Be Holy, For I am Holy: Delighting in the Holiness of God

John Piper
The holiness of God is one way of talking about God’s otherness. His difference from us. His being in class by himself. Hannah put it like this in 1 Samuel 2:2, “There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed, there is no one besides thee, nor is there any rock like our God.” His holiness is transcendent, pure, uniqueness.

There is an infinite difference between him and us. Which means that when we see his holiness most clearly, we not only feel unworthy the way Isaiah did in Isaiah 6:5, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips . . . for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”—we not only respond like that, but we also meet strange things. Things that at first don’t make sense to us. God’s holiness is not only other, it is strange to fallen human beings.

When we see it most clearly in the Bible we see strange things. It has unexpected implications for our lives. We think we have the gospel figured out and are on our way to living in accord with the gospel and suddenly we meet the implications of God’s holiness that baffle us. They are strange. And many people at that point won’t listen to what the Bible has to say. They have begun to make some sense of God, and suddenly the Bible draws out some implication of his holiness that doesn’t fit our way of thinking about him. Some people at this point in their walk with God bail on him – they see something that doesn’t fit with where they were headed with their Christian maturing that they won’t listen, they won’t pause and ask God “this baffles me, and the problem is here and not there – I’m not leaving, but I don’t get this.” It’s inevitable that when a sinful creature meets a holy God, that is going to happen!

I think this is the case in 1 Peter 1:13-21. As you get close to the holiness of God in 1 Peter 1 things come into focus that don’t fit our mental categories or emotional capacities. We’re expected to do and feel and think things that we don’t think we can.

And I give you a heads up in the hope that you will not run away from what this text says, but will ask God for new light and larger understanding and greater affections in worship and more robust obedience—that your holiness would be more strange like God’s holiness.

So I invite you to turn to 1 Peter 1:13-21 follow as I read:

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 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.” 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. 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.

There are three imperative verbs in that paragraph. All the other 16 verbs are participles, indicatives, and one infinitive. That means there are three main commands for us and everything else is explanation and argument for those three commands.

Live in Hope

The first is in verse 13b: “. . . set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Literally “hope fully”. It’s a command that we feel strong hope that when Jesus comes again he will be bearing grace and it will be well with you and this grace will be all-satisfying. Hope fully that this is the way you will meet him, not in condemnation. Hope deeply and strongly in that. In other words, Peter wants us to feel profoundly confident in the final outcome of our lives and the revelation of Christ. X It will mean more grace. And the fulfillment of deepest longings. X That’s why we are to hope fully, not mildly, but fully. This will be great grace. Eternally satisfying grace.

Live in Holiness

The second imperative is at the end of verse 15. But let’s read 14 and 15 to see the flow: “As obedient children, do not be conformed (that’s a participle: “not being conformed”) to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” The verb is the imperative of “be” or “become.” And specifically the focus is on the outcome of this being in doing: Be holy in all your conduct—your way of life. Live a holy life.

So in verse 13 we have “hope fully” and in verse 15 we have “be holy”.

Live in Fear

The third imperative is found in verse 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.” In verse 15 the command was, “in all your conduct be holy.” And in verse 17 the command is “in all your conduct fear.” And the fear connected most closely with God’s judgment. Since your Father “judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves in fear.”

So now we have three commands: Live in hope. Live in holiness. Live in fear. That’s strangeAnd the closer you get, the stranger it gets. This is what I meant when I said, when we see God’s holiness most clearly we see strange things and you’re thrown off balance from what the Bible expects of you. It has unexpected implications for our lives. We think we have the gospel figured out, and suddenly we meet some implications of God’s holiness that baffle us. They are strange. Like: Live in holiness, and the way to do this is, live in hope and live in fear.

Let’s be sure we see that the holiness we are being called to is indeed God’s like God’s holiness. Look at verses 15-16 up close. Verses 15-16, “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.’” The holiness of God is both the pattern and the ground for our holiness. Notice the word “for” in verse 16 is a quote from Leviticus 11:44, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” So God’s holiness is the ground or basis of our holiness. My way of living is to be very connected to his holiness. And notice the word “as” at the beginning of verse 15, “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy.” So God’s holiness is the pattern.

