But in the same letter, we’re also told to pursue holiness. What are we to make of this apparent paradox? Are there multiple types of holiness,
or just multiple levels of the same attribute? In Being Holy, you’ll explore the meaning of biblical holiness and how it relates to justification, sanctification, and Christian perfection.
Converge Bible Studies is a series of topical Bible studies based on the Common English Bible. Each title in the series consists of four studies on a common topic or theme. Converge can be used by small groups, classes, or individuals. Primary Scripture passages are included for ease of study, as are questions designed to encourage both personal reflection and group conversation. The topics and Scriptures in Converge come together to transform readers’ relationships with others, themselves, and God.
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Converge Bible Studies | Being Holy
By Shane Raynor
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
FROM ORDINARY TO EXTRAORDINARY
1 PETER 1:13-25
13 Therefore, once you have your minds ready for action and you are thinking clearly, place your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 Don't be conformed to your former desires, those that shaped you when you were ignorant. But, as obedient children, 15 you must be holy in every aspect of your lives, just as the one who called you is holy. 16 It is written, You will be holy, because I am holy. 17 Since you call upon a Father who judges all people according to their actions without favoritism, you should conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your dwelling in a strange land. 18 Live in this way, knowing that you were not liberated by perishable things like silver or gold from the empty lifestyle you inherited from your ancestors. 19 Instead, you were liberated by the precious blood of Christ, like that of a flawless, spotless lamb. 20 Christ was chosen before the creation of the world, but was only revealed at the end of time. This was done for you, 21 who through Christ are faithful to the God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory. So now, your faith and hope should rest in God.
22 As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly. 23 Do this because you have been given new birth—not from the type of seed that decays but from seed that doesn't. This seed is God's life-giving and enduring word.
All human life on the earth is like grass,
and all human glory
is like a flower in a field.
The grass dries up
and its flower falls off,
25 but the Lord's word endures forever.
This is the word that was proclaimed to you as good news.
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
Have you seen Veggie Tales, the Christian animated series that teaches biblical and moral lessons, using salad bar ingredients for its cast? Veggie Tales is designed to appeal primarily to kids; but teenagers and adults like watching the show, too. Big Idea, Inc., the producer of Veggie Tales, has sold millions of videos since the late 1990s; and each video ends with the same message: "God made you special, and he loves you very much!"
Like many children's programs of the last few decades, Veggie Tales reflects a priority of our culture: cultivating positive self-esteem, especially among young people.
But sooner or later, someone comes along and asks the question, "If everyone is special, then is anyone truly special?" Or let's take it a bit further: In light of the competitiveness that's predominant in Western society, when we say that someone is a winner, does that automatically mean that those who aren't winners are losers?
No one wants to be called a loser—even when he or she is actually losing.
And when we say that someone has been chosen, aren't we implying that everyone else wasn't chosen?
That's fine if you're in the chosen group, but should it really be a surprise when those who aren't chosen show a little resentment? This has been the cause of many religious conflicts over the years, and it continues to be the source of conflict today. My group is special; yours isn't—end of story. (By the way, that's not really something you want to say if you're trying to win friends and influence people.)
GOD'S PEOPLE AND ALL THE REST
Throughout Scripture, we see comparisons and contrasts between God's people and everyone else. In the New Testament, that sometimes takes the form of "the old self versus the new self," those living by the Spirit and those operating according to their own selfish nature—a.k.a. the flesh. When we become Christians, we quickly discover that we're not supposed to act like we did before our relationship with God; and we certainly shouldn't be acting like the nonbelievers. We're special now. Or we're supposed to be. (Sometimes it takes us a while to read the memo and really let it sink in.)
A friend of mine has two young sons; and he has made it a point to be their parent more than their friend, especially while they're really young. He's a loving father, but he's probably more strict than most parents. When he and his wife were at the hospital last year having their third child, I was in the waiting room with other members of his family. The two boys were also there with their grandmother, and the rest of the people who were waiting were marveling at how well-behaved they were. His grandmother explained that their dad had taught them that they had to behave. She told me that when the boys were in a public place and other children were throwing tantrums or misbehaving, they'd point at the other kids. They knew that they had to behave because of who their father was, but they didn't yet understand why the other kids weren't required to live under the same rules.
