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The Tested Genuineness of Your Faith

Series: Elect Exiles

Sermon by David Strain on Aug 18, 2019

1 Peter 1:3-9

Well do please take a Bible in hand and turn with me to 1 Peter chapter 1; page 1014 in the church Bibles. First Peter chapter 1. We’ll be considering verses 3 through 9 this morning. You will remember, as we began last Lord’s Day our series in 1 Peter, that the apostle is writing to the churches of Asia Minor to help equip them to live a life on mission together, knowing such a life will be costly. The world is a hostile place to the Gospel. And he describes Christian identity from two complementary vantage points. We saw this last time in verses 1 and 2. In relation to the world, a Christian is an elect exile of the Dispersion. That is to say, he is a sojourner, a temporary resident, a resident alien. He’s on the fringes, on the margins of things. We are cultural exiles for Jesus’ sake. But then in relation to the world, Peter says, we are foreknown - that is to say, we are foreloved by God the Father - we are being sanctified by God the Holy Spirit, and by the obedience and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, we have been redeemed. So that whatever the hostility and sufferings we may endure as followers of Jesus, we do so secure in the grip of His saving grace. 

And in verses 3 through 12, the apostle Peter is beginning his exposition of those themes. It’s really one long run-on sentence, verses 3 through 12, one long sentence with three sections - verses 3 through 5, 6 through 9, and 10 and 12. We are thinking about 3 through 9, the first two sections of this long sentence together this morning. Verses 3 through 9 rehearse for us our great Gospel privileges. In 3 through 5, the apostle Peter lists those privileges; he outlines them for us in a marvelous summary of the riches of God’s grace and blessing in our lives. And then in 6 through 9, he applies those blessings to the particular context of Christian suffering. You might say in 3 through 5 Peter says our privileges are a landscape - beautiful, exquisite, breathtaking - a landscape to look at that makes us praise God for its beauty and for the riches of His grace. A landscape to look at. And then in 6 through 9, he says those same privileges are also a lens to look through. In 3 through 5 it’s a landscape to look at to make us marvel at God’s grace and to make us worship Him. And in 6 through 9, they are a lens to look through at our sufferings in particular to help us interpret them correctly to the praise and glory of God. A landscape to look at and a lens to look through. Before we consider those headings and read the passage, we’re going to pause and pray again. Please bow your heads with me as we pray.

O Lord, open our eyes now, we pray, by Your Spirit’s work that we may behold wondrous things out of Your Law, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

1 Peter chapter 1 at the third verse. This is the Word of God:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

Our passage this morning reminds me a bit of our now almost ubiquitous smartphones. You carry around with you in your smartphone an entire gallery of photographs, don’t you? Most of us do. With a swipe, you can call up precious memories - pictures and images of key events in your life. And then with another swipe of your finger, that gallery of images you look at turns into a lens to look through so that you can take more pictures and add to that camera roll of memories. In some ways that’s what Peter is saying about verses 3 through 9. It’s both something to be looked at and something to be looked through - a landscape to be looked at and a lens to look through. 

A Landscape to Look At 

Think with me first of all about verses 3 through 5 - the landscape to be looked at. The landscape of our privileges. And you’ll notice in verse 3, Peter begins delightfully with a word of doxology, with a hymn of praise. You heard me say exactly the same words that you find here in 1 Peter 1:3 in our call to worship this morning from Ephesians 1:3. You’ll find them again in 2 Corinthians 1:3. Both in Paul and in Peter, which has led some scholars to suggest that both Paul and Peter are drawing on a doxology, a hymn of praise that was common in churches known to both of them. It was a part of the praise vocabulary in common with all the churches. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Peter sings. 

But notice why he begins this way. What is it that prompts this doxology, this word of beatitude and praise? Look again at verse 3. “According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again.” So he sings praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because he says He has also now become our God and Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you see that? We have been introduced into the family of God, made His children, Peter says, by means of the new birth. We have been born again. Listen, if you are a Christian today, it is because you have been born again. There are no other Christians in the world but born again Christians. A Christian is not just a person who joins the church, you know, identifies with the church, votes in a certain way at a national election. That’s how the pollsters define Christians. But before God, a Christian is someone who has been acted upon from the outside. A supernatural work has erupted into their lives and they have been renovated from the inside out. They have been born again. 

