“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is a well-known phrase that comes from the United States Declaration of Independence. These three things according to the authors are examples of “unalienable rights” that we are endowed or provided with by our creator. I’m not here to dispute that or make any kind of political statement. This mantra, especially the “pursuit of happiness”, is something that is engrained in the human heart and mind whether we are American or not. Who doesn’t want to be happy and free?

However, from a Biblical perspective or as a believer, happiness is not our number one priority or ultimate purpose in life. For example, in Matthew 6:33 it says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. When Jesus said, “all these things” He’s referring to a list of basic human needs that are given in verse 25-34 of the same chapter, things that we worry about like what we’re going to eat, drink, and wear. Jesus knows that they are important to us, or He wouldn’t have used the word “worry” 4 times in this passage. In 1 Peter 5:7, that we’ll look at later, says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”. The word “anxiety” is also translated as “care” from the Greek word μέριμνα (merimna). God knows what we “care” about. He also knows our desires. In Psalm 37:4 it says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”. So, God does care about what we care about. In Romans 8:31-32 the Apostle Paul says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

However, both Matthew 6:33 and Psalm 37:4 begin with a pursuit that is greater than our happiness. We are to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”, and to “take delight in the Lord”. This is the pursuit of holiness that Peter refers to in 1 Peter 1:14-16 when he says, “14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Our “other” desires are important, but they are secondary to our created purpose which is the “first and greatest commandment” to “love the Lord our God with all our heat soul mind and strength.” (Matthew 22:37-39) Even loving our neighbor is secondary to loving God with “all” our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Part of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength includes this pursuit of holiness, to be like Him, to “be holy” as He is holy in everything we do. We are no longer conforming to the “evil desires” we had when we lived in ignorance (1 Peter 1:14) or the “pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). We are new creations. The old is gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Rather than conforming, we are called to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2) through the word of God in order to be holy. This pursuit of holiness is what we were chosen by God for.

Peter begins his letter in 1 Peter 1:1-2 by saying, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” In my preparation for youth Bible Study this week, I discovered that being holy and being sanctified both come from the same root word in the Greek. Holy is ἅγιος (hagios) and sanctifying or sanctified is ἁγιασμός (hagiasmos). See the similarities? (I know I’m really “geeking” out with this stuff, but in a spiritual sense of course) So, this “sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit” is the process or pursuit of holiness. If you mash them together, they mean to be holy or set apart for and by God, to be distinguishably different through the sanctifying, purifying, and cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is what John Wesley calls the “moving on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1).

Sanctification is also one of three essential ingredients or phases for salvation, which also includes “justification” (Phase 1 or believing and confessing that Jesus is Lord, confession of sin, repentance, and forgiveness) and “glorification” (Phase 3 or when we are with the Lord in heaven) Sanctification is phase 2. It is the “working out our salvation with fear and trembling that Paul describes in Philippians 12:2, and the “moving beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and being taken forward to maturity” that we find in Hebrews 6:1. Sanctification is no picnic. It’s a grueling marathon that lasts until we go to be with the Lord in heaven. Becoming holy or more like Jesus and God the Father is not easy.

It’s important to understand all this as we not only move on in our study of 1 Peter, but also when we study of the rest of the Bible. Our salvation and relationship with God are the central themes of everything we read in God’s word. Seeking first “His kingdom and His righteousness or holiness is our first priority. Peter also includes that we are chosen by God through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to “be obedient” to Christ which is an essential part of being holy. We can’t be holy without obedience.

Back when I attended and served in Presbyterian churches, they had a different version of “confirmation” class than we have in the Methodist church. It’s called “catechism”. During “catechism” class one of the first questions that is asked is “what is the chief end of man?” in other words “what is our main purpose or goal in life as believers?” The answer is “to glorify God and enjoy Him (God) forever.” This is basically another way of saying “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”.

I don’t know about you but this command to “be holy as I am holy” is a rather intimidating prospect. How are we going to pull that off? But the good news is that we’re not doing it alone. According to 1 Peter 1:3, we have a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. This “living hope” is found “in Christ” who makes all things possible including our sanctification and our pursuit of holiness. Without Him we can do nothing. So, we need to learn how to lean into or grab a hold of that living hope. We’ll take a closer look at this “living hope” next week.