Pursuing Holiness in Love

State Varsity Christian Fellowship – University of the Philippines (Diliman)

February 24, 2011 By Derick ParfanScripture: 1 Peter 1:22-25

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Unholy Love of Today’s Culture

I was asked to speak to you today on “Pursuing Holiness in Love.” In terms of relationships many young people today pursue the wrong things, things that are trivial and temporal. As Christians, we are called to pursue biblical and God-centered goals, things that are utterly important and lasting. We have to admit that even Christians act like the Christ-less world of young people today in terms of our relationship with each other. Instead of pursuing holiness in love, we are pursuing love without holiness. We are not really, then, pursuing love; we are pursuing lust. Lust desires to get from other people what we want; love desires to give to other people what they need. In our pursuit of love even at the expense of holiness, we end up pursuing our lustful desires.

Many young people today pursue unholy love, which is no love at all. It is not uncommon for your classmates to engage in premarital sex, and some of them are proud in talking about it. That’s what we see in movies. A man and a woman meeting each other for the first time and they already have a connection. That night they go to bed together and “make love.” Well, that’s not making love, that’s breaking love. Why? Because love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing (like sexual impurities), but rejoices with the truth (like sexual chastity)” (1 Cor. 13:6). Christian men become like the world when we think impure and lustful thoughts about our sisters in Christ, and take advantage of their emotions. Christian women became like the world when they try to attract other men by how they dress without modesty, insensitive to the sexual struggles that even the most godly men face.

When we talk about holiness in love, we are not just talking about moral or sexual purity in thoughts and actions toward each other. The primary idea of holiness in the Bible is that of being “set apart” or “unique” or “of a different class.” God is holy because there is nothing and no one like him. He is one of a class. Israel was called “holy” not because they were more righteous than other nations but because God set them apart from other peoples as his own treasured possession. The Levites were “holy” not because they were more morally pure than the other tribes of Israel, but because they were chosen to do something special for God and for the nation. According to that idea of holiness in the Bible, we are not pursuing holiness in our relationships with other Christians when our organization is no different from other student organizations on campus. Cold and casual relationships may exist among us when we disregard what others need, when we talk only of movies and sports and music, when we do not admonish a brother or sister living in sin, when we are friends only in Facebook but not in real life. We are not pursuing holiness in love. We are pursuing love just like the rest of the world.

Pursuit of Holiness

This becomes a huge problem when we take seriously our calling by God. In Peter’s first letter, he told us that the purpose why God chose us is “in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ” (1:2). We must pursue holiness in all that we do because as children of God we are to be like our Father, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but 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” (1:14-16). We will live like that because that is who we are, “”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” (2:9). Because of our new nature and calling as Christians we are already set apart, holy before God. And we must live like that and not like the rest of the world. Dapat tayo ay angat sa iba, hindi nakikiayon kung ano ang uso. Naiiba, hindi nakikiuso. Ito ang Cristiano.

Pure Fire of Christian Love

That’s got to be in all the areas of our life. But now we will focus especially on our relationship with each other as brothers and sisters. After Peter exhorted the believers to hope in God (1:13), to be holy like God (1:15-16), and to fear God (1:17), he tells us how to translate that kind of relationship with God to our relationship with one another: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1:22).

Peter was referring here to “brotherly love” (Gk. philadelphia). Loving “one another” means loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are born again into the same family. We will love as one family. Not that we will not love others outside of our Christian family, but our love for one another must be of a different kind, something deeper and more intense. “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35), Jesus told his disciples. You love your brother or sister not like the organization of engineering students, not like the brotherly love of fraternity members, not like the sisterly love of sorority members, but like family.

What kind of love makes us differ from the rest of the university? I will call it the pure fire of Christian love. First, it is love with fire. “Love one another earnestly.” This love is “sincere.” It is true and genuine. It is alive and not dead. It is fervent and unceasing. Even when the recipient of this love does not respond positively to correction, this love won’t stop caring. It is a love that won’t stop giving even when it is not getting something in return. This is love with fire. Once you ignite a small wood in the forest, the fire will spread and will not stop burning. That’s Christian love. This love touches others with the burning love of God.

This is not just like the fire or passion that other young people have that is uncontrollable and acts like wild fire. This is also the pure fire of Christian love. There is holiness and purity because it is love “from a pure heart.” It is love that has pure motives, godly desires, looking to the interests of others and not selfish, love that will not do one thing for another in exchange for something, love that is a reflection of a holy God and not that of the worldly culture, love that waits for the right time, love that is not controlled by lust and sexual desires. Love without malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander (2:1). This is the pure fire of Christian love. It is different, radically different from the love that is portrayed in the movies, defined by today’s popular “love songs,” and taught to us by our non-Christian peers.

Now, how can this kind of love exist between people who are naturally self-centered and sinful? The answer comes from the two clauses which bracket the exhortation to love another. I will call it the two foundations of the pure fire of Christian love. Without these two, we cannot build our life with this kind of love. And to grow our love like this and to help us keep loving even in tough and painful times when we feel like giving up, we must look and  stand firm on these two foundations. They go together. One cannot exist without the other.

Foundation No. 1: Purifying Faith

The first foundation is found before the exhortation to love, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1:22). “The truth” here probably refers to God’s revelation in the gospel where we see what is true of God and his holiness, of us and our sinfulness and need of a Savior, of Christ and his redemption, of our hope of everlasting life if we will put our trust in him. “Your obedience to the truth” refers to our response to the gospel, not by our works but by faith in God’s revelation in Christ. Peter is telling us here that by looking back to what happened to our souls in the past when we believe in Jesus Christ, we will continue to love one another.

