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Sermon preached on 1 Peter 1:3-9 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/13/2011 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 1:3-9
“In This You Rejoice”
Last’s week’s message from 1 Peter reminded us that we live as pilgrims and sojourners right now on earth. Last week’s focus was on the sojourning. This week’s passage takes up that topic again. It describes the trials and the tests of faith that we may go through in this short pilgrimage of life. But it also draws us into the hope beyond this life. A real and certain hope of a heavenly inheritance. That hope will require faith. The trials in this life will challenge that faith. But it will also refine that faith. All of this will be a reason to find joy in the midst of the grief brought by the trials of life. This sojourning, our lives on earth, will have difficult times. But this passage reminds us that we are growing in faith, hope, and joy in the midst of all of these. That’s basically our message for today. But let’s dig into this passage and see how Peter brings this out.
Let’s begin first this morning by considering what this passage describes as our living hope in verse 3. In the midst of living lives as pilgrims, sojourning on this earth, we have a living hope in front of us. Verse 3 says that according to God’s abundant mercy he has caused us to be begotten again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. Our hope is called a living hope. In other words it’s not a dead hope. It’s a hope that’s alive. A hope that grows. A hope that is sure. It a hope that we can count on as true and genuine.
What is this living hope? Verse 4 spells it out. It’s the hope of a heavenly inheritance. An inheritance safeguarded in heaven; kept by God for you. And what is this heavenly inheritance like? Verse 4 says it’s imperishable, it’s undefiled, it’s unfading. Hearing those adjectives probably makes you think of Jesus’ words about heavenly treasure. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us not to set our hearts on earthly treasure. He said that earthly treasure is something that can be lost. Thieves can break in and steal it. Moth and rust can destroy it. Instead Jesus said to pursue heavenly treasure. Well, this passage talks about this living hope in similar terms. This heavenly inheritance can’t perish, can’t be defiled, won’t fade away. This heavenly inheritance is what Jesus was talking about. It’s the Christians’ hope that in Christ they receive such heavenly treasure.
And yet to be precise, Peter doesn’t use the word treasure here. He doesn’t speak in terms of heavenly treasure. He speaks of heavenly inheritance. I do think both descriptions essentially get at the same thing. Yet, Peter’s use of the word inheritance is something we don’t want to miss. Peter is a Jew, and even as a Christian Jew, the idea of an inheritance from God, has a rich history. For a Christian Jew to talk about an inheritance from God, something specific is going to come to mind. You’re going to think about the Promised Land. As a church we just finished a study going through Deuteronomy. Repeatedly, we saw that God described the Promised Land as an inheritance he was giving to Israel. Deuteronomy 4:21, as just one example of many. The Promised Land was the inheritance for God’s people in the Old Testament.
That’s the language Peter chooses to use here to describe our living hope. But he’s obviously not talking about the Promised Land. Describing our living hope as an inheritance, makes us think back to the Promised Land. But describing this inheritance as something reserved in heaven for us, makes us look beyond the earthly Promised Land. Peter draws a subtle comparison between our living hope and the Old Testament inheritance of the Promised Land. Thinking through the comparison helps us to realize how great this living hope is.
Two contrasts between our heavenly inheritance and the Promised Land stand out to me from this passage. First, the nature of our inheritance far surpasses the earthly Promised Land. The earthly Promised Land was, well, earthly. This heavenly inheritance, is, well, heavenly. That’s why it’s imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. The earthly Promised Land was perishable. It could be destroyed and taken by foreign nations. In fact, it was on several occasions. The earthly Promised Land could be defiled. The prophets speak of how Israel defiled the land through their different sins. The earthly Promised Land could not be described as unfading. The word unfading has to do with the permanence of something, but the actual word is literally of a flower bloom that doesn’t every decay and fall off. But the Promised Land was not unfading in that sense. Even in terms of its bounty as a land of milk and honey, it was not unfading. No, think of the famines that hit the land at different times in Israel’s history. The goodness of the Promised Land was not unfading in its fruits, and it wasn’t unfading in its permanence for God’s people, since they went on to lose that good land.
