SAVED FOR HOLINESS 1 Peter 1
“Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy”’ (1 Peter 1:15).After all, children are expected to resemble parents.
Peter was the acknowledged leader of the 12 disciples during Jesus’ life on earth. He continued in that role in the earliest days of the church. We know more of Paul’s later ministry: Paul’s mission work is reported by Luke in the Book of Acts, and Paul contributed some 13 letters to our New Testament. Yet Peter continued to be a driving force in the Christian movement. Early tradition tells us that Mark was the “interpreter of Peter,” and two of Peter’s circulating letters of instruction are found in the New Testament. A firm tradition reports that Peter and Paul both died in Rome in the lateA.D 60s, victims of an outburst of persecution.
After a brief greeting (1:1–2), Peter praised God for the salvation of those who now suffered persecution (vv. 3–12). He urged them to remember the price of redemption and to live holy lives (vv. 13–25).
Understanding the Text
“Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” 1 Peter 1:1–2. By all accounts the first Christians in the Roman Empire were drawn from the lower, powerless classes. They were vulnerable to persecution; indeed, within 50 years of the writing of this letter Pliny, a Roman governor of Bythinia and Pontus, would summarily execute believers for merely admitting they were Christians! How vital then this greeting, which reminded the Christians of Asia Minor that they were “God’s elect.” It makes little difference how people in our society view Christians. What counts is that we have worth and value in God’s sight. Remember that the Father chose you, the Spirit set you apart, and the Son cleansed you with His own blood. These reminders of God’s love can comfort and support when any suffering comes. “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 1:3–4. In the first century many lower class citizens banded together in small associations or clubs, generally of some 50 to 200 members. The clubs provided an opportunity to socialize and a chance to gain recognition by holding office. Perhaps most important, club dues were used to meet burial expenses of members who died. Thus membership in a first-century hataeria offered benefits to its members in this life. How different the church, the ecclesia! In God’s great mercy He instilled life and hope into Christian believers, promising us life after death through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead! The pagan club stored up treasure so funds would be available to bury its members. God stores up an eternal treasure that we inherit beyond death—and enjoy forevermore. When suffering comes to us, as it surely must, what a joy to look ahead! For us, death is not an end, but a new beginning. “Shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation” 1 Peter 1:5. Notice the double lock God has provided to ensure our future? He guards the treasures laid up for us by preserving them in heaven. And He guards us, by preserving us here on earth. Faith in Christ is the guarantee that God will keep us as His own till Christ comes back to take possession of us. “You may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” 1 Peter 1:6–9. Peter was particularly sensitive to the suffering Christians in many parts of the empire were already beginning to experience. In this brief letter pascho, the basic Greek word for suffering, is used 12 times. And several other Greek synonyms are also found. Peter hurt with the sufferers. But he also had words of encouragement for them—words that encourage us as well. First, our suffering on earth is “for a little while.” Even years, which seem so long to us, are less than an instant when compared to eternity. Second, trials have great value in proving faith genuine. When Pliny questioned Christians, he released any who denied the faith by burning incense to statues of pagan gods. The “faith” of some has proven to be unreal under much less pressure. Yet the faith of millions more has proven real despite intense suffering, and this brings God “praise, glory and honor.” Third, trials give us a unique opportunity to experience our own salvation. When we take our stand for Jesus, we find ourselves “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” despite suffering and pain. This joy, a gift of the Holy Spirit, is evidence within that we are “receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Those who suffer for Jesus’ sake, and who remain true to Him, find an inner certainty that God is real, and that they are saved! “The sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” 1 Peter 1:10–12. We Christians believe that glory follows and grows out of suffering. In the Old Testament era the prophets foresaw both the suffering and the glory of God’s promised Messiah. But the “time and circumstances” involved remained a mystery. The death and resurrection of Jesus resolved that mystery once and for all. Today we know that Christ came to suffer for us, returned to heaven, and that He will come again in glory. The “time” is suffering first, glory later. This is also true for you and me. Suffering precedes glory. So if suffering comes, you and I can look beyond it and rejoice in what we know will follow. Christ’s coming even clarified the “circumstances.” Suffering is to be expected as we live our lives on earth. And glory is to be expected when Jesus returns. There is much in Old Testament prophecy that remains a mystery. But the link between suffering and glory, with the “time” and “circumstances,” are revealed to us in Christ. Because we now understand them, we can’t be devastated by suffering, as though something strange were happening to us. Instead we look beyond our suffering, and take comfort in the glory that will be ours when Jesus comes. “Prepare your minds for action” 1 Peter 1:13–16. Knowing the pattern of suffering followed later by glory, you and I prepare to live godly lives. Peter tells us to get ready, to be self-controlled, to be obedient children, to be “holy in all you do.” And he tells us one more vital thing. “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” So often we “set our hope” on some near, immediate grace. “Lord, I’d like this new job.” “Lord, heal my illness.” “Lord, if only You’ll let us get this home of our own.” “Father, I know this marriage is just what I need to make me happy!” We may indeed get what we ask and hope for in this life. But any earthly prospect can disappoint, and every earthly possession be torn from our grasp. Only when we set our hope “fully” on the grace that will be ours when Jesus comes will we be immune to life’s losses. “Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” 1 Peter 1:17. When you and I take God seriously, we realize how fleeting our life on earth is. We enjoy God’s good gifts. We feel the pain of our losses and our reverses of fortune. But somehow we’re always aware that we are strangers here. We don’t quite belong. And we yearn for home. This may be one of the most important values of suffering. If life on earth were a constant joy, why would we fix our hope fully on the grace to be brought to us at Jesus’ return? If life on earth were without difficulty, how would we remain sensitive to our need for God? If life on earth were without trials or persecution, how would we be forced to choose between commitment to Christ and comfort or ease? As Peter said, suffering does have value. It reveals the genuineness of our faith, and so brings praise to the Lord. And our experience of unexplained joy in our suffering assures us. We “are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (v. 9).
Born Again(1 Peter 1:17–25)
Jesus said it first: “You must be born again” (John 3:7). But Peter may give us the best explanation of the impact of being born again found in Scripture. In a brief, forceful passage he spoke of the cost of our new life, of its nature, and of the difference it makes. The cost is “the precious blood of Christ,” the price paid that we might have new life. By nature our new life is imperishable. And the difference it makes is as great as the difference between night and day. J.B. Phillips helps us understand the nature of our new life in his paraphrase of 1 Peter 1:23: “God has given us His own indestructible heredity.” Our new life is God’s own life, fused permanently to our human personality. All flesh is like grass, perishable. Our new life from God is permanent, a source of endless existence and spiritual vitality. You and I can’t have God’s life within us and be unchanged. Peter spoke of the difference as a purifying one. In obeying the truth (a phrase that simply means, in responding with faith to the Gospel message) we have “purified” ourselves. The old, selfish motives and desires that once ruled us no longer are our master. They have been replaced by that quality which most clearly revealed the heart of God Himself: love. Now, being born again “so that you have a sincere love for your brothers” we go on to “love one another deeply, from the heart.” Have you ever wondered if you really are born again? If you have God’s heredity, you will begin to be like your Heavenly Father. And the mark of our family resemblance to Him is our growing capacity to love.
Do those who know you see the family resemblance to God?
“By brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.”—Fulgentius of Ruspe