Sanctification - The Work of God in Men - Part 1
R. Grant, Stevenston
Earlier papers in this series have traced the work of God -Father, Son and Holy Spirit - for the salvation of men. Peter now turns, as a natural sequence of thought, to the work of God in men - namely, to the theme of sanctification. This is God's work, and the sanctified have but to express it in living terms. Three paragraphs describe the bearing on Christian life of the relationship of the believer with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Certain ideas are prominent in the passage:
Congruity. The three paragraphs speak respectively of the perfection of the Father, the preciousness of the Lamb, and the power of the Spirit expressed in the pure Word of God. The child should then take character from the Father, the redeemed should seek to be like the Redeemer, and the plant is to be of the same kind as the seed.
Consequence. The opening word of each paragraph recognizes the principle that certain effects should follow certain causes. Note the "wherefore", v. 13; the "and if" (since), v. 17, and the "seeing", v. 22.
Contrast. In each paragraph, the construction "not. .. but" occurs. In the first, there is a contrast of practices in the past and the present; in the second, the contrast is between the price of redemption in the old and the new; in the third, the principles of life naturally and spiritually are contrasted.
The first paragraph describes how the Christian life should take character from
1. THE WORTH OF THE FATHER, 1. 13-16 Holy living is said to be:
A Matter of Contrast -"not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but... be ye holy". We may draw attention to two statements by John which highlight the contrast between the old life and the new, and which ought to expose unreality in us. "He that committeth sin is of the devil . . . Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin", 1 John 3. 8-9. In other words, sinning is not characteristic of God's children, and we are thus said to be "as obedient children". Behaviour now, for those who possess the life of God, should not be governed by the ruling principle of unconverted life, "not according to the former lusts".
But "ignorance" is mentioned as contributing to former behaviour. It was true that only a revelation of the God of holiness convinced even good men of their own sinfulness, e.g. Job. 42. 5-6; Isa. 6. 5, and New Testament believers have seen this holiness expressed in all its uncompromising severity at Calvary. We have not only the will of God, but the work of Christ, and the witness of the enlightening Spirit of God to teach us the character of God, knowledge that is so vital and so conducive to holy living.
A Matter of Congruity -"as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy". The fact of relationship and the possession of the life of God has a bearing on the life of a Christian. But we expect in a child more than the mere expression of life. We expect likeness - not only relationship, but resemblance. Most assuredly it was true of the Lord Jesus as His own word bears witness, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father". Just as clearly, this is the Father's will for His children, and to that blessed end He uses the painful process of chastening, "that we might be partakers of his holiness", Heb. 12. 10.
Then we should be like Him as a matter of response to His love. The fact of the call of God ought to move us constantly to devotion, and imitation of Him ought to be the ambition of our lives -"as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy13. Peter makes use of the idea of the call of God to give to Christian behaviour a dignity altogether superior both to circumstances and to mere elevated behaviour by human standards. He uses it in the appeal to servants for Christlike submission in the face of harsh injustice, 1 Pet. 2. 21, in the exhortation for generous behaviour in response to evil, 3. 9, and in encouraging stability in suffering, 5. 10. Here, it is used in one sense at least to imply that anything less than holy behaviour is unworthy of our calling, and certainly of the God of that call.
A Matter of Completeness -"in all manner of conversation (or, behaviour)". The immediate context has something to say about a wide range of the believer's thought and action.
It speaks about Right Assessments -"gird up the loins of your mind", think clearly. In the light of their circumstances, it was vital to the spiritual stability of the first readers of the Epistle to have a clear understanding of the will and the ways of God. In that sense, they are also of special value to Christians under pressure. But they have a general application and are a warning against loose thinking about spiritual matters. The parabolic word of the Lord Jesus serves as a warning to us, "if the goodman of the house had known... he would have watched", Luke 12. 39.
It speaks about Right Attitudes -"be sober", react calmly. No one knew better than Peter the dangers of panic. The man who comments so touchingly on the sinless reactions of the Lord Jesus to evil, 2. 22, may have reflected bitterly at the same time on his own violence in the garden, Luke 22. 50, and his lying in the palace, Luke 22. 57, as a way out of danger. He can thus speak out of bitter experience.
It speaks about Right Aspirations -"hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ", wait confidently. The "grace" spoken of here is the fulness of the inheritance of verse 4. That has already been guaranteed by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, though its full enjoyment by the inheritors awaits the day when He will take possession of His rights and share them with "His blest co-heirs". All that happens between must be seen in that perspective.
It speaks about Right Actions -"be ye holy in all manner of conversation (or, behaviour)", act cleanly. We are greatly in danger of living our lives in compartments, and of applying different standards to them; of loyalty to principle and laxity in practice; of scrupulosity in assembly matters and shabbiness in business dealings; of care in moral matters and casualness in spiritual. Each of us knows his heart in these matters. There is, in these few words, a wealth of opportunity for rigorous self-scrutiny which can do us nothing but good.
