Thursday, December 19, 2019

Advent in 1 Peter, Part 3 (1:22-25)

We are in Advent Season, and it might seem strange that we are spending this time expositing through 1 Peter.  However, there are both explicit and implicit connections between this chapter and this season we are in.  The explicit connection is found in 1 Peter 1:20, which reads, “He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifest in the last time for the sake of you.”  The way in which he was manifest was through his incarnation and earthly ministry that culminated in his death, burial, and resurrection.  The implicit connection is the fact that everything in this chapter hinges on the hope of the coming grace, which is ultimately tied to the truths we celebrate during Advent and at Christmas.

Now we are thankful that God has acted in history to redeem us.  Indeed, this is one of the main features of the Christian religion that sets it apart from other religions.  Ultimately, our religion is not just another manmade philosophy but a hope based upon what God has done on earth for us in the person of his Son.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” for which we thank God.  However, he did not just come and then leave us to interpret the meaning of his life and death.  We should also thank God for that.  We should be thankful that God himself through the apostles has interpreted these events for us.  He has done so through the gospel, the good news that communicates the divine intention behind the person and work of the Son of God.

It is extremely important for us to grasp the seriousness of this, because a lot of people have gone wrong through the years by failing to let Scripture interpret the events of redemptive history for them.  They will talk loudly about how God has spoken in history in acts and events but downplay the place of the written word of God.  The reason for this is obvious, of course.  They don’t like what Scripture has to say about Christ.  In the pages of Scripture, he is not the tame person they would like him to be.  Sometimes they want him to be just another good man, or even a well-intentioned prophet.  Sometimes they want him to be an ally in their own particular political cause.  What they don’t want him to be is the eternal Son of God who once for all purged our sins and apart from whom there is no eternal life.  They certainly don’t want him to be their Judge.  They don’t want him to be their King.  They don’t want to be told they must place their faith and hope in him.  They don’t want to be told that the only way we can truly believe in God, that he is for us, is through Christ (1:21).  They don’t want to surrender their self-sovereignty over to Christ.

But if we are to have any hope of really understanding what God has done for us in Christ, we must have God’s word to us to interpret it.  To talk of God’s acts in history and then to think that God has left us to figure out its meaning on our own is a bit ridiculous.  We should not think that God is so dumb as to leave us to figure it out ourselves.  He has spoken to us.  And the place where he has spoken to us in the Scriptures.  And the gospel, in particular, is what we call that aspect of the Scriptures that narrates to us and interprets for us God’s redemptive acts in history through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

It is this that Peter refers to at the very end of this chapter: “And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (25).  The phrase “good news that was preached” is actually a single verb in Greek, the verb euangelizo, from which we get the word “evangelize.”  It means to “preach good news,” and is related to the noun “euangelion,” or “good news, gospel.”  It tells us that God has done two things for us: he has given us news to interpret the redemption accomplished by Jesus, and he has arranged for it to be preached or announced to us through the apostles and those who preach the gospel so that we will believe it and embrace it.  And we need to listen to it.  We need to hear what God has to say about the meaning, the purpose, and the effects of our Lord’s atoning death followed by his victory over death.

However, the word of God not only informs us, it changes us.  Peter tells us that “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God . . . .  And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (23,25).  Now I grew up in a tradition that stresses the fact that the new birth is something that is an immediate work of God upon the heart, apart from means of any kind, including the preaching of the gospel.  What theologians in this tradition mean by “new birth” is the initial impartation of spiritual life by the Spirit of God, so that we are able to hear and respond to the preaching of the gospel in faith and repentance.  And if that’s what you mean by “new birth,” then I agree.  Only God can give life (cf. Eph. 2:1-10), and this must at least logically precede any response to the gospel.  However, Scripture does not always use terms the way systematic theologians use them, and this is just such an instance.  “New birth” here almost certainly refers to the complex of events that not only includes the initial giving of spiritual life so that we have a heart to receive the gospel, but also the conversion that inevitably follows receiving the gospel.[1]  Understood in that way, you cannot separate new birth from the word of God, which is preached in the gospel.  Peter very clearly says that we are born again by the preached word of God, the gospel.  The gospel, received by hearts made alive by the Spirit of God, has power to transform our lives like nothing else has so that’s its effect is like being born anew.  It is what Paul is referring to in 2 Cor. 3, when he writes, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).  How do we behold the glory of the Lord?  We do so in the gospel, which Paul calls “the ministry of righteousness” (2 Cor. 3:9; cf. 2 Cor. 4:1-6).  Just as the word of God in the creation of the world called things into existence that did not previously exist, even so the word of God in the gospel – which is just as much the word of God – is able to create faith and repentance when accompanied by the work of the Spirit in the heart.  This is why the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16), not because it tells us how to save ourselves, but because it creates life and salvation where before there was no life or salvation.

But it is important to see why God has chosen the gospel as the means to change us.  It changes us precisely because it is the good news about the Son of God.  It is the good news that God has come into our world to save us.  God has ordained that the word about his Son, when embraced by faith, will change us forever.  Why?  Because when we believe the gospel, we look away from ourselves and to Christ alone to receive in him what we do not have – righteousness and life.  Gospel faith does not look inward but outward.  God has ordained the gospel to have this power because it is in this way that God in Christ is seen by us to be gracious and gloriously powerful to secure our salvation.  Thus, it is by the embrace of the gospel that God is not only glorified in us through gracious justification, but is also glorified by us through personal faith.  Note that Paul in Romans 1 connects the power of the gospel with the content of the gospel: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17).  Again, this is not because the gospel tells us how to save ourselves, but because it directs us to the only one who is able to save us: Jesus Christ.  The gospel is not a new law, a list of things to follow so that we save ourselves, but rather a life jacket that we grasp in order to be saved by Another.

When we trust in Jesus Christ, as he is revealed to us in the gospel, we are united to Christ and his righteousness from whom every saving blessing flows.  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).  It is only with him” that we receive “all things” that are necessary for life and salvation.  And we embrace him and are united to him, by faith.  This is not because faith is meritorious it itself, any more than the cup that brings the water to your mouth is what quenches your thirst.  It is because God has ordained that we receive the blessing of salvation in Christ when we cling to him by faith.

Do you want to be changed?  Do you feel powerless against the power of sinful impulses and desires?  The first step is to be born again, to be given new life.  But this life only comes to us in Christ, and Christ is only received by faith, faith in the good news which is preached to us in the gospel.