This really is vital. Please hear it carefully. It is not good behavior, but the new birth that will make an eternal difference in your case. Have you been born again? That’s a crucial question that we must all be able to answer. Have you been born again? You remember, I’m sure, Jesus’ famous interview with Nicodemus in John’s gospel, chapter 3. Nicodemus came to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. And as a good church boy, Nicodemus came pretty confident. You know, whenever the synagogue doors were open, he was there. He was a Pharisee. He was religiously devote, he was theologically astute, he was a man abounding in good works, and Jesus told him what he yet lacked - “You must be born again. You must be born from above.” The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ must become your God and your Father in Jesus Christ. There is no hope for any of us apart from the new birth. Have you been born again?

And look at what we’re told. Peter tells us some vital truth about the nature and character of the new birth. First of all, he mentions the two-fold root of the new birth. The two-fold root. He says - look again at verse 3 - where does this new birth come from? He says it comes, “according to His great mercy.” According to His great mercy He has caused us to be born again. “You must be born again,” Jesus said. The problem is, you can’t born again by any mechanism you or I can contrive to apply to ourselves. You can no more give yourself new birth than the dead can raise themselves to life. So you must be born again, but you can’t be born again. And yet no wonder Peter breaks into doxology and praise because while we cannot give birth to ourselves, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” who is full of mercy, and according to His mercy He gives us new birth. The apostle Paul, in very similar language in Ephesians, chapter 2, puts it this way. “God who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even while we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” The new birth is mercy’s gift. It is mercy’s gift.

Never think, please never think that the Father stands back aloof, unwilling, waiting for some prior qualification, some mark of sincerity perhaps, some crisis of experience in us, some trigger in us before He’s willing to bestow new life on dead sinners. He abounds in mercy toward us. You remember Jesus said in Luke 11:13, “The Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” The Father who is rich in mercy has never turned a sinner away. He’s never yet said, “No,” to anyone who came to Him seeking mercy. You go to Him. He gives the Spirit to those who ask Him. Go to Him. He gives life because He abounds in mercy. So the first root of new life is the mercy of God.

The second root Peter mentions is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. “We are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Because He lives, every single one of God’s people will live. It is His life, the life of the age to come, broken in, right into the middle of this old dead world. Resurrection life, overflowing as it were from our Savior, overwhelming our death and engulfing us in His life. When the Father gives new birth, He’s not doling out some abstraction. He is uniting you to Jesus, the living one, and His life flows into us. We are grafted in like branches into the vine, and the life of the vine, the sap flows from the vine into the branches and so we live and bear fruit to the glory of God. Because He lives, we live also. His life is the guarantee of ours. So the roots of the new birth are here.

Then, Peter mentions the results of the new birth. Look again at the text, verses 3 through 5. Peter mentions three here. He mentions a living hope, an indestructible inheritance, and a secure salvation. Do you see that in verses 3 through 5? A living hope, an indestructible inheritance, and a secure salvation. Think about the hope he mentions here first. He doesn’t mean of course a mere wish or an empty aspiration. You know, “I hope it doesn’t rain for our family outing. I hope I get the promotion. I hope tomorrow will be better than today. I’m not sure, it’s not certain, but I hope.” That’s how we use the word “hope” - some uncertain, perhaps even unlikely result for which we long but of which we have no assurance. That’s not what the New Testament means when it speaks about the Christian hope. The Christian hope is sure and certain. It is the hope of glory. Christian hope, you might say, is like a signed check with your name on it. You don’t yet possess, when you hold the check in your hand you don’t yet have the riches indicated on the check in your account, but you have a sure guarantee of them held in your hand. By the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, by the new life He has given you, God has signed His own name on a promise and a check made out to you of glory to come. It is sure, and in that certainty you can rest because the living Lord has given new life to you. You have a living hope. Not a dead hope, not a forlorn hope, but a living hope.

Then, Peter mentions the inheritance in verse 5. This is the substance of the reality for which we are hoping. Our great inheritance, verse 4, if you’d look there with me, Peter says it is “an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Now the Jews would have immediately thought of the land, the land of promise. That’s what they meant when they spoke of their inheritance. But of course they had forfeited the land, hadn’t they? It was a perishable inheritance, often defiled. And it’s former glories had long since faded. But Peter says when you come into union with Christ and new life is yours by His resurrection, according to the mercy of God you have a superior inheritance. It is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for us. There’s something of the flavor, as it were, of the very character of God about our inheritance. It’s God-like, unfading, undefiled, imperishable. It’s like Him. 

