Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 7

Originally posted October 27, 2017, at Women of Purpose.

Welcome to chapter 2 of 1 Peter! This week in lesson 7, we looked at Peter’s call to us to put off our old community-destroying patterns of mind and heart by immersing ourselves in the Word of God and our new life in the covenant community. It is in this covenant community, as placed by God, that each of us finds our identity and value. Life in the Spirit requires believers to daily put sin to death and live to Christ. Being built into our covenant community is no mere aid to sanctification; it is necessary for full growth into Christ. Each individual believer needs the church, and the church needs them. Putting it more personally, sisters: you need the church, and the church needs you.

Our passage is 1 Peter 2:1-10, and it covers quite a bit of ground. We set our context by looking back at 1:22, where Peter tells us that, now that we are born again, we are to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” Now, he commands us to put away the community-destroying vices which would sabotage our earnest love for one another.

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”

These are not the gross vices of paganism, but sins of the heart, mind, and tongue that are familiar to us all. Defining them each helps us to see more clearly how insidious they are, but also how commonplace. These vices rarely appear alone. They are intertwined, so closely related in our hearts and in action that it takes some picking apart to untangle them.

Malice is personal. According to my dictionary, malice is a “desire to see another suffer that may be fixed and unreasonable or no more than a passing impulse.”[1] Its synonyms include: ill will, malevolence, spite, malignity, holding a grudge, a desiring or wishing pain, injury, or distress to another. This sounds very sinister indeed; surely no Christian could possibly feel this way toward another Christian? Or could they?

How about deceit? The dictionary says this is “the act or practice of deceiving. An attempt or device to deceive: to ensnare, to be false to, to fail to fulfill, cheat, to cause to accept as true or valid what is false and invalid.”[2] This one hits closer to home, with shades from the Garden of Eden. But wait, there’s more.

Hypocrisy is “a feigning to be what one is not, or to believe what one does not.”[3] This one is a bit more slippery, as Daniel Doriani explains that it is “insincerity, ordinary inconsistency between belief and practice, between one’s inner and outer life; self-deception as well as deception of others. One can be both sincere as well as hypocritical (Matt. 23:15, 27-28). If we first deceive ourselves, we will readily deceive others.”[4] It seems that, without self-examination, one might not realize that one is being hypocritical, or, at least, to what degree.

And now, for a vice which really pinches: envy. Envy is “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.”[5] It is the “gnawing sorrow we feel when someone else has what we feel we deserve.”[6] According to Immanuel Kant, “Envy is a wretched vice because it hurts everyone. It torments the subject, who envies, and it hopes to destroy the happiness of the one envied.”[7]

Envy is a vice which is not only very familiar to our hearts, but is dangled before our eyes everywhere we turn. From television advertisements to our Facebook feed, we see picture after picture of things which others have, and we don’t. Vacations, beautiful homes, new cars, toned and fit bodies, accomplishments, husbands, children…  Scroll, and pause, scroll, and pause: the longing hooks us; and drip-drip-drip: the bitterness eats us away. The lists of what hooks our hearts will differ, but they are splashed across our screens and if we are not careful they will seep into our souls. As the envy grips us jealousy—covetousness—whispers that God must be withholding something from us, something good. Can you hear the echo from the Garden?

Which leads us to the final vice in our list: slander. Doriani rightly observes that “slander can be the child of envy.”[8] The dictionary definition tells us that it is “the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another’s reputation.”

“Did God really say…?”[9]

Curiously, I found a footnote in a book I’m reading, by Sinclair Ferguson, which illustrates just how destructive these vices of the heart can be. His footnote expands on a discussion of the Apostle Paul, before he was the Apostle, and was Saul, the perfect Pharisee:

“What happened to him can be pieced together from the clues that lie scattered throughout his letters and Luke’s record of his life in the Acts of the Apostles (which, since Luke was not with him in his earlier life, is presumably informed by Paul’s own perspective). Paul tells the Galatians that he had been “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:14). This is tantamount to saying that he was quietly confident that he had advanced beyond all of his peer group. But then—significantly in the synagogue frequented by his fellow countrymen from Cilicia (and therefore presumably also by himself)—he encountered Stephen but could not “withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:9-10).  At last a superior is encountered! But this means also a rival. Was it this that first brought to the surface the deep internal exposure of the tenth commandment (Rom. 7:7-8)? One who has advanced beyond others has little reason to covet what anyone else possesses. But Stephen had something he, Saul, clearly lacked; Saul knew Stephen was his superior. Now jealousy, coveting what another possessed, albeit a person he hated, came to life. Faced with two possible responses (to join Stephen in his faith in Christ or to get rid of him), Saul chose the latter and in so doing he discovered that he was spiritually dead—as he indicates in Rom. 7:7-12.”[10]