Now Peter calls our attention to new birth because it is the basis of his exhortation in verse 22 (note the connecting word “since” in verse 23).  The sequence of thought in this paragraph goes therefore like this: we hear the good news in the gospel, good news which is inextricably linked to the redemptive acts of Christ (25).  Then hearing and believing, we are born again (23-24).  This then gives us the power and the spiritual basis upon which we obey the exhortation of verse 22.

I mentioned last time that we should celebrate three advents of our Lord: his first, by which he entered into human flesh; the second, by which he will return the second time without sin unto salvation; and a third, by which he enters into our hearts and thereby connects us to the blessing of his salvation.  Peter is talking here about this personal Parousia, the new birth.  It is connected to the first coming of our Lord into this world, because the reason why he came was so that we could be saved. But we cannot be saved unless we personally receive him as Savior, and this cannot happen apart from the new birth.

This is why Charles Wesley wrote in his famous hymn:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings,

Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays his glory by,

Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

That means that the exhortation that the apostle gives in verse 22 is inextricably linked to this Advent Season.  It is also linked in the same way that the previous verses are: for all the exhortations in this book are based on the hope of the grace that is to be brought to us at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (13).  And that hope is hope which is anchored in the coming of our Lord into this world to redeem us from it.  Today, I want to focus on this particular exhortation found in verse 22.  Here that apostle exhorts his readers and us: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again . . .” (22-23a).  This is a simple and straightforward exhortation to love the brethren, our brothers and sisters in Christ.  To love the brothers is something fundamental and essential if we are to call ourselves followers of Christ.

This is relevant to the current season we are in for the following reason.  We need to consider who they are who are called to worship the incarnate Christ: the peace of God is toward those with whom he is please (Luke 2:14).  And with whom is God pleased?  Is it not with those who love God and who love others?  Is it not with those who show love to “the least of these my brethren”? (Mat. 25:40).

And so I want to consider two things from this text.  First, how does Peter support this exhortation to love the brothers?  In particular, how does the word of God function in supporting Peters exhortation?  The word of God appears both in verse 22 as the truth that we obey, and in verses 23-25 as the word of God that brings new birth.  In both instances, it functions as a reason why we are to love the brethren.  The question is, how?  Second, how should this exhortation function in our lives?  How do we apply it to our lives?

How this exhortation is supported from the nature of God’s word.

So first of all, I want to begin with the connection between verses 22 and 23-25, where the word of God which gives new birth is celebrated as the foundation of our call to love each other.  It is true that new birth is essential for all the Christian life, including the duty to love our brothers and sisters in the church.  But the interesting thing here is that Peter makes much of the fact that the word of God by which we are born again is eternal and imperishable.  This point is made in both verses 23 and 24 which includes a quotation from Isaiah 40: “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’”  In other words, the point seems to be that since God’s word by which we are born again is imperishable, therefore we should love our brothers and sisters in the Lord.  But how is this a ground for the exhortation?

It is instructive to compare this to other things the apostle calls imperishable.  Our future inheritance is imperishable (5), the blood of Christ is imperishable (18-19), and the word of God is imperishable (23-25).  In each instance the apostle is calling our attention to something which is far exalted above the things of this earth and the present order.  Our glorious inheritance is far exalted above any earthly possession.  The blood of Christ is infinitely more precious than silver and gold that perishes.  And the word of God is far more enduring than grass and flowers which are there for a brief moment and then vanish away.  In other words, this word not only points to the permanence of the word of God, but also its superior value in comparison to the things of this world.

Throughout the NT, flowers and grass are used as a parable for the impermanence of the present age (cf. Mt. 6:28-30; Jam. 1:8-11).  In contrast to things which are at best temporary, the word of God is “living and abiding” (23) and “remains forever” (25).  But again, the question is, what is it about this property of the word of God that provides a foundation for Peter’s appeal to love the brethren?

I think the reason verses 23-25 provide the ground for verse 22 is that the love we are called to is not some passing fad, but to relationships that will last forever.  Thus the word of God which brings new birth brings us into the family of God.  It is this family with whom we will spend eternity in the age to come.  Since the word of God which creates this relationship lasts forever, the relationship that it creates must last forever as well.  It follows that our commitment to loving the brothers and sisters in Christ must correspond to this permanence.  The obligation you have to love fellow believers is as permanent and lasting as the word of God is permanent and lasting.  I think that’s the connection.

I know that we are to love the lost.  We are to love our own family members, whether they are believers or not.  We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and the parable of the Good Samaritan shows us just how broad we are to take the connotation of “neighbor.”  But the fact of the matter is that our highest obligation of love, under God, is to love those who share our love of Christ.  For it is an eternal commitment.  The question is, do we view it like that?  And do the priorities of our lives reflect that?

How this exhortation is supported from the intention of God’s word.

But verse 22 itself contains a support for the exhortation to love.  Note that the purification of the soul by obedience to the truth is “for a sincere brotherly love.”  In other words, one of the primary goals of being purified by obeying the truth is to love the brothers.  One thinks of what Paul wrote to Timothy: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).  Here again we have the word of God in the reference to truth.  It is the truth of God’s word that we obey.  God’s word not only renews us but also continually purifies us as we obey its commands.  But it is important to see that our obedience to the truth is inseparable from our love and commitment to the brothers.  We are kidding ourselves if we think that we are spiritually-minded and growing in grace if we are graceless towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And we cannot be truly committed to God’s word if we are not being shaped by God’s word to love believers. 

So that is the connection here.  The word of God which brings new life is a word whose entire tendency is to create the love of the brethren.  That’s the point of verse 22.  And since this tendency is an eternal tendency, our love to the saints ought to reflect that in an undying commitment to them.  That’s the point of verses 23-25.

Thus one of the main evidences of the new birth, of belonging to God’s family, is that we love the saints of God.  The apostle John is insistent about this in his first epistle especially.  For example, in 1 John 3:14-15, he writes, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.  Whoever does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” 

It’s clear to see why this must be so.  For one, the God who regenerates us is love (1 Jn. 4:7-8); thus, if we are partakers of the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), we will also love.  Second, if we who are born again are brought to love God, then it is inevitable that we will love those who bear his image.  This, in fact, is John’s argument in 1 Jn. 5:1 (cf. Eph. 4:24; 1 Jn. 3:12,15): “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.”  It is no wonder that the apostle would expostulate, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 Jn. 4:20).

How do we apply this exhortation to our lives?

That then brings us to our second point.  How should these realities be reflected in our lives?  To properly answer this question, we need to consider more carefully what is means here by “a sincere brotherly love” and what it means to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”  And that means we need to drill down to the Biblical definition of brotherly love.

