RPM, Volume 16, Number 5, January 26 to February 1, 2014

The True Good Life

1 Peter 1:13-17

By D. Marion Clark

1 Peter 1:13-17
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

Up to this time, Peter has eloquently laid before his readers the glorious blessings of God that have come to them. What truths has Peter already expressed? Who we are — God's elect and strangers in the world. What has been done for us — given new birth into a living hope of an inheritance that will not perish; we are ourselves protected until we receive it; our trials are only purifying our faith until we receive it; this inheritance is the kingdom of God where we will receive honor ourselves; this will all happen when Jesus returns and makes our salvation complete; the great prophets of the Bible wished they could have known the grace we now experience, and the angels are fascinated by it.

"Therefore," Peter continues, "This is how you should respond to such knowledge." In our text, verses 13-17, he gives them three commands: (13) set your hope…on the grace to be given; (15) be holy; (17) live…in fear.

Set Your Hope

It seems in this verse that Peter is giving three distinct commands: prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you… There is actually only one imperative — set your hope. The other verbs are participles. The verse more literally reads, "Preparing your minds for action and being self-controlled, set your hope…" The point is that being prepared and self-controlled are set in the context of our hope. You will understand what I mean as we go along.

Prepare your minds for action. Literally, the phrase is "girding up the loins of your mind." It is a figure of speech taken from the customs of the ancient world. The men wore long garments, and to run they would have to pull up their garments, stuffing them in their belts ("girding the loins"). Someone in a state of preparedness would go ahead and have his garments "girded up." Peter is saying, "Be prepared mentally for action. Be alert." The next phrase fits in with this: Be self-controlled, or be sober (KJV). Be disciplined in your life, so that you are not caught off guard and lulled away from what really matters.

You've got to be mentally alert — knowing the Word of God; knowing the difference between truth and subtle false-hood or heresy; being constant in prayer and Christian fellowship. You've got to exercise self-control — being disciplined in the practices of Bible reading, prayer, fellowship and evangelism; curbing your impulses to indulge in idle pleasures that distract you and make you lazy in your Christian walk.

The reason for mental alertness and discipline is that the believers may set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. This is the actual command Peter is giving. The preparation and discipline are not just good ways to have a healthy lifestyle; there is a goal in mind — it is the grace of our complete salvation, of an eternal glory. That's our hope. That's what Peter has been talking about in the previous twelve verses, and now he is commanding his readers to keep their focus on that hope.

Be Holy

We are to set our hope on the grace coming by being mentally alert and disciplined. The second command we are given is to be holy.

Verse 14 gives insight to what holy living is. As obedient children: it involves obeying God's commands — following the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule, and all the instructions we are taught in God's Word. It is to love God with all of our hearts and souls and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Peter goes on to say, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. Holy living is not conforming to our sinful desires that we in our non-Christian nature thought were fun things to do: getting drunk or getting high, indulging in physical pleasures of extramarital sex or overeating, gossiping and using profanity, and so on. To be holy, therefore, is active — carrying out the commands of God — and passive — refraining from sinful activities.

We are to be this way, because God is this way: for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." Peter quotes from Leviticus where this sentence is repeated several times. In the context of Leviticus, God gives commands to the Israelites to follow in all areas of life — religious rituals, business dealings, personal hygiene, etc. The purpose is to distinguish his people from all other peoples. They belonged to him in a way unlike the other nations. They were the nation of God and were to reflect that in their daily life. Because they belonged to the one God who is holy, they were to be holy. Thus, God says, I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy (Leviticus 11:44).

