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STUDY THREE: 1PETER 1:6-9 – LIVING BY FAITH

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018

A. GREAT JOY

In the first five verses of his first letter Peter has affirmed the absolute certainty of the present salvation of his readers, and the absolute certainty of their future salvation beyond this life.

This grand assurance of this glorious salvation is not grounded in anything done by believers or any moral quality possessed by believers but in the eternal purpose and the time/space actions of the triune God. Because both present and future salvation are thus dependent only on the person and work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Peter says ‘in this you greatly rejoice’ [1Peter 1:6].

Peter is not the only one who makes this confident connection between salvation and joy.

Study these texts. Identify the connection made between salvation and joy.
A.1 Luke 2:10-11

 

 

The angel heralding the birth of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, reassured the terrified shepherds. That fear that rightly confronts the sinner in the presence of the holy God is dissolved by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is replaced with great joy. For the angelic messenger this replacement of the fear of divine judgement with joy was a key element of the good news, the gospel. Indeed, the good news is encapsulated in these two words ‘great joy’.

A.2 John 17:13; 15:11; 16:20-25

 

 

Jesus’ purpose and prayer for those who believe in him is joy. All that characterizes our human lostness – our personal uncertainties, our ignorance of our purpose, our meaning, our worth and our identity, our sense of being alienated from ourselves and from God, our feeling of being alone and vulnerable in a hostile world – all of these are replaced with the fullness of joy when through the gospel we are united to Jesus Christ, in whom we find our true meaning, our true purpose, our true worth, our true identity. In him we are complete, and in that completeness there is joy. This union with him, and the abundant joy of this union, is his purpose for us. No longer lost, but reunited to him from whom we derive our identity and our significance.

A.3 Romans 5:2, 3, 11

 

 

Paul wrote of a threefold joy that is grounded in justification by faith. Firstly: ‘... we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’ [Romans 5:2].

That fear of what lies beyond death, that fear of God’s judgement and hell – this too is removed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and replaced with joy. Those who believe in him are ‘justified by faith’, that is, acquitted, declared ‘not guilty’. There is no more judgement left to fall on those who believe in Christ, no more condemnation, no more wrath of God. It has all been borne by Jesus Christ in his atoning, sin-bearing, substitutionary death. All that remains for us as believers is to rejoice in the sure and certain hope that when he returns in glory we shall be with him, and will live in the joy of that glory for ever.

Paul also wrote: ‘... we rejoice in our suffering’ [5:3].

Those fears that accompany our human suffering – the fear that the suffering is somehow a payback for our personal sins and failures, the fear that God is against us or has deserted us – those fears also are replaced with joy for all who are united by faith with Christ. Our suffering no longer threatens us with God’s wrath, but even in the midst of our suffering we are assured that God is for us, that God always loves us, and has demonstrated that once and for all in the death of his Son.

And ‘... we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ [5:11].

And so we rejoice in God. God is no longer an enemy to be feared. God is no longer the Judge who will cast us into hell. God himself is now the source of joy.

Great joy.

A.4 1Peter 1:8,9

 

 

But even ‘great’ is too small a word to describe the joy, the rejoicing, which is ours because of Christ and in Christ. Peter further states:

‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls’ [1Peter 1:8,9].

Joy – great, inexpressible, glorious – is the present possession of every believer. May we not treat this amazing gift with contempt!

But this joy is not joy in the absence of suffering; it is joy in the context of suffering.

 

B. FAITH AND SUFFERING

Are faith and suffering compatible?

Some people speak as though Christian faith and suffering cannot exist together. They make very clear statements that if you have enough faith you will not suffer – that you will be physically healthy and financially wealthy. They believe that physical healing is ‘in the atonement’ – that is, that Jesus not only bore our sins in his physical body, but he also bore our physical ailments in his physical body - that as he hung on the cross he suffered every physical ailment known to humans. People who believe this believe that no Christian should ever be sick. People who believe this say that when a believer suffers the suffering is caused by some spiritual fault or spiritual lack in the believer.

Such a belief is totally out of sync with the historical narratives of the Bible which indicate that faithful men of God experienced intense and long-term suffering.

