It is hard to understand the interplay between our sinfulness and our holiness. God calls us to be holy just as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16, quoting Leviticus) but how does one go about doing that when we recognize that we are all also sinners who have fallen short (Rom 3:23)? The answer to that question is found in the opening of 1 Peter where Peter tells us that we are sanctified by the Spirit. Again, that word for sanctification is just a verb form of the word for holy. The Spirit has made you holy by the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:2). Holiness is not something we achieve by our own hard work. To be holy is only possible by God making us holy by the work of the Spirit. Once we understand that, then we can see our subsequent behavior for what it truly is – not acts that make us holy because the Spirit has already done that, rather, acts that recognize the gracious gift of holiness already given. This is our work of obedience (1:14), which is behavior done in light of the gift that has already been given. So you are made holy by the Spirit AND called to “be holy in all you do” because God himself is holy and we want to have fellowship with him.
In 1:17 we are reminded that being God’s holy people puts us in harmony and at home with God but makes us foreigners in this world. Now we see the depth of significance of their salvation. Not only were they chosen (1:2) but so was Jesus Christ (1:20) not in the sense of God choosing him to be who he is but chosen to do what he did. Jesus was chosen to bring about our redemption or ransom and it was a heavy price, far greater than anything silver or gold could ever purchase. This reminds Peter’s audience and us that our holiness truly matters because the price that was paid for it was significant. For those undergoing persecution for their faith this is a significant message because it is further encouragement to persevere through trial. Because Jesus did these things, especially as demonstrated through the resurrection, they have hope (1:21). Why does the resurrection bring them hope? Because they are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus and could very well die for their faith. Resurrection matters all the time but especially in times like those.
Last, Peter says something that seems out of line with all he has said to this point,
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth” (1:22).
How is that consistent with being made holy by the Spirit back in 1:2? There Peter wrote that we were sanctified to be obedient. Here he seems to say we are obedient to be sanctified. Which is it? My opinion is that our obedience is a necessary response to the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Our obedience doesn’t take impurity and make it pure. That is the Spirit’s work. Obedience is preventative. It keeps impurity from being their in the first place. While this is an impossible task it is a necessary effort because it demonstrates our recognition of all that has been done to make us holy (1:18-21).
When we are all living and operating under an appreciation for the work of the Spirit to bring us sanctification we can and will have true love for each other (1:22). This is the outflow of our new birth in Christ (1:24-25). Let us live accordingly.