Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 5

Originally posted October 12, 2017, at Women of Purpose.

This week in our study of 1 Peter we are looking at the role of Scripture in the salvation of God’s people. Our salvation was decreed by God before the foundation of the world; revealed gradually throughout the scriptures of the Old Testament as men called by God prophesied of the coming of Christ, his suffering, and his glorious victory; and it has now been announced to us by those who preach the good news of our risen Lord. This good news, brought to us over the millennia with increasing light and culminating in our new birth, demands from us a response. We who have been made new are to turn away from our former lives and live as obedient children of our Father. This is our lesson in a nutshell; let’s take a closer look.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12)

We begin our lesson by backing up to 1:3 and reading through verse 12, noting what Peter says about our salvation in the past, the present, and the future. We see that in the past, before our time, physical birth, or awareness, our new spiritual birth was caused by God when he resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead. But even before that, our salvation was prophesied for hundreds of years by prophets who longed to know in whom and when their prophecies would come to fruition. Beginning with the promise of the Snake Crusher in Genesis 3:15 and growing to the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah, the Lord built for his people the image of their coming Savior.

Peter tells us that in the present—now—our salvation involves a living hope into which we are born, and an inheritance that is now being kept in heaven for us, who are now being guarded by God’s power through faith. While we wait, our salvation is ready and waiting to be revealed, as if it’s only just on the other side of the curtain. Our salvation gives us reason to rejoice now, even if we are experiencing grief because of various trials, which are necessary for the refining of our faith. We love and believe in Jesus now, even though we have never seen him, which brings us inexpressible and glorious joy as we are already obtaining our salvation which is the end-goal of our faith. And our salvation is now, at last, announced by those who preach the gospel, by the Holy Spirit, as the capstone of all the prophesies of the Old Testament which intrigued even the angels.

Our salvation in the future is a theme Peter returns to repeatedly as he points to the coming revelation of Jesus Christ. Remember, when Peter uses the word “salvation,” he is including “sanctification” and “glorification.” When we are born again we are saved: justified. From that moment, we look forward to the fulfillment of our salvation, to the inheritance that is waiting in heaven, but even more, to the revelation of Jesus Christ in praise and glory and honor. Our present and future salvation are bound together in the mystery of already and not yet. About this, Edmund Clowney writes:

“Not only do we have faith in Jesus and love for Jesus now; we also know already the joy that we will experience when we see him. Such is the faith and hope of those who know Jesus. The salvation of our souls in the last day is the goal of our faith. We wait for the salvation that Christ will bring with him at his appearing. Yet we are already experiencing that salvation. This apparent paradox forms the warp and woof of New Testament hope. Because Jesus has already come, in the flesh and in the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God has already come. Our hope is realized: we know Jesus. But because Jesus is coming again, the kingdom of God is yet to come, and the goal of our faith is still future. Christians live in a future that is already present, not just in imagination or expectation, but in realization: the reality of Christ’s presence in the Spirit.”[1]

In verses 10–13, Peter tells us that God revealed his plan of salvation to the prophets of the Old Testament. Moreover, it was revealed to them that the coming Savior would suffer before receiving the glories which were his due. Commenting on this, Daniel Doriani writes, “This leads to an interpretive key for reading the Old Testament. God reveals his plan of redemption gradually, not instantaneously.”[2] Indeed, beginning immediately after the fall of our first parents into sin, God gives the briefest of descriptions of the Savior:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

From the idea of the Victorious Offspring (the Snake Crusher), the picture grows with each new prophecy. He will be a priest of the order of Melchizedek, who will offer bread and wine and blessing (Gen. 14:18-20), the God-provided Lamb for sacrifice (Gen 22:8, 13), the descendant of Judah from whom the scepter would never depart and to whom the obedience of the people would be due (Gen. 49:10), he will be a prophet like Moses who will speak to the people all that God commands (Deut. 18:18), he will be a king from the line of David and will build a house for God’s name, and God will establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:12-14).

