy reflect how the world thinks about the concept of being holy or holiness, and after having been a Christian and spending large amounts of time within the Church I think that, though there are exceptions, by and large the Church feels the same way about holiness as the world does. This reveals something about us that we should just be honest about. We don’t really care about holiness do we? I mean, we love the gospel, we love the cross, we love the resurrection, and we love the grace of God. And this is right for us to love grace this deeply, God has saved us from so much hasn’t He? But why is it that we give so little attention to all that God has saved us too? With this in mind Kevin DeYoung asks a probing question, ‘Shouldn’t those most passionate about the gospel and God’s glory also be those most dedicated to the pursuit of godliness?’
Perhaps it really is because we don’t care about holiness. Perhaps it’s because we have no idea what a holy life really looks like and think holiness is a simple refrain of don’ts. ‘Don’t dance, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls who do.’ Perhaps we fear being legalistic, or getting into a religion of rules and are frightened by words like effort, discipline, and work thinking they’ve got no place in a faith centered on grace. Well, whatever you’re opinion of holiness is I’ve found that most people have one thing in common – we know we’re not holy.
As we enter 1 Peter 1:13-16 we find Peter concluding a section about how we’re to live in present while we’re waiting for the future return of Christ. v3-4 make mention of our inheritance in Christ that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. This inheritance, v5 says, is kept in heaven for us WHO by God’s power are being kept, guarded through faith until the revelation (literally – apocalypse) of Jesus Christ in the end of days. v8 mentions it is this faith of ours, though tested and tried, that will bring glory and praise and honor to God at the apocalypse of Jesus Christ. v9 says at the second coming of Christ we will obtain the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls. Then down in v13-16 Peter draws his first major implication of how we’re to live now while we wait for Jesus to return.
Follow along as I read 1:13-16…In this passage I want to draw your attention to 3 things:
a) Holiness is a Response to Grace (v13)
Notice that it’s the grace we’ll receive at ‘the revelation of the Jesus Christ’ (literally the apocalypse of Christ), that moves us to do certain things here and now. v13 calls us to ‘prepare our minds for action,’ ‘be sober-minded,’ and to ‘set our hope fully on the grace to come.’ These phrases indicate that the knowledge of future grace to come will lead to living lives of holiness now. Do you see that? Knowing that God in His grace will one day come and make all things right when Jesus returns will lead us to prepare our minds for action, and be sober minded today. These phrases ‘prepare your mind for action’ and ‘be sober minded’ are a call to use discipline, effort, and labor in regard to spiritual living. Or to say it another way, this is a call to live holy lives. We do not set our hope fully on our own effort, we set our hope fully on God’s grace, but do you see how setting your hope on God’s grace leads to effort and spiritual discipline? This means that holiness is a response to God’s grace.
The grace in view here is both past tense and future tense. The verses leading up to this passage, particularly v1-7, make it plain that in Christ we have received grace; and v8-13 make it plain that we will one day receive more grace when Jesus returns. So see what God is up to here – grace behind us and grace before us, changes how to live right now. It’s just like a springtime flower. As the flower’s natural response is to open and blossom when it feels the suns warmth and light, so too, the Christian’s natural response is to live a holy life when it beholds and basks in the pure light of the Holy Christ. In this regard C.S. Lewis once commented in a letter, ‘How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets real thing, it is irresistible.’ (C.S. Lewis)
Holiness is first and foremost a response to God’s grace.
b) Holiness is a Pursuit (v14-15)
As Peter continues he says in v14-15, “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…” Here we are presented with the reality that for Christians, holiness is to be pursued. v14 and v15 say the same thing in different ways. v14 says it negatively saying ‘do not be conformed to ignorant passions’ and v15 says it positively saying ‘be holy in all your conduct.’ When you combine the commands in v14 and v15 you have a clear picture of what the pursuit of holiness looks like. Since we’re called to not conform to ignorant and wicked passions, being holy means we conform to what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful. What is good, true, and beautiful? God Himself.
We’ve seen this in Old Testament Israel, they were set apart by God from the surrounding nations to be holy. Now Christ’s Church is to be set apart from sin and the surrounding world to be holy herself. Israel was to look different from her neighbors, and now the Church, though in the world, is to look different from the world. v14 calls this type of life ‘obedient.’ Therefore obedience for every Christian means conforming to Christ rather than the world around us. This means holiness is not optional for the Church. Holiness is not just something for mature Christians, holiness is not just something for pastors and elders, holiness is for all Christians, in all times, in all places.
