“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, ‘Be ye holy; for I am holy.'” – 1 Peter 1:13-16
“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind.” Unless you know something about Greco-Roman culture back in the first century when Brother Peter wrote these words, it’s hard to know just what he is telling us. What does he mean by “gird up”; and what are “the loins of your mind”?
To gird up means to bind about, especially with a belt. The picture here is one of a Roman soldier putting on the part of his armor that covered the groin or loins. The phrase “the loins of your mind” is much more difficult to understand.
For the meaning of that phrase, we must know how first century folks understood both “loins” and “mind”. The loins were the center of procreative power — which is the literal translation of the Greek root used here. The Greek root used here for “mind” is one which means deep thought. So, what we have here is a phrase that means the mind in its full capacity, strength or power.
What Brother Peter is telling us to do here is to gird up, or bind, as with a belt, our full mental capacity or strength. Now, in English, this doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. After all, the mind is not something around which you would put a belt. So, we have to forget our modern understanding and the limits that occur when translating from one language to another. We start with an image in our minds that closely approximates what Brother Peter is telling us. That image comes from the concept of girding up. As I said earlier, it is the image of a Roman soldier putting on a piece of his armor which is fastened with belts, such as the piece that covered his groin. This, itself, requires at least some understanding of the cultures and practices in the time during which Peter wrote. We would have no understanding of what a Roman soldier’s armor looks like without the availability of historical accounts and descriptions of armor in the New Testament (see Ephesians 6:10-18). But, because we do have such information available, we can get an idea of what Brother Peter is saying in this portion of his first epistle. And, as I also said earlier, we have to look at how someone in the first century would have understood what Brother Peter was writing here. “The loins of your mind” really makes no sense in English without having available the context of first century Greco-Roman culture, and a knowledge of the language in which the phrase was originally written.
Modern English translations may be helpful in giving us an understanding of what this passage may mean to us today, but they tend to do it at the expense of what the passage would have meant to those to whom it was first written. The New International Version, in particular, uses a translation method called dynamic equivalence. Rather than merely translating the words and making the necessary adjustments for grammatical correctness, the New International Version attempts to translate the meanings. In other words, it tries to translate from what the passage would have meant then to what it would mean for us today by providing our cultural equivalent. Anyone who has lived among different cultures would understand how there is something lost when trying to translate from culture to culture. Sometimes, there simply is no cultural equivalent to a particular concept. While I won’t use modern translations for that very reason, and because many modern translations tend to be rather loose with their translating, it may be helpful to sparingly refer to one of the better modern translations, such as the New International Version or the New American Standard, but use a version which remains much truer to the original, such as the King James.
The New International Version renders “gird up the loins of your mind” as “prepare your minds for action”. Is this an accurate modern rendering? Again, we must realize that there is always something lost when translating from one language to another; particularly when dealing with such dissimilar languages as Greek and English. Can “gird up” be accurately rendered as “prepare”? Well, there are three words used in the New Testament that are translated “prepare”, and none of them are contained in our text. The most commonly used word means to make ready, which is the sense of the New International Version’s use of “prepare your minds for action”. The next most common, used only twice, means to prepare thoroughly. The remaining word, used only once — and that in specific reference to battle — means to furnish aside, get ready. Does “gird up,” in this context, closely approximate our modern concept of preparation? I think if Brother Peter had meant to use one of the words rendered “prepare,” he would have done so. The only really close cultural approximation we have to “gird up,” would be in the concept of putting on clothing or equipment designed to protect, such as safety glasses, bullet-proof vests, or steel-toed boots. “Gird up” was used in the context of a soldier putting on protective armor, so I’m not convinced that “prepare” is an accurate modern rendering. What this phrase, “gird up the loins of your mind,” would mean in modern English is to protect, keep in tact, one’s full mental capacity. But let’s move on.
After we gird up the loins of our mind, we’re told to “be sober.” Now, Brother Peter isn’t necessarily talking about not being drunk. While the Greek root used here does mean to abstain, as in abstaining from wine, it also means to watch, and suggests being discreet. So, in addition to protecting and keeping in tact our full mental capacity, we’re to be watchful, discreet.
Then we’re told to “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The literal translation of the Greek here is perfectly hope on the grace being brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. And the revelation Brother Peter is referring to here is Jesus’ bodily return to earth to set up His millenial kingdom.
We are to protect and keep in tact our full mental capacity; to watch and be discreet; and to perfectly hope for the grace (undeserved kindness) to be brought to us when Jesus returns. We’re to do this, we’re told in verse 14, “as obedient children,” or literally, as children of obedience; not “fashioning” ourselves “according to the former lusts” in our ignorance. We do the things in verse 13 as obedient children, i.e., without questioning or complaining. We’re also not to be fashioning ourselves according to, i.e., conforming ourselves to the pattern of, our former lusts or longings, which we had in our ignorance of God. In other words, we can’t do the things we used to do, we can’t say the things we used to say, we can’t want the things we used to want, or go the places to which we used to go. On to verse 15.
But, in contrast to verse 14, “as He which hath called you is holy…” In the same way, and to the same extent, that the Lord who called us is holy, “so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” The word “conversation” means something different in the King James Version than it does in modern English. The literal translation of the Greek root used here is the noun “conduct,” as in behavior. And this is what the word “conversation” meant in the King James. So, in all manner of conduct or behavior, we’re to be holy. In every aspect of our behavior — conversations, actions, attitudes — we’re to be holy to the same extent that the Lord who called us is holy. Why is this? Verse 16: “Because it is written,” Brother Peter is getting ready to quote scripture, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.”
So, what is Brother Peter telling us? Because of everything he said in the first 12 verses of chapter one, we’re to protect and keep in tact our full mental capacity, we’re to watch and be discreet; doing this, perfectly hoping — without doubt or complaining — for the undeserved kindness that awaits us when the Lord returns to the earth. We’re to do this as obedient children — the very offspring of obedience — not conforming ourselves to the pattern of our former longings, but being holy to the same extent our Lord is holy: in everything we say, think and do.
What does it mean to be holy? Holiness is a characteristic. We call ourselves a holiness-teaching church, but what does that mean? The word holy means religiously sacred but includes in its meaning, at least in the Greek root used in our text, physically pure (which includes sexuality) and morally blameless. We are to be pure and of such character that no one can find fault with us. On more than one occasion, Jesus told people to “go and sin no more:” that’s what we’re to do.
Because we’ve obeyed the gospel call of Acts 2:38, we’re not the same people we used to be. We are being conformed to the image of our God. Like the old hymn says, “and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” It makes sense, then, that we should behave as the Lord behaves. Throughout God’s word — from Genesis to Revelation — we’re told that we need to do this; and we’re told both of the rewards for doing this and the consequences for not doing this. I urge you, don’t just take my word for it: go and search the scriptures for yourselves. I guarantee you won’t find any place where God gives us permission to sin or to otherwise not be like Him.
I can’t say enough to fully express just how important this matter of holiness is. Without it, we’re told in Hebrews 12:14, no one shall see the Lord. Being born again by obeying Acts 2:38, is the beginning of our Christian walk. We continue on the journey — and make it home to heaven — by being holy as our Lord is holy; by obeying Jesus’ command to “go and sin no more.”
“Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” — 1 Peter 1:16
Author, educator, theologian, scholar and Navy veteran Rev. Chancellor Carlyle Roberts II earned a Bachelor of Science degree in multidisciplinary studies (religion and special education) and a graduate certificate in global studies. He served in the United States Navy as a Religious Program Specialist from 1981 to 1992 and also served in the Persian Gulf War. He has served as a pastor, a Bible teacher, and a Sunday school teacher.
Roberts authored the books “God in Three What? An Examination of the Use of Persons in the Trinity Doctrine” (Publish America, 2006); “Homesick” (Publish America, 2010) and “We Believe: A Commentary on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 A.D.” (Publish America, 2013).