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Lesson 2: Saved Unto Eternity (1 Peter 1:3-5)

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Have you ever been going through a difficult time when some bubbly Christian came bursting into the room shouting, “Praise the Lord!” Don’t you hate it when that happens? About the last thing you want to hear when you’re going through hard times is, “Praise the Lord!”

And yet when the Spirit of God inspired Peter to write to these suffering Christians, after his opening greeting, the first thing he does is to burst forth in praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” How insensitive of Peter! How could he do such a thing?

Let me put it this way: What if you were going through some trial and I burst into the room and exclaimed, “Praise God! You’ve just inherited $100 million!” Would that make any difference? A $100 million inheritance may not solve all your problems, but it does have a way of opening up some interesting new options, doesn’t it? With that much money, at least you could take a nice long vacation to mull things over! Just daydreaming about it has a way of lifting your spirits, doesn’t it?

Back to reality, folks! You haven’t inherited $100 million. You’ve inherited something far better! Peter is saying, “Blessed be God, because He has given us far more than $100 million. He’s caused us to be born again to a living hope. Our inheritance is reserved in heaven!” So,

Whatever our problems, we can praise God as Christians because He has saved us unto eternity.

But maybe you’re thinking, “Now, wait a minute, Steve! That’s really a superficial approach to my very complex problems. If you knew the things I’m facing, you wouldn’t be so glib as to say that I should praise God because someday I’ll have pie in the sky when I die. I need help right now!” Maybe you’re saying, “I’m being treated unfairly at work.” Or, “I’ve been fired because of my Christian testimony.” Or, “I can’t find work and I’m facing severe financial problems.” Or, “I have a mate who’s not a Christian, who makes life miserable for me.” Or, “A good friend turned against me without cause and runs me down behind my back.” Or, “Since I’ve begun to follow Christ, problems have multiplied to the point where I’m overwhelmed.” Or, “I’m facing death itself.”

I’ve just described those to whom Peter wrote this letter. Christian slaves were being treated unfairly by their masters, even though they had done no wrong (2:18-20). Christian wives were being mistreated by their unbelieving husbands (3:1-6). Many of the believers had lost former friends who now were slandering them (2:12; 3:16, 17; 4:4, 13-14, 16). Some were being threatened and it’s likely that some even were facing martyrdom (3:14; 4:12). Peter knew all about these problems and yet he proclaimed to them, “Blessed be the God ... who has caused us to be born again to a living hope ....”

If the idea of your future inheritance in heaven doesn’t affect you as you face present problems, one of two things may be true: You may not truly be saved; or, you may be saved, but you may, to some degree, be buying into an errant form of Christianity that puts the emphasis on the here and now rather than on our eternal salvation. Reverend Ike used to say crassly, “I don’t want my pie in the sky when I die; I want cash in the stash here and now.” Most of us aren’t that blatant. But I find many who are into Christianity for what it can do for them now. Heaven is a nice extra, but they want the good life now. If Christ isn’t going to give it to them, and fairly soon, they shop elsewhere. They came to Christ because they heard that God had a wonderful plan for their lives. What they didn’t understand was that the wonderful plan often means enjoying the riches of Christ in the midst of suffering and perhaps even martyrdom.

We need to stop and think about what salvation means. Salvation means that we who justly deserve the eternal wrath of God have been delivered from that wrath through the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. If we are not saved, we’re lost, under the terrible condemnation of God. One of our problems today is that we’re trying to get people saved who have no concept of how terrible it is to be lost. And we’re trying to coax people who have forgotten what it feels like to be eternally lost into enduring hardship in living the Christian life. They don’t appreciate what God has done in saving them.