Now, we may not be picking up stones to literally hurl at one another in murderous rage, but if there is even a little bit of license allowed for this sort of poison in our hearts, it will kill our relationships in the church just as surely as Stephen was stoned to death. Also note the qualifier “all” placed before these vices in Peter’s list. We can’t divide our hearts and leave room for only “some” malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, or slander. It all must go. Just as the results of harboring these vices are not isolated to our individual selves, but spill over to affect those around us, so to, do the results of putting them off. As Doriani teaches:

“As we believers put off deceit, hypocrisy, and slander, we tell the truth more consistently. But we don’t simply tell the truth; we speak the truth in love, we edify, and we strive to give grace to all who hear (Eph. 4:15, 29). If we must tell painful truths, we do so gently. If we must bring bad news, we take care not to wound or degrade anyone. If we tell a cheering truth, we shun boasting and flattery. . . . The Gospel liberates us from these sins. God pours his love into our heats, displacing our malice, so that we can love others sincerely, from the heart (1:22). The gospel teaches us to confess our sins, and that drive out hypocrisy and deceit. Faith in the Lord liberates us from envy, since we know that he Gives good gifts to his children (Luke 11:13).”[11]

Peter doesn’t counter this list of vices with virtues, but with a desire for something better, something far superior. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2, 3). The remedy for these is the Word of God, which gives us the truth about who he is and who we are in relation to him. Peter likens the Word to mother’s milk. The relationship between a newborn baby and its mother’s milk is a good description of the believer’s relationship to God’s Word in many ways. It is nourishing, strengthening, satisfying, pure, and causes babies to grow. Mother’s milk gives immunity to disease and the truth of God’s Word immunizes believers against false teaching. Babies don’t contribute to their mother’s milk, but receive it as it comes to them, just as we don’t add anything to Scripture, but receive it as it was set down by the apostles and prophets who wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Babies crave their mother’s milk—as if their lives depended on it. We too need to crave the Word of God, because our spiritual lives do depend on it! Peter is here describing what should be the norm for every believer, no matter how mature. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, and the author of Hebrews, wrote to believers who were not growing and chided them for still only needing milk rather than solid food. But that is not Peter’s point here. He is teaching us that every believer will always need the milk of the Word of God—we never outgrow this need. There will never come a day when we have read enough of the Bible and can move on in our Christian life without it. To the contrary, mature believers know that as they grow they desire more and more of the Word and other desires fall away to be replaced by an insatiable appetite for the pure, comforting, nourishing, and fully satisfying Word of God.

The Word is the perfect remedy to the vices we discussed, because, as Simon Kistemaker teaches, “We put off our old nature and cherish our new life in Christ by craving spiritual nourishment and growing into salvation.”[12]

Peter alludes to Psalm 34 to make his point.

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!

The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:8-10)

The Lord is described in the psalm as our refuge, and those who fear him will “suffer no lack.” This is the Word which will wash away all our hunger for anything less than Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the pages of Scripture! “When the believer reads the Bible, he meets his personal God in Jesus Christ, who grants him numerous blessings. The child of God, then, joyfully exclaims that the Lord is good and kind.”[13]

After first prescribing the nourishment of the Word of God to remedy our sinful inclinations, Peter now directs us to the covenant community which is ours in Christ.

“As you come to him, a living stone, rejected by men, but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4, 5)

In this word picture, the “living stone” to which we come, which was “rejected by men, but in the sight of God chosen and precious,” is Jesus Christ. Not only does this stone live, but he is the Lord and giver of life. Therefore, we who come to him are also living stones, having been given life in him by God’s electing love. God, the Master Architect, is building us up into a spiritual house. We are placed by God into his Church. Because all that we are rests on all that Christ is, we are built together on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Jesus being our chief Cornerstone (Eph. 2:20), giving his church stability. In another footnote of his book, Sinclair Ferguson writes, “Union with Christ is our structural foundation—omit it and the building collapses.”[14]

This spiritual house has no pile of misfit stones lying in the yard, no individual sentinel stones placed at the end of the driveway. All are built into the structure, placed exactly where we need to be. Not only in the church universal, we need to be in a local body of believers, belonging to a local church. This may be harder for some than it is for others, depending on where you live. But real-life community, face-to-face and life-on-life cannot happen over an internet connection or through a TV screen. We were made for community, for the church. As Doriani makes clear: “To accept the Redeemer means also accepting the people whom he has redeemed. The freelance Christian, who follows Jesus but is too good, too busy, or too self-sufficient for the church is a walking contradiction.” And further on, “Throughout Scripture, God’s people are set apart from the nations—not each other.”[15]

