Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 3

Originally posted September 28, 2017 at Women of Purpose.

In the third week of our study we come at last to First Peter. The best way to begin our study of this letter is to read the whole thing in one sitting. This is, after all, how its first readers would have treated it. It would have been read in its entirety, out loud, to the assembled congregations of the churches to which it was sent. As we read there are several themes which are repeated throughout the letter.

Though suffering appears in every chapter, it is not the focus of the letter. Rather, grace, because of what God has done for us in Christ (so: Jesus!), forms the framework through which we read the letter. Beginning with the promise of God’s protection now and future glory with Christ (1:6-9), to the atonement of our sins purchased by the precious blood of our Savior (1:17-21; 2:24; 3:18-22), to the assurance that Jesus is our Shepherd and Overseer even through our suffering (2:25), to the pledge that the God of all grace will himself restore, strengthen, and establish his people even though Satan is on the prowl seeking our destruction (5:8-11), this first epistle of Peter is absolutely dripping with the grace of God.

Peter also repeatedly reminds believers who they are in Christ. They are the new people of God (1:1, 2; 4:4-10), who must leave behind their old ways (1:14, 18), who will therefore seem strange, even evil, to their former friends (2:12; 4:1-4), and by their willingness to suffer for their faith they will show that in their union with Christ is genuine as is their promise of eternal life (1:3-9; 4:13; 5:1, 4, 10).

Who we are in Christ leads to how we are to live in Christ, so holiness and faithfulness are also a theme of Peter’s letter (1:18; 2:9; 4:3, 4).

Though it is not the central point, suffering is a prominent theme, because suffering is part of being called out of the world to follow a holy Master. As Daniel Doriani points out, “Christians followed a crucified Jew (hence, a condemned man) who claimed, in a way that could sound threatening to the established powers, to be Lord of Israel.”[1]

The theme of suffering shows up in every chapter with the warnings growing progressively stronger, moving from possibility to certainty. Yet the suffering never stands alone, it is set in a context of purpose and reassurance. We are being guarded by God’s power for our future salvation, which is reason to rejoice even if we are suffering now, and our present suffering refines our faith which is more precious than gold (1:5-8). We have been called to do good despite our suffering, because Christ also suffered for us and left us the example of trusting in our trustworthy Father through suffering (2:18-25).

Suffering for righteousness sake brings blessing (3:13-18). We shouldn’t be surprised when suffering and trials enter our lives, because we are followers of our Master, Christ, who also suffered, but rather, we should rejoice because we are blessed and the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us (4:12-19). And finally, resisting the devil will necessarily result in the same kinds of suffering experienced by our brethren throughout the world, but the God of all grace will himself make all things right in the end (5:9-10).

Peter’s purpose for writing this letter is found at the end as he closes with his final greetings: “I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it” (5:12). Doriani says that, “The word ‘this’ in the phrase, ‘this is the true grace of God,’ is crucial. Since it comes at the end of the epistle, ‘this…grace’ seems to refer to the whole letter, with its message of hope and salvation in the gospel.”[2] Peter is encouraging Christians to anticipate and accept the difficulties and suffering which they will encounter because of their faith in Christ. They share in Christ’s sufferings and they share in his glory, therefore they can stand firm.

Now that we have taken a broad view of the entire letter, for the rest of our lesson we will dig deeply into the first two verses.

“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 his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” 1 Peter 1:1, 2

We first notice that Peter identifies himself simply as “an apostle of Jesus Christ,” and then moves on, without elaboration or defense of his title and role. Peter, after all he went through, was comfortable in his role as an apostle and didn’t dwell on it. It’s also interesting in view of what we learned about him in our first two lessons that the disciple who always had so much to say whether or not he had thought it out, is now, in his maturity, comfortable with leaving enough said where no more is needed. It is estimated that he wrote this letter in the mid-60s A.D., so he has had approximately 30 years of ministry under his belt. What he now writes is not based solely on his experiences walking with his Master, but also on decades of ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit with the wisdom gained as he has grown to understand all that Jesus taught and demonstrated.

Peter wrote to churches that were scattered across what is now modern-day Turkey. Rather than writing to one particular church, addressing concerns specific to one congregation, he wrote to the universal need of Christians of the time—which is still a need for believers today.

