In 1 Peter 1:16, Peter stated that the believer is to be holy. But how do we “become holy”? In the previous post I alluded to the classic scene of a monk living in the cave. He is physically separate from the world, but his mind might remain there! He might be thinking about some women he met on the way to his cave, or wondering about how is life might have gone if he stayed at home, or he might be jealous of his brother who got rich and is living a good life, or ne might be smugly thinking how spiritual he is in comparison to all the other less-monkish Christians who do not live in caves, etc. Appearing to be holy should never be confused with actual holiness.
Peter’s main point in verses 13-15 is that a life of physical holiness and separation is of no value if one’s mind remains unrestrained. Holiness begins with control our thoughts.
First, we are to prepare our minds for action. This is the first word of the paragraph (and is an aorist participle) and it emphasizes the fact that Peter thinks that preparing your mind for action precedes holiness. The verb ἀναζώννυμι is literally “gird up,” and the phrase is in fact “gird up the loins of your mind (ὀσφυς).” To “gird up one’s loins” refers to the practice of wearing a belt and tucking your robe into the belt in order to move more freely, perhaps to walk or run. This is a similar metaphor to Paul’s “belt of truth” in Eph 6:14. In the parable in Luke 12:35-40 Jesus teaches that the disciple must be “dressed and ready” for the return of the Master at any time.
Second, we are to prepare our minds by being “sober-minded.” This verb (νήφω) can refer to “not being drunk,” but it is often used for reasonableness, clear thinking. Think of this as the sort of self-discipline required of an athlete, they have to be completely focused on the game in order to win (or, think of the lack of focus of the five-year-old soccer league). Perhaps we can think of this word as referring to absolute focus on the task of “being holy.”
This is a very difficult thing for the typical twenty-first century person to practice since we are bombarded with so many ideas and distractions at any given time. For a twenty-something, it is difficult to sit quietly and think (they go into cell-phone deprivation). People were just as easily distracted in the first century, so Peter gives his readers a specific thing to focus on as they live out this new life in Christ.
Third, we are to fully set our hope on the grace that will be revealed at the return of Jesus. Peter offers his readers something to help them focus their attention – the hope of the soon return of Jesus. Hope in the Bible is not like hope in modern English, which is often a kind of hope for something that is unlikely (“I hope I win the lottery.”) Instead, hope is in something that is certain to happen in the future and it gives a person some motivation to act in the present.
Our hope in the soon-return of Jesus ought to have an impact on how we live right now (mentally and spiritually prepared and sober-minded, leading to a kind of holiness that sets us apart from the world). This is not a prediction that Jesus will return in a particular date, nor does Peter look at contemporary events and claim that they are fulfilling prophecy; rather, he is making the simple observation that the return of Jesus is very close and could happen soon, therefore the believer ought to be motivated toward increasing holiness.
Last, if we allow our minds to be guided by holiness, we will not be conformed to childish passions. The more we yield to the Spirit of God and become more mature in Christ, the less we are “conformed” to the passions of this world. To conform is to be “guided by” something, to follow the instructions for example. (This is the same word Paul used in Romans 12:2, συσχηματίζω, with virtually the same point.)
It is significant that Peter does not give a list of spiritual, religions acts that will result in holiness. He does not give a special prayer, or a set of magic rituals that, if preformed correctly, will result in holiness. He simply says, “change the way you think!” The problem is that changing the was we think is far more difficult than a set of rituals, and that alone explains the practices of most religions.