Peter is getting to our identity here. We are a holy priesthood, set apart to God to offer spiritual sacrifices. In the Old Testament, the priests offered sacrifices to God on behalf of the people of Israel and represented God to the people as intermediaries. The people couldn’t approach God on their own because of their sin, so the priests prayed for them and instructed them in God’s truth. But now, in Christ, believers have access to God (Eph. 3:11, 12), and by the Holy Spirit we can read and understand and be nourished by his Word without going through a priest. As Kistemaker teaches, “every true Christian is a priest in the household of God.”[16]

Old Testament priests were consecrated in an elaborate ceremony involving sprinkling of sacrificial blood and anointing with oils. As Peter has already made clear, we have been called by God “in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” (1:2) Right there is our consecration as priests: the oil in the Old Testament represented the Holy Spirit, and the blood prefigured Christ!

The types of offerings we bring differ from those offered in the Old Testament, since Christ has given himself as our sacrifice and offered his own blood, once for all (Heb. 9:12, 26). With his death Jesus swept away the entire sacrificial system. So, what, now, do we offer?

“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1, 2)

“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Heb. 13:15, 16)

By daily denying—crucifying—our old selves and living to Christ, presenting ourselves for his service, not being conformed to the world but being transformed by the Word, offering praises to God, and sharing freely with others the good gifts he gives us, we are offering acceptable sacrifices. Our offerings and obedience are imperfect, since all that we do still carries a taint of sin, but through Christ they are made acceptable and pure. These sacrifices are presented to God only through Jesus Christ. Those who are not in Christ have no avenue or means to approach God to offer sacrifice—nor is there any sacrifice outside of Christ which would be acceptable to God. As Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus is, after all, the chosen and precious Cornerstone.

In the next few verses, Peter shows us a clear distinction between believers and unbelievers by bringing forward prophecies from the Old Testament into the light of the New Testament.

“For it stands in Scripture: Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” (6-8)

From verses 4 to 8 we see that believers are those who come to Jesus, are living stones being built into a spiritual house, are a holy priesthood offering acceptable sacrifices, and they will not be put to shame but instead are recipients of honor. Shame, for believers, is as temporary as all our suffering, and the honor will be as eternal as our salvation. Believers may trip and stumble, but not to fall entirely: “though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.” (Psalm 37:24).

On the other hand, unbelievers are those who reject Jesus, they stumble and are offended at him, and they disobey the word—as they were destined to do. This is a difficult doctrine. Daniel Doriani gives a clear explanation in his commentary on 1 Peter:

“Some say that the idea that some were “destined” to fall gives us an unjust God. Paul addresses this charge in Romans 9. Drawing on Genesis and Exodus, he relates that God told Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom. 9:14, 15). Mercy is God’s gift. He does extend his favor to one (Jacob) over another (Esau). But the accusation of injustice rests on a false definition.

God always gives everyone what he or she deserves in the sense that he never punishes the innocent. He is perfectly fair in his retributive justice. It is true that he does not treat everyone the same way by giving identical gifts to all. Some are born strong, intelligent, or beautiful; others are not. Some have loving parents; others do not. Still, the Lord never gives anyone less than he or she deserves. . . . When God sees sinners such as Esau and Jacob, neither deserves his favor. Neither seeks God. If God lets one (Esau) go his way and pursues the other for salvation (Jacob), he has shown mercy to the latter, but has done no injustice to the former. God is never unjust.”[17]

This doctrine of election is no reason for believers to feel smug. As Kistemaker teaches, “No believer can say that because he decided to accept Christ as Savior he has secured salvation. . . . Likewise, no unbeliever ought to think that his stubborn unbelief gives him independence from God and freedom to ignore him.”[18] We are to be humbly grateful for the gift of our salvation, and continue to pray for the advance of the gospel, in the sure knowledge that our good and wise God will save all his elect children.

And now we turn to one of my favorite declarations in Scripture.

“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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (9, 10)

One of the women in our morning class shared that when she lived for a time in Nashville, the typical “Who are you” questions took the form of: “Who are your people?” and “Where are your people from?” Evidently, for those in Nashville, one’s identity is all wrapped up in the community of people to whom you belong. And this is precisely what Peter is getting at in these verses. Our identity: who we are, is rooted in Whose we are. And that’s not a singular “who” or “you,” but plural. We belong to One Who has chosen us and placed us into a community.

“But Y’all!”

