RPM, Volume 16, Number 2, January 5 to January 11, 2014

The Living Hope

By D. Marion Clark

1 Peter 1:3-5
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

In the first chapter, I noted that the New Testament epistles follow the basic form of letter writing of that day. There is nothing significant about the form. What is significant is how the NT writers make use of the form to express their Christian content.

What is the form? There are basically six parts:
1. Identifying the writer: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ
2. Identifying the recipient: To God's elect, strangers in the world…
3. Greeting: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
4. Expression of well wish or thanksgiving
5. Body
6. Final greeting and farewell: 5:12f

This morning we will look at the first portion of Peter's thanksgiving, or rather, doxology to God.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Why doesn't he simply say "Praise be God"? Because what he is praising God for is the work done by and through Jesus Christ. Furthermore, he is inferring something significant with the term "Father." We will see what it is.

New Birth

Out of God's great mercy that he has done something wonderful for us. What is it? He has given us new birth, caused us to be born again. He has regenerated us. This is the same thing Jesus taught Nicodemus in John 3:3: I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.

What are we being taught? One, God the Father is our father. That is the relationship we now have with God. Two, God has done this work of rebirth. Peter does not say, "Praise be to God, we have made a great change in our lives." No, God has given us new birth, and he did this not because we deserved it or earned it or showed good potential, but out of his mercy.

Now, what is new birth? That is an important question. Quite often we misunderstand it. We've heard the expression, "believe in Christ and you will be born again." Paul told the Philippian jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31), but not "you will be born again." The reason is that one cannot believe — cannot be saved — until he is born again, i.e. until the Spirit has done the work of regenerating his dead spirit.

Paul expressed the matter this way to the Ephesians: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (2:1,2). Those who are without the gospel are not a dying people; they are a dead people. People are not resistant to the gospel because some part of them is resisting; they are dead, and they will not respond until new life is given to them. Thus Paul goes on to say, But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…(4,5).

God does some supernatural work within us to make us alive to spiritual truth, so that when we hear the gospel we respond and are converted. Do you catch the distinction I am making? We are often taught that if we will make changes in our lives, God will respond to us. If we receive Jesus into our hearts, God will cause us to be born again. If we would show faith, then the Holy Spirit could work in us. But God works in us before we work towards him.

What's the point? God is not rendered powerless by us. He is not wishing we would make use of his mercy. When God decides out of his mercy that he will save us, he will do just that. Because we are dead, salvation can only take place when we are born again, and that new birth can only take place by the supernatural act of God. And Peter is saying to his people, "It happened!" It's not hopefully going to happen; it's not happening gradually as we make changes in our lives; it has happened as the free gift of God.

Living Hope

Now what has the new birth resulted in? What has it gotten us? A living hope. Before I get into what that hope entails, first let's note the characteristic of this hope and how it springs up.

That the hope is living builds off the term new birth. We who are now alive in Jesus Christ possess a hope that fills us with purpose and joy. It vitalizes us. This is not the hope of wistful feelings: "I hope things will get better;" "I hope so"… This is hope that sustains us, gives us confidence, fills us with peace and joy. Indeed, it so much fills us, that we have to be ready to give an account for it (3:15).

Our new birth into a living hope springs up in us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. See the theme of life — new birth, living hope, resurrection. The resurrection to new life for Jesus leads to new life for us. We cannot be born again, if Christ was not raised to new life. There is nothing for us to be born into — no kingdom of God, no family of God. As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:17: if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. We are still dead. But, Paul goes on to say, Christ has indeed been raised from the dead (20). And we, then, are born again into a living hope.

Our Inheritance

Now then, what is this hope? It is our inheritance that we have coming to us. What is this inheritance? Peter doesn't tell us; he expects us to know what it is. Let's see if we can figure it out.

Cannot Lose

He first tells us that this inheritance can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance will not decay. Death cannot affect it. This inheritance will not spoil; it will not become tainted or impure. This inheritance will not fade with time; it is eternal.

Furthermore, this inheritance is kept, i.e. guarded, in heaven for you. It is secure; it cannot be stolen or lost. And it is secured for you. It will not be accidentally given to someone else. No one else can claim it. The data entry person will not have our name misspelled or social security number mistakenly written down. There will be no computer breakdown.

That sounds great; nothing is going to happen to that inheritance. "But what about me?" you might ask. "What if I lose my way or fall away? What if I misplace my reservation number? What if Satan gets to me first? What if I don't make it to heaven to claim my inheritance?"

But you will, because through faith you are shielded by God's power. God himself will protect you. How powerful is God's power? It is all power. God is all-powerful, without limit. He is powerful to do whatever he wills and how ever he wills. And what is his will? Let Jesus give the answer.

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:39,40).

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 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 10:27-29).

God is a good person to have on your side. But, if you are like me, there is still a nagging worry. Peter says it is through faith that we are shielded. Maybe no one can snatch me out of the Father's hand, but what if I jump out through lack of faith? That is a real and appropriate concern to have, but let's first note Peter's intent here. Peter's focus is not to give warning. He's not saying, "Watch out! You've got this wonderful inheritance that is going to be cast away if you don't keep up your faith." No, the thrust of his message is, "Rejoice! Look at this wonderful, secure inheritance God has given you and all that is required of you is to believe!"

Now, for those of us who still worry, be reminded that we are God's elect. We didn't choose God in the first place; he chose us. We are redeemed, remember, by the blood that Christ shed and that the Holy Spirit sprinkled on us. What did we do of our own? Nothing. When we finally exercised faith, we did so because God caused us to be born again so that we could exercise faith. Faith is God's gift:

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him (Philippians 1:29).

