I Peter 1:13-16, Hope and holiness in an unholy world



By Spencer D Gear

A. Introduction

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist during World War II. “He tells of his years trapped in the indescribable horrors of [the Nazi prisoner of war camps] of Auschwitz and Dachau. He was transported there like a despised animal,

  • given two minutes to strip naked or be whipped,
  • every hair was shaved from his body,
  • and he was condemned to a living death.

His father, mother, brother and wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. His existence was full of cold, fear, starvation, pain, lice and vermin, dehumanization, exhaustion, and terror.

“Frankl wrote that he was able to survive because he never lost the quality of hope. Those prisoners who lost faith in the future were doomed. . . “Frankl said that this usually happened quite suddenly. One morning a prisoner would just refuse to get up. He wouldn’t get dressed or wash or go outside to the parade grounds. No amount of pleading by his fellow prisoners would help. No threatening by the captors would have any effect. . . [It] was called ‘give-up-it is.’

“When a prisoner lost hope, said Frankl, ‘he lost his spiritual hold'” (Frankl 1984, pp. 95, 163, cited in Morgan, 2000, pp. 449-450).

Where’s your hope? On whom do you place your hope? Is there any hope in this present evil world?

In vv. 1-12, Peter gives statements about hope and the circumstances of the people to whom he was writing – persecuted believers. I don’t believe it was Viktor Frankl’s kind of hope, but something much more fundamental. Here are some of those statements from vv. 1-12:

  • “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”(vv. 3-4).
  • “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (v. 6),
  • “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (v. 8)
  • Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care” (v. 10).

All the way through these 12 verses, Peter gives us statements of fact “concerning this salvation.” But that changes in v. 13, through to 2:3 (Blum 1981, pp. 207-254). He now commands us to do certain things.
In the passage we will be covering today, he commands two things. One is about hope and the other about holiness.
Also note the first word of v. 13, “therefore.” What’s it there for? It’s a transition from the first 12 verses to the rest of ch. 1. Since you are saved and live in very difficult circumstances, God commands you to do these things.
Christians today seem to be minimising these commands and our lives suffer. You are commanded to do things because “greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.”
If you use the NIV, you will note that it translates the first two clauses of v. 13 as commands: “Prepare your minds for action” and “be self-controlled.” They are really participles and the ESV translates better as: “Preparing your minds for action” and “being sober-minded.”
The first command in v. 13 is:

  • Set your hope (v. 13). The next is:
  • Be holy (v. 15);
  • Live your lives (or “conduct yourselves”, ESV) as strangers (v. 17);
  • Love one another (v. 22);
  • Long for (“crave” NIV) pure spiritual milk (2:2).

These five commands help us to unlock this passage.

The MAIN THRUST of my message from this passage is: Since you have experienced “this salvation”, your life must show that you are different in these ways.

Today we’ll look at just two commands from this passage:

  • Salvation means, set your hope fully/completely (v. 13)
  • Salvation means, you must be holy (v. 15);

At a time when the world is being rocked by wars, terrorists and tsunamis, Peter has the audacity to state that

B. imageSalvation means you must “set your hope completely” (v. 13)

In today’s values, this verse could be mutilated to say something like this: “Don’t let your feelings be judged by anybody. In your thoughts & actions, be open-minded. You do whatever brings you pleasure right now. Set your sights on your self-esteem and go for it with gusto.”

God’s view is radically different.

God commands Peter’s readers, you and me to “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (v. 13). These persecuted believers of the first century “were to set their hope completely, with finality, on the grace being brought to them in connection with Jesus Christ’s revelation” (Blum 1981, p. 52).

When the going gets tough and you are persecuted for your faith, your salvation means that you place your hope completely on the future grace that you will receive when Christ is revealed. When will Christ be revealed again? We know he was revealed at his birth, death and resurrection. But these believers are told that they must place their hope on the grace “that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (ESV). It was future for the first century church and it is still future for us.

