Advent in 1 Peter, Part 2 (1:13-21)
Last time, we looked at the hope that is set before us in the Advent of Christ, a hope which Peter outlines for us in the first twelve verses. By the way, Peter’s message shows us that we cannot separate the first from the second advents of our Lord. The first advent is important, because it is was necessary to secure the second. This is built into Advent season. Traditionally, the Church has celebrated both advents of our Lord in this season, not just his entrance into the world at Christmas. This is important, because it keeps us from turning this season into just another opportunity for maudlin sentimentality. As we pointed out last time, Jesus didn’t come into this world to make it better for us, but to redeem us out of this world and to prepare us for a New Heavens and New Earth in which righteousness dwells.
We should also consider a third advent of our Lord. That is to say, we should consider his coming into our hearts. That is an important advent as well, because this is what connects each of us personally to the First and Second Comings of our Lord into this world. Some have pointed to this as what Christ was referring to in John 5:25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Even now, those who are spiritually dead in sins hear the powerful voice of the Son of God who creates life in the dead heart and makes us alive. Those who have experienced this present Parousia in the heart will be blessed with eternal life at the future Parousia: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice, and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).
Peter is speaking to those who have experienced this personal Parousia, who have been caused to “be born again to a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). As a result, they have a heavenly inheritance and eagerly await the hope of God’s future grace. Today, we want to consider how this hope, which is anchored in both Advents, is the basis of our present pursuit of holiness. My thesis this morning is simply this: we will pursue holiness as we ought only when our hearts are turned away from this world and turned to heaven. But we need to make this practical and try to understand how we can deploy the truths of Advent to turn our hearts more and more toward godliness and away from sin. That’s what I want to do.
My thesis is based off of verse 13: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This verse is the hinge on which this chapter turns. Verses 1-12 are about the hope that will be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Verses 14 and following are about the life of holiness we are called to live. Verse 13 connects the two halves because it says that the way the first part of the chapter relates to the second part is hope in this future grace. You are motivated to pursue holiness when you set your hope fully on the grace of our future inheritance in Christ.
So Peter calls his readers to prepare their minds for action. Literally, he has told them to gird up the loins of their minds (cf. KJV). This is a figure of speech that came from the practice of gathering up one’s robes and tying them around the waist in order to go on a journey or get to work. So the apostle is telling them that they need to be prepared for mental action. The action we are called to prepare for is setting one’s hope fully on future glory. It doesn’t just happen. We are so easily lured into a way of thinking as if this world is all there is. We need to be constantly reminding ourselves of the hope that is ours in Christ. We have to be purposeful about it. The world is calling for your attention. It is wanting to arrest your gaze and to transfix your affections. If you aren’t being intentional about being heavenly minded, you are probably not going to be.
This is why Peter also tells them to be “sober-minded” as the way they are to set their hopes fully on the coming grace. Calvin helpfully comments, that in saying this the apostle “commends not temperance only in eating and drinking, but rather spiritual sobriety, when all our thoughts and affections are so kept as not to be inebriated with the allurements of the world. For since even the least taste of them stealthily draws us away from God, when one plunges himself into these, he must necessarily become sleepy and stupid, and he forgets God and the things of God.” We cannot glut ourselves on the things of this world, even if the things are in themselves harmless, for our affections have only so much space. If we spend them all on the things of this world, there will be no place for the things of God. Though that doesn’t mean we have to turn ourselves into hermits and monks, it does mean that we must use the things of this world without becoming addicted to them so that God has the preeminent place in our hearts. Is your heart dull to the things of God? It could very well be because you have failed to be sober-minded. It may be time for some house-cleaning in the heart.
Unless we have committed ourselves to setting our hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ, we are not ready to put into practice what the apostle commends to us in the following verses. We are to “not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (14). We are to “be holy in all your conduct” (15). We are told to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (17). We are to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (22). All of this is predicated upon the exhortation in verse 13. The question is, how does this work to produce this kind of life?
First, this kind of life is possible because our hope teaches us that the return on an investment in the pleasures of sin is very short-lived and not worth-while. The apostle does this by contrasting it with the eternal life that is ours through faith in Christ. Sin comes to us with the most plausible inducements. It promises us so much pleasure. It promises us so much ease. It promises us so much comfort. It presents before us the wide gate and broad way. How in the world can we resist such promises instantaneous gratification and pleasure?
