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STUDY ONE: 1PETER 1:1-2 – PETER’S GREETING

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018

Peter begins his letter by identifying himself as ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ’. He is one of those specially chosen and sent by Jesus Christ to teach and record the foundational truths about Jesus Christ and his saving death. It is upon this foundation that the Church is built. It is this foundation that comprises the New Testament. This group of foundational apostles consisted of the eleven faithful disciples, plus Matthias to replace Judas [Acts 1], plus Paul, specially chosen and appointed by Christ later [Acts 9]. [The word ‘apostle’ (Greek – apostolos) simply means a person who has been sent. There are other ‘apostles’ in the New Testament who did not belong to this unique and unrepeatable group of foundational apostles. For example, Barnabas, and Andronicus and Junias.]

Peter then greets his readers with a powerful description of who his readers are and what God, the triune God, has done for them.

A. GOD’S ELECT

Peter begins this description by referring to something most teachers today would avoid giving such prominence: he makes two very clear references to the concept of election.

This question of election has divided Christians for centuries. It is somehow offensive to our human hearts. Perhaps this is because we think it seems unfair that God would apparently choose some and not others. Perhaps it is because we do not like the way it seems to over-ride our personal choice and our personal responsibility for our actions.

But the New Testament does not appear to share our uneasiness with the concept. Jesus himself spoke of it:

Study these verses. What did Jesus say about this sovereign work of God?
Matthew 11:27

John 6:44

John 17:24

Both Paul and Peter ground our existence as Christians in the choice of God made before the beginning of time:

Study these verses. How did Paul and Peter refer to God’s saving choice?
Ephesians 1:4

1Peter 1:2

1Peter 2:5

1Peter 2:9

If we want to speak in terms of what caused our salvation, then here, in God, before time began is the original, foundational cause: God chose us. God elected us. If we think about this we will begin to understand that this is something that God really wanted to do. He is not a reluctant Saviour. He planned our salvation, and incorporated us into it, even before we existed. Even before we sinned.

Peter also identifies what we might call the instrumental cause of this election, this divine choice. He describes Christians as those ‘who have been chosen ... through the sanctifying work of the Spirit’ [verse 2]. To sanctify is to set apart for God. In this context, it is the work of the Spirit of God to set people apart for God. Those whom God chooses, those whom God elects, the Holy Spirit sets aside for God.

For this reason Peter refers to Christian believers as ‘chosen by God and precious to him’ [2:5], ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God’ [2:9]. As with Israel in the Old Testament, election by God also involves belonging to God. Those whom God chooses and sets apart no longer belong to the world. For this reason Peter refers to Christians as ‘strangers in the world’ [1:1; 2:11]. And Jesus said of them ‘they are not of the world any more than I am of the world’ [John 17:14].

But why? This choosing by God and this setting apart by the Spirit of God have a specific purpose – a resultative cause. Peter states that those chosen and set apart by God have been chosen and set apart ‘for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood’ [1:2]. Similarly, Paul wrote that Christians were chosen in Christ to ‘be holy and blameless’ in God’s sight. And Peter explains further: ‘you are a chosen people ... that you may declare the praises of him who called you ...’ [2:9].

The result and purpose of election is that those so chosen believe in Jesus Christ. They are the ones who obey his command to believe in him. They are the ones who choose to follow him. And in that believing, in that choosing they are united by faith to Christ, and all that he did in his substitutionary, atoning death, is immediately applied to them: they are sprinkled by his blood [1:2].

B. STRANGERS IN THE WORLD

There is something about Christians that, to use an English idiom, makes us ‘stick out like a sore toe’.

This difference, this distinctiveness, is not essentially a moral difference, although Christians are commanded to live exemplary moral lives. The essential difference, the sticking point, is that Christians, although still living in this world, no longer belong to this world. Christians belong to Christ. Christians belong to Christ’s kingdom. Our allegiance is to Christ and his kingdom. Our purpose in life, our goal, our vision, is to honour him and live for his kingdom.

Peter’s original readers were in the world – in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. But they did not belong there. They were ‘strangers’ [1984 NIV], ‘exiles’ [2011 NIV], ‘scattered’ throughout these various provinces.

