1 Peter 1:13-21 - The Family Resemblance
September 8, 2013 Speaker: Series: 1 Peter
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: 1 Peter 1:13–1:21
[Text: 1 Peter 1:13-21] “The Family Resemblance”
Verse 13 opens with one massive word: “therefore.” With that single word, we connect enormous concepts. It says, “I’ve told you one thing and now I’m going to show you the consequence. I’ve told you the truth and now here’s what I want you to do with it.” That’s what Peter is doing in this passage. In the first twelve verses of chapter one, Peter has written the truths of the Gospel of Jesus. Now, he wants to show very clearly what we’re supposed to do with that Good News.
[Read 1 Peter 1:13-21 and Pray]
Peter makes a shift in these verses. And understanding the shift is absolutely one of the most important things a person can do. It’s a shift in grammar. Peter shifts in the way he writes from the indicative to the imperative. That is, he shifts from talking about statements of fact – what is true – to commands – what we’re supposed to do. That’s the significance of the “therefore” opening.
In verses 1-12 Peter has been writing about the past, present and future work of God. These are all written in the indicative (mood); they are statements of fact, truths about what God has done to save His people. He speaks of the foreknowledge of God and His sovereign choice of these “elect exiles.” He writes of the mercy of God on display in the death and resurrection of Jesus. He writes of believers being “guarded” by God’s power “through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed” as well as about the incredible time in which his audience lives – the time when Christians experience what angels have longed to see. These verses aren’t rules to be followed. These are announcements of a new reality come by the person and work of Jesus. And these Gospel indicatives form the foundation of our faith as we hear and believe them.
So, by faith in Jesus we are already “born again to a living hope” (1:3). That is a definitive action of God; it is unchangeable. But because of that second birth into the family of God Peter shifts in v. 13 and writes in the imperative (mood) to say that we are supposed to live in line with that truth. This is a section about living in light of the Gospel.
Peter boils it down into two over-arching imperatives – two things we’re supposed to do in vv. 13-15. First, he says, “…set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Second, Peter elaborates on what that future-oriented life looks like saying, “…as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”
Setting hope fully in the future revealing of Christ. Pursuing a Christ-like holiness today. These are the two imperatives to which every believer throughout time is called. These are what we’re supposed to do with the truths of the Gospel.
Of the utmost importance is remembering the order of these two things – the indicatives and the imperatives. To reverse the order is absolutely deadly. To say that the things we do get us the things that God has done is to turn the Gospel upside down and rob it – rob ourselves – of any hope. But kept in the right order, the truths of the Gospel actually empower us to do what we’re supposed to do, increasingly so. So, as Peter leads us into this section of imperatives, he motivates and empowers us with the Gospel.
And motivation and power is what the believers who first heard this message needed. These were Christians who experienced the life of exiles. They wanted to follow Christ, living out these imperatives as they ought, but they were not without opposition. Their future hope was hard to see when they were grieving the trials and temptation and sufferings of their day. And the culture around them was so radically different from the holy life to which they’d been called. The power of their old passions these believers used to embrace was no little power. So, they needed a greater power to lead them forward into obedience to God.
And motivation and power is what you and I need today, too. You hear Peter addressing that need when he says, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action [literally, “girding up the loins of your mind”], and being sober-minded…[live in line with the Gospel].” He says “prepare your minds” because we are so often unprepared for what we face each day. We naïvely walk into “today” with assumptions about how life is supposed to be, forgetting that some trial or suffering or temptation await us each day. He says “[be] sober minded” because fears about today (not to mention tomorrow) make us drunk and we stagger through the present as if the truths of the Gospel aren’t real.
But when we hear the Gospel again…when we think of all the truths about the work of God in the past, present and future contained in that simple word – “therefore” – that Gospel begins helping us think sanely. The Gospel helps us more and more to prepare for what is to come today, to face that suffering or temptation with a ready, steady heart that trusts in the Lord. The Gospel sobers us up so that we can live out what is ours by faith in Christ! Forgiveness! Cleansing! Adoption! Sanctification in the Spirit! And that Gospel-sobriety leads us to put our hope right where it needs to be – in the promises of God in Christ for tomorrow.
That’s where Peter wants us to look in v. 13, where he lays down the first imperative – “…set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
This theme of future hope runs throughout 1 Peter. In the preceding verses we heard it three times already as Peter wrote of the coming inheritance of believers (v.4), the way God guards believers through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (v.5), and how even sufferings will result in glory when Christ is revealed (v.7).
