This study is based upon the New City Catechism.
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)
In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul labored nearly three chapters to demonstrate that the grace of God reigns through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (5:21). Though sin is plentiful, grace abounds all the more (v.20). Some consider this license to indulge in numerous vices. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1). Such men count the freedom of Christ as liberty to sin. There are at least two problems with this conclusion.
First, sin that grace may abound is foolishness. Only a fool returns to a hard master when he has been bought by another with such an easy yoke (Matthew 11:30). You would join the Israelites who preferred Pharaoh to God (Numbers 14:1-4; Acts 7:39; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; cf. Nehemiah 9:17)! Their fate will be yours: “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5; cf. Numbers 14:29f; 26:64-65; Psalm 106:26; Hebrews 3:17; Jude 5). Would you go back to the Devil’s plantation, to dine in Hades and sleep with your assassin, sin? Eyes are for the light, not the dark; lungs are for air, not water; salvation is for holiness, not unholiness.
Second, sin that grace may abound is fantasy. “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2). The grace that abounds is the grace that sanctifies. Justification is an open curtain, and sanctification is a warm ray beaming through the window. By the design of God in the covenant of redemption, a justified man will no less exhibit sanctification than the sun will light a room when the shades are drawn. Holiness is the very definition of what we are being saved unto: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Peter saw the foolishness and fantasy of sin that grace may abound. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). God created our father, Adam, from dust, and thereby defined what it means to be “human.” Similarly, by creating the church (i.e. His new creation), He defines what it means to be redeemed. He has called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (v.9). Let us, then, separate ourselves from all iniquity. Not all segregation is improper. Segregation from sin is certainly called for in Scripture. We are God’s people, having received His mercy (v.10). Segregation from unholiness is often difficult, because we live among unbelievers. This is all the more reason to lead obedient and holy lives, “so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (v.12).
The negative reason for holiness is the foolishness and fantasy of sin that grace may abound. The positive reason for holiness is presented by Peter, and is likewise twofold. First, grace abounding in holiness is God-glorifying. God has taken special possession of us in Christ. He is not only our potter (Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:6), He is now our Father. “He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5; cf. Romans 8:18-25). We are “a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Holiness is the working-out of what God works within (Philippians 2:12-13). We obey God, and therein formally and informally glorify Him.
Second, grace abounding in holiness is evangelistic. To abstain from the passions of the flesh is to provide a living apologetic for unbelievers (1 Peter 2:11-12). The Gospel cannot be preached without words, but it cannot be vindicated without actions. If we do not maintain a good conscience, then our preaching is subject to slander and shame (3:15-16). What unbeliever will live like Jesus is Lord, if we believers do not live in such a way? Woe to that man who rejoices in the Lordship of Christ, yet feeds pet sins.
Question: Since we are redeemed by grace alone, through Christ alone, must we still do good works and obey God’s Word?
Answer: Yes, so that our lives may show love and gratitude to God; and so that by our godly behavior others may be won to Christ.