That same principle is expounded here. As Christians, Peter's readers are to understand themselves to be the people of God set apart (the literal meaning of "holy"). As such, they are to live lives that reflect the holiness that marks their God. Jesus stated this frankly in the Sermon on the Mount: Be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

Live in Fear

We have been given two imperatives so far: set our hope on the grace to be given us and be holy. There is one more — live in fear. Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

Here is what Peter is saying. You daily pray to God as your Father, which he is, to help you in life and for his salvation. That's good; you should because you are his children. But remember, your Father is also Judge of all creation. And how does God judge? He judges impartially, i.e. according to what each person deserves and not according to claims of special status. Peter is saying to Christians that they cannot act any way they want, disregarding God's commandments, and fall back on the presumption that because they are Christians God will not discipline them.

By judging he means administering judgment now. In 4:17 he notes: For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God… But I think we can apply judgment to future judgment as well. Our works do not make us saved or lose our salvation, but they do provide the testimony that points to our condition. If we live continually in disobedience to God without regard to his judgment, then we must question whether we are truly in Christ's saving grace. Therefore, have a healthy fear of our righteous God who will not be mocked. You are but strangers in the world, remember, (literally the Greek reads "passing your time here as sojourners") who are heading to your home in heaven to dwell with God your Father and the righteous Judge. Live according to his standards.

Putting It All Together

We have been given three sobering commands. Peter has built up his readers' expectations about their future inheritance with the intention to encourage them in the trials they are going through. Just when it seems they can relax, he says be on the alert, don't lose focus on your goal, watch how you live and keep a healthy fear of God.

Isn't this a good recipe for anxiety? In fact, isn't it the same old religious warning of "You better watch out or God is going to get you"? How can you have the peace of God when you must stay on the alert all the time and be constantly striving to be holy? How can you have the joy of God while fearing him? Let's think this through.

Go back to the first question: How can you have the peace of God when you must stay on the alert all the time and be constantly striving to be holy? The key is to understand how pleasurable being alert and holy is. Talk to a former top athlete who has long retired from active competition. Ask him if he is glad to be done with the hard work involved — the training and discipline. See if he doesn't sigh when he thinks of how he felt during that time — the feeling of being able to run fast, or throw far; the feeling of a body that is in peak condition. He looks back at such a time as one of pleasure. The very disciplines of rising early, training and exercising, though they may have been tough, produced joy as the body achieved more and more.

And this joy was further increased if his efforts led to victories. Ask the former athlete if he would go through it all again, and he will react quickly, "Yes!" Those were the good times, achieving what one is capable of achieving. No one regrets the work required to accomplish the best he is capable of. There are no regrets unless…

Unless there were bad experiences: a coach that constantly berated you; pressures to succeed that alienated you from friends; losses and the fear of losing that haunted you; injuries that debilitated you. These are the anxieties that weigh on the athlete and rob him of peace and joy, not the disciplined life.

For the Christian who truly understands the gospel and his relationship to God, the disciplined, holy life is truly peaceful and joyful. Peace and joy are present for three reasons. The first is, knowing that forgiveness awaits you when you fail. God is not the coach or parent berating you every time you stumble or fail. God is the coach who runs to you the moment you fall, lifts you up and renews your strength.

The second element of peace and joy is, knowing that you will ultimately achieve your goal — you will be victorious. What inspires athletes is what also haunts them — the big race, the championship game, the performance for the gold medal. And the greater the prize and the feeling of joy and satisfaction that comes with it, the greater the despondency if you come up short, particularly if you failed out of your own making: an injury, an error on your part, a sub par performance. You become known as the one "who could have been," the one "who almost made it." But, as verses 3-9 assures us, we will win; we will claim the prize.

The third element of peace and joy is, knowing that we are not missing out on "the good life." A complaint leveled against the parents and coaches of young female athletes, such as gymnasts, is that they are robbing the girls of the pleasures of childhood. They are removed from their homes and must spend long, grueling hours of training. The defense is that they have the talent and desire to become champions. It is a sacrifice to be made for a greater reward.

