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Visible Holiness - 1 Peter 2:11-12

How should Christians live in the midst of an unbelieving world? That’s the main question of the book of 1 Peter, even though it’s taken him until the middle of the second chapter to lay the foundation for his answer. Verses 11-12 are the summarized version, which he then unpacks from 2:11 all the way to 4:11.

Here’s what Peter says: abstain from the passions of the flesh that assault your soul, and maintain good conduct in the sight of unbelievers. Even though you’re in unbelieving territory, don’t live like an unbeliever, but at the same time, live in a way that unbelievers recognize as good. And so my two word summary of Peter’s two verse summary is this: visible holiness. God wants your life among unbelievers to consist of good conduct that other people can see.

And by saying this, Peter slams the door on two competing ways of life that exiles are tempted to choose as easier or less painful options: first, conforming, or blending in, and second, retreating, or hiding out. Both of these strategies would reduce suffering in the short term, but Peter won’t let you try anything of the sort. You cannot join them, but you may not leave them. God wants you to live right in the middle of unbelievers, but He does not want you to live like unbelievers do. He wants you to be distinct, but not distant.

This is because God is not just doing something to you by making you holy. He is doing something through you; He is glorifying Himself by placing little communities that reflect His holiness all throughout an unholy world, to shine like lights in the darkness. And so if you adopt the passions of the flesh and join in the unbelieving lifestyle, then unbelievers won’t be able to tell a difference between your life and theirs, which means that your light has gone out. And if you hide your light, the effect is the same: no one sees the light. And since they don’t experience it, they can’t glorify God because of it. That’s why we can’t conform; that’s why we can’t retreat.

This is why Peter urges them not simply as Christians, but specifically as sojourners and exiles. If you “go native” among unbelievers, you’re not a sojourner anymore. If you retreat and make yourselves your own little heaven on earth in isolation with no unbelievers allowed, then you are no longer an exile. You’ve found your home. Problem is, nobody else can find it. And as we saw earlier in 1 Peter, exile is not a problem to be solved, it is a calling to be embraced. You are elect exiles; God has chosen you for this.

Peter then gives three reasons why God has called you to a life of visible holiness as sojourners and exiles. First, as visible holiness, abstaining from fleshly passions protects your own soul. Second, as visible holiness, keeping your conduct honorable counteracts the slander of unbelievers. Third, visible holiness moves unbelievers to bring glory to God.

On the day that God visits in judgment, everyone will praise Jesus for the life that He lived and the death He died, and for the glory of His resurrection, which brought life and salvation to the world. They will also praise God for what He did to you and through you, enabling you to overcome sin and live a good and godly life that brought blessing to your community. When God visits, unbelievers will be able to trace the goodness they saw in you back to the source, and when they do, they will be looking into the face of Jesus Christ.

Needless to say, if you’ve blended your life in so that you can’t be distinguished from the world, they won’t give God the glory for behavior that’s all too human. And if you’ve isolated yourself, people won’t have seen any reason to glorify God for on your account. But visible holiness worked out in your life is something that can only come from God, and so when Jesus Christ appears and confirms that this visible holiness is indeed the kind of life that God delights in, then the unbelievers who hated your way of life will drop to their knees and glorify God because of you.

God does not want you to be conformed to the world, or to retreat from the world. He wants your holiness to be visible, a mighty weapon in the war against fleshly lusts, a powerful answer to the slanders of unbelievers, and a great cause for giving glory to God when Jesus Christ appears. And so beloved, I urge you, walk in holiness, so that everyone might see Jesus through the visible witness of His Church.

Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2016 by CJ Bowen