The only way we can do this is by reminding ourselves that though sin can give us immediate pleasure, it is pleasure that will not last. And it is pleasure that will one day turn to rottenness. This is what the apostle is getting at when he puts verse 14 after verse 13: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” Passions can be incredibly strong. They can wrestle the most sanctified heart to the ground, if it is taken by surprise. So how do we keep from being taken by surprise? Peter indicates how when he talks about their “former ignorance.” Ignorance of what? I think he is talking about what Christ has brought to us. In particular, he is talking about what the living hope that we have in him. He is talking about ignorance of verses 1-12. In light of this, we are reminded that, as strong as these passions are, they are tied to this present order of things and will one day pass away. They are not worth betting your life upon. Thus the apostle John reminds us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:15-17).
So don’t live as if you were blind to the future. Remember the grace that is coming at the Second Advent of our Lord. Don’t let sin and its passions and lusts trick you into imagining that this world is all there is. It is not, not even close. There is a world to come. The pleasures of sin stop with this world, and they don’t even always attend our journey here. But one thing is sure: when this life is over and we face God in his judgment seat, nothing that sin has given us here will make it worth it then.
Second, this kind of life is possible because our hope reminds us of the one who calls us to that hope: “but as he called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”(15-16). The problem with our world is that we are taught in innumerable ways to think in purely secular terms. In other words, our culture programs us to think that we can exists apart from God. And therefore, we are led to believe that God is irrelevant. Of course, minds that are steeped in this way of thinking are bound to be godless.
But if you have disciplined your mind to think heavenward, if you are setting your hope fully on the grace that is to be brought, it is impossible to really do this, at least in the way Peter imagines, without setting our hope ultimately upon the One who is bringing this hope to us. Our hope is not something we set out to find; rather, it is something which is brought to us, given to us. It is called grace. It is not only a gift, but one which we don’t deserve. And God is the giver. So lifting your mind heavenward means that you must lift your mind God-ward. Thus Paul writes, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
However, once we have lifted our minds toward the God who has called us to this hope, we cannot help but be faced with his all-consuming holiness. You cannot know God if you are uninterested in being holy. God is holy, that is what he is, and we are reminded of this fact over and over again in the Scriptures. And you cannot come face to face with God’s holiness without becoming aware of the ugliness and undesirableness of sin. It is what caused Isaiah to become thoroughly disgusted with his own sin and the sins of his countrymen. When God’s holiness becomes personal, we are reminded that ultimate reality and what should be valued is not defined by our culture but by God.
And we are reminded that the character of the heavenly city, and that to which we ultimately aspire, is defined by the character of God who is holy. We are reminded, therefore, that holiness is not something bad or undesirable or inconsistent with happiness, but rather is necessary and essential for our everlasting happiness and joy. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that everyone associates the word “heaven” or “heavenly” with goodness and happiness and peace and contentment. But our hope reminds us that heaven and holiness go together because heaven is the place where God most fully reveals his glory, and that glory is ultimately the supreme manifestation of God’s holiness.
Ultimately, the Christian hope is not hope for a place but for fellowship with the living God. If your hope is all about golden streets and pearly gates without reference to the God of heaven, then your hope is misplaced. Our hope is in God, and heaven is heaven because God is there. So to hope in a Biblical fashion means that we have set our hopes upon God who is holy. People who are defined by that kind of hope are inevitably going to be holy people.
Third, this kind of life is possible because our hope reminds us that God is more interested in our holiness than he is in our earthly happiness. The apostle brings this out in the next verse: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (17). God does not call us to be citizens of this world. A citizen is different from an exile in that a citizen feels at home in his country, but an exile there does not. A citizen most likely enjoys benefits and freedoms that a sojourner or stranger does not. A citizen probably feels comfortable in his homeland whereas a temporary resident probably does not. In the same way, God is not interested in your feeling at home in this world. We are exiles here. We are strangers passing through.
We are told to place our hope fully in the coming glory, not on the things of this world. And so Peter again and again reminds his readers that they are not citizens but temporary residents in a foreign place. They are not meant to feel comfortable here because this is not there home.
This is necessary for living a life of holiness because holiness is not easy. It calls us to make some hard choices. It calls us to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand – in other words, to do whatever it takes to be holy and to snuff out the sin in our lives. It calls us to discipline ourselves, to die to ourselves, to take up our crosses, to mortify and put to death the sin in our lives. None of those things are easy. None of them are desirable in themselves. We are called to a life that is not liked or appreciated by our fellow men. It may lead to persecution – in fact, Paul says that it certainly will.
And the problem is that when hard things begin to happen to us here in the way of holiness, we can easily begin to become bitter if we don’t remind ourselves that we are not meant to be comfortable here. Our hope doesn’t promise us that. It promises us something, much, much better. But it doesn’t promise us that until we obtain the future grace of God that life is going to be peachy.
