This post does not have a typo in the title. Recently, I have heard several messages about the line of scripture where God says, “Be holy, even as I am holy.”
The interesting thing is, I have heard these words preached in different ways. In some of the messages, it is presented as a command; a requirement that we must fulfill.
Some have even preached it as a threat. “Be holy or else!!!”
Other people interpret this verse as God saying, “Be who you are.” You are holy, therefore you can act holy.
The problem that I have with the first line of thinking, is that there is a vagueness and confusion that often accompanies the “requirement” mentality. Are we supposed to become holy through self-effort and self-improvement? What follows is the question of are we doomed to hell if we do not achieve a certain level of holiness? I have heard exactly that implied in some messages before.
So I tend to go along with the second view. However, that does not mean I take this any less seriously. We are to be “holy in our actions”, but I am pursuing this through faith in the already finished work of Christ and not through the works of the law (obeying a command/requirement in order to be considered holy).
Also, the definition of holiness itself is not good behavior. God is without sin and so are the celestial beings in heaven who call him holy. So what does God’s holiness consist of? It is in the fact that there is none like Him. He is infinitely beyond all created beings in beauty, power, and character. Even so, we are told to be holy in our behavior. Holiness is not the behavior itself.
Let’s look at this verse in its Biblical context. First of all, we should note that this verse is found in both Old and New Covenant passages. To recap, the Old Covenant contained commands, while the New Covenant contains enablements. The old shows what you must do (and how you fall short). The new shows who Christ is in you (and who you are in Him). The Old is fulfilled in the New. So Jesus fulfills the command to be holy (as He has fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets).
So why then does Peter simply repeat the same command in the NT? Looking at the context helps give understanding of what he was saying to the church:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy. (1 Peter 1:13-15)”
So Peter is saying to be holy in our behavior. Why can we do this? It is because Jesus’ holy nature is now ours via our union with Him. Paul said to, put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24).
Moreover, if you keep reading Peter’s letter, he says that we the church ARE a holy nation:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).
From these scriptures, we find out that our nature is now holy in Christ, so we should be seeing this in our behavior. This is where we find the resolution for the argument over the interpretation of this text.
God is declaring through Peter that we are free now to be holy. It is a promise and a declaration as the only way we can produce fruit is through our supernatural union with Christ, the Vine.
Let’s say I go into a prison and say to the prisoner, “Be free as I am free.” They will say, “But I am locked up! How can I be free?”
But it would be an entirely different story if I were to open the door and declare “Be free!”
In a similar manner, we were enslaved to sin. As the reformers used to preach, man’s will was in bondage to evil desires and thus needed grace to even believe the gospel and accept Christ, let alone live holy. Paul also expresses what it was like when he was “trying” to be holy.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. (Rom. 7:14-18)
Paul was describing his old life under the law of Moses because in the chapter before this, he makes it clear that believers are no longer slaves to sin.
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness (Rom. 6:17-19).
We are now slaves of righteousness. The result? Holy living!
To recap, this is a classic case of rightly dividing the word of truth. If we do not properly separate the covenants, we will end up with two gospels. One says, “You have been set free from sin.” The other says, “You better perform or else, you slave.” My friends, the child of the slave and the child of the free cannot exist in the same house (see Galatians 4).
We have been given righteousness that leads to holiness in Christ. This holiness is the good stuff. It is sharing in the nature of God, not trying to be like God. This is the true death to self that comes by way of baptism in Christ, not the do-it-yourself of religion.
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God,the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Rom. 6:22).