2. THE WORK OF THE SON, 1. 17-21 Holy living should result from the blessings which flow from redemption. Because of it, believers stand in
A Privileged Relationship, v. 17. At first sight, this verse belongs to the first paragraph, but grammatically it is linked to the long sentence ending in verse 21. Apart from the fact that the connection of thought makes an easy transition to the new theme, there is good reason for linking verse 17 with the subject of the work of redemption. After all, one of its happiest results is the establishing of the relationship of sons to the Father with all its glorious privileges. But a claim to the relationship and rights of sonship involves the recognition of the responsibility to maintain and manifest the character of the Father. Sons who know the Father's will, and who share the Father's wealth, must be more responsible than strangers who do not, and the saving work of the Lord Jesus which frees us from condemnation as sinners has in no sense compromised or diminished the holy demands of His throne. There are certain judgments to be met as sons and saints, and the verse reminds us that His judgment is impartial, universal and just. Believers are also the subjects of
A Priceless Redemption, w. 18-19. These verses speak of the nature of redemption. It is
From a Life of Slavery -"from your vain conversation". The stress in this passage is not on redemption from the curse and condemnation of a broken law, Gal. 3. 13, nor from this present evil age, Gal. 1. 4, nor from iniquity, Titus 2. 14, but from the best that human effort can do to establish and maintain a satisfactory relationship with God, and to provide a full and satisfying life. The rigorous bondage of tradition and unavailing self-effort is more tyrannical and frustrating than slavery in Egypt ever was.
By an Infinite Sacrifice -"with the precious blood of Christ". The truth is expressed negatively, "not. .. with . . . silver and gold". The passage contrasts Jewish shadows and Christian substance, and refers to the redemption money of Israel. Then the truth is expressed positively in one of the sublimest passages in language, "but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot". Three ideas are prominent in these words:
They speak of preciousness. What silver and gold could never do, "precious blood" has done. Certainly, there is not much that money cannot buy, but it cannot purchase souls from the slavery of sin and Satan. "Precious blood" alone is of value to pay the price of redemption.
They speak of purity. In the Old Testament laws of sacrifice, the term "without blemish" could only be relative in a creation ruined by sin. Here it is absolute. Within and without; visibly and invisibly; thinking and doing, this antitypical Lamb is truly "without blemish and without spot", and we must say clearly, "incapable of sin". "If the incarnate Christ could have erred or sinned, the incarnation, we may dare to say, would have been a phantom", Liddon, The Divinity of our Lord.
They speak of power. It is by sacrifice that redemption is accomplished -"as of a lamb". Scripture links a number of ideas with the symbolism of the lamb: spotlessness, Exod. 12, submissiveness, Isa. 53, and sovereignty, Rev. 5. But here the stress must be on sacrifice as the only basis upon which redemption is possible - "he . . . put away sin by the sacrifice of himself", Heb. 9. 26, and by blood alone, 9. 22. But we are redeemed
To a Life of Sanctity. In the. Old Testament, the lamb was the token of redemption by God, the half-shekel of redemption silver the token of redemption to God. The payment of the silver acknowledged the redeemer's rights over the redeemed and was a "memorial before the Lord". In the economy of grace, it is God and not man who has paid the price of redemption, and the only memorial before Him now is the "blood of Christ". But such grace begets a response in the redeemed. In the passage before us, holy living is to be expected as a consequence of redemption, not simply as an obligation placed on the redeemed, but as the expression of the worship of their adoring hearts. Believers are also the object of
A Peerless Revelation, vv. 20-21. Previously we have considered the results and the nature of redemption. These verses are occupied with its objects and imply:
Contrast. Again the privileged lot of Christians is stressed. The people of God in a past day saw the promise of God in shadow, we see it as Substance; they had to be content with promises, we have a blessed Person to occupy our hearts; they had to act on foretellings, we rest on fulfilment.
Communication - "but was manifest... for you". The eternal purpose remained largely a matter of mystery to earlier ages. We have noted the searchings of prophets and the shadowy nature of the Old Testament revelations of God. But, amazing truth, we are the objects of the glorious manifestations of the Son of God. Note again the affecting words "for you". In all the range of revelation to earlier ages - in vision, in prophecy, even in Theophany - men were given but a glimpse of the divine, while in the Son we see the blaze of the glory of the Invisible.
Confidence -"who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God". God has always sought for faith in men and, even before Christ came, He found it on occasions. It was expected, for example, that men would find evidence for belief in creation, Rom. 1. 20; men like Abraham believed the promise of God and were thereby justified, 4. 3. But in this day it is given to us to have the greatest of all incentives to belief in God, it is "by him" we now have the full, final and faithful revelation of God.
But Christian faith is also encouraged by the solid facts of the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus. Peter never tires of speaking about these realities of which he was an eyewitness, and which were never doubted by early Christians. In the New Testament, these facts are assumed and it is upon these unchallengeable verities that faith and hope are based.
In this passage, Christian faith is linked with hope -"that your faith and hope might be in God". Faith is, after all, centred upon a Man who is, with the harsh experiences of earth behind Him, in His destined glory, and we have already spoken of that fact as the guarantee of the glorious destiny of His people. Christians need not lack the confidence that what God has done for Him -"raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory"- He will also do for them. Therefore Peter says, "that your faith and hope might be in God".