Stand Firm in God's Grace
March 2, 2014 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers
Passage: 1 Peter 5:12–14
Stand Firm in God's Grace
When was the last time you received a hand-written letter in the mail? Not a birthday card or typed letter from your accountant. A hand-written letter. When was the last time? I confess – I can’t remember the last time I received a hand-written letter. Better yet – when was the last time you wrote a letter to someone? If you’re like most people, it was probably a long time ago. This is one of the negative side effects of the digital age. We’ve largely lost the letter as a form of written communication. Our written correspondence nowadays is almost entirely utilitarian. We don’t write for the purpose of corresponding with another person. We write to get stuff done. And as a consequence, letters are considered outdated or quaint.
For the most part, this is not a huge problem. I mean, we may have lost the art of penmanship, but the world is not that much worse off because we don’t write letters. However, there is one area where the loss of letters hurts us – reading. Because our written communication tends to be short and task-oriented, most people have a hard time reading anything written in long-form. And that includes the Bible. Modern people have a hard time reading the Bible because it is so different not just in content, but in form from what they read throughout the day. The result is that we try to read the Bible like an email. We quickly scan through the paragraphs, trying to catch what’s important, but really hoping to move on to the next task as soon as possible.
Perhaps nowhere are these bad reading habits more evident than in how we approach the opening and closing sections of NT letters. I’ll confess that when I read Colossians or 1 John, I often skim quickly through the opening and closing sections. Why? Because I wrongly assume that there is not much benefit in those sections of the letter. Aren’t those verses just formalities, I say to myself?
If we were to do that with this final paragraph in 1 Peter, we would deprive ourselves of a rich opportunity to be encouraged in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 5.12-14 is the formal closing of Peter’s letter, but in these final verses, Peter provides his readers one final opportunity to be rooted in the grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ. So, instead of just skimming through these verses, let’s break with the modern trend by paying close attention to the closing of this letter.
For students of the Bible, this paragraph contains a number of important and interesting points. We learn in v12 that Silvanus, who is also known as Silas in the NT, delivered Peter’s letter. Some scholars think that Silvanus helped Peter write the letter, maybe transcribing Peter’s dictation. But the form of the sentence in the original language most likely indicates that Silvanus delivered Peter’s letter.
We also learn from v13 that Peter wrote this letter from Rome. Look at v13: “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings.” By the NT era, the word Babylon was used symbolically to represent worldly opposition to the purposes and people of God. The actual city of Babylon was in ruins during the NT era, but the OT history of Babylon was enough to give the image its symbolic force. In Peter’s day, the place that most clearly represented this kind of opposition to God was the city of Rome, the seat of Caesar’s power and authority. So, when Peter sends greetings from Babylon, it most likely indicates that he writes from Rome.
We also learn that John Mark is a close companion of the apostle Peter. This is the same John Mark that accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. This is also the same John Mark whose family’s home was a meeting place for the early church in Jerusalem. The reason this reference to John Mark is important is that it confirms the church tradition that John Mark was close enough to Peter to write the Gospel of Mark based on Peter’s eyewitness testimony.
Now, all of those points are interesting and important facts. They help us understand Peter’s context a bit more, and they provide some good internal confirmation as to the historical accuracy of the NT. But there is more to this closing paragraph than those facts. Look again at v12. Peter reminds his readers, “This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.” When Peter says this is the true grace of God, he’s referring to the entire letter. Everything Peter has written in these five chapters declares and reveals God’s grace. This letter doesn’t contain Peter’s thoughts about the Christian life. It contains the true grace of God, which was revealed to Peter through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And since the letter expresses the true grace of God, these believers should stand firm in it. They should be rooted in that grace.
And here’s where we see the value of this final paragraph. These verses are not simply a few lines of formal greetings from one group to another. These verses are a call for believers to remember the truth of God’s grace and then to build their lives on that grace. It’s not just a formality; it’s an opportunity to remember and be rooted in the most important element of the Christian faith – the true grace of God revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, I think that in order to be faithful to this portion of Scripture, we should go back through the letter and remind ourselves of the evidences of God’s grace that we have seen. And at each point along the way, we should also ask ourselves, “How can we stand firm in this grace?” So, that’s what we plan to do this morning. Think of this message as a summary of God’s grace in 1 Peter, with the purpose of encouraging us as a church to be rooted in that grace alone. As we go through the message, you’ll want to have your Bible open to 1 Peter, as we will be turning back and forth through the letter quite a bit. So, here we go with a summary God’s grace as it has been presented in 1 Peter.
