Active Faith

The Point:  Live a life that is set apart for God.

A Call to be Holy:  1 Peter 1:14-16.

[14]  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, [15]  but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, [16]  since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."  [ESV]

[14-16]  “Verse 15 states the second of four imperatives: be holy in your whole way of life. Peter justifies this command on the basis of his readers’ relationship with God both as His children [17] and as believers in God [21]. Peter presses the point that the new birth given by God the Father [3] necessarily implies a decisively altered way of life that is characterized by the new knowledge of God and Christ. What does Peter mean by holiness? Their holiness is to correspond to the holiness of the one who has called them, whom Peter has already identified as God Himself. To be holy means that Christians must conform their thinking and behavior to God’s character. It was a call to live in obedient relationship to Christ that by definition would set them apart from the customs and values of unbelieving, pagan society. In these verses, Peter initially defines the call to be holy by specifying the opposite of what he means: do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance. In other words, to be holy requires a change in one’s way of life from before, when one’s behavior was determined by unrestrained impulses to sin, even in ways accepted by society. God’s call that has brought Christians to Christ is also a call to deny those sinful impulses and abstain from certain social customs and practices, making one a stranger within one’s own society. The statement You shall be holy, for I am holy is found with slight variations four times in Leviticus: 11:44; 19:2; 20:7-8; 20:26. Peter quotes Leviticus 19:2 to establish the principle that, as Christians, his readers must be set apart from their surrounding culture in a way that is consistent with God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Just as ancient Israel observed customs and morals that set them apart from the ancient Mesopotamian cultures, Peter instructs his readers that they, too, must be set apart from the customs, rituals, and values of their culture in which they once so freely participated. It is this principle of holiness unto God – of being set apart in a relationship with God – that truly defines them as foreigners and resident aliens with respect to their society.”  [Jobes, pp. 112-115]

A Call to Fear:  1 Peter 1:17-19.

[17]  And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, [18]  knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, [19]  but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  [ESV]

[17-19]  “Verses 17-21 form one long sentence in the Greek, which further explains the call to a new life of holiness in light of a fatherly relationship with God. The conditional if you call on him as Father indicates Peter’s understanding that since they have become God’s children by virtue of being born again [3], they consequently have a new life that is to be lived markedly different from the old one. Along with their new life, Peter wants his readers to recognize that they also have a new responsibility, to live in obedience to God. As has often been said, the indicative of God’s grace precedes the imperative of God’s commands. Moreover, the Father they call upon is also their impartial Judge. The intimate relationship between the believer in Christ and God as Father does not give license to the Christian to live as he or she wishes, for God judges morality impartially. The special privilege of calling God Father does not excuse the believer from nevertheless being judged by God, because every person will be judged by God according to the same standard. The pagan life that God abhors will be no less abhorred if it is lived by one who professes to be a Christian. The Christian who has been born again of the Father must live in fact as a child of God. Since the child shares in the character of the father, the Christian life is to conform to God the Father’s moral standard. In this intimate relationship, the believer is both informed by Scripture [10-12] and empowered by the Spirit [2] to live a new way of life that will not invoke God’s condemnation in time of judgment. Formerly apart from Christ, Peter’s readers had no knowledge of the God who would judge the world. But the very knowledge of Christ that brought them into relationship with God also brings them knowledge of sin and God’s wrath upon it. They are therefore to live out the time of their sojourn in fear of God, now that they know He holds the power to judge sin. Moreover, the evil that Christ redeemed them from at the highest cost of His own life is nothing other than the evil of their former way of life, which verse 18 describes as the useless way of life inherited from their ancestors. Therefore, to continue to live in one’s useless former ways is implicitly to deny the value of Christ’s death. The verb translated ransomed was used in Greco-Roman culture to refer to the manumission of a slave. The slave would receive his or her freedom after depositing money in the temple of a god or goddess, money which would then be paid via the temple’s treasury to the slave’s owner with the thought that the god or goddess was buying the slave. The former slave would then be free in the eyes of his former owner and society but would be considered a slave of the god or goddess. The sum of money paid for the redemption was referred to as the price, and the slave was considered to have been redeemed by the deity. Peter’s thoughts resonate with this custom, for he describes his Christian readers as having been redeemed, using the passive voice that implies God as the subject. They are free but nevertheless slaves of God [2:16], bought not with a price of silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ [19]. Although Peter’s language might resonate with the Greco-Roman custom of manumission, the idea of redemption by the blood of a lamb is clearly rooted in the Old Testament, most frequently found in Leviticus, Psalms, Exodus, and Isaiah – the very books from which Peter so often quotes. Christ’s redemption has delivered them from the bondage of the sin that characterized their former way of life and that continues to be practiced all around them in pagan society.”  [Jobes, pp. 115-119]

A Call to Love:  1 Peter 1:20-25.

