This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on I Peter 1:13-21 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday October 29-30, 2011.
One of the primary meanings of the word holiness is “set apart.” But I think I have had a bad mental picture of what it means to be “set apart” for some time. My instinct was to think of what happened to the baseball with which a pitcher got the final out of a no-hitter.
That baseball would then be marked, set on a shelf, loved, shown to a few special friends, but would never again touch a leather glove in a live game. It ceased being a baseball and became a decoration. No baseball-related purpose remained in the “life” of that baseball.
I think we can create a similar image of what it means to be holy as Christians. We are marked (sealed with the Holy Spirit; Eph. 4:30), set apart, loved by God, talk about holiness with a few also-holy friends, but serve very little salt and light functions in a real world marked by darkness and decay.
If we think of holiness this way, then it would have a very awkward synonym – “useless ornament.” But in I Peter 1:13-21, where holiness is referenced four times in eight verses, there is no trace of this kind of passivity. Rather in verse 14 Peter says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.”
In this verse holiness is marked by activity, and worldliness is marked by passivity or mindlessness. First, Peter refers to his readers as “obedient children.” This means that holiness does something (obey) in response to life-defining relationship (child of God). With this in mind, holiness carries the connotation of being “set apart” in an orphanage because you have been adopted, and your life will be marked by a new name with all the opportunities afforded by that name, rather than it does with being a random baseball that was randomly selected for one pitch and then never functionally useful again.
Second, Peter portrays worldliness with passive language – sitting in the value-desire press of the influences around you, following them without thinking; like a goose flying south for the winter. With worldliness there is much less intentionality or passion (here used in the sense of pursuing or fulfilling something of unique value). It is the epitome of the herd effect.
So what should we do in response to this more accurate active, missional view of holiness? I will offer three responses that I believe are appropriate to being “set apart.”
Worship: We should celebrate like adopted children preparing to see their new home and meet their new extended family. It is an awesome privilege to be “set apart” that should cause our hearts to sing (whether our voices have the skill to bless others when they join in or not). God has done a great and gracious thing when He set us apart and we should respond daily like children on Christmas morning opening the gift of new mercies every morning.
Take On a New Identity: I remember one conversation with my father after a knuckle-headed action of my youth. His instruction to me was not a set of steps on how to avoid being knuckle-headed. He simply said, “Hambrick men don’t act that way.” I wish that statement were more true. “Hambrick men don’t have immunity to knuckle-headedness, but the principle of allowing your identity drive your activity was solid. Holiness is an identity before it is an activity. So, be who you are… in Christ!
Live as Exiled Ambassadors: This is the active component of holiness. We were “set apart” in a hostile world to be a part of God’s redemptive mission (this is the theme of I Peter as a whole). With all the tension implied in the phrase, we were both rescued from and left in the world. We were left in the world to be a continuation of the rescue mission that God began in us. When we value our freedom (by way of self-protection or personal convenience) more than the freedom of those around us (by living as local missionaries) we no longer bear the image of our adopted Father (Matt 22:37-40; 2 Pet. 3:9).
Let us be “Christ men” and “Christ women” (that is what being a “Christian” first meant; Acts 11:26) and recognize that our lives were set apart for the agents of His grace, not ornaments of His grace.