This concept – that we as followers of Jesus are in the world, but no longer of the world – is present throughout the New Testament.

Study these texts. What do they teach about this ‘strangers in the world’ aspect of the Christian’s identity?
John 17:4

John 17:6

John 17:14

Hebrews 11:13,16

Romans 12:2

1Peter 1:17

1Peter 2:11

When Jesus prayed to his Father not long before his arrest he said that those who believe in him ‘are not of the world any more than I am of the world’ [John 17:14]. Almost immediately he repeated this ‘They are not of the world, even as I am not of it’ [v 16]. He referred to believers as those the Father had given him ‘out of the world’ [v 6].

The writer to the Hebrews includes Old Testament people of faith: ‘All these people ...’ he wrote, ‘... admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth ... longing for a better country - a heavenly one ...’ [Hebrews 11:13,16].

In Romans Paul spent eleven chapters explaining the Gospel of Christ; he then exhorts us ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ [Romans 12:2].

Peter, in his first letter, addresses his readers as ‘strangers in the world’ [1:1] and commands us to ‘live your lives as strangers here’ [1:17]. He calls us ‘aliens and strangers in the world’ [2:11].

Discussion task: How does this ‘strangers in the world’ factor instruct us about living as a Christian in our unbelieving communities and culture?

 

 

 

This ‘strangers in the world’ factor means that as we live in this world -

Our values collide head on with the values of the world.
Our expectations collide with the expectations of the world.
Our perception of reality collides with the world’s perception of reality.
Our mindset or worldview collides with the mindset or worldview of the world.
Our theology collides with the theology of the world.

Our world simply does not think the way the Bible teaches us to think:

For the most part our world denies that God, as the Bible defines God, exists. It understands ‘god’ to be nothing more than a relativistic, fluid, human idea. The Bible teaches us that there actually is a real God: one God, who alone is God, the Creator of all, to whom all people at all times and in all places are accountable.

For the most part our world sees moral terms like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to also be relative and fluid, changing with the changing perceptions of society. For our world, ‘sin’ is a meaningless term. The Bible affirms the existence of absolute moral standards that are true for all people in all places at all times, and that every departure from those standards is an expression of sin.

For the most part, our world accepts the scientific theories of our origins proposed by fallible humans (uniformitarianism and evolution), and vehemently rejects the word of the Creator God who was there at the beginning. As Peter tells us ‘they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed ...’ [2Peter 3:5].

We who believe in Christ are, Peter says, ‘strangers’ – aliens, foreigners, pilgrims, mere sojourners – in the world. We belong to Jesus. We do not belong to the world. And the more we get to know Christ, the more distinct we will be from the world, the more our thought patterns will be out of sync with the way the world thinks.

Given this tension, Peter says ‘Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you’ [1Peter 4:12]. If we are faithful followers of Jesus the tension will always be there. Because we belong to Christ, not to the world, the light of Christ that is in us will always be poking holes in the darkness of our world, and our world does not like it. In fact, the darkness hates the light [John 3:19,20].

As Jesus put it: ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you’ [John 15:18,19].

In this tension between our identity in Christ and our earthly culture, Peter’s encouragement to us is ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ [1Peter 2:12].

Challenge:
What beliefs and practices of your country make you feel like a ‘stranger in the world’?

 

 

 

How do these beliefs and practices impact you and challenge you personally as a Christian?

 

 

 

C. THE FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD

Peter says that his Christian readers, and therefore all Christians, ‘have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God’ [1:2].
This word ‘foreknowledge’ (Greek – prognosis) has long been a point of discussion among Christians. To avoid getting put off by this debate, perhaps we should ask ‘where else is this word used in the New Testament?’ It is used in only one other place, also by Peter:

‘Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him ... This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you ... put him to death ...’ [Acts 2:22,23].

Here the concept of God’s ‘foreknowledge’ is something much stronger than saying ‘God is omniscient, so he knew in advance what would happen’. It is intimately connected with God’s ‘set purpose’. That purpose was that his eternal Son would one day become a human being and die as an atoning substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.