On arriving, [Apollos] was a great help to those who by grace had believed (Acts 18:27).

And God guarantees his gift of faith:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession — to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:13,14).

We have the mark, the seal of the Holy Spirit, who guarantees our inheritance. It is guaranteed because of the Holy Spirit who guarantees us.

There is a place for warning about lack of faith. Whenever we become complacent about our faith, presuming upon God to save regardless of whether we exercise faith or not, then we need to examine our hearts to see if we have truly had saving faith. Faith, again, is not the source of salvation. It is the means God has chosen through which to give salvation, and it is the evidence of salvation. If we lack that evidence of faith, then, yes, there is cause for concern.

So, how do I deal with my worry over that phrase through faith knowing my weakness and distrusting my ability to keep faith? It is not by trusting God to save me regardless of whether I keep my faith, but by trusting him to keep me faithful. There is a scene in the movie The Hiding Place where Corrie ten Boom as a child asks her father about death. He says, "When we take our train trips, when do I give you the ticket for the train?" She replies, "When the train comes." "When the time comes, God will give you what you need." It is that way with faith. I do not trust myself to have or keep faith throughout life; but I do trust God to keep me faithful.

The Coming Salvation

Let's review. God has caused us to be born again so that we have hope for an inheritance that is secure, because God makes it secure and makes us secure. When do we receive it?

At the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

What a pregnantl and mysterious phrase. Literally, the Greek reads "for the salvation ready to be revealed at the last time/day." Peter is looking to the final day of Christ's return when he will complete his work of salvation — not merely saving his people from sin, but destroying sin and death, and raising his people with transformed bodies that know no sickness or frailty.

We are saved and yet not saved completely. We have been saved from the judgment of God's wrath on our sin. We have been saved from the power of Satan to enslave us. But we still sin. We still live in a world enslaved by Satan. We still receive the effects of our sin and the sinful world. But the Bible tells us that some day that will end. Some day we will be delivered (saved) from sin and its effects altogether. That day is the day of Christ's return. That is the day Christ and his salvation, which we believe in by faith only, will be revealed to us.

Peter furthermore notes that this salvation is ready. There is no more work to be done other than the gathering of all the elect. Atonement has been made on the cross. Life has been given through the resurrection. Christ has ascended on high and has made (and continues to make) intercession for his people. He has sent his Holy Spirit. Only one more thing remains — his return in all of his glory and power.

It is ready. The day of salvation may be today; it may be at anytime. It will be the day that God has determined. And on that day our inheritance will become our possession.

Inheritance Defined

And, so again, what is this great inheritance we have? For Abraham and his descendents — the people of Israel — the inheritance was land. The word first appears in Genesis 15:7 in which God says to Abram: I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it (literally, to inherit it). The whole history of Israel is about taking possession of the promise land and keeping it. As they are faithful to God and are blessed by him, they extend and secure their possession; as they are unfaithful and punished by God, they lose possession, even being cast into exile.

But the Israelites understood that more than just land was involved. The land of Israel represented the kingdom of God. To inherit the land was to be part of God's kingdom. They were a holy nation, a kingdom of priests. They were God's inheritance who possessed God's holy place (cf. Isaiah 63:17,18). And what they looked forward to was the day that the kingdom of God would be revealed through Israel. The nation of Israel would reign and the whole earth would be their possession.

Jesus takes this concept of the kingdom of God and instills in it a deeper spiritual understanding. The kingdom of God is the rule of God, and those who belong to it, will be part of that kingdom and dwell with God. So when he returns he will say to his people, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world (Matthew 26:34).

We inherit the kingdom of God. Or we can understand inheritance in other terms. In Matthew 19:29, Jesus says we will inherit eternal life. Hebrews 1:14 says we will inherit salvation. My favorite understanding of our inheritance is the one given to the Levites, the priests of God:

At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today. 9 That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their brothers; the LORD is their inheritance, as the LORD your God told them (Deuteronomy 10:8,9).

Whatever term we want to use, what inheritance is intended to convey is this: you have a portion reserved for you that cannot be taken. You are sons of God, whether male or female. You are sons who by virtue of being born of God possess the rights of sons to his inheritance. As Paul eloquently expresses it in Galatians 3:26-29:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.


Consider what you have. Are you in a will? Any rich relatives, who when they pass away will be leaving you a fortune? You do have a fortune waiting you, one that will not only be there when it is time to claim, but one that will last forever.

Do you understand what you have, because too often we live as though we don't know? We get doubtful in our faith because of what we don't have now; we get resentful even because we don't think we are getting what we deserve. We've lost perspective, grumbling about what we lack in this world and ignoring the riches of ours in eternity. Some of us are too satisfied with this life, losing interest in the life to come. We are like children contented with plastic beads when we've been promised priceless jewels. We will forego the cruise around the world offered to us because we have some nice postcards to look at.

Peter, indeed, no New Testament writer, opens a letter praising God for good health, a rewarding job or a loving family. However good these things may be, they are not meant to be our greatest joy. They can all be lost in a moment; they will all be tainted. What we should see through them is a glimpse of the everlasting joy that awaits us when our inheritance is fulfilled. It is those glimpses, even more those promises of the Word that will sustain in this fallen, temporary world.

Finally, consider whether you have this inheritance. I said that the question about faith is an appropriate one, appropriate because too many presume to possess what they do not have. Understand that you cannot inherit eternal life by being a grandson. Being born of believing parents will not save you, only being born of God the Father. The evidence of the birth is your faith, not the faith of your parents. Understand also that you cannot inherit eternal life by being like a son. Having good Christian values is not enough. Being a good church person is not enough. It is through faith, your faith, and faith alone that you have an inheritance.

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