My kids have been studying World War II this year. I’m a bit of a history buff, and an Anglophile, so of course Winston Churchill is a favorite of mine. As Americans, when we think about the beginning of the war, our mind goes to Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. “A date which will live in infamy.” We sometimes forget that the war had already been raging in Europe for two years at that point. I have Churchill’s full account of the war on my shelf, and his perspective is fascinating. For the British, Pearl Harbor means something very different than it does for Americans. Churchill’s account is six volumes long, and when you get to Pearl Harbor, you’re already 2000 pages into the story. They had been fighting, basically alone, for a year and a half. London was being bombed. The Germans had plans in place to invade England. The outlook was not hopeful. To have the Americans join the war was a total game-changer. It changed everything. In addition to 16 million troops, our ability to just make stuff - planes, tanks, guns - in huge quantities, was far and away greater than anyone else in the world, and was ultimately the deciding force in the war. When Roosevelt announced American plans to ramp up the production of military equipment, he called for American factories to produce 185,000 planes in two years. Hitler’s military advisers told him that it was just propaganda. No one could produce that much. By the end of the war, American factories had produced over 300,000 airplanes, and we know how the rest of the story goes. Churchill saw that before it happened. For us, Pearl Harbor was the beginning of the war, but from Churchill’s perspective, in a very real sense, it was the end. Listen to what he says, and remember that this was his mind in 1941, right after he learned about Pearl Harbor, before a single American troop had set foot in Europe.
No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. I could not foretell the course of events. I do not pretend to have measured accurately the martial might of Japan, but now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won the war after all! Yes, after Dunkirk; after the fall of France; [...] after the threat of invasion, [...] after seventeen months of lonely fighting [...], we had won the war. England would live [...]. How long the war would last or in what fashion it would end, no man could tell, nor did I at this moment care. Once again in our long Island history we should emerge, however mauled or mutilated, safe and victorious. [...] No doubt it would take a long time. I expected terrible forfeits in the East; but all this would be merely a passing phase. [...] Many disasters, immeasurable cost and tribulation lay ahead, but there was no more doubt about the end. [...] Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.1
Winston Churchill knew something - he saw something - that completely changed his perspective on the war. “This is going to be a mess, and I don’t know exactly how it’s going to happen, but I know how this will end.” And he comported himself throughout the war with that kind of confidence. That’s essentially the spirit of our text this morning. We’ve seen something, and we know something. Something has been revealed to us about the world, and about the future, that changes our perspective on everything. Let’s look at it.
The text begins with a “therefore.” As they say, when you’re studying the Bible, any time you see a “therefore” you need to ask yourself what it’s there for. In this case the “therefore” is pointing back to everything that has come before it in the chapter. Peter’s letter, like all of the epistles, is a wonderful blend of theological truth and practical instruction. And of course it’s always the one that leads to the other. If the gospel isn’t true, then the truth is that it doesn’t matter what you do. It really doesn’t matter. But if the gospel is true, then it matters very much. So in verses three through twelve Peter describes the salvation that is ours in Christ, and in verse thirteen, where we’ll pick up this morning, he turns to the instruction - the “so what.”
The way that Peter describes our salvation in the opening of the book creates a tension. It highlights the “already and not yet.” He says that we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Christ from the dead.” That’s already true. We’ve been born again “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” The inheritance has already been secured but is being kept for you in heaven for a later time. You also, right now “are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed.” And he says, “you don’t now see him” with your eyes, but you believe and rejoice, “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” You can feel the tension. It’s done and accomplished, and you experience it now, but it is not yet fully revealed.
