The point of this epistle is to encourage believers to live lives of personal holiness during a time of persecution—that is, during a time when the challenge of personal holiness is beyond inconvenient. If God had wanted His people to be extraordinarily holy, the argument might go, He would have given us more help—times of unparalleled prosperity, comfortable homes, a recliner to read our Bibles in, and Bible search software. Then we would really be holy. So . . . how’s it going?
This book is an epistle exhorting Christians to a life of holiness under pressure, holiness when it is not convenient to be holy. The book was likely written in the early sixties A.D (c. 62-63). The first Roman persecution against the Christians broke out in 64 A.D.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied . . .” (1 Peter 1:1–25).
Summary of the Text:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus, is writing to “strangers” throughout Asia Minor (v. 1). He describes them as elect according to the Father, sanctified by the Spirit, and made obedient and cleansed by the blood of Jesus (v. 2). Grace and peace.
A blessing upon the Father is declared, who mercifully regenerated us into a living hope through the resurrection (v. 3), which will usher us into an everlasting inheritance (v. 4). In the meantime, prior to receiving that inheritance, we are kept by the power of God through faith (v. 5). This enables us to rejoice even though we have to slog through various trials (v. 6). This is so our faith might be refined, like gold, through fire (v. 7). The refinement of true faith enables us to love Jesus Christ, and to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory (v. 8). This culminates in the salvation of our souls (v. 9). This salvation is something that prophets and angels used to wonder about (vv. 10-12), but which is now openly preached. So gird up your minds, then, and lean into it (v. 13). Be like obedient children, and don’t conform yourselves to the templates of lust (v. 14). Because the Father who called you is holy, so you also are to be holy (vv. 15-16). If you call upon the Father, who does not play favorites, walk through your pilgrimage with fear (v. 17). Do this, knowing you were redeemed from the previous vanities, not with silver or gold, but rather with the blood of the spotless Christ (vv. 18-19).
Christ was foreordained to die before the foundation of the world, but was manifested “in these last times” for you (v. 20). He did this for those who believe in Him, so that they might believe in Him (v. 21). Since you have been purified, your duty is to love fervently (v. 22). This is because you were born again through an imperishable seed, which is the Word of God (v. 23). For man as he is now is like browned out meadow grass, fading away (v. 24). But the Word of the Lord—which is the gospel that was preached to us—endures forever (v. 25).
Peter address these believers as sojourners, as strangers, scattered throughout the regions of Asia Minor (1 Pet. 1:1). We need to understand this in a layered way, taking all of redemptive history into account. We are strangers in a strange land the way Abraham was—but recall that Abraham was a stranger in a land that had been promised him as his inheritance. It was not his yet, but it was going to be. Peter reminds the believers that they are temporary inhabitants of the world as it then was (1 Pet. 1:17). So they were sojourners, and they were to treat their time in this world as a time of sojourning, but with an eye on the long future—just as Abraham had done. At the same time, they were in fact pilgrims, just passing through, as indicated by Peter sending greetings from the church that was in Babylon (1 Pet. 5:13). Their time here was experienced as an exile. The meek have nothing to do with the ways of this earth—which is why they will inherit it (Ps. 37:11; Matt. 5:5).
The Nature of Regeneration:
Through the comparison of our lives here to grass—meadow grass in a hot August—Peter teaches us that if we are to have hope it must be from outside ourselves. Our lives are grass, but we have been made heirs of an imperishable life. There is no way for this to occur without a complete renovation of our nature. And in order for our nature to be renovated, we must be born over again. Now take careful note. If we are to be born again, with these imperishable results, it is necessary for us to be begotten with a different kind of seed, seed given by a different kind of Father.
Commenting on this verse, Calvin observes how easy it is for us to shade the circumstances in our own favor. This is why Peter insists that our love for one another must be unfeigned, no fakery, no hypocrisy, and no spin. “Nothing is more difficult than to love our neighbours in sincerity. For the love of ourselves rules, which is full of hypocrisy; and besides, every one measures his love, which he shews to others, by his own advantage, and not by the rule of doing good.” We tend to love others, in other words, with one eye always on what we will get out of it. So Peter adds that we are to love one another fervently. Love one another with unfeigned love, love one another with a pure heart, and love one another fervently—zealously, aggressively, all in, headlong, pell mell. Stop holding back. The most challenging places for application in this would be in close family relationships, or with nearby neighbors, where everyone is vulnerable. You want to protect yourself where you feel vulnerable, but this is the very place where you must risk it all.
Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory:
So let us consider for a few moments what the normal Christian life should look like. We may begin by distinguishing the usual Christian life from the normal Christian life. What usually happens does so in the absence of teaching, learning, obedience. But the normal Christian life is what God expects from us, as set out in His Word. You don’t discover this by looking around at all the Christians you know. You look at the Christian life as it is described in the Word.
Now it looks like joy unspeakable and full of glory. It feels like joy ineffable. It weighs you down, like a ship nearly gunwales under because of the bullion it is carrying. Full of glory. Now if you, brown grass as you are in yourself, are given this charge, and you try to fulfill it in your own “brown grass power,” the very last thing that will happen to you will be joy or glory. It will be more like despair unspeakable, and full of black doubts. What Peter is describing here is beyond your power to gin up. And yet, he says that it is true of those believers he is writing to.
So the Christian life is not something you concoct in order to bring the filthy rags of your own accomplishments up into the throne room of God. Did we really think that His endless patterns of celestial marble needed us to rally around with our grubby rags? What? Were we going to polish something?
No—the Christian life is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). To be full of glory is to be full of Christ. What is our joy? “And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Rom. 5:11). Christ is your unspeakable joy, and Christ is your fullness of glory.
But do not breathe a sigh of relief and say that this joy and glory are things that must be going on in Heaven somewhere, high up and far away. Is this some sort of spiritual truth, with no need to worry about it until we get there? No. Recall that Peter is equipping the saints for hard times here. And the hard times here require holiness here. And the holiness here requires happiness here. And the happiness here means that Christ must be here.
The Christ at the right hand of the Father must be the same Christ who, through His Spirit, is the Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Christ is divine, and so it is true that He is everywhere. Christ is the Son of God and in His Deity He possesses all the attributes of God, which include omnipresence. Christ is everywhere. And yet, there are places we are instructed not to look for Him. We are not to look for Him in the empty tomb. The angels at the tomb said that He was not there (Mark 16:6). We are not to look for Him in the blank sky. The angels at the Ascension asked the disciples why they were staring at the clouds—why are you looking there (Acts 1:11).
I would like to suggest one more place where you should not try to look. Do not look for Him in your own heart—but this is not because He is not there. Christ is in you, the hope of glory. Don’t look within for the simple reason that you can’t see Him that way. If you want to see Him there, as you should, then the way to do it is to look to Christ at the right hand of the Father. Look to Christ in your brothers and sisters. Look to Christ outside Jerusalem, flayed and nailed to a gibbet. Look to Christ in the preached Word of God. Look to Christ in the sermon (Gal. 3:1). If you see Him there, you will see Him everywhere. If you don’t see Him there in the preaching, then you won’t see Him anywhere. So look away to the gospel, the imperishable seed. Look away.