Some police cadets were taking their final exam before graduating. There was just one question: ‘You are on the beat in your uniform when you see smoke billowing up from a nearby house. You get to the house and realise that there is a family trapped inside. The smoke has become so bad that it is restricting visibility on a nearby road which causes a multi-car pileup. One car, coming round the corner is going too fast and loses control, rolling down a hill towards a fast-flowing river. As you are watching, the most wanted man in the town gets out from one of the damaged cars and starts running away. What do you do?’
The shortest answer to the question went: ‘I would remove my uniform and blend in with the crowd’.
I think this is often how we feel as Christians. We feel bewildered by the challenges we face in our world today. We feel our faith is being privatised, marginalised and pushed to the edges of society. We feel the temptation to blend in with the crowd and take off our Christian uniform. But we mustn’t do this. Peter commands us to stand out from the crowd and wear our Christian uniform without fear or shame. So, what are the elements of our Christian uniform?
Hope of coming grace, v.13
Peter says: ‘Set your hope fully on the grace to be given to you when Jesus Christ is revealed’ (v.13). There is a lot we could hope in: our bank balances, our family or our position in society. Instead of hoping in these things, we are to set our hope fully upon our returning King. We are to focus our hope on the fact that when Christ returns he will shower grace upon us. Peter knows that this will be difficult and so he explains how to do this. It can be achieved as we ‘prepare [our] minds for action’ and are ‘self-controlled’ (v.13). It can be achieved as we ‘roll up our sleeves’ and put in intentional effort to set our hope in the right place and on the right object. The way we put in this effort is by being self-controlled, sober and in control of our faculties, thinking clearly about the return of our King.
We are to be in no doubt that Jesus is coming back and that his return will mean grace coming to us. This is to be our hope. It is always to be on our minds. We are to deliberately and purposefully set our minds on this and live in light of its reality. We do this by reminding ourselves of these truths daily; by disciplining ourselves to recall the gospel and the work Christ has started in us with the grace he will bring to us at his return.
Holiness in everything, vv.14-16
Peter commands us: ‘Be holy in all you do’ (v.15). Peter contrasts this with living in our former evil desires: ‘Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance’ (v.14). We are no longer to conform to those desires that used to run riot in our hearts before we became Christians. In those days we were ignorant of God and his gospel. But now, as Christians, we know God, the light of the gospel has shone upon us, and so we have no excuse for evil living.
The apostle tells us why these things matter. Firstly, because this fits with our new identity: ‘as obedient children, do not conform (v.14). God, who is holy, has made us children in his family and so we should be obedient children who imitate him. Secondly, because this fits with the one who called us: ‘just as he who called you is holy’ (v.15). God has called us to belong to him. He is holy, distinct from the world and different from it, and so should we be. Thirdly, because this fits with God’s dealings in the past. Peter quotes the Old Testament here: ‘For it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy”’ (v.16). In the Old Testament, God commanded his people to imitate his holiness. The command that God’s people are holy in all they do still remains.
Are we fighting the evil desires that once drove us, whatever they might be? Or have we begun to settle down and make peace with them? If we want to put these desires to death, we need to prayerfully reflect and meditate upon who God has made us to be. We need to learn to be obedient children who delight to imitate our holy, heavenly Father.
Reverence as exiles, vv.17-21
Peter instructs us further: ‘Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear’ (v.17). We should grasp who we are and resolve to live out our time as strangers in the world and as exiles who don’t fit in. This needs to be done with a constant awareness of God and a reverent fear of being accountable to him. We are not called to settle down and be comfortable. Instead we are called to exile living.
What are some more motivations for such behaviour? Firstly, we are accountable to a just Judge: ‘Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially’ (v.17). Although we call on God as Father, this does not mean that he is not also a judge who examines each person’s work fairly and without favour. Secondly, because this is the purpose of our redemption: ‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ’ (vv.18-19). The wonderful redemption that God has won for us in Christ has liberated us from the empty ways of living we were once captive to. We have been set free from them to live as an exile.
Are we prepared for exile living or are we getting comfortable here? We are not to be surprised at finding ourselves on the margins of culture and society. God calls us to live as exiles and has set us free through Christ for this very purpose.
Love for other Christians, 1.22-2.3
The apostle commands: ‘Love one another deeply from the heart’ (v.22). This love is to come from the heart and be genuine. When Peter’s readers ‘purified themselves by obeying the truth’, they began to have ‘sincere love for [their] brothers’ (v.22). They have love for others already, but now they are to go on loving one another. Peter grounds this command on the reality of their new birth: ‘for you have been born again’ (v.23).
He defines love as not doing certain things: ‘Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander’ (2.1). Putting these things to death in our lives will be the means by which we love one another. Peter knows that this will be hard so he commands us to be refreshed by God’s grace and goodness so that we will be able to carry on loving others: ‘Crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good’ (2.2-3). By tasting more of God’s goodness we will be able to keep on loving others.
Are we growing in our love for others in the church? If we are serious about this, then we need to put off all the anti-social sins in verse 1. We must get rid of malice, not backbiting with our words; of deceit, not covering up hatred with a smiling face; of slander, subtly putting others down to make ourselves look good; of envy, harbouring secret bitterness at what someone else has; of hypocrisy, saying we love others but gossiping about them. The resources for this are only found in being born again and in continually tasting God’s goodness.
The challenge to us
The temptation will always be to take our uniform off and blend in with the crowd. We need Peter to urge us on to better things. We need him to tell us how we should live as Christians. We need to hear his call to keep on wearing our Christian uniform of hope, holiness, reverence and love without shame or embarrassment.
Jim Murkett is assistant pastor at Lower Kingswood Evangelical Church, Surrey.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)