Bless The Lord, O My Soul

A Study of 1 Peter 1:1-5

In most translations, the title of this letter is very simple, 1 Peter. Some versions entitle this letter “The First General Epistle of Peter.” That’s accurate because 1 Peter belongs to a category of writings in the NT known as the General Epistles, or the Catholic Epistles. Along with 1 and 2 Peter, the General Epistles include Hebrews, James, 1,2, 3 John and Jude.

This letter was written some time around 63 by Simon Peter, a leader in the Jerusalem church. It is addressed:

To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…

It is not addressed to any particular church or person, and that is why it is known as a “general epistle.”

1. Election, 1:1a

In the Greek, the adjective “elect” or “chosen” is written in the plural with no mention of God. However, the context of the letter shows quite clearly that God is the one who has elected or chosen the readers of this letter. This must have been the most encouraging thing his readers could have heard; they were separated from their homeland, experiencing hatred and enduring hardship and persecution. Despite this, they were the ones whom God has chosen. Out of all the people on earth, God had chosen a few to be His people. Jesus said as much in Matt. 22:14–

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

In simplest terms, the adjective “elect” or “chose” is nothing more than a description of Christians generally (Titus 1:1, for example). In Biblical teaching, the broader doctrine of “election” is a key theme and the foundation of all spiritual blessing (Deut. 4:37; 7:6; 14:2; Ps. 105:6, 43; Isa. 45:4; Eph. 1:4-5). It’s a pity that so many believers feel threatened by this wonderful doctrine. Every time election is mentioned in Scripture it to comfort and encourage the reader. Nicholson, citing Benjamin Field, gives three different kinds of Scriptural election:

  • The election of certain people to perform a specific task, 1 Sam. 2:27-28; Jer. 1:5; etc.
  • The election of nations or groups of people to receive special blessings, Deut. 4:37; 7:6; 10:15; Isa. 41:8-9; etc.
  • The election of individuals to be the children of God, 1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13-14.

No one should ever think that the election of individuals to be the children of God implies “an exclusion of others from that precious blessing…nor does it render their final salvation irrevocably secure; they are still in a state of probation, and their election, through unbelief…may be rendered void and come to nothing.”
Pukiser, on the issue of election, makes a noteworthy statement:

God’s election and predestination are His gracious provision for and purpose to save all who savingly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not an arbitrary predetermination of those who can believe.

2. Strangers, 1:1b

These elect, the readers of this letter, are described by Peter as being “strangers in the world.” This is an apt description of all believers, who are “resident aliens” in this world:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. (Heb. 11:13)

The phrase suggests that this is a temporary condition, as our true citizenship is in heaven, Phil.3:20,

But our citizenship is in heaven.

As “resident aliens,” the readers of this letter didn’t have a permanent home; they were moving from place to place, looking for somewhere to live or trying to live in peace in new and strange place, driven from their homes by persecution.

3. Holiness: the purpose of election, 1:2

With this verse, Peter gives the readers the reason for this election and gives some of the basic themes of this letter, including the foreknowledge of God, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, and obedience to Christ. This verse also shows the Trinity in action.

The “foreknowledge of God” is more than God simply knowing the future, it includes His comprehensive knowledge existence from before the creation of the world. It includes the absolute sovereignty of God in determining and implementing His decision to save sinful man. Key in understanding the relationship between election and foreknowledge is a sentence in Peter’s sermon, preached on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:23–

This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

Peter implies that God worked according to his sovereign plan and purpose which He made in advance. Paul also writes about God’s foreknowledge in Romans 8:29–

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Foreknowledge and predestination go together as acts of God before the creation of this world, Ephesians 1:4-5. This work is carried out through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit in a believer that brings about separation and holiness and an ability to do works of service for the Lord. In the Greek, the sanctifying work of the Spirit is an ongoing process, it is never a completed act. While it is the Spirit that works in us to make holy, man is not just a passive bystander; he is intimately involved in his evolution in holiness. Peter admonished his readers:

But 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.” (1:15-16)

Finally, the Spirit sanctifies believers so they may be obedient to the Christ. This part of the verse seems awkward to modern readers:

…for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.

That makes little sense to us, but to the converted Jews Peter is writing to, this phrase was rich in meaning. Kistemaker explains that Peter links the terms obedience and sprinkling together referring to the confirmation of the covenant that God made with Israel in Exodus 24:3-8. Moses read the Book of the Law to the people, and the people responded that they would do everything the Lord had told them to do. Then Moses sprinkled blood on the people and said these words:

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex. 24:8)

Peter masterfully shows how the Trinity is at work in the redemption of man: God the Father foreknows them, God the Holy Spirit sanctifies them, and The Son cleanses them from sin through the sprinkling of His blood. The words of William Cowper’s hymn come to mind:

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

4. A Living Hope, 1:3

Throughout this letter, Peter encourages his readers to hope. But hope for the believer is not some ethereal thing floating out in space, it is based on a living faith in Jesus Christ; the Christian has a living hope because of the resurrection. The thought is that if God the Father could bring about the resurrection of Jesus the Son, nothing is too hard for Him.

This message was vitally important for his readers, who were daily experiencing fiery trials and unbelievable hardships. It’s interesting that in one verse, Peter shifts gears from the heavy doctrine of the Trinity to the reality of hope. But this hope, which is something personal and living, is not necessarily something that pertains to the future. Rather, it brings life to God’s elect, just as God brought life to Jesus, and this hope enables believers to carry on, no matter what life’s circumstances may be. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is the basis of the believer’s new life. God made us alive, as He made Jesus alive and has given us a living hope.

5. A Secure Inheritance, 1:4

This living hope is further described in verse 4 as an inheritance “that can never perish, spoil, or fade.” Unlike earthly treasures, which are temporary and fade away, this spiritual inheritance is incorruptible; it remains new and perfect and unchanging because God made it that way. What awaits the hopeful believer is something will be fresh and new forever, and it is absolutely secure for believers because it is being “kept” for them.

Curiously, Peter doesn’t tell his readers exactly what is being kept for them in heaven, instead of describing the inheritance, Peter uses three adjectives to tell us what our possession is not:

imperishable;
undefiled;
unfading.

6. A Joyous Salvation, 1:5

God’s people are described as being guarded. The Greek phrase is written in the present passive, meaning believers don’t guard themselves, God does the guarding all the time. This remarkable verse shows the continuous involvement of God in the lives of His children. The phrase “through faith” is man’s only responsibility in the matter. We are shielded by God through faith. So, although God has promised to protect us, we must use our faith in our fight against the dark spiritual forces. As Kistemaker noted, faith in God is both objective and subjective. Objectively, faith means that God is seen, not merely “felt.” But faith also has a subjective side, where the believer truly feels the working of God within.

God shields us for a purpose:

…the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

The salvation we possess now in principle will become our permanent possession in reality when we enter heaven. God protects us now so that in the future we will receive all that is ours in promise. This not unlike being mentioned in a will; we know that have an inheritance, but we have to wait for the death of the testator and for legal matters to be settled to receive it. But even during the waiting period, the value of the inheritance doesn’t diminish; it’s there, waiting to be grabbed hold of, just like our salvation.

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