It undoubtedly refers to Christ’s Second Coming (the Parousia). We read about it in I Peter 4:13, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Or, 1 Cor. 1:7, “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” Also 2 Thess. 1:7, “and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”

Our hope is NOT based on the temporal, but on the future revelation of the Lord Jesus. It is sometimes said of Christians that “they are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” Folks, the true Christian is one who is not half-heartedly, but completely and fully, setting his/her hope on the Christ who is to come. We are of great earthly good, because our hope is set on Him and his coming to rule and reign forever. If you set your hope on anything in this world, you on a sinking ship. Chuck Colson’s view is that “the culture in which we live is nearly lost” (Colson 1994, p. x). What a tragedy that so many Christians have their hope on the sinking ship.

In order to “set your hope completely” on God’s grace at Christ’s second coming, Peter tells his persecuted readers that you must do two things:

  • First, you are “preparing your minds for action” and
  • Second, “you are being sober-minded.”

So that you are able to fulfil this command from God to hope in Christ, you will do it in these two ways:

1. First, you are preparing your minds for action (v. 13)

What does that mean? “It is literally, ‘Girding up the loins of your mind.'” But we who drive cars on bitumen highways don’t experience this analogy. In the first century Middle East, this phrase “refers to the long, loose robes worn by Orientals, which were drawn up” with a belt at the waist when these people worked and walked energetically (Lenski, 1966, p. 51). It’s a metaphor/figure about the mind and how we ought to use it as Christians. The idea is that instead of letting your thoughts and decisions be done leisurely whenever you get the urge, you are “to gird up [your] minds like people who are energetically set on going somewhere” (Lenski 1966, p. 51).

Christians are people who take the decisive step of disciplining their minds for God’s cause. Where are your thoughts right now as I speak? Where will your thoughts be at work on in the home tomorrow?

To “gird up the mind” is the opposite of day-dreaming, idle thinking and drifting off into whatever attracts the eyes. Is your mind on worldly thinking, or do you place your thoughts in the hope that is yours in God?

2. Second, you are being sober-minded (ESV)

The NIV translates it as, “Be self-controlled.” That’s part of it, but it has a more comprehensive meaning than that. The KJV hit the mark: “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober” This is the present tense in the Greek, which means to be continually “sober-minded.” If it were in a context of alcohol drinking, it would refer to being sober – the opposite of being drunk. But in the NT it is only used figuratively.

It means to “be free from every form of mental and spiritual ‘drunkenness’, from excess passion, rashness, confusion” (Arndt & Gingrich 1957, p. 540). To be “sober” biblically “is the opposite of infatuation with the things of this world.” It is “a calm, steady state of mind which weighs things aright and thus enables us to make the right decision. Not only the world with its allurements but also the various forms of religious error and delusion [which] intoxicate the mind” (Arndt & Gingrich 1957, p. 52). To be “sober-minded” is to have clear biblical thinking about the world and doctrine. How we need this today in this era of fluffy, anything-goes Christianity.

Here in I Peter, you are commanded to be “sober-mined” in relation to the world. Isn’t this an amazing insight. You are commanded to set your hope on the grace of Christ’s Second Coming because you

  • “prepare your minds for action” and
  • are “sober” in your response to life.

There’s an interesting use of this word, “sober,” in 2 Timothy 4:1-5: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded (there’s that word again; the NIV translates as “keep your head”), endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (ESV).

The application to you and me today, would be to be sober-minded, clear and serious in our thinking about the philosophies of this world and the teachings that are being offered in churches and through the mass media.

Paul to Titus: “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). If the Bible teacher must teach sound doctrine, you the people of God must be “sober-minded” in discerning the teaching.

The first command is:

A. Salvation means that you must hope completely in the grace of Christ

The second command is:

C. Your salvation means, you must be holy (v. 15)

This is not politically correct language in today’s church. We run a mile from this kind of teaching. Let’s get serious. Since you have experienced this salvation, God commands you to be holy, because He is holy. What is holiness?

