Thursday, May 29, 2014

Salvation and the End of Suffering (1Peter 1)

We Christians often speak of our salvation as merely a personal and inward miraculous phenomenon. However, the story of salvation in the Bible is much larger than a single event in the life of an individual. Our salvation, God’s work of grace in us, is also a journey of a lifetime as we are being saved. The story won’t be complete until we see justice done not only in our own hearts, but throughout the entire world.

1 Peter 1:13-16 (ESV)
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'

Peter writes to a persecuted church in exile, encouraging them to remain holy, to continue to resist their old nature, to walk according to the salvation that has been purchased for them. Peter is speaking about the action that follows their faith, a present salvation, the life they now live in imitation of Jesus. He is describing a grace as something that has not yet come, a future grace in which they should set their hope. It is for this grace, a future salvation, that they are to prepare their minds, and be holy. Peter is writing to people who are already believers. He is not describing a salvation by works. These believers were already saved by grace through faith, according to God's power at work in them, not by works or merit at all.

1 Peter 1:17-19 (ESV)
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

So, in one passage, Peter is speaking of the grace of God as a past, present, and future grace. In the life of the Christian, we call this past grace our justification, our present journey of faith our sanctification, and the future grace for which we hope, our glorification.

Past Grace – Our Justification

We have been ransomed. We belong to God, purchased from the clutches of death that owned us by the blood of Jesus Christ. Our salvation is in Christ, completed by God, and not us, an unalterable condition made sure by the total incorruptibility of the price paid, Jesus' imperishable blood. We belong to God.

1 Peter 1:1-5 (ESV)
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 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 through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, 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.

We have been elected, chosen by God, according to his foreknowledge and his great mercy. This is the work of our salvation. It is entirely the merciful work of God, not our merit or strength or action. We are saved by grace. When Peter speaks of this salvation, he calls us "born again". God has caused us to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, we are ransomed, purchased by God through a trade of Christ's blood for our lives, and then once given the death of Christ, we are united with him, and receive the power of his resurrection for new life for that moment onward.

Present Grace – Our Sanctification

Something of the "futile ways inherited by (our) forefathers" remain with us though we are saved. If Peter needs to command the believers not to "be conformed to the passions of (our) former ignorance", then it must be possible for us to do otherwise. Disciples of Christ are to remember that we have been ransomed, made holy as Jesus is holy, and act accordingly, in faith, as though we believe that it is so. This also is a gift, not a burden of works we must carry, any more than was our initial salvation.

It is in the present that we are guarded through faith for our future salvation. We belong to God, and as God's children we are now guarded by our Heavenly Father until we experience the fullness of our salvation. This present, daily salvation is called our sanctification. God has called us holy when he ransomed us by Christ's blood. Now he is making us holy every day as we obediently pick up our cross and follow after Jesus (v2). This is the sanctification of the Spirit, the reason we were filled with the Spirit of God at our salvation. Our present salvation is experienced by the gift of the Spirit in us, when we put our faith in the past work of Christ, and the future hope held for us by our Father in heaven (v13).

The grace to follow after Jesus daily is received by faith, just as was our initial justification. We are given the grace to resist temptation, to live contrary to the selfish patterns of the empires of the world, and to forgive those who have sinned against us.

Future Grace – Our Glorification

God’s act of saving grace is a past event, but it is also a future event. We are born again to a living hope. We hope for what we do not yet see. Our hope is for a future inheritance. We have not yet received the fullness of our salvation. We belong to God, but we still have an inheritance coming to us.

Our past salvation is our ransom by Christ's blood, and the resurrection of our beings, according to the power of God. Our future hope for salvation is the inheritance we share because we have been united with Christ. We receive both by grace through faith. It is for this reason that we may remain unsatisfied with the condition of the world as it is. In our hope for Jesus’ return, and the fullness of salvation we will receive, we also hope for the salvation of all things, the redemption of Creation according to God’s original purpose, that we have bent and corrupted so much by our sin.

Romans 8:18-25 (ESVUK)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

We are given grace to endure the suffering that comes with our daily obedience, our sanctification as we follow after Jesus, by the hope we have that all suffering, not just our own, will end at the return of Jesus. In that hope we may live by the grace of God in the power of God to live out the love, freedom, and justice of God now, declaring the gospel and ministering the freedom of the gospel to any and all who are bound by the corruption that still remains on earth.

We set our hearts firmly on our future hope, and daily walk in obedience after the footsteps of Christ, by whose blood we have already been ransomed and born again, and all of this is entirely the work of God, by grace, received through faith.

Recommended: Isaiah 1 - To Hell With Religion. We Need Justice.
Click image for the entire series.
Click image for the entire series.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Great Reversal (Isaiah 3)

We are not promised the wealth and power of the world in the Bible. Instead, we’ve been rescued from our need to accrue its worthless and corrupted riches. In the satisfaction of a living God, all hierarchies and titles and systems of power no longer mean anything.

Isaiah 3:1-3 (ESV)
For behold, the Lord God of hosts
is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah
support and supply,
all support of bread,
and all support of water;
the mighty man and the soldier,
the judge and the prophet,
the diviner and the elder,
the captain of fifty and the man of rank,
the counselor and the skillful magician
and the expert in charms.

Hierarchies and titles mean nothing outside of the blessing of God. All those who appear most powerful, who have any ability to control others, only have anything they have - skill, wealth, and power - because God allows it. By their arrogance they condemn themselves. When God's hand is removed from the arrogant, all the heights will be brought low, and the valleys raised. All they once believed was theirs is vanity. Justice will remove it and expose them as nothing.

Isaiah 3:13-15 (ESV)
The Lord has taken his place to contend;
he stