We began to look at 1 Peter a couple of weeks ago. And I suggested that in this letter, Peter was writing to encourage believers to stand firm and to remain faithful and to persevere while they endure suffering and distress in this present evil age and while they wait for the Lord to come again. You see, if you read through this letter, you can’t help but notice all the times when Peter mentions how his readers were suffering for their faith. And so, since they were suffering like this, since it may have seemed that the whole world was against them, Peter was writing to encourage them to stand firm. And the last time, we spent our time on just the first verse. And in the first verse, Peter took two ideas which once applied to the Israelites in the Old Testament and he applies the very same ideas to the members of the Christian church. So, in the past, the Israelites regarded themselves as God’s chosen people, the elect. Of all the nations of the world, God had chosen them to be his own special people. But now, all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ can say that they are God’s elect, his chosen people. He chose us and called us and enabled us to repent and to believe in the Saviour. And in the Old Testament, God’s people were exiles. They were taken from the Promised Land of Israel and taken away to the lands of Assyria and Babylon, where they lived as strangers, as exiles in a foreign land. And they longed to go back to their true home. But now, all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are to see themselves as strangers in the world and as exiles, because we live far away from our true home, which is in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ. All who believe in him have been delivered from this present evil age and we’ve been raised with him to the heavenly realms, which is where we now belong. And so, we feel like strangers in the world; and we long to be with our Saviour in the life to come.
Peter takes these two Old Testament ideas and applies them to his readers and to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And as we’ll see in a few minutes, he does something similar in verse 2.
And we’re going to spend our time on verse 2 today. After verse 2, we’ll probably be able to speed up a little and cover more verses each Sunday; but there’s so much in verses 1 and 2 that we have to take them one Sunday at a time.
And even as we read this verse again, you’ll see it falls naturally into three parts; and each part relates to one of the persons of the Trinity. So, Peter mentions God the Father first; then he mentions God the Holy Spirit; and then he mentions God the Son, Jesus Christ. Listen again to verse 2:
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
God the Father
First of all, he mentions God the Father. And more specifically, he refers to God the Father’s foreknowledge and to how his readers have been chosen by God according to the foreknowledge of God’s the Father.
Now the last time, we thought about how God chooses or elects his people. Before the world was made, before we we made and before we had done anything at all, whether good or bad, God elected his people and decided to give them eternal life. So, while we assume that we chose God, that we decided to follow Jesus, the truth is that he first chose us. And now Peter is telling us that God chose us according to his foreknowledge. What does this mean?
Some Christians say that when the Bible refers to God’s foreknowledge, it means God foresaw something about us or in us which caused God to elect us. For instance, he foresaw, or he knew in advance, who would believe in the Lord Jesus. So, before the world was made, God knew that so-and-so would believe in the Lord Jesus. And because God knew that so-and-so would believe in the Lord Jesus, God decided to choose him. God chose so-and-so, because he knew in advance that so-and-so would believe.
However, those who say this forget that in the Bible the word ‘know’ often means ‘loving and choosing someone’. Let me give you just one example. In Amos 3:2 God said of the people of Israel: ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth.’ Well, it’s not as if God knew only the Israelites, and he didn’t know anything at all about the other nations of the world. God knows all things and he knows everything about everyone. So, when the Lord said he ‘knew’ them, he means he loved them and he chose them to be his special people. Of all the nations of the world, God set his love on them and chose them to be his people.
To know someone in the Bible means to love and to choose someone. And the prefix ‘fore’ means ‘before’. So, if we put this together, what Peter is saying to his readers, and what he’s saying to every believer, is that before the world was made, and before we were made, before we had done anything to deserve it, God loved us and he chose us. And because he loved us and chose us, he therefore elected us to receive eternal life.
And so, once again, we’re reminded of why we ought to give thanks to God. If Jesus Christ is your Saviour, if you love him and trust him, then you owe it all to God the Father, because before you had done anything at all, and before you have done anything to deserve it, he knew you, and set his love on us, and he chose you, and he decided to save you from your sin and misery and to give you an everlasting salvation. And because he loved you, and chose you, and decided to save you, when the time was right he sent his one and only Son into the world to live for you and to die for you to pay for all your sins, before being raised again afterwards. The Lord Jesus suffered and died for you because God the Father loved you and chose you and decided to give you eternal life. And because he loved you, and chose you, and decided to give you eternal life, he sent his Spirit into your life to enable you to repent and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We owe our salvation entirely to the Lord, who has been gracious and merciful to us; he does not treat us as our sins deserve, but instead he has loved us with an everlasting love. And by the way we speak, and by the things we say when we talk about our salvation, we should make clear to the world that we understand that the only reason we believe and hope for heaven is because of the Lord who loved us and who chose us and who decided to save us. And so, he deserves all the the glory and the honour and the praise because — from the beginning to the end — we owe our salvation to him.