The command in verse 13 is to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Then there are two clauses about being sober-minded and ready for action, which elaborate on that command. We’ll think about those in a minute, but let’s start with the call to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Without even knowing exactly what it means, when you hear that phrase, “the revelation of Jesus Christ,” it should make you should sit up a little straighter. There’s something inside of you that thrills at the thought of the revelation of Jesus Christ. We want that. Though we don’t see him in the flesh, we believe. We believe that Jesus Christ is king. We believe that he is at the right hand of God the Father, right now, in power, and that he is actively ruling over creation. Though we “seek His face2”, we look at the world around us and it feels like he is hidden; almost, if you’ll pardon the metaphor (it’s actually an old metaphor), almost like he’s wearing a mask. And in a sense, he is. (I’m aware that a mask metaphor is fraught with danger, but stick with me.) Martin Luther talked about the “masks of God.” So did Herman Melville. Melville was the better poet. This is what he said:
Hark ye yet again- the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event- in the living act, the undoubted deed- there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask!3
And so that’s what we do. It’s hard to see the “little lower layer.” But we try in faith to strike through the mask - to pierce the veil and see the face that lies behind it. So many around us don’t believe there’s anything behind the mask. But one day, we hope, and we believe, that all will be revealed. Remember, we learned in our Daniel study that the word “apocalypse” means “a revelation - an unveiling.” That’s what apocalyptic literature in the Bible is doing. And in fact, all of the New Testament is apocalyptic in a sense. It shows us what’s going on behind the things that we see with our eyes, and tells us how the story is going to end. The Bible promises, over and over, that one day all will be revealed. But even now, if we have eyes to see, God shows us the little lower layer. He gives us a glimpse of the face that’s behind the mask. There’s an “already” and a “not yet.” We’ll talk about that this morning. But whatever form the revelation of Christ takes, you want it. To see Christ is to see the face of God4. When Christ is revealed, it’s glorious. When Christ is revealed, it’s grace to us. Peter says to set your hope on that grace.
When Peter talks about the “revelation of Jesus Christ” that brings this grace on which we set our hope, he’s pointing us to the end of the story. The revelation - the unveiling- that all of history is moving toward is the return of Christ in the flesh; the day of judgment at the end of history when the dead will be raised and all will be set right. That’s the great unveiling when the mask is finally removed and the whole world sees Jesus for who he is. In Peter’s mind, the “revelation of Jesus Christ” in verse thirteen is the point where the “not yets” in the tension that we saw above are fully realized. It’s the point where the salvation that is being kept in heaven gets fully revealed. The “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” becomes yours. The faith that for now is being tested by various trials finally results in praise and glory and honor.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians that if that day isn’t coming, then we’re all just kidding ourselves, and there is no hope. He says:
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
- 1 Corinthians 15:16-19
If that day isn’t coming, then stop wasting your time. There is no hope. Go die in whatever way seems best to you. But in fact, Christ has been raised, and so shall we be. Paul assures us:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
- 1 Corinthians 15:51-53
Paul says that your hope depends, ultimately, on that day when the dead are raised and the last enemy, death itself, is put under his feet. Peter describes it as a grace, and says that we should set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. You could think of grace in this verse as blessing. Grace is a big, broad word. Peter described it earlier as an inheritance, ready to be revealed. I don’t know exactly what that grace is, but I know that we want it. Even more than that, our hope is set on it. What does it mean to “set your hope” on that grace? Later in the same Corinthians passage, Paul says this:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
- 1 Corinthians 15:57-58
That phrase, “knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” is helpful. Hope is a weak and overused word these days. But for Christians, hope is solid and meaningful. Hope is confidence that your labor is not in vain. When we say that someone has no hope, we mean that in their mind, nothing that they do can possibly matter. It’s all in vain. If you have hope, you can keep going because you believe that it will be worth it in the end. Your labor will not be in vain. That’s what Christians mean when we talk about hope. Hope isn’t a warm fuzzy feeling of happiness. It’s confidence that what you are doing matters and will not be in vain. But hope has to be grounded in something that’s true, or it’s just delusion.
Paul says that if that day of future revelation isn’t coming, then you have no hope. But Peter and Paul agree, along with the rest of your Bible and with millions upon millions of saints before you, that that day is coming. You know how this is going to end. Remember that, and know that your labor and your suffering are not in vain. The reason that you can keep working, and keep suffering, is because there is a day of vindication coming when you will hear that word from your heavenly Father, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and enter into my rest.”5 The Bible promises us that there is a final day of revelation coming when the whole world will stand in front of their King, and he will be shown in all of his glory, and we will receive the fullness of our inheritance.
