Before I went to college, I think it would be fair to state that I was a fairly ambitious person. This ambition was both internally driven by my own desire to be successful and externally driven by those who believed that I could be a successful Black professional if I dedicated myself. When I went to college, I maintained this strong professional ambition and befriended those who shared similar goals. As Christ began to convict me of my sin and unbelief, I realized that my priorities were clearly misplaced and I sought the scriptures to discern God’s will in this manner. I began to see that scripture speaks often about our heavenly inheritance as believers and the hope that we should place in this inheritance. This discovery introduced several questions: What is this heavenly inheritance? How do we know whether or not this inheritance is real? How does this apply to my personal ambitions? I believe these questions are answered by the apostle Peter.
After identifying the audience of his letter as elect exiles, Peter starts the body of his letter by praising God for the new life and future glory that He has given believers.
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. 1 Peter 1:3-5
Our New Life
Peter begins the body of his letter by describing the greatness of our salvation. Unfortunately, most Western Christians take the work of Christ in the gospel as a given, whereas the doctrine of regeneration is largely ignored. It is typically assumed that we know the gospel, and it is typically a cliché that we have been saved by grace. However, for Peter, the grace of God is not simply a doctrinal statement, but it’s a heartfelt proclamation of a God who saves and regenerates even the worse of sinners. For Peter, the work of God in salvation is the basis and starting point of his praise towards God since it is only a transformed heart that can truly praise Him.
Peter praises God because he knows by experience that salvation is due solely to God’s rich and abundant mercy. The Apostle Peter walked with Jesus during His earthly life and was even given the privilege to see His transfiguration (cf. 2 Peter 1:16-18). The same Peter who saw the majestic glory of Christ visibly was the same man who denied Him three times and fled from Him before His crucifixion (cf. Mark 14:66-72). Filled with grief, Peter knew that he betrayed his Lord and knew that he was no different than Judas. However, Peter stands forgiven by God and transformed by the Holy Spirit, whereas Judas is eternally condemned. The difference between Peter and Judas is that Peter received mercy. Therefore, Peter rejoices and blesses God for undeserved mercy on his behalf and invites his audience to rejoice as well since they are all recipients of the same rich mercy.
Perhaps we are immune to the joy of this salvation because we have heard the clichéd phrase “sinner saved by grace” so much that it loses its effect. Have we actually sat down to consider what it cost to redeem sinners? Or perhaps we don’t rejoice in our salvation because we do not believe that we need it. Perhaps we think that the only individuals who truly need salvation are those who have lived an immoral and lawless life. Perhaps we were morally upright and simply made mistakes in judgment. The reality is that we did not simply make mistakes, but we were dead in our sins. We were not spiritually sick men who needed some divine assistance, but we were spiritually dead sinners who needed to be born again. If we were honest, we loved our darkness, whether it was loose living or self-righteous therapeutic moralism. Our love for our darkness made us morally unable to come to God, but He has caused us to be born again. We were resurrected from spiritual death to spiritual life. Peter is proclaiming the same message that Paul proclaimed in Ephesians 2:1-10: we were made alive by His Spirit because of His great love towards us.
Peter connects our new life to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, meaning that our new birth was made possible only because we are united to Christ in His resurrection. We were dead in our trespasses and then He made us alive, raising us up with Christ. As with Peter, I’m left with joy, realizing that God by His mercy caused me to be born again. Because of the love of the Father, His grace supernaturally renewed my heart to life and His grace continues to renew me. This is a work that I cannot fabricate or manufacture (cf. John 3:7-8), but it has been initiated and produced by the great mercy and love of God. The work of salvation is truly a triune work. When I consider that the Father sent His Son to enter into His own creation and that His Son absorbs the fullness of God’s wrath as a propitiation for my sins (cf. Romans 3:25) and that the Holy Spirit regenerates my heart to receive the work of Christ in faith, all I can do is simply rejoice in the greatness of our God.
Our Living Hope
Peter then connects the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the living hope of believers. Because of the work of God in salvation, believers now look to the future glory where God finishes the work that He began. Primarily, we long for the day when our entire lives (including our bodies) will be completely redeemed. As believers, we all testify of the reality of regeneration where God transforms our heart so that we long for Christ, but we also testify that the work of new creation is not complete. We still live in a fallen world and in an unredeemed body so we long for the completeness of God’s work. Paul describes this longing:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 2 Corinthians 5:1-5
Just as Paul, we groan, realizing that the work of redemption is not complete. We realize that God has not wiped away all of our tears yet. We realize that we live in a world infected with sin and its inevitable end will be death. However, this groaning does not lead to despair, but we have strong confidence with God because we have a guarantee from the Holy Spirit. The persistent work of the Holy Spirit in our heart is our internal evidence that God will finish the work that He has started. We long for our future resurrection, but we are certain of it because the resurrection of Christ is our pledge. Because of the resurrection of our Lord, we are confident that all of the effects of evil and death will be vanquished in His coming kingdom. There will be a time when we will be completely free from the very presence of sin and so we rejoice in this certainty.
