Written by Eugénio Duarte – General Superintendent, Church of the Nazarene, Lenexa, Kansas, USA
A friend of mine is writing a history of clandestine emigration. He faces the challenge of addressing a topic about which he has found no written proof or material evidence to support the claims that he knows to be true and factual. These claims are based on conversations that he has had with first-hand witnesses. Since this clandestine movement that he is writing about bypassed emigration offices, the communication that the emigrants had with family and friends was all by special or secret codes. My friend has since become a pioneer writer and expert on this subject.
We all know the power of the written word. With so much available, we have to be selective in what we read. Sometimes we choose material by the author’s name, other times by the title, and frequently by the recommendation of friends and people we trust.
Unlike my friend, the Apostle Peter did not have to struggle with lack of material evidence or written proof when he wrote on the topic of holiness. Peter could say with confidence, “It is written.” There was no clandestine act or secret movement involved, so he had plenty of sources. He could use recommendations, and indeed, that is where he started when his brother Andrew introduced him to Jesus (John 1:42). He studied Jesus and knew the many titles by which the Messiah would be called. He also went by the author’s name. In fact, I can imagine Peter asking for an autograph in the meeting Jesus called to discuss the thoughts that people had about him:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13–16, NIV).
Evidently Peter loved to search and select the way he would know the Living Word by titles. The life that Jesus not only came to live but to give, Peter called “the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), “the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8), “love,” and “be holy.”
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But 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”
(1 Peter 1:13–16).
The Power of One Call is to:
BE FULLY DEPENDENT ON THE GRACE OF GOD
It is written in Leviticus 11:44, but illustrated in the life of Jesus, “Be holy, because I am holy.”
This one statement, “Be holy because I am holy,” stands the test of time. No other words speak so convincingly about God’s provision to deal with human nature through His promise of grace.
When a command or a challenge is given without any assurance of a certain result or that a desired goal will be achieved, success is left to chance. However, when a command is given with a promise of fulfillment based on facts, success depends on the obedience of the one who considers himself or herself subject to that command.
Here the command is “be holy.” The promise or assurance of reality is “because I am holy.”
There is no need to fear failure. One does not just try to succeed; obedience is not a game.
This promise comes from God, not only to the Israelites in the desert, but also to us in the 21st century.
In the book of Leviticus, given to Israel, the instructions God gave had to do with both the physical and the spiritual well-being of His people. In order to prevent physical diseases, the law prohibited the use of unclean food available in the desert. This prohibition also resulted in the spiritual health that comes from obedience to God. The command was simple: stay away from the unclean.
In this letter of Peter’s, the instruction flows from the same source with the same purpose—caring for our souls and bodies: do not mess with the impure, the contaminated “because I am holy.”
God is saying, “Relate to me.” Stay away from both the physical and spiritual food that contaminates you. Be clean! Let your mind, soul, and body be clean. Feed your mind, soul, and body with what is pure and clean.
One difficulty people have with the concept of holiness is the way they see sin. In order to try to be holy, they deal with the consequences of sin but not with the sin itself. The consequence of sin is that we become weak, vulnerable, faulty. The sin itself is the power that keeps us captive, dominated, unable.
The statement “I am holy” is not a promise to deliver us only from the consequences of sin in our bodies and minds. It is a promise to deliver us from the power of sin and release us from both the guilt and the contamination of sin.
My body can take in only a certain amount of protein without becoming sick. Proper diet, medication, and exercise keep me healthy. The way my body processes protein is a consequence of a combination of factors. I am not responsible for some of these; doctors tell me that hereditary is a factor. However, diet, medication, and exercise are within my means to avoid the effects of my condition. That I can do. So I am responsible for that much. What I cannot do is change the condition, because it is a consequence of factors I cannot control.
God provides the means, and I provide the will. The appeal is not for me to provide the means but to be willing to accept the provision made by Jesus. By the Spirit’s assistance, I live in responsible obedience by submitting my will. I am then invited to set my hope fully on the grace to be given me at my point of need. When Jesus Christ is revealed to me as the Holy Son of God, I know Him, my hope is in Him, and I rest in His grace.
In my personal struggle to be holy, I came across these verses in 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24:
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
For years I thought I had to be able to do this myself. These verses helped me accept my inability and rest in God. Not only then, but also now and continuously, I trust God’s promised grace. It is not my faith that saves me. It is God’s grace that I accept by faith.
It is not just my justification that happens by faith. I did nothing for my sanctification. I received it by faith, but it was not my faith that made it happen. Faith was the condition. God’s grace is the power.
It is humbling to think that all we have to do for the wonderful blessing of being set free from sin is to trust Him, but that is the fact. It is human nature to want to be able to earn what we enjoy. We cannot earn our salvation and sanctification. We do nothing except to have faith in God.
In our fallen nature, we have neither the power nor the ability to even obey Him. We totally depend on His grace to do it. I am FULLY DEPENDENT ON THE GRACE OF GOD.
The Power of One Call is to:
BE DONE WITH THE FRUIT OF MY IGNORANCE
“Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” (1 Peter 1:14).
The ignorance Peter mentions here is not intellectual but moral, and it speaks of the state of a person who is willfully ignorant of God and the will of God.
Intellectual knowledge today is available to everyone. That in itself is amazing, but our dealing with the truth is not dependent on the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. The fact is that intellectual knowledge changes rapidly. In regard to faith, a problem arises for many who live in this ever-changing intellectual world. Nothing can be considered “right” or “wrong;” neither the right can be right for very long nor the wrong, wrong. In the world of moral relativism there are no absolutes!
The knowledge of God deals with “evil desires” in ways that the world does not approve. In the first place, the world tells us to believe that the evil is “not that evil, “or it is “no longer evil,” or “evil is just for those who think it is evil.” The Word is saying that unless we know God, we do not acknowledge the objective evil, and we do not know how to deal with the desire we have to do evil. The Scriptures also call this idolatry—that desire that empties our heart of the passion for God and fills it with passion for evil.
It is important to notice that the admonition 1 Peter 1:14 is directed not to the world but to believers. “As obedient children do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” You know God, you know the truth, and now you can avoid evil by not conforming to it, not accepting the suggestions of evil. It does not fit you any more. Do not attempt to make it fit, thinking it will not affect you. That is a lie.
Obedience is key. If you obey God, the Holy Spirit will not lead you into temptation; therefore you can rest assured of His care. But you have to be willing to obey.
In the village where I grew up, we all lived under the authority of a certain man. He wanted everyone in the village to comply with certain rules. But when he was friendly with the disobedient ones in the village, turning a blind eye to their deliberate breaking of those rules, it caused him to lose the respect of the villagers. Consequently he lost the authority given to him.
An evil desire easily makes itself at home when we carelessly ignore the fact that it is evil, and we do not deal with it as such.
I AM DONE WITH MY IGNORANCE AND THE WORK OF FLESH THAT IS ATTACHED TO IT.
The Power of One Call is also to:
BE PURPOSEFULLY PREPARED FOR ACTIONS OF OBEDIENCE
The Word says that all the above happens after I have prepared my heart.
I chose to end with the beginning. When I was a child, my father made me repeat the message he wanted me to deliver in order to make sure that I not only said exactly what he wanted me to say, but that I also said it in the right sequence: the greetings, the reason why he could not go in person, and finally the core message.
The Word says, “After you have prepared your mind for action ….”(1 Peter 1:13). I invite you to read it, “After you have decided … ” Similar language is used in Ephesians 6:14: “Stand firm.” My mind is capable of taking me where my body cannot go. Actions of my body depend on my mind’s command. However, the mind is just part of who I am. My mind works with and for my heart. My mind needs help to go in the right direction. Therefore the preparation of my mind presumes that the preparedness of my heart has been taken care of.
One of the dilemmas scientists face in their attempts to create artificial intelligence is the inability of artificial intelligence to contribute emotional values to the decision making process. I read about a passenger who desperately needed a seat on an airline flight. When he asked for the seat from the agent, the answer was, “My computer tells me that there is no seat available.” The desperate passenger said, “The computer does not understand my need. You do.”
It is important that we talk about the preparedness of the mind and heart.
A key word in this passage is the verb “prepare.” We prepare ourselves for travel, for work, for exams, for job searches, etc. Every preparation requires time, willingness, and desire to achieve.
Two biblical leaders who were challenged to prepare themselves and their people for action exhibit how our preparation works and where preparation can take us.
Josiah (2 Chronicles 35) had been a wonderful king in Judah. He managed remove the people’s idols and reinstate the worship that pleased God. Judah became known for victory over her enemies that was followed by peace and prosperity. Nobody expected this talented, successful, and godly king to die the way he did—a senseless death in a fight against the Egyptians. Josiah had prepared the nation to be strong and to seek God, but at the end he failled to discern the need that God should be the one to fight Pharaoh.
A similar tragedy happens to those of us who live in our past victories. We fail to remember our need to be constantly watchful and dependent on God. He can provide wisdom and courage for us to be and to do what is right, whether or not it pleases ourselves and others. The description of Josiah’s death in 2 Chronicles starts with these three words “After all this.” The preparation of our hearts and minds is not just a one-time event. We must always be up to date with the Holy Spirit.
Ezra wrote about “The law of thy God which is in thine hand… ” (Ezra 7:10). Witnesses of the community in this land influenced the favorable support from the Persian king who apparently was willing to give Ezra more than he asked for—not only freedom to be the spiritual leader of his people but opportunity to acquire much political responsibility. A study of the list of people recruited by Ezra to accompany him to Jerusalem shows names of descendants of people who had refused to go on the first mission to Jerusalem. Now everyone wanted to be involved.
Ezra had only one agenda, and that is stated in Ezra 7:6, 10: “This Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given. The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him … For Ezra had PREPARED his heart to SEEK the Law of the Lord, and to DO it, and to TEACH statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (Emphases mine)
In all kinds of situations, you and I can be and act just like Josiah or Ezra. If we are up to date with the Spirit of God, we will not die the spiritual death that the enemy is trying to bring upon us. But with our hearts and minds PREPARED to SEEK the Law of God, to DO it, and to TEACH it, we will serve the purpose for which He has called us.
Being fully dependent on the grace of God, through obedience we can live uncontaminated lives and we can stay close to Him who is holy and who can make us holy. Being restfully done with the fruit of our ignorance, we will be His—the way He wants us—being purposefully prepared for actions of obedience. We can be holy if we follow the Power of One Call: “Be holy.”