Check these references. Note the kinds of suffering experienced by these men of faith.
Job 1 and 2:

 

2Corinthians 12:7-10:

 

1Timothy 12:7-10:

 

Philippians 2:19-30:

 

In these texts we see that:

Job experienced every kind of human suffering.
Paul suffered a long term physical condition.
Timothy suffered a chronic stomach problem and on-going weaknesses.
Epaphroditus suffered a near fatal illness.

Except by Job’s three friends, whose words God judged to be wrong [see Job 42:7], no indication is given that faith and suffering are incompatible.

The belief that God wants every Christian to be exempt from suffering is also out of sync with the Bible’s teaching that suffering is the status quo from Genesis 3 to Revelation 20. The Bible teaches that suffering is simply the way it is during this present age. This is true of the created world; this is true of unbelievers; this is true of believers. Even the indwelling Holy Spirit groans in agony because of our suffering.

Check Romans 8:18-27:

 

The removal of suffering occurs only after the return of Christ and the final judgement. Regardless of what some Christians teach, we are not in heaven yet, and have no biblical grounds for expecting to enjoy in this pen-ultimate era, the freedom from suffering that is clearly promised us as part of the ultimate era - the new heavens and the new earth.

Check Revelation 21:4:

 

In addition, those who acknowledge allegiance to Christ also suffer directly because of that allegiance. Neither Jesus nor his apostles thought this at all remarkable. Rather, it is to be expected. Those who belong to Jesus suffer the world’s rejection, just like Jesus. The Bible knows nothing of that kind of triumphalism that expects and tries to bring about Christian world dominion.

So Peter, in his first letter, focuses heavily on the suffering his readers were experiencing. While their absolutely certain present and future salvation is the cause of great, inexpressible and glorious joy, this joy is felt not because there is no suffering, but in the context of significant and sometimes intense suffering.

Peter sees no conflict or inconsistency in this. Faith does not somehow rule out suffering, rather faith exists in the midst of suffering. So Peter wrote:

‘In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials’ [1:6].

These few words reveal important truths about Christian suffering:

It is ‘now’ – in contrast to the complete salvation that will be revealed at the return of Christ [see section G in the previous study].

It is ‘for a little while’ – it is limited in duration, in contrast to salvation, which is eternal. Also, it is limited in its size and extent, as Paul points out in 1Corinthians 10:13.

It is distressing. Peter uses the word lupeo – which means to be heavy-hearted, to grieve.

It comes in many forms – ‘all kinds’.

Its common component is pressure. The NIV reads ‘trials’. The KJV has ‘temptations’. The core meaning of the word is ‘pressure’. In the devil’s hand the pressure is aimed at forcing us to give in and give up on Jesus. In God’s hand the pressure proves the integrity of our faith.

Rather than faith in Christ and suffering being incompatible, the survival of our faith in Christ through the suffering confirms its validity.

 

C. WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUFFERING?

Questions about suffering are one of the most common topics raised by people struggling to accept the biblical concept of God as both all-powerful and all-loving. But the question addressed here is - ‘why does God allow Christians to suffer?’ Peter gives a strong answer to this question in 1Peter 1:6,7:

‘... for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even through refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.’

While suffering is the common human lot from which Christians are not exempt, Christians are God’s special, treasured possession – they are ‘holy’, set apart by God as his own. God is vitally and intimately interested in them. God is intent on their well-being. God’s purpose for them is good, not evil.

Any suffering that is experienced by Christians is therefore loaded with significance: it is endowed with holiness; it is endowed with a divine involvement; it is endowed with a good purpose.

From the Bible we learn that suffering is a two-fold platform:

[1] Suffering is a platform on which and from which the integrity of our faith is demonstrated and observed. It is easy to believe in God when everything is going well. But only genuine, God-given faith can endure intense or pro-longed suffering. Indeed ‘faith’ is rendered superfluous if every aspect of our lives is loudly shouting ‘Isn’t God great! Look at the great physical blessings he has obviously poured out on me!’ But when our world caves in, when everything we can see and feel is screaming at us that God is not there and God does not care, we have nothing left but faith. Faith that survives such suffering is faith indeed.

Study these texts:
Job 1:10,22. Note the devil’s accusation against Job.

 

 

Job 23:10. Note Job’s confidence in the integrity of his faith.

 

 

Matthew 13:21. Note Jesus’ exposure of fake faith.

 

 

Peter’s statement in verse seven similarly sees suffering as the platform upon which a Christian’s faith is demonstrated to be genuine.

