This excerpt from the IVP New Testament Commentary covers the themes of obedience and holiness in 1 Peter. Before digging into the commentary, check out this passage of Scripture:

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”— 1 Peter 1:14-16 (NIV) 


The practical expression of the new way of life centered on hope, or rather on the God in whom we hope, is developed in this section both negatively and positively. As a kind of heading we have the phrase as obedient children. Christians are God’s children, who know him as their Father (1:17). In the biblical world the characteristic quality associated with a father was care for his children (Ps 103:13; Mt 7:9-11), and the corresponding characteristic of children was obedience to their father.

Obedience to God signifies negatively that his children will not go on living as they used to do, molded by whatever their sinful desires suggest. The readers used to be characterized by a pagan ignorance of God. Consequently, they did not realize that their desires were evil. But now as God’s children they have no excuse for ignorance or for conforming their lives to the pattern of the sinful world.


Positively, obedience to God necessitates becoming holy like him. Whatever the original history of this word, it came to express the essential character of God himself, summed up in such terms as purity, truth, sincerity, righteousness and opposition to evil. The holiness of God himself is both the pattern for holiness and the reason for holiness. Peter quotes from Leviticus 11:44, a command that God directed to the people of Israel as they journeyed to the Promised Land. It referred to their character as God’s people in keeping his commands. Holy, therefore, includes the sense of belonging to God, a people marked off and separate from the world by their way of life.

Peter does not feel compelled to justify applying this command to the members of the church. Although they are in large part Gentiles, they have come into the people of God. What was said to Israel in the Old Testament is now applicable to them. To be sure, the way in which the command is to be kept has altered. In Leviticus, God was concerned with the ritual of the sacrificial system as well as with ethical requirements. But Peter freshly applies it in accordance with the basic principle of living in a way that is appropriate for God’s people.


Let us remember that holiness affects not only our personal relationship to God but all of our relationships. It affects all you do (literally “your conduct”), and Peter is greatly interested in this theme (2:12; 3:1, 2, 16; compare with the corresponding verb in 1:17). Every other time Peter uses the noun, it is in the context of the public behavior of Christians. Peter is concerned that the way in which Christians live should testify to their faith in God, show the character of God and witness to the gospel; the behavior of Christians should be an incentive for other people to believe.


IVP New Testament Commentary Series Obedience and Holiness

We adapted this blog post from the 1 Peter volume of the IVP New Testament Commentary. This 20-volume commentary series covers the entire New Testament with care and up-to-date evangelical scholarship. Want to learn more about the IVP New Testament Commentary? You can read about it and purchase it on our website.

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