God’s Grace is a Blood-Bought Reality Made Possible Only in Christ
First truth – God’s grace is a blood-bought reality made possible only in Christ. Too often, Christians tend to disconnect God’s grace from the reality of Christ’s death. We like grace, but we forget that grace comes only through the cross. In fact, I sometimes fear that we have a tendency to view God’s grace like a commodity that God keeps in some sort of heavenly warehouse. When he needs some grace, God simply grabs a little from inventory and then showers it down on people. In this view, God’s grace is not costly or valuable; it seems cheap. And when grace seems cheap, we quickly take it for granted.
But when you read through 1 Peter, you get a much different picture of God’s grace. Over and over, Peter reminds us that God’s grace is not an easy commodity, but a blood-bought reality. And that blood-price was paid by Jesus Christ. You see this in the very first chapter, vv18-19: “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” It continues in chapter 2, v24: “Christ himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” It keeps going into chapter 3, v18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Do you see how Peter’s conception of grace corrects ours? For Peter, God’s grace is blood-bought, which means it is costly and therefore much more valuable. When we keep the price of grace high – the blood of Christ – that will also keep our appreciation for God’s grace high. And the overall result is that we love and worship Christ more deeply because we realize the extent to which he went to purchase grace for us. So, everything else we say in this message, whatever encouragement we might find in God’s grace, all of it is possible only because the Son of God laid down his life for his church. That’s what makes God’s grace possible.
This point may seem elementary to you, but I would contend that it is not elementary at all. It’s the very foundation of our faith. The truth is that we are prone to wander from this foundation, and that’s why we need this constant reminder. It is so easy to make Christianity about things other than Christ. It’s even easier to forget that every good thing I have as a Christian comes only through the blood of Christ. If we want to stand firm in God’s grace, then we must make Christ the center of our Christianity, and we can never hear that reminder too much! Our own personal walk with the Lord should be focused on growing in love for and obedience to Christ. Our own personal ministry for the Lord should be focused on glorifying Christ by making his name known in the world. Our church’s worship should be clearly focused on Christ and his gospel. All of these things must be true because without Christ, there is no grace! Remember, every time God pours out more grace on your life, he does so because Christ first poured out his own blood. Grace is a blood-bought reality.
God’s Grace Powerfully Changes Us
Second truth about God’s grace from 1 Peter – God’s grace powerfully changes us.
When you read through 1 Peter, it quickly becomes apparent that God’s grace is powerful and that it totally transforms his people. God’s grace is not simply a work of renovation in people’s lives; it’s not God’s way of upgrading people from one level of life to another. God’s grace is his power to radically change his people.
It begins at the very outset of the letter, where Peter tells us that God’s grace gives us new birth. Look at 1.3 – “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.” In his grace, God causes his people to be born again. There is no more radical change than this. Before God’s grace invaded our hearts, we were all dead in sin. That’s the consistent testimony of the NT. Look at Romans 3 and Ephesians 2 to name just two examples. And dead means dead. Lifeless, unable to respond to God. Nothing. But in his grace, God gives new life to once dead sinners. It’s radical change, as radical as resurrection, because that’s what it is. God’s grace raises dead sinners to new life in Christ.
As you read on 1 Peter, you learn that this new birth leads to a new identity. Look at 2.9 – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” Then down to v10 – “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Before the new birth, Peter says we did not belong to God. We were not a people. We were separated from God, with no access to grace. But now, Peter says, we are God’s people. You see the change? Through Christ, believers go from having no identity and being separated from God to having an identity and belonging completely to God.
But the change keeps going. Not only does God’s grace give believers a new identity, he also gives them a new purpose. Look again at 2.9 - “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Before God’s grace made us his people, our purpose was to oppose God. Whether through open, outright rebellion or subtle, subconscious rejection, sin enslaved us and always led us to oppose God and his lordship. But when we are born again as God’s people and put our trust in Christ, we receive a new purpose. And that purpose is to proclaim God’s glory and grace! Again, you can see the power of God’s grace to bring about radical change. A Christian is a person who has gone from opposing God to proclaiming God’s glory in Christ.