Of course, we should remind ourselves what Paul says to the Corinthians in chapter 13 in his first epistle.  This is particularly relevant here, because this was a church which, despite its unusual giftedness, was rent asunder by ugly divisions.  So Paul had to remind them that there was something far more important than their spiritual gifts they were flaunting about.  Let’s remind ourselves what Paul had to say there:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.  And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

Nothing is as important as love.  Nothing!  Now that doesn’t mean these other things aren’t important, even necessary.  But apart from love, they are useless.  I’ve been reading in Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards.  It’s still shocking to me, that a church that went through not one, but two periods, of incredible revival and the power of God became so lacking in love as to unjustly send probably the greatest pastor in New England packing.  We should not think that we are below that happening to us.  Of course, I’m not concerned about you guys ejecting me from this pulpit!  But the point is that we should never take for granted the reality that we are always just one step away from becoming a church where love takes a back row seat and we become a church destined to lose its candlestick from a lack of love (cf. Rev. 2:1-7).

What kind of love are we to live out with one another?  Paul goes on (and we would do well to meditate on all these properties and ask if they are really true of us):

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends” (4-6a).

Another way to see if we love the brethren, is to look at all the “one another” passages in the Bible.  For if 1 Cor. 13 tells us anything, it is that a loving person is someone committed to the true happiness of their brother or sister in Christ.  So what does the NT tell us about “one another”?  It tells us to prefer one another (Rom. 12:10), to receive one another (Rom. 15:7), to serve one another (Gal. 5:13), to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), to forbear with one another (Eph. 4:32), to forgive one another (Col. 3:13), admonish one another (Col. 3:16), to comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18), to edify one another (1 Thess. 5:11), to consider one another (Heb. 10:24), and to exhort one another (Heb. 10:25; 3:18).

This of course means a commitment both to the spiritual and physical well-being of the saints (1 Cor. 13:6 with 3 John 4).

Now I think it is important to note that Peter is very interested here in how we exhibit this love: we are to do so sincerely and earnestly.  The exhortation to sincerity reminds us that it is often very easy to be fake in our profession of love to the brothers.  It is not enough simply to profess that we love the brothers.  It has to be backed up with the love of our hearts and the actions of our hands.  That can be very difficult sometimes, but let us remember that the basis of this command is the imperishable word of God that powerfully works in our hearts to create conformity to Christ.  We have no excuse to settle for anything less; indeed, we must not.  For an insincere love is no love at all.  Sincerity is essential because if we are not, then our love will not last very long.  A. W. Pink once said, “False love is glad of any specious excuse for the throwing off the garb that sits so loosely and uncomfortably upon it.”  So let us be sincere.

Second, we are to love the saints earnestly.  The apostle in fact comes back to this in 4:8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”  Our love is not to be fake, neither is it to be half-hearted. Peter’s reason points to the fact that we are sinners still; redeemed sinners, sanctified sinners, but sinners still.  And because of that, we are going to sin against each other.  Now I don’t think that covering sins here means that we ignore them.  But even when sins are dealt with, unless we are earnest in our love, it is so easy to let bitterness invade our hearts and as a result shut the brother or sister who sinned against us out.  We cannot let that happen.  If that is happening in your heart, it is because you are simply not obeying this simple exhortation.

If you tell me you cannot obey it, I have one word for you: if that is true, then you are not born again.  It’s as simple as that.

So let us love the brethren.  As it is put simply and succinctly in Heb. 13:1, “Let brotherly love continue.”  Don’t let it stop.  Love is the thread that is intertwined throughout the entire fabric of the Christian ethic. It falls apart without it. The apostle Paul ends his first epistle to the Corinthians with the words, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14).  And as we remember and celebrate our Lord’s coming into this world, and remember the love that he has for us, let us also remember that that love is meant to be replicated, first and foremost in the church.  Our Christmas celebrations are hypocritical feasts if our hearts are not decked with love towards the saint.  Let it be so in our church, Amen.

[1] John Gill, whose views are representative for many in this tradition, citing 1 Pet. 1:23, writes that, “The instrumental cause of regeneration, if it may be so called, are the word of God, and the ministers of it. . . .”  He goes on to differentiate, however, between the initial implantation of spiritual life and its manifestation in conversion: “. . . and now as God made no use of any instrument in the first and old creation, so neither does it seem so agreeable that he should use any in the new creation: wherefore this is rather to be understood of the exertion of the principle of grace, and the drawing it forth into act and exercise; which is excited and encouraged by the ministry of the word, by which it appears that a man is born again.”  From his Body of Divinity, Book VI, Chapter XI.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Advent in 1 Peter, Part 2 (1:13-21)

Last time, we looked at the hope that is set before us in the Advent of Christ, a hope which Peter outlines for us in the first twelve verses.  By the way, Peter’s message shows us that we cannot separate the first from the second advents of our Lord.  The first advent is important, because it is was necessary to secure the second.  This is built into Advent season.  Traditionally, the Church has celebrated both advents of our Lord in this season, not just his entrance into the world at Christmas.  This is important, because it keeps us from turning this season into just another opportunity for maudlin sentimentality.  As we pointed out last time, Jesus didn’t come into this world to make it better for us, but to redeem us out of this world and to prepare us for a New Heavens and New Earth in which righteousness dwells.

We should also consider a third advent of our Lord.  That is to say, we should consider his coming into our hearts.  That is an important advent as well, because this is what connects each of us personally to the First and Second Comings of our Lord into this world.  Some have pointed to this as what Christ was referring to in John 5:25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”  Even now, those who are spiritually dead in sins hear the powerful voice of the Son of God who creates life in the dead heart and makes us alive.  Those who have experienced this present Parousia in the heart will be blessed with eternal life at the future Parousia: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice, and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

Peter is speaking to those who have experienced this personal Parousia, who have been caused to “be born again to a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3).  As a result, they have a heavenly inheritance and eagerly await the hope of God’s future grace.  Today, we want to consider how this hope, which is anchored in both Advents, is the basis of our present pursuit of holiness.  My thesis this morning is simply this: we will pursue holiness as we ought only when our hearts are turned away from this world and turned to heaven.  But we need to make this practical and try to understand how we can deploy the truths of Advent to turn our hearts more and more toward godliness and away from sin.  That’s what I want to do.

