Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
The apostle Peter’s viewpoint in his first epistle is that we, the children of God’s grace, are pilgrims and strangers on this earth. This is so because of God’s decree of election. He has chosen us to be those whose home is not here on earth, but in heaven. We do not belong here below, nor do we long to stay here on earth. We live in hope. We are hopeful pilgrims who are eager for the blessedness of heaven.
The hope that characterizes us as pilgrims must come to expression in our lives. This means there is a certain earthly life that is consistent with and that follows from the fact that we live in the hope of heaven. In its broadest terms, that life is to live antithetically. As pilgrims on this earth, we are to be separate and distinct from the world of the ungodly. Since this world is not our home, we must never try to make it that. It should always be obvious that we do not belong and are not comfortable here on earth.
The main rule by which pilgrims live is holiness. We who long to be in glory do not live as we please on this earth. We do not simply desire heavenly perfection as a future blessing, but we already strive after it. And it is that striving to be holy that constitutes the antithetical walk of pilgrims on this earth. We must be holy as God Himself is holy (I Peter 1:15).
God is the standard for holiness.
That God is holy means He is separate from all sin. He is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all. He is transcendent, highly exalted above all sinners and above this world, which is tainted by and under the curse of sin. He is sinless and pure. He cannot and does not sin. There are no flaws or defects in God. He is personally pure and holy. And He hates sin. He abhors it. He will not and cannot tolerate it. And, therefore, He also punishes those who commit it.
That God is holy also means that God is devoted to Himself and His own glory and praise. God loves holiness, and therefore loves Himself. God rejoices in holiness, and therefore rejoices in Himself. As the holy God, He seeks His own glory. He will not give that glory to another. His honor is the goal of all that He has done, all that He is doing, and all that He eternally will do.
In light of all this, holiness for us is that we conform ourselves to that standard. We must be holy as God is holy.
Holiness in us means we separate ourselves from all sin. We always hate and never tolerate iniquity. We despise all evil, and strive with all our might to be pure and undefiled. Sin must not have a place in our hearts, nor in our lives. Sin must not be loved, but hated. Sin must not be continued in, but turned from. Sin must not be flirted with, but fought against. Sin must not be clung to, but forsaken.
Positively, we devote ourselves to God. We consecrate ourselves and all we have and do to Him. Holiness means this: not doing your own will, but His; not pleasing yourself, but Him; not being devoted to yourself, but to Him. Holiness means doing all things for God.
To be holy is not a simple matter. The reason for this is sinfulness within. In our flesh dwells no good thing. That sinful flesh is unholy, and loves to be so. And it is a flesh that is characterized, especially, by sinful lusts.
Lusts are inner cravings. Those inner cravings are natural to us. Our flesh craves after all sorts of things. We lust after riches, success, popularity, and pleasure. We want these things, and we are driven by our lusts to do whatever it takes to get them. We are even willing to lie and cheat and steal and murder and commit adultery in order to satisfy our lusts.
This is something that characterizes the world around us. The ungodly live in order to satisfy their inner cravings. They allow nothing to get in the way of that. They use every part of their bodies to that end. Their ears listen to profanity. Their eyes look at pornography. Their mouths consume excessive quantities of alcohol. Their tongues speak evil. Their hands and feet lead them headlong into every sinful way.
The pursuit of holiness means we must fight against and never give in to our lusts. We must hate all sin, and flee from all sinful use of our bodies. That requires hating and fighting first of all against sin at its source, within ourselves. If we fail to do so, our sinful cravings will lead us into sinful words and deeds.
It seems, in today’s sinful world, that especially one lust is allowed to rule: the sexual. Premarital sex, homosexuality, immodest dress, and so on, are all permitted and encouraged. For that reason, we do well to give some extra attention to this aspect of our calling to be holy.
Sexual impurity and unholiness are rampant in our day. Sexual sins are promoted, both for the single and the married. The seventh commandment is completely ignored, even boldly rejected. The only thing that concerns the ungodly today is to have supposedly “safe sex.” With reckless abandon, men and women and even children give themselves over to these sinful pleasures, to the terrible ruin of marriages, families, children, and souls.
The pilgrim people of God are pressured into pursuing sexual pleasures. Perhaps this is especially true of Christian young people. They are often tempted to give up the battle to remain sexually holy and pure. The temptation is powerful and strong. The spirit is willing to fight, but the flesh is weak. One easily loses his head, throws all caution to the wind, and acts according to the lusts of his flesh.
In light of all this, the calling to sexual holiness and purity is urgent. Both single and married pilgrims need to hear God’s Word concerning it, and to hear it often. Remain sexually pure. As soon as such lusts and desires arise, kill them. Say with Joseph, who was confronted with this very sin, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9)
What adds to the urgency of this command is how destructive sexual sins always are. The consequences are terrible. Homes and families are shattered and scattered. Lives of adults and children are ruined. The loss of sexual purity has a lasting, detrimental effect on one’s life, an effect that can be overcome only by an almighty work of a merciful God.
How foolish we can be—a few moments of sinful pleasure in exchange for a lifetime of heartache, guilt, misery, and shame. May we heed the call to be holy in this area of our lives.
It is not only very difficult for us to be holy; in reality it is impossible. God’s standard is high, for He requires perfection. He requires something we cannot attain. Our sinful nature is totally depraved and corrupt, and even after God saves us, that sinful nature remains. Thus, while God’s holiness is shared with us as one of His communicable attributes, that holiness is very limited in us compared to God. In us exists and remains, throughout our earthly lives, much unholiness.
God Himself is the only possibility of holiness in us. I Peter 1:15 points out that the God who commands us to be holy is the God who has called us. He has called us out of darkness into light. He has called us out of the darkness of our former lusts into the light of a holy walk before Him. He has called us away from the lusts of our flesh unto a sanctified walk as saints. He has made us pilgrims and strangers. He has set us apart for Himself.
That call of God is not simply words. It is powerful, efficacious, and sovereign. It comes to us through the preached Word and changes us within. The image of God is restored in us, which includes true holiness. We are equipped to imitate our holy, heavenly Father. Not only are we able, but we also want to. The Spirit gives us the desire. We are children who want to be like our heavenly Father. God works in us in such a way that the calling to be holy is not simply a demand we face, but a desire we have, and a goal we seek.
This then is our fundamental calling as pilgrims and strangers on this earth: Be holy as God is holy! May we be faithful to it.