Some months ago, my wife and I decided to do a study of the New Testament writings most associated with the Apostle Peter. Personally, I was quite familiar with the major themes of Mark, but I wasn’t as familiar with the major themes of Peter’s epistles since I had not read them in some time. After going through a personal study of the epistles and discussing it with my wife, we both realized that we had neglected great encouragement and instruction from Peter’s epistles. So it’s my hope that these series of blogs on Peter’s epistles will be equally encouraging to you.
The Longing as Exiles
Peter introduces his first epistle with the following words:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ, and for sprinkling with His blood. May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 1 Peter 1:1-2
In his first epistle, Peter starts his letter by identifying his audience as “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” For the original audience, some believers may have been made physical exiles by virtue of their confession of Christ. This may be due to physical persecution or institutional persecution whereby Christians could not gain employment due to their confession of faith. However, it appears that Peter is addressing the general condition as Christians in his greeting. Unlike Paul’s epistles, Peter is not simply addressing Christians in a single city. Peter is addressing Christians over a wide area ranging from Rome to northern Syria. In this view, we are looking at a dispersed Church.
However, in a more important sense, Peter is addressing the reality that the Christian church is spread abroad throughout the earth. We are exiles, not because we have been physically removed from our earthly homes, but because we are longing for our true home. In our hearts, there is a profound sense of homesickness, even though we have never known our actual spiritual home. It is the evidence of our conversion that we sense a great longing for our spiritual home; for the same Spirit that teaches us about our adoption as sons of God (cf. Romans 8:14-17) is the same Spirit that causes us to groan for our complete adoption. The words of the apostle Paul makes this clear
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:23-25
Our hearts groan for a reality that we cannot fully see until God’s purposes are complete. This is the inward uneasiness and tension that all believers who have been regenerated by the Spirit understand intuitively. This point brought conviction to my heart because I acknowledge that I’ve suppressed this groaning over time. The relative easiness of my life as a professor and as an American causes me to be too pragmatic to the extent that I resist this working of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the distractions of the modern age numb us to the reality of this inward cry. Perhaps we are too plugged into the modern age to quiet ourselves so that we can hear this cry. Whatever the case may be, many of us may be guilty of this, but this was not the case for Peter’s original audience and for many of our fellow brothers and sisters around the world. They were consciously aware of this homesickness because of the difficulties of their life and the slander they received because of their union with Christ.
Exiles by Election
So the question becomes: how shall those of us, who live relatively comfortable lives, experience this homesickness? The encouragement of this passage is that we are exiled not by virtue of our earthly circumstances, but by virtue of our election. This means that we do not try to make up ways to become exiles, but it does mean that by virtue of God’s grace, He makes us exiles. For many people, the concept of election applies only to justification and eternal security. God’s prior election is not simply a protection from hell, but our election is for the obedience of Christ. The election by the Father not only justifies us, but it ultimately leads to our sanctification and our obedience to Christ. The Triune God could have simply regenerated our hearts, justified us by faith, and sent us to glory, but He saved us for His purpose on the earth and is currently sanctifying us for that same purpose. The words of the apostle Paul makes this clear
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14
In Peter’s greeting, He is encouraging believers to remember that they are made exiles, not by their own choosing, but by God’s choosing. The same effectual calling that led us to Christ is the same effectual calling that has leads us to being exiles on earth and to suffer for the sake of Christ. We are made exiles so that the genuineness of our faith may be proven (cf. 1 Peter 1:7). Even if our earthly circumstances are relatively easy, God has designed our walk in such a way that we know that our rest is not found on this earth. As we apply every effort in our sanctification, the Holy Spirit works on our heart to demonstrate this point.
I’ve experienced this personally as I’ve observed how the values and worldviews of this present age stand in such contrast to the Kingdom of God. The longing for my true home grows as I’ve seen the wickedness and evil of this present age. As I’ve seen the depths of human depravity around me (and within myself) and how inescapable it truly is, my heart longs for the city whose designer and builder is God (cf. Hebrews 11:8-10). My heart longs for the return of His Kingdom, where the effects of sin have been vanquished, yet God has made us exiles on earth for His purpose and glory. So, we rejoice in the greatness of the gospel in redeeming the worst of sinners and wait for our blessed hope, realizing that our calling to salvation is also a calling to remain here on Earth.
Joy Mixed with Grief
Even though we live with this tension, there is still much to rejoice in, namely the work of the triune God in saving His people as exiles. We are His people “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for the sprinkling with His blood.” This description is very similar to the words that Paul used to describe God’s work in salvation
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified. Romans 8:29-30
First, we are His people because of God’s foreknowledge. This does not refer to God’s passive knowledge of future events, but rather it refers to His active knowledge based upon His decree. He set his steadfast love and covenantal faithfulness towards us, foreordaining that we would belong to Him. This foreknowledge does not stand alone by itself because those whom He foreknew He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. This refers explicitly to the work of the Holy Spirit in transforming us. He sets us apart for the purpose of holiness so that believers are righteous in their standing before God due to our union with Christ and that we may grow in actual holiness in our lives. Peter describes this by making every effort to supplement our faith with self-control, moral excellence, knowledge, faithfulness, godliness, and love (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-7).
This sanctifying work of Holy Spirit is for the obedience of Christ and for the atoning work of Christ. We are sprinkled with His blood in our initial entrance into our covenant with God, but through sanctification, we are continuously cleansed by His blood. The picture here is that God’s work of salvation is thoroughly complete and sufficient in saving His people. Peter’s encouragement here is to realize that our temporary suffering and experience as exiles are part of God’s purpose. Moreover, it is the means by which God accomplishes and completes His ultimate work of redemption. For this reason, we rejoice because of the fruit that is being produced. We rejoice as exiles because our longing for home motivates us to pursue holiness and godliness.
We rejoice as exiles because it demonstrates that our hearts have truly been transformed. We all know that there was a time when we were dead in our sins, when we were completely being enslaved to sin, and when we were completely comfortable living in a world infected with sin. There was a time when we lived in sensuality, passions, and lawless idolatry, but we were washed, we were sanctified, and we were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (cf 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The fact that our hearts are restless in this fallen world demonstrates that we truly have the seed of Christ in us. If His seed is truly in us, then we have confidence that God will complete His work of redemption. So although we are distressed with these trials while living in foreign land, we rejoice in the salvation brought by our God and in the work that He is currently doing in us while living here.
Grace and Peace
Peter ends his greeting by with a short prayer: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” For the Christian enduring suffering, I believe grace and peace are what they are looking for. When the apostles refer to peace, they are not simply referring to a ceasefire between two opposing parties, but they are referring to a complete wellness and wholeness in the relationship. In the midst of suffering, there is a temptation to walk away from the true grace and peace of God, but here the apostle prays for the initial grace and peace that they received in Christ to be thoroughly multiplied to them. This is also a prayer for the church. While living in this world as exiles, we will endure hardships and difficulties, but the grace and peace of God is given to believers for the purposes of perseverance. It’s my prayer that we may know the longing of living in a foreign land and then know the grace and peace that enables us to endure.