My thesis is based off of verse 13: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  This verse is the hinge on which this chapter turns.  Verses 1-12 are about the hope that will be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Verses 14 and following are about the life of holiness we are called to live.  Verse 13 connects the two halves because it says that the way the first part of the chapter relates to the second part is hope in this future grace.  You are motivated to pursue holiness when you set your hope fully on the grace of our future inheritance in Christ.  

So Peter calls his readers to prepare their minds for action.  Literally, he has told them to gird up the loins of their minds (cf. KJV).  This is a figure of speech that came from the practice of gathering up one’s robes and tying them around the waist in order to go on a journey or get to work.  So the apostle is telling them that they need to be prepared for mental action.  The action we are called to prepare for is setting one’s hope fully on future glory.  It doesn’t just happen.  We are so easily lured into a way of thinking as if this world is all there is.  We need to be constantly reminding ourselves of the hope that is ours in Christ.  We have to be purposeful about it.  The world is calling for your attention.  It is wanting to arrest your gaze and to transfix your affections.  If you aren’t being intentional about being heavenly minded, you are probably not going to be.

This is why Peter also tells them to be “sober-minded” as the way they are to set their hopes fully on the coming grace.  Calvin helpfully comments, that in saying this the apostle “commends not temperance only in eating and drinking, but rather spiritual sobriety, when all our thoughts and affections are so kept as not to be inebriated with the allurements of the world.  For since even the least taste of them stealthily draws us away from God, when one plunges himself into these, he must necessarily become sleepy and stupid, and he forgets God and the things of God.”  We cannot glut ourselves on the things of this world, even if the things are in themselves harmless, for our affections have only so much space.  If we spend them all on the things of this world, there will be no place for the things of God.  Though that doesn’t mean we have to turn ourselves into hermits and monks, it does mean that we must use the things of this world without becoming addicted to them so that God has the preeminent place in our hearts.  Is your heart dull to the things of God?  It could very well be because you have failed to be sober-minded.  It may be time for some house-cleaning in the heart.  

Unless we have committed ourselves to setting our hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ, we are not ready to put into practice what the apostle commends to us in the following verses.  We are to “not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (14).  We are to “be holy in all your conduct” (15).  We are told to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (17).  We are to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (22).  All of this is predicated upon the exhortation in verse 13.  The question is, how does this work to produce this kind of life?

First, this kind of life is possible because our hope teaches us that the return on an investment in the pleasures of sin is very short-lived and not worth-while.  The apostle does this by contrasting it with the eternal life that is ours through faith in Christ.  Sin comes to us with the most plausible inducements.  It promises us so much pleasure.  It promises us so much ease.  It promises us so much comfort.  It presents before us the wide gate and broad way.  How in the world can we resist such promises instantaneous gratification and pleasure?

The only way we can do this is by reminding ourselves that though sin can give us immediate pleasure, it is pleasure that will not last.  And it is pleasure that will one day turn to rottenness.  This is what the apostle is getting at when he puts verse 14 after verse 13: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.”  Passions can be incredibly strong.  They can wrestle the most sanctified heart to the ground, if it is taken by surprise.  So how do we keep from being taken by surprise?  Peter indicates how when he talks about their “former ignorance.”  Ignorance of what?  I think he is talking about what Christ has brought to us.  In particular, he is talking about what the living hope that we have in him.  He is talking about ignorance of verses 1-12.  In light of this, we are reminded that, as strong as these passions are, they are tied to this present order of things and will one day pass away.  They are not worth betting your life upon.  Thus the apostle John reminds us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:15-17).

So don’t live as if you were blind to the future.  Remember the grace that is coming at the Second Advent of our Lord.  Don’t let sin and its passions and lusts trick you into imagining that this world is all there is.  It is not, not even close.  There is a world to come.  The pleasures of sin stop with this world, and they don’t even always attend our journey here.  But one thing is sure: when this life is over and we face God in his judgment seat, nothing that sin has given us here will make it worth it then.

Second, this kind of life is possible because our hope reminds us of the one who calls us to that hope: “but as he called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”(15-16).  The problem with our world is that we are taught in innumerable ways to think in purely secular terms.  In other words, our culture programs us to think that we can exists apart from God.  And therefore, we are led to believe that God is irrelevant.  Of course, minds that are steeped in this way of thinking are bound to be godless.  

But if you have disciplined your mind to think heavenward, if you are setting your hope fully on the grace that is to be brought, it is impossible to really do this, at least in the way Peter imagines, without setting our hope ultimately upon the One who is bringing this hope to us.  Our hope is not something we set out to find; rather, it is something which is brought to us, given to us.  It is called grace.  It is not only a gift, but one which we don’t deserve.  And God is the giver.  So lifting your mind heavenward means that you must lift your mind God-ward.  Thus Paul writes, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

However, once we have lifted our minds toward the God who has called us to this hope, we cannot help but be faced with his all-consuming holiness.  You cannot know God if you are uninterested in being holy.  God is holy, that is what he is, and we are reminded of this fact over and over again in the Scriptures.  And you cannot come face to face with God’s holiness without becoming aware of the ugliness and undesirableness of sin.  It is what caused Isaiah to become thoroughly disgusted with his own sin and the sins of his countrymen.  When God’s holiness becomes personal, we are reminded that ultimate reality and what should be valued is not defined by our culture but by God.  

And we are reminded that the character of the heavenly city, and that to which we ultimately aspire, is defined by the character of God who is holy.  We are reminded, therefore, that holiness is not something bad or undesirable or inconsistent with happiness, but rather is necessary and essential for our everlasting happiness and joy.  It’s interesting, isn’t it, that everyone associates the word “heaven” or “heavenly” with goodness and happiness and peace and contentment.  But our hope reminds us that heaven and holiness go together because heaven is the place where God most fully reveals his glory, and that glory is ultimately the supreme manifestation of God’s holiness.

Ultimately, the Christian hope is not hope for a place but for fellowship with the living God.  If your hope is all about golden streets and pearly gates without reference to the God of heaven, then your hope is misplaced.  Our hope is in God, and heaven is heaven because God is there.  So to hope in a Biblical fashion means that we have set our hopes upon God who is holy.  People who are defined by that kind of hope are inevitably going to be holy people.

Third, this kind of life is possible because our hope reminds us that God is more interested in our holiness than he is in our earthly happiness.  The apostle brings this out in the next verse: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (17).  God does not call us to be citizens of this world.  A citizen is different from an exile in that a citizen feels at home in his country, but an exile there does not.  A citizen most likely enjoys benefits and freedoms that a sojourner or stranger does not.  A citizen probably feels comfortable in his homeland whereas a temporary resident probably does not.  In the same way, God is not interested in your feeling at home in this world.  We are exiles here.  We are strangers passing through.  

