This week, at New Life Community Church, we started a teaching series through the first letter of the Apostle Peter, otherwise known as First Peter in our Bibles. As we looked at Peter’s theologically-rich introduction, in a letter meant to encourage first-century Christians who were suffering and dispersed, we noticed two encouragements for God’s elect in all places at all times.
Here’s Peter’s salutation:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:1-2 NIV)
God’s elect, or God’s chosen, are simply those who belong to God by faith. It’s a term synonymous with the word Christian or believer, and, as such, is a term that encourages us in our walks with Christ, especially since trials and sufferings are a part of our experiences as Christians. The fact that we’re God’s elect through faith, despite our afflictions, means we still belong to God even in the hardest of circumstances. Nothing, not even the most painful season in life, changes our status before God: we are his in Christ.
This is the reason why Paul tells the Christians in Rome:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 NIV)
Rest in the assurance of your belongingness to God in Christ!
This isn’t to minimize the very real pain we experience in our sufferings. But it is to encourage us, for not even painful trials can remove your election in Christ. If you belong to the Lord, you belong to the Lord.
This alone is enough to encourage us to persevere in the faith. Yet, Peter goes further in his encouragements to suffering saints, and he reminds us of at least two more truths about our identity as God’s elect that cause our hearts to be bolstered in our faith.
1. We are Strangers in this World
Immediately after addressing his letter’s recipients (God’s elect), Peter describes them: “strangers in the world, scattered throughout…” (1 Pet. 1:1 NIV).
We’re reminded: our identity as God’s elect means we’re dispersed strangers and exiles in this world. Simply put, this world is not our true home. But rather than depressing us into further sorrow, the truth that we don’t belong here lifts our souls to the beauty of the gospel, for it’s in this identifying trait — stranger — that we’re reminded of our true homeland in the glorious presence of our Lord and Savior.
My dear Christian, you are a stranger in this world, and this means your ultimate dwelling place is with Christ in his heavenly kingdom. To this regard, Paul reminds us, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20 NIV).
As we experience afflictions and distresses in our own lives, remembering our ultimate citizenship encourages us to persevere in our walks with Christ. Being strangers in this world means Jesus is waiting for us in our true home in heaven. In the meantime, we persevere through our sufferings just as Jesus persevered through his own suffering in ransoming us from this broken world, in giving us our heavenly citizenship through his own death and resurrection.
Persevere. Press on. Endure in the faith. But do so by remembering you’re a stranger here, joyfully waiting to one day arrive home.
2. We are Set Apart from this World
Peter further encourages us by reminding us our election has come “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit” (1 Pet. 1:2 NIV). In other words, we belong to God because the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, has sanctified us.
Sanctification is a biblical term that simply means the process of making holy, or in even simpler terms, setting something apart. In the same way God is holy or set apart from the rest of creation, he sets us apart for his own glory and his own purposes.
Our identity as God’s chosen, therefore, means we’re set apart from the rest of creation for him. So, if we’re strangers in this world (and we are), then our lives should reflect that strangeness. It’s a reminder to all Christians that one of our purposes as God’s chosen is to live for God. And this is why Peter reminds us that our sanctification is for the purpose of “obedience to Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:2 NIV).
For Peter, the gospel doesn’t just encourage Christians with the hope and joy of things to come. Peter wants his readers to also be encouraged unto faithfulness to Christ, even in the midst of difficult times. He knows trials, or “the testing of your faith,” as James 1:3 puts it, can potentially cause us to fall away from the Lord. But in reminding us we’re set apart from this world, he sees trials as the agents of God to build us up in faith — to grow our obedience to Jesus.
After all, we’re God’s chosen — set apart to the Lord — because the eternal Son took on human flesh, and in his human nature sacrificed himself to redeem us. The “sprinkling by [Christ’s] blood” (1 Pet. 1:2 NIV) has not only purified us from our sin, it’s purchased our adoption as those who now belong to God.
In the end, we’re encouraged to live in obedience to Christ not just because we’re commanded to, but because we’re grateful. Our obedience to the Lord expresses our love for him. And in case there’s any doubt of this, Jesus confirms to us: “If you love me, keep my commands” (Jn. 14:15 NIV).
Peter knows we will struggle in our obedience to Christ. He himself experienced failing his Savior. But he also experienced Christ’s grace after he denied the Lord three times. So, know this, and this is important: if you’re struggling in your obedience to the Lord, simply remember how the Lord has set you apart. For he’s made you his through his abundant love in giving his lifeblood for you.
Truly, this is the only motive you need to desire to obey him — to live in all godliness as one who is set apart to the Lord as you wait to arrive home, out of gratitude for what he’s done for you.
So remember you’re a stranger in this world. And remember you’re set apart from this world.
Just as our first-century brothers and sisters were encouraged to persevere in faithfulness to Jesus, we too can persevere through our trials and afflictions by remembering what Christ has done for us in giving us an eternal, heavenly homeland and in setting us apart as citizens of that homeland.
May we be encouraged to press on together.