In Isaiah, more details come sharply into focus as it was foretold that the Servant of the Lord would be “wounded for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” as the Lord “laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He would face the horror of the cross “like a lamb that is led to slaughter,” and be “cut off from the land of the living,” “although he had done no violence and there was no deceit found in his mouth” yet, “when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days (resurrection!),” and “out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” (Isaiah 52 & 53).

On and on it goes, one prophet after another, building the picture of the coming Messiah. They were serving not themselves, but those of us who, on this side of the cross, now believe in Jesus Christ through faith. The prophets didn’t fully understand, but they longed to know, searching and inquiring carefully. Daniel, after his vision of the four great beasts and the reigning Son of Man, writes, “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me. I approached one of those who stood there [an angel?] and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things” (Dan. 7:15, 16).

Commenting on our passage, John Calvin writes of the blessing for every believer this is:

“But still more clearly does God’s goodness toward us shine forth in this case, because much more is now made known to us than what all the prophets attained by their long and anxious inquiries. At the same time he confirms the certainty of salvation by this very antiquity; for from the beginning of the world it had received a plain testimony from the Holy Spirit. These two things ought to be distinctly noticed: he declares that more has been given to us than to the ancient fathers, in order to amplify by this comparison the grace of the gospel; and then, that what is preached to us respecting salvation, cannot be suspected of any novelty, for the Spirit had formerly testified of it by the prophets.”[3]

Peter, when confronted with the plan for the cross by Jesus himself (Matt. 16:21-23), responded rather poorly, to say the least. But on the day of Pentecost its necessity was made crystal clear to him and he boldly preached of it and the “subsequent glories” of Jesus’ resurrection, exaltation, receiving and pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and being made Lord and Christ (Acts 2:29-36), to which he alludes in verse 11.

Verses 10-12 tell us something also about the means and process God used to bring about his plan of salvation. As Kistemaker writes:

“The wording of the text reveals that a constant interaction between the prophets and the Spirit of Christ took place. That is, the prophets were constantly investigating the meaning of their prophecies, and the Spirit of Christ, working in them, was repeatedly pointing to the time and circumstances disclosed in those prophecies. The Spirit, then, revealed to them by means of predictions what the Christ had to endure. Note that in this passage, Peter unequivocally teaches the preexistence of Christ.”[4]

When Peter refers to “the Spirit of Christ” who spoke to the prophets, he is referring to the pre-incarnate Christ, speaking in the Spirit to the prophets, about his future (to them) coming. (We will cover this more in-depth when we get to the end of chapter 3.) God was working behind the scenes of history, having planned our salvation before the foundation of the world according to his own purpose. Like an invisible stage-manager, he was sending his prophets, lawgivers, generals, judges, and kings onto the stage, each for their appointed scene, to prepare the audience for the dramatic point to which all history was building: the advent of the Christ, his life of perfect obedience, his substitutionary death on the cross, and his resurrection and ascension to glory.

Why is Peter writing this? Remember, he is writing to believers who are suffering. They were at least being marginalized for their faith, and would soon experience severe persecution (Nero is getting crazier by the day). These Christians needed to know not only that the Scriptures were a sure guide to faith and life, but also that their salvation and security in Christ was anchored solidly in God’s eternal plans and purpose for them. They were about to go through hell and needed to get their eyes fixed on heaven—their certain destination—and the return of Christ. We need, as did they, to believe the truth and sing from the depths of our being:

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed his own blood for my soul.

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought! —my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”[5]

What does Peter now tell us should be our response to this glorious, praiseworthy, blessed news?

 “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. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (! Peter 1:13-16)

Peter is now connecting what we believe in our minds and hearts with our actions. If we believe the hope of the gospel, we need to live lives of holiness for the sake of the God of the gospel. Some older translations of our text render “prepare your minds for action,” as “gird up the loins of your mind.” (I was fortunate to have someone in each of my classes this week reading from this translation!) To “gird one’s loins,” was to gather the long robes one was wearing and tie them up in a manner to free the legs to run and move freely without tripping. Peter is telling his readers to remove all mental hindrances to obedient, holy living. Mental hindrances could take the shape of fear, worry, convenience, or the comfort of routine.

