Peter writes that “just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: be holy, because I am holy” (I Peter 1:15-16). Is it possible that Peter intends to insist that we be holy just as God is holy? Yup.
Why Be Holy?
In Peter’s command to be holy and in his OT quote of the same, the reason for holiness is because God is Holy. Be holy because God is. We are to be holy in everything we do, because God is. At first blush this seems like idealistic hyperbole, like wishful thinking. But maybe not. We were, in fact, created in the image and likeness of God. We aren’t divine, but were made to reflect His divinity. In creation we were made to bear the image and likeness of the one who created us, and in redemption we are created-in-Christ to bear the image and likeness of the One who calls us.
When I am I like Him, when I reflect His image, I am my most authentic self. My truest self is Him. Holiness is not strange or alien; it is truth; it is reality. It is my real self as created by Him who calls me His own.
This begs the question – how can I be holy? Peter’s double imperative includes two different syntaxes. The OT passage he quotes (v. 16) uses syntax that implies that the recipients of the command act in such a way as to be (or become) holy. The onus is on the audience. But Peter’s own voice (v. 15) issues the command passively. This seems to imply that though both the Old and New Covenants contain the same imperative to be Holy, the means of Holiness are not the same. I don’t know if under the OT it was possible to fully embrace / embody the Holiness God required. It seems clear that it was not.
But when Peter says to be holy in all we do, because he is using the passive verb of “be,” he is saying “be made Holy.” In Christ, I am not working or trying to be Holy. In Christ I am made Holy. Made Holy. That is something God does to me and for me in Christ. It isn’t something I try to do; it is something He has made me. The Holy Spirit makes me Holy. God does not give His Spirit to people because they are holy; He gives His Spirit to people to make them Holy. I am the temple of the Holy Spirit. When I know this, and believe it deeply, I live out of that reality, out of that identity. And I act like who I am in all I do. My “do” comes directly from my “who.”
This makes sense, because that is how God is Holy. God’s holiness is simply the normal expression of His Nature. He is Holy in all He does because He IS Holy. God’s holiness is not defined by what he doesn’t do. Holiness is not defined by what it is not. God is not holy because he avoids doing certain things on a sacred list. Holiness originates and emanates from Him.
Therefore, I cannot be holy (or be made holy) by attempting to observe and keep a list of things to do, and avoid another list of things I should not do. No list-keeping will make me holy. Nor can I rely on my own frame of reference to determine what holiness is. My frame of reference is at best limited. Holiness is not my idea. Nor does holiness come from common consent. Holiness does not a rise from a committee nor does it result from a vote. If we rely on lists or on our own ideas, the result can only be a limited or legalistic “less-than.” Instead, we realize, gladly and gratefully, that Holiness comes from God. It is defined by Him and effected by Him.
Yes, scripture provides examples of the attributes of the Holiness God desires, and these examples should absolutely inform our expectations for what the Holy Spirit will produce in our life. These attributes are landscaped throughout epistolary literature, but in general they look like: loving one another deeply, being kind, honest, loyal and compassionate, and forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave us. Further, there are examples of what genuine holiness precludes – attitudes and actions that are fundamentally contrary to the nature of God – most often forbidden are vices like: anger, slander, evil speech, every form of malice, harsh words and hard feelings (yes, those two things are UNHOLY), and sexual impurity of any kind. To be clear on that point: sex is holy, sexual immorality is not. These examples help to form and forge our focus, they inform our faith. But our faith is not in our behavior, it is in the One who calls us and gives us His Spirit. In Christ, God has made me Holy. In scripture, God has given me examples of what that does and does not look like.
So, dear friends, when responding to the God’s great command to be Holy, we have reason, means, and example. Therefore, as image bearers, let us be the likeness of Him who created us and called us. Let us be holy.
If this or any post on this site encourages you, please feel free to share with others. And, as always, thanks for reading.