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Peter begins his first letter by referring to something most teachers today would avoid giving such prominence: he makes 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 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:

‘... no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’ [Matthew 11:27].

‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him ...’ [John 6:44].

‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory ...’ [John 17:24].

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

Paul put it this way:

‘For he chose us in him before the creation of the world ...’ [Ephesians 1:4].

While Peter wrote:

‘ ... God’s elect ... who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father ...’ [1Peter 1:1,2].

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 commands 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].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017