One of my favorite Scripture passages can be found in Luke 18:9-14.
There we see the story of two people who went to the Temple to pray. One of the people praying was a Pharisee while the other was a tax collector. What I like about this passage is that it is one of those stories that reflects on who we often are and who we want to be.
Jesus recounts the Pharisee’s prayer first. He looks around and prays that he is glad he is not like any of the other people who were around. The tax collector then prays. He prays for God to simply forgive him. Jesus doesn’t offer commentary on the two prayers, but allows the contrast to speak for itself.
I mention this story, because I believe it highlights how we often relate to our new life in Christ and the Good News of the resurrection. We know God has given us a new life through faith in Christ, but sometimes we respond to this new life by looking out into the world and being thankful we are not like some of the others. Thankful that we have it all together. Thankful that we aren’t like those who struggle. Much like the Pharisee, it is an attitude where we consider ourselves as “holier” than others because of this new life. An attitude often seen by the people we seek to love as judgmental, condescending, or dismissive.
The life God calls us to live into is more like the life the tax collector expresses. A life of humility and joy grounded in the very essence of who God is. Our new life in Christ calls us to be people who are changed, transformed, in response to what God has done in our hearts. To be Easter People who reflect the same holiness of God with others and ourselves.
That is what we gather from our passage from 1 Peter 1:13-23. Peter continues to build on this idea that our lives are to be lived out in response to the resurrection. Last week, we said living as Easter people means being people of hope. This week we want to focus on how the hope of the resurrection affects the inner depths of our soul. The resurrection gives us the ability to be people who are holy. In essence this means to be people who are defined and shaped by the very character of God. To be people who live holy lives because our God is holy.
Being people of holiness means to live our lives in a way that is different from what we know or have been taught by the world. It is about living a life that is set apart, because we have been claimed by the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It is about seeking to live holy lives that impacts others in ways that allows the grace of God to be seen in their lives.
If God calls us to live holy lives, it is important to understand what a holy life means and looks like. When we think about this idea of holy lives or holiness we are thinking about the very essence of God. First Peter 1:16 says we are to be holy, because our God is holy. It is a line taken from Leviticus and is enhanced by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount. What this means is that God is the perfect reflection of all things, thus God is holy. God’s character and love is holy, beyond all imagination, and beyond what words could truly express.
God’s character is perfect in all things. It is what we see revealed throughout Scriptures, manifested in the life of Jesus, and taught to us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The very qualities we see expressed in Scripture and in our relationship with the Lord help us to get a glimpse of the holy nature of our God. By this we see that God is perfect love. God is peace. God is joy. God is truth. God is justice. God is redemption. God is creation. God is all things. God is everything. God is holy.
The holiness of God is revealed to us in an amazing way at Jesus’ resurrection. When God resurrected Jesus, it expressed the great power of God’s holy character in a mighty way and gave testimony to all Jesus said and does. The resurrection is the basis of our hope and the foundation for us the holy lives we seek to live. As we believe in the resurrection and Jesus’ life-giving grace, it enables us to encounter God’s holiness in a powerful way. This encounter transforms us. The resurrection and our faith in Jesus gives us a new life that is redefined by God’s holy name.
This new life calls us to see on how God’s holy name affects our own life. We are to be people who are holy as God is holy. Admittedly, this can seem like a very demanding call that can turn many of us off from the life of daily growth in our relationship with the Lord. We need to understand what God asks of us. He is not asking us to be perfect in our actions. We will all make mistakes along the way. What God asks of us to be completely devoted to the Lord. To share in God’s holy name means we will have no other devotion before God. It means to seek after God, to yearn for the Lord in all things, and to love the Lord with every aspect of our being.
Our devotion to God enables us to live into our new life through faith in Christ. A life that is daily transformed and renewed by the very characteristics of God that are at work in our lives. Through our faith in Jesus, our new life in Christ enables us to live out the very characteristics of God in our lives and in our relationships with others. It allows us to live lives that are holy, because our God is holy.
What does this look like? The characteristics of holiness we express are often the fruits of the spirit Paul often speaks about in his letters, especially in Galatians 5:22. There he writes that our new life in Christ allows us, through the Holy Spirit, to reflect things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are the characteristics of holy living that come out of the very essence of God’s holiness. As we grow closer to God we will be able to reflect these very qualities in our lives. We will be people who are known and defined by these characteristics.
This kind of holy living sets us apart from other ways of life. We often think this separation is about not looking like the characteristics that define our culture and world. By this, we look like the Pharisee from Luke 18 who is glad he isn’t like the other people. First Peter 1:14, though, forces us to look deeper at this. Holy living is not about being set apart from the ways of the world, but about being set apart from the life we lived before we accepted faith in God.
Our faith in God calls us to look forward to the new things God is doing in us through the grace of sanctification – of growth in Christ – through the Holy Spirit. Faith doesn’t mean, as 1 Peter tells us, to cling to what was. It means to be defined by the marks of the new life God is building in us. It doesn’t mean looking in the rear view mirror to yearn for what was, but to look ahead to the new things God is doing in us through our faith and trusting in God.
The holy life God desires for us is realized in our hearts as we allow the Holy Spirit to shape and mold us as reflections of the love of Christ. This allows us to share this holy life with others, especially those in our community. By this we look like the tax collector who humbly seeks to be led by God in our new life and allow this life to impact others. This new life calls us to share the fruits of the Spirit in ways that reflect God’s very character. We make a lasting difference in our communities when we lovingly reflect God’s characteristics and the fruits of the Spirit in our relationships with others, especially those are seeking Jesus in their lives.
I believe people, today, desire to see this kind of life coming out of the church. The people of our communities are hungry for the church to put into practice our encounters with the characteristics of God in how we share life with others, whether it is someone on the street corner, at a baseball game, or in the grocery line. We don’t share this life with gimmicks, but simply as people who authentically live their lives as an expression of God’s love and holy name.
I also believe the church is yearning for each of us to share this life with each other. While we need to be reminded to be people who share our new life in Christ authentically with the people of our communities, we also must remember to do the same with each other. We are called to be in relationship with each other. These relationships are built on our mutual faith in Christ and a desire to grow together in Christian love and encouragement. The way we do this is by being people who share our life in Christ and faith in God with each other through acts of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” If we cannot put into practice our life with Christ with each other, and encourage each other to do the same, we’ll never be able to make a difference for Christ in our communities.
Living lives that are unlike the lives we once lived but instead shaped by the very essence of God must be our constant desire in all things. In a moment, we will share in communion with one another. This meal reminds us that the Living Presence of Christ is with us always. Today this reminds us that we are not living this new life for Christ on our own. The Living Presence of Christ is with us, encouraging us, and showing us the way forward. We cannot live this life on our own. We need God to show us the way and to give us the guidance to be people who are holy because our very God is holy.
The challenge to live in a new way because of the resurrection is difficult and demanding. Yet, all things are possible through Christ who gives us the way forward to be holy as our heavenly Father is holy. May we be people, today and always, who are shaped by the characteristics of God in our life and to share those characteristics with everyone so that all may know the holy love that comes from our Lord.