What’s so strange is that God’s holiness is his inimitability, class by himself, you can’t begin to get close to him like that.

This is why we are meeting such strange things in these verses. We are being called to be like God in his holiness. And we have said that God’s holiness is his uniqueness, his otherness. His being one of a kind. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising then, that the implications of this are so surprising: Live in hope and live in fear as you become like God and live in holiness. You should expect that this will do some turning upside down of our emotions and our categories of thought. Now And this is why it is causing these strange juxtapositions of hope and fear. But this is appropriate. He’s God.

This is For Children

And we are going to teach all of this to children! They think I’ve inspired them, but it’s really the other way around. Children DG tackles the impossible task of making the most glorious things in the world understandable to children. That’s inspiring.

Teach Our Children to Hope in God

We want the next generation from the cradle on to taste what it is to hope fully in the grace that is coming to God’s children when Christ returns. We want them to obey verse 13b, “Set your hope fully – little one – on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Little one, hope as fully as your little heart can hope, hope in that. We want them to grow up unshakeable ultimate optimism. No mopers! Optimism for them, and for the church, and indeed for what God will make of this world.

They are coming into a world that is flaunting its evil more openly than Americans have been accustomed to. What we see around us is not new a new world. It’s just new for America! There have been cultures much more blatantly immoral than ours. Therefore I have zero conviction in pessimism. Who knows what the sovereign God is up to through our children for this America!

But our children will have to deal with manifestations of sinfulness that were more restrained in past decades. And therefore we want to raise them not with a flimsy immediate optimism whose hopes sink with every new outrage, but whose hope is sunk down deep in grace, but that they have unshakable optimism because of the grace that is coming to them at he revelation of Jesus Christ—not to mention all the grace that arrives in their lives for strength every day.

Teach our Children to Fear God

And we want our children to taste the holy fear of God their father and their judge. We want them to obey verse 17: “Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” We don’t want raise emotionally fragile children who can only be told to hope because if they are told to fear they collapse with no emotional capacities for such a positive thing. We don’t want to raise children who have no built categories for holy fear alongside holy hope. We don’t to raise children whose hope is the kind that vanishes when they fear God. We want to raise young people who are as strange as this text is strange. We want kids who are able to say that holy fear and holy hope are my life! Who are as paradoxical in their emotional capacities as the holiness of God demands.

We don’t want their hope to vanish when they are told to fear, but to have a hope that deepens when they are told to fear their holy God.

Teach our Children to Live Holy Lives

And we want our young people to taste the holiness of God implanted in their own souls as children born again by the Holy Spirit, who now bear the family traits from the father of holiness. We want them to obey verses 15-16, “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” We want strange, wonderful, hopeful, fearful, courageous, strong, joyful and wise young people, who are shaped by the glorious otherness of God, so that they bear in their own bodies a winsome paradox in this world. So that other children and adults can’t explain them because they cannot explain a holy fear and a holy hope at the same time.

Since our task is to teach our kids all these things, we who are the teachers of children must immerse ourselves in the Bible, the holy Word of the holy God. This is why we linger long over strange and wonderful things in the Bible—in a prayerful expectation that God will free us from our former ignorance give us mental categories we never knew before, and awaken emotional capacities that we never thought we could have. We meditate long over the Word so that something will happen in our heart so that we walk into a classroom where the kids can smell the holiness of God on you.

Hope and Fear as the Roots of Holiness

So let’s do some of that now with three commands: Live in hope. Live in holiness. Live in holy fear. Let’s focus on the hope and the fear which feed into a life of holiness. I believe the hope and the fear are the roots of the holiness that we’re to live out.

This first chapter of 1 Peter is overwhelmingly a chapter of hope.

  • Verse 3b: “God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
  • Verse 4: Our “inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” It will never spoil on you. It is being “kept in heaven” for us. It is gloriously ready for you. It is never lost. It will never disappoint you.
  • And verse 5, we are being kept for it: “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” All that is to make us unshakably secure and hopeful—to help us hope fully (v. 13).
  • Verse 8b-9 “Rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
  • Verse 13, the command to hope fully in the coming grace.
  • Verses 18-19, “You were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” In other words, the price of your redemption cannot spoil or fade. The point again is solid hope.
  • Verse 21: “God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
  • Verse 23, “You have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God.”

