Suffering: Victim or Victor? (1 Peter 1:1-6a)
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice …
Years ago, radio Bible teacher and preacher Dr. J. Vernon McGee spoke at a Dallas Theological Seminary chapel service while I was a student. Dr. McGee told us he had been diagnosed with a very serious form of lung cancer with a very low cure rate. Having often visited those about to undergo surgery, Dr. McGee confessed that his being rolled into surgery felt quite a lot different than his accompanying someone to surgery. God granted Dr. McGee a most unusual cure, prolonging his ministry a number of years.
Our perspective changes considerably when we become the participant rather than the observer. To some degree, circumstances do shape our perspective. But our perspective has everything to do with the way we respond to our circumstances. In recent years, our culture has taken a very unhealthy turn, embracing a perspective which predisposes our collapse under life’s adverse circumstances rather than causing us to persevere through them. The essence of this new perspective may be summed up in the word “victim.” No longer are we responsible for our attitudes and actions when we have been wronged or abused—we are now “victims.” Whatever happened is no longer our fault nor are we responsible for the way we choose to respond.
The Scriptures make it very clear that Christians will be the recipients of unjust treatment because of our faith in Jesus Christ and the godly lives we are to live in a sinful world. While the Bible promises that we will experience innocent suffering for the cause of Christ, it nowhere speaks of our being “victims” in the contemporary sense of the word. Rather, the Bible forthrightly speaks of us as “victors.”
Peter introduces the subject of innocent suffering for Christ’s sake in verse 6 of chapter 1. But he will not mention the trials and testing of our faith until he has first set down the essential truths which should shape our perspective on suffering. These truths are set down by Peter in verses 1-5 of chapter 1.
Our study begins by determining the recipients of Peter’s epistle as indicated in verse 1. We will then explore the source of our salvation in verse 2. Verses 3-4 focus on our future hope of which we are assured, due to the salvation God accomplished through the person and work of Jesus Christ. From verse 5, we will be reassured of our security in Christ and the certainty of experiencing those things awaiting us at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Close attention to our text will help us learn from Peter why we who trust in Christ can never be considered victims; we are victors.
The Recipients of Peter’s First Epistle
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
One could quickly conclude Peter wrote this epistle to Jewish believers who had been scattered abroad. James’ introductory greeting in his book is similar to Peter’s introduction:
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings (James 1:1).
Peter, after all, was the “apostle to the Jews,” while Paul was the “apostle to the Gentiles:”
But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter with the gospel to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles) (Galatians 2:7-8).
Other verses in 1 Peter also strongly indicate a broader readership than only Jewish believers. These statements seem difficult to apply directly to Jewish believers:
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1:14-16).
10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God (2:10).
3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; 5 but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (4:3-5).
While Peter’s words are addressed to individual saints, they also give instruction concerning the conduct of members of the church. Specifically, Peter provides instructions to the elders and younger men in the church (5:1-7). We find in the Scriptures no such thing as a “Jewish” or a “Gentile” church. The church of Jesus Christ is one body, made up of Jews and Gentiles, without any distinction or dividing wall between them (see Ephesians 2:11-22).
Peter writes not to one church or even to the saints in a small geographical area. He writes to those saints in five Roman provinces. While specific cities are unnamed, Peter’s epistle would surely include the churches in the “seven cities of Asia” to whom the Book of Revelation is written (see Revelation 1:11, chapters 2 and 3). These churches were neither Jewish nor Gentile. A clear Jewish presence and influence did exist in all the churches, just as there was a Gentile presence (the Gentile proselytes or “God-fearers”) in the synagogues.
Peter writes then to the saints scattered throughout the Roman world, clearly reflecting the change in Peter concerning Jews and Gentiles. This change was dramatically brought home to him in the events of Acts 10 and 11. Later, they are reinforced by Paul in Galatians 2:11-21 after Peter fell back into his old ways under pressure from Jewish saints. Clearly his epistle is written not just to Jewish saints or Gentile saints, but to all saints who make up the one church of Jesus Christ.
Peter writes in obedience to the command given him by the Lord Jesus:
“… when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
Just as Peter stumbled when faced with suffering for Christ’s sake at the time of His arrest and trial and then was strengthened, so he now writes to those facing suffering who need to be strengthened. He can offer strength and comfort from his own experiences. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians well express Peter’s ministry:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; 7 and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
The Source of Our Salvation
… who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.
