As we dive into Peter's letter, it's important to note that he is writing to Christians and churches scattered by and suffering under persecution for their faith. They are facing very real cultural opposition and oppression which is intensifying, and Peter is writing to anchor them in the hope of the gospel. He is writing with a biblical realism about life in a very dark world, and the very specific spheres that darkness invades and the ways that darkness disorients and threatens us... and yet he is drawing their attention toward the light of the gospel breaking into that darkness, and into those different spheres. This letter is really important for us today as it addresses in a poignant way so much of what Christianity and Christians are facing in our cultural moment.
1 Peter 1:1-12
v. 1-2 - The words "elect exiles" and "according to the foreknowledge of God" are really astonishing and thought provoking. The situation that Peter's readers find themselves in is scary and uncertain. They are facing real hardship and enduring real suffering, but Peter starts the letter by saying that the situation they find themselves in is by God's design... they are not under the thumb of a corrupt government or being controlled by militaristic forces... behind those earthly powers, God's people have been divinely positioned for divine purposes. God is still at work underneath it all and in the midst of it all to advance his agenda through their lives and witness and even through their sufferings. Peter is reassuring them, and us, that wherever we find ourselves, we are seen, known, loved and positioned by God.
v. 3-9 - Peter grounds the living hope of which CHristians have in the midst of the darkest circusmtances in the fact that they were dead and given new life through nothing of themselves. He reminds us that our salvation and standing with God have been granted to us through God's mercy not our own merit. And because he saves in his mercy, we can rest in the midst of uncertainty knowing that he will sustain through his mercy. Life with God is always grounded in the mercy of God, which is ultiamtely about the character of God not our character or our circumstances. This means that our hope is always derived from looking at the character and heart of God, not at our own ability, effort or the circumstances surrounding us. We consider God's mercy, clearly revealed through history and indisputably confirmed in Christ, as the greatest factor to be considered in any given situation we find ourselves. When his mercy is as real as anything we're facing, our hope is alive and well founded.
v. 10-12 - Our faith in the finished work of Jesus is both joined to the faith and the result of the faithfulness of those to whom the promise of Christ was revealed, so that in the dawning of Christ we might see Him as the promise fulfilled. It's another place where the apostolic witness tells us that the OT is to be read and understand as centered on Christ and pointing to Christ. All Scripture is about Jesus and the gospel and should be read, understood and applied with His finished work in full view.
1 Peter 1:13-25
These NT letters are so loaded with insight that it's difficult for me to cover even 10-15 verses in a devotional time... there's so much jumping out at me. So, I'll try to be brief here by focusing in on just one aspect of this passage... There is this unequivocating call to "be holy, for I am holy." But that call in v. 15 is anchored in the call to be sober-minded in v. 13, and to no longer conform to our former ignorance in v. 14. In other words, we're called to a right living before the Lord, but as the fruit of right thinking about the Lord. Yes our lives matter, but our thoughts and meditations and understanding will determine the direction of our lives. Peter is telling us something very important and widely disregarded in our day and age, and it's this... theological clarity and doctrinal soundness are of enormous importance to the Christian life and to Christian witness.
We love this thoguht of just getting along and loving each other. One of the most popular pastors and speakers in the country, just a few weeks ago at a major leadership conference emphasized the importance of Christian unity over and against theological correctness. Theological correctness was framed as this over-emphasized, needless, and divisive thing... a barrier to people coming to faith, as though faith in Christ is atheological. And this emphasis by this speaker was celebrated broadly in the Christian community.
But Peter is telling us that our thoughts and understanding of the gospel, of Jesus, of ourselves and of reality are not unimportant in producing Christian character... those things in fact control and determine the quality of our lives and character.
Anti-Christian, Non-Christian, sub-Christian, or semi-Christian thinking, according to Peter, all lead to impaired judgment, distorted perspective, foggy understanding, and they cripple our ability to live rightly before God. Anything less than a distinctly Christian mindset, and a decidedly gospel shaped worldview leads to a less-than life. So In short, Peter is saying that your doctrine matters... and not just a little. We want to embody, in the Western Church today, a compelling Christian unity without needing to define Christian theology, and this is an impossible task.
By the way, the effort to get us there with a dismissiveness or downplaying of theological importance, is itself theological. It suggests that God cares more about appearing unified by our beliefs than that we are actually unified by our beliefs. Jesus prayed for our unity in John 17 as so many people love to point out... but he also prayed that we would be sanctified together in the truth... Jesus' prayer and heart isn't for the unity of professing Christians at all costs... it's for the unity of real Christians deeply rooted in their faith in what's true...
Theological correctness is not unimportant to personal progress in maturity and holiness. It is essential to our personal progress. Neither is theological correctness the enemy of Christian unity. Tt is in fact the only legitimate grounds for Christian unity.
To make personal progress and to develop unity, we both individually as Christians, and corporately as the Church, must get the essentials of the Christian faith right. We must be clear about the supremacy of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the centrality of the gospel, the necessity of the Holy Spirit, and for repentance of sin and faith in the real Jesus as the only viable means of salvation and sanctification.
1 Peter 2:1-12
"Like newborn infants long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up…"
The gospel is pure spiritual milk… it’s the simplest and most straight forward source of spiritual nourishment and Peter says we should nurture an appetite for the gospel, maintain a steady diet of the gospel, and keep drinking deeply from endless supply of nutrients for our souls which are embedded in gospel. Our spiritual development and maturity is tethered to our engagement with and internalization of the gospel.
Just as the glory and supremacy of Christ was not in anyway undermined by his suffering and rejection, neither is the reliability of the gospel or the power of the gospel in any way threatened by the struggles we face, either internally or externally. His finished work is not undone by any of our unfinished-ness. We are works in progress, being embedded within and formed into something worthy of his infinite perfections. If we have genuinely been born again by grace through faith in the real Jesus, than we hope and reassurance and confidence in who we are and whose we are is well founded.
And the way you know if you have been born again is if you are continuing to root your life in the gospel, continuing to place your hope in the real Jesus, putting your confidence in his grace and finding your assurance in his finished work. If that’s the orientation of your heart and it’s exerting a claim on your life than we need not fear our lack of progress or the slowness of our progress, we should rejoice in the direction of our progress and certainty of our endgame.
v. 9-12 are some of my favorite verses in all of Scripture because it’s Peter giving gospel order to our lives… he reminds us of our identity in Christ… what it is that gives us value, worth and significance. Our life and identity is not driven by or derived from anything we do for Jesus, but from what Jesus has done for us. Our life derives it’s sense of value, meaning and purpose from the mercies of God which have landed on us very personally, and which have united us to something much bigger than us… We’ve been grafted in, and joined to a family that we now belong to… a family which we both need, and which needs us.
And our personal identity in Christ, and social identity as a member of God's family that empowers us for meaningful engagement in a foreign land, for bold witness to a hostile culture, and for humble representation of Jesus with a settled disposition in the midst of real opposition. We need a deeper and broader understanding of the Gospel, and more personal and pervasive appropriation of God’s grace to the nooks and crannies of our hearts to live as God’s people, saved by God’s power for God’s purposes.
1 Peter 2:13-25
1 Peter 3:1-17