The related verb is ‘foreknew’ (Greek – proginosko). Peter uses this verb similarly to refer to the truth that Jesus Christ was foreordained to die:

‘He was chosen (translated ‘foreordained’ in the KJV) before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake’ [1Peter 1:20].

In describing Christians as ‘chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’, Peter grounds the fact that we are Christians in God’s eternal purpose, the same as he grounds the saving death of Christ in God’s eternal purpose. In using the same word that he used to refer to the death of Christ, planned and determined from eternity, he is clearly saying something very strong and very immoveable.

Check these texts. What amazing truths do they contain about when God granted you salvation and what God planned, purposed and knew at that time?
Revelation 17:8

Titus 1:2

Ephesians 1:4

1Corinthians 2:7

Matthew 24:34

2Timothy 1:9

From these verses we learn:

Revelation 17:8 indicates that the names of true believers have been written in the Lamb’s book of life from the creation of the world.

Titus 1:2 refers to our hope of eternal life which God ‘promised before the beginning of time’.

Ephesians 1:4, as we saw in a previous section, says ‘He chose us in him (Christ) before the creation of the world’.

In 1Corinthians 2:7 Paul describes the Gospel as ‘God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began’.

And Jesus in Matthew 24:34 says ‘Come ... take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’

But perhaps the most amazing, the most powerful is this: 2Timothy 1:9: ‘This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.’

All of these were already a reality, they were already all ours, in Christ, before time began.

Discussion question: What difficulties does the concept of God’s eternal purpose, raise in your heart and mind?

 

 

 

Our minds tend to focus, as with the related concept of God’s choice, and God’s election, on a couple of minor difficulties that we see with this concept:

(1) the question ‘where does our choice fit in all of this?’ and
(2) the apparent unfairness involved.

In making mountains out of these molehills we actually rob ourselves of the real ‘mountain’, a mountain that is for us and not against us – the incredible greatness of God’s purpose, God’s power and God’s grace.

If we gain nothing else from this concept that we ‘have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God’ let us at least grasp hold of this: that here God speaks to us of his eternal purpose, his almighty power, and his immeasurable grace. Because of that purpose, that power and that grace we stand before him, saved, accepted and welcomed, never again to be lost, rejected and excluded. Absolutely certain. Absolutely secure.

 

D. THE SANCTIFYING WORK OF THE SPIRIT

As we have seen previously, Peter refers to Christians as ‘chosen’. He then explains the ‘where from’ and the ‘how’ and the ‘what for’ of this ‘chosen’.

Where did this choice come from? It is ‘according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’.

How did this choice become effective? It was implemented ‘through the sanctifying work of the Spirit’.

What is the purpose/result of this choice? It is ‘for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.’

Notice that all three members of the Trinity are involved in this ‘chosen’ – God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Christ, the Son.

From verse 2, identify the role of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in bringing us to salvation.
Father:

Son:

Holy Spirit:

It is clear from Peter’s statement that neither God’s election/choice nor Christ’s saving death are effective for an individual human being unless the Holy Spirit of God proactively does something to that individual: Individuals are ‘chosen ... through the sanctifying work of the Spirit’ [1Peter 1:2].

Check out these texts. How do they confirm the sanctifying work of the Spirit in bringing us to salvation?
2Thessalonians 2:13

1Corinthians 6:11

In both of these Paul understands a sanctifying work of the Spirit that is an initial and essential part of salvation.
Jesus also stressed the necessity of an initial work of the Spirit, without which we cannot be saved.

What did Jesus teach about the Spirit’s role in salvation?
John 3:3,5-8

So essential is this that Jesus said that unless it happens we ‘cannot see the kingdom of God’ and ‘cannot enter the kingdom of God’. That is, it is simply not possible for us to understand the truth about Christ and his kingdom, or to enter that kingdom, unless the Holy Spirit of God does this essential, initial work in us.

Clearly, a work of the Spirit upon us is necessary to make the Father’s choice of us and the Son’s death for us effective.

How does a choice made by God before time began, actually become real for us in time?

How does the death of Christ in Jerusalem AD33 become effective for us in the 21st century wherever we happen to live?

Neither of these is automatically applied to anyone. Both become real for us personally through ‘the sanctifying work of the Spirit’.

