RPM, Volume 16, Number 1, December 29, 2013 to January 4, 2014

Three for All

By D. Marion Clark

1 Peter 1:1,2
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Introduction

What I will first note is that we are reading an epistle. An epistle is not, as one young student guessed, the wife of an apostle! It is a letter. This letter, as with most of the letters or epistles, starts off with the standard form of address. We begin with "Dear… " and do not put our names down until the end of the letter. The ancient form began with the identity of the sender and then addressed the recipient.

The New Testament writers follow this pattern, which, again, is not unique or significant. What is significant is how they identify themselves and how they address their readers. Each address becomes a theological statement and more often than not hints at what is to come in the letter. Peter is no different. Let's see what he has to say.

Who We Are

Peter ascribes to himself the term apostle of Jesus Christ. We might say, "That's what he was. How else would he label himself?" In his next letter he refers to himself as "servant and apostle." Apostle is the term most widely used by the letter writers, but others refer to themselves as servants of Christ, one as a servant and brother of Christ. John refers to himself simply as "the elder." Paul mostly uses the term "apostle," but he often adds to the title phrases such as "by the will of God" in Galatians he says an apostle — sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. Paul uses such elaborate ascriptions in order to impress on his readers that he indeed possesses the authority of an apostle, which apparently is questioned since he is not one of the original disciples of Jesus.

Peter does not have that problem, and when he uses the term "apostle," he seems to be conveying the original meaning of the term, i.e. of being a messenger. He is one who has been sent out by Jesus Christ to proclaim the message of the gospel. And so he is writing to Christians to whom he had gone out with his message. Another translation of the word is "ambassador," one who represents someone else in authority. Thus he is saying, "I am Peter, appointed by Jesus Christ to deliver his message of the gospel to you."

Now, how does he address the believers? This again is important. Recipients have been addressed as saints, the faithful, and those loved of God. Peter's first term is "the elect." "God" does not actually precede the word, though it is understood this is what is meant. Peter wants his people to hear this word first. He wants to remind them that however else they may be regarded, they are to remember that they are the chosen of God. The emphasis is not on what they are suppose to be or how they are suppose to be living; it is not on what they have done, but rather on what God has already done for them. He has made them his chosen people.

Peter does not pull this term out of a vacuum. He is not trying to be original or creative, but rather is pointing to the redemptive promises of God. This is a title for Israel as the covenant people of God. It is used in Isaiah to describe the redeemed people of God.

For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name…45:4

I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah those who will possess my mountains; my chosen people will inherit them… 65:9

For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. 65:22

In all of the instances "chosen/elect" is used to describe God's people in the state of redemption. They are redeemed; they are delivered because they are the elect people, those chosen by God. Peter is saying, "You are those people of whom it was prophesied. You are the chosen of God who have received his redemption. I, as the messenger of the Messiah who brings redemption am given the mission of declaring this good news to you."

But there is a further description of the people to whom Peter is writing. Elect of God, they are yet "strangers in the world" who are "scattered throughout" the northern territory of Asia Minor, what we know as modern Turkey. Literally he refers to them as "aliens or sojourners of the diaspora or the scattering." The diaspora was the term for the Jews who were scattered about in different lands outside of Palestine. The term is used in John 7:35 where the Jews, listening to Jesus saying he would go someplace where he could not be found, speculated that he would go to other Jews of "the diaspora" of the Greeks, i.e., scattered throughout the Roman empire.

This designation would lead us to believe that Peter is writing to Jewish Christians of the diaspora, but it is also clear that Gentile believers could be regarded in the same manner. Christianity was a minority religion and, even more so for Gentiles, was an alien religion. Christianity, after all, grew out of Judaism, and was regarded as a sect of that religion. To the Gentile it was an alien religion with no relation to any of the gentile religions.

It is hard for us to understand the situation. In America, we may speak of being at odds with society and frowned upon, but Christianity is, nevertheless, woven into our society's culture and, at least has a history. Christianity is the old institution that society reacts against. In Peter's day, Christianity was the weird new religion challenging the old institutions of Greek and Roman religion. The Christians were the radicals, especially Gentiles who converted to a Jewish brand of faith. (By the way, we think it remarkable for Jews to embrace Christianity. In that day, the church thought it remarkable for non-Jews to embrace the faith.) They would be ostracized and persecuted because they upset the norms of civil religion, and they would be accused of terrible crimes including incest (everyone was brother and sister) and even cannibalism (eating the body and blood of Christ). They would be regarded as strangers.

And Peter acknowledges this. The Christians, be they Jew or Gentile, are strangers; and, yet, not merely because the world regards them as so, but because in a theological sense they really are. In 2:11 he will give them instruction as "aliens and strangers in the world" on how to live. The writer of Hebrews helps us understand what is meant. In 11:13-16, while recounting the lives of great men and women of faith, he says this about them:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country�"a heavenly one.

As real as this world may be, there is yet a greater world, our real home to which we have still to arrive. And that is the hope of Christians. It is not merely to make this life better, but to reach that ultimate home of glory.

I am taking a long time with these terms because they are essential in understanding the world-view from which Peter is speaking and his congregations are reading. Peter's point throughout the epistle will be that "it is in light of who you are in Christ and what he has done for you" that you live your lives in this world." They don't live their lives in response to how the world regards them and treats them, but in response to how God regards them and treats them.

