Tim Keller: “Our Call: Holy Living”

Notes I’m taking on Tim Keller’s sermon “Our Call: Holy Living” from 1 Peter 1:13-16 preached on May 18,2014

Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean just “turning over a new leaf”, but Jesus Christ’s resurrection power comes into our lives. That’s quite a statement. What does such an empowered life look like? What does a spiritually resurrected life look like? Today we look at “We’re called to be holy”


Holiness is a difficult term to get a hold of. In our culture both sin and holiness are almost used anymore except ironically. If you talk about sin and holiness and you’re not talking ironically people get very quiet and very upset, that anyone would take these words seriously and not ironically.

  1. What is holiness?
  2. How does it grow and develop in us?
  3. Why is it possible for us to be holy?

1. What is holiness?

Vs. 15&16: Be holy because I am holy

It is perfect right to think about holiness and to think about morality. We almost always think about right living and moral living. That is certainly right. It means that, it doesn’t mean less than that. It means MORE than that.

If you want to understand what holiness is, he quotes the book of Leviticus. “be holy because I am holy”. The book of Leviticus is not talking so much about holy people, it’s not giving the ten commandments laying out all those things, it’s talking about holy THINGS. If you go to the book of Leviticus there are all sorts of things that are called holy. Tables are called holy, utensils, pots are called holy.

Right there you begin to see that holiness doesn’t just mean morality, because what’s a moral table look like? What does an immoral table look like? That doesn’t work.

It forces you to ask what “holiness” means and the Hebrew word means “set apart, separate”.

Right away we can see why God says he’s holy, because he’s utterly apart from other beings. Totally unique, there is no one else like him.

What then does it mean to have a holy table or a holy pot? It means that it is set apart for God’s exclusive use. When Peter quotes Leviticus that the people should be holy it means that this is going BEYOND morality.

One commentator.

“of course to be holy means moral behavior, but these words in Leviticus 11 are not given on the context of moral commands and prohibitions to people but the context of ceremonial restrictions pertaining to clean and unclean things, for belonging to God, living on his terms, delighting in him, obeying in him, honoring him, these are more fundamental than the specifics of obedience we label morality.”

There’s your definition. What makes the table holy? It belongs to God. What makes you holy? You belong to God.


The core of holiness is intensely personal.

It’s possible to be moral for a lot of reasons.

  • You can be moral out of a sense of duty.
  • You can be moral because it makes you feel good about yourself.
  • You can be moral because it fulfills family expectations.
  • You can be a pragmatist: honesty is the best policy.
  • It is good business to be moral: you don’t get caught, you gain a good reputation.

In every case you are moral roughly speaking for selfish reasons.

It is possible to be moral and not belong to God.

There are very few people for whom you say “the claims of love on me are so great that I can’t just live anyway I want.” The claims of love are so great I belong to them. There are a lot of things that I wouldn’t necessarily want to do but I do because I belong to them.

To belong to God means that I want to delight in him. I want to, I need to because of my love. It is an intensely personal thing.

It is not enough in God’s eyes to be moral.

“Many people say, “you’re admitting that you don’t need God to be moral. So why do I need to believe in God to be moral?”

As if that’s the big thing to be moral (he says a bit sarcastically)

An example of what it means to take the relational out:

Imagine a poor, single mother, not too much in terms of job skills. She has one son. She teaches him how to live:

  • Charity: I want you to always care for the poor
  • Honesty: I want you to always tell the truth
  • Industry: I want you to always work hard

And she does everything for him, works her fingers to the bone to raise him and put him through college without any debt.

After he graduates he says “Mom I may send you a Xmas card now and then, I may talk to you now and then but I really don’t want to have much to do with you. I don’t really need you.”

“Why?” she says.

“I always take care of the poor. I’m honest. I tell the truth. That’s what’s important. I don’t really want to have a relationship with you or talk to you anymore.”

Would you think that’s OK? Of course not. It’s repulsive.

If there’s a God, you owe him everything. For you to say “what’s really important is that I’m moral” is like that guy saying “hey Mom, I don’t really need to have a relationship with you.”

If there is no God that’s one thing, but to say “I don’t need God I’ve got morality” means you’re not holy.

God looks at someone who is moral but not holy he has to feel considerably worse than that mother did.

What is intriguing about the Levitical quote is that we belong to God is that it gives us the core of holiness which is intensely personal.

Now you have a principle for applying holiness to all of life

What’s the opposite of belonging to God? To belong to yourself.

Sure, there’s lots of rules, but more than that it means to no longer live for yourself. That’s the principle of holy living. You no longer live for yourself but for God and your neighbor.

1 Corinthians 6:19: “you are not your own, you have been bought with a price.”

You are a recipient of free grace, therefore, you are not your own.

Live as if you’re not living for yourself you’re living for God’s sake and your neighbor’s sake.

God had to practically clobber Peter over the head to teach him it was not necessary to keep the Levitical laws. In Jesus Christ all those laws were fulfilled in Christ. You are clean and acceptable in him. Why? Because the principle is the same. Every part of your life has got to be holy. To be holy is to belong to God.