In contrast, our living hope is in heaven. Look at verse 5. Verse 5 describes this heavenly inheritance in the broadest sense; as our salvation. And it says that our salvation is already ready. This living hope, this heavenly inheritance, will be revealed at the last day. At Christ’s return. But it’s already ready and waiting for us. And it’s up there in heaven, safeguarded by God. No one can come in and take it. No corrupting thing can mar it. It will not fade. It’s a permanent inheritance for God’s people.
So that’s one contrast between this heavenly inheritance and the Old Testament inheritance of the Promised Land: the nature of this living hope is far better! But a second contrast is even more profound. This is also something that came out as we studied Deuteronomy. Throughout Deuteronomy, we saw that the people needed to closely keep the law of God in order to maintain the Land. Deuteronomy 28 was a chapter that really brought this out. It listed the blessings and the curses under the Mosaic covenant for obedience to the covenant. If the nation obeyed God’s laws, they’d be richly blessed in their God-given inheritance in the Land. If they didn’t they’d be cursed; cursed in the Land, and even removed from the Land. In other words, if they obeyed God, they’d be kept in this divine inheritance of the Land. If they didn’t obey, they’d be cursed in the land, and ultimately removed from the Land.
Think about that then in light of what we just said. We said the Promised Land was not imperishable; it was not undefiled, it was not unfading. But why was that the case? Because of their sin. Because Israel was given the opportunity to keep this inheritance by their power. By keeping the land through obedience. But that didn’t happen. Instead the Land became defiled, and God allowed it to perish and fade from Israel.
But do you see the contrast then with this heavenly inheritance? Notice what Peter says about this inheritance. It’s God’s mercy and power why we have this heavenly inheritance. It’s God’s mercy and power that keeps this heavenly inheritance unperished, undefiled, and unfaded. It’s not our power or strength of obedience. It’s God’s power. Look at how abundantly clear Peter makes this. Verse 3 starts it off with God’s actions in our life. God, according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to this living hope. In other words, it’s because of God’s mercy that we have been born again. God is responsible for our initiation into this living hope. He makes us born again right at the start. But God doesn’t stop there. Verse 4 says that our inheritance is reserved in heaven for us. That word reserved is in what we call the divine passive. The verb is a passive verb with the implied actor being God. God is reserving, safeguarding, this inheritance for us in heaven. And then look at verse 5. It says God’s power keep us. The word for keep is here a word of protection. He guards and protects us until that that day in the future when we finally get to take hold of this heavenly inheritance. Right now God keeps this inheritance safe in heaven. One day he will give it to us in its fullness. But in the mean time he keeps and protects us until that day. He keeps us by his power in our lives.
And so do you see how wonderful this is? This passage puts our salvation as a work of God in our lives. We don’t get this heavenly inheritance by our works. We don’t earn it by obedience, nor do we keep it by obedience. No, this is God’s work. We don’t earn it; we believe it. The instrument for how God has us receive this is faith. That’s what verse 5 mentions. We are guarded through faith.
Brothers and sisters, this is the gospel. As God’s elect pilgrims, he is at work inside us. From the start of our Christian walk, all the way to the end. We believe and trust in this living hope. We look for God’s power to bless us and keep us. Even now as we live as pilgrims this side of heaven. Even now when we sojourn on earth. Even now when our inheritance is in heaven, and we are here on earth. I’m not saying we should look to live disobediently. No, in fact, real faith, won’t think like that. Real faith won’t look to manipulate God. Real faith will look to obey God. But real faith recognizes how our obedience falls short. But the gospel reminds us that it’s God who ultimately keeps us. Real faith holds on to that promise!
But that brings us to the other main section of this passage. Can we believe in God in the midst of this sojourn on earth? Can we believe in this living hope while we live on earth, even when we face trials? Even when those trials are grievous as it says in verse 6? When the trials of life grieve you, can you still believe? That’s the question that’s raised in verses 6 and 7. Let’s read them again:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
This is the reality of our pilgrimage. As we said last week, Christians are pilgrims scattered throughout this world. We live as foreigners in a world that does not have the same faith we have. But verses 6 and 7 tell us that our faith will be put to the test. In this life, our faith will be tested and tried through trials. In other words, this is saying that our faith is shown to be genuine when we still believe even when we go through difficult trials.