But for the Christian who truly understands the life he is being called to live, he has to confess there is no sacrifice; he is not missing out on the "good life." Indeed, he is living the good life even while he is preparing for the eternal good life. The difference between the disciplined, moral Christian and the undisciplined, amoral person is not that one chooses to put aside personal happiness for now and the other enjoys as much as he can now; their choices for happiness differ; one chooses a richer eternal happiness, while the other settles for superficial quick fixes that quickly disappear. As Paschal wrote:

All men see happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

For the Christian who takes seriously preparing his mind, being self-controlled and living a holy life — how happy is such a life? Well, how happy would you be if could read the Scriptures with deep understanding and appreciation? How happy would you be if you could spend hours in prayer, forgetful of the time because of the intimacy you are experiencing with God? These things come from discipline — restraining the tendency to laziness and training the mind and heart to be focused on the revealed Word of God and fellowship with him.

By the way, indulging in sensual pleasure — sex, food, drink, and so on — is actually laziness. It is the easy way to get pleasure; but it is not satisfying, so that you have to keep increasing what you do and varying it. Even so, it does call for the least amount of effort.

A life of alert and self-controlled living allows us to enjoy the pleasures of spiritual exercises more fully, plus takes us on to greater pleasures. Consider the holy life. We said to be holy is to obey the commandments of God. What are they? They include not harboring anger. Indeed we are to do the good we want done for us. We are not to lie, but instead live honestly, being persons who can be taken for our word. We are not to lose control of ourselves by getting drunk, but instead are to do what we can to show others courtesy and kindness.

Paul made the following contrast between the worldly pleasure seekers and the Christian pleasure seekers:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:19-23).

So tell me, which is the more pleasurable life? Which is more peaceful, more joyful? Which is more worthwhile to live whatever the circumstances may be? And that's important to understand. No one — Christian or non-Christian can control our circumstances. Christians and non-Christians will experience pleasing circumstances and not so pleasing circumstances. Our peace and joy, though affected by the circumstances, will be more determined by the ways we pursue happiness in the midst of whatever circumstances come our way.

Remember the question we asked: How can you have the peace of God when you must stay on the alert all the time and be constantly striving to be holy? The answer is that the peace we have in Christ grants us peace, and such living itself produces true peace and joy.

What about that second question: How can you have the joy of God while fearing him? Indeed, isn't there a contraction here? John says in his epistle, There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18). Now we have Peter saying we should live in fear.

John's concern is the day of judgment which he refers to in the previous verse. We should not live in fear of that day if we are abiding in the love of God. But then he would point out we must dwell in that love and show that love. And one cannot truly love God without fearing him, because to love God, as to truly love anyone, is to love him for who he is; and God is righteous, the one who judges what is unrighteous.

To fear God is to recognize that he is the great Judge of all creation. Our Father who loves us dearly, is also the God of the universe dispensing judgment. As we understand this, we will understand all the more how wondrous is the loving attention he gives us. Remember, we are not children of original birth; we have been adopted, born again into his family out of his mercy.

To fear God is to also recognize that what we do matters. God takes us seriously, especially so since we are his children, and in our sober moments we want that. The nicest father who doles out affection on his children will show anger if they are mean to his wife, their mother. A good father will not tolerate meanness in his children. He will punish them if they are disrespectful or cruel, especially because they are his children. He doesn't want his children to be afraid of him, but he does want them to fear his response to their bad behavior; and it is not so much bad behavior as it is having a flippant attitude towards him and his standards.

We understand this. We respect our fathers who act towards us not only with love, but also with integrity. We are glad we have a father whom we must fear if we are mean or indifferent to what is good. It means our father is good and he cares about us being good. We will hate a father who disciplines us unjustly and will despise one who is indifferent to us.

So we see that fearing God is a peaceful and joyful life. Peaceful because we know that his punishment is always righteous punishment and will produce good in us; joyful because we know that who we are and what we do matters to him. Remember how Peter assured his readers in verse 5 that they would be shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation… This is the outworking of that shield. God causes us to be mentally prepared, to be holy and to fear him. We live this out by faith; and, if we understand the riches of such a life, we live it out in true peace and joy.

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