On a recent trip, I learned in a tangible (and costly) way of the importance of reading carefully. Having booked a flight and paid for luggage and printed my boarding passes, my wife and I discovered that we were really going to need to take two small bags, not just one. I tried to add a bag to our itinerary the day before we were leaving, but couldn’t. I ended up calling and talking with a rep from the airline and was pointed to some of the “baggage information” on the web site. It took a while but I discovered that having printed my boarding passes, there was no way to add another bag (even though we were still a day out) and that I would have to check the additional bag at the gate, and that the cost of a gate checked bag was substantially higher than a bag that I indicated I was bringing before printing my boarding passes. And what that meant was the added bag was going to cost us as much as one of the tickets! I learned. I need to read carefully.
When I don’t read passages of Scripture carefully, I can run into trouble as well. Not additional charges at the gate, but perhaps unnecessary trouble in my life. And as we continue walking through 1 Peter, we come to a short passage where reading carefully is immensely important. Why? Because a few often overlooked words are critical to rightly understanding Peter.
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” ~ 1 Peter 1:13–16
Notice the “Therefore”–how this portion begins. Peter is not merely offering a series of instructions. This is a call to live “because of” what is true (as he has laid it out in the first twelve verses of this chapter); it is not, fundamentally, a call to live in a certain way “in order to” become something. Peter’s readers are those who are born again, who have a secure and certain future, who are the heirs of an imperishable and well-protected inheritance, who are currently being kept by God’s great power. Noticing that, it is clear that the things Peter is about to call his readers to are not the things that will produce that kind of life, but are rightly the things that flow out of already having that kind of life.
The call into this life begins with “prepare your minds for action.” With the variety of words referring to “mind” at Peter’s disposal, he selected one that refers to understanding or intentional thought. The expression “prepare . . . for action” is a colorful metaphor; the idea is pulling up one’s tunic and tucking the ends into the waistband so you are ready to run, ready to act. Given that his readers (and all believers) already have entered into this new, born-again life that comes by grace, the first appropriate response to this is to “pull your thoughts together to live this life well.”
What does it mean to be “sober in spirit”? This phrase is the translation of a single word. The idea? Something like “alert and self-aware.” It’s an invitation to be appropriately self-circumspect (but not self-consumed).
The last phrase is highly strategic. “Hope” in the New Testament is not wishful thinking (like “I hope I win the lottery and become an instant millionaire!”) but a certainty about the future anchored in the sure promises of God. Peter’s invitation is to have our future certainty anchored entirely and fully on the grace that is being brought to us that will culminate in an experience of that grace in the return of Jesus. What makes this particularly strategic, is that of the three phrases, this is the one command–this phrase is the main verb of the sentence, the others serve in an auxiliary way.
How should Peter’s readers (and those of us now reading Peter) understand these instructions? Not because Peter’s inspired words are inadequate but because I can misread what he is saying, I’d paraphrase him this way:
Because of this life that has become yours through the new birth and in light of the certain future that is yours because of the keeping power of God and because of God’s grace personally superintending and keeping you in this journey, as you pull your thoughts together around this great reality and look clearly and honestly at the work God is doing in you, settle down and rest fully in the certainty that by God’s doing and through His grace that is constantly flowing into your life you will be ultimately be all He intends for you to be, culminating in your being fully to the praise of His glory at the coming of Jesus.
We are being called into an intentional “living into” this life–a thoughtful, engaged, aware, “I am living this way because of how the grace of God has already invaded my soul” kind of living.