We are told to place our hope fully in the coming glory, not on the things of this world.  And so Peter again and again reminds his readers that they are not citizens but temporary residents in a foreign place.  They are not meant to feel comfortable here because this is not there home.  

This is necessary for living a life of holiness because holiness is not easy.  It calls us to make some hard choices.  It calls us to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand – in other words, to do whatever it takes to be holy and to snuff out the sin in our lives.  It calls us to discipline ourselves, to die to ourselves, to take up our crosses, to mortify and put to death the sin in our lives.  None of those things are easy.  None of them are desirable in themselves.  We are called to a life that is not liked or appreciated by our fellow men.  It may lead to persecution – in fact, Paul says that it certainly will.  

And the problem is that when hard things begin to happen to us here in the way of holiness, we can easily begin to become bitter if we don’t remind ourselves that we are not meant to be comfortable here.  Our hope doesn’t promise us that.  It promises us something, much, much better.  But it doesn’t promise us that until we obtain the future grace of God that life is going to be peachy.

Moreover, God disciplines us in order that we may be more holy.  He may take things away that we have made into idols so that we will love him as we ought.  He may make our lives difficult so that we will find our repose in him and not in our own resources or in the things of this world.  I think this is probably what the apostle Peter is getting at when he says that God is a Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds.  He’s obviously not saying that we should live in fear because our good works get us into heaven and our bad ones exclude us.  What he is saying is that it doesn’t matter who you are in God’s family, he is not going to overlook your disobedience.  Like a good Father, he’s going to spank you if you need it.  

And you should fear him.  No one talks like that anymore in the modern church.  But Peter doesn’t hesitate to tell people who relate to God as their Father, that they should fear him.  Fear your Father?  Yes!  Just as any child should have a very healthy respect for his or her father and should fear the consequences when they disobey.  Children who do not know how to fear their parents in any sense of the word don’t know how to give them respect, either.  Of course, Peter is not talking about a fear that results from an abusive relationship.  Rather, this fear is perfectly consistent with a relationship of deepest love and trust.  It is because God loves his children so much that he will not show partiality.  He won’t let sin go undisciplined, and we ought to be eternally grateful for that reality.  And fear him when we sin.

All this reminds us that our hope is not anchored in a life of ease in this world.  Holiness is more important than ease and comfort because holiness belongs to character of the world to come.  Our hope reminds us that, in disciplining us in this world, God is preparing us for the world to come.  We don’t need to become bitter, but to rejoice when hard things make us more like Christ and less like Adam.  We need to remember that in acting this way towards us, God is not our enemy but is our Father.

Fourth, this kind of life is possible, because our hope reminds us of the purpose behind the infinite cost that makes it possible.  For the apostle continues in the following verses: “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifest in the last times for the sake of you who though him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (18-21).

Just because it is grace, does not mean there was no cost to it.  It is grace to us, but it came at a terrible cost to God.  Or better, the object of our hope is grace because of the cost to God.  What was the cost?  It was nothing less than “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”  So every time we are led to consider our hope we ought also to consider the cost behind that hope. 

And that ought to lead to holiness.  Peter is essentially asking this question: why would you go back to the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, when you were ransomed by the blood of Christ?  That in itself ought to tell you just how beyond believably great your inheritance is.  Your inheritance to which you were redeemed was bought, not with money, but by the blood of Christ.  In fact, in contrasting Christ’s redemption with silver and gold as “perishable” Peter is saying that our redemption is something that cannot be bought with money.  There is not enough money on this planet to accomplish even one person’s ransom from sin.  So think of the things you can buy with money.  Think of the mansions, the jets, the island homes, the fame and the glory.  That can all be bought with money.  But the salvation of souls cannot be bought with money.  That is because it is infinitely more precious than anything that can be bought with money.

Now compare this with the “futile ways inherited from your forefathers.”  Yes, those ways might include earthly power and privilege.  Those ways might include uninhibited sensual pleasure.  Those ways might include financial security and worldly fame.  But Peter looks at them and alerts us to their value: “futile.”  These are all things that can be bought with silver and gold, but they cannot last.  God has not given you those things.  He has not given you pleasures that pass away into regret or pass away with old age.  He has not given us things that are perishable.  Rather, he has given us something imperishable, and so infinitely wonderful and good that it could be purchased only by the priceless blood of the Son of God.  Why would we go on in those futile ways when we have something infinitely better?  It is unimaginable folly to do so!

And let us remind ourselves why this cost was necessary.  It is necessary because the futile ways are sinful ways.  We, along with our forefathers, have rebelled against God.  We have committed treason against heaven.  We have sinned against infinite majesty and greatness. As a result, we don’t deserve an inheritance.  We don’t deserve grace (of course we don’t!).  We deserve hell, God’s judgment, and an unendurable eternity away from the presence of God.  We deserve a future which makes everything that came before worthless and better if we had never been born.

So how can we, who justly deserve this, instead get this amazing grace?  How can God who is holy and just give such gifts to wicked people?  He can do this because Christ ransomed us.  He can do this because Christ paid the debt we owe to God on account of our sins.  And he did this by sacrificing himself in our place and enduring our judgment.  

But how do we become the beneficiaries of this sacrifice?  How does the ransom become applied to our account?  Peter tells us: “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”  The apostle is reminding us here that the way we become connected to the redemption purchased by Christ is through faith in Christ.  When we are told that through Christ we are believers in God, what Peter means is that the only way we can know that God is for us in blessing instead of against us in judgment is the gospel.  The gospel tells us that Christ has made a way for us to be saved.  Our faith and hope can be in God because of what Christ has done for us.  And that just means that we have believed the gospel, the message that God is for us in Christ.

Have you believed in the gospel?  Is your faith and hope in God determined by the message of peace and grace that comes to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ?  For that is the only way we can become the inheritors of this great hope.  There is no other way under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.  There is no way to be an elect exile except through the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus (1:1-2) and that comes to us through the new birth (1:3), which is inseparable from faith in Christ (1:5).  Shall you neglect this great salvation when it is offered to you?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent in 1 Peter (1:1-13)

This week begins the Advent season, a time in which we anticipate the celebration of our Lord’s incarnation and entrance into this world.  Though I highly doubt that Jesus was actually born on December 25 (there is no reasonable argument I have seen for this), yet it is right for us to remember the great historical-redemptive events, especially those connected with the life and ministry, death and resurrection of our Lord.  And so I think it is right for us to set aside some time to remember these things more purposefully and intentionally.