But I want to remind you, also, that the day of final judgment is not the only revelation of Jesus Christ, and it isn’t the only vindication that his people receive. Not by a long shot. We absolutely set our hope on that final unveiling. But that’s not the only source of hope for the Christian, because not only do we know something about the future, but God has given us eyes, now, to look at the world around us and see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Paul describes our conversion as an unveiling, where God gave us eyes to see behind the veil.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
All the unbeliever sees is the veil. We’ll see this morning that Peter talks about our “former ignorance.” Before Christ, we didn’t see, we didn’t know. But no longer.
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
- 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
The gospel message is that Jesus Christ is Lord. He’s the one behind it all. And God who makes light shine out of darkness has shown in our hearts and pierced the veil so that we can see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And we see it everywhere. Everywhere we look, we see the glory of Christ being revealed. He’s always putting forth the moldings of his features from behind the mask. Our call as Christians is not to miss it. “Strike through the mask!” We’re talking about how Peter’s letter gives us perspective. As people of God, our perspective is different. When we look at the world, we don’t just see the mask. We see Jesus Christ behind it - working, ruling, saving, bringing the Father’s plan to fruition. And any time Christ is revealed, there is grace and hope that comes to his people.
Daniel reminded us last week that Jesus Christ is Immanuel, “God with us.” And though he isn’t with us in his body, he is truly with us. When we say that Christ is with us, it’s not a metaphor. He is truly with us, and our eyes are open for signs of his presence.
One of the most important ways that’s true is right here. Every Sunday when we gather here in God’s presence and worship, and we eat at his table, and our elders open up the Word and preach to us, Jesus Christ is being revealed to us. And it’s not just that we’re learning more about him. We believe that he’s actually here with us in a real and mysterious way.6 We look at the bread and the wine, and we don’t just see bread and wine. We see Christ behind it. Christ is behind the worship. He’s behind the spoken Word. He’s behind the encouragement from your brother or sister. He is revealed to us in all of it. Is there grace that comes to you when we gather here each week? You bet there is. And when you come here, do you experience hope, in the real sense of assurance that your labor is not in vain? You bet.
As Christians, we see Christ everywhere we look. When you read the news, we don’t just see a world falling apart. We see Christ being revealed. We sometimes glibly say that these feel like apocalyptic times. And they are. Not because we think Jesus is about to come back. Of course he could, but we don’t speculate about that. We mean that the true nature of things is being revealed. False gods are being exposed. False hopes being torn down. In those things we see the hand of God at work. Christ is being revealed as King, and when that happens there is grace that comes to God’s people.
All of this, of course, affects the way we think and behave. We have a different perspective. Paul said that we have seen the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Like Moses, when he came down from the mountain, we bear the mark of those who have seen God - who have seen behind the veil. We have been changed. And also, we live in confident anticipation of something that hasn’t happened yet. We know how this ends. We live and work and suffer with hope - with confidence that it will not be in vain because a day is coming when we will see him face to face and the salvation that is ours in Christ, as sons and daughters of God, will be fully revealed. That also changes a person.
What are the marks of someone who has this perspective? Let’s turn our attention to that. “Preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus.” The first thing that he says is that we will have minds that are prepared for action. What Peter says, literally, is “girding up the loins of your mind.” If you’ve been in church for a while, you’ve heard that phrase, “gird up your loins.” We chuckle when we hear it. But for Peter’s audience, it would have meant the same as if we said “tighten your belt” or “lace up your boots.” It’s the same idea. It just means, “get ready for action.” A long tunic might be very comfortable, but it is not conducive to moving around. So to “gird up your loins” meant to tie up the fabric of the tunic around your legs so that you could move about more freely. You’d gird up your loins to run, or work, or for battle. So Peter says that we should have minds that are girded up and ready for action. What kind of action does Peter have in mind? Maybe Peter was remembering the words of Jesus which Luke records in Luke 12:
Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.
