by Bob Allen:
When it comes to being a disciple of Jesus, there’s a whole lot of “if/then”s.
“If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take ups his cross, and follow me.” -Matthew 16:24
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” -John 15:7
“If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you.” -John 15:18
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” -1 John 1:9 (Sorry for all the Apostle John references)
The life of a Christian is a series of if/then propositions. If you believe “x”, then you should “y” If you believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through him, then you don’t try to find some other way to get to the Father. If you believe that there is no other name by which man must be saved than the name of Jesus, then you don’t trust in anything but the name of Jesus for your salvation.
These are pretty straightforward beliefs. Any Christian would agree with them (I hope). The Christian life, however, is about more than just regurgitating beliefs for others to hear. Paul writes that disciples of Jesus should “live worthy of the calling [believers] have received.” (Eph. 4:1) It’s more than just saying what we believe; it’s living what we believe.
In his first letter, Peter reminds exiled disciples of the salvation to come “in the last time” (1 Pt. 1:5). He encourages them to endure through the trials which have driven them from their homes; trials they continue to face on account of their faith. Peter describes their hope, “the salvation of [their] souls” (1:9), in an attempt to encourage action among these persecuted believers. He wants them to stand out rather than blend in.
“But as the one who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:15-16)
To be holy means to be set apart, to be different. It’s the ultimate in “if/then” ideas. In essence, Peter tells them, “If you’re really putting your hope in God’s provision, then live a holy life to show it.”
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. You’re on the run because you’re a disciple fleeing persecution in Jerusalem. You’ve left your family, your friends, your possessions because you believe Jesus of Nazareth is who he said he is. You’ve made it to Pontus and you’re finally breathing a sigh of relief. You feel like you can maybe put down some roots, maybe you can just fit in here. In fact, you don’t really want to stand out and draw any more attention to yourself because attention means you might need to disappear again.
But Peter’s encouragement to you isn’t to become like the people around you in your new environment. His advice is the exact opposite; to be set apart in all your conduct, to be different from the culture in which you live. He’s telling them to embrace their exile status. I might even go so far as to say he’s telling them to double down on it. It’s a call to action we should heed today as disciples of Jesus.
Look, I get it.
Far too often, “living out our faith”, so to speak, gets tricky. If we take seriously the Great Commission to make disciples that make disciples, we don’t want to turn people off to the message by being a little “off” in how we live. Occasionally, Christians see relevance as opportunity to share the gospel message of Jesus with those around us; to speak the truth about the brokenness of this world. We. Have. The. Answer. We want to address the sorrow and pain, but the people who need to hear the gospel won’t give an audience for any number of reasons: perceived bigotry, past experiences, political ideologies, or whatever else. The idea of being “holy” is a major turn off because we think it disconnects us from the community around us.
What if we embraced radical holiness as a witness instead of shying away from it because it may come across as “weird”? Peter holds out that there is a salvation to come for those who trust and hope in God’s provision through Jesus. He does so to empower and encourage holiness in exiles. I cannot help but connect their witness as exiles for their faith with their holiness. By their holiness, they proclaim their beliefs without saying a word. Through their obedience, they demonstrate trust in God’s plan through their prior suffering, their current trials, and their future challenges.
For believers, personal holiness displays that we believe in a standard founded upon being distinct from the culture around us. Radical, personal holiness causes us to be seen by those we encounter on a daily basis and this visible peculiarity allows us to speak to the one who calls us to be so “other”.
If you believe that Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross for your sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead after three days, then will you live like you do?