Those who deny the doctrine of the Trinity have difficulty with this and a number of other texts, for they clearly speak of three members of the Godhead, all of whom are involved in the work of salvation. The Holy Spirit is strategically placed between God the Father and God the Son. Each member of the Trinity plays a distinct role in the salvation of the saint.
The Father chooses those who will be saved. We find Peter’s words consistent with the teaching of Paul:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:3-4).
Christians differ not so much on whether God chose us, but over the basis of that choice. Some fail to understand the significance of the word “foreknow,” supposing it means only to know (about) in advance. The word does have this meaning, as seen in Acts 26:5 and 2 Peter 3:17. But when Peter uses the word “foreknowledge” here, he speaks of God’s choice of us apart from anything we would or could do, based solely on His sovereign grace (see Romans 9:10-18). In 1 Peter 1:20, Peter speaks of Christ, Who was “foreknown before the foundation of the world.” Peter is not saying God knew about Jesus, but rather that God chose our Lord to die on the cross of Calvary before the foundation of the world, before Adam and Eve were created, before the first sin was committed. Peter made a similar statement in his sermon at Pentecost:
“This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23).
To “know” can mean to “know about,” but it can also mean to choose. God “knew” Abraham; that is, He chose Him:
“For I have chosen [literally, “known” him (Abraham)], in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about Him” (Genesis 18:19).
To “foreknow” is to choose ahead of time. Thus, Paul uses “foreknow” to speak of God’s sovereign choice in eternity past (Romans 8:29; 11:2).3
The Father chose those whom He would save in eternity past, and it is the Holy Spirit who “sanctifies” the elect, drawing them to faith in Christ:
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
When Nicodemus sought out the Lord Jesus, the Savior told him he must be “born again,” and that this was the unseen work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8). Before our Lord’s crucifixion, He told the disciples it was necessary (and better) for Him to depart and for the Holy Spirit to come, for it was the Spirit who would convict men of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11). The Holy Spirit sets the saints apart to God by drawing them to faith in Christ:
And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11; see also Titus 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
While the Holy Spirit is also involved in our sanctification, the emphasis here is on the role of the Spirit in bringing men to Christ. If the sanctification of the believer were in view, this ministry of the Holy Spirit would more logically have been introduced after, rather than before, the saving work of Christ.
Peter then moves from the choice of the Father and the sanctifying of the Holy Spirit to the contribution of Christ’s shed blood, by which we are cleansed and forgiven. Peter’s wording indicates the Holy Spirit’s sanctification has particular effects. The Spirit’s work brings about obedience which results in being sprinkled with Christ’s blood.
The sprinkling of blood is definitely an Old Testament image referred to by the author of Hebrews:
18 Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. 22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. 23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (Hebrews 9:18-28).
By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the first-born might not touch them (Hebrews 11:28).
And to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24).
If I understand Peter’s words correctly, he is describing our salvation as the work of the Trinity, spelled out sequentially in the order actually achieved in time. The Father chose us in eternity past for salvation. The Holy Spirit drew us to faith in Christ, regenerating us, illuminating our minds so as to make the gospel clear, convicting us of sin, and baptizing us into the body of Christ. The result of the Spirit’s ministry is obedience to the gospel call, trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, and thus being cleansed by His shed blood. The obedience in view here is not so much the obedience which follows salvation as an evidence that we have a living faith, but the obedience of faith (see Romans 1:5) which results in salvation.
When Jesus was asked what men must do, He gave a very simple answer:
“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal.” 28 They said therefore to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:27-29).
Simply put, Peter is telling us that salvation is the work of God. It is a work in which we are involved. It is a work in which we participate. But in the final analysis, salvation is God’s work. Whatever role we play, we do so because He has quickened and enabled us. As Paul writes,
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).
The Hope of our Salvation
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.
Peter’s words in verse 3 indicate that he is writing more here than simple instruction to give comfort and assurance in times of suffering; he is also indicating the basis for praise toward God. “Blessed be” in the New American Standard Bible is rendered “Praise be” in the New International Version. One cannot help but recall the words of Job when he was told of the catastrophe which had struck him, especially the death of his children:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
Peter first praises God for the cause and the motivation for our salvation. God Himself is the cause of our salvation. He “caused us to be born again” (verse 3). This He did out of “His great mercy.” It is not our worthiness nor our desirability, but His mercy which is the reason for our salvation. Mercy is not an ego-inflating word, for it conveys that the object of mercy is pitiable, while the one showing mercy is praiseworthy.
