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?
“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 pattern 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).
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, 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 love others, in other words, with one eye always on what we will get out of it. Peter adds that we are to do this 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.
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 in the absence of teaching, learning, obedience. 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 how the Christian life 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 that you are in yourself, are given this charge, the last things that will happen to you will be joy or glory. It will be more like despair unspeakable, and full of black doubts.
But 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. Some sort of spiritual truth? 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.