To sanctify, to make holy, means to set apart for God, and for God’s unique use and purpose. Thus, the Holy Spirit, acting in unison with the eternal choice of God and the time/space death of Christ, breaks into the spiritual ignorance, blindness and deadness of our lives. He brings us out of death and into life with God. He brings us out of our blind ignorance into the truth of God. He brings us out of our identification with ‘the world’ and into the kingdom of God.

By his regenerating work the Holy Spirit thus sets us apart for God: once we were ‘ordinary’ – just another sinful human being separated forever from God and hostile to God, but now we are the children of God. Once we belonged to God’s enemy: now we belong to God.

 

E. CHOSEN FOR OBEDIENCE TO JESUS CHRIST

Peter makes an unexpected and perhaps even startling statement. He says that God’s elect ‘have been chosen ... for obedience to Jesus Christ’ [1Peter 1:2].

The words ‘chosen ... for’ speak of either the purpose or the result of God’s choice, or, more probably, of both the purpose and the result of God’s choice. God’s actions are neither arbitrary nor random: they are deliberate and intentional, with a deliberate, intentional purpose. God’s actions are also effective: what he determines he also accomplishes. His purpose is also his result. As Psalm 115:3 states ‘Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.’

Many Christians who struggle with the concept of divine election are concerned that it seems to override human responsibility. But here in Peter’s ‘chosen ... for obedience to Christ’ we see that divine election actually involves the ultimate human responsibility – the responsibility of obedience to Christ.

And here we need to ask ‘what does “obedience to Jesus Christ” mean?’

The Greek word translated obedience is the noun hupakoe. The associated verb is hupakouo [hupo – under + akouo – hear]. It involves putting oneself under the authority of another, particularly under the authority of his word. Hence Peter’s reference to ‘obedience’.

Jesus had much to say about hearing/obeying his word.

Check these texts. What importance is given to hearing/obeying the word of God?
Matthew 13:18-23

Mark 8:38

John 5:24

John 6:63

John 8:31

John 8:42-47

John 12:47-50

John 17:6

John 17:8

John 17:14

In the above texts:

The parable of the sower is focused on human response to the words of Christ [Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8].

Our response to the words of Christ determines our final destiny [Mark 8:38].

Those who hear (= believe/obey) his word have eternal life [John 5:24].

His words are both ‘spirit’ and ‘life’ [John 6:63].

Those who continue in his word are truly his disciples [John 8:31].

Only those who belong to God can actually hear his words [John 8:42-47].

His words will both judge and condemn those who refuse to obey them [John 12:47-50].

Jesus refers to his faithful disciples as those who have obeyed, accepted and believed his word [John 17:6,8,14].

This obedience to Christ involves far more than obeying his commands about how to live. It is, in its essence, obeying his repeated challenges to believe in him.

To believe that he is indeed the King of the kingdom that drew near with his coming.

To believe that he is the Son of Man who came to give his life a ransom for many.

To believe that he is the Bread of life and the Light of the World.

To believe that he is indeed the one he claimed to be – the Son of the Father, one with the Father – that seeing him is seeing God, knowing him is knowing God, receiving him is receiving God.

Obedience to Christ, while it impacts every moment of our lives with its demands for submission to Jesus Christ, begins at that point in our personal history when we personally and truly acknowledge Jesus Christ is indeed the Almighty Lord.

Here in our real human decision, our real personal affirmation, the eternal purpose of God, the eternal choice of God, becomes real and concrete in physical time and space: we respond to Christ, we obey his command to believe in him.

Although being ‘chosen’ is indeed a great and amazing gift of God, it is also a great and amazing responsibility: those who believe in Christ are not ‘chosen’ for a life of ease and irresponsibility. They are chosen for obedience to Jesus Christ.

 

F. CHOSEN FOR ... SPRINKLING BY HIS BLOOD

Peter identifies a second purpose/result of being chosen by God - ‘chosen ... for ... sprinkling by his blood’.

The first purpose/result of being chosen by God is about our personal response to the person, Jesus Christ. Peter addressed his letter to those who are ‘chosen ... for obedience to Jesus Christ’. The second purpose/result is focused on the impact of the work of Jesus Christ on the person chosen by God – ‘chosen ... for... sprinkling by his blood.’

