A Way to Holiness

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Easter 3
April 23, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Peter's first letter to the churches gives great teaching around his call to holiness. Our task is to let this teaching influence and shape how we live Christian lives among unbelievers.

A quick Google search identified 35 groups active in the United States today with titles ending with the word "Anonymous.". Some of them we recognize easily: AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), Al-Anon (for friends and families of alcoholics), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), and GA (Gamblers Anonymous). Others may surprise us: CLA (Clutterers Anonymous), FAA (Food Addicts Anonymous), SA (Sexaholics Anonymous) and WA (Workaholics Anonymous).1 All of these groups grew out of the recognition that it is very hard to conquer entrenched habits and lifestyles that we recognize as harmful in our lives. Millions of people have overcome serious addictions through faithful participation in these kinds of groups.

The fact is, however, that many of us, or perhaps most of us, face problems and issues in our lives for which no Anonymous group exists. There is a familiar phrase, "Old habits die hard," that has been around for a long time. This phrase has made it into dozens of songs, including one in the movie, Alfie, where Mick Jagger sings a song by the title, "Old Habits Die Hard." The phrase appears, in addition to in the movie, in both country songs and rock and roll lyrics. Why is the phrase so popular? Because it rings true. Old habits do die hard.

That's particularly true when we think about people who have committed their lives to God. Peter, writing in his first letter to the "exiles of the Dispersion," wanted to show people "living hope"2 that God gives them and, as a result of that hope, call them to holiness.3 The good news is that along with the call to holiness, Peter offers a way to get there.

A Call to Holy Living (1 Peter 1:13-16)

Peter begins his instructions by telling them, "Therefore, prepare your minds for action."4 Peter realized they could not expect to easily meet the challenges of being first-generation Christians in a hostile environment. Being a Christian is a life-long commitment. And part of that commitment is knowing that we must be actively engaged in living this life. Preparing our minds for action implies several things. Action, so our understanding of who God is will grow as we learn; action, so we will be looking for ways to serve and love God and to serve and love others; action, so we will be on guard for the slings and arrows the enemy, Satan, will throw at us; action, so we will be stand against the lure of familiar things that would draw us away from God. So, prepare your minds.

"Live in reverent fear during the time of your exile," Peter says. He compares these new believers' situation, living among non-believers, to living in exile. They need, in that situation, to trust God and to support and trust one another. They need God and they need each other to fulfill the commands of holy living.

Then, says Peter, "discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed." Keep your mind and your actions and your intentions and your hope centered fully on Jesus.

Finally, he sums this part of his instructions up by this call to holiness, "... as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct, for it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'"5

A deeper look

Next Peter says, "If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile." Huh? This is one of those verses that may take a second (or third or fourth) reading to make sense of it. I confess (as your pastor) that was my first response when looking at today's reading ... and I certainly read it more than three or four times. So, let's take a deeper look.

This, at first, seems like it's describing God in a negative way, or at least a negative quality of God. In God there is no partiality regarding their deeds, so live in reverent fear. Does that clear it up? No? So, let's turn this around to see that God has a positive regard for all. All people are the same in God's eyes.

The former Gentiles to whom Peter writes are not second-rate citizens. They did not have to become Jews first to become Christians. God does not judge any of us based on gender, race, culture, age, ability, disability or any other way we make distinctions. God sees everyone as people in need of the salvation God alone offers and provides. God sees us all as human beings standing in need of what he offers us through Jesus Christ.

Or, to put it another way, there is nothing we have done or will do or can do that makes us worthy of the grace offered to us by God. But it is also true that there is nothing we have done, or will do or can do that will stop God from offering his abundant grace to us.

Peter goes on to say this in yet another way. "You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ ...." He then lists some of the attributes of Christ and the effect that "through him you have come to trust in God ... so that your faith and hope are set on God."

Living out the call to holy living

Sometimes we just want to be told how to do something. What's our first step? And the next step, etc. That is not what Peter writes to the early believers in the first sections of this letter. Rather, he gives general principles from which his readers should draw the appropriate ways to live a life in Christ. (We should note that as we read further in the letter we do see some concrete examples of how to live as believers in a non-Christian world.)

So, what practical steps can get us from these general principles for holy living?

First, recognize you are living an "exile" kind of life. The old phrase, "live in the world, but not of the world" seems appropriate here. Peter said they once lived in "futile ways inherited from your ancestors." So, while still living in the same place, do not fall back into your old beliefs and practices. Let Christ and his teachings guide your behavior and your beliefs.

Second, as "exiles" know that you need the strength and help that comes from being together with your fellow exiles.

It's no wonder that people who find themselves outside their native land will often find comfort and fellowship among other "expats" (someone living and/or working in a country other than their country of citizenship). They know they need the fellowship of like-minded people and friends.

Third, live knowing you are under the precious blood of Christ. That is, as you come to know Christ more, your trust will increase. And along with your trust, your actions and boldness for the gospel will increase as you set your faith and hope in God.

Skeptics anonymous

"Hi. My name is George, and I'm struggling to believe."

Perhaps your faith journey started like that: A few timid steps toward a Christian life of holiness and faith. But God has given us help along the way, so we do not have to remain timid and anonymous.

First, remember your heavenly Father loves you. Talk, and listen, to God every day.

Whether you feel like you're living in exile or in the promised land, look for ways to serve God and others every day.

Remember you are not alone. God is with you, and there are other believers walking with you. Seek them out. They need you as much as you need them.

Kyle Childress wrote about the need for fellow believers:

Every Sunday for more than 20 years we have ended worship with a benediction I first learned from an African-American pastor. It begins, "Let's take each other's hands ... Now look who you're holding hands with, and hold on tight! Because we're going to need each other this week."

Several times over the years I've had church members in unexpected crises tell me later, "When I first heard the news, I didn't know what to do or who to call. Then it hit me - who was I holding hands with Sunday? And that's who I called."

I want our people to think in terms of God and each other, each other and God - that we can't have one without the other - so much so that it is habitual, their automatic way of thinking.6

I mentioned the phrase, "Old habits die hard," earlier. It's still true, but it doesn't have to be law in your life. Let God and other believers help you turn from the "futile ways" and walk in God's way, hand in hand with those walking with you.


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