Chapter begins with we are born of God (verse 3), and ends the chapter with being born again through the word of God. This chapter is filled with hope. Unshakable hope.

It’s clear that Peter wants his readers to live in unshakable hope. When he says in verse 13 that you should “prepare your minds for action (gird up the loins of your mind) and be sober, he is telling us how to maintain hope. Be awake and nimble on your mental feet to trace out every reason for hope that God gives. And spot every hope-destroying untruth.

Then in verses 14-15 shows how God works to make hope the fuel of holiness. I see five steps in verses 14 and 15.

First, God calls us. Verse 15: “As the Holy One who called you.” This is virtually the same as God’s giving new birth back in verse 3: “He caused you to be born again to a living hope.” God’s sovereign call raises us from the spiritual deadness and blindness. The aim of this call—this new birth—is so that we can be alive to hope-giving truth.

Second, the effect of this call—this new birth—is that we become the children of God. Verse 14: “As obedient children.” In the new birth we receive a new nature in the likeness of our Father in heaven. This is why verse 3 says we are born again to a living hope. Nothing is more hopeful than to be in God’s family. What is more hopeful than to have God as a dad?

The third step is that this new birth overcomes the spiritual blindness and ignorance we once had to what is truly desirable. We see things radically differently now. Verse 14: “Do not be conformed to your former lusts [desires] which were yours in ignorance.” We are not blind and ignorant and foolish anymore. We’re not ignorant of God’s infinite worth any more. Now we see the holiness of God as the supreme value in the universe.

The fourth step is that instead of old desires in ignorance we have new desires in knowledge. This is what we are doing when we gird up the loins of our minds in verse 13, we are using our minds to know truth that gives hope. And just like our old conduct conformed to the desires born of ignorance, so our  new conduct now conforms to truth born of knowledge. And that knowledge is mainly all the reason for hope that have been laid out in chapter 1.

And the fifth step is that we obey verse 15, “to be holy in all you conduct.”

So holiness is born of

  1. God’s call—the new birth—,
  2. the entrance into God’s family,
  3. the replacing of ignorance with knowledge—seeing things like they really are. the knowledge of all the grounds for hope Peter is laying out–,
  4. the transformation of our conduct in keeping with our new hope-filled desires, and
  5. a growing experience of holiness in all of life.

So the girding up of the loins of the mind—the preparing the mind for action in verse 13 is meant to help us hope fully: “preparing your minds for action . . . set your hope fully on the grace . . .” And the way the mind does this is by replacing the ignorance of verse 14, because that ignorance produced the desires of ignorance which produced unholy conduct. But now the sober, active, born-again mind sees the truth of Christ and the beauty of holiness, and that truth and beauty produce new desires, and those desires produce holiness of conduct.

The truth and beauty of hope—hope for the revelation of Christ—is the fuel of being holy as God is holy. Holiness is not a willpower thing – holiness is born of a new birth that creates new eyes that sees new treasures that awakens new desires that yields new conduct called holiness.

One of the hardest things about children’s ministry or parenting is that we have to keep our kids from hurting themselves by keeping them from dangerous things. Kids grow up as inveterate legalists, list-keepers. What I just unpacked becomes massively important if Christianity that we teach our kids isn’t just a list of dos and don’ts. It’s a new birth leading to new desires and new things to do – because that’s what you love to do.

Which makes the final question now all the more crucial: What is the role of fear? We’ve looked at the commands, “Live in hope.” And: “Live in holiness.” And we’ve seen that living in hope is essential to living in holiness. Now what about living in holy fear?

Verse 17: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your “exile.” This isn’t like having fear every now and again, this is throughout your exile on the planet.

Peter will not let us slip away from both sides of the paradox. He insists on calling the Judge our Father, and calling our Father the Judge in the same verse. And just when you find yourself slipping toward presumption that your Father is behind the bench, he reminds you that the Judge “judges impartially according to each one’s work.” There are not different standards, one low standard for the Judge’s children, and one high standard for the others. It’s ruled out by the word “impartial.”

And just when you are starting to feel hopeless he reminds you that this earthly life is for you only an “exile” – God really is your Father, and heaven really is your home. Grace really is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (v. 13). So Peter doggedly holds onto both poles of this paradox: Father and judge. Impartial judgment and heaven-bound exiles.