HOLINESS COMES FROM GOD
As Christians, we're called and set apart by God. We respond to God's grace; but make no mistake, it's God who makes the first move, not us. Christians should be different from the rest of the world—but different in a good way. However, any goodness we have in us or love that we show to others isn't ultimately because of who we are but because of who God is. The CEB Bible Dictionary says that the source of holiness is assigned to God alone. "Holiness is God's quintessential nature, distinguishing God from all beings." Holiness is goodness and light, and it's who God is. But as human beings in a broken world, we struggle to comprehend what holiness is without looking through a lens of negativity. To us, goodness means the absence of evil. Light means the absence of darkness. But the reality is, evil is the absence of anything good. Darkness is the absence of light. Goodness and light are real; evil and darkness are what happen when those things aren't present. So since God is the source of holiness, when we reject God or rebel against God, that's when evil and darkness abound.
LIBERATED BY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST
Before we're set apart, God sets us free from sin and death. But that's possible only because of Christ. Peter tells us, "You were not liberated by perishable things like silver or gold from the empty lifestyle you inherited from your ancestors. Instead, you were liberated by the precious blood of Christ, like that of a flawless, spotless lamb" (1 Peter 1:18b-19).
According to the CEB Study Bible, "Peter wants his audience to think about the Passover lamb from Exodus 12. The blood of the Christ is the basis for liberation of believers, just as the blood of the Passover lamb was associated with Israel's liberation from slavery in Egypt." Christ was chosen before the creation of the world to set us free so that we could be set apart. Jesus is holy; and because of our relationship with him, so are we. That makes us different from everyone on the planet who doesn't know Christ.
But because it's something we didn't earn, we must bear in mind that our status is because of God, not because of us. No need to get full of ourselves. Holiness always starts with God; don't go try to make your own.
YOU MUST BE HOLY
Someone once told me that the two things that change you the most are the people you hang out with and the books you read. If this is true, then Christians who spend time talking to God and reading their Bible ought to be the most transformed people on earth. But like many things, this takes some effort. We're holy because God has said so. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God's own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light" (1 Peter 2:9). But just one chapter before this, Peter says, "You must be holy in every aspect of your lives, just as the one who called you is holy" (1 Peter 1:15). This brings us to one of the big paradoxes of the Christian faith. We're already holy, yet we still need to be holy. Peter refers to Leviticus 19:2 here as well, "You will be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16).
It's impossible to live in communion with God, read and hear God's Word on a regular basis and have the Holy Spirit dwell within us and still be the same people we were before all that happened. Sure, we were called holy on day one. But now we must make it our mission to live into that declaration.
SETTING YOURSELF APART
God has set us apart; but we must constantly set ourselves apart, too. Peter says we do that by our "obedience to the truth" (1 Peter 1:22). This doesn't mean that we consider ourselves better than nonbelievers, but it does mean that we're in a much better place than we would be if we didn't know Christ. "Don't be conformed to your former desires, those that shaped you when you were ignorant" (1 Peter 1:14a).
On one hand, we're happy that we've found the Truth; and we want to share him with others. But on the other hand, we know that those to whom we offer Christ are really us before we heard and responded to the Good News ourselves. We behave differently from the world not to shame them or condemn them but to show them that there's a better way. We're not ordinary; we're extraordinary—because God is extraordinary.
As Christians, we believe that there's only one God. But throughout history, even the gods we made up and the evil beings masquerading as gods were never holy. They never tried to be. Holiness comes from God alone, and that's why we can't be ordinary anymore once we've had a real God encounter. And the more we encounter God and obey God, the more we set ourselves apart.
I grew up watching The Cosby Show. In the pilot episode, Bill Cosby's character, Cliff Huxtable, is talking to his son, Theo, about Theo's less-than-stellar grades in school. Theo tells his dad, "You're a doctor and Mom's a lawyer, and you're both successful and everything—and that's great! But maybe I was born to be a regular person and have a regular life. If you weren't a doctor, I wouldn't love you less, because you're my dad. And so, instead of acting disappointed because I'm not like you, maybe you should accept who I am and love me anyway—because I'm your son."
After applause from the audience, Cliff replies, "Theo, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life! No wonder you get D's in everything!"
Translation: You're not going to be a "regular person," because you're my son. Everyone else's son may be ordinary, but you're going to be extraordinary.
The Cosby Show would go on for eight seasons; and during those years, we would learn enough about the Cliff and Clair Huxtable characters to know that even if Theo hadn't buckled down and gotten better grades, Cliff and Clair did accept him for who he was and they would have loved him anyway—because he was their son. (Incidentally, Theo went on to get a psychology degree from New York University.)
In the same way, holiness should never become a performance issue. Otherwise, God becomes a tyrant—the demanding father who is never satisfied, even when we've done our best.
Get this much straight: We're accepted by God because of what Jesus did on the cross, period. But we have such riches in Christ that God no doubt has high expectations and hopes for us. Living in bondage to sin the way the rest of the world does is simply not an option.
