John’s my favorite apostle, hands down. I’ll get into this more another time but for now I want to put that on record.
Having said that, I find Peter absolutely fascinating. His up-and-down behavior, his wild and heartfelt faith, and his ultimate redemption throughout the Gospel narrative draw me in. Every single time. There is some doubt through modern scholarship on whether or not he’s the true author of 1 Peter (he almost certainly didn’t write 2 Peter) but if you are willing to indulge me I would like to treat him as the author for the sake of this blog post.
What I find so wonderful about 1 Peter is the ability of the author to seamlessly weave multiple themes into one lucid, cogent stream of thought. In my most recent study through the book for a sermon series I found myself wrapped up in the “exiles” theme (here and here specifically). These exiles that Peter is addressing are scattered believers – Christians who find themselves living as strangers in a strange land in the sense that their ethics and commitments don’t match the wide palette of cultural norms and practices of these individual regions they live in.
I would contend that Peter sees these exiles – aliens, foreigners, strangers – united in a singular Christian ethic. Though he attacks this from multiple angles to describe it, there’s one buzz word you can slap on Peter’s description of these people: holy. Holiness (simply, being holy) has so much baggage attached to it, mostly from people who want to over-legislate religious practice and fit it into an impossible mold that transcends time and culture. For a very visible example of this take a look at Paul’s treatise of head coverings and think of modern groups that still employ them.
A Simple Formula for Holiness
Peter spends the first chapter of the letter defining his audience and then inviting them into holiness as a form of imitating God. He returns to this invitation in the next chapter and I want to focus on two small passages to lift out a very valuable claim that Peter is making here. The first text is 1 Peter 2:1-3:
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
In verse 1 he challenges his readers to “rid” themselves of a bunch of negative behavior. The greek verb used here for “rid” implies the taking off or laying down. So Peter is saying, “take these things off of you; lay these things down away from you.” In verse 2 he encourages them to “crave spiritual milk” in order that their faith might begin to mature. I like the imagery here of growing up in our salvation and, it’s my opinion here, Peter is talking about the holiness he hung his exhortation on in chapter 1.
I think Peter is giving a formula here for holiness. He’s saying we need to get rid of the unholy and then crave the holy. Rid the bad crave the good. Rid and then crave. Rid and then crave. This is Peter’s key to holiness – rewiring of our desires. James K. A. Smith writes in an excellent book on spiritual formation, “if you are what you love, and love is a habit, then discipleship is a rehabituation of your loves.” I find this distinctly tied to Peter’s treatment of holiness here. The formula is simple: get rid of things that don’t honor God and crave the things that do.
This is both an act of the will and a ministry of the Holy Spirit. Just a bit later in the text, Peter reminds us that we’re fighting a war against sin for our souls. This is huge and shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, we don’t have to do it alone. Peter doesn’t spend the time in this letter to outline it but I think Paul says it best in Romans 8, specifically, we have access to the full power of God in the Holy Spirit. If we are submissive to the Holy Spirit and lean into it, we find a source of great encouragement.
The Purpose of Holiness
Peter doesn’t just spell out the formula for holiness, he shows his cards by revealing its purpose. This brings us to the last text I want to highlight. This is 1 Peter 2:12:
12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
The purpose of holiness is to draw the attention of those who don’t believe to God’s glory. Simply, holiness glorifies God. This should concern us for lots of reasons. The power of the gospel transforms our perspective so that our whole lives become a testament to God’s great glory. God himself wishes that everyone would be saved – this glorifies him and should ping our radar of priorities.
We don’t strive for holiness in order to proper ourselves us. We don’t live holy lives so that we can satisfy some moral checklist and ear God’s favor. We don’t imitate the holiness of God to prove others wrong, to embarrass or humiliate them. We live holy lives among those who don’t believe in the prayerful hope that our good deeds (the opposite of things like envy and malice and deceit) would turn them from ridiculing us to glorifying God.
May we rid ourselves of the unholy and crave the holy – through the willful struggle against sin and the transformative power of the Spirit of God within us – so that the world might praise God in the process.