But, of course, we need to ask ourselves why Peter mentions this here. Why does he begin this letter like this? And I think it’s related to what I said at the beginning about this purpose of this letter. Peter is writing to encourage believers who were suffering for their faith. The Roman Emperor was against them. The Roman Empire was against them. I’m sure it seemed that the whole world was against them. But though the world was against them, they could say that from before the world began, God loved them and had chosen them. Yes, the world hated them, but God the Father loved them and cared for them and he would watch over them and shield them by his mighty power to ensure that they would one day come into his presence and enjoy the everlasting salvation he has prepared for them; and nothing the world might do will be able to prevent God the Father from doing all that he has planned for them. And that is our encouragement as well. Though people may think we’re strange for coming to church to worship someone we cannot see, and though people may think we’re foolish for believing the Bible which was written so long ago, and though they may despise us for not living as they do, nevertheless we know that God the Father has loved us and has chosen us and will help us to stand firm and to persevere in our faith while we wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus.
God the Spirit
However, the verse doesn’t end there. Peter moves on from referring to the foreknowledge of God the Father to referring to the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
Christians use the word ‘sanctify’ and ‘sanctification’ in two different ways. It can refer to a process which begins whenever someone becomes a Christian and which continues throughout their life here on earth. And during this process, the Holy Spirit works in their lives to renew them in God’s likeness so that we become more and more holy, more and more obedient to God. The Holy Spirit works in our lives to sanctify us so that we’re able, more and more, to resist temptation and to become more and more willing and able to do God’s will here on earth. That’s one meaning of the word ‘sanctify’.
However, the word ‘sanctify’ and ‘sanctification’ also means to set something apart for God. For instance, in the Old Testament, various utensils were set apart to be used in the temple in Jerusalem. A pot — which was just like any other pot you might have at home — was set apart for special use in the temple. Priests were set apart from the rest of the people to serve the Lord in the temple. Or think of something we’re more familiar with: when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper here in church, we set apart the bread and the drink from all ordinary use for this holy use and mystery. The bread and the drink are no different from the bread and drink you may have at home. But for communion, we set them apart for this special use.
So we can use the word ‘sanctify’ in this sense: to set something apart for God. And this is the way Peter is using the word ‘sanctify’ in verse 2. Here he is, saying in verses 1 and 2 that, before the world was made, before we were made, God loved his people and he chose them and he decided to save them and to give them eternal life. That was his plan for his people. But then he had to put this plan for his people into action. And he put his plan for our salvation into action by, first of all, sending his Son into the world to live for us and to die for us to pay for our sins, before being raised afterwards. However, he also put his plan into action by sending his Spirit into our lives. God, if you like, reached into our lives by the Holy Spirit. And by the Holy Spirit, God set us apart from the rest of the world so that now we belong to God and we’re members of his people. What God planned for his people before the world was made he put into action by the Holy Spirit.
In other words, what Peter is referring to here is to our conversion: to that time when we heard the good news of the gospel and we were convinced and converted to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the Holy Spirit who convinced us and who converted us and who enabled us to believe. And whoever believes is set apart from those who don’t believe in order to belong to God and to his people.
Now, for some of us, it happened when we were little children. We grew up with Christian parents; and really have always believed and have always felt that we belonged to God and to his people. For others, it happened when we were older. For years we didn’t believe. But then one day the gospel finally made sense to us; and we believed it. How did this happen? Well, whether we were very young, or whether we were older, in both case the Holy Spirit was working in our hearts to enable us to believe. And whenever a person believes, they’re set apart from those who don’t believe and they now belong to God and to all those who also believe.
And, of course, since it’s God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us, who sets us apart like this, then once again we’re reminded that God is the one who deserves all the praise and the honour, because if it were not for him, we would never believe. And so, we ought to give thanks to him and to praise him.