The word ‘sprinkling’ seems a rather weak word to join with the blood of Christ. In common use it referred to ritual or ceremonial cleansing. Water was sprinkled in some cleansing rites. Blood was sprinkled on the altar within the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. But ritual and ceremonial cleansing are not at all the real thing; they are by definition weak symbols of a far greater, far stronger reality. And it is from the greater reality prophetically symbolised by the word ‘sprinkling’ that this inherently weak word draws its power and its significance. All that is prophetically revealed in the cleansing rituals, all that is prophetically proclaimed in the sacrifices and the feasts of Israel, is brought to our attention in Peter’s mention of ‘sprinkling by his blood’.

In these four words ‘sprinkling by his blood’ the whole of salvation gained by the substitutionary, sacrificial, sin-bearing, atoning death of Christ is included.

Study these texts. Because of Christ’s ‘blood’, what is true for those who believe in him?
Ephesians 1:7 [two truths]

Romans 5:10

Colossians 1:20

Colossians 1:22

Romans 3:21-26

Hebrews 10:10

Romans 5:18

Hebrews 10:19-22

Revelation 5:9

Matthew 26:28

All of this, and more, is included in Peter’s ‘sprinkling by his blood’.

In the section above - ‘chosen according to the foreknowledge of God’ - we saw that all of this was planned and already real and effective before the creation of the world. It was already the possession of those who would, in human time and space, believe in Jesus Christ, the Lord. This incredible gift, ‘this grace,’ Paul states, ‘was given us in Christ before the beginning of time’ [2Timothy 1:9].

From Peter’s few words in these two opening verses of his letter we see four essential elements which result in the salvation of a sinner:

The eternal and sovereign plan and purpose of God the Father.
The effective operation of the Holy Spirit of God in the heart of the sinner.
The personal submission of the sinner to the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The sin-bearing, substitutionary death of Christ.

The first is the source of the other three. The last is the legal basis for the other three. Without the second the third would never occur, and both the first and the last would be therefore useless. Thus we see that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all fulfil indispensible roles in our salvation.

 

G. GRACE AND PEACE BE YOURS

Peter concludes the introduction to his first letter by wishing his readers ‘grace and peace’ ... ‘Grace and peace be yours in abundance’ [1Peter 1:3]. In his second letter he expands this benediction ‘... grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord’ [2Peter 1:2].

Optional study: Read these texts. How do Paul and Peter understand the significance of these two concepts of grace and peace?
Romans 3:24
Romans 4:16
Romans 5:1
Romans 5:10
Romans 5:17
Romans 5:20
Romans 5:21
Ephesians 1:7,8
Ephesians 2:7
Ephesians 2:17
Colossians 1:20
Titus 2:11
1Peter 1:10
1Peter 3:7
1Peter 4:10

It is this amazing, immeasurable grace, and this sure, established peace with God that Peter wants his readers to understand and, having understood, to enjoy. He is not praying that his readers will be personally gracious. He is not praying that his readers will have an emotional feeling of peace.

Rather he knows that -

the more we understand who God is,
the more we understand who Jesus Christ is,
the more we understand what God the Father has done through the death and resurrection of Christ the Son,
then the more we will understand and rest in the grace and peace of which the Gospel speaks.

Because the grace and the peace that he wants us to have in abundance are grounded in the knowledge of God and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Herein is grace, and herein is peace: that God sent his Son to die for sinners, to bear their punishment, so that we, the sinners, may be reconciled to him. That is the grace, the gift. And that grace, that gift, is peace with God. No more condemnation. No more judgement. No more wrath. No more enmity. Instead, peace.

This grace, this peace, are freely given to all who believe in Christ.

As Paul urged his Corinthians readers: let us not receive this indescribable gift ‘in vain’ [2Corinthians 6:1]. Rather, as Peter wishes upon us, may we grasp hold of the truth of Jesus Christ and his death in such a way that we live each moment with sure and certain assurance of the reality and permanence of God’s abundant grace and God’s abundant peace given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Personal reflection: How have the truths contained in Peter’s greeting impacted you personally?