Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 4

Originally posted October 5, 2017, at Women of Purpose

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 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. 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. 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, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

We begin lesson 4 of our study by examining this passage of scripture to search out what God has done for us. Peter says that “God. . . has caused us to be born again” (3). We have all become so familiar with this term that we may read past it without thinking deeply about what it means. But just because a phrase is familiar to our ears doesn’t mean that we grasp the fullness of meaning. John helps us to understand what this new birth means when he writes, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1: 12-13). In this passage, the new birth clearly comes from an act of God alone, and not by any effort on the part of the believer. In his commentary on 1 Peter, Simon Kistemaker writes:

“Just as we are passive in natural birth, so we are in spiritual birth. That is, God is active in the process of begetting us, for he causes us to be born again.”[1]

As John makes clear in his first epistle, this new birth necessarily results in belief in Jesus and a new love. “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” (1 John 5:1).

Why does Peter emphasize that our new birth is rooted in God’s mercy? For insight, we are sent to Titus, where Paul writes:

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:3-5)

We have done nothing which would suggest that we deserve to be born again, rather, we deserve condemnation. But our holy God, in his goodness and lovingkindness, saved us “according to his own mercy.” By definition, to receive mercy is to not receive that which we deserve. Turning to the dictionary, we learn that mercy means:

1. a. compassion or forbearance shown to an offender or one subject to one’s power. < as God shows mercy to a sinner>

  1. a. a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion. . . Mercy implies compassion that forbears punishing even when justice demands it.[2]

Why would our holy God extend mercy to undeserving sinners? Daniel Doriani explains that, “His mercy (hesed in the Old Testament…) is closely linked to God’s covenant name and covenant-making deeds. He shows mercy (hesed is also translated “steadfast love”) to thousands who love him (Ex. 20:6; Deut. 5:10). When he reveals himself to Moses, he says he is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love [hesed] and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6).[3]

Mercy is an attribute of God’s character. It is, if you will, part and parcel of who he is: woven into the fabric of his being. To be merciful and to faithfully keep his promises are the very nature of God. We need to know that our new birth is rooted deeply in the faithful promises of our covenant-keeping God who promised for centuries that he would send a Redeemer to save a people for himself, and so Peter tells us that we are born again “according to his great mercy.” Hallelujah!

But why is a new birth necessary?

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:1-3)

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But 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.” (Ephesians 2:1-5)

We must be born again, because without it we are dead in our sins, unable to save ourselves. We are blind, unable even to desire Christ, unable to see his beauty and love. We must be born again because, left as we are, we are fully deserving of the hot and holy wrath of God against the sins in which we willingly wallow. God in his righteousness must pour out his wrath on sin, and we are sitting squarely in the drop-zone without his mercy by which he causes us to be born again.

Moving forward in our text, Peter tells us that the benefits of our new birth are, “a living hope. . .(and). . . an inheritance. . . kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation. . .” (3-5). These benefits are treasures indeed. By a “living hope,” Peter calls to mind that our Savior, in whom our hope is anchored, is alive in heaven even now. That he is alive is understood. What we may need to learn, though, is the meaning of hope. In our day it can be applied to almost anything in a wishy-washy sense. “I hope things turn out okay,” “I hope the Spurs win the championship this season,” “I hope the weather is nice for our picnic tomorrow.” Simon Kistemaker helps us with a more biblical definition of “hope.”

“Hope characterizes the believer who patiently waits for the salvation God has promised to his people. “Hoping” is disciplined waiting. . . . (Hope) is something that is personal, living, active, and part of us. In verse 3, it is not something that pertains to the future. Instead it brings life to God’s elect who are waiting with patient discipline for God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.”[4]

“Disciplined waiting.” Isn’t that so much better than “wishing?”

Saving the other two benefits for a bit, let’s look more closely at the living hope, which Peter ties to the resurrection of Jesus.

“(God) has caused us to be born again to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (3).

Our new birth and living hope come to us through the resurrection of our Lord. This is vital to understand because without the resurrection of Christ, our faith is a farce, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians:

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:17-20).