Secondly, Peter further praises God because of what we have been saved to. God has caused us to be “born again.” We have been born again “to a living hope.” Our hope is a living hope because Christ not only died for our sins but rose from the grave so that we too are assured of rising with Him. Christ’s resurrection is the assurance that we have a future, and that future is our hope. As Christians, this should be our desire and our expectation.
Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished an inheritance for which every saint waits. Christ’s resurrection from the dead assures us God was well-pleased with Christ’s atoning work. Since His resurrection is the basis for, and assurance of, our own resurrection, we know we will enter into God’s eternal blessings. All Old Testament saints died without entering into the promised blessings, but they were assured they would experience them after their death:
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Hebrews 11:13).
All Old Testament saints, like Abraham, had a resurrection faith which enabled them to hope for blessings after death:
He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him [Isaac] back as a type (Hebrews 11:19, see also verses 20-22).
Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we have a future inheritance. This inheritance will be ours because Christ died. But it will be ours after we have died (unless, of course, we are alive at the second coming of Christ). Because our hope of future blessings rests in the finished work of our Lord, it is a certain hope. Peter gives a three-fold description of this hope: it is imperishable, it is undefiled, and it will not fade away. William MacDonald says it is death-proof, sin-proof, and time-proof.4
Our inheritance will not deteriorate over time. Perishable fruit tucked away in the back of our refrigerator may be forgotten until a pungent odor brings it to our attention. But our inheritance is unlike perishable food. Neither is our inheritance subject to defilement. Someone may try to reserve a piece of cake by defiling it so no one else wants it. But even sin and impurity can never defile our future inheritance.
Thirdly, our inheritance will not “fade away.” Time will not diminish its existence, like things that wear out, nor cause its desirability to diminish. With anything new, time causes its glory to fade. But our inheritance, unlike the glow on Moses’ face in 2 Corinthians 3:7-11, never fades.
What an assurance! The blessings which constitute our future hope are absolutely certain for they do not diminish over time. They are also being kept for us. We need not worry about any contingency which might nullify our hope. Our blessings are sure.
The Security of our Salvation
… who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
What could possibly keep us from enjoying the blessings of our future hope? It could not be the loss or devaluation of these blessings, for they are imperishable, undefiled, and they will not fade away. It is possible that our blessings will not fail, but we will. If verses 3 and 4 assure us that the blessings of our salvation are secure, verse 5 assures us that we are secure. Our blessings are reserved for us in heaven, and we are preserved for them on earth.
We are protected by the power of God. God is our refuge and strength. He is our strong tower. His power protects us. Because He is all-powerful, nothing can cause us to lose that which God has provided, promised, and preserved. As Paul has written,
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).
We are protected by the power of God. We are also protected through faith. The power of God is provided for our protection, but God provides and requires faith as the means through which God’s power is appropriated. While Peter was going to fail, as Jesus warned, the Savior had prayed for him that his faith would not fail. Peter could fail and fall, but he could not fall completely. Like us, he was protected by the power of God for a salvation yet to be revealed.
Peter’s introductory words we have considered in this lesson serve as a message from God to us. We may sum up the essence of his introduction with these observations.
(1) We may praise God and rejoice because our salvation is secure. The first words of verse 3 are words of praise: “Blessed be … ” Our praise and rejoicing is directed toward God. The words of this epistle, and of these verses, should be the basis and motivation for our worship and our rejoicing in the Lord.
(2) Our salvation is secure because, from start to finish, it is the work of a sovereign God, a work of mercy and grace, and not of human merit. When Jesus warned Peter of his upcoming denial, he adamantly protested. He assured the Lord that though all others might deny Him, he would not. Peter trusted in himself when he assured the Lord Jesus he would not fail Him. We know the extent of Peter’s failure. But out of his failure, Peter came to understand that it was not his faithfulness, but God’s, that assured him of entering into the blessings of the kingdom of God.
Peter’s words in our text underscore the basis for our security. Our salvation is the work of God, and not the work of men. God’s salvation involves the work of the Trinity. The Father chose us in eternity past. The Spirit set us apart to salvation by causing us to trust in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And the shed blood of Jesus is God’s means for cleansing us from the guilt of our sins. He is the “author and finisher” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). God’s salvation is not based upon our merit and good works, but it was motivated by His mercy, directed toward us in our pitiable estate.