The change brought about by God’s powerful grace culminates in a new calling, which is to pursue holiness. This evidence of grace shows up in every section of the letter. In 1.13, Peter tells his readers to set their hope fully on God’s grace and then to be holy in all their conduct. When we hope on God’s grace, it leads to holiness in our actions. In 2.11-12, immediately after Peter writes about the church’s new identity, he then proceeds to urge them to abstain from the passions of the flesh and keep their conduct honorable. In 2.24-25, Peter tells his readers that Christ bore their sins in his body on the cross. That’s grace. And why did God show this grace? So that believers might die to sin and live to righteousness. And then in 4.7-9, we see it one final time. Peter says the end is at hand, which is another way of saying that the fulfillment of God’s grace is coming soon with the return of Christ. How should that affect believers? It should lead them to be self-controlled, sober-minded, and faithful in loving one another. Over and over, Peter teaches us – God’s grace gives his people a new calling to pursue holiness.
And Peter also makes clear that this new calling affects all areas of a believer’s life. It affects our relationships with those outside the church. We should submit ourselves to rightful authority, both in the government and in the workplace. We should not return evil for evil, but should instead do good to those who might harm us. And this new calling affects our relationships inside the church. In chapters 1 and 4, Peter stresses the importance of love for another. In chapter 5, he stresses the importance of humility. In 4.10-11, he teaches us how we should serve one another with the gifts that God provides. All of those things are an expression of holiness. And all of those things flow from the grace we have received in Christ.
Now, the way we stand firm in this is by remembering that holiness comes by grace. Don’t miss this, or you’ll miss a huge portion of the letter. God doesn’t call his people to holiness in order to earn his grace. No, it’s just the opposite. God calls us to holiness because he has given us his grace. Just look at the order in the letter. What comes first – God’s grace or our holiness? God’s grace comes first, in the new birth, which Peter describes in v3. It’s only after he describes the new birth that we get the call to holiness in v13.
Friends, we must let God’s grace re-wire the way we think about obedience and holiness. We are all hard-wired to think in terms of works righteousness. If I pursue holiness, then God will love me more. I’ll get more grace. We think this way in part because this is how the world works. If I sell more product, then I make more money. If I make more money, then I can get the better house. We are hard-wired to think that our performance earns us more favor or a better status. And that performance mindset often shows up in our relationship with God. We think, “Well, if I can just stop sinning in this one area of my life, then God will love me more. He’ll see that I am very serious and deserve more mercy.”
What we must realize is that this performance mindset is the death of true holiness. That mindset will never produce true growth because it fails to deal with our fatal problem – our inability to ever do anything good or righteous in God’s eyes! The only source of growth in true holiness is the absolute grace of God. God’s grace gets us out of that performance trap by reminding us that we are completely accepted by God only because of the perfect life of Christ. Through faith, Christ’s righteousness becomes ours. That means whenever God looks at a believer, he sees that person as already being completely righteous and holy.
And that’s the truth that breaks the performance cycle. When we truly understand God’s grace in Christ, we realize that God cannot possibly love his people any less. But we also realize that God cannot possibly love his people any more. And when that realization hits us, our mindset changes. Our thinking gets re-wired. Instead of viewing holiness as the way to earn God’s favor, we now see holiness as the overflow of what God has already graciously given us. Instead of pursuing holiness in order to achieve a new identity as God’s child, we now see the pursuit of holiness as the expression of our new identity as God’s child. You see the difference? Holiness goes from being a duty to being a delight.
John Bunyan, the great English preacher and author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, understood this point better than most. Bunyan was famous for his preaching on God’s grace, but not everyone thought Bunyan’s emphasis on grace was such a good idea. There were some critics who said to Bunyan, “If you keep assuring people of God’s love, then they will do whatever they want.” That’s a bad understanding of grace, and Bunyan knew it. So, he replied, “No, if you keep assuring God’s people of God’s love, then they will do whatever he wants!” Bunyan understood that a biblical understanding of grace was at the heart of true love for God and thus true holiness.
So, if you want to grow in holiness, then study and reflect on God’s grace in the gospel. Learn to dwell deeply in the gospel, the good news that unrighteous sinners are counted righteous in Christ. The more deeply you dwell in that sweet truth, the more freely holiness will flow from your life.
