The Agora
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Be ye holy (1Pe 1:13-16)

"Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance; but as He Which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy" (1Pe 1:13-16).
Peter is quoting an Old Testament passage, or rather a series of passages, from Leviticus:

Lev 11:44,45: In the context of a section prohibiting certain foods, and making a distinction between clean and unclean animals. The reason for this call to holiness: "For I am Yahweh that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God" (v 45).

Lev 19:2: The commandment to holiness comes here at the head of a series of injunctions, which include "Fear your father and mother", "Keep My sabbaths", and "Turn from idols".

Lev 20:7,26: The same commandment again ("Be ye holy: for I am the Lord your God") occurs at the beginning and end of a catalogue of sexual laws -- -against fornication, incest, adultery, and so forth. Again, the same reason for this call to holiness is given also: "For I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be Mine."

This reason for holiness is echoed in Peter's letter, where after the verses cited above he reminds the believers that they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ out of their former "useless way of life" (1Pe 1:18,19), so as to be a holy nation, a purchased people, kings and priests who have been delivered out of darkness into light (1Pe 2:9,10).

Lev 21:8: Priests were to be "holy unto God" -- -- that is, not defiled with the dead.


The basic ideas of both the Old and New Testament words for "holy" (Hebrew "kadesh" and Greek "hagios") are quite similar: They signify "set apart, pure, sanctified". This process of being called out to form a distinct community or congregation, this separating or severing of a special group for a special purpose (Lev 11:45; 20:26), is the means by which the "ecclesia" is formed. Under the Law, as we have seen in Leviticus, God's people were set apart, or made "holy", physically -- -- that is, they were brought out of Egypt, placed under dietary restrictions, commanded to abstain from immorality and idolatry, and constantly reminded of the divine deliverance that set them apart. This separateness in a physical sense required even the extermination of the Canaanite nations in their midst.

But, under Christ's "law", the ecclesia is to be a congregation of "called-out" and "set-apart" ones even while in the midst of evil men and evil institutions:

They are to be a "city set on a hill", an "island" of light in a sea of darkness (Mat 5:14-16), harmless and blameless in the midst of a crooked and perverse people (Phi 2:14,15). Their "holiness" is to be not so much one of erecting physical barriers between themselves and that which is unholy, but instead a spiritual separation and preparation of mind and attitude and conduct.


1Pe 1:16 is an echo of Matt 5:48:

"Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
The word "perfect" (again, both in Hebrew and Greek) means "to be complete or finished", as a "perfect heart" -- one that is whole, undivided in its loyalties, complete in its integrity; in a word, "holy". A consideration of holiness, therefore, leads us naturally to Christ's "Sermon on the Mount": the living heart of the Truth, the "manifesto of the Kingdom". "If ye love me," said the Master, "keep my commandments." And here they are: prayer, self-denial, loving one's enemies, giving, preaching.

"Be ye therefore perfect." Does Christ really expect us to be "perfect"? What he does expect (even demand) is that we exert every effort in that direction. He. requires no more than the very best we can do, but he will accept no less. This command leaves us absolutely no excuse for relaxing our efforts at any point short of perfection, or complete holiness. The great example is God Himself, awesome as that example may be:

"Be ye holy, for I am holy."

"Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect."
Holiness is both a series of acts and a state of mind. It cannot be one without the other. To the Pharisees it was the first but not the second, and their lives became an endless round of external, superficial "obedience". But we may easily drift to the other extreme: Growing complacent in our reliance on the mercy of God, we may come to act as though "holiness" is nothing but a state of mind, and "deeds" make no real difference, because after all Christ can forgive!

It is true that Christ can and will forgive, and salvation is by grace and not by works. But our works -- -- our acts of "holiness" -- -- are the only means of putting ourselves into the position where we may hope for and expect forgiveness when we fail. The crucial truth is that God will not forgive our shortcomings unless we are seriously striving for holiness and perfection!


It is common however, for man to offer objections (even if subconsciously, and only to himself) to a life of holiness. Such objections fall into several categories:

"All people fall Short of perfection and holiness; so I am content with my failings": But the question should not be: "Is absolute perfection possible?" but rather: "Do I come as near perfect holiness as sincere intention and careful effort can take me?" Jesus has said, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able" (Luke 13:24).
Many will at the last fail to obtain salvation, not because they made no effort, but because they did not make effort enough!

"I am so much better than most people; surely 'that' is enough": This was of course the common mistake of the Pharisee, concerned as he was with the outward appearance. But it may be our mistake also. Are we, perhaps, "better" than the world in externals only? A little more Bible reading, more regular attendance at "church" meetings, a little more care in refraining from the grosser and more obvious sins? Such a self-perception may be terribly dangerous, because it can lull us into a complacent, sleepy satisfaction. And we shall find at last that we have been no more than "white-wash jobs"! "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Mat 23:27,28).

"Love is the important thing; works are secondary": But Jesus has said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." Where in the Bible is love an emotion, and not an action? What is love, after all, if it is not obedience? Can disobedience be a manifestation of love?


It is evident, then, that Scriptural holiness is the mind of Christ, assimilated to ourselves (Phi 2:5). To the degree we make his mind ours, we are united and single and "perfect" in our loyalties (Mat 6:21-24). Life is too short to serve two "masters", whether it be God and business, or God and gardening, or God and physical fitness. Holiness, then, involves the first step of "choosing the Kingdom". If we have not chosen first the kingdom of God (v 33), it will make no difference what we have chosen instead!

Is this last statement true? Will it really make no difference whether we choose drugs, or a business promotion? Whether we choose politics, or football? Money, or family? Whether we choose, in short, the "disreputable", obviously unworthy pursuits... or the "respectable", society-pleasing pursuits? Surely it will make no difference that really matters, for we will have missed the purpose for which we were formed, and rejected the one thing that has any lasting value. Does it matter to a man dying in the desert, by which wrong road he missed the only well?


Acts 5 records the sad tale of Ananias and Sapphira, early disciples who pretended to be something more than they were. Caught between two worlds, desiring to have one foot in each, imperfect in their devotions, they lied to the Holy Spirit. They kept back part of the sales price of their possessions, and were struck dead for their pains.

We have "sold" the "old man" and laid the proceeds at the feet of Jesus. Have we also kept back part of the price? -- -- "I will do this and that for Jesus and then something else for myself." If we have taught ourselves to think this way as a matter of course, then we will never be "holy". We will never even be really happy. The "natural man", like a little parasite, just will not quite let go. The less he is "fed", the more he will complain and make a nuisance of himself... until he is truly dead!
Jesus says, "Give me all. I don't want 50% of your time and 20% of your money. I want you! I haven't come to torment your 'old man', but to kill him once and for all. Hand him over, and I will give you a new self... a new man!"

Surely, if the cross of Christ is worth anything, it is worth everything. Surely, if Jesus is the Son of God, we must serve him and him alone. Surely, if we recognize that we need the "cure" for sin and death, we must sign up for the "full treatment". Surely, there can be, in this war, no battles of "containment" or "limited objectives", but a fight to the finish:

"Be ye holy, as I am holy."

"Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven in perfect."

Imagine yourself a living house. Jesus comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he's up to: he's fixing the plumbing and mending the leaky roof, and you're not surprised. In fact, you're rather pleased with the improvement.

But soon he starts knocking out walls and adding a new wing -- courtyards and towers are going up everywhere. It's all such a fuss, and the hammering never stops, and you're tired and fed up, and all you ever wanted to be was a decent little cottage, no better than most. But he's building a palace!

Why is he going to all this trouble? Well, you see, Jesus intends to come and live ill this house himself.

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