Think for a moment about these trials. Realize we are not just talking about Christians persecution here. Notice what kind of trials verse 6 mentions. “Various” trials. What’s a “various” trial? In other words, all kinds of trials. Christian persecution would be one kind of trial. Certainly as pilgrims and foreigners in this world, we can expect some of that. But do you see that it’s saying that Christians will go through all kinds of different trials? Not just Christian persecution. In other words, just being a Christian won’t exempt you from various kinds of trials. And verse 6 makes it very clear how difficult these trials will be. They will grieve you. They are grievous trials. That’s strong language. The word grieve here implies something painful and distressing. Christians are going to have these kinds of really painful trials in their lives.
We are given some encouragement about these trials here, at the same time. Verse 6 puts it a bit suggestive, but I think we should understand it as typical. It says “Though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials”. In other words, these trials are for a short while, and they are something necessary in our lives. It’s encouraging to know that the trials are temporary. Many trials pass in due time in our lives. But all of them will be finished by the time Christ returns. When our living hope is realized, these trials will be no more. And it’s encouraging to know that these trials are serving a purpose.
Now it’s true, we don’t always know why we have to go through these painful trials. There are specifics about our various trials that we usually want to know. But one thing that can be said about each trial is what we have here in verses 6-7. They test and purify our faith. I already mentioned how they test our faith. But, yes, they also purify our faith. The analogy given here is that of refining gold. Peter compares the refining of gold in the fire with what’s going on with our faith in the midst of a grievous trial. When you refine gold, you basically heat it up to remove the impurities from it. You are trying to get rid of the things from it that are not gold. Well, this passage says that is what happens with our faith in the midst of trials. In the midst of trials, God is purifying our faith. He’s using the trials in our lives to get rid of those things from our faith that aren’t supposed to be there.
Why does God do that? Because our faith is precious. That’s verse 7. Peter says gold is precious; that’s why we refine it. But he also says that gold perishes. In other words, he’s saying our earthly gold won’t live beyond this life. It’s a temporary treasure. It will eventually pass away. But our faith is fixed on a living hope of an eternal nature. So our faith is more precious than gold that perishes. If we find value in refining something temporary like gold, how much more does God value our faith? How much more does God want to be purifying our precious faith!
Let me give you a very simple example of how this might work. Let’s say that you have faith in God, but you incorrectly believe that Christians won’t have to go through trials. Well, that would be incorrect. We see right here that Christians will go through trials. So that would be an impurity in your faith. Something part of your faith that is not true; that aspect is not genuine faith. It’s a bit of impurity in your faith that needs to be removed. So God could then allow a trial to come into your life. As a Christian, you’ll go through that trial and learn that Christians really do go through trials. That will refine and purge away that impurity in your faith that thought otherwise. That’s a rather basic example. And yet I find it’s something most people will struggle with at some point in their life. It’s a common impurity in our faith. We might even know in our minds that Christians go through trials. But it can often just be some piece of head knowledge until we actually go through a really tough trial ourselves. Then those impurities of our faith get personally refined in our lives.
You see why this is important in the final verse. Verse 9. The end of our faith is the salvation of your souls. When it talks about the end of our faith, it’s talking about its goal. All of this has a goal, a trajectory. Our faith finds itself complete with the salvation of our souls. Here it’s looking forward to the full fruition of our salvation. It’s looking forward to that aspect of our salvation that is yet to be realized. It’s looking forward to when that living hope will be realized. When Christ returns. When we finally receive our heavenly inheritance. That’s the fullness of our salvation. It’s when we reach glory. In the mean time, faith is looking toward that goal. Faith is never just fixed on this moment. Faith always looks ahead. Faith always has before it that living hope in Jesus Christ. As we sojourn here and now, we go through trial. Our faith is purified through trial. This is because God is growing us to keep our eyes fixed on the prize of heaven. He’s growing us to know what is truly of most value.