An Unfading Inheritance
Peter describes this living hope as our inheritance. An inheritance is a portion which one receives in a general distribution. In Jewish culture, the inheritance is the portion of the father’s land and possessions that one receives by virtue of his birth. For devout Jews in the Old Testament, the inheritance was the Promised Land and Israel’s place within it. They saw this as the fullness of their inheritance as God’s chosen people, but it was meant to point to an even greater inheritance that will be fulfilled in the new covenant for His people: our full redemption in the Kingdom of God.
Peter gives two broad descriptions of this inheritance: imperishable and preserved. First, our inheritance as believers is imperishable, meaning that it is indestructible and not subject to decay. To emphasize the imperishable nature of our heavenly inheritance, Peter uses three descriptions (imperishable, undefiled, and unfading) of the same reality. This is in sharp contrast to every inheritance on this earth which will eventually fade away. Nothing that we can gain on this earth or pass down will last forever. Even the earth itself will eventually fade away, but our heavenly inheritance is indestructible. This is the true treasure of the Christian life and according to Jesus, this treasure in God’s future kingdom is worth forsaking all other earthly treasures (cf. Matthew 13: 44-52). Consider the words of Jesus:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21.
We are told to wait expectantly for this heavenly inheritance which is imperishable and to not fix our hope on the perishable nature of earthly treasure. Next, we are told that this inheritance is reserved for us. This inheritance was made possible by the redemptive work of Christ Jesus and is now kept by Him until the time of delivery. This is the security of all believers – not that we have to be good enough to keep our inheritance, but that our inheritance has been secured by the work of Christ. Moreover, it is not this inheritance of the believer only that is kept in heaven, but we are being “guarded by God’s power through faith for a final salvation that will be revealed”. Here, we have the complete picture of our salvation: we are being protected by God’s power while we are awaiting our final liberation from earth.
Therefore, the certainty and security of our inheritance is based on the power of God, meaning that we wait for the final salvation from our corruption with absolute certainty. Here is the true liberation theology – namely, we become heirs of this heavenly inheritance because the resurrection of Christ is the firstfruits of our resurrection, and by faith, we, with certainty, await our final liberation. The evidence of our future glory is the imperishable seed of our regeneration. Because of the riches of this inheritance, we rejoice in our God who purchased this inheritance for us solely because of His mercy and grace.
The Sufficiency of our Inheritance
One of the saddest realities is that many churches have left this living hope and have exchanged it for a fleeting dream of prosperity. In particular, I’m grieved that many Black Christians have abandoned this hope. During times of great difficulty (such as the Jim Crow South), the persistent message of sound Black churches was the hope of future glory. However, as many Black Christians have become wealthier, they have abandoned this living hope for a gospel based on earthly wealth. This decline of African-American theology is most problematic to poor African-Americans who believe that they will become rich in this age. They continue to fix their hope, year after year, for a dream that they believe is their inheritance. Instead of being encouraged about the security of their heavenly inheritance, they continue to fix their hope on messages of “enlarging my territory” or “being free from the spirit of poverty” or “declaring the year of increase”. These are phrases that I use to believe until scriptural passages, such as this, tell us of an even greater treasure. In many ways, I believe that the obsession for some in “pursuing their destiny” is an attempt to take earthly riches (such as wealth and a lasting reputation) and make them have eternal value. Here, Peter is declaring emphatically that we have an inheritance far greater and far more permanent than anything this world can offer.
The reality is that many Christian around the world do not live with the privilege that we have as Americans and yet they testify that their future inheritance is more than enough for them. The question that we should ask ourselves is whether or not we truly believe that our living hope is enough. Are we filled with joy because of the living hope found in the work of Christ, or are we somewhat miffed at the prospect that we may not have a life as comfortable as those around us? When we endure suffering for the sake of Christ, do we rejoice in it because it proves us worthy of this inheritance, or do we simply tolerate it because we don’t want to lose our reward? Do we chase after our ambitions in hope that they will have eternal value, or do we rest on the only inheritance that is unfading? All of these questions hinge on whether or not we trust in the sufficiency of our future inheritance. May God open our eyes so that we truly value what is true riches indeed.