In the gospel we know what true love is, when God demonstrated it in the cross of Christ. When we became followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit began the purification process of cleansing our souls from the dirt of sinful desires and replacing it with godly and pure love for others. “Christians are to love one another because by obeying the truth, by coming to faith in Jesus Christ, they have set themselves apart from the ways of the world and how they used to treat people” (Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter, p. 123). This is the first foundation – our heart-purifying faith in Jesus. By continuously making Christ our supreme treasure we can love each other with pure fire, passionate and holy. Kakaiba sa mundo, hindi ayon sa uso.

Foundation No. 2: Lasting Effect of the New Birth

We must look at the first foundation not as something that has to do with our work and our effort. The second foundation, which comes after the exhortation to love, makes that clear. “…love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1:22b-23).

Those who put their faith in Christ are born-again. They have a new nature. Then, their hearts in loving others were dead, but now they’re alive. Then, there was no fire; now, there is a fire. The new birth is not caused by us. We have nothing to do with that. It is God’s work. As the dead cannot will himself back to life, so we cannot will ourselves to being born again. As our son Daniel did not tell his mommy that he wants to be born on New Year’s Eve, so we are not the cause of our new birth. It is God’s work of bringing us to new life and re-creating our hearts toward love for him and for one another.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name (that’s the first foundation – the gift of purifying faith), he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (that’s the second foundation – the decisive work of God in our spiritual rebirth (John 1:12-13).

What does this being born again by God has to do with our pursuit of holiness in love? We are now alive, not dead just like the rest of the world who do not know Christ. We now have new hearts given to us by God, unlike the callous and self-centered hearts of Christ-less young people in campus. There’s now a new power at work in us through the Holy Spirit (“The fruit of the Spirit is love…” [Gal. 5:22-23]) unlike unbelievers who are weak and helpless. So then, we can pursue holiness in love because of these two foundations of what God already did and will continue to do to enable and empower us.

These two foundations are the fulfillment of God’s new covenant promise:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezek. 36:25-27).

Given these two foundations (purifying faith and lasting effect of the new birth) for the pure fire of Christian love, it is really impossible to pursue holiness in love if you are not a true born-again believer of Jesus Christ. If you are wondering how you can ever love like your Christian friend, then the answer is in the good news of Jesus. Listen to the gospel. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus. Let God change your heart toward pure and fervent love.

The Fuel of God’s Word

Now notice that these two foundations are made possible by the instrumentality or by means of the Word of God. We will see that the Word of God is the fuel that ignites our pure fire of Christian love. Why is that so? Because it is “the truth” (1:22, “by your obedience to the truth”). The lies of this world about sex and relationships stain our souls, but the truth of God’s Word cleanses us from our impurities. Jesus prayed for us, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Word of God makes our love for each other pure and true and sincere.

This Word also makes our love lasting and persevering because it is “an imperishable seed…living and abiding.” The effect of the new birth, including our growth in love for one another, will continue because the word of God remains forever. Peter supported this assertion in verses 24-25 by quoting from Isaiah 40:6-8: “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” Here he compares human beings (and by implication, everything that has to do with being human) with grass and even the best of our human efforts (“its glory”) like the flower. They will not last. They will soon be gone. They will fade and perish and disappear. Only the Word of God will remain. Jesus also made that clear, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).

If the Word of God has lasting power to bring us back to life and purify our hearts, then we must rely on it everyday for the rest of our life. It is foolishness to trust this world’s definition of love because Lady Gaga will soon be no more, Oprah is getting old, today’s fad will be forgotten tomorrow, our non-Christian peers will leave us soon. These things are fading, powerless and non-dependable. We rely not on popular opinions and beliefs and customs in pursuing love. Only the Word of God makes our pursuit of holiness in love possible.

Exhortations in Pursuing Holiness in Christian Love

Even if you are already a Christian, you know you still struggle with pure and genuine love. But you already have the Holy Spirit in you. He works through the Word. So saturate your mind with the Word of God. Don’t neglect your daily devotions in the Word and in prayer. Those who fall into temptation or those who have a heart that does not care for other’s needs are those who are not spending time developing their love relationship with Jesus. “How can a young man keep his way (of loving) pure? By guarding it according to your (God’s word)…I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9, 11).

And of course, you cannot grow love alone. You must meet together regularly in small groups (in your local church primarily), talk about the Word and hold each other accountable on how you live it out. Our love for one another does not grow by idle chit-chats and wasting time on non-sense activities. The Word of God has power to draw us toward each other closer in brotherly love. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).

Before we got married, my wife and I also faced some tough times struggling against temptations. There were times we were pursuing love without holiness. But because the Word of God is the foundation of our relationship, meditating on it and even memorizing it help us from falling deep into temptation. And now, almost three years into our marriage, the Word of God plays a very crucial role in our relationship. Our pursuit of holiness in love depends in large measure on our heart toward the Word.

There were several occasions when my wife and I cried out to God. Most of these has to do with what we are seeing in the relationships of our brothers and sisters in church. We grieve when our close friends go through the pains of premarital pregnancy, marriage with non-believers, and unfaithfulness in their relationships. A few days ago, my wife suddenly cried. I let her for a while. Then I asked her why. She told me she’s crying because she’s not seeing true love relationships in our church. People only relate to each other casually. Some are just going with the flow. This moves us to pray for our church to really develop the kind of pure love that God wants us to have. And I know that my role as a pastor especially in preaching the Word will be crucial. The people’s pursuit of holiness in their love relationships is dependent on their attitude and response toward the Word.

Wherever you are in the pursuit of holiness in your love relationships – either in courtship, engagement or fellowship with brothers and sisters – may you rely on the Word daily for your heart’s transformation. May you look at the Word (and this message) as always good news, just like what Peter told his readers at the end of the passage, “And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1:25). Good news because it keeps us going in our pursuit of holiness in love.

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