- Luke 12:35-37
That encouragement to stay awake is another way of getting at the same thing. “Stay dressed for action” and “stay awake.” Jesus told his disciples multiple times to “stay awake.” He admonished Peter for literally not staying awake in the garden when Jesus went to pray. But he also told them on the Mount of Olives when he was prophesying the end of the age, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” Stay awake and dressed for action, like men who are waiting for their master to come home.
When you think about what it means to be servants ready for action as you anticipate the master coming home, you might get the image of someone frantically running around the house, picking things up, making preparations, anxious about the hour. “If only I knew what time he was coming.” Or you might think of a prepper, stockpiling canned goods and ammo because you have a sense that things are going to get worse at the end and you’d better be prepared. But that isn’t the picture that the Bible gives us. James tells his readers:
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
- James 5:7-8
Whatever James has in mind, he says it’s at hand. And yet still, his call is to be patient, like a farmer waits for the harvest. The farmer doesn’t sleep the day away, but neither is he frantic. He works, and he waits. Paul also, in 1 Thessalonians, right before he describes the day of the coming of the Lord, says this:
But we urge you, brothers, [...] to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12
The New Testament writers had a sense that things were going to get crazy for their readers pretty soon, and they did. And still, this is the kind of action that they were called to be ready for. “Aspire to live quietly.” “Work with your hands.” “Be doers of the word.”7 “Love one another.”8 There is not a hint of panic in any of those calls to action. Even in times when you might have thought that something extraordinary was called for, the call to action is a very ordinary one. The call is to be faithful. The same is true for us. We live in extraordinary times. Big, important things seem to be happening. And there might be practical changes that you make in your life in response to particular changes in the world. But your call to action is an ordinary one. Live quietly, work hard, come to church, study the Word, teach your children. And the stranger and more dangerous things get, the more you press in to those ordinary means of grace that God has given us for navigating life in this world.
It’s this kind of faithful, ordinary life that reflects a hope that is fully set on the promised grace of God. Our hope is not in any clever solution that the world has to offer. And boy do they have them to offer. But don’t put your hope in experts or their plans. Our hope is in the grace that God has promised to us, which will be full and complete on the day that he returns for his own, but that comes to us now in the ordinary, grace-filled labor that he has called us to.
But don’t let the call to the ordinary lull you to sleep. Peter says that we’re to have minds that are awake, prepared for action. The action is ordinary, but Christians are those with eyes wide open to look at the world and see the face of Christ behind it all. Strike through the mask! For most of us, the Christian life isn’t the battle for courage to do the extraordinary. It’s the battle for faith to sanctify the ordinary. The mind that is ready for action sees Christ in everything that you do. Christ at the dinner table, Christ in the bedtime story, Christ in the communion bread, Christ in the morning commute. Christ before me, Christ behind me. Christ to my left and to my right. So be ready for action.
The second thing that Peter says will characterize someone with this kind of perspective is that they will be “sober-minded.” Be prepared for action (or “awake”) and sober-minded. These two instructions, to be awake and sober, are often found together. Paul, in another passage with apocalyptic overtones, says in 1 Thessalonians:
For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. [...] But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:2-8
Paul says to “keep awake and be sober.” And Peter says that our minds are to be ready for action and sober. Let’s think about that and look at some other places in the Bible to shed some light on what it means to be sober-minded. The most obvious meaning is the place to start. To be sober means to be “not intoxicated.” Don’t be drunk. Paul says in Ephesians 5, “Don’t get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”9 That’s a straightforward command and we should obey it. But in the context of 1 Peter, you can see the problem with being drunk. If alcohol is your way of dealing with the anxiety of life, then you are not setting your hope on the promised grace of God. And if you’re buzzed all the time, your mind is certainly not sharp and ready for action. There is a hopelessness implied in the act of regularly deadening your mind and your senses with alcohol. Christians are to be awake and sober. You all know this, but it’s worth saying. The alcohol question requires wisdom, not law, because two things are true. Wine is gift from God to be enjoyed with gratitude.10 We don’t believe that alcohol is sinful. But too much drink leads one into sin.11 And be aware that just because you aren’t a raging drunk - the kind that gets the cops called out - doesn’t mean you’ve got this one just right. If you’ve discovered that your evenings at home after work are just a lot easier to endure with a mild buzz that lets you mentally check out on a regular basis, then that’s a problem. Remember, that the three or four hours that you have with your wife and children every evening - that’s game time. That’s your battlefield. That’s the action that you’re called to be ready for. So be sober-minded and ready for action. With alcohol, as with all things, what’s needed is self-control.