(3) Our salvation is from sin and to a future inheritance in heaven that is certain. The salvation of which Peter speaks encompasses both time and eternity. God chose us before the creation of the world (1:2; see Ephesians 1:4). We now experience some of the benefits of our salvation. The full benefits and blessings await us at the second coming of Christ and will last for all eternity. Peter especially focuses our attention on the future dimensions of our salvation which are a “living hope” (1:3), upon which we must completely fix our hearts and minds (1:13).
The hope of our full, future salvation is based upon the work of God (1:2), and it rests upon the finished work of Jesus Christ. Particularly in view is the resurrection of Christ, which not only provides God’s seal of approval on His work, but assures us that we shall rise from the dead, and that the blessings which lie before us are “imperishable, undefiled and will not fade away” (1:4).
Many of the benefits and blessings of our salvation are yet to be experienced in the future. It is important to note that Peter very clearly states we have not obtained all of the benefits and blessings accomplished through the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. Many of the blessings of our salvation are still a matter of hope and not a present experience. These blessings are “ready to be revealed at the last time” (verse 5). Some Christians believe all of the blessings are ours to experience now, and our failure to enjoy them is due to our lack of faith in claiming them. This is not what Peter teaches. He tells us they are future, and while they are certain, we must wait until the coming of our Lord to enjoy them.
This future dimension of our salvation is not something we are naturally inclined to believe or welcome. Partly, this is because the present is to have its share of suffering (1:6ff.). Those who did not believe in Jesus challenged Him to “come down now” (Matthew 27:42-43) to prove He was the Messiah. Even to the end of His presence on earth, our Lord’s disciples were eager for His kingdom to come immediately (see Acts 1:6).
(4) Our salvation is secure, for we are kept by the power of God. Not only is our inheritance certain, “reserved in heaven for us” (1:4), but we are being kept securely for it. Our future inheritance will not fail us, and we shall not fail to enter into it and its blessings. We are “protected by the power of God through faith” (1:5). Our eyes can be fixed upon our future hope because our enjoyment of its blessings is absolutely certain.
(5) Salvation is the vantage point from which we must view suffering. One cannot mistake the unity of verses 3-12. The emphasis of verses 3-5 is upon the certainty of our salvation and our security in Christ. The emphasis of verses 6-12 is upon suffering, the suffering we can expect to experience as a result of being saved. It is no accident that Paul speaks first of our salvation, of its certainty and our security, and then of our suffering. Salvation is the vantage point from which our sufferings are to be viewed. To be certain of the future hope of the believer is to be equipped to endure the present sufferings to which we have been called.
How unfortunate that many Christians look at their salvation from their circumstances, rather than looking at their circumstances through their salvation. When some saints suffer, they begin to doubt their salvation and the certainty of their future hope. Other Christians may even encourage such doubts. Some may blame suffering on sin, as Job’s friends counseled him. It was not his sin, but his righteousness which was the occasion for his sin. It was not his downfall, but his growth which God had in view. Neither Job’s friends nor his wife were of any real comfort to him, for they did not point him God-ward, as does Peter. Peter wants us to view our suffering from the standpoint of our security as saints, based upon God’s mercy, grace and power.
(6) Peter teaches us that saints are not “victims” but “victors” in their suffering. The “victim” mindset has become a dominant note in our society. We look to our past, and to the abuse of others, or to the “genes” passed on to us from our parents as the cause of our sin and suffering. Peter turns our eyes toward God and toward the shed blood of His Son, in whom we have not only forgiveness of sins, but victory in Christ. We were not saved merely to cope with life; we were called to be conquerors in Christ. We are overcomers, especially in the trials and tribulations of life. Let us believe and behave accordingly.
The mindset Peter calls for from every saint is demonstrated by his fellow-apostle, Paul. Paul expresses the security of the saint in the midst of suffering, based upon his confidence in the Savior:
For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (2 Timothy 1:12).
May we be able to say “Amen” to these words because we have trusted in Jesus Christ as our Savior, and also because we view our suffering from the standpoint of the salvation God has provided, and now protects and preserves, in His Son, Jesus Christ.
3 In Romans 11:2, it is almost impossible to understand the term “foreknew” in any other way than “to choose ahead of time.” In effect, to “foreknow” is to “elect” (or select) someone. God has not rejected Israel, Paul argues, because God chose them long before time began. What God starts, God finishes (see Philippians 1:6). He is the “author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Related Topics: Suffering, Trials, Persecution