A SURVEY OF PETER’S LETTERS, 1

Living with Faith and Hope, 1 Peter 1:1-9

When we read 1 Peter, the thing that strikes us is how warm and pastoral it is; it is a letter full of encouragement for Christians scattered throughout a handful of Roman districts.   These Christians shared a common faith with Christians all over the world and shared common problems.  The basic problem that has confronted Christians from the days of Peter is one all-too familiar to us:  how do we live for God in the midst of a secular society that is ignorant of the true God.  In Peter’s day, as in our society to-day, Christians were often misunderstood and misrepresented and sometimes even faced persecution on account of their beliefs.  Peter’s purpose in writing this letter was to encourage those believers of his day, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, to encourage us today.

Living in a secular society is difficult.  It takes patience.  It takes humility.  It takes submission.  The future of the church on earth is filled with conflict with the world (4:7—18).  Despite the immediate future of the church, God promises to provide the grace and the ability for the church to remain faithful and grow into maturity.

1.  Election and Holiness, verses 1, 2

Peter starts his letter by addressing his readers as “God’s elect.”  What does that mean?  In the Bible, there are no less than three kinds of “election:”

  • The election of certain people to perform a certain task or render some kind of special service (Deut. 21:5; Jer. 1:5, for example).
  • The election of nations or groups of people to special religious privileges (Isa. 41:8—9).
  • A personal election of individuals to be the children of God and recipients of His great blessings (2 Thess. 2:13—14).

The latter kind of election is what Peter has in mind in his letter.  His readers are God’s people, chosen by God, separated from the world.  Out of the entire human race, God has chosen His own people.

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”  (Matthew 22:14)

But Peter takes this idea of “election” a little further by adding this—

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  (1 Peter 2:9)

So, in Peter’s mind, then, the “elect” are people chosen by God for a specific purpose:  to praise God in the world for the fact that God has called them out of the world, in obedience to the wishes of Jesus Christ.

The idea of this world being a temporary home for Christians is a common theme in the New Testament.  Hebrews 11:13 describes them as “resident aliens” in this world.  Peter himself reminds his readers not to get too comfortable in this world because their stay will be temporary (1 Peter 2:11).  The apostle Paul told his Philippian friends that their citizenship is in heaven, not on earth (Philippians 3:20).

The fact that God has chosen some does not suggest that He has forsaken others.  “Election” does not imply that anybody has been blocked from receiving salvation, nor does it mean that the chosen one’s salvation is irrevocably secure.  We might look at our sojourn on earth as a kind of probation.  Through willful rebellion and persistent unbelief, one’s “election” may be rendered void.

In verse two, Peter quickly describes three separate acts of the Trinity on the believer’s behalf:

(a)  According to the foreknowledge of God the Father.  What is “foreknowledge?”  It is much more than an ability to predict the future.  Bennett offers this definition of “election:”

God’s comprehensive knowledge of His own plans and working, so that foreknowledge is practically equivalent to His deliberate and far-reaching purpose.

In other words, God’s foreknowledge is linked to His sovereignty; His personal choices made for His own purposes.

(b)  Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.  Nicholson expressed the Spirit’s work like this:

Sanctification is the process and the result of the operation of the Holy Spirit whereby man’s heart is cleansed from moral evil, and self is totally adjusted to the will of God.   God’s eternal purpose is that man shall be like Him (cf. Eph. 1:4)

(c)  To be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.  This is why the Spirit sanctifies the elect; to enable them to live in obedience to Christ.   This is easy to understand, but why the reference to the believer being “sprinkled with his blood?”  Peter is actually bringing his readers back to the way the people of Israel confirmed the covenant God made with them.

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”  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.”   (Exodus 24:3—8, verses 7, 8 cited)

All of this, God does for the elect.  When a sinner responds to Christ and is saved, they are chosen to have all this done for them by the grace of God.