But now Peter goes a step further. He says that believers are to set our hope fully – entirely; completely – on the future grace that will only come with Christ. That is not to say that today is hopeless. Peter himself has already written about joy and reasons for joy today. But if believers are expecting their experiences today to become easier, if believers are expecting to go from victory to victory or from suffering to full relief today, then he has a sobering word. We need to set our hope on the only day when everything will be made right – the day of Jesus’ return.
Setting our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ does not mean giving up on today. I doesn’t lead us to an escapist mentality where we’re only concerned with “getting to heaven” someday. We see everywhere in Scripture that God is absolutely concerned with “today” and has good works for us to do here and now. So, setting our hope fully on this future grace is living in light of the Gospel that says salvation has already been accomplished by Jesus, but the fullness of that salvation has not yet arrived. Heaven has broken into this world, but this world is not yet heaven as it will be when Christ returns.
So, for today, that means preparing for action, expecting sufferings and trials and temptations of every kind. Think soberly about today, seeing today in light of what God promises for tomorrow. And even if the promised, future grace does not come before your bones rest in the ground, we have the hope of the resurrection because Christ himself was raised from the dead. That future grace coming with Christ is the fixed point you and I can focus on today to help us endure today.
What we see in this text is that God’s promises about the future are meant to help us live today. And that future-oriented hope is lived out through the second imperative in this passage. We live in line with the Gospel; we live with a hope set fully on the return of Christ by pursuing holiness in all our conduct today.
Holiness is one of those topics that can be difficult to engage because we often bring so much baggage to the discussion. We’ve heard a million definitions of what it means to be holy and feel a little lost as to what it really is all about. Is the old advice, “Don’t drink, smoke, or chew – or go with girls who do,” really the sum total of holiness?
Well, Peter helps us here. Yes, he calls us (in v.15) to “be holy in all (our) conduct.” But look where he roots the call in v. 14 – in the resemblance that is supposed to typify those in the family of God.
In v. 14, Peter takes us back to an indicative of the Gospel in order to motivate and empower the imperative call to holiness. He begins the call to holiness by saying, “As obedient children….”
“As obedient children….” By faith in Christ we are adopted as the children of God. And that truth is the foundation of the call to holiness. In Christ, God is our Father just as He is the Father of Jesus. And what child looks at their loving Father, or at their gracious and generous brother, and says, “I don’t want to look like them”? God Himself calls His people to pursue the family resemblance when He says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
So, what does our Holy Father and Holy Brother look like? What have we seen in them that we would imitate? The call to holiness has a negative and a positive aspect to it – something to avoid as well as something to do.
So first, let’s consider the fact that our God and Savior knows how to avoid evil, how to say “no” to sin. That aspect of holiness is picked up by Peter when he says, “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” Remember, there was a time when these believers weren’t believers. And they lived in line with their unbelief, being ignorant of the Gospel. Peter reminds them of being once “conformed to the passions” of that old ignorance.
Now, we typically use the word “passions” when talking about things we love or hate. But the word really has to do with the way something drives us, the way something controls us. So, Peter is talking about not conforming to the things that used to control us.
Later in the letter, Peter gets more specific about the things that control humans apart from Christ (see 4:3). But the basic idea here is that when humans think we are most free – when we live in whatever way seems best to us regardless of what God says – that is actually the time when we are enslaved. We think that apart from God we are in control but we aren’t. We are always controlled by something. Peter’s call then is to go back to the truth of our true freedom in Christ; the freedom to say no to sin.
When you and I are confronted with the sin that would control us – sexual sin, greed, overeating, craving acceptance, discontent, etc. – this tells us that there is hope in the Gospel of Jesus for true freedom. It’s part of the life that God has for his children and he calls us to take hold of it. It’s not an easy thing sometimes. These old passions still have a lot of pull. But God has shown grace to us in Christ and promises more grace to come. And He has given us His Word to strengthen us and each other to encourage and love one another. Christ has set us free from the things that once controlled us. We are free to say “no” now to sin.
That is the negative aspect of holiness – the call to avoid evil. But there is a positive sense, too, because our God is the God who calls us to pursue character like His own. It is His character that defines holiness and His works that show us what holy behavior looks like.
(All of) Time would fail us to explore the holiness of God. But He reveals His holiness through His Word, through the Story of Redemption (especially Exodus 36). Martin Luther said “God's true nature is to love people who are troubled, have mercy on those who are broken-hearted, forgive those who have fallen, and refresh those who are exhausted.” Isn’t that who we see Him to be in the Story?