Suppose you were standing in a long line at the bank and I came running in, grabbed you by the arm, jerked you out of line, and dragged you outside. You’d probably be a bit upset. You’d say, “What do you think you’re doing? You made me lose my place in line, you made me look like a fool in front of all those people, and you hurt my arm!” You wouldn’t appreciate what I had done. But what if some terrorists had just come into the bank who intended to take everyone hostage and to kill hostages every few minutes if their demands were not met? If I rescued you from that awful fate, you wouldn’t complain about losing your place in line or looking like a fool or your sore arm. You’d be grateful to me in spite of any inconvenience or pain, because I rescued you from a terrible death.

As Christians, I fear that we’ve gotten far away from this eternal perspective. We complain about our trials and run after whatever we think will make us happy in this life (whether it’s biblical or not) because we’ve forgotten the terrors of hell from which God has saved us and the eternal inheritance He has given us in heaven. Peter makes two points here: Whatever our problems, we can praise God because our salvation comes from Him (1:3); and, because our salvation is safe unto eternity (1:4-5).

1. Whatever our problems, we can praise God because our salvation comes from Him (1:3).

When Peter describes God as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” it does not mean that Jesus was not fully God. Jesus is the eternal God in human flesh, the second person of the Trinity. In His humanity, the Father was Jesus’ God. He prayed to the Father; He trusted in the Father. In Jesus’ humanity, the Father (the first person of the Trinity) can rightly be called the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His deity, Jesus is related to God the Father as the eternal Son of God.

That Jesus is fully God can be proved in many ways from the Bible. But let me limit myself to three proofs from the immediate context. First, Jesus is mentioned with the Father and the Spirit as having an essential part in our salvation (1:2). It would be blasphemy to mention any being less than God in the same breath with God as Peter does here. Second, the title “Lord” is the Old Testament word “Yahweh” used to describe God. To call Jesus “Lord” is to call Him the sovereign of the universe, rightly demanding the submission of even heavenly powers to His name (3:22). Third, the title Christ proves Jesus to be God, because the Messiah (= “Christ”) is divine. Jesus made it clear from Psalm 110 that the Christ is not only David’s son, but also David’s Lord (Matt. 22:42-45).

Thus, Peter makes it clear that our salvation comes to us from God the Father through the work of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. (As we saw in 1:2, the Spirit is also involved, although not mentioned in 1:3-5.) In 1:3, Peter shows three ways that our salvation comes to us from God. If we’ll grasp this, we will praise God in spite of whatever trials we face in this life.

A. We can praise God because our salvation comes from His great mercy.

Salvation never comes from any merit or worth or from anything in us. In fact, it comes in spite of us. We cannot do anything to earn it. We cannot do anything to predispose God to grant it. Mercy is His undeserved favor. It is essentially synonymous with the word “grace.” If there is a difference, it may be that “grace is God’s free gift, displayed in the forgiveness of sins, extended to us as we are guilty, whereas mercy is His love extended to us as we are miserable” (R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [Eerdmans], p. 170). Mercy has the connotation of God’s compassion toward those who suffer.

As Martin Luther points out (Commentary on Peter and Jude [Kregel], p. 20), human nature cherishes the thought that we, through our own strength, free will, good works and merit, or by keeping God’s law, can atone for our sins and acquire eternal salvation. But that is the very thing that we must let go of if we want to experience God’s mercy. If we deserve salvation, it does not come through God’s mercy. We only deserve His wrath because of our great sin, but He has shown us great mercy.

A few months ago as I was studying this very passage I received a phone call from a dear woman who was sobbing and threatening suicide. As I told her the good news about God’s forgiveness and mercy through Christ, she responded that she was a good person. It’s a rather ticklish matter to try to explain to a suicidal woman that she has too high a view of herself! But it was her clinging to the notion of her own goodness that prevented her from understanding and receiving God’s mercy which would have given her the hope of salvation.

If our salvation depends on our own goodness, it’s not very secure, to say the least! What if we do something bad? What if God doesn’t grade on the curve, or what if the curve is higher than we thought? To expect that we will get into heaven because of our own goodness is to face eternity with false hope. But if we let go of our supposed goodness and realize that we deserve God’s wrath, and we appeal to Him for His great mercy, then our hope of salvation is as secure as the mercy of God! Whatever problems we face, we can praise Him because our salvation comes from His great mercy!

