Meditations in 1 Peter : 1 : God who changes us
1 Pet 1:1,2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
So this is a letter from the great apostle Peter, the apostle who is a fisherman, the apostle who keeps on putting his foot in his mouth. No it’s not! Well it is, but he’s clearly no longer a fisherman and he’s clearly someone who has something to say that isn’t a rash comment. This is a letter from a mature apostle. This man has changed since we first met him in the Gospels. Certainly he has help in writing this letter (See 5:12) but this is the letter of a man who has been transformed by the Gospel, transformed by meeting Jesus, transformed by the work of circumstances and transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. He is also a man who is not afraid to speak to the Church at large, specifically here to the area that today we call Turkey.
To whom does he speak? Some say it is primarily the Jews but “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered….” could equally be a description of all Christians, Jew and Gentile. They are the ‘elect’ because they have been chosen by God, as we’ll see in a moment. They are ‘strangers in the world’ because they have been set apart, again as we’ll soon see. And they are scattered throughout the area we call modern Turkey, a minority of believers. Peter will speak about suffering and persecution and therefore the reason for the recipients of this letter being scattered is almost certainly persecution.
But look at the wonderful threefold descriptions of the believers to whom he is writing. First of all they are those “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” This is similar to Paul’s language: “he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Eph 1:4) Peter himself, when preaching on the day of Pentecost, spoke of Jesus: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) Those are the only two times that the word ‘foreknowledge’ is used in the Bible, both by Peter.
But again the sense is common in Paul’s writings, for instance, “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:28,29) and “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” (Rom 11:2) Later on, speaking about Jesus, Peter writes, “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Pet 1:20) reminding us that it was before God created anything that He looked into the future, of what would be, and saw that Jesus would have to come and saw who would respond to him. This same sense of destiny established, even before God made the world, comes through in John’s revelation: “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished.” (Rev 17:8). Yes, here in this first phrase we catch a sense of the Father’s sovereign will and His total knowledge.
Let’s consider the second expression: “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit has sometimes been referred to as the executive arm of the Trinity, the One who administers the will of the godhead here on earth. So, yes, we are chosen before the world came into being in that the Father decreed the means by which people would be assessed (their response to Jesus), but now, today, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, to draw us to God and then when we make that act of surrender, to come into us and set us apart as new creations, people who are actually different from anyone else, because He lives and work within us. Sanctifying here simply means to set us apart to God so that He can carry out that work of changing us into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18). We noted from the outset that Peter has been changed from that rough fisherman who was originally called by Jesus. The Holy Spirit has done much to change him – as he does us!
But then there is the third phrase: “for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” There is a twofold aspect to this, first the overall intention and then the means by which it comes about. The overall intention of God’s plan of salvation is that we will each one submit to His Son Jesus Christ who now sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven, ruling. It is only by us submitting to the Son that the Holy Spirit is able to work in us. If we don’t submit to Jesus then the Holy Spirit obviously can’t lead, guide, direct and teach us. The way that this comes about is by us receiving Jesus’ work on the Cross which cleanses us of all sin and makes the way open for us to receive God’s forgiveness.
There is a reflection in these verses of what happened at the inauguration of the first covenant: “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex 24:7,8) Note the two things: Obedience to God’s will (the Law) and then sprinkling with blood (a life given) brought about the covenant relationship. That is what happened then and that is what happens now, except the Lamb used is Jesus. We will see more of this as we work through this letter.