I know that each of you has at one time or another asked God this question, ‘God, what is Your will for my life?’ Listen to 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” You can’t get clearer than that right? Sanctification is the ongoing work of God’s free grace in the believer to make us holy. What is God’s will for you? His will is that you be holy. This isn’t something to pray about, as if we could sit back and ask God ‘God do you want me to be holy today?’ The answer is clear and simple – YES! Ecclesiastes 3 said it first and the 60’s pop band The Byrds said it second in 1965 that there’s a time fore everything under the sun, a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to tear down, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, and a time to weep. You ever notice it doesn’t say ‘a time to be holy?’ This is because there is never a time, not even a second, when the Christian is not to be holy. Out of all the things in our lives, holiness must be the Christian’s main pursuit. Why? Because of Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for…holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”
So we have a question to answer before us: what does a pursuit of holiness look like for you and me? J.C. Ryle in his book ‘Holiness’ (1877) gives us 10 markers of true holiness. I’ll walk through them quickly:
1) Holiness is being of one mind with God – this means we agree with God in His Word, hating what He hates, loving what He loves, measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word.
2) Holiness is to fear God – not a slavish fear but a reverent fear, understanding that fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, and that through the fear of God men depart from sin.
3) Holiness is an endeavor to shun every sin and keep every commandment – meaning in all things we aim to obey God, which of course implies the opposite – in all things we aim to never disobey God.
4) Holiness is to be humble – slow to speak, quick to listen, not rash or hasty but gentle and confidently calm, counting others as more important than ourselves.
5) Holiness is to watch our life closely – Luke 21:34, “Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life…” A Christian is a person who doesn’t act on every impulse, but who weighs them carefully – rejecting some while embracing others.
6) Holiness is to be charitable – in all that we do in life Christians are to be merciful and gracious people who remember the golden rule, doing as we would have others do to us.
7) Holiness is to be pure – hating all things corrupt and impure, setting no vile thing before our eyes, the Christian seeks to flee immorality of all kinds recognizing it for what it is, sin.
8) Holiness is to be faithful – this is an awareness that in all things: work or play, public or private, at home or abroad, all of life is to be lived as to the Lord, seeking to do the best we can do in all we do.
9) Holiness is to be spiritually minded – endeavoring to place our minds entirely on things above not on things below. Really believing our treasure is in heaven and not on earth, and thus making it a pattern in life to be much in the Word and much in prayer.
10) Holiness is striving to be like Jesus – meaning not only seeking to live life as He did and draw all of our strength from Him, but pressing forward to be conformed into His image. J.C. Ryle says here, “Much time would be saved, and much sin prevented if men would more often ask themselves the question ‘What would Christ do or say if He were in my place now?’
So after hearing these ten things describing what a pursuit of holiness looks like let me ask you – are you holy? Do you know the holiness I’ve been speaking of? I am not asking if you attend church regularly, or if you’ve been baptized or have taken the Lord’s Supper. I am not asking you if you wear the name ‘Christian.’ I am not asking if you approve of holiness in others, or like to read books about the lives of holy people, or like to talk about holy things, or own many holy books. I am not asking you want to be holy or hope to be holy some day in the future. I am asking something more – are you holy? Others will see the character of God in your life if your pursue holiness. You will see the character of God more clearly if you pursue holiness. More so, the world will see the character of God in our church if we all are individually pursuing holiness.
Think of a lighthouse here. They blow no horns and demand no applause, they just shine, and in their light others can see things for what they really are. Do you shine? By your light can others see God for who He really is?
c) Holiness is a Reflection of God (v15-16)
It is said that the moon, though appearing to be very bright, has no light of it’s own – it only reflects the sun. The same is true of us, in and of ourselves we have no holiness, we are mere reflectors of God’s pure light. Peter says this in our passage in v15 and v16. In v15 he says ‘…as He who called you is holy, you also be holy…” while v16 quotes Leviticus 11:44 where God says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” These two verses teach us that the foundation of our own holiness is God’s holiness, further, that our holiness is a reflection of God’s holiness.
This should come as no surprise to you. God’s one dominating and all encompassing attribute is His holiness. We never read of God being ‘love, love, love’ or ‘just, just, just’ or ‘grace, grace, grace’ or ‘wrath, wrath, wrath.’ We never even read of God being ‘sovereign, sovereign, sovereign.’ The one thing the Bible does say in Isaiah 6:3 is that God is ‘Holy, holy, holy.’ Because God is holy, we’re to be holy.
“Nothing should provide us with more awe and delight: the Holy One of God was declared unholy, so that unholy sinners might stand unblemished before a Holy God.” (Mark Jones)