Before we get to this incredible command for us to be holy, let’s note what Peter calls these believers:

  • “Obedient children.” Or, “Children of obedience.” A core quality of believers is that they are children of the Heavenly Father who are obedient to his commands. “It describes the constitution and the character of these children . . . [and] belongs to their very nature” (Lenski 1966, p. 54). Those of us who have been born again to a living hope (1:3), are by nature born to be obedient to our living God’s Word and commands. When I meet Christians who don’t have a desire to be holy, I am forced to ask: Are they really children of the King of Kings, with a living hope and a new life? Only God knows. However, God’s children are obedient members of God’s family. One of their marks forever is – OBEDIENCE.

But I must say this: Too often our view of obedience is extra-biblical. We label things that we consider are worldly thinking and doing and I wonder if this is exactly what the Word of God says.

  • Are you an obedient child of God? For which of the commands we are dealing with today, could you be called obedient children? Or, are you choosing to be disobedient?
  • Are you living a life of obedience in setting your hope completely on Christ’s Second Coming? Or would you rather live in the hope of brawn, bucks and beauty for today? Is your hope in this world rather than the next? Honest now? Are you an obedient child of God?
  • God’s obedient children have certain qualities: The negative & the positive

Before Peter launches into the command to be holy, he deals with

1. The Negative: “Do not conform to evil desires.”

Why would Peter be concerned about the Christian still living out the evil desires of his unsaved state? It’s because of what he said in 1:3, “In his great mercy [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

To you who have this living hope, Peter urges that you:

  • “Do not conform” – i.e. susch?matizo. This word only appears twice in the Greek NT, the other time being in Rom. 12:2, where it reads, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” In Greek, the “sch?ma” (conforming) refers not just to the outward “form” (which is morph?). It “is not concerned merely with making various concessions to this age, or coming down to the same level. It warns against being absorbed by it, surrendering oneself to it, and falling prey to it. To do so is to yield oneself to its power” (Braumann 1975, pp. 708-710, p. 709), which is what we see here in I Peter 1:14.
  • Do not conform to, surrender to what? “The evil desires.”
  • When did you have these evil desires? “When you lived in ignorance.” When was that? In their ungodly days.

This is the situation that Peter is warning against. In 1 Peter 2:22, Peter warns those who have known the Lord and have become entangled in the world again: “Of them the proverbs are true [Prov. 26:11]: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud'” (NIV).

I think the analogy of a cleaned-up pig returning to the muck and mire of the sloppy mud in the sty is a good one. But that only refers to the externals. God, through Peter, is concerned about our returning to the inner garbage of thinking AND action that we had as unbelievers. It is screwed up inner thinking that ushers us into godless living AGAIN – after we have been born again. What could be more obnoxious to God.

Peter is warning, “It would be monstrous for children of obedience to fashion and fit themselves again to those lusts of a former time ‘in the ignorance’ in which they then lived” (Lenski 1966, p. 54).

Returning to the pig sty, metaphorically, could mean a return to:

  • a lust for love/sex;
  • Or, bucks, bucks and more bucks. I am staggered that an Australian Pentecostal pastor, Brian Houston, would write a book titled, You Need More Money (Houston 2000), and ironically, the publisher is called, Send the Light.
  • Peter warns against any conformity to a worldly way of thinking.

What passions do you have that are ungodly? Whatever they are, you will not have God’s kind of hope while you indulge in such passions. Why? You are not living life God’s way.

What can you do if this is your present way of thinking?

a. First, repent of those ungodly passions NOW;

b   Second, stop doing them now?

c.   Find a Christian with whom you can be 100% open, honest and accountable. Be discipled by that person. He/she can ask you at any time about those passions that pull you down and pray with you. But you must be absolutely honest about your ungodliness.