And in the Story He reveals more of who He is through His Law, the Ten Commandments. They teach us about who He is, His character. And they teach us how life works best because in each phrase of the law that forbids one thing, beneath that is a call to actively pursue the opposite, beautiful thing. The law that says “You shall not steal” also says, “Show hospitality to one another…(as) each has received a gift, use it to serve one another…” (1 Peter 4:9-10). Obedience to that Law is what we’ve been called to as His children.
So, if you, Christian, would pursue this family likeness, if you would seek to live in the holiness to which you’ve been called in Christ, then go back to the law. For the one whose faith is in Christ, it no longer has the power to kill, although it will lead us to repentance as we see how we still fall short of it. In the hands of the Holy Spirit the law shows us our need for Christ, yes, but it also becomes a good guide for life, showing us the beauty of our God and how we can live holy lives toward him and with one another.
The desire to grow in our family resemblance, for our character to look more and more like God our Father and Christ our Brother is motivation for our pursuit of holiness. But Peter gives more reasons.
First, in v. 17, he reminds believers that God takes the holiness of His children seriously. In Christ He is our Father and He is, at the same time, Judge, who “judges impartially according to each one’s deeds.”
We have to understand this in light of the rest of Scripture that tells us whoever believes in Christ “does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). We know that “(t)here is…now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So this judgment of God according to our deeds is the judgment of the Father disciplining His children, both now and at the last judgment. And whatever this judgment entails, the one thing it will never contain for the children of God is eternal separation from Him (Romans 8:31-39).
So, although this judgment should not lead us to despair –Christ is our brother and Rescuer! – it remains a sobering truth that should break to pieces a pride that would presume upon the grace of our Father, break a pride that would reject the call to pursue the family resemblance of holiness. That is what Peter means as he urges us to “conduct (ourselves) with fear throughout the time of (our) exile.” The “fear” in view here is a reverential awe of our holy and merciful God.
The second motivation for holiness is in vv.18-19. We pursue holiness with reverential fear “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” As important as the truth of our ransom is – I mean, we’re talking about the blood of Christ poured out to rescue us – I want us to focus for a moment on this: we were ransomed from something. Peter says, “from the futile ways” that had typified life going back generations. What this tells us is that the holiness to which we are called stands in opposition to those futile ways of life. The word “futile” here means “empty; useless.” God ransomed us from the emptiness and uselessness of life without Him. And in its place he calls us to a holiness like His that fills us and makes us useful in His Kingdom. That’s what kind of God we have, one that gives us life when all we had was death. He gives us purpose when we were useless and lost.
Third, we are motivated to holiness because the cost of our freedom was a high cost, Peter says our ransom was paid “…with the precious blood of Christ.” Peter means to move us to gratitude here, telling us that our ransom wasn’t an afterthought in the plan of God. In v. 20 he says that Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake….” From eternity past, God meant to make you His child and ransom you. And then He did it by spilling the blood of His only Son.
We have such reason to pursue these Gospel imperatives. The call to set our hope fully on future grace in Christ and the call to holiness only makes sense. But if we stopped here, we’d still be left with an understanding that puts it all on us. Yes, we’d be saved by grace and grace motivates but, in the end, these imperatives would be up to us. And, oh, that hasn’t gone so well for me in the past.
Thankfully, what we hear from Peter is that yes, holiness is an imperative. We have the example of our God and Savior to follow. Yes, we are called to set our hope fully on future grace in Christ. But – at the same time – holiness is already a reality for those in Christ. Holiness is both a mandate and a gift of God already given. That’s what Peter was talking about in 1:2 when he talked about the sanctification of the Spirit and obedience to Jesus Christ. God is the one working in us to bring about these realities.
And the future grace that will come with Christ doesn’t depend on us setting our hope there because the inheritance of the saints is as much a work of God as being born again, as much a work of God as Christ being raised from the dead.
That’s why Peter ends this section with these words. He speaks of Christ being made known and “through him [believers] are believers in God…so that your faith and hope are in God.” Yes we are called to strive after these imperatives, but we ultimately direct our faith and hope to the God who will bring them about.
So when you feel like you can’t see hope past today, when your pursuit of holiness feels like you’re stuck in a ditch, remember that even now God still has the power to raise the dead and make what is unclean holy. Indeed, in Christ God already calls you holy. You are simply called to live in line with what is true of you.
So, we pray for this and work toward this calling of holiness, to live each day in light of the future grace that will come with Christ. But we cannot pursue either apart from our God and Savior, nor add to anything that he already gives to us. What we have (or will have) we have already by faith in him.
[Benediction, from 1 Peter 5:10-11]
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”