2.  Hope and Inheritance, verses 3—9

Hope and encouragement are big themes of Peter’s letters, and as far as Peter was concerned, the believer’s hope is rooted firmly in his living faith.  Biblical hope may be best described as “disciplined waiting” (Kistemaker).  The believer waits patiently for his full salvation to be manifested.

In writing to first century Christians, many of whom were facing terrible, fiery trials, Peter goes to great lengths to remind them of God’s power as revealed in the resurrection of His Son from the dead, His great eternal purposes for them because He specifically chose them from all human beings on the earth, and now by encouraging them to face their trials with a kind of holy boldness.  Why should Christians face trials that way?

These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  (verse 7)

Somehow, our faith is perfected and refined through the various problems we face in life.  When we get a grip on the emotions we entertain when trials come, we would realize this.   Of course, this is far from easy to do.  When we get a bad doctor’s report or when some tragedy befalls us, the last thing we think about is how wonderful it is that our faith is being perfected!  Yet that is exactly how we ought to react, since our faith is of greater worth than gold.  We live in a society, however, that has programmed us to react with sadness or anger or fear when bad things happen.  The contrary should be the case with true believers.  This is why Paul wrote this—

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.   (Romans 12:2)

We often think Paul is referring to lust or some other similar sin that begins in our minds, but this also applies to such banal things as fear and anxiety, worry and anger.  For example, when a loved one passes away, society tells us it’s sad, but if that loved one was a Christian, their passing should be celebrated!  God celebrates their passing, and we should too; that’s what it means to “renew your mind.”  It means to radically change your habitual ways of thinking and viewing life events.

So “hope” for the believer is not some nebulous theory or empty philosophy, but rather a concrete, determinative action on your part:  you determine to put your hope in God.  As if to make that easier for you to do, Peter states this—

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,  (verses 3, 4)

Hoping in God comes with a reward attached to it; a reward in heaven!  Being a child of God means we are heirs of God.  An inheritance awaits us.  And unlike the wealth of earth, which is temporary, our inheritance in heaven is perfect; it will last forever.  Our inheritance will always be perfect and we will never grow tired of it.  And the best part of all, it is being “kept” for us.  It is being watched over and protected for us.  This eternal, spiritual, heavenly inheritance which persecution is powerless to touch should encourage all believers everywhere to stand fast in their faith no matter what.

Of course, all this requires a certain amount of faith in the power of God.   God has the ability to preserve and protect any believer who commits himself wholly to Him.  That is the essence of verse 5—

…who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

God’s people are literally “shielded.”  In the Greek, this is written in the present passive, meaning this “shielding” is a continual activity of God on the believer’s behalf.  But note that “through faith” is also written in the same tense, meaning believers have a responsibility to exercise their faith in God continually!  The marvelous promise of divine protection rests on our faith that God will do as He has promised.

This reciprocal arrangement is to be maintained until the final aspects of what we already possess, namely our salvation, is revealed at the end of time.

According to verse 6, Christians should rejoice over their future prospects and present relationship with God despite the circumstances they may find themselves in.  And while verse 8 is meant to be a strong encouragement to believers, it can also be a way to check on the state of our salvation—

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

Faith directed toward God and placed in Jesus Christ is supposed to produce love and joy in Christians.  Peter’s readers had never seen Jesus but he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that they loved Him and that they had faith in Him and as a result they were “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

Is this your experience today?  You have never seen Jesus, but we assume you love Him.  Are you filled with “an inexpressible and glorious joy?”  Or do you go through life burdened down with cares and anxieties?  Peter just assumed that his Christian friends would be filled with an awesome joy simply because of who Jesus is.

God wants His children filled with joy and hope, based on a relationship with Him and what He can do for them.  When any of us looks to worldly treasures to bring us joy and hope, we end up practicing an anemic form of wishful thinking that will always leave us very dissatisfied and wanting more.  Only Jesus Christ satisfies completely.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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