Peter begins this declaration of our identity with, “But Y’all!” —Texan translation used for clarity. (We Reformed believers celebrate the declaration of “But God!” in Ephesians 2:1; here is the flipside: “But you!”) Who are we? We are a Chosen Race. Members of a race have a common ancestor. Abraham, for example, was the father of the Jewish race. Christians, through Jesus Christ, call God our Father. Whether our physical ancestors came from Africa or Scandinavia, China or Russia, Pakistan or India, Germany or Israel, North of the Mason-Dixon line or South; those who are in Christ are one race, chosen by the Father by his great mercy because of his unfathomable love. If you are in Christ, the Church is your people.

This does not diminish believers’ ethnic heritage. Rather, the different backgrounds of believers in the church weave a beautiful tapestry of colors and textures that celebrates the creativity of our artist God and brings glory to him. As we love one another as Christ loved us, we show a watching world what true blood-bought love looks like (John 13:34-35).

Peter next calls us a Royal Priesthood. In the Old Testament, the royalty and the priesthood were separated into different tribes. No king of Israel ever served in the priesthood and no priest ever occupied the throne. The crown was reserved for the tribe of Judah, and the priesthood for Levi. When Uzziah the king attempted to burn incense in the Temple, the LORD struck him with leprosy (Isaiah 26:16-23). I suspect one reason the Lord kept the offices of king and priest separate was to prevent the consolidation of power which would quickly lead to abuse. However, there is a prophecy in Zechariah, speaking of the Messiah, which looks forward to a priest on the throne.

“And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’ And the crown shall be in the temple of the Lord.” (Zech. 6:12-14)

Jesus is our Kingly High Priest, and in our union with him, we are a royal priesthood.

Following this, Peter tells us we are a Holy Nation. Citizens of a given nation reside in a defined geographic location, obey the rules and regulations of their nation, and strive for the well-being of their society. As Christians, we are citizens of heaven. Though not yet occupying our homeland, we look forward to the day when we will live there forever. In the meantime, we obey God in Christ as we are sanctified in the Holy Spirit, and we strive for the peace and purity of the church.

Finally, we are a People for His Own Possession. We belong to God our Father, who purchased us with the imperishable, precious blood of his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the very language God used when he spoke to his people Israel in the Old Testament:

“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”” (Isaiah 41:8, 9)

“While Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:3-6)

Peter is using this covenant language in writing to churches which included Gentiles to tell them that, regardless of the pagan backgrounds from which they come, they now belong fully to the people of God, and as such, these old covenant promises—all the Old Testament—applies to them. The Scriptures of the Old Testament are theirs—and ours—to claim and find comfort in just as much as they belong to the Jewish believers. This is the heritage of we who are in Christ; the blessed benefit to belonging to God.

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

When we put our trust in Jesus, everything changes. Peter highlights these changes with the last words of our passage:

that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (9b, 10)

Here we see the “before and after” of our salvation. Though we were chosen by God before the foundation of the world, for each believer there is a “before” to our experience of salvation, the “after” to which is a glorious contrast. Those who are trust Christ later in life than earlier may see this more clearly than those who were saved at an early age. (Though, this is absolutely what we pray for our children and grandchildren: that they be saved at such an age that they can never remember a time when they didn’t trust the Lord, it may not be God’s providence for every believer.)

Before we were born again we were in darkness, we were not a people, and we had not received mercy. But now that we have been born again we have been brought into God’s marvelous light, we are God’s people, and we are recipients of mercy! We were unfaithful people who were forever changed by an encounter with God’s covenantal electing love. We are not yet perfectly holy, there is still sanctifying work to be done in our minds and hearts. But because of God’s grace in electing us to salvation we can declare with John Newton:

“Though I am not what I ought to be, what I wish to be, and what I hope to be—yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan! I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge, “By the grace of God—I am what I am!”

And don’t miss the purpose for which he has called us out of darkness and placed us into the covenant community of the church: to proclaim his praises. “I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43:20, 21) Together, as a varied and colorful multitude, loving one another, serving for and with one another, and praising him together in the glory of his marvelous light, we show forth the truth of the gospel and the promise of peace with God and one another which our world so needs to hear.

To God all praise and glory!

[1] Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1974)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 60.

[5] Webster’s

[6] Doriani, 60.

[7] Ibid., 60.

[8] Ibid., 61.

[9] Genesis 3:1

[10] Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), footnote, p. 91. Lesson learned: read the footnotes!

[11] Doriani, 62.

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

[13] Ibid., 82

[14] Ferguson, footnote, p. 103.

[15] Doriani, 66-67. (italics mine)

[16] Kistemaker, 86.

[17] Doriani, 70-71.

[18] Kistemaker, 91

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