To summarize, Peter an apostle with the responsibility of a messenger from Jesus Christ and possessing authority, is writing a letter to believers who have been chosen by God to be his people and thus are now strangers in a world as they journey to their heavenly home.

What God Has Done

We now look at what God has done for his people. In brief, he has saved them. Peter presents this saving work through the three personhood of God.

God the Father

He starts with the Father. It is God the Father who elects or chooses his people. He does so according to his foreknowledge.

What does that mean, foreknowledge? Some think God looked into the future, saw who would respond to his salvation, and then chose them, i.e. made sure that their salvation would really happen. He is like a reservationist who books us for our desired appointments. He makes salvation take place, but only in response to our desires.

Others believe that God determines who will be saved, but in a corporate sense, not individuals. In other words, God chose that all who believed in Christ would be saved; thus the church, which is made up of believers in Christ, was chosen by God for salvation. Individuals enter into that election when they express faith in Christ.

What both interpretations consciously do is base salvation on some quality about the individual. God saves people for what he sees in them or for their actions. But is that right to do so? Consider first the idea that it is the church that is elected, and we enter that election as we choose faith in Christ. It is Jesus himself who articulates individual election. Here are some of his comments:

All that the Father gives me will come to me…39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me…44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…(John 6:37,39,44).

26 …but you do not believe because you are not my sheep... 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand (John 10:26,29).

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word (John 17:6).

In each instance Jesus is referring to individuals who believe in him. These individuals come to him because God the Father has given them. Paul uses the same terminology as Peter in Romans 8:28,29:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those (individuals) who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (not according to their character). 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called…(called them because he had elected/predestined them).

This leads into the next interpretation. If election is individual, it also is clearly not based on something good about the individual. Romans 9 makes this as clear as can be stated. In explaining how God chose one person over another, Paul turns to Jacob and Esau:

Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad�"in order that God's purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls�"she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,
"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
16 It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy (10-15).

There is much to explore on the subject, but the point of all this is the meaning of foreknowledge. It means this: God did not choose us to be saved in an arbitrary manner. He did not pull our names out of a bowl. He did not close his eyes and choose whatever name his finger landed on in a book of lists. God chose us before the foundation of the world through his on wise counsel, for his pleasure. He knew each of us before we were born and he deliberately chose each of us. He predestined, determined our salvation out of his mercy.

This is the work of God the Father — to choose us for salvation. By the work of the other two Persons of the Godhead, our salvation is achieved and our election becomes fulfilled.

God the Holy Spirit

Peter notes that this takes place through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who actually does the work of regenerating us, making us hear God's call and respond by faith.

We were dead; the Spirit gave us life:

3 I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again…5 no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:3,5,6).

We had hearts of stone that could not turn to God; the Spirit gave us hearts of flesh to yield to him.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:26,27).

What Peter means here by sanctifying work is the actual process in which the Spirit is making the real change in us of regenerating us and causing us to grow. He explains this work by two phrases. First, he shows what the work is doing in us. It is leading to obedience to Jesus Christ. That's what holiness/righteousness is. To grow in holiness is to grow in obedience to Christ, to keeping his commands and becoming like him.

God the Son

The second phrase brings in the work of Christ and applies it for salvation. Peter says the sanctifying work is for the sprinkling of his blood. Another way of putting it is that the Holy Spirit applies the redemption of Christ.

Jesus Christ died for our sins. He made atonement for our sins by shedding his blood on the cross, taking upon himself the punishment due us. But it is by the sprinkling of blood that cleansing from sin takes place and one is made holy. In Numbers 19 the formula for cleansing water includes the ashes of a sacrificed red, unblemished heifer. This water, sprinkled on an unclean person had the effect of making him clean. The writer to the Hebrews writes: let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience (10:22). In a manner of speaking, the Holy Spirit sprinkles the blood of Christ on us, cleansing us from sin.

Christ's death on the cross is the great work of redemption. Even so, this redemption is not ours until we receive it by faith. And we do not receive it by faith until the Holy Spirit does his work of regenerating us and causing us to have faith. We have always been the elect — the chosen — but we have not always been in the position of being redeemed. Now, by Christ's death and the Spirit's application, we are redeemed.

To summarize, God the Father elected or chose us to be redeemed. God the Son carried out the work of redemption so that we could be redeemed. God the Holy Spirit applied Christ's work to make us redeemed.

Conclusion

Consider what Peter has told his readers and consequently us. We are the elect of God. This world is not our home. Our home, our final destination is heaven itself. We can be sure of our status and our destination because God the Father chose us by his foreknowledge of us. We can be sure because God the Son did the work necessary for us to get in. Finally, we can be sure because God the Holy Spirit is working in us to be redeemed and to grow in sanctification.

That's good news. Consider such attention and love that God gives to us. We are not names in a big book of salvation. There are no angels manning computers to look up our names. We will not get lost in the system. Our salvation has never been in jeopardy. God will not say to any of us, "How did you get chosen? Are you sure your name was picked?" We will not find in records revealing how our redemption was almost broken up. All three persons of the Godhead have been and continue to be active in our salvation. That is a lot of attention and that is a good team. They will achieve what they have determined. They will not fail in their work.

We need to remember all this. When tough times come, well, that's what we should expect. We are strangers and we do not fit in. But more importantly, remember who is for us — no less than God himself. He chose us; he has redeemed us; and he will bring us home. Knowing that, grace and peace surely will be ours in abundance.

Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.