There’s a lot assumed and implied in this passage. The main assumption is that he’s talking to Christians. Christians have this living hope. He’s assuming that the people he’s talking to have this hope. He’s assuming they will also go through trials that will show their faith to be genuine, while at the same time purifying it. You see, if you are truly a Christian, you will ultimately believe, amidst these grievous trials. You will continue to put your faith and hope and trust in God who is protecting you until the day of Christ’s return. It doesn’t mean that these trials won’t be hard. No, they will be. But true Christians are kept by the power of God, and so their faith will persevere, even as it’s being purified.
There’s another assumption in this passage. It’s the assumption over how we respond to all of this. Verse 6 gives that assumption. In this you rejoice. Verse 8 gives that same assumption again. It says you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. There are at least three specific reasons in this passage of why we rejoice, even amidst trials.
The first and most primary reason is what’s referred to in verse 6. When it says, “in this you rejoice,” it’s referring back to the previous statements. It’s referring back to verses 3-5 that just talked about how we’ve been born again into a living hope. It’s this living hope which we now have that is a chief cause to rejoice. This is true, even if this life for now has some difficult trials in it. The inheritance of a blessed eternal life in heaven far outweighs any momentary afflictions we have in this life. It doesn’t mean those trials are easy. But it does allow us to still have a profound sense of joy even while undergoing them. Even when grieving.
A second reason here for joy is with regarding to the purifying of our faith. We can take joy, even during painful trials, because we know what God is doing through these trials. This idea is similar to what we find in James 1:2. There it says to count it all joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of you faith develops perseverance.” James and Peter essentially are making the same point then. We can rejoice in the midst of trial when we recognize that God can use the trials to grow our faith. Let me make this clear. Finding joy amidst the trial doesn’t mean the trials themselves are joyful. No, the trials are said here to be grievous. But we can still have joy amidst the grief, because we see God purifying our faith in all of it. God takes the bad and uses it for good. He can take the painful and turn it around and use it to grow us.
A third reason here for joy is what we find at the end of verse 7. Look there again. It talks about finding praise, honor, and glory at the return of Christ. That’s an interesting point, because it’s talking about our faith. It’s saying that when Christ’s return our genuine faith will be a cause for praise, honor, and glory. Those are labels that are usually used to describe God. Given that our faith is a gift from God, certainly, this is indirectly the case even here. And yet the most immediate point is that our faith will be praised, and glorified, and honored, when Christ returns. We look to that day when Christ returns and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That’s the day when 1 Peter 5:1 says we’ll share in the glory of Christ, when we’ll receive an unfading crown of glory. And so in that we find joy too. That the outcome of our sufferings in this life is that our faith, will be praised and exalted on the day of Christ’s return. Our refined, genuine, faith, will be rewarded! His grace working in our faith is leading us to this great reward.
I know it’s hard to understand this kind of joy. Joy amidst grievous trials. But it’s no small joy. Verse 9’s description of it is pretty lofty. Joy that is filled with glory. Joy that is inexpressible. That makes my job pretty hard right now to try to explain this joy that is inexpressible. But when you find your faith growing amidst trial, there will be a wonderful joy in that. When you find yourself looking forward to heaven, when life is so very hard, there’s a wonderful joy in that. When you experience that really difficult trial in your life and find that you still believe God is in control, there is joy in that. When you really struggle to know how God is in control as you go through that trial, and come out the other side, growing though it; there is joy in that. When you finally see Christ face to face, and he wipes those tears from your eyes, there will be joy in that. Let us look today to live out what this passage assumes. It assumes we will find an amazing joy even during hard trials. Joy in a living hope. Joy in a salvation ready to be revealed. Joy in and through Christ our Lord.
One last application for us today. It comes from the start of our passage. Verse 3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” All of what we talked about today is put under this context. All of what we described today is said to be a reason to bless our God. He is to be praised? But this is no surprise. We’ve talked again today about the sweet gospel of Jesus Christ. And we’ve talked again today about God’s loving care in our lives. God has saved us. And he is at work now to grow us. And he is sending his Son again to bring us to the fullness of our salvation. God’s doing all of this for us. For our well being. That we would be eternally blessed. Because God wants us to have indescribable joy. Because God wants us to have glorious joy; forever. All I can say, is Blessed be God. Praise be to him. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.