Caravaggio, The Crucifixion of St. Peter (1601)

Caravaggio, The Crucifixion of St. Peter (1601)

“Therefore, gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you invoke as father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, 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 .” (I Peter 1:15-19)

“The imperative of Christian living always begins with ‘therefore’”, so Edmund Clowney begins his commentary on this passage. Indeed he is right. Peter is about to remind the Christians to whom he writes of the great calling of God on their lives:

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’”.

It is the most demanding of imperatives. We are to become saints and to behave like it in all that we do. But notice the command is preceded by “therefore”, implying a causal connection with what has come before it. And what has come before it? The declaration that we have been  “born anew to a living hope…and to an inheritance which is undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you”. This is the motivation for us to be holy as he is holy. God’s grace always precedes His commands, and the obedience he expects is but the appropriate response to that grace.

It is the same throughout the New Testament. Perhaps the most demanding call in all Scripture is in Romans 12: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Lord, which is your spiritual worship”. However, we must never forget how that verse begins. After eleven chapters of explaining the goodness, the grace, and the steadfast love of God; after describing in detail God’s great gift of our salvation through Jesus; after saying in multiple ways “for God has shown his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” – only then does Paul say: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice”. It is God’s mercy to us that is to motivate our sacrifice for him.

It is the same in the Old Testament as well. We often think that the Ten Commandments, the foundational laws of God’s covenant with Israel, begin with the imperatives ”You shall have no other God’s before me” and “You shall not make for yourself a graven image”. Actually they begin with these words: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the House of bondage (therefore) You shall have no other God’s…..” Once again His grace and deliverance precedes and motivates their obedience.

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, our obedience to His command is a double response to what he has already done. It is first the response of gratitude, our due thanks for his gift. Second, it is the response of trust. Knowing that he has already shown he has our best interests at heart, we are certain that whatever he asks is for our well being.

Ultimately, for Christians, the great sign of God’s love and redemption is the cross. As Peter says, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, 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,” Contemplation of the cross, of Christ’s sacrifice, has stirred the sacrifice of countless disciples throughout the ages, all of whom on seeing all that he had done for them wondered what they could do for him. They knew what he had given: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ , that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that by his poverty, you might become rich.” (II Corinthians 8:9) And they knew what such a gift required: “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (II Corinthians 5:15)

May we, like them, give our all for him who gave his all for us.

“Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy you have been born anew to a living hope…and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading….THEREFORE……do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy in all your conduct since it is written ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’”.

 

Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.