God’s Grace Promises to Sustain Us
So, that’s the second truth about God’s grace from 1 Peter – it powerfully changes God’s people. Now the third truth – God’s grace promises to sustain us. In order to appreciate this point, we need to remember the context of the book. 1 Peter is a very realistic letter. When you read these five chapters, you will not come away thinking that the Christian life is always easy. Peter tells us the truth about following Christ, and the truth is that we should expect hardships and trials. Remember 4.1 – “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.” And 4.12 – “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you.” 1 Peter is a realistic letter. Everyone who truly bears the name of Christ should expect to suffer for that name.
But in the midst of suffering for the name of Christ, Peter also makes clear that the grace that powerfully changes believers also promises to sustain them to the end. This shows up in a number of different ways throughout the letter. To begin with, God’s grace sustains us with the promise of a secure inheritance. You see this at the very beginning of the letter, chapter 1, v4. Peter says believers are born again “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” When a person is born again, he becomes a child of God, and as a child of God, he now has access to the family inheritance, so to speak. That inheritance is eternal glory and salvation with Christ. It’s an inheritance that cannot fade or lose value over time.
But, when that same Christian begins to suffer for Christ, it is easy to begin questioning whether or not he will receive that inheritance. What if the trials of this life rob me of my inheritance, he might think? Peter says that’s not possible. In his grace, God promises his people an inheritance that is kept in heaven. It’s secure in other words. Nothing, not even the most intense trials of this life, can rob us of what is ours in Christ.
But Peter goes on with more sustaining grace. Not only is the inheritance kept in heaven for us, but we are kept for the inheritance! Again we look at chapter 1, this time in v5. The inheritance is 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.” A secure inheritance is no good if we don’t reach it. Yes, there is the promise of eternal salvation with Christ, but how can I know that I will reach that salvation? Peter says you can know because the same God who keeps the inheritance is also keeping you.
And how is he doing that? Through faith. God keeps his people by keeping them in the faith. This is why it is so important that you continue to feed on God’s word and continue to believe God’s promises in Scripture. That continued believing, that continued faith is the way that God keeps you to the end. Each act of remembering God’s promises and trusting in Christ is an evidence of God’s sustaining grace, working in your life to keep you secure for final salvation. As we said last week, don’t underestimate the power of daily faithfulness in trusting Christ and feeding on God’s word. It’s how God keeps you to the end.
So, by God’s grace, our future is secure with Christ. Our inheritance is kept in heaven for us, and we are guarded for that inheritance by God’s power at work through faith. That means no amount of suffering can harm us or rob us of what is most important – our future glory with Christ. But what about the present? What about the fact that believers still suffer and endure trials in this life? Should we just hope in our certain future and grit our teeth through this life, or is there any sustaining grace for present difficulties?
Peter would answer, “Yes, there is much grace for the present as well.” God’s grace sustains us with the promise that present suffering for Christ is actually a blessing. Why is suffering for Christ a blessing? Because it reveals God’s active work in our lives. You have to follow Peter’s thinking throughout the letter to see this evidence of grace. In chapter 1, vv6-7, Peter reminds his readers that their trials are not meaningless, neither are they intended to hurt them. Rather, God is using the trials to produce in them genuine faith, which will result in praise and glory when Christ returns. In other words, God is at work in their trials.
And that’s why believers can consider suffering for Christ a blessing, as Peter says in 3.14, because it reveals God’s ongoing work in their lives. In his grace, God is using even our trials to make us more and more like Christ, and that gracious promise should sustain during even the most difficult days of this life. That means we don’t hope only in the future, while simply trying to endure the present. Rather, as Peter says in 4.13, we can rejoice even in the face of suffering, because it reveals our good Father is preparing us for his heavenly kingdom. The same grace of God that powerfully changes us also promises to sustain us.
So, this is the true grace of God. It is a blood-bought reality made possible only through Jesus Christ. It is powerful to change God’s people, giving them new birth, a new identity, a new purpose, and a new calling to pursue holiness. And it sustains God’s people to the end, with the promise of a sure inheritance in Christ, a sure future for believers, and sure knowledge that God is at work in our lives in the present. As the apostle Peter has taught us, this is the true grace of God. It is firm and unchanging because it is built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us stand firm in this unchanging, steadfast grace of God, given to us only in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
More in 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers
February 23, 2014Humble and Vigilant
February 16, 2014Shepherding the Flock of God
February 9, 2014Joyfully Entrusting Ourselves to a Faithful Creator