Thoughts on Peter’s First Letter, cont’d- Chapter 1, verse 2
We discovered from earlier blogs that the people to whom Peter writes are enduring persecution for their faith and living as “foreigners” in a hostile society. This is especially helpful for us because I see a time coming when we Christians will see increasing hostility towards our faith and our Lord.
A theme that emerges in chapter 1 is salvation (vv 5, 9, 10), what it is, how we got it and what it means. Peter teaches his readers about what God has done for them and, by so doing, show how special, privileged and powerful they really are. This is a ‘push-back’ against the tide of persecution, not by retaliation but through a proper attitude, faith and, most importantly, witness.
An exceedingly important part of the Christian faith is Trinitarianism or the belief that God’s essence, while remaining singular, is also a plurality; i.e. One God, Three Persons. We learn from this verse (and many others throughout the New Testament) that very early on Christians believed in the triunity of God and, by necessity, they believed and preached that Jesus Christ was God. It was only later after the passing of the apostles and during the great Christological debates that the Triunity of God and the divinity of Jesus became controversial.
For Peter, each person of the Trinity plays a distinct role in salvation. So, God the Father elects, God the Son’s blood is shed for the elect, and God the Spirit sanctifies the elect. Taking these in turn, divine election (ἐκλεκτοῖς) is a “choosing out from” humanity-at-large a people who will be His possession, an inheritance and given a special relationship with Him as sons and daughters. We learn from other New Testament passages that this election occurred before the world was even created. The word is related to ekklesia which is translated ‘church’ or “called out ones” expressing the idea that Christians are called out of society at large and, while part of that society, exist separate from it as holy ones or ‘saints’. Of course, this fits together with Peter’s concern that the “exiles” to whom he is writing live as saints within the surrounding hostile society.
It is important to note that it is God the Father who does the choosing; i.e. there is nothing we can do to sway the choice one way or another because it is compelled by His mercy and grace, neither of which we deserve. But, in response to those who might see this as unfair, that those not chosen never had a chance in the first place and therefore human free will is a false notion (predestination is sometimes thought to prove this), note the words “according to the foreknowledge of God”. Given God’s omniscience and eternal point of view He can quite easily know who will and who will not embrace His love and forgiveness in Christ. Just because Jesus died for the sins of all doesn’t mean all will accept Him. Those that do are the elect, those that don’t, the damned.
Now, it is often the case that when the Trinity along with divine election, foreknowledge and predestination are discussed, eyes start to roll, brains freeze up and television becomes an attractive alternative. The truth is we simply won’t ever ‘get it’ about these matters because the very nature of our existence is finite; we don’t have the capacity to see it all clearly, no matter how hard we try. It’s like trying to pour the entire ocean into a single glass; it simply escapes containment. We become horribly misguided if we ever think understanding a glass filled with part of the ocean means we understand the whole ocean. So it is with God but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try; we only need advance with humility and admit that not everything has to be fully understood to be fully believed.
But I digress. The point here is that Peter’s audience is part of the elect, the chosen of God. They are the recipients of His love. They are the called ones set apart for Him alone and no man, no city, no magistrate, no government can separate them from Him. And no one of any rank or any authority or any power can enter into this relationship except they be called. They are elevated above princes, principalities or powers whether human or demonic; they are the holy ones of God. This is the push back, that knowing their election is secure they can advance into their world as light advances before darkness and though they might appear weak and endure derision from others, they are in fact more powerful than can be imagined even to the point that death itself cannot overcome them. They can, therefore, be calm and confident before their accusers knowing their weakness is occasion for God’s power to strengthen them against the tide and make their message all the more real to those who have ears to hear.
And this is as true for us today as it was for them. We need not apologize for, nor hide our faith for we are sons and daughters of God the Almighty. We are His elect, and need not cower before, nor fear anyone who resists us, nor ever doubt that what we believe is anything but eternal truth.