LIVING OUT OF THE HOPE WE HAVE IN CHRIST : 1 Peter 1:3-9 :July 23, 2020
Reflection | Way back when, as Peter preached the very first sermon about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the book of Acts, chapter two records there were Jews present from Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia. Peter now writes this letter to Christian communities in these very same places. No doubt many of these churches were emerging from those who came home and shared the good news they had heard and believed about Jesus all those many years ago on the Day of Pentecost.
More than likely a mixed group of Jews and Gentile believers, they were scattered throughout the geographically widespread and predominantly rural provinces in northeast Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Because of their shared faith in Jesus Christ, they were viewed and treated as outsiders by their Greek and Roman neighbors. The differing beliefs and odd practices of these Christians were viewed as endangering the economic security and social wellbeing of the neighborhoods in which they resided. As a result, they paid a high price for following Jesus – facing repeated hostility and intense persecution.
Peter, however, with his opening words, has reframed their sense of their identity as being defined not by their circumstances but rather deriving out of who they are in Christ. They have been chosen by God the Father. They are being transformed and matured through the work of the Spirit. Marked by the love of Jesus, in following Christ to become like Christ, they will receive an abundance of grace and peace that can carry them through every season of life.
Like many letters written during this time, Peter follows his initial greeting with an extended word of blessing: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (verse 3). What starts off as a blessing to God, acknowledging “his great mercy,” moves to a rousing description of exactly how God has blessed us in Christ: “he has given us new birth into a living hope.” Hope is a state of expectation. It is the anticipation of positive change and of a good outcome.
It is one thing to long for things to get better. We can all wish for a better world. But human optimism by itself cannot make all our dreams of redemption and reconciliation a reality. Peter using baptismal language, words that harken back to Jesus’ conversation with a man named Nicodemus, tells us we are born into this hope we have. More than this, ours is a living hope “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” The hope we have in Christ is more than a fantasy; it is a reality. The resurrection of Christ makes ours a living hope. Life beyond death, rising above and beyond our circumstances whatever they might be – the hope we have in Christ is as alive as Jesus is.
Peter goes on to write of this hope we have in Christ as being “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (verse 4). In the Old Testament, the concept of “inheritance” primarily was centered around the promise God made to Abraham of a permanent allotment of land in the Promised Land, Israel. Beginning with the message of the Prophets and being realized in the coming of Jesus, through Christ’s death and resurrection, the concept of our inheritance thanks to our Heavenly Father was deepened and widened. What we are promised, what we have received is the bequest of a new, transformed life – the perfect, full, and everlasting life of Jesus. More than the gift of a clean slate, more than victory over death, we are given the hope of a changed life – of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus – who is the reflection of our very best selves as human beings.
Unlike other forms of inheritance that we tend to favor – land or wealth – the treasure of our relationship with Christ and all of its benefits can never be lost. The grace we receive from the Lord remains imperishable, incorruptible, and invaluable, because as Peter assures us, “this inheritance is kept in heaven for you.” Using a military term in the original Greek, Peter declares that we, “through faith are shielded by God’s power” (verse 5).
As children of God, our identity and destiny in Christ are both graciously given and graciously guarded and held secure by our Father. Notice, Peter emphasizes we are being guarded by God’s power through faith. This does not mean the actuality of our hope, of our inheritance ultimately rest on our belief in God. No, the point is, the actualization of this living hope, of operating out of this secure inheritance is a result of yielding control and existing in dependence upon the Spirit.
The exercise of our trust in the Lord becomes visible, Peter writes to these believers, as “in all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (verse 6). For many Christians today, especially in the Western world, the concept of suffering as a part of our faith in Christ is a mostly foreign and often surprising revelation. And yet, this should not be the case, for Jesus as well as all of the biblical writers openly speak about not only the possibility but the inevitability of suffering as part of our faith journey. More than this, as Peter stresses here, suffering is paradoxically associated with joy.
Something that can help clarify this puzzling association is to distinguish Peter’s usage of the word “rejoice” from how we use this term today. Biblically, “rejoicing” isn’t about being or acting “happy.” The call to rejoice, while it may include positive feelings, is more about making an intentional choice about how we view our lives. It is less about perfectly managing our emotions and more about continuing to exercise our faith. In other words, rejoicing has more to do with the perspective we adopt. While our circumstances may be negative and along with them, our feelings about our situation, we choose to focus on the assurance of who we are in Christ and to trust in the security of God’s broader work in providing for us – to bring good out of whatever trials we are facing.
Peter insists that it is life’s challenges which test and prove our faith, much like gold is purified and refined in being exposed to fire. (verse 7). To be clear, Peter is not suggesting that whatever suffering or hardship we face is orchestrated by God in order to verify our belief in Him. No, his point is when things in and around us heat up, as we encounter the pressure borne of the struggles of this broken world, these are the defining moments where the Lord proves Himself to be trustworthy. In such seasons, as we press into and abide in the Word and the Spirit of God, our awareness and appreciation of the Lord’s presence and provision will be deepened.
Peter points out we all begin our journey by faith – believing in and loving Jesus even though we have not and cannot physically see Christ (verse 8). His encouragement is for us to keep walking by this faith – turning to and relying on Jesus every step of the way, come what may. This is how our faith grows and matures. Experiencing God’s faithfulness will reinforce and strengthen our faith in God – increasing the value we place on our relationship with Him through Christ such that we view it as being of greater worth than gold.
Our faith, though, is not just something to have for its own sake. Our faith in Christ, Peter notes, leads to something – an outcome, an end result, “the salvation of your souls” (verse 9). And what is this salvation? Not just an improved life. Jesus doesn’t come to us just to make our life better. Jesus comes to us, dies for us, is resurrected for us, breathes His Spirit upon us, so that we can experience a whole new life. A life transformed. Nothing less than full, abundant, everlasting life lived in perfect communion with Him and with each other. This is where we are going as we follow Jesus. This is work in progress that the Spirit continues to execute both in and through us. This is our promised and secured future together.
Anxiety, fear, and frustration continue to rise as the world is changing before us in ways that we did not anticipate, we do not fully understand and which, for the most part, are out of our control. Perhaps at no other time in our lives have we needed the living hope that is ours in Christ. Let us be animated by this hope of the Light that always can be found in the darkness. Let us abide in this hope that assures us what is most certainly true when everything else seems questionable. Let us be sustained, even strengthened by the living hope that is Jesus, the One who not only knows the future but has secured it as our promised inheritance.
Consider & Discuss | Is Christianity what you expected and hoped for? How do you usually respond when you face trials of various kinds? How do you walk through trials? How valuable is your faith in Christ to you? Is your faith in Christ what you lean and rely on when life is hard and the struggle is real? How do Peter’s words here reorient and encourage you in the midst of the trials that you are going through right now?
Prayer Focus | Gracious God, because of Your overflowing grace and abundant mercy expressed through the resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, we are borne into a living hope – the promise that the life we now live in this body, we live by faith in the Son of God. Thank You that this faith is a gift from You – one that does not depend on my faithfulness but on Yours. Thank you that both this faith and this hope are guarded by You so that our inheritance of Your love and salvation are forever secure and will be brought to completion in our lives. As we face life’s various trials, be with us Lord. Turn the focus of our attention – our mind, our heart, and our will – to Your faithfulness. Empower us not to be conformed to our circumstances but to be continually transformed through our relationship with You. Empower us to place our lives in Your hands, our faith in You alone, so that we grow and mature in our awareness that Your promises to all Your children are “yes’ and “amen’ in Christ. Amen.