[20]  He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you [21]  who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. [22]  Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, [23]  since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; [24]  for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, [25]  but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this word is the good news that was preached to you.  [ESV]

[20-25]  “The foreknowledge of Christ’s redeeming death corresponds to God’s electing foreknowledge of those who would be redeemed by it [2]. Thus God knew the complete program of redemption before the foundation of the world. The revelation of this program is for the benefit of those who through the hearing of the gospel would put their faith in God and enter into the living hope of the new birth based on the resurrection of Christ [3]. The expression was made manifest in the last times [20] is clearly a reference to the past event of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The result (so that [21]) that Christ has been made known to those who respond in faith to the gospel, is to direct their faith and hope to God, specifically to the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ [3], by whose foreknowledge this great plan of redemption was conceived and accomplished [2,18-21]. The third major command of the opening of the letter, following the exhortations to be holy and to fear God, is to love one another earnestly. One’s covenant relationship with God is never an individual matter. To be chosen by God and set apart by the Spirit for the purpose of participating in the covenant in Christ [2] means necessarily coming into relationship with others who are also so chosen. The Christian life cannot be lived authentically in isolation. Peter shifts his exhortation from how to live rightly in relationship with God to how to live rightly with one another in Christian community. The command to love is qualified by two participial phrases: (1) love one another because your lives have been set apart by obedience to the truth, the very purpose for which is to relate to others as God intended human beings to relate; (2) love one another because you have been reborn with an eternal nature, and love is the essence of that nature. Of course, love must be defined biblically. It refers to righteous relationships with each other that are based on God’s character, which Christian behavior reflects. Peter describes the quality of relationships rightly lived in the Christian community as love. Christians are to love one another because by obeying the truth, by coming to faith in Jesus Christ, they have set themselves apart from the ways of the world and how they used to treat people. The participle having purified is in the perfect tense, indicating that they are now in the state of having been set apart by their previous obedience to the gospel. The moral nature of this purification or consecration is implied by the reference that it has come about by your obedience to the truth. Consecration by obedience to the truth in verse 22 refers back to the purpose for which Peter’s readers were chosen in verse 1, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood [2] which points to the covenant established by Christ’s blood. This consecration that was accomplished by obedience to the truth was for a sincere brotherly love. Righteous behavior toward others defines love. For Peter, obedience to the truth of the gospel is not merely intellectual assent to doctrine but must result in a transformation of how Christians treat others, because moral transformation is a central purpose of Christ’s redemption. Peter further explains the moral specifics of Christian love in 2:1: put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. The command to love earnestly is further qualified by a second causal participle, since you have been born again [23], which unites the thought of this verse with 1:3, where the verb first occurred. A crucial question arises: How does having been reborn from imperishable seed imply the command to love one another? What is the logic of this claim? The new birth generates spiritual life from imperishable seed [23], the word of God. This is contrasted with the quality of life that comes from perishable seed (human procreation), whose glory at its best is like the fragile and temporary flowers of the field. The life of the believer has been generated by the imperishable divine seed of God’s living and enduring word in contrast to the perishable seed of all flesh. The love commanded in 1:22 is the result of obeying the truth – responding positively to the gospel – and is made possible by the spiritual energy of the new life God has generated by His eternal word. The Christian’s decision to obey the truth by coming to faith in Christ is the manifestation of one’s rebirth as a child of God [3]. Peter instructs that love between Christians involves a moral transformation following from the spiritual reality that those reborn from God’s seed will have God’s character. The exhortations that follow throughout 1 Peter flesh out what Christian love looks like as a defining quality of one’s new, eternal life. The permanence and quality of new life given by God is contrasted with mere mortal life by involving a quotation from Isaiah. The conjunction for [24] is used to validate the preceding statement. Peter’s logic here is that the new birth given by God to those who enter the new covenant of Christ’s blood in faith is conceived from the imperishable seed of God’s word, which generates eternal life. To validate this claim, Peter cites Isaiah. Life conceived by mere mortal, perishable seed is perishable, and even the flower of its greatest glory falls off when the plant perishes. Apart from Christ, whatever glory human beings achieve will inevitably perish. But because the word of the Lord abides forever [25], as imperishable seed it generates imperishable, or eternal, life. Peter points out that the abiding word of the Lord of which Isaiah speaks is the very word that has been preached to Peter’s readers (and to all believers).”  [Jobes, pp. 119-130]

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What does Peter mean by holiness in 1:14-16? What does living a holy life look like in today’s world?

2.         What does Peter mean by the command conduct yourselves with fear in 1:17? Why does Peter place this command in the context of our relationship with God as our Father? Note how Peter also places the command conduct yourselves with fear in the context of knowing that you were ransomed … with the precious blood of Christ. How does this knowledge provide the motivation and the strength to obey the command?

3.         Contrast the world’s understanding of love with what Peter writes about love in 1:20-25. Where does the world get its definition of love? Where does Peter get his definition? Why does Peter connect loving one another with a pure heart in 1:22? How do these different definitions affect the expression of love towards others?

4.         In these verses Peter gives three commands: to be holy, to fear God, and to love one another earnestly. How do these three commands connect and depend upon one another in our living the Christian life to the glory of God?


The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney, Inter Varsity.

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, BENT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, B & H Publishers.

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