Holiness in Exile

This article is the next in a monthly series that will examine the theme for this year’s upcoming conference, Rooted 2022: Living Hope, Walk Through 1 Peter. As we experience the pains of a perishing, defiled, and fading world, our hope can feel distant or idle. Yet, in Christ, we are born again to a hope that is both living and active. We no longer have to count our trials as foes, but can rejoice in a hope which does not put us to shame, knowing it is offering us a gift more precious than gold — a tried and true faith. As we survey 1 Peter together, our prayer is that we would have renewed eyes to see that which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us by our living hope!

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“We are living through history!” This is how many teenagers feel. When I was a teenager in the 1990s, I would have said the same thing. But back then, it was an optimistic statement. The Cold War was over and the Internet was launching. We thought we were living through a time of great historical progress.

For today’s students, “living through history” invokes despair. Unlike when I was young, the world doesn’t seem destined to get better. Today’s teenagers think more in line with the way the apostle Peter understood the world: it is perishable, defiled, and fading. However, far too often the young men and women who come to this realization come to unbiblical solutions. Some, out of fear, feel their generation alone must solve all the world’s problems. Others claim that because things are so bad, nothing can be expected of them. “In the midst of a global pandemic, political unrest, racism, and war, you want me to do what?”

Because he knew the gospel, Peter reached a different conclusion about how we respond to our historical moment. 1 Peter 1:13-19 is clear that God’s people are called to be holy, even though we live in an unholy world.

As we seek to grow in holiness and call young people to the same, we should pay attention to how Peter calls his people to holiness. We will see that we need to be clear and yet realistic about this call. Furthermore, the call to holiness must be rooted in history and reinforced by hope.

Clear But Realistic About the Battle

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ… As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'”(1 Peter 1:13, 15-16).

First, note that while Peter is clear about our calling to holiness, he is also realistic about its difficulty. God has graciously made plain what he expects from us. But holiness is a battle. Peter’s appeal in 1:13, translated “preparing your minds for action,” literally reads “girding up the loins of your mind.” To “gird up your loins” is what a Roman man would do with their long robe before working or fighting. If your loins were girded, you were ready for labor.

Similarly, Peter’s description of us as “being-sober minded” recognizes the need for sharp focus. Holiness will not come automatically. In a perishing, defiled, and fading world, holiness will require a fight. Cultural pressures block the way to holiness. Peter refers to his Roman setting as “Babylon” in 5:13.[1] In Babylon, idolatry, not holiness, is applauded. Babylon seeks to push us back towards our “former ignorance” (v. 14) and “futile ways” (v. 18). This battle will not subside throughout the “time of our exile” (v. 17). Hence, we should “conduct ourselves with fear” (v. 17) as we travel down this road.

There are inward threats to our holiness as well. Our own passions are a mixed bag. We cannot just follow our hearts. The passions of our former ignorance (1:14) still want control, so they wage war against our soul (2:11). As we call young men and women to holiness, we must be clear that we are calling them to something difficult.

Rooted in History

The call to holiness is not just difficult, but impossible. In Romans 3:23, Paul famously summarizes the history of humanity, saying “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The Old Testament, on one level, is a collection of stories testifying against God’s people as they fail to live up to God’s call to be holy. However, the Old Testament is also a collection of promises that God would someday make this holiness possible. He did this through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1:3) and empowered by the Spirit of holiness. If Jesus had never been raised from the dead, if God never called us to life, or if we were still enslaved to the “futile ways inherited from our forefathers” (v.18), then holiness would be impossible. But Peter, while calling us to holiness, makes sure we remember that God has done all these things. He points us back to the cross to see that “the precious blood of Christ” (v. 19) has ransomed us from our former ways of living. We are like former slaves whose freedom has been purchased. What once was not possible for us now is possible.

If we tell young people they should be holy, they must also know what the God who calls them to be holy has done. One of the main ways the Apostles sought to inspire holiness was by reminding the church of what God did for them through the cross. We follow their pattern.

Reinforced by Hope

Finally, and most importantly, notice that the call to holiness is reinforced by hope. For exiles, hope and holiness cannot be separated. Holiness only comes through the hope of the gospel. The gospel gives us our first taste of God’s goodness. We taste it right now in gracious gifts like the assurance of forgiveness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. These gifts whet our appetite for the grace that is still to come. Hope connects tasted grace with promised grace, motivating us for holiness.

Imagine you’re on a road trip and your stomach starts to growl. At that point, it is very tempting to stop at a gas station and fill your belly on junk food. But, if you know that your favorite homemade meal is waiting for you at the end that long car ride, you will have the power to resist twinkies and twizzlers. In fact, you will actively reject them. You want your hunger as big as possible upon arrival. This is how the hope of the gospel reinforces holiness. You have tasted God’s goodness. You want more. Holiness rejects all the unsatisfying fillers on offer.

As you call others to holiness, do you present them with the hope of the gospel? This hope is an essential weapon in the church’s fight to be holy as our Lord is holy.

Life in this world is difficult. But God, for our good, calls us to be holy. This is a call for every parent, pastor, and student. The trials of the current hour do not negate this call. But if we genuinely desire to see young people answer this call then we must make it clear, while being equally clear that holiness will require a fight. We are equipped for the battle when we know what God has done for us in history and what hope he gives us in the gospel.



[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (TNAC, 2003) p250-251. “Peter drew on Old Testament tradition, where Babylon represents those opposed to God…In this instance, as in Revelation, Babylon designates Rome itself, the enemy of God.”

Dan Montgomery is Jane’s husband, Micah & Molly’s daddy, and the Youth Pastor at First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux Falls, SD. Before moving to Sioux Falls, he helped lead a College/20s ministry for eight years. He has an MA in Historical Theology from Wheaton College. A native of the Chicago suburbs, he misses living close to a place with good deep dish pizza. He also loves running (for fun!), playing the piano, and hanging out with his family.

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