B. We can praise God because our salvation comes from His life-giving power.

Peter says that God “has caused us to be born again.” This reflects Jesus’ language to Nicodemus (with which Peter no doubt was familiar), that unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Just as we were born physically, so we must be born spiritually. And, just as we had nothing to do with our physical birth—we didn’t will it; we didn’t help the process; we didn’t decide, “I’d like to be born to these parents in this time and way”—so we cannot assist in our spiritual birth. It must come from the life-giving power of God (John 1:12-13; 6:44).

But this also gives us a reason to praise God. If our salvation comes from our effort or will or performance, then it rests on shaky ground. But if it comes from the sovereign will of God, based upon His mighty power to bring us out of spiritual death into life, then it’s a sure thing. However shaky life is, we can praise God because our deliverance from spiritual death comes from God, not from ourselves.

C. We can praise God because our salvation comes from the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” If God had left Jesus in the grave, our salvation would not be complete. In His death on the cross, Jesus bore our sins. But if He had not been raised bodily, He would not have conquered sin and death. As Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).

Peter was an eyewitness of the risen Jesus Christ. At first he did not believe the reports that Jesus was risen. But Christ’s many appearances to the apostles before He ascended into heaven turned Peter’s doubts into sure and convincing testimony. His depression and gloom over the crucifixion were turned into living hope—vital, strong, growing hope. Unlike worldly hope that often fades and grows weaker over time, living hope grows stronger as the day of its realization draws closer. Whatever trials we face, we can praise God because we have a living hope that rests on the sure fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Thus Peter wants us to know that no matter how great our problems, we can praise God because our salvation comes from God, not from ourselves or our efforts to obtain or keep it.

2. Whatever our problems, we can praise God because our salvation is safe unto eternity (1:4-5).

Peter goes on to describe our salvation as an inheritance, locked up in the bank vault of heaven, guarded against every intruder who might take it from us. And we are assured that God’s power is guarding us so that someday we will enjoy our inheritance.

A. Our salvation is a secure inheritance in heaven (1:4).

I hate reading legal documents. Why attorneys can’t write in plain English is beyond me, except that it protects their jobs to write in language that no one else can understand. Reading or listening to legal documents being read has to be the ultimate boring activity. But there’s one legal document where we all would hang on every word: The reading of a will, when we know that we are named as heirs of a large inheritance.

Peter says that our salvation is an inheritance kept in heaven for us. Of course, Christ Himself is our inheritance. But it also includes all that He has provided and will provide for those whom He has purchased with His blood. It is so vast and indescribable that the only way Peter can describe it is by telling us some things that it is not: It is not perishable, not defiled, and not fading.

By imperishable, Peter means that our salvation is free from death and decay. Any human inheritance is subject both to death and decay. I may die before I can obtain and enjoy a human inheritance. I may be the heir to billions, but it won’t do me a bit of good if I die. If I manage to get it, it’s still subject to moth, rust, and thieves, as Jesus pointed out, so I could easily lose it. But our heavenly inheritance is imperishable; it can’t be destroyed.

Also, our inheritance is undefiled, which means that it’s free from moral impurity or uncleanness of any kind. Earthly inheritances can be tainted and they can taint the person receiving them. Families of wealthy men who have died have been known to degenerate into nasty quarrels that last for years as greedy family members fight over their share of the inheritance. Everyone is defiled by that kind of thing. But our heavenly inheritance is not that way. I can’t take anything from your inheritance and you can’t take anything from mine. God has plenty in store for us all.

Furthermore, our inheritance will not fade away. It is free from the ravages of time. Earthly inheritances get used up the more time goes on. But God’s riches are inexhaustible! Throughout eternity we will not get to the bottom of all that He has provided for us who are in Christ. His riches are reserved in heaven for us and nothing can diminish or destroy what God Himself has determined to give us!

