“God doesn’t expect you to be perfect.”
Many Christians say this, but is it true? Their intentions are good. We want to encourage fellow saints who are waging war with sin. We want to acknowledge sin’s reality rather than hiding behind a carefully curated façade. We also want to defuse tension as we talk to unbelievers about our faith, nuancing our approach to avoid a legalistic message.
But when we lower God’s expectations for his people, and de-emphasize the seriousness of his command for holiness, we actually cheapen his grace and lose sight of his spectacular promise.
A Serious Command
In his first letter, Peter writes to believers suffering persecution for following Jesus. He addresses them as “elect exiles of the dispersion,” emphasizing how their temporary world, along with all its trials, will give way to an “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4).
He details the magnificence of God’s mercy in regenerating them (v. 3), and the protection of God’s power to guard them (v. 5). His words overflow with the reality of divine grace.
But then, rather than assuring us that this gracious God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, Peter challenges us:
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.” (vv. 15–16)
This is serious. Peter allows no wiggle-room here. We can’t interpret the verse in a halfhearted way. Holiness defines God’s essence, and since God calls his people to be like him, holiness isn’t optional for us. The Holy One commands his chosen ones to be holy. No exceptions.