Peter addresses his readers as “elect exiles,” or “strangers.” Though our focus for this lesson is the first two verses, if you are a believer, I want to encourage you to read this letter as written to you. When Peter calls his readers “exiles” and “strangers,” he is referring to Christians—to you. Let’s take a peek at the other ways he describes those to whom he writes just in the first twelve verses of the first chapter. Peter writes to those:

  • Who are foreknown by God the Father, are being sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ, and are sprinkled with Jesus’s blood.
  • Who have been caused by God to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ to an imperishable inheritance waiting in heaven.
  • Who are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation yet to come.
  • Who have possibly been grieved by various trials.
  • Whose faith, proved genuine, is more precious than pure gold.
  • Whose faith will result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
  • Who love and believe in Christ, even though they haven’t seen him, and therefore rejoice with inexpressible, glorious joy.
  • Who are obtaining the outcome of their faith: the salvation of their souls.
  • Who were the target audience of the prophets who predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
  • To whom the good news has been preached by those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

You get the idea? Read this letter like this, because if you are a believer in Christ it is—by the Holy Spirit—written to you.

Going back to his initial greeting, what does it mean to be God’s elect? This simply means to be chosen by God for salvation. Simple to say; hard, sometimes, to wrap our heads around. Those who are chosen by God are not chosen for anything which they have done to earn, or merit, salvation. God did the choosing in eternity past, before he created the world, in the council of the Godhead.

A question and answer session with Paul may be helpful on this point.

Paul: God “chose us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

Q: Paul, how did he choose us?

Paul: “In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ” (1: 5). “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (2:4, 5).

Q: Why did God choose those he saved?

Paul: “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (2: 7) . . . . “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2: 10)

Q: But, Paul, are you really sure the chosen didn’t do anything to earn their salvation—really?

Paul: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:8, 9).

One reason we misunderstand the doctrine of election is that when we make choices we usually base those choices on the merits of the alternatives before us. For example, when picking teams for a contest, the team captains will choose team members based on their strengths relative to the competition they will face. For a race, you want to choose the fastest; for a wrestling match, you choose the strongest; for chess, the most logical thinkers. Our own experience then, moves us to believe God’s choice of one over another for eternal salvation is based on the relative merits of those from whom he is choosing. But, as our conversation with Paul makes clear, God’s decision is based not on anything he sees in us—for we are all dead in our trespasses—but solely in his own love, mercy, and grace.

And, so, Peter addresses the elect, adding “exiles,” (or “strangers”) “of the Dispersion” to his description. Scholars have different opinions about whether Peter is addressing mainly Jewish exiles who were living dispersed throughout the world outside of Israel, or whether he was addressing mainly Gentiles and identifying them as those who, because of their faith, are no longer “at home” in the world in which they live. Whether his audience was one or the other, or a mix of both, does not change how we read this letter for ourselves, because Christians now know that this world is not our home, and can relate to the saints of the Old Testament listed in Hebrews chapter 11, 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.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

While we no longer “fit in” with the culture in which we live, we are still to be salt and light, serving those around us and redeeming what we can, as Peter will address later in his epistle. Christians traditionally have been the ones who, as they sought to spread the gospel and minister to those in need, founded hospitals, orphanages, and universities. Where Christians bring the gospel, they bring the increase of Christ’s kingdom.

And yet, as Simon Kistemaker writes, “Christians are resident aliens in the world. They are not at home in this world for their stay on earth is temporary. Their citizenship is in heaven.”[3] We are a people between homes. We no longer belong to the home/ culture/ people we have left behind, but we have not yet reached our new, true home. (For a peek at our future home, read slowly through Revelation 21. Have tissues handy.)

We now turn to God the Father’s role in saving the believer, as Peter expresses it in verses 1 and 2. (To simplify this, I’m leaving out the where for a clearer view of the who and how.)

“To those who are elect exiles . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”

What we read is that God the Father has elected these believers according to his foreknowledge. The discussion of election above ought to have cleared up the nature of election, but it bears noting that “foreknowledge,” “to know before,” does not mean that God “looked down the tunnel of time” and saw anything of merit in those he elected. According to John Calvin, “Foreknowledge . . . is the fountain and the first cause: God knew before the world was created whom he had elected for salvation.”[4]

In his commentary of 1 Peter, Simon Kistemaker explains the connection between election and foreknowledge:

“What is foreknowledge? It is much more than the ability to predict future events. It includes the absolute sovereignty of God in determining and implementing his decision to save sinful man. The word foreknowledge appears in Peter’s Pentecost sermon, where he declares to his Jewish audience that Jesus was “handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). Peter implies that God worked according to his sovereign plan and purpose which he had made in advance.”[5]

And to deepen our understanding of the attitude in which God foreknows, let’s read what Robert L. Reymond writes in his Systematic Theology:

In his eternal plan God “foreknew” (that is, “set his heart upon”) certain people and “predestined” their conformity to his Son’s likeness. And in this very context (Romans 8:33) Paul designates those whom God has always so loved as “God’s elect” . . . Reformed theologians have uniformly recognized that (the Hebrew and Greek verbs ‘to know’) can mean something on the order of “to know intimately,” to “set one’s affections upon,” or “to have special loving regard for. (italics mine)[6]

How’s that blow the “Frozen” out of “the Chosen”?! God foreknowing us is all wrapped up with his love! Remember Paul? Because of the “great love with which he loved” God chose those he elected to save. His love is the reason, and he has a purpose for those he so chooses. We see some of his purposes in the following verses:

“for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” 1 Peter 1:2c

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:29-30

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:3-6

God’s purposes for the elect are our obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling with his blood (we’ll get to this; hang on); that we would be a holy priesthood, a holy nation, his own possession, proclaiming his excellencies; and be conformed to the image of his Son, to be the firstborn among many brothers, called, justified, and glorified; blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, holy and blameless before him, adopted as sons, to the praise of his glorious grace with which he has blessed us in Christ.

These are high and holy purposes indeed! Fortunately, he doesn’t save us and leave us to do all this on our own. He gives us the Holy Spirit, to sanctify us, as also indicated by Peter in verse 2, “in the sanctification of the Spirit.”  Herman Bavinck’s explanation of the role of the Spirit in sanctification is not only helpful, it is steeped in scripture:

“The Holy Spirit is the prime agent in sanctification. This sanctification certainly does not only consist in the fact . . . that Christians have been set apart and appropriated for God in an external (religious) sense, but has profound ethical significance. For, as Scripture testifies, The Holy Spirit regenerates, purifies, renews. For believers, “newness of life” begins with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This newness of life forms a contrast to their early “walk” in all sorts of sins and iniquities. Now they are new persons who present their members as instruments of righteousness for sanctification. . . Consequently, sanctification on the New Testament consists fully in believers being conformed to the image of the Son.”[7] (parentheses mine)

And now, what in the world does Peter mean by, “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood?”

Earlier, I said that scholars disagree about whether Peter’s audience was Gentile or Jewish, and that is true. However, Peter was Jewish, and was by now so familiar with the multitude of ways the Old Testament pointed to Jesus that the references flow naturally through his sermons and letters. Any Jews who read this letter would know precisely what this sprinkling meant. Turn with me to Exodus, and the confirmation of the covenant after God has given his people the Ten Commandments.

“Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” (Exodus 24:3-8)

Do you see the promises of obedience? Do you see the sacrificial offerings and the blood spilled, thrown on the altar, and on the people? Do you remember how it worked out for them? They were unable to keep the law and obey the Lord because they were doing it on their own strength. They had the law written on the stone tablets, but their hearts were unchanged. The blood of bulls and goats was ineffective for cleansing their polluted hearts. They needed an effective sacrifice which would truly cleanse them and would change their hearts in such a way that they wouldn’t only be able to obey, but they would desire obedience out of a true love for God.

Enter Jesus, whose death and shed blood are portrayed throughout the sacrificial system. Every ineffective drop of blood shed in the Old Testament cried out for the coming Messiah whose sacrifice would once and for all pay the price for sin.

Robert Reymond says of our passage, 1 Peter 1:2, and 18-19: “God’s elect were chosen “for sprinkling by the blood of Jesus Christ,” which figure portrays Christ’s death as a sacrificial death in fulfillment of the Old Testament typical system of sacrifice in which the blood of bulls and goats was ceremonially sprinkled on the persons and objects to be cleansed. Furthermore, it is by his “precious blood” that the believers “were redeemed” from their former empty way of life.”[8]

Peter closes his greeting with grace and peace. As we will learn in the coming weeks of our study, the believers to whom Peter writes are now going through some degree of suffering, which will soon escalate. Grace and peace will be especially relevant to them as they face their trials, and to us as we face ours.

So, when Peter writes near the end of his letter, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (5:10), we are reminded to consider our suffering in the measurement of eternity. Whether we live for a few decades or for a century, in eternal measure it will only be “a little while.” And this little while of suffering isn’t the end, because in Christ, God has called us to his eternal glory, and will himself, during the suffering, but especially in eternity, “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” us. Paul reminds us that God’s grace is sufficient for whatever trials we go through, because in our weakness, his power is perfected and the power of Christ rests upon us when we recognize that. (2 Corinthians 12:9).

As for peace, because we are in Christ, we are no longer enemies with God, but are his beloved children. We therefore have access by faith to “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, (which) will guard (our) hearts and (our) minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Peter himself was present when his Master promised that, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Oh, this. This is what we need, especially when we suffer.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

[1] Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 12.

[2] Ibid., 11.

[3] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 1 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1986/1987), 33.

[4] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles: Commentary on the First Epistle of Peter, translated by the Rev. William Pringle, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, reprinted 2009), 24.

[5] Kistemaker, 35.

[6] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1998), 466.

[7] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, originally published 1895-99, translated from Dutch by John Vriend, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 4.252-253.

[8] Reymond, 626.

3 thoughts on “Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 3

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