After Peter urges us to no longer be conformed to our old way of life, he launches into this positive command:

2. “Be holy, because I am holy” (v. 16)

What an incredible command! This is a quote from Leviticus 11:44.
a. What does it mean to say that God has the attribute of holiness?

Remember how the Lord’s prayer starts in Matt. 6:9, “This, then, is how you should pray: “ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” “Holy is His name.”

Isaiah tells us that he saw the Lord and the seraphim (angels) “were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory'” (Isa. 6:3 NIV).

R. C. Sproul said, “How we understand the person and character of God the Father affects every aspect of our lives” (Sproul 1985, p. 25).

God gave A.W. Tozer the wonderful gift to get to the core of many issues for Christians. He wrote that “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. . . For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself” (Tozer 1961, p. 1). Just think on this: What you believe about God is the most important thing about you! True or false?

What comes to your mind when you think of God being “holy”?

To be holy “is very closely related to God’s goodness. It has been customary to define holy as: ‘purity, free from every stain, wholly perfect and immaculate in every detail. . . But the idea of moral perfection is at best the secondary meaning of the term in the Bible'” ( Sproul 1985, p. 53).

The primary meaning of holy is “separate.” It comes from an old word meaning, “to cut,” or “to separate.” If we put this in down to earth language, it means that God is “a cut above something.” He is a “cut above” everything and every person else (Sproul 1985, p. 54)

b. To help us understand the supreme nature of God’s holiness, I want to introduce a theological word that is lofty, exceedingly high, absolutely beyond anything you can imagine.

I’m speaking about God’s transcendence. It means literally “to climb across.” R. C. Sproul helped me to understand the magnitude of “transcendence” in his book on The Holiness of God. God’s transcendence means, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. It tries to get at His supreme and absolute greatness. The word is used to describe God’s relationship to the world. He is higher than the world. He has absolute power of over the world. The world has no power over Him. Transcendence describes God in His consuming majesty, His exalted loftiness. It points to the infinite distance that separates Him from every creature. He is an infinite cut above everything else.

When the Bible calls God holy it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be “other,” to be different in a special way (Sproul 1985, p. 55).

God applies this view of holiness to earthly things. The Bible speaks of these things as holy:

Holy ground, holy Sabbath, holy nation, holy place, holy tithe, holy jubilee, holy city, holy word, holy city, holy covenant, holy ones, and the holy of holies (Sproul 1985, pp. 55-56).

These are only examples of some earthly things that are called holy.

Here in I Peter 1:15-16, Peter says that the people of God are to “be holy in all you do, for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I [the Lord God] am holy.'” We cannot be transcendent holy like God Himself, but God is calling us to be different in a special way.

You know what the early Christians were called? Saints! In Rom. 1:7, Paul writes: “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints [or holy ones].” Jude 3 states: “Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”
One of the major problems we face as believers is that we know that we continue to sin, but God calls us “saints.” But he also calls us to become holy, to become righteous.
In all my years of Christian ministry I don’t remember anybody ever coming to me for counsel and asking: How can I become holy as God is holy? Or, how can I become more righteous?
How do we become holy, separate, other? Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
Martin Luther used a simple illustration of how to explain how we as the saints of God become holy, as God is holy. I share it with you:

He described the condition of a patient who was seriously ill and [close to death] [2]. The doctor proclaimed that he had medicine that would surely cure the man. The instant the medicine was administered, the doctor declared that the patient was well. At that instant the patient was still sick, but as soon as the medicine passed his lips and entered his body the patient began to get well. So it is with our justification. As soon as we truly believe, at that very instant we start to get better; the process of becoming pure and holy is underway and its future completion is certain (Sproul 1985, p. 214).

Do you know what bothers me? I don’t hear Christians asking: How can I become righteous; how can I be holy? Why aren’t we committed to being holy, as God is holy?
I am convinced that if we were as committed to holiness as God is committed to changing us to be holy, people might notice the radical difference and be attracted to our holy god. I’ll speak for me, but I consider that too often I live at a low level of mediocrity. When we become holy, as God is holy, I believe the world will become more interested in our Jesus.
C. S. Lewis once commented to an American friend: “How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, . . . it is irresistible. If even 10% of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year’s end?” (1967, p. 19, in Green 1982, p. 189).
It is the Holy God who changes paedophiles, murderers, thieves, gossips & full blown sinners of all kinds into saints. We receive it when we are saved, but we grow to be more like Jesus as we grow in grace.
Are you and I really that committed to God’s holiness in our lives?
Remember 1 Peter 1:2 where Peter spoke of believers who are “God’s elect. . . chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.”

D. Conclusion

How you understand the person of God will affect the way you live your life.

  • If you understand that your God is the only one who can offer you hope – complete and full hope for the future – it will change your whole life.
  • If your God is holy, absolutely transcendent above everything else, and he calls you to be holy, you will be radically changed and your whole world of influence will be transformed.

Do you love the one and only God who calls you to place your hope in him and to look forward to his second coming?

Do you love the transcendentally holy God? What will you do about his call to holiness?

Music has been one of the most divisive aspects of church life. Based on this passage in I Peter, I am convinced that I cannot be a true worshipper of God if my music is dominated by sensual middle of the road music, OR head-banger rock that drowns the lyrics.

God calls you and me to “prepare your minds for action” and to be “sober-minded” in worshipping the Almighty, transcendent, holy God, who commands us to be holy as He is holy.

About 20 years ago there was a survey of people who used to be members of churches. They asked what was the main reason why they stopped going to church. They found it boring. It is difficult for lots of people to find worship to be a moving experience (Sproul 1985, p. 40). When God appeared in the temple in Isaiah’s day, the “the doorposts and the thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke” (Isa. 6:4).

But what happened in the temple when Isaiah was confronted with God and the angels were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3)?

“Woe is me!” he cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isa. 6:5).

When we come here to worship with our heart centred on God Himself, the One and only Holy Lord, the style of music will not matter if we fall on our face before Him and acknowledge him, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord almighty.”

In such an environment, we see ourselves as we really are. Woe is me! I am ruined!

You know, if we have come to this gathering, with God alone as your worship focus, I do not believe that we can worship him if our focus is on a seductive, old-style sexy dance-band music. Neither do I think that we can truly worship Him and Him alone, if the clanging music drowns the lyrics of worship. I plead with you to come to every gathering of the church to worship Him and have an encounter with him.

When Isaiah saw the Lord, he cried, “Woe is me! I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

I challenge you to join me in worshipping the one who is “Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord God Almighty”:


2. Sproul called it “mortally ill.”


Arndt, W. F. & Gingrich, F. W. 1957 (transl. & adapt. of W. Bauer), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early ChristianLiterature, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago (limited ed., Zondervan Publishing House).

Braumann, G. 1975, ‘Sch?ma’, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (vol. 1), ed. Colin Brown, The Paternoster Press, Exeter.

Blum, E. A. 1981, ‘1 Peter’ in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 12), gen. ed., Frank E. Gaebelein, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids,

Colson, C. 1994, ‘Foreword’, Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? Word Publishing, Dallas.

Frankl, V. E. 1984, Man’s Search for Meaning, Washington Square Press, New York.

Green, M. P. (ed.) 1982, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Houston, B. 2000, You Need More Money, Send the Light, Kingstown Broadway, Carlisle.

Lenski, R. C. H. 1966, Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Lewis, C. S. 1967, Letters to an American Lady, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Morgan, R. J. 2000, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, & Quotes: The Ultimate Contemporary Resource for Speakers, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville.

Sproul, R. C. 1985, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois.

Tozer, A. W. 1961, The Knowledge of the Holy, Harper & Row, San Francisco.

Copyright (c) 2007, Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at: 14 October 2015.