Hope from a New Identity Part 1 (1 Peter 1:1-2a)
I am ready to dig into God’s Word again! We are going to start our study in 1 Peter. The title of the series is called, “Hope for the Living: Growing when the going gets tough.” I really pray this year the Word become richer and deeper for our lives and our church through this book. I also pray that as we dig into the Word of God, we will come into a richer and deeper relationship with the God of the Word.
Who are you? That would be kind of strange if someone came up to you and asked that question. No one usually asks us that question! Usually with people you just met they ask, “You are?” And by that question they mean to ask, “What’s your name?” or “What name can I call you by?” How many of you like the name your parents gave you? I have come to terms with my name, though every once in a while someone will say, “Isn’t that more of a girl’s name?” That irritates me and sometimes I am tempted to introduce myself as Rob or Robert.
Being named or being known by something really shapes you. There is a negative side to it. For example, some time ago Katie Couric interviewed Jennifer Wilbanks on NBC News. Jennifer became famous in 2005 when she disappeared the week before her wedding. The nation watched and worried as law enforcement officials tried to find her, but the situation turned out to be a hoax. The bride-to-be had hopped on a Greyhound bus and made up a story about being abducted. She was later dubbed the “Runaway Bride.”
During the conversation, Katie asked: “What do you hope people take away from this interview, Jennifer?”
The young woman replied, “I hope that people will allow me to learn who I truly am. So I hope that as I go through this healing process and start to learn more about myself, accept myself, love myself for who I am, then everybody else will, too. And that I will no longer be the Runaway Bride. Then maybe a lot of these people could call me friend, or call me by my real name—Jennifer.”
There is also a positive side to it. R. C. Sproul shares the story of a college student he once taught who had cerebral palsy. You know what that looks like—spastic movements and garbled speech. But as is often the case, this student was very bright and capable. Sproul writes:
One day he came to me vexed with a problem and asked me to pray for him. In the course of the prayer, I said something routine, with words like, “Oh, God, please help this man as he wrestles with this problem.” When I opened my eyes, the student was quietly weeping.
I asked him what was wrong and he stammered his reply, “You called me a man. No one has ever called me a man before.”
So let’s start with this:
I. Our identity is based on who God says we are
If anyone has a right to tell you who you are, it should be your Creator and Savior right? We are who God says we are.
There is power in knowing your identity. We all have a sense of identity. I am sure much of it was developed in our upbringing, much also contributed to by our education, but also much from our deciding “who we wanted to be.” However, when we became Christians, God gave us a new identity. And one of the biggest struggles we have is to live lives in such a way that we are defined by what God says we are. I think one of Satan’s strongest weapons is to convince us that we are not who God says we are and that we cannot do what God says, by His grace, we can do.
Why is understanding our identity in Christ so important? Because what we do flows out of who we perceive ourselves to be. We will consistently behave in ways that is consistent with how we perceive ourselves to be. If you perceive yourself as no use to God and others, you will probably live that way. If your core identity is that you are worthless and an embarrassment to the Lord, it will affect your thinking, talk, how you live and your choices. Some of us been brought up thinking we will never amount to anything and that has shaped us. Satan is hard at work trying to get you to think in ways that shape your actions. He will tell you lies that “you are wasting time confessing your sins to God, because He is not listening.” Or “you are inferior to other Christians and you are destined to always fall short of their successes.” Or “you are a helpless victim of your past, and you are helpless to change your future.” Or “You are an embarrassment to God and you will always be.” I can go on and on and this has crippled us as believers. It has left us withering away.
So I am not surprised that when Peter begins this epistle, the first thing he wants to talk about is our identity in Christ. We are not what our parents said we are or what our upbringing was like or how you feel or how people treated you or what your race is or what you look like. When we looked at Colossians, I gave you seven wrong foundations of our identity:
1. My identity is in my career.
2. My identity is in my culture.
3. My identity is in my countenance.
4. My identity is in my college education.
5. My identity is in my circle of friends.
6. My identity is in my circumstances of the past.
7. My identity is in my children.
And because these things have taken the place of God, we are left disappointed and unfulfilled. So how will this old, or should I say, seasoned pastor comfort struggling and suffering Christians in the start of his letter? He will name them and remind them who and whose they are.