But, of course, we need to ask ourselves again why Peter mentions this here. Why does he begin this letter like this? And surely it’s to remind his readers that they now belong to God. They’re his special people, set apart from the rest of the world to belong to him. And therefore they ought not to be surprised if the world hates them, because they no longer belong in the world and they no longer want to live as the world does, because they now belong to God in heaven. So, instead of following the ways of the world, and doing what is evil, they will want to do what is good and right and pleasing to the Father in heaven, because the Holy Spirit has set them apart from the world to belong to God and to live for him. And what was true for Peter’s first readers is true for us and for every believer. We shouldn’t be surprised if the world hates us, or if we feel out of place in the world, because the Holy Spirit has set us apart from the world to belong to God in heaven and to live for him. And the fact that we now belong to God will affect the way we live our lives every day, because we’ll no longer want to follow the ways of the world, but will walk to walk in the ways of the Lord.
God the Son
So, Peter refers to the foreknowledge of God the Father. He refers to the work of the Spirit who has set us apart to belong to God. He also refers to God the Son, because we’ve been set apart by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling by his blood.
Well, I said at the beginning that in this verse Peter once again applies something from the Old Testament to the members of the Christian church. You see, there’s a place in the Old Testament where these two ideas of obedience and sprinkling with blood appear together. In the book of Exodus, we read how God brought the Israelites out of their captivity in Egypt. And he then led them to Mount Sinai where he gave them his Ten Commandments and the rest of the laws. And in Exodus 24 we read how the Lord made a covenant with his people at Mount Sinai. A covenant is a relationship based on a promise. And at Mount Sinai God promised to be their God and to bring them into the Promised Land. And in Exodus 24 — having heard what God promised to do for them, and having heard all his laws and commandments — the people promised that they would do everything the Lord said they should do. In other words, they accepted the terms of the covenant and promised to obey him. So, there’s the idea of obedience.
And then we read how Moses took the blood from the animals they had sacrificed and he sprinkled the blood on the people, while saying: ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.’ And so, there’s the idea of the sprinkling.
And you see, the blood from the sacrifices was to remind the people of their need for forgiveness. Yes, they promised to do everything the Lord said, and they promised to abide by the terms of the covenant, and to obey the Lord. But the fact was: they’re weren’t able to do all that the Lord had said; and they weren’t able to obey him perfectly.
And they weren’t able to obey, because they were sinners, who sin continually against the Lord. And so, Moses sprinkled the blood on them that day to remind them of their need for forgiveness. But the blood also reminded them of God’s willingness to forgive them and to wash them and to cleanse them by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, that’s what all those bloody sacrifices in the Old Testament were for. They were point forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus into the world, and to the time when he would offer himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice to take away our sins for ever. And by his blood, shed on the cross, our sins are washed away for ever; our guilty conscience is cleansed for ever; and we have peace with God for ever.
So, at Mount Sinai, the people promised to obey the Lord; and Moses sprinkled them with blood to remind them of their need for forgiveness and to remind them of God’s willingness to forgive them for the sake of Christ. And now Peter takes those two ideas — obedience and sprinkling — and applies them to his readers and to every believer. Before the world was made, God the Father foreknew us: he set his love on us and he chose us and he decided to give us salvation and eternal life. Then, in due course, God the Holy Spirit came into our life and enabled us to believe the good news, so that we were set apart from those who don’t believe in order to belong to God. And having become members of God’s people, we’re to obey the Lord Jesus, doing his will, keeping his commandments, walking in his ways. We’re to do that for the rest of our lives. And having believed, we’re sprinkled, washed, cleansed by his blood. So, instead of treating us as our sins deserve, and condemning us as lawbreakers, God forgives us for the sake of Christ who died to pay for our sins.
If Jesus Christ is your Saviour, if you trust in him, then you can rejoice: you can rejoice, because even though the world may hate you, and treat you as foolish for believing, God has loved you with an everlasting love.
And, if Jesus Christ is your Saviour, if you trust in him, then don’t be surprised if the world hates you, because you no longer belong to the world, but you belong to God.
And, if Jesus Christ is your Saviour, if you trust in him, then you need to understand that you’re to walk in his ways, and you’re to do his will, and you’re to obey him every day.
And if Jesus Christ is your Saviour, if you trust in him, then you can also rest in the knowledge that his blood covers over every single one of your sins so that there is peace with God for ever. Jesus Christ is the only Saviour of the world; and his blood speaks to us of God’s willingness to pardon all who believe in him.