Now it is true that 1 Peter is not exactly perhaps the text you might think of going to first when contemplating Advent.  However, there is this phrase in 1 Peter 1:20, that does point us in this direction.  Speaking of our Savior, the apostle Peter writes, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.”  When the apostle refers to the fact that our Lord “was made manifest in the last times” he is referring to the entrance of our Lord into this world and the life that followed.

It is important for us to recognize that Peter's point here is not that Jesus is revealed in the preaching of the apostles: in this place it is history that he is referring to.  “In the last times” points to the fact that for Peter and the Christians of the first century, the incarnation of our Lord marked a turning point in history, so that all the days that followed are the “last times.”  We live in the last times, not because the Second Coming is necessarily going to happen tomorrow (though I would be overjoyed if it did!), but because the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the last great redemptive event in history before the Second Coming and the Final Judgment.  This is important to remember for this reason: Christianity is not about man’s attempt to ascend to heaven through piety and penance and philosophy, but it is about God’s descending to earth in our time and space universe in the person of his Son in order to save men who could not save themselves.

And that ultimately is what Christmas is all about, or at least should be.  In our day, any semblance of the Christian content of the holiday is fading fast as our culture becomes increasingly secular.  But as Christians, we need to remind ourselves that remembering our Lord’s birth is not about family get-togethers and food and presents.  It is not even about peace in this fallen world or about a cute baby in a manger.  Rather, it is about the fact that the world in which we live is so bad, so corrupt, so fallen, so wicked, that it took the God-Man Jesus Christ invading our world to rescue his people not only from the present fallenness, but from the everlasting misery which must inevitably follow our rebellion against heaven.

Jesus didn’t come into this world because it is a swell place.  He came because it stinks.  It stinks up to high heaven, and one day he is going to replace it.  He came to redeem his people from their sins so that they would be delivered from this present evil generation and be able to enjoy the age to come in a new heavens and new earth.  So Christmas is not about the goodness of this world, which is ultimately how the world presents it.  It is about the badness of this world and the fact that it needs to be redeemed.

This is shown partly in the fact that when our Lord came into this world, he was not welcomed or treated with the respect that he deserves.  Rather, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).  “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isa. 53:3).  We are told repeatedly in the gospels that, confronted with the authority and power and holiness of our Lord, people became afraid.  They were afraid because they recognized that Jesus Christ was unlike them.  Of course, this is mostly due to the fact that he is the Son of God, and they were not.  But it is also due to the fact that he was holy and they were not.  He was a stranger in this world – in the world, yet not of it – holy, harmless, separate from sinners.  He was an exile in the very world that he made.

It is important for us to remember this as we come to the celebration of our Lord’s birth.  We need to remember that our Lord didn’t come into this world to make it better for us.  He came to redeem us out of this world.  That doesn’t mean, of course, that there is nothing good in this world.  Fallen as it is, it is still the handiwork of God, his creation that speaks his Name to all who would listen.  Men, fallen as they are, are still made in the image of God.  And that means two things.  First, that it is not wrong to enjoy God’s creation.  It is not wrong to celebrate God’s gifts to us in the here and now.  But second, it means that this world is pointing to something much, much better.  There are glimpses, even in its fallenness, of God’s greater purpose.  And so, though we rightfully enjoy God’s created gifts with thankfulness – like family and friends and material provision – we should also long and look forward to the prize that is set before us in the age to come.

What has this to do with 1 Peter 1, you might ask, apart from this fleeing phrase in verse 20?  In this first chapter, the apostle lays out a doctrinal foundation that supports the exhortations that follow.  As he does so, we cannot help but notice the centrality of Christ and his redemptive work.  None of this would be possible apart from what our Lord has done.  In particular, he spells out the hope that we have in Christ. Our hope is living because of the resurrection of Christ from the dead (3), and it culminates “at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (7).  As a result, Peter’s readers, the Christians of Asia Minor, love him even though they have not seen him (8).

This hope, this salvation, which centers around “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (11), was prophesied by the Spirit of Christ in the OT (10-12), good news “into which angels long to look” (12).

When the apostle then comes to his first exhortation in verses 13-21, we note again that these moral imperatives are rooted in the work of Christ for them.  They are not to go back to their former way of living, since they were redeemed from that by the precious blood of Christ (19).  In fact, we hope in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, since God “raised him from the dead and gave him glory” (21).

To sum up, our hope and our obedience as believers are unimaginable apart from the person and work of Christ.  They are inconceivable apart from the advent of our Lord. 

But what is this hope that animates our obedience?  In other words, what is it that this Advent season ought to be pointing us to?  This is what Peter spells out in verses 3-12.  I want you to see what is the hope to which you are called.  Next time we will consider how this works to produce the fruit of holiness in your lives.

The grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ

Our hope, which is spelled out in verses 3-12 is summed up in verse 13 at “the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  This revelation is not a reference to the first, but to the second coming of our Lord.  It has not been brought but will be brought.  Having come once in fulfillment of OT prophesy, we can be sure that he will come again in fulfillment of NT prophesy.  We long for the grace that will be brought to us at that time.  It is called grace, because there is no way we could ever earn or merit it.  We don’t become saved by grace and then stay saved by works.  We begin and end by grace, which makes our confidence all the more sure.

The thing that is important to notice in verse 13 is the fact that Peter tells us to set our hope “fully on the grace that will be brought to you.”  This hit me recently as I was reading this chapter again.  In fact, this is the real reason I am preaching this message today.  We are not told to set our hope partly on God’s future grace but fully on God’s future grace.  How is this possible?  How can we leap over earthly hopes – like the hope of a better job or better marriage or better whatever – and reserve our highest hopes for something which is not only future but which belongs to another world completely?  

We had better understand this, because Peter grounds his call to holiness upon this reality (13).  To understand this, we need to go back and understand what is our hope that Peter outlines for us in the previous verses.  How can we get to the place where we will set our hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to us at Christ’s Second Coming?

Understand your Identity (1-2)

Peter begins this epistle with these words: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.  To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with this blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”  I want to focus on the phrase “elect exiles of the Dispersion.”

“The Dispersion” was a phrase that was usually used to refer to the Jews that had been scattered throughout the world as a result of their exile from their homeland in Judea, in particular to the Greek-speaking Jews throughout the Roman Empire in Peter’s day.  However, there are good reasons to see this as referring, not to Jews only but also to Gentile believers who lived in Asia Minor.  The apostle is spiritualizing this description and turning it to a reference to believers in the Lord.  They are dispersed throughout this world, but like the Jews, they were not in their homeland.  For our home ultimately is not in this world but in the world to come.  