Moreover, God disciplines us in order that we may be more holy. He may take things away that we have made into idols so that we will love him as we ought. He may make our lives difficult so that we will find our repose in him and not in our own resources or in the things of this world. I think this is probably what the apostle Peter is getting at when he says that God is a Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds. He’s obviously not saying that we should live in fear because our good works get us into heaven and our bad ones exclude us. What he is saying is that it doesn’t matter who you are in God’s family, he is not going to overlook your disobedience. Like a good Father, he’s going to spank you if you need it.
And you should fear him. No one talks like that anymore in the modern church. But Peter doesn’t hesitate to tell people who relate to God as their Father, that they should fear him. Fear your Father? Yes! Just as any child should have a very healthy respect for his or her father and should fear the consequences when they disobey. Children who do not know how to fear their parents in any sense of the word don’t know how to give them respect, either. Of course, Peter is not talking about a fear that results from an abusive relationship. Rather, this fear is perfectly consistent with a relationship of deepest love and trust. It is because God loves his children so much that he will not show partiality. He won’t let sin go undisciplined, and we ought to be eternally grateful for that reality. And fear him when we sin.
All this reminds us that our hope is not anchored in a life of ease in this world. Holiness is more important than ease and comfort because holiness belongs to character of the world to come. Our hope reminds us that, in disciplining us in this world, God is preparing us for the world to come. We don’t need to become bitter, but to rejoice when hard things make us more like Christ and less like Adam. We need to remember that in acting this way towards us, God is not our enemy but is our Father.
Fourth, this kind of life is possible, because our hope reminds us of the purpose behind the infinite cost that makes it possible. For the apostle continues in the following verses: “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. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifest in the last times for the sake of you who though him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (18-21).
Just because it is grace, does not mean there was no cost to it. It is grace to us, but it came at a terrible cost to God. Or better, the object of our hope is grace because of the cost to God. What was the cost? It was nothing less than “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” So every time we are led to consider our hope we ought also to consider the cost behind that hope.
And that ought to lead to holiness. Peter is essentially asking this question: why would you go back to the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, when you were ransomed by the blood of Christ? That in itself ought to tell you just how beyond believably great your inheritance is. Your inheritance to which you were redeemed was bought, not with money, but by the blood of Christ. In fact, in contrasting Christ’s redemption with silver and gold as “perishable” Peter is saying that our redemption is something that cannot be bought with money. There is not enough money on this planet to accomplish even one person’s ransom from sin. So think of the things you can buy with money. Think of the mansions, the jets, the island homes, the fame and the glory. That can all be bought with money. But the salvation of souls cannot be bought with money. That is because it is infinitely more precious than anything that can be bought with money.
Now compare this with the “futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” Yes, those ways might include earthly power and privilege. Those ways might include uninhibited sensual pleasure. Those ways might include financial security and worldly fame. But Peter looks at them and alerts us to their value: “futile.” These are all things that can be bought with silver and gold, but they cannot last. God has not given you those things. He has not given you pleasures that pass away into regret or pass away with old age. He has not given us things that are perishable. Rather, he has given us something imperishable, and so infinitely wonderful and good that it could be purchased only by the priceless blood of the Son of God. Why would we go on in those futile ways when we have something infinitely better? It is unimaginable folly to do so!
And let us remind ourselves why this cost was necessary. It is necessary because the futile ways are sinful ways. We, along with our forefathers, have rebelled against God. We have committed treason against heaven. We have sinned against infinite majesty and greatness. As a result, we don’t deserve an inheritance. We don’t deserve grace (of course we don’t!). We deserve hell, God’s judgment, and an unendurable eternity away from the presence of God. We deserve a future which makes everything that came before worthless and better if we had never been born.
So how can we, who justly deserve this, instead get this amazing grace? How can God who is holy and just give such gifts to wicked people? He can do this because Christ ransomed us. He can do this because Christ paid the debt we owe to God on account of our sins. And he did this by sacrificing himself in our place and enduring our judgment.
But how do we become the beneficiaries of this sacrifice? How does the ransom become applied to our account? Peter tells us: “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” The apostle is reminding us here that the way we become connected to the redemption purchased by Christ is through faith in Christ. When we are told that through Christ we are believers in God, what Peter means is that the only way we can know that God is for us in blessing instead of against us in judgment is the gospel. The gospel tells us that Christ has made a way for us to be saved. Our faith and hope can be in God because of what Christ has done for us. And that just means that we have believed the gospel, the message that God is for us in Christ.
Have you believed in the gospel? Is your faith and hope in God determined by the message of peace and grace that comes to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ? For that is the only way we can become the inheritors of this great hope. There is no other way under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. There is no way to be an elect exile except through the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus (1:1-2) and that comes to us through the new birth (1:3), which is inseparable from faith in Christ (1:5). Shall you neglect this great salvation when it is offered to you?