I think that’s actually part of the point. What is our inheritance? New creation, new heavens and new earth - to be sure. “The meek shall inherit the earth,” Jesus said, after all. But it’s so much more than that. So much more than that. Lamentations 3:24, “The Lord is my portion, says my soul. Therefore, I will hope in Him.” What is our inheritance at its root, at its core? God gives Himself to us. It’s God Himself. We will see Him. We will be with Him. He will be our great delight and our joy forever. Christ is the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in a field, for joy over which we gladly relinquish all other gritches. We let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also that we may have Him. He is our inheritance.

And then Peter mentions a living hope, an indestructible inheritance, thirdly a secure salvation. The result of new birth - a secure salvation. Verse 5, Peter is writing “to you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” So think about what he’s saying. Not only is our inheritance being kept in heaven for us, but we who have been born again are being kept on earth for our inheritance. We are being guarded, Peter says. The word is a military word. We are being guarded, not like prisoners but like royalty. Think about the President of the United States. Everywhere he goes, he is surrounded, isn’t he, by a detail of secret service agents who are there to protect him and to keep him safe. Peter is saying, “Beloved in Christ, you are surrounded by the power of God. God Himself is your protection detail and you could not be more secure.” 

So think about the privileges Peter is displaying, reminding us of here for a moment. Listen, God, he says, is the guarantor of your hope, the substance of your inheritance, and He is Himself your protection detail guarding and keeping you, preserving you till the full reality of that inheritance is yours not only in promise but at last in possession. It’s an amazing panoramic view of our privileges. No wonder Peter sings, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” That’s what He wants from us all. He wants us to see it so that our knees begin to buckle and a cry comes from our hearts almost instinctively at the glory of it. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow! He has lavished such mercy upon such wretched sinners like me and like you!” What is the main use of the Gospel? The main use of the Gospel is doxology. It is worship. You have been born again so that you may join the great anthem of praise rising from every one of God’s children on earth and in heaven singing, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” 

A Lens to Look Through

So Peter says first our privileges are a landscape to look at, to marvel at, to adore God for. And then in 6 through 9 he says not only that, but we need to make use of those privileges. They are a lens to look through, at your sufferings in particular. Look at verses 6 through 9. Verse 6 really is absurd isn’t it, if you think about it? That’s how it lands at least on most contemporary ears. Look at what Peter says in verse 6. “In this you rejoice”- so right now; don’t miss the present tense. They are rejoicing in these amazing privileges that God has lavished upon them. “In this you rejoice” - right now - “though now” - so at the same moment they are rejoicing - “now for a little while if need be, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” Okay Peter, which is it? Are they grieving or are they rejoicing? Are there tears or is there laughter? Pick one! Peter is really trying to show us the wonder of the new birth. You see what it creates, what God creates within us - an ability, a new disposition, an ability, a capability both to rejoice and to grieve at the same time. Because we have been entered into the family of God and have come to life and partake of the life to come, resurrection life, because that’s already ours we have more cause for joy than any other human being in all the world. And yet because we continue to live in this veil of tears, full of sin and misery, don’t we still have grounds for grief? The world cannot understand it - how there can be joy in the midst of grievous trials, trials that cause us grief. They’re weeping and they’re rejoicing.

You remember the great hymn, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” There is a great stanza there - “Oh joy that seekest me through pain. I cannot close by heart to Thee. I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain, that morn shall tearless be.” God is in pursuit of your joy through the trial. That’s what Peter is saying. One of the keys to this joy in the midst of grief is actually there right in the middle of verse 6. It’s that little phrase, “if necessary.” Did you see it? Perhaps it zipped by rather quickly. Look at verse 6 again. “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you’ve been grieved by various kinds of trials.” “Why in the world is this happening?” Have you ever said that? “What can God possibly intend by this?” Peter says to the Christians to which he was writing, “There is a divine necessity, a necessity arising from the plan of God for you, for all your trials. It is, no doubt, often mysterious, but rest in this - none of your sorrows, not one of your tears believing Christian, is ever aimless or purposeless or fruitless in the sovereign purposes of God.”