Self-control is a key part of sober-mindedness in the Bible. Later on in chapter 4 Peter says, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”12 Paul does the same thing in 1 Timothy when he says that “An elder must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled …”13 In Titus 2 he applies that to the rest of us.
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior [same idea], not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.
- Titus 2:2-6
That covers all of us - older men, older women, younger women, younger men. All of us are to be sober-minded and self-controlled. And I think we all have a general sense of what that looks like, but Peter fills it out for us with this contrast in verse 14. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” That’s it. Be sober minded, not conformed to the passions of your former ignorance. Let’s think about that.
Paul says in Philippians of the enemies of the cross of Christ that “their god is their belly.”14 In Titus he says that “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures.”15 Some of you have testimonies of a life before Christ that was fueled by nothing more than satisfaction of physical cravings. All of us know what it’s like to give in to our appetites in a “moment of passion” and do something that we know is wrong. But Christians are not slaves to our passions and pleasures. Because we have been born again to a living hope, there are certain things that we just don’t do any more. “If the dead aren’t raised, then let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”16 But the dead are raised, and you know it. You’ve seen behind the mask. You once were ignorant, but now you know something that changes your perspective and changes your behavior. Lewis said that the head rules the belly through the chest.17 Because you’ve been born again and God has purified your heart, your god is not your belly.
But for those whose god is their belly, it works in reverse. The belly rules the head. In 2 Timothy, Paul says:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded …
- 2 Timothy 4:3-5
As goes the belly, so eventually goes the head. “Having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” It’s like there is a twisted passion that creates a rumble down in the belly that works its way up to the head and makes the ears itch. And they’re looking this way and that, trying to find someone who will scratch the itch and tell them what they want to hear, which is that it’s ok for them to have this thing that they want, to satisfy this craving down in their belly. I don’t have to tell you that there is a lot of that going on in the world right now. Uncontrolled appetites, especially sexual appetites, have created a market for teachers who will put a veneer of acceptability on truly bent and twisted stuff. Whatever it is that you want, you won’t have to look far to find someone with a degree and a TV show who will tell you that it’s a good thing and that you should go for it, and that the one who would deny you what you want is actually the evil one. You can see that when the belly rules the head, everything gets inverted. Our culture has reached the point where we regularly call good evil, and evil good, out loud, in public, and without shame. Everything is upside down. “But as for you, always be sober-minded.” So next time you see a professor or a politician stand up and declare that good is bad and girls are boys, etc., remember that their god is their belly, and they have accumulated teachers for themselves to suit their own passions. But you be sober minded, listeners to truth, committed to sound doctrine. Be on your guard - be awake - ready for action. These lies become so ubiquitous that we can loose focus and start to treat them as normal. Don’t - stay awake and sober-minded.
When we talk about having itching ears, there’s a ditch on our side of the road that we have to watch out for as well. We have our own tendency to accumulate teachers for ourselves who tell us what we want to hear. I am just as guilty of this as everyone else. At our men’s retreat a few weeks ago we were taught from the book of Proverbs about the importance of walking with the wise, because our friends actually shape our character. There’s a lot of truth to the adage that you become the average of your five closest friends. And most of us are ok with that. We like our friends. But think about your favorite podcast or TV host, and consider how many hours in a week they spend talking to you compared to your closest friend. A much scarier adage, but perhaps a true one, would be that you become the average of your five favorite talk show hosts. That should give you chills. Be sober-minded about which voices you give regular access to your mind.