But, you may be thinking, it’s nice that all that’s in heaven. But what if I don’t make it to heaven? What if I fall by the wayside so that I never get to where my inheritance is located?

B. We are securely guarded by God’s power through faith (1:5).

“Protected” is a military term (see 2 Cor. 11:32) that implies that those who are born again are under enemy attack. Satan wants to keep us from gaining our inheritance. But we are surrounded by a garrison of troops conducting us with safe passage to the place where our eternal inheritance awaits us. But it is no vulnerable earthly army that protects us—it is the very power of God! What could be more powerful than the power of the God who spoke the universe into existence! Thus we are guarded for our salvation.

When Peter says that our salvation is “ready to be revealed in the last time,” he means that we now only enjoy a small part of what God has laid in store for us. We couldn’t even begin to comprehend it all, but we can trust God that it will be far better than we can imagine. Heaven will not be the boring picture you see in cartoons—sitting around on clouds in white robes strumming harps forever. The creative God who made such a complex universe that modern science cannot even begin to figure it out can keep us creatively engaged throughout eternity.

Our salvation is ready to be revealed, like a statue waiting to be unveiled. The word “ready” is also used in 1 Peter 4:5 to warn that God is ready to judge the living and the dead. The future holds one or the other for every person: Either you wait to see the veil lifted on your salvation, or you wait to face God in judgment. Both are prepared. What determines your future is seen in the phrase, “through faith.” We receive God’s salvation and live the Christian life through faith.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I only wish I could have that kind of faith, but I don’t!” Ah, but you do! You have plenty of faith. The problem is, you’re putting it in the wrong object if it is not in the Lord Jesus Christ and what He did for you on the cross. If your faith is not in Him, then it is in yourself or in some god of your own making. If your faith is in yourself, then you’re saying, “I believe that I’m a good enough person to get to heaven by my own efforts.” That’s tremendous faith, but it’s placed on a very faulty and inadequate object.

God says that no flesh will boast in His sight. If you could get to heaven by your own good works, then you could boast in yourself. But God alone is worthy of glory. So He humbles us by making us let go of all trust in ourselves. We must cast ourselves completely on His great mercy. We cannot do this in and of ourselves. He must impart saving faith to us, which humbles our pride and gives all the glory to what God has done in Jesus Christ. Thus God has ordained that we receive His salvation by faith, not in ourselves, but in Christ alone. We live the Christian life in the same manner, trusting each day in what Christ is to us and what He has done for us. Those who have tasted of His mercy will persevere in faith until that great day when faith becomes sight.

Conclusion

Many years ago a team of mountain climbers began the dangerous descent of one of the peaks in the Swiss Alps. The first man in the line lost his foothold and slipped over the ledge. The next two men were dragged after him, but the experienced climbers above braced themselves and stood firm to bear the shock. But when the rope ran its length, rather than bearing the weight, it snapped like a string. Horrified, the climbers saw their friends fall to their deaths on the glacier 4,000 feet below. For half an hour the other three stayed immobilized with fear. Finally they nerved themselves to continue their perilous descent. Hours later they arrived in Zermatt to tell their sad story. When the climbers examined the rope to find out why it failed, they were shocked. True Alpine Club rope has a red strand running through it, but this rope did not. It was a weak substitute. (“Our Daily Bread,” 6/82.)

The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only thing strong enough to save us from our sins. If your faith is in yourself or your own goodness, the rope will snap and you will perish. If your faith is in what God has done through Christ because of His great mercy, then no matter what problems you face now, you can join Peter in proclaiming, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, because He has saved me according to His great mercy. Because my salvation is not from myself, but from God, I am saved unto eternity!” It’s far better than inheriting $100 million!

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it wrong to share the gospel from the angle of what it can provide now? Cite biblical evidence.
  2. How can we develop an eternal perspective in the midst of present problems?
  3. Should an unfaithful professing Christian be assured of salvation?

Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Establish, Faith, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution