The Christians of Peter’s day were misunderstood and labelled as troublemakers. To counter this, Peter wrote, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12) Peter wanted them to live such good holy lives that their accusers would have nothing to accuse them of. Holiness was to be expressed through living a good life – they were to be holy in all they did!
Scholars, like Peter Davids, highlight different aspects of holiness such as:
Personal holiness – our inner spiritual life with God.
Communal holiness - how a Christian community, the people of a church relate with each other.
Social holiness - how Christians live in and relate to the wider society around them. Peter tends to focus on this aspect of holiness because it is here they are encountering problems.
We are to be holy as individuals, holy in our church relationships and holy in how we live in society at large. How do we become holy people? Peter calls us to a practical holiness that requires us to use our brains and use our minds to think clearly about holiness. We can only be holy when we consciously focus on being holy, when we make it our goal to live a holy life. Knowing we cannot manage this on our own, Peter reminds us that God helps us to be holy through the grace he gives us in Jesus Christ. God dwells in us by his Holy Spirit to empower us to live a holy life.
We grow in holiness as we 1) rid ourselves of vices like envy, and as we 2) crave pure spiritual milk. When we crave truth and thirst for righteousness, when we hunger for mercy and long for peace – then we are feeding and fostering holiness in our lives. When we sow the virtues of godliness in our lives then we will harvest a life of holiness. I am sure you know this from your own experience, when you walk the path of sin you can’t expect the company of angels, but when you walk the path of holiness Christ walks with you.
Holiness, as Peter teaches us, is not merely an inward virtue, it is lived out practically in what we do each day – “be holy in all you do.” Peter is commanding us to live such good lives that the inner holiness given to us by God seeps out of our pores into every action in our lives. Holiness becomes the brightness of God’s glory evident in how we live. It is this holiness that allows us to shine as a light on a hill or like stars in the sky. The acts of a holy life may attract people and give witness to the truth of our beliefs, perhaps even helping them open their hearts to seek God themselves. Living a holy life is an expression of God’s presence within us, which works its way out of us in practical ways. Therefore, I encourage you in the week ahead, be holy in all you do!
How would you explain what holiness is to a new Christian?
Is holiness best expressed in times of prayer or in good deeds?
Personal holiness is a private matter, social holiness is enacted in public – which do you find easiest?
What might it mean for the church to engage in social holiness?
Rev John Malcolm