By Jonathan Moseley
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:9-12
As Christians, we often find ourselves in situations where we feel like the “odd man out.” Whether it be at our jobs, around nonbelieving friends and family, at school – it’s easy to feel as though we need to fit the mold of whatever group or conversation we are having. Yet Peter is telling us in this passage that we are chosen, royal, holy, and a people for his (God’s) own possession. This means that we are meant to feel as though we don’t always fit in. We are meant to not fit in with societal and cultural norms. Our words, actions, and thoughts are meant to make people question their own. True Christians will look drastically different than the rest of the world. But, this difference isn’t something that just comes naturally as soon as we begin to follow Jesus. This difference – this holiness – requires great intentionality, focus, and energy. So what does it mean to be holy? And in what ways are we called to be holy?
What Is Holiness?
Holiness means to be set apart, different, not the same. When it comes to God and us, we are different in two ways: categorically and qualitatively. He is Creator and we are creation (See Isaiah 40:25). We are also qualitatively different from God: he is infinite in his wisdom, completely free and dependent on no one, unmatched in his justice, and perfect in love and grace. And then there’s us: very flawed in our wisdom, very imperfect in our love, totally dependent on Him for all things, and we don’t know how to execute justice the right way. God is set apart from us both categorically and qualitatively. We are not like Him.
In the same way that we are categorically and qualitatively different from God, Christians are categorically and qualitatively different than the world. We are children of God and the Bible calls the world workers of lawlessness. We are in different categories. But qualitatively, we are also different. The world has a heart of stone: a heart that can’t see God, a heart that rejects and wants nothing to do with God, and a heart that rebels against God. But for those who are Christians, we have a heart of flesh; in other words, we now have a heart that can love, obey, and enjoy God. The world can’t do this because their heart is a different substance than ours.
How Are We Called To Be Set Apart?
Now that we’ve tried to put some language to what holiness means, in what ways are we as Christians called to be set apart? I want to offer three for us. As I do, I encourage you to test yourself to see whether or not you are set apart in these ways.
We Are Set Apart In Our Ambitions
There are only two people we can truly live for: self or God. Christians no longer for themselves, but for God. Our only agenda is to honor God, glorify him, and please him. We have thrown away what we want. People who do not know God live for themselves. When a Christian thinks about their next decision—the next place they’ll move to, about starting a family, about going to work— they’re aiming at God. They ask, “How can I make much of God?” The center of the target is God’s renown and they focus their attention there. Every ambition and dream and desire have God as the one they want to look good. The world could care less about this, but that’s why Christians are set apart in their ambitions and aims.
We Are Set Apart In Our Actions
Every activity has purpose for the Christian, even the smallest ones like eating and drinking. Christians do not drink a glass of orange juice the same way someone of the world does. We receive that glass with gratitude—a gift of God’s provision. Our actions—the “what” we do and the “how” we do it—are meant to display our enjoyment and love for God. That’s why in whatever we do, ultimately, we do for God’s glory. Our actions have purpose. They are not random; they are intentional. The world goes on their merry way not giving much thought to what they do. But Christians are set apart in the ways they act.
We Are Set Apart In Our Affections
What Christians love and what the world loves will be different. The world is a rival to Christians, because often the world calls good what is evil and calls evil what is good. That’s really what the essence of sin is: it’s loving what God says to hate and hating what God says to love. Sin, at the root, is not a behavioral problem. It’s a love problem. When we love something else more than God, we exchange God for that thing—whatever it is. But as God’s people, our affections should be set apart, namely, what we love and hate match what God loves and hates.
Called Into Light To Shine
As God calls us into his marvelous light, we take on his character. And we, too, begin to shine. Jesus calls himself the light of the world in John 8:12. He calls us that in Matthew 5:14.To the degree that we are “set apart” from the world is the degree to which our lights will shine. You are not meant to blend in like camouflage. If your ambitions, actions, and affections resemble the world, your light bulb is out. But if your ambition is to please God, and your actions seek to bring God glory, and your affections match the very heart of God, you are surely a bright light in a dark place. We need to test ourselves in this, lest we become deceived. Sometimes we honestly think we live for God, but we’re actually very selfish in our thinking and our planning.
Jonathan Moseley is the Director of Community and Operations at Renewal Church.