So how do we respond to a God who expects us to be holy in every aspect of our lives? Is this even doable? I'm from the school of thought that says that God doesn't usually ask the impossible of us but that when God does ask it, there's always a provision to help us do the impossible. We have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, who, under normal circumstances, should be regularly filling us. That's huge.
READY FOR ACTION
More clues for how to tackle holiness can be found in 1 Peter 1:13: "Therefore, once you have your minds ready for action and you are thinking clearly, place your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed." A big part of the quest for holiness happens in our mind. We use our mind to talk ourselves into things and out of things. We weigh options with our mind and make decisions with our mind. Our intellect, emotions, and will are all connected with our mind. So if we can figure out how to use our mind correctly, the rest of our pursuit of holiness is that much easier.
Peter tells us that our mind should to be trained to always be ready for action. And we must learn to think clearly and have sense enough to avoid certain situations when we're not thinking clearly. And we mustn't forget hope. Essentially, we must learn to hang on to the good and let go of the bad. Often, that means learning how to think differently; and that takes discipline. (We'll deal with discipline in the next session.)
Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber were right: "God made [us] special, and he loves [us] very much." We learn this when we're kids; but as we mature in Christ, we realize that this comes with some responsibilities. We simply can't be who we really are and act like everyone else—not for long anyway, not if we're going to have real peace.
There's a reason for that: We've been set apart.
1. How do we get our mind ready for action? How do we know when we're not thinking clearly (1 Peter 1:13)?
2. How do our desires shape us? How do we change our desires (1 Peter 1:14)?
3. How do we make every aspect of our lives holy? Describe a scenario where a person is being holy only in some aspects of his or her life. What are the potential outcomes (1 Peter 1:15)?
4. Why does God expect Christians to be holy (1 Peter 1:16)?
5. What is the connection between holiness and the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:19)?
6. What happens when our faith and hope aren't resting in God (1 Peter 1:21)?
7. What does it mean to set ourselves apart? How does setting ourselves apart relate to God's setting us apart (1 Peter 1:22)?
8. What is the new birth Peter mentions in 1 Peter 1:23? How do we know whether we've experienced this new birth?
9. Who are God's people today? Why might this be considered a controversial question?
10. Is it possible to be a Christian and not pursue holiness? Why, or why not?CHAPTER 2
CELEBRATION OF WHAT?
'DISCIPLINE' ISN'T A FOUR-LETTER WORD
1 So then let's also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let's throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, 2 and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith's pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God's throne.
3 Think about the one who endured such opposition from sinners so that you won't be discouraged and you won't give up. 4 In your struggle against sin, you haven't resisted yet to the point of shedding blood, 5 and you have forgotten the encouragement that addresses you as sons and daughters:
My child, don't make light of the Lord's discipline
or give up when you are corrected by him,
6 because the Lord disciplines whomever he loves,
and he punishes every son or daughter whom he accepts.
7 Bear hardship for the sake of discipline. God is treating you like sons and daughters! What child isn't disciplined by his or her father? 8 But if you don't experience discipline, which happens to all children, then you are illegitimate and not real sons and daughters. 9 What's more, we had human parents who disciplined us, and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live? 10 Our human parents disciplined us for a little while, as it seemed best to them, but God does it for our benefit so that we can share his holiness. 11 No discipline is fun while it lasts, but it seems painful at the time. Later, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it.
12 So strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees! 13 Make straight paths for your feet so that if any part is lame, it will be healed rather than injured more seriously. 14 Pursue the goal of peace along with everyone—and holiness as well, because no one will see the Lord without it. 15 Make sure that no one misses out on God's grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people. 16 Make sure that no one becomes sexually immoral or ungodly like Esau. He sold his inheritance as the oldest son for one meal. 17 You know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected because he couldn't find a way to change his heart and life, though he looked for it with tears.
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
If you visit a McDonald's or similar community gathering place on a weekday morning and listen in on some of the conversations among the regular patrons, you'll hear all kinds of talk about politics and the news of the day. And if you ask someone who's Baby Boomer age or older what's wrong with society today, you might just hear the D-word:
"Parents don't discipline their kids anymore."
"People don't understand self-discipline."
"They should bring back the draft so that the younger generation can learn discipline."
There are probably many people out there who don't think of positive things when they hear discipline. The word has a number of different meanings, but there's a common connection between all of them. For the verb discipline, Google Dictionary lists three main definitions:
1. train (someone) to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
2. punish or rebuke (someone) formally for an offense.
3. train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.
Excerpted from Converge Bible Studies | Being Holy by Shane Raynor. Copyright © 2014 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
About the Series 7
1 Set Apart 13
2 Celebration of What? 27
3 Christian Meets World 39
4 Not Yet Perfect 51