[2] Suffering is a platform from which and through which we demonstrate and express compassion. The world is full of lost, broken, hurting people. It is crying out for help, for love, for understanding, for sympathy. If we as Christians never suffered, we would never, except in a very superficial way, be able to help people who are suffering. Those who have never suffered simply lack what it takes to empathize with those who are suffering.

Study 2Corinthians 1:3,4. How does Paul explain the purpose of Christian suffering?

 

 

Study Hebrews 2:10 and 4:15. How does the writer explain Christ’s involvement in common human suffering?

 

 

The incarnation both sanctifies and glorifies suffering. For the Christian, suffering is not a horror to be feared, nor is it an evidence or expression of God’s displeasure. Rather, as a platform upon which to demonstrate the integrity of our faith and from which to extend the compassion of Christ to a hurting world, it redounds to God’s glory and ours.

 

D. LIVING BY FAITH – verse 8

There are two things about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that make it difficult to believe:

Firstly, the idea that an ordinary human, Jesus of Nazareth, is actually the almighty and eternal God.

Secondly, that through his death he secures eternal salvation for all who believe in him.

Both of these concepts – the concept of the full deity of the real human, Jesus Christ, and the concept that his death is a substitutionary, sin-bearing death – are proved invalid if Jesus did not rise from the dead. But the concept of Christ’s resurrection adds a further hindrance to belief in the Gospel, because real and permanent physical resurrection simply does not happen.

Thomas expressed his anguished doubt when the other disciples reported their meeting with the resurrected Jesus:

‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it’ [John 20:25].

For Thomas, as for the other disciples, all the hopes generated by the words of Jesus, and all of the glorious expectations generated by the miracles of Jesus – all had been dashed to pieces by the death of Jesus:

The hope, the certainty, that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.

The expectation of a restored kingdom, even more, of a restored earth.

The hope that the age-old, deep human longing to really know God was here, in Christ, satisfied.

The joyous expectation that here, somehow, because of Christ, the equally age-long rift between God and humans could be removed.

So great was Thomas’ anguish and disillusionment that he could not bring himself to accept the testimony of his friends. So much was at stake. He would not allow his hopes to be revived only to be dashed to pieces again.

Only if he saw. Only if he touched with his hands. Only then would he hope again. Only then would he believe.

Then Jesus came. He stretched out his hands. He pulled aside his robe to reveal the pierced side.

Provided with the visible, physical evidence, Thomas believed, and responded with his confession of faith – ‘My Lord and my God!’

Jesus said to him:

‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed [verse 29].

Perhaps Peter was remembering this when he wrote:

‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the salvation of your souls’ [1Peter 1:8].

None of us, reading this study, have seen the incarnate Son of God. We have not physically heard his voice. We have not touched him with our hands as the disciples had. But we have believed in him. It is to those who thus walk by faith, without seeing, that the blessing pronounced by Christ applies – and along with it the inexpressible and glorious joy of which Peter wrote.

 

E. THE GOAL OF FAITH

Why did God bother? Why did he send Jesus? Why did Jesus die? Why does the Holy Spirit regenerate us? Because God has a purpose, a purpose that can only be realized when we are once again in the right relationship with himself – the relationship of faith.

Only by a return to faith can our souls be saved. As long as we are severed from God there is no salvation for in God alone is there spiritual life.

Check these references. How do they present God alone as the sole source of spiritual salvation?
Exodus 15:2

Psalm 18:2

Psalm 27:1

Psalm 118:15

John 3:36

IJohn 5:12

When Peter wrote ‘you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls’ he is not speaking of our reason for believing in Jesus, but of God’s purpose in regenerating us and bringing us to faith in Jesus. The word translated ‘goal’ is telos – which refers to the consummation, the reaching or accomplishment of the intended goal or purpose.

God, by bringing us to faith in Christ, has reconnected us to himself, and in this reconnection we, Peter says, ‘are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls’. This salvation that we are already in possession of, and are continually being provided with, is extremely multifaceted.

Make a list of all the aspects of salvation that you can think of. [You will find some listed here: http://www.godswordforyou.com/bible-studies/salvation.html ]

 

 

 

 

All of this is our present and permanent possession in Jesus Christ. It does not vary. It is not conditional. It is God’s free gift to all who acknowledge his Son.

It is then not surprising that Peter wrote ‘you are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’