What’s an Exile to Do? Devote Yourself to Your God

Posted by R. Fowler White

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but 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 Pet 1:14-16, ESV)

The First Epistle of the Apostle Peter meets us where we live as a kingdom-colony of resident aliens in this world. We’re making our way to New Jerusalem, and we need directions on the right path to take. Having filled us with courage in our elect identity and with thanksgiving for God’s saving work, Peter exhorts us in 1:14-16. Be holy, he says. Be devout. Devote yourself to your God. Look at the details.

First, he tells us how we’re not to live our new life (1:14). Don’t let your pre-Christian ignorance determine your choices and affections now. Don’t stay stuck in those old patterns of passing pleasures. Don’t follow your former routines. Remember what life was like as a non-Christian (see Rom 1:18-32): you and I suppressed what we knew of God, and we didn’t see fit to acknowledge Him. How’d that work out for us? He gave us up to dishonoring our bodies and debasing our minds. Captive to corrupt cravings of body and mind, you and I were hopelessly confused, with darkened minds and hardened hearts, without a sense of shame. We lived for pleasure, shaped by our corruption, defiled in all the parts and faculties of our souls and bodies. By nature, you and I were utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil. We were, spiritually and morally, corpses in coffins, prodigals in pig pens. In light of all that, Peter says, don’t let your former ignorance keep shaping your life. Or as Paul said it, don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold (Rom 12:2, J. B. Phillips).

Having told us how we’re not to live, Peter now tells us how we are to live (1:15-16). Leaving behind our old appetites and priorities, we’re to devote ourselves to the holy God who called us into a new life. In 1:2, Peter mentioned what God did for us: the Spirit set us apart from the world and devoted us to (i.e., reserved us for) God, so that we obeyed the gospel and were cleansed by Christ. That phase of the Spirit’s sanctifying work is finished. But in 1:15-16 Peter mentions what God requires from us now: we’re to be holy, devout, devoted to our God. Strengthened by His Spirit and lined up with His Word, we’re to emulate our God more and more. Look to God’s own character. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all holy, holy, holy, entirely devoted to Their glory, each and all. Heed, then, His revealed will: be holy—be entirely devoted to God’s glory—in every department of your lives (J. B. Phillips). And just how does devotion show up in our lives? It shows up as we nourish and develop our new passions to know God and His revealed will. It shows up as we bear the fruit of the Spirit more and more. It shows up in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Overall, devotion to our God shows up in change from likeness to the world to likeness to Him, not just on isolated occasions, but in our new affections, priorities, and routines. In Peter’s words we hear echoes of Paul’s command in Rom 12:2, Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. To be holy is to be devout. It is to be committed to the process of progressive conversion to the likeness of the holy God who called us.

On the way to New Jerusalem, what are we exiles to do? Recognize that the holy God has called us to Himself. In doing so, He has united us by His Holy Spirit to Christ. Old unholy passions have been cut off from their food supply. New holy affections have been implanted. The seeds of holiness have started to grow. Meanwhile, Peter directs us onto the right path to take: don’t let the passions of your former ignorance keep shaping your life. Cultivate your new affections for the holy God who called you, and devote yourself, soul and body, to the glorious fame of His name.[i]

[i] For more on the theme of holiness as devotion to God, see S. B. Ferguson, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).