In times like the ones we live in, and maybe especially in our circles, we have a natural desire to seek out and find the true explanation for what’s going on - the way things really are. And there are lots of people out there ready to tell us. Again, I’m guilty of it as well. About the only explanation for things that I’m certain is wrong is the one I hear on the news. So the problem with that kind of mindset is not that it’s too cynical, or that the theories are crazy. The problem is the itching ears. It’s the intoxicated mind that is always seeking out someone to tell us what, down in our belly, we want to be true. Be sober-minded, not conformed to the passions of your former ignorance. You know the explanation. You’ve seen the face behind the mask. You might not know the details, but you know how the story ends. And more than that, you know what you’re supposed to do in the meantime.
Peter says later on in chapter 5, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”18 If the devil’s goal is to pick you off, how’s he going to try to do it? We know this about him. He’s going to lie to you, and tempt you to put your hope in something other than the grace of God. This is the only mention of the devil in either of Peter’s letters, and his one piece of advice on how to resist him is this: be sober-minded. Don’t be the kind of person with itching ears who chases after the thing that they want to hear. That’s just how you’ll fall into his trap. The lesson here is not that you should believe what you hear on the news. But for the sake of your soul, beware of having itching ears. Be sober minded about who you give your attention to. Pay attention to sound doctrine. Give pride of place to the teachers who God has put in authority over you, and who love you.
One other thing to say about this. Peter is not condemning passion, per se. To be sober-minded does not mean that we are stoic or unemotional. This is Peter after all. We know him. Peter was full of passion. In chapter 4, right after he says that we’re to be self controlled and sober-minded, he says to “be fervent” in your love for one another. To be sober-minded is not the same as being dispassionate. But it does mean that we are not governed by our passions. You’ve heard the saying that emotion is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. In our house we talk about your emotion as a horse, on a path, on the side of a mountain. As long as you keep the horse on the path, he’s your friend. Christians are not unemotional. But our joy, and our sadness, are informed by a different perspective. We have seen behind the mask. To be sober-minded means that your emotions are shaped and governed by the fact that you are no longer ignorant. You know something important about the situation. The head rules the belly through the chest. Our emotions aren’t dull, but they’re informed. So when tragedy strikes we grieve, but with hope. When someone wrongs us, we are affected, but we aren’t consumed by anger. Christians are to be characterized by thoughtful, considered joy. Christians ought not to be sulky, and we ought not to be silly. The happiness of a Christian is thick and deep. It has weight. It’s the kind of happiness that you can barely stand, because behind every little happy moment you see the face of Christ. And in his face there is a happiness that is sweeter and deeper than you can imagine. Every little unexpected happiness that comes to you in this life is like a leak in the dyke. It’s small enough on its own. But you know that behind it, and implied by it, is a massive river of joy that will one day flood the whole world.
Now finally, notice now how Peter frames all of this as a matter of obedience. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” It’s possible that the call to be like obedient children makes you bristle a bit. We just finished talking about being sober-minded and ready for action in a way that sounded very grown-up. Then he calls us children. But don’t let that trip you up. There are ways in which the Bible tells us to be like children, and ways in which we are told not to be like children. Paul says in Corinthians, “do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”19 But at the same time, when Jesus said, “unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,”20 it was a hard saying. There is a fundamental posture of helplessness at the very heart of Christian faith that can be offensive to a prideful heart. We just have to kill that and recognize that we have no strength or maturity to offer to God apart from what we receive from him as his children. So there are ways in which we are not to be like children, such as sober-mindedness and readiness for action, as well as some of the ways in which we are, such as obedience.