This is why Peter also calls them “elect exiles.”  The King James Version translates this word, exiles, as “strangers.”  According to Wayne Grudem, perhaps the best translation is “sojourners.”  (A similar word is used in verse 17, which the KJV translates as “the time of your sojourning.”)  The word “always refers to a temporary resident in a foreign place.”[1]  As Christians, that is what we are.  No matter how rooted we may begin to imagine ourselves in this world, we are at best temporary residents in it.  But that is true of everyone.  What makes the difference and distinguishes the Christian from those who are not, is that we recognize the face that we are not only temporary residents, but residents in a foreign place.  As believers in Christ, we need to face up to the reality that this world is not our home.  We are not to find our identity in this world, in our jobs, or in our families, or in our country.  We are to be like Abraham and the patriarchs, who “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:13-16).

Peter does not drop this description of these believers by accident.  This is on purpose.  He wants them to see that the significance of their lives does not depend on how they are perceived in this world.  It does not depend on what other people think of them, or how they usefulness is rated by others.  Our home, and the place in which we will find ultimate rest, is heaven.  

These believers were being persecuted.  So they were acutely aware that they were being rejected by their neighbors and the authorities.  They were seen as being traitors to their country because of their faith.  This is hinted at in verse 18, when the apostle says that they were “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.”  In other words, in their conversion to Christ, they were turning their backs on their heritage.  They were almost certainly seen as being unpatriotic and disloyal.  So there would have been this tremendous pressure on them to repent of their repentance.  So Peter is telling them, “Look, don’t worry too much about being rejected by your neighbors.  For remember that you are a resident alien.  You live here and rub shoulders with these people, but this is not your home.  This is not your country.  You don’t owe your allegiance to a culture which is in revolt against God, who is your true King and to whose Country you belong.”

You will never set your hope fully on the grace that is coming with the End, if your allegiance is to this world.  And your allegiance will land here unless you see that you are an elect exile, a stranger and a pilgrim, a sojourner.

But we also need to remember that pilgrims can do great things.  One thinks of the Pilgrim Fathers of our own nation.  They were a very small group of people, described by some historians as fundamentalist nuts.  They were branded as such by their own countrymen.  They had been “harried out of the land” by the religious leaders of their nation.  They were not wanted.  They were not appreciated.  They were  not respected.  And there were barely 100 of them when they reached the New World, and then half of them died in the first winter.  What could such people do?  Yet it was their bravery and pilgrim spirit which laid the foundation for those who would follow.  So don’t worry about being a pilgrim, a sojourner, an exile.  God uses pilgrims in the establishment of his kingdom, too.  Find your identity as an elect exile.

And then there is that word “elect.”  God is of course the one who chose them.  You might be rejected by your countrymen, but if God is for you, who can be against you?  Peter further elucidates what he means by this, when he says that they were elect exiles “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”  This does not mean that they were chosen by God because he foresaw certain things about them, or that he chose them because they chose him first.  That sense of the word doesn’t hold, for example, in its application to Christ in verse 20.  Rather, what it means is that they were loved by God with the love that a father has for his children.  Let the whole world reject you if God the Father has received you into his fatherly care.  And he is not like some earthly fathers, who are arbitrary in their displays of love towards their children.  Rather, we know that God the Father is relentlessly faithful and loving toward his children.  What more security could anyone ask for?  And what a foundation for your identity! 

By the way, when we adopt the attitude of sojourners and strangers in this world, we are following the example and pattern of our Savior, who was the ultimate Exile in this world.  How could we expect any different, when following Christ?  “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.  For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:13-14).

Rejoice in your Inheritance (3-6)

What Peter does here is to show them that what God has promised them is infinitely better than anything that this world can offer.  It is the fruit of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, sealing his redemptive work with victory over death.  As a result of this, we are, according to the mercy of the Lord, “born again to a living hope” (3).  I don’t think I really understood what this meant until just the other day.  Perhaps I am just dull.  I guess when I read “living hope” I just understood that to mean a vibrant, exuberant hope.  And probably that is included in the meaning.  But the fact that our hope is “living” also surely means that it is growing.  For it is the property of living things that they grow.  This stands in stark contrast with the things of this world.  We may start off having bright hope in something, like a new political party, or a new job, or a new friend, or a new church.  But then over time we begin to learn that there is nothing in this world that is without fault and failures.  Our hopes diminish over time, or at least become more damped over time.  With the Christian hope, it is the opposite.  It grows, because this hope does not make one ashamed (Rom. 5:5).  Those who hope is in Christ will never be disappointed.

What is the content of this hope?  Peter tells us: “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (4-5).  Here Peter gets at the heart of that grace that is to be brought at the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of history.  He tells us five things about it.

First, it is an inheritance.  Canaan was described as Israel’s inheritance.  But this pointed to the greater inheritance that we have in Christ.  An inheritance is not something that we obtain because we saved up enough money for it.  An inheritance is something bequeathed, something given.  Israel certainly didn’t deserve the land of Canaan.  It was nevertheless given to them because God had promised  it to Abraham.  In the same way, we don’t obtain heaven because we deserve it.  It is bequeathed to us by grace.  For that reason, our inheriting it does not depend upon us but upon the grace of God that gives it (cf. Eph. 1:11).

Second, it is imperishable.  This again stands in stark contrast to everything in this world.  Everything here ultimately disintegrates.  People die.  Machines break down.  Flowers fade.  Houses fall down.  Governments crumble.  Stock markets crash.  But the kingdom of God endures forever.  It is imperishable.  The gates of hell will never prevail against it.  

Third, it is undefiled.  I suppose that imperishable is not necessarily desirable on its own.  But this inheritance is also undefiled.  That is, everything that might cause it to become stained with sin is absent from it.  Remember that everything in this world that is bad – all the pain and suffering and injustice – ultimately comes from the fact that sin is now part of the warp and woof of this world.  That is all gone in the age to come.  There is therefore nothing undesirable in that land.  It is pristine and lovely in its holiness.  “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).

Fourth, it is unfading.  That is to say, it can not only never be destroyed, but its pristine glory will never fade either.  

Finally, it is kept in heaven for you.  These are two of my favorite verses in the NT (4-5).  I like the KJV better: “reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  This is not like a hotel reservation, which completely depends on you getting there on time.  Rather, not only is heaven kept for us, but we ourselves are kept, not by our own feeble efforts, but by the very power of God.  This is one of the reasons why I get upset when I hear people downplay the perseverance of the saints.  It borders on blasphemy, because it basically says that God’s power is insufficient to keep God’s people to the very end.  Grudem comments that the word can mean “both ‘kept from escaping’ and ‘protected from attack’, and perhaps both kinds of guarding are intended here: God is preserving believers from escaping out of his kingdom, and he is protecting them from external attacks.”[2]

But this is not apart from faith: we are kept by God’s power, yes, but it is through faith.  We must preserve this balance.  There is no hope for those who abandon the faith.  That is because those who are kept by God’s power are not kept apart from faith, but through faith.  This is why the phrase “the perseverance of the saints” is better than the “eternal security of the believer” or “the preservation of the saints.”  Both of the latter descriptions are helpful, but the perseverance underlines the fact that we are secure and preserved by God as we persevere in the faith.

But even our faith is supported by our faithful God.  We must never imagine that our faith depends solely upon our own fickle resources.  We are ultimately kept by God’s unwavering, unstoppable power.  We could never be more secure.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:27-29).

What Peter is doing here is to show us that the inheritance that is ours through Christ is both incomparable and infinitely desirable.  His readers had already found it so: “In this [inheritance] you rejoice” (6).  This is what Christ came to purchase for us.  He did not come to give us this world, but the world to come.  This does not mean, of course, that believers can’t be successful here.  But that is not the promise, and it certainly should not be what our hope is in.  Those who are rich in this world are exhorted to not “set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

But what about suffering? (6-7)

One of the biggest problems with a future inheritance is that present suffering can often cloud our hope and hide it from our eyes.  Since Peter’s audience were in fact suffering, I think he found it necessary to point out a very important truth that he will come back to: that our sufferings are not pointless, but are ultimately for our good (cf. 4:19).  And so he says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (6-7).  Note that the joy that we have in Christ is not a plastic smile that we dutifully wear on our faces.  Rather, it is something so real and so deep that it is perfectly consistent with grief and sorrow.  Far from being insulated from the assaults of this fallen world, we can expect to be “grieved by various trials.”  Don’t let anyone tell you that if you’re a faithful Christian, then you should not have to worry about trials in your life.  Peter says the exact opposite: that these trials (I love the fact that Peter leaves them unspecified – “various trials” covers all the sorts of testing that we meet with in this world) are “necessary.”  When he says “necessary” I think he means from God’s perspective.  This doesn’t mean that we will know, but we can rest in the confidence that our sovereign God in his providence is working this trial for our good and his glory.

By the way, I think this is a real test for any religion or worldview.  How does it deal with suffering?  If it has to ignore it or deny it or infuse it with meaning that doesn’t exist in that worldview, then something is wrong.  When I look at the secularist mindset, there is no place for meaning in suffering.  It cannot handle it except to say, “Que sera, sera.”  Any meaning in suffering has to be imported from somewhere else.  But this is not so in the Christian worldview.  We know there is meaning in our suffering, not because we pretend it is so, but because we know that God is both good and sovereign.  And we can rest in that, even if we will never understand it this side of heaven.

However, that doesn’t mean we can’t know anything.  There are two things, according to the apostle, that must inevitably result from our suffering.  The first is that our faith will be shown to be genuine: he speaks of “the tested genuineness of your faith.”  This is not only for the benefit of unbelievers, who by seeing our steadfastness might begin to look into the gospel, but also for ourselves.  There is always the question, “Will I endure?”  Then suffering comes, the Lord brings us through it, and our hope is all the more strong.

The second thing is more important, and is the main thing Peter aims at: “might be found to result in praise and glory and honor” – when and where?  The answer: “at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  Our sufferings will produce the fruit of praise and glory and honor.  Though it is true that we will give all praise and honor to the Lord, yet it is also true that God has promised to give praise and glory and honor to his people.  However, and this is important, this does not happen now, but “at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” that is to say, at his Coming.  It may be that our suffering has no meaning if we confine our viewpoint to the limited perspective of the present.  But if we allow God’s word to widen it to the breadth of eternity, then we can be sure that our suffering will be brimming over with meaning and purpose and good.

Love your Savior (7-12)

The “praise and honor” that the believer will find in the future inheritance is inseparable from the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (7).  That is because what ultimately makes the inheritance imperishable and undefiled and unfading, or secures the reality that “no longer will there be anything accursed,” is due to the fact that “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more.  They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:3-5).  Christ is the sun whose light makes everything beautiful in heaven.  To want the inheritance without Christ is like wanting the sea without water, bread without flour, or the morning without the sun. 

This is why, though Peter says that they rejoiced in their inheritance, he says something stronger when he comes to their delight in the Lord: “Though you have not seen him, you love him.  Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (8).  You don’t have to know Greek to see the difference.  Their rejoicing in the inheritance is a step down from their rejoicing in Jesus because their possession of the inheritance is only meaningful in light of their possession of Christ.  Like Paul, they believed that to depart and be with Christ was far better than any blessing that could be experienced in the here and now (Phil. 1:23). 

We often judge the worthiness of something by how other worthy people view it.  If a well-known artist admires a piece of art, well then, it must be worthy of admiration.  If a talented musician praises a concerto, then we might try to enjoy it ourselves.  If a successful writer of fiction whose works we’ve enjoyed tells us that he has modeled his writing after someone, then we will probably try to find the works of his inspiration.  Well, apply this to Christ, and the only thing to conclude is that he is worthy of your worship.  For who has admired him?  Peter tells us that the great men of the OT, the men anointed by the Holy Spirit himself to write Scripture “searched and inquired carefully” what the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating about the future coming of the Messiah (10).  Peter ends this paragraph by saying that these are “things into which angels long to look” (12).  Prophets and angels strain every nerve to know more about Christ.  Angelic beings who minds are not afflicted with infirmity or darkened by iniquity want to know nothing more than the person and work of Jesus our Lord.  Shall we not then take their example to heart?  Something is wrong with us if we are blind to the glory of which the wisest of men and purest of angels delight to see.

If you want to be the kind of person who sets his or her hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to you, then you must do these three things: know your identity, rejoice in your inheritance, and love your Savior.  Know that you are strangers and pilgrims in this world.  Know that your inheritance does not belong to the here and now, and yet is infinitely better and desirable than any earthly portion.  And know that Christ is worthy of your strongest admiration, your strictest attention, and your supreme affection.

[1] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter [TNTC], (IVP, 1988), p. 48.
[2] Grudem, p. 58.

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