I was out praying in front of Planned Parenthood this afternoon with a group of other people when a young man came up and started engaging us about why we would do this. He had his reasons and was definitely not appreciating what we were doing, but it highlighted for me just how different biblical Christianity is from the world’s culture. Everything about us is different. From making God our starting point, to standing for biblical truth, to proclaiming a gospel that most in the world would scoff at, to standing up for life on a hot Wednesday afternoon. This, in essence, is what holiness is. Being set apart...different.
This last Sunday Ron was talking about what it means to be holy. In our series in 1 Peter here in the first chapter we find Peter calling his readers to be a holy people.There are probably a lot of thoughts that come into your mind when the word holiness comes up. The foremost can be that we need to be doing the right things. To be morally upright...to be a good person...some kind of personal perfection. But the biblical definition of holiness is to be consecrated. To be set apart for a particular purpose...an exclusive purpose. This is not just true of people but of things also. The instruments in the temple, the cups, plates, and utensils were holy. They were designated for one purpose, and were not to be used for any other purpose. Peter is telling us this is what we are to be as Christians...HOLY. Set apart exclusively to God for his purpose. Whether it is our time or our money or our energy, we are to be completely set apart to the purpose of God, to bring him glory. Holiness cannot be a mixture of commitments. We cannot be God’s on Sunday and live for ourselves the rest of the week. We can’t give 10% of our money and then use the rest for ourselves. This is not holiness. Holiness means everything is God’s...set apart to Him. To live that way Peter says, would be to live in our “former ignorance”. Peter says “be holy in ALL your conduct”. Not just small portions of it but ALL of it. He goes on to quote God: “You shall be holy for I am holy”. Holiness is about getting a hold of the very thing that drives us; what we truly live for; what shapes our character and what determines the decisions we make and making it all about one thing; about it all being devoted entirely to God. Ron summarized his message for us Sunday in this simple phrase: Holiness is our only fitting response to God and the foundation for our strategy in the world.
But Peter didn’t just stop there, he told us HOW we are to live out our holiness; with fear. Now we have another one of those words that can be very misunderstood. Are we talking about being afraid of God? Staying out of his way? What is the “fear of the Lord”? Sinclair Ferguson said it this way; “That indefinable mixture of reverence, fear, pleasure, joy and awe which fills our hearts when we realize who God is and what He has done for us.” Jerry Bridges defined it this way; “This kind of fear obviously goes beyond simply being afraid of God, for it yields within us such glad responses as adoration, love, honor, and worship. And I would add that these responses are a conscious “reflex” not only to God’s “transcendent majesty and holiness,” as Murray says, but also to His amazing grace and unfathomable love for us in Christ. We stand in awe not only of God’s fiery splendor and absolute purity, but also of His grace and mercy to us.” A person who fears God is most concerned what He thinks. It is that aspect of relating to God where his pleasure is our pleasure and his displeasure is our displeasure. We want to be pleased with what God is pleased with and bring Him pleasure in all we do. The opposite of the fear of the Lord would not a lack of inhibition incoming to God. That is how we ought to feel as Christians. The opposite of the fear of the Lord is the person who does not care what God thinks about what they think, say, or do. In Jeremiah 32:38-41 we can see how God designed the fear of the Lord and holiness to work together. “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of the me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” God will make us holy! He will give us “one heart and one way”. This is holiness; one purpose. Consecrated. We have this singleness of heart for God and experience his goodness and we walk in this holy awe of all that God is. It is the fear of the Lord that keeps us from despising grace. The fear of the Lord is not a fear of God’s judgment and condemnation, it is an appreciation of grace that gives us a heart to live to please God and not to displease him.
So what motivates this desire for holiness in our lives? Peter says it is the fact that we have been ransomed. “knowing 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.” (1 Peter 1:18-19) To ransom is to liberate someone by paying a price. We have been “bought with a price” as Paul said in 1 Cor. 6:20. Peter says we have been bought with the ultimate price...the precious blood of Jesus. He was the perfect, holy sacrifice. Now I don’t know about you, but I for one am filled with awe and wonder that God would go to such lengths to buy me back for Himself at such a cost. The result of God’s redeeming work on the cross is that we have been made holy...set apart wholly as his...and now we want to live holy lives because that is who we are; wholly his. Holy. His.