Acknowledge a Secure Salvation

Explore the Bible Series

March 4, 2007

 

Background Passage: I Peter 1:1-12

Lesson Passage: I Peter 1:1-12

 

Introduction: I Peter is one of the “catholic” epistles of the New Testament; that is, it addressed a more general audience than the Pauline books (See also James, II Peter, I, II, III John, and Jude).  The term “catholic”, in this context, refers to the broader audience of these epistles.  I Peter, in particular, deals with the issue of persecution and how Christians may cope with the hardships that attend the gospel.  We deal, in this initial lesson, with the background of I Peter, and we will consider the opening few paragraphs of this splendid book.

 

Authorship: The opening words identify “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” as the author of this epistle. Some scholars have questioned the authenticity of this designation, but even some with liberal bent generally agree that the Apostle Peter is the principle author.  Raymond Brown, late professor at Union Theological Seminary and Roman Catholic priest, raised some questions about Peter’s authorship.  For instance, Brown wonders if the rough-hewn Galilean fisherman could have written such sublime Greek prose as found in I Peter. However, as Brown pointed out, I Peter 5:12 indicates that Silvanus (elsewhere known as Silas) played some role in actually penning the document.  Perhaps Silvanus expressed Peter’s thoughts in the excellent literary style of the letter.  

 

Some have questioned Petrine authorship on the grounds that the letter reflects too much of the theology of Paul to be an authentic book written by Peter.  At the heart of this objection is the commonly held view that significant tension existed between Paul and Peter; therefore, Peter would have refrained from positive references to Pauline themes.  Even a more liberal theologian like Brown acknowledged that this view presupposes an exaggerated understanding of the tensions between the two great apostles.   Peter, clearly, would have enjoyed a thorough understanding of the gospel Paul preached; indeed, Peter proclaimed the same message as Paul, and exaggerating any subtle differences between the two men does violence to the unity of the good news both men preached.

 

Another objection centers on the historical context of the epistle.  The text refers to the fiery ordeal that was endured by the recipients of I Peter; yet, these proponents argue, Peter died during the rein of Nero, and no imperial persecution existed prior to the Second Century.  Again, this argument imposes too much on the text.  I Peter reflects nothing about an imperial, systemic persecution of Christians.  Any schoolchild can read the Acts of the Apostles and find ample evidence of localized opposition to the Christian faith.  Certainly, those who experienced such violent and relentless persecution would have regarded their situation as a fiery ordeal. 

 

The early church affirmed Petrine authorship, and conservative scholars (See Carson, Moo, and Morris), join with the ancient witness of the saints in believing that Peter wrote this book.  Among the General Epistles, I John and I Peter gained preferred status most quickly, and the ancient church registered little concern about the canonicity of these two works.

 

Historic Setting: Peter addressed the epistle to the sojourners in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.  We know little of the founding of churches in this region of Northern Asia Minor.  Some people from this area attended the Pentecost sermon of Acts Two, and small bands of Christians may have emerged from these early converts.  Paul did some missionary work in Galatia, but the New Testament gives no indication of extensive missionary labors, in most of this region, by the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Furthermore, the Bible gives no information about Peter’s travels to the northern reaches of Asia Minor.  How did Peter know these Christians? The Scriptures do not seem to indicate Peter’s relation to the churches nor how he knew of the hardships they endured.  Whatever the case, Peter held these people with great affection, and he had an intimate knowledge of the difficulties they had encountered.

 

Most conservative scholars think Peter wrote this book from Rome. I Peter 5:13 mentions “those at Babylon” and many Bible students believe this is a veiled reference to the city of Rome.  Clement of Rome, writing in the late First Century, reflected on the death of Peter, in Rome, during the reign of Caesar Nero.  If we take this account seriously (as I do), it seems perfectly fitting that Peter wrote this book, from Rome, shortly before his martyrdom (c. 66 A.D.).  

 

Major Themes: Briefly, we will highlight some recurrent topics in I Peter.  These themes have convinced some that Peter, in the strictest sense, is not an epistle; rather, it is an early liturgy of the church.  F.L. Cross and others have espoused this liturgical model, and I find some merit in their suggestion.  However, one cannot deny that I Peter follows the model of an epistle.  Notice, for instance, the customary address (1:1-20) and salutation (5:12-14), and the personal encouragements peppered through the book.  This was, in my judgment, no mere formal liturgy.  Several themes do, nevertheless, recur throughout the writing.

 

  1. Trinitarian emphasis: Peter began the book with a brief hymn of praise to the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The book makes no formal explanation of the doctrine, but, quite naturally, Peter expressed his convictions about the persons of the Trinity.
  2. The atonement for sins in the death and resurrection of Christ.  Again, Peter made no formal defense of the atonement, but he interwove his convictions about Christ’s death throughout the warp and woof of the text.
  3. Eschatology: Peter placed a great deal of emphasis on the return of Christ and the believer’s hope of reward in heaven.  Indeed, he indicated that the sufferings of the moment must be weighed against the glories of heaven. In this world, believers live as sojourners and pilgrims, patiently awaiting their exaltation and vindication at the end of the age.
  4. Personal, practical holiness: I Peter, despite its emphasis on things to come, does not degenerate into a mere patronizing  of suffering people by promising relief in the “sweet by and by.”  Instead, the book emphasizes the need for perseverance in holiness.  This essential holiness will, according to Peter, buttress the soul during seasons of hardship and prepare the believer for heaven.  The wise apostle addressed such practical matters as marriage, the believer’s relationship to the civil government, and the proper respect for the church leadership.  Properly understood, holiness involves this kind of practical obedience tom the directives of Scripture, and no man will successfully endure life’s trials or enjoy biblical assurance of heaven without this kind of practical conformity to God’s will.