Let’s look at some introductory matters first. Peter writes the letter in typical fashion of his day. He introduced himself and his original readers, and he wished God’s blessing on them to prepare them for what he had to say. Interestingly, Peter calls himself “Peter” as he starts this letter. Jesus had named him. It meant a rock (John 1:42). In ancient days, names were intended to describe what the person would be like (Jacob—means supplanter and trickster, but God turned him into Israel—the one who strives with God (Gen. 25:19-34; Gen. 32:22-29)). But Peter was more of a pebble than the Rock of Gibraltar. Aren’t you so glad God is not done with us as soon as He names us?
Notice Peter’s title: “An apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.”This means he is “a messenger of Christ sent into the world with authority to carry out the will of the one who sent him. The letter is to be seen, not as the pious opinions of a well-wishing friend, but as the authoritative word of one who speaks for the Lord of the church himself.” By stating that he is an apostle, he is telling his readers they can listen to him because he has credibility, authenticity and authority. You need someone like that to encourage you during tough times.
Notice he places himself on the same level as the other apostles. He says he is an apostle and not the apostle. I wonder if has learned that he is simply on the same level as the others since in the Gospels, he is always stepping up and saying how he will do things even if others do not.
Here are two things God says we are:
a) We are planted pilgrims
I want to look at the word “elect” in a second, but notice the words “exiles of the dispersion.” Other translations say, “aliens, scattered” (NASU), or “strangers in the world, scattered” (NIV). It literally means “sojourners of the dispersion.” “Dispersion” or “scattered” is the word from which we get “diaspora.” At the time of Peter perhaps a million Jews were living in Israel and two to four million outside of it, a significant group in the Empire, to be sure. These believers scattered across modern day Turkey (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia) were not “home.”
So this is describing what they were geographically, but more than this, it describes what they are metaphorically. So what he is saying is that God’s people are sojourners or pilgrims. Thus, we are visitors passing through this life from another world, who have no intention of settling down away from home. We are on a visitor’s visa. Remember what the author of Hebrews said of Abraham? He “made a home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country…for he was looking forward to the city…whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:9-10). Paul says in Phil. 3:20: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” So since you are not from around here, don’t try so hard to fit in and be understood. There will naturally be distancing and rejection and sometimes even hatred from the citizens of this world.
When he uses the word “scattered,” this also has several nuances of meaning. It can mean like sheep being scattered or it can mean like seed being scattered in the wind. I am sure these suffering Christians felt like they were like scattered sheep and windblown seed. But do you know what happens to scattered seed? Stuart Briscoe says, “The unpleasantness of being scattered could lead to the bearing of new fruit if they looked at their situation as being a strategic planting by the hand of God.”
So when you put these two ideas together, you get the idea of “planted pilgrims.” It sounds contradictory, like an oxymoron, but I think it conveys the idea here 1) that your suffering is not out of control, that God has strategically planted you where you are 2) this your suffering is temporary since this world is not your final destination anyway.
What does this mean for us? It means don’t love this world (1 John 2:15). The believer is not made for this world. C.S. Lewis says, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Randy Alcorn says in his great book Heaven that “Satan need not convince us that Heaven doesn’t exist. He need only convince us that Heaven is a place of boring, unearthly existence.” And in doing so, we attach ourselves to this world and we certainly don’t want to share our faith and tell people about a boring place that we ourselves are not interested in going…that is, until suffering hits. And God uses this to unfasten us, cut off the cables and cause us to change our perspective.
When I hear “planted,” I am reminded that I am strategically placed, not a wild tree in the jungle somewhere. God has placed you where you are for a reason. He is not surprised you are where you are. So bloom where you are planted. When I hear “pilgrim” I am reminded that I am temporary and so is everything around me. Why spend so much time to build that sandcastle that will one day be destroyed by the tidal wave? So I will invest in the things that last: God’s people, God’s Kingdom and God’s Work. Neither moth nor rust can take those away. I do not need to complain about my circumstances. Why complain so much about a layover city, when you know that is not your final destination? When my visa is up, I am out of here!
Secondly, we are:
b) Chosen and loved Children
Now let’s look at this controversial word: “elect.” We cannot avoid this word in this book. Look also at 1 Pet. 2:9. That verse is alluding to is Deut. 7:6 where God says, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Look at Eph. 1:4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Rev. 13:8 and 17:8 says our names were written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world. To elect or to choose is found 22x in the New Testament. Seven of which refer to God’s choice of people to inherit eternal life. It is everywhere in the Bible!
But the Scripture also teaches that “Let the one thirsty come; let the one who desires to take the water of life without price (Rev. 22:17). “Come to me who are weary and heavy laden…” (Matt. 11:28). So which one is it? It’s both. As Pastor James MacDonald says, “The sovereign election of God and free will of man are two parallel points that meet in the mind of God.”