Go to Ephesians 6. Paul is talking to people about how to do their daily job. Is there a commandment in the 10 commandments about how to do your daily job? No. There’s a commandment about resting.

Paul says “when you’re doing your daily job don’t work for your boss and don’t work for yourself.

  • If you’re working for your boss you’ll only work hard when your boss is noticing. You’ll only do what you do to give your boss a good impression of you.
  • If you work for yourself you’ll only do what’s necessary to make the money or to make more money.
  • But what if you’re working for the Lord? Your main motivation is to serve the LORD. You work much more diligently, conscientiously, cheerfully because you’re not living a dying on whether you get praise from your boss or others. It transforms your work. Because you’re not living for yourself.

To be holy means you belong to God and this applies everywhere, even places where there are no moral rules. That’s what holiness is.

2. How does it develop?

It isn’t something you can switch on with a snap.

It develops three ways: mind, will, heart.


You are intellectually engaged. “sober” you are very judicious. It means to extremely reflective and careful. It is like being a scholar.

“gird up your mind”: a vivid metaphor in a society where men and women wore flowing robes. You pull up your skirts, tuck them in your belt to run or to act. to gird up your mind is to think unto action.

In Philippians 4: “you should have the peace of God guard your heart, so think on these things.” Set your hope by thinking what you actually believe about the universe.

Do you know that God made this world to be a perfect place but in our rebellion we made it a broken place and that Christ came to purchase us at infinite cost to himself and he is coming again to restore the world. Do you know that everything is going to be OK? Do you have peace, hope and confidence? If not, it’s because you’re not thinking. You will not be holy, you will not have peace unless you THINK.

It’s a lack of thinking that gives you a lack of peace and holiness.

Talk to a typical New Yorker, “I believe that this is all there is. Love is just a chemical that makes a feeling that helped our ancestors survive. In the end nothing you do makes any difference. Love is an illusions… But if you think about this all the time you’ll be depresses so I don’t think about this I just try to live one day at a time…”

In other words you don’t believe in god and you’re getting your peace by NOT thinking about the implications of what you believe about the world. Christians get their peace FROM thinking out the implications.

The Will

“As obedient children do not conform…”

yes, there is a bottom line here. To be holy is to obey. Now you must conform to this. There is an engagement of the will.

Not just “as obedient subjects” but “as obedient children”. The kind of unconditional, absolute, trusting obedience that they rely on and love.”

In 2 Samuel 23 when David became king the Philistines were concerned David will make Israel strong so they destabilized the kingdom through invasion. David was forced to flee into the wilderness with his mighty men. the Philistines occupied parts of the country. David was feeling downcast. He was hot and tired and discouraged he said “if only I could just drink a cup of water from the gate of Bethlehem.” It wasn’t a command, a request but mostly a sigh, a hope. Three of his mighty men stole away and got a water jug, fought there way to Bethlehem, drew the water at the risk of their lives fought their way back and gave him the water. They had given up their lives. He poured the water out on the ground before the LORD and said “I’m not worthy of this kind of devotion.”

If you are really devoted to someone, if you love them, if you would do anything to delight that person, and honor that person, then there’s really no difference to you between a command of that person and a sigh. You don’t look at the rules and regulations about which ones do you have to keep.

Imagine someone comes up and says “I hear about this tithe thing, it is before of after taxes?”

How far are they from this kind of devotion like David’s men?

what do you mean “what do you have to do?” Anything that would bring joy to the heart of the one they’re devoted to. They went way beyond the commands and requests.

If you’re to be holy you only long to be devoted to God, and you think all this out. You not only obey the things that you do know but you look for other ways to please him.

You do it out of delight.

3. How can I get it: The Heart

“live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear”

“Live in the fear of God” is a major theme in the Bible and we need to unpack this at length and he’ll treat it in a few weeks.

This is the heart of what will motivate you and create that desire in you to please him, delight him.

Fear means not to be scared that you’re going to be destroyed. It’s your father who is going to be the judge that day. Fathers can be strict and have standards but they don’t destroy their children. Fathers love their children. Fear in the Bible means awe and wonder. Not doing things because you’re afraid you’ll be destroyed but awe and wonder at something your heart is engaged in.

Vs. 18, 19: the precious love of Christ, a lamb without defect.

His blood is sacrificial love is shed for you. John 17:19 Jesus is praying “for their sakes I sanctify myself that they might be sanctified.”

Sanctified is holiness. What does that mean? I’m going to become moral? Of course not. I give myself away, I set myself apart. I’m going to live my life for them so that we might be sanctified alone.

He wants us to know the joy of no longer living for ourselves, the claustrophobia, the narrowness, the smallness of spirit, the infinite regressive, the spiraling down on yourself. I want you to know the freedom of being so flooded with love that you don’t do that anymore. I’m giving myself away.

When you see him doing that. “see from his hands, his head, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.”

To the degree that you see him giving himself away for you, to that degree you give yourself away to live for him. Look at it until it makes you holy.











About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Sermon Outline and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Tim Keller: “Our Call: Holy Living”

  1. Kara says:

    Those are some great notes

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