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Holiness is not just the mark of the “super-saint”; it is required for every new creature in Christ Jesus. In 1 Peter 1:14–16, the Apostle makes a compelling appeal based on the profound truths of the gospel to convince and challenge us to live as though grace has made a difference in our lives. The command to be holy goes beyond recommendation to emphatic obligation (v. 15). Holiness is not optional for the Christian; it is a requirement. This holiness involves a life that is set apart and distinct from the kind of living that characterizes the world; it is a transformed life. Verses 14–16 highlight three thoughts about this life of personal holiness to which Christians are called: its recipients, its requirements, and its reason.

First, Peter identifies the recipients of the charge to be holy as “obedient children” (v. 14). This is not a designation of age but rather a reference to those belonging to a class of people characterized by obedience. Simply put, these are people who obey. When Peter issues the command to be holy, he is not demanding the impossible. Rather, he is commanding what regenerating grace has made possible and what God’s design for believers requires. Obeying the call to holiness is within the ability of the converted because the capacity to obey is a consequence of regeneration. For sure, the pace and progress of the pursuit will differ among believers, but to some degree every true believer is a child of obedience.

Christ shed His precious and infinitely valuable blood to deliver us not only from sin’s penalty but also from sin’s power.

Second, Peter describes the requirements of holiness both negatively and positively. Negatively, believers are not to fashion themselves according to the desires or lusts done formerly in their state of spiritual ignorance (v. 14). Believers are to break the mold of their old conduct, separating themselves from their old desires and habits. What was formerly done in spiritual ignorance as a way of life becomes repulsive to the new way of thinking. Positively, believers are to fashion themselves according to the pattern of the One who called them to be holy. Turning away from sin involves turning to the Lord. God is the ultimate and absolute standard of what holiness is. In a very real sense, pursuing holiness is imitating God. Imitating God is fulfilling the design of our creation in God’s image and thus achieving our chief end to glorify and enjoy God. This is the “perfection” or completeness that Christ called for when He said that we are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48).

This mandated imitation extends to all our conduct (1 Peter 1:15). There is no part of life that can be exempt from holiness. This is a key thought particularly in this postmodern world, where life tends to be compartmentalized into seemingly unrelated categories. The typical notion is that one’s social life, work life, family life, political life, moral life, and religious life operate independently from one another. Transgressions in one sphere supposedly have no bearing on another. By contrast, the biblical ethic is pervasive. As “obedient children,” Christians must consciously factor their “religion” into every sphere of life.

Third, Peter declares the authoritative reason for the believer’s personal holiness: “Since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (v. 16). The Apostolic command to be holy is not a new command or demand; it is based on the authority of the already revealed Word of God. Peter appealed to what had been written in 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.” Because of grace, they were to be different from the people around them. What was true for the Old Testament covenant people applies also to God’s covenant people of any age or place. Remember that being holy is not optional; it is the revealed will and design of God for all who belong to Him by redemption. Indeed, the language in 1 Peter 1:16 is most forceful: “You shall [or “must”] be holy.” Being holy like the Lord will make God’s people different from the world. That separation from the world unto God is the essence of what it is to be holy.

In keeping with typical gospel logic, Peter links the call to holiness to Christ’s atoning death (vv. 18–19) and glorious resurrection (v. 21). If we keep the cross and empty tomb between us and every onslaught of temptation to transgress and wander from the way of holiness, those temptations, so attractive in themselves, will lose their allure. Christ shed His precious and infinitely valuable blood to deliver us not only from sin’s penalty but also from sin’s power. Viewing temptations through the lens of the gospel exposes sin for what it is. Because of the cross, believers are called to be holy.

Declared Holy

Being Conformed to Christ

Keep Reading The Holiness of God and His People

From the July 2024 Issue
Jul 2024 Issue