I do not get it completely, but I’m ok with that. Theologians over time have spent their lifetimes trying to sort it out. But I must rest on the fact of Deut. 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us…” The Scriptures do not tell us everything about the mind of God in this matter. I am sure good Christians who all belong to different camps will be in Heaven.
But what I do know is Scriptures tell us how to respond to the doctrine of election. It is to be a comfort to us (Rom. 8:28-29), in the midst of trials and uncertainties of life, to know that God who chose me will take me to the end. It should lead us to praise God (Eph. 1:12) and it humbles us knowing it was nothing that was in us for God to choose us. Most of the time I see Christians talking about this topic, I have never heard anyone talk about how the Bible does act us to respond. It is always fruitless debate and arguments, often ending in division.
It is interesting here that Peter has put elect and sojourners, aliens or exiles together. It is a contradiction of terms. Sojourners were rejected, not belonging anywhere and alone in their society. But as elected or chosen, they are not rejected, but they are selected. Peter is saying that no matter where you live, dear suffering believer, you are near and dear to the heart of God as He has chosen you in Christ Jesus.
He then explains, using the Trinity, what election entails. What does it mean to be elected?
Look at 1 Pet. 1:2. See the word “according to”? This means Peter is explaining how we are chosen. Notice the words “foreknowledge of God the Father.” Another controversial word! Foreknowledge does not mean God was simply aware or that He knew in advance what we were going to believe, so based on that God chose us. In the Bible, to foreknow means “to set one’s love on a person or persons in a personal way.” It is used this way in Amos 3:2: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” God set His electing love on the nation of Israel. Other verses that use “know” in this special sense are Psalm 1:6; Matthew 7:23; John 10:14, 27; and 1 Corinthians 8:3. So when you see that God foreknew you, it means He “foreloved” you.
Let this sink in for us. We are chosen and loved children! I think about our second child in the womb. She is already loved before she arrives. How much more did God, before the foundation of the world, love us! It was nothing we ever did, but out of His grace and love. I cannot grasp this!
Some of us never got chosen for anything! I was thinking about that in own life. Growing up, during recess, I would never get picked for teams. I was always the last kid to get picked. I had so few friends that once I wrote my own entries in my yearbook. Most of the people probably did not even know I existed. It reminded of a short story I once read in an article written by Mary Ann Bird called “The Whisper Test:
I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech.
When schoolmates asked, “What happened to your lip?” I’d tell them I’d fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.
There was, however, a teacher in the second grade whom we all adored — Mrs. Leonard by name. She was short, round, happy — a sparkling lady.
Annually we had a hearing test. Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something, and we would have to repeat it back–things like “The sky is blue” or “Do you have new shoes?” I waited there for those words that God must have put into her mouth, those seven words that changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said, in her whisper, “I wish you were my little girl.”
Love whispers, “I choose you.” Despite our misshapen spirits, crooked hearts and lopsided souls, God, before we were born, before there was time, God picked us. We are chosen children! This is our identity: Chosen and loved children and planted pilgrims. What does this mean for our lives? We will explore that next time, but today can we ask God to silence all other voices that tell us who we are and revel and celebrate and hear His voice that says in Is. 43:1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life” (Is. 43:2, 4).
God, out of love, also decided to die for our sins as well before the world began (1 Pet. 1:20). God doesn’t love us because He has to, as an obligation. He loves us because He wants to. As Lewis Smedes puts it, “It may be a very bad thing that I needed God to die for me. But it is a wonderful thing that God thinks I’m worth dying for.”
“Katie Couric Interviews Runaway Bride,” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8245228/ accessed 14 January 2010.
As quoted in Lee Eclov’s sermon “The Blessed Limp,” from http://www.preachingtoday.com accessed 14 January 2010.
Constable, Tom. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible. Galaxie Software.
Mounce, Robert. (1982). A Living Hope: A Commentary on 1 and 2 Peter (7). Eugene: OR: Wipf and Stock.
Davids, P. H. (1990). The First Epistle of Peter. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (45–46). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Briscoe, Stuart (1993). Holy Living in a Hostile World (3). Wheaton, IL:Harold Shaw Publishers.
Davids, P. H. (46).
Lewis, C.S as quoted in http://www.comnett.net/~rex/cslewis.htm accessed 15 January 2010.
Alcorn, Randy (2004). Heaven (11). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.
 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“The Whisper Test” http://www.inspirationaljournal.com/archives/inspirational-stories/the-whisper-test/ accessed 16 January 2010.