And if you’ll look at verse 7, you’ll see part of God’s design, part of why it is necessary that we endure various kinds of grievous trials. Why would suffering ever be part of the plan? Verse 7, your various trials are all so that “the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes, though it is refined by fire may be found to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” How are you going to endure grief-inducing trials? Do you minimize the pain? Fake it till you make it? Put a brave face on it? Maybe you self-medicate - some drugs, some alcohol, some food - all the while you’re dying a little bit inside. How are you going to deal with it? Part of Peter’s answer is to learn the discipline of reading your trials through the lens of your privileges and begin to see what God is really doing, that there is a purpose, a divine necessity in your sufferings that will be fruitful in His time. 

John Newton famously asked these same questions. “Why is this happening to me? What’s going on? I’m praying for holiness and here I am grieving, suffering! Lord, what’s happening?” He summarized his testimony beautifully in a famous poem of his. You probably know it. Let me read it to you because I think it gets right at the heart of Peter’s message. This was the experience of the Christians to whom Peter was writing. It may be your experience as well. Newton writes

“I asked the Lord that I might grow in faith, and love, and every grace; might more of His salvation know, and seek, more earnestly, His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray, and He, I trust, has answered prayer! But it has been in such a way, as almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour, at once He’d answer my request; and by His love’s constraining pow’r, subdue my sins, and give me rest” - just like that.

“Instead of this, He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart; and let the angry pow’rs of hell assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed intent to aggravate my woe; crossed all the fair designs I schemed, humbled by heart, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried, wilt thou pursue thy worm to death? ‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied, I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ, from self, and pride, to set thee free; and break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou may’st find thine all in Me.’”

That is what Peter is saying to the Christians that God is doing. It’s what God is doing in your heart and my heart by our various grievous trials. He is training us to cling only to Him, to find our joy and our rest only in Him, to read our trials, our sufferings through the lens of our privileges, to remember His great mercy, to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to remember our living hope, our indestructible inheritance, our secure salvation. And though the tears may yet flow, to lift our hearts and praise in God and say, “It is nevertheless, well with my soul.” 

You can see how Peter sums up their joy if you look at verses 8 and 9. “Though you have not seen him,” Jesus, “you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of yours souls.” Right now, they don’t see Jesus. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. You don’t see Jesus; neither do I. What you may see, like these dear Christians, was suffering. That’s what they saw. They saw trials. And yet through their trials, they nevertheless knew Jesus Christ. They read their trials through the lens of their privileges and they knew Him, they saw His hand at work, and so were able to love Him, to trust Him, and to rejoice. When the sorrows like sea billows roll, they were able to say, “Whatever my lot, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Don’t we need to see in an entitled age in which we’ve all been so carefully schooled to focus on our rights, don’t we need all the help we can get to focus instead on our privileges, to see the wonders of God’s grace lavished upon us, to ignite and to kindle in our hearts worship and joy and an atmosphere, an attitude of gratitude? And then we desperately need, I desperately need the reminder to read my sufferings, my trials, through the lens of my privileges - to remember that none of them are aimless, purposeless or random, but have been ordered for me by the hand of my Father who loves me and purposes my good. It is a truism, you’ve heard it I’m sure a million times before, but it is helpful nevertheless, to say that God is far more interested in your holiness than in your happiness. I’m sure that the Christians of Asia Minor to whom Peter was writing could confess that to be true in their own experience, and perhaps you can too. Peter is urging us to read our sufferings in light of our privileges that though the tears may yet flow for you, through your tears you may say, “The Lord given and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we acknowledge how often when our trials overwhelm us, we are not reading them through the lens of our privileges. And so, all there is are tears and we’ve lost our joy. Save us, please, from thinking that our trials are good things in themselves, at one extreme, or from thinking that our trials are aimless and empty at the other. Help us in the midst of our grief instead truly to grieve, yet through the tears, trace the rainbow and know the promise is not vain and that that morn, the morn of the dawning of our inheritance when it comes, shall tearless be, when you wipe away every tear from our eyes. And so our cry here, as we pass through this veil of tears, is “even so, come Lord Jesus.” And in the meantime, give us persevering grace for the praise of Your holy name, Amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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