What Peter is really pointing to here is not a posture of childishness, but rather to our relationship to the Father. He says in verse 17 that we “call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds.” And we saw how earlier he described our salvation as an “inheritance.” Peter is reminding us of our status, not as slaves, but as sons. And our posture toward the Father is that of an obedient son. Our obedience to the Father is childlike in the sense that it is unquestioning. Even if we don’t understand, even if we think we know better, we obey because he our Father. Our life is characterized by obedience to the Father. What the phrase literally says here is “as children of obedience.” That should remind you of places like Ephesians where those outside of the family of God are called “sons of disobedience” or “children of wrath.”21 So it isn’t as if the heathens outside get to act like grown-ups, but we Christians have to be like children. Quite the opposite actually. Jesus said that they are of their father, the devil.22 When we were adopted into God’s family, we received the mark and we went from being children of disobedience to children of obedience. And as children of obedience, Ephesians says that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, that is Christ.”23
Verse 15 says, “but 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.’” To be holy, remember, means to be separate, set apart. Later on Peter says that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”24 If something is holy then it has been separated and devoted. Separated from the common - the profane, and devoted in the sense of being set apart for a specific purpose. In this case, again, the contrast is with the “passions of your former ignorance.” Don’t be conformed to the old life of ignorant passion. Be separate from that and devoted to this. Just as God is separate from sin and devoted to his own honor, so should we be.
Peter is quoting from Leviticus. The Lord says this phrase, “You shall be holy for I am holy” a couple of times in Leviticus. In both cases you get the sense that this is the heart of the matter. This is the foundation that the law sits upon. It’s the “why” behind all of the particular do’s and don’ts that the law contains. “You shall be holy because I am holy. Now here’s what I want you to do.”
It’s interesting that Peter takes this citation from Leviticus and applies it to New Testament believers without any qualification. So if you’re tempted to think that the Old Testament law is just gone and done away with, and has no relevance to Christians today, this should give you pause. Peter drops this bit of law in here and says, “so it is written.” “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” For sure, our relationship to the law has changed. But this part hasn’t changed. “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” It’s the foundation of all Christian ethics. It’s the “why” behind every command in the Bible. He didn’t just say, “you shall be holy because I told you to be holy.” That would be true and binding. That’s obedience. But there is more than just obedience implied here. We don’t experience God’s law as slaves, we experience it as sons. If we were only slaves, then obedience would still be called for. But as sons, we don’t merely obey, we also imitate our Father. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy.” The heart of a son or daughter toward their father is not merely one of fearful compliance. It’s also one of admiration and imitation. Ephesians 5 says “be imitators of God as beloved children.” From the outside, imitation may not look much different from obedience, because God’s law shows us what he is like. But there is a heart difference between obedience and imitation. We do obey, because we were told to, and we do conduct ourselves with fear as we’ll hear about next week. But what imitation implies, and that simple obedience lacks, is love. Our obedience to God is done with fear and reverence - yes, but also love and admiration. You bear the mark of one who has seen behind the veil. The mark of holiness. “As he who called you is holy” - he who called you, saved you, guarded you, endowed you with an inheritance that will never fade away - “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy.”
Let’s conclude and think about application. The call to be sober-minded, ready for action, obedient, and holy, doesn’t point to any one particular application. These are character issues, and we plod our way toward godly character, a little bit at a time. But we’re at the start of a new year, and this is an excellent time to take stock of some of the areas that we talked about today, and choose a few to work on. Maybe, in the spirit of being sober-minded and ready for action you want to cut down on alcohol, or cut down on your media intake, or jump start your Bible reading or family devotionals. I encourage you to embrace the new year as an opportunity to resurrect some things, and put some others to death. And that’s exactly how I encourage you do think about it. I love the fresh start of the new year, and I fully embrace the new year’s resolution. But don’t think of them as resolutions. Think of them as resurrections. There is a death and resurrection pattern that God has built into creation, and it shows up everywhere. It shows up in the way our bodies work and the way we keep time. Every night you experience a sort of death and resurrection that comes with a new beginning. Every week as well, you work and then come here and meet with Jesus and he gives you rest, and then sends you back out for another week. That’s a kind of death and resurrection. The new year is a kind of resurrection as well. It’s a hopeful time. Don’t be burdened by the pressure of trying to keep a resolution. Experience the grace of a resurrection. None of those applications that I mentioned are ground-breaking or new. Kill a few things, resurrect some others. Put down the phone, pick up the Bible. Rinse and repeat. But if we have eyes to see him, Christ is there, behind it all, revealing himself to us.
We are a church built on the Bible, guided and empowered by the Spirit, striving to make disciples, and pursuing holiness in the context of robust biblical relationships.
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