“Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
1 Peter 1:13-16 (NRSV)
Ralph Waldo Emerson shared in a lecture, “We plant trees, we build stone houses, we redeem the waste, we make prospective laws, we found colleges and hospitals, for remote generations. We should be mortified to learn that the little benefit we chanced in our own person to receive was the utmost they would yield.”[i]Emerson decried the tendency of people to live below their true capacity – to chance little of their enormous potential. The life they make for themselves is not what it could be, not what it should to be. Living below the capacity available to them, they should not experience surprise that what they receive in return is little. In fact, such people should be “mortified.”
This is Peter’s concern for the one who follows Christ: “Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves.” The encouragement from Peter is that the Christian strive forward, stretching personal ability and gifts for maximum benefit. The “hope” Peter speaks of is not wishful thinking. Rather, it is certain expectation, which follows personal effort – expectation lodged firmly in the promises of Jesus. Careful preparation of the mind, that is, clear and focused thought, is demanded followed by intentional participation in God’s work in the world. Discipline will be required less the Christian once again is conformed to former ways that are largely unproductive.
Success in any organization is determined by the quality of organization and effort. Similarly, the success or failure of a person depends on the way he or she manages himself or herself. We all produce things, behaviors, and attitudes that reflect our management, or lack of discipline and personal management. As such, we should gauge the quality and the importance of who we are becoming in each area of our lives – our personal growth, relational growth with family, friends, and colleagues, professional contribution, and spiritual growth. Without determined, intentional action, we ease back into ordinariness.
Peter asks that we claim our identity as God’s chosen people. Accordingly, God’s people are to live “holy” lives – that is, we are to separate ourselves from ordinariness and live distinctly as those who follow Jesus Christ. “Holy” does not presume that we will live perfectly, without stumbles, difficulty, and occasional rebellion and disobedience to God. It does suggest that when we stumble, it matters to us, that we expect more from ourselves, and rise and struggle forward in obedience once again. It is the intention of the heart that leads believers to behave in ways that seem strange to those who have not answered the call to be “holy” – to live into an extraordinary life as God desires for us.
[i]Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Young American”, Emerson: Essays and Lectures (New York, N.Y.: The Library of America, 1983) 219.