On this point Kistemaker pulls no punches:

“If Christ is not raised from the grave, he is dead; a dead Christ is unable to justify believers; and unjustified believers remain in their sins. . . . Without the risen Christ there is no justification, without justification there is no living faith, and without living faith there is no forgiveness of sin.”[5]

Why would there be no justification? Because our sins required punishment. God cannot be just and also sweep our sins ‘under the rug.’ They must be paid for. Christ paid for our sins on the cross. As he hung there, the sinless sacrifice, bearing in himself all our filthy sin, God the Father poured out his holy wrath upon his only begotten Son. Because our sins have been paid for at the cross, God can extend to us the mercy by which we are then saved. Do you see how it all ties together? Herman Bavinck brings out the connections between mercy, the resurrection, and our new birth with the following:

“Whether rebirth is called the “circumcision of the heart,” the giving of a new heart and a new spirit, “efficacious calling,” a drawing by the Father, or birth from God, it is always in a strict sense a work of God by which a person is inwardly changed and renewed. It has the deepest cause in God’s mercy; it is based on the resurrection of Christ and is brought about in communion with Christ, to whom the Word bears witness, and manifests itself in a holy life.”[6]

Go back for another quick look at 1 Corinthians 15:17-20. Notice Paul’s explanation of the resurrection by saying that Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” That’s no ‘throwaway line.’ There is no such thing in scripture. Paul is alluding to the Feast of Harvest which the Lord commanded Israel, through Moses, to keep annually.

“You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor.” (Exodus 23:16)

Simon Kistemaker sheds light on this allusion for us:

“The term firstfruits signals to us that the first sheaf of the forthcoming grain harvest will be followed by the rest of the sheaves (a full harvest). Christ, the firstfruits raised from the dead, is the guarantee for all those who belong to him that they also will share in his resurrection.”[7]

All who believe in Christ by faith are the rest of the harvest and will be gathered in, as his offering of himself as our firstfruits guarantees! (Now does the hymn, “Bringing in the Sheaves” make a little more sense?)

The children of Israel, in the Old Testament, were promised a portion of the Promised Land as their inheritance. This land, as we learned in last year’s study, was impermanent and lost to them when they disobeyed and spoiled the land with their idolatrous practice. But, God, in his faithfulness, was pointing beyond the terra firma which they thought would be theirs for generations to come, to the heavenly reality of the eternal inheritance which he gives us in Christ. The Israelites lost their inheritance through their own disobedience, but Christ, by his perfect obedience has gained for all who are his an inheritance in the new heavens and new earth.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. . .

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:1-7, 22-27)

When God created the world, and planted the perfect garden in Eden, he placed there our first parents, newly-created and without sin. Though it was a sanctuary like none we have ever known, it was ruined by sin. But the heavenly Jerusalem, our inheritance, is being kept by our omnipotent God imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.

“Nothing can spoil our inheritance. It is ‘untouched by death, unstained by evil, unimpaired by time; it is compounded of immortality, purity, and beauty.’ Nothing can jeopardize it and nothing can ruin it.”[8]

Reminding his readers, and us, of our inheritance helps us to keep our eyes on the prize. Our focus must be beyond the things of this world, especially when this world becomes a painful place to live. By viewing our lives with a heavenly perspective, fully assured of God’s protection and power to fulfill his promises to us and get us to our inheritance, we are better equipped to face the trials of life. How incredibly encouraging it is, then, when Peter follows his reminder of our inheritance with the assurance that God is guarding us by his protection! “By God’s power (we) are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (5).

What this means is the same thing Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, that: ”He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Reformed Christians see in this the doctrine of the preservation (or perseverance) of the saints (the “P” in TULIP). Because it was God who caused us to be born again, it will be God who keeps us secure until we reach the “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  (Peter uses the term “salvation” differently from Paul. For Peter, it encompasses more than our justification, but also comprehends our sanctification and glorification. Paul used separate terms for each, but Peter sees in our salvation the whole package from beginning to end.)

What this does not mean is that once we are born again we will never encounter trials or feel pain or be touched by tragedy. The Bible nowhere teaches that Christians don’t experience suffering. On the contrary, with his next breath Peter is going to offer us encouragement to help us through grievous trials. Christians will and do experience trials, tragedy, and grief. Earthquakes shake villages and collapse city buildings filled with people. Floods destroy homes and lives. Children get cancer. Cars crash. Madmen aim rifles into crowds of people or walk into schools and begin firing. . .

Tragedy not only touches God’s children, it can come near to crushing them. And yet, our God has promised that we will reach heaven. Our Shepherd has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He who bore our flesh and was nailed to a cross knows our suffering and feels our pain, and he is with us every step we take though the valley of the shadow of death. In Christ, our salvation is secure and his presence is certain.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

With this as our context, Peter’s next statement does, with our heavenly perspective, make much more sense.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (6).

Let’s walk carefully through this next part. Look at the grammar of the sentence. Peter doesn’t say that the joy is found in the grief. He’s pointing back at our secure salvation; we rejoice in our salvation even though… Even though what? “For a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” The trials Peter describes here are, in the scope of eternity, brief; in the plan of God, necessary; and, from one believer to the next, varied.