 

 

 

Outline of the Lesson Passage:

 

I.                    Introduction to the Epistle (1:1-2)

A.     Author: As addressed earlier, I see no compelling reason to question the Petrine authorship of this letter. 

B.     Recipients: the text gives several descriptors of those who first read this epistle. 

1.      “pilgrims”: This word describes temporary residents of a region, and clearly denotes the believer’s alien status in the world.  These people resided in Asia Minor, but their residential status did not indicate the nature of the citizenship.  They lived as pilgrims and sojourners in an alien land, never quite “at home’ in their circumstances.  The word describes the holy unsettledness that characterizes God’s people.  They do not, indeed they cannot, find themselves too comfortable in this world.  The appetites and values that characterize the world have little attraction for the Lord’s people. Personal application: these observations bring to mind Christian’s experiences in Vanity Faire, in The Pilgrim’s Progress.  Christian and his godly companions find little allurements among the trinkets of the faire.  Beware, you citizens of an affluent society.  The enticements of the faire must never have a hold on your soul.  Better to cut off a right hand or pluck out an eye than succumb to the seduction of worldly comforts.

2.      “elect according to the foreknowledge of God”: The world regarded these believers as dispensable and detestable, but God treasured them as his chosen ones. This election was grounded in the foreknowledge of God.  Bible students must take great care with this term “foreknowledge.”  It means more than a mere knowledge of the future (prescience); instead, it denotes God’s intimate, loving knowledge and choice of believers before they were ever born. This divine love is the ground of election.  Furthermore, God manifests his choice by sanctifying his people for obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.  This reference to sprinkling brings to mind the wilderness experience of Israel (Exodus 24:6-8).

3.      Formal greeting: First Century believers often greeted one another with similar phrases, “Grace to you and peace be multiplied.”

 

II.                 Opening Thanksgiving (1:3-12)

A.     Regeneration and the believer’s inheritance (vv. 3-5)

1.      “begotten us again” (v. 3): Peter began the body of his epistle with a chorus of praise and thanksgiving to merciful God.  These believers had, according to Peter, experienced a new birth that proceeded from the abundant mercy of the Father.  “Mercy” translates a word that reflects God’s compassion and pity on a suffering, helpless person.  God’s mercy contemplates sinners as undeserving of divine kindness and powerless to relieve the anguish of their condition.  Peter emphasized the aim of regeneration, to give a living hope to undeserving sinners.  This new birth, moreover, is inextricably interwoven with the resurrection of Jesus.

2.      “to an inheritance” (vv. 4-5): The believer’s “living hope” centers on the promised inheritance, a bequest that bears the following characteristics (Peter employed three adjectives): incorruptible (immune to decay), undefiled (pure and morally excellent), and unfading (does not wither).  Furthermore, the regenerate man cannot lose his inheritance because preserved for him in heaven.  Peter’s wise pastoral counsel anticipated ever contingency.  Suppose, one might argue, that a man’s inheritance is secure, but the spiritual dangers of this world might keep someone from receiving his heritage.  Verse Five affirms the believer’s security as one “…kept by the power of God, through faith for salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.” So, dear brethren, both the inheritance and the heirs are secure in the gracious design of God. 

B.     The believer’s trials (vv. 6-9): Christian joy, Peter observed, is often tempered by severe, grievous trails (v. 6). The text highlights three encouragements for the suffering believer.

1.      their testing demonstrates the genuineness of their faith (v. 7): Like gold ore, faith must undergo a refining process, tested by fire, until it manifests its radiant quality.  In the end, refined by fiery trails, faith will issue in praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

2.      their genuine faith, though severely tested, persists in its love for Christ.  Unlike the apostles, contemporary believers do not perceive Jesus with their physical senses; yet, the new birth has engendered a deep. Profound love for Christ that sustains the believer’s joy despite the hardships that attend the faith.

3.      the end (the intended purpose) of their faith will bring the fullness of salvation (v.9): “Receiving” translates a word from the athletic arena and denotes the winning of a prize or reward.  Peter uses the word “soul” here as means of expressing a full salvation that embraces every aspect of the human personality.

C.     The believer’s privileged status (vv. 10-12): Though Peter’s readers suffered greatly, yet they enjoyed a vantage point that the saints of the Old Testament envied.  The oracles of God came to the prophets, and they, no doubt, mused about the meaning and fulfillment of those things to come.  They anticipated, for instance, the arrival of the Messiah, but their historical circumstances denied them the fulfillment of their predictions.  In a sense, they preached, not merely to their generations, but to those who would, some day, look back on the settled fact of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.  Peter asserted that even the angels desire to look upon the things that New Testament believers held as a sacred trust.

 

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.      Peter called his readers “pilgrims” and emphasized their status as exiles in this world.  Discuss the implications of the believer’s pilgrim status.  What practical implication does this hold for Christians in a seductively affluent society?

2.      Discuss the “security of the believer” as often held by contemporary evangelicals.  How does the common understanding of this doctrine contrast with the teachings in our lesson passage?  According to I Peter, what ground does the believer have for assurance of salvation?

3.      In this context, Peter’s observations seem to imply that a person may hold to a genuine or counterfeit faith (“the word “genuineness” seems to imply that other kinds of “faith” prove inadequate).  What are the marks of genuine faith?