His next phrase, telling us to be “sober-minded,” concerns our focus. One who isn’t sober-minded will have fuzzy thinking, might be silly, easily distracted, drowsy, get easily lost, or drive their faith into a ditch. As Christians, whether we are suffering systematic persecution or not, we are living daily with the three-fold enemy of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and we need to be focused and sharp when it comes to battling indwelling sin and the attacks that will come from outside ourselves.

Together with these exhortations to actively focused thinking, Peter tells us to “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He isn’t changing direction with this exhortation, but giving us the reason for sharpening our minds. Our thinking informs our feeling, and if we aren’t thinking straight, our hearts can take the reins and run away with our affections and our fears. We need to think deeply and clearly about where our hope is placed so that in the day of trial we can stand firm in our convictions. We must place our hope in the solid ground of the grace that will be brought to us—the grace which the prophets foretold for centuries and has now been manifested in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is what the “therefore” is there for! Because this gospel is anchored in the eternal plan of God, as prophesied for so very long, we can safely place our hope in the grace of God’s promise when the going gets tough—which it will! As Kistemaker writes, “[Peter] encourages the believers to look expectantly toward the fulfilling of their salvation, for he wants them to have a living hope with respect to their inheritance.”[6]

With our hope firmly anchored in the grace that God has promised us, based on the salvation which Christ purchased for us with his own blood, we are now told that we not only can, but we must live as obedient children of our Father. We are no longer slaves to our former passions, evil desires, and lusts, but we are children of a holy God and we must live as such. We are set apart by God to imitate him and be conformed to the image of his Son. This is sanctification. We aren’t called, nor are we able, to become holy on our own. God works in us, and we work on ourselves. Of this partnership Herman Bavinck writes:

“Scripture definitely insists on sanctification, both its passive and active aspects, and proclaims both the one and the other with equal emphasis. It sees no contradiction or conflict between them but rather knits them together as tightly as possible as when it says that, precisely because God works in them to will and to do, believers must work out their own salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13). They are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared for them to walk in (Eph. 2:10). God and humanity, religion and morality, faith and love, the spiritual and the moral life, praying and working—these are not opposites. Dependence, here, coincides with freedom. Those who are born of God increasingly become the children of God and bear his image and likeness, because in principle they already are his children. The rule of organic life applies to them: Become what you are!”[7]

We are God’s children. We must increasingly grow in holiness because we are children of a holy Father. The beginning of holiness is rejecting all that is unholy about our lives as we lived before we were born again into our new life with Christ. Paul writes that we were taught in Jesus to “put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24).

One final thought from Simon Kistemaker:

“When Jesus returns at the appointed time, he will bring to his followers the fulfillment of their salvation. When he appears his redemptive work will be realized in all the believers. He grants them full salvation through deliverance from sin, glorification of body and soul, and the knowledge that he will be in their presence forever.”[8]

As we grow in holiness our view of and desire for the beauty of heaven will steadily grow stronger, and the cry of our hearts will be to join our Savior in our inheritance. And so we sing with ever more conviction the final stanza of our hymn:

“O Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, ‘Even so’ —it is well with my soul.”

[1] Edmund Clowney, The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of 1 Peter; The Way of the Cross, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1988), 54, 55. My thanks to Jana Henry for sharing this in class and then sending me the text as I wrote today.

[2] Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 28.

[3] 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), 37.

[4] Kistemaker, 54

[5] Horatio G. Spafford, It Is Well With My Soul, 1873

[6] Kistemaker, 59.

[7] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, originally published 1895-99, translated from Dutch by John Vriend, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 4.255.

[8] Kistemaker, 59.

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