In fact he makes this fear all the more strange by the following verses, 18-21. These verses are clearly an argument of the command to conduct ourselves in fear. Notice the connection between the command in verse 17 and the statement in verses 18-19: “Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing [that is, because you know] that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

In other words, fear God because you were redeemed with something that is infinitely valuable and that will not perish. In other words, something you can base your whole future on. In other words, conduct yourselves in fear because Christ paid infinitely to free you from perishing.

And the argument goes on in the same way in verses 20-21, “Christ 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.” Therefore fear! Live your life in fear during your exile.

So the fear of verse 17 is grounded first in the fact that God judge impartially according to our work, and then it’s grounded in the fact that the Judge is our Father. And then it’s grounded in the fact that Christ ransomed us with precious and lasting blood, and then it’s grounded in the fact that God raised him from the dead so that our hope would be in God.

All of which means that there is a real kind of holy fear that does not destroy strong, confident hope, but exists beside it and deepens it and strengthens it, and leads to a strange and wonderful and holy life.

Based on what we saw about the origin and nature of hope in verses 14 and 15, I would describe holy fear like this in distinction from unholy fear. Unholy fear runs away from the judgment on sin, and looks for safety in all kinds of excuses and moral and religious camouflage. Holy fear runs away from the judgment that comes on sin and runs away from the sin itself, and looks for safety in pardoning and empowering grace of God.

Pictures of This Paradox

Here’s a way to think about this. Suppose you’re a dad. Your daughter is 16, 17. She’s been a problem recently. Hangs out with the wrong crowd. Cool towards spiritual things. Kidnapped by ugly thugs, and they write a note, a demand for ransom. You decide you are going to pay it, but you don’t have the money. Sell house, car, wife’s jewelry, ring, heirlooms, cash in retirement program. You take the money, and it is arranged in such a way that she will meet you in the middle of a field, where she picks up the ransom and takes it back to her captors. And imagine that she, on her way back, gives you an obscene gesture and walks away with her arm wrapped around her captors. This is what you should fear – doing that to God.

Let me describe it a couple of other ways.

Unholy fear looks for excuses in all kinds of in moral and religious camouflage. But holy fear runs away from sin itself and looks for safety in pardoning an empowering grace of God. The function of the fear is not to paralyze me, but to send me running to the one who ransomed me.

Unholy fear runs away the one who judges those who don’t hope fully in God. Holy fear runs away from not hoping in God into the arms of the judge who is their Father.

Unholy fear ignores the preciousness of the ransom and trembles at the judgment of God. Holy fear cherishes the ransom and trembles at the prospect of insulting the goodness of the one who paid it.

Or to use an illustration that a eight-year-old can understand (I know because Karsten was eight when this happened). The Tiegens had a huge dog when we went to visit them, and our son Karsten was almost eye to eye with the dog. When I asked Karsten to run back to the car and get something I had forgot, the dog loped after him with a low growl. Mr. Tiegen called out to Karsten: “You better just walk, he doesn’t like it when people run away from him. He’d rather go with you.”

That was a picture of God for me. He is very scary—when you are running from him or against him. But if you will hope fully in the grace that he gives and the treasure that he is, he will walk with you and be your friend and your protector and your Father, all the way home.

So live in hope. And live in holiness in all your conduct. And live in holy fear of bringing any reproach on the one who ransomed you with infinite price.

Photo: Abe Kim

Written by Children Desiring God

Children Desiring God produces God-centered resources for church and home.

2 Responses to “Be Holy, For I am Holy: Delighting in the Holiness of God”

  1. Sonja Geyer June 18, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    This message is deeply comforting and deeply challenging at the same time. We do meet strange things in the presence of a Holy God, but may we be faithful to or precious Savior for His sacrifice and run to Him when we are baffled. Thank you, Pastor Piper. Your explanation of 1 Peter 1 has enriched us, and we have been the great benefactors of God’s mighty work in you for decades!!

  2. Children Desiring God June 18, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    So glad it was a blessing to you, Sonja. You can also watch the video here: http://blog.childrendesiringgod.org/?p=1285

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