Peter repeatedly throughout this letter looks to the end goal. His hope is settled in eternity and so his view of life in the right-here and right-now is through the lens of eternity. In view of eternity, our entire lives are brief. Whatever amount of suffering we experience, whether it is 50 years in a wheelchair or three days in a hospital bed, when we step through the mortal veil and pass the gates of heaven to behold our Savior face to face, it will all wash away behind us and have been a mere moment compared to the life before us.

From one believer to the next, our trials vary. We face the world, the flesh, and the devil—and Peter will address all three enemies before he’s done—and each of these foes bring a variety of griefs, and injuries, some of which have lasting consequences.  Whichever sort of trial we are going through, we can be confident that ultimately, because we believe firmly in God’s sovereign presence with us, it is a necessary means of our sanctification.

To investigate the necessity of our trials, we read further:

“…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)

“There is divine purpose behind every trial. Our trials are necessary to purify our faith, and Peter compares this to the process by which gold was, and still is, purified. “Peter’s comment about gold is a parenthesis that explains how trials “prove” our faith. First, gold and faith are both proved by fire. Literal fire tests gold, and the metaphorical fire of adversity tests men and their faith (Ps. 66:10; Prov. 17:3; James 1:2-4; etc.). Just as men used fire to distinguish true gold from counterfeit, so God uses trials to distinguish genuine faith from superficial profession.”[9]

But it’s not only the purifying process which is being compared here: Peter is also comparing the value of our faith relative to gold.

“Gold is the monetary standard among the nations and it serves to determine the value of currencies. The value of gold, however, is set by world markets. That is, man determines the price of gold.

By comparison, faith, which is more precious than gold, originates not in the mines of the earth, but in heaven. Faith is refined in the crucible of man’s trials. Faith is God’s gift to man. God, not man, determines the value of faith; and he reveals that the goal of man’s faith is his salvation.”[10]

Gold, even though it is highly prized because it neither rusts nor spoils, will someday perish. Gold is temporary. Our faith is eternal, and purified by adversity, will prove to be of eternal durability. Therefore, our faith is infinitely more valuable than the purest gold. Knowing that our trials are for such a glorious purpose gives us encouragement to endure, which is why the Holy Spirit, by Peter, is writing these things to us.

But wait: there’s more. Our fire-purified faith serves to “result in glory, praise, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ!” (7) This is a celebration in which we participate: the praise and glory and honor are part of our reward on that day when Christ is revealed and our salvation—glorification—is achieved. All of this is great, glorious, and joyful news indeed.

However, when we want to encourage and comfort another who is suffering a grievous trial, the very last thing they need to hear from us is an explanation of why it is happening or what God is doing in the affliction. When our loved ones are weeping, they need us to weep with them, pray with and for them, hold them tight, remind them to breathe, do their laundry, bring meals, keep their children or pets, in short, they need us to love on them. When Job was suffering unimaginable pain, in heart, mind, and body, the best thing his friends did was to sit quietly with him. Ask the Holy Spirit how you can best love on your grieving friends, and then go do it.

The next verse gives us a definition of true faith. “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, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (8-9)

Believing and loving Jesus, even though we have not seen him, is true and blessed faith. As Jesus told doubting Thomas, who didn’t believe the testimony of his ten friends when he found them rejoicing after seeing the risen Lord, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Peter, who was ‘sifted like wheat,’ knows how shattering the purification of his faith was; his was a costly faith. He also knows the joy of his new birth in Christ, being washed clean of his sins and given a heart to love and obey his risen Savior. Looking forward to the day when he will once again gaze into the eyes of his Master, he rejoices with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. This is the goal of our faith. The outcome of our salvation and an eternity of praise and glory and honor in the presence of our Risen and Glorious King.

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

[1] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 1 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1986/1987), 41.

[2] Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1974), 719. Curiously enough, the page containing the definition for mercy ends with the definition for merit, among the variations of which is found, “character or conduct deserving reward, honor, or esteem.”

[3] Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 16.

[4] Kistemaker, 39 & 41

[5] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1993), 544.

[6] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, originally published 1895-99, translated from Dutch by John Vriend, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 4.52.

[7] Kistemaker, Commentary… First Epistle to the Corinthians, 544.

[8] Doriani, 17, quoting F. W. Beare, The First Epistle of Peter, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1970), 83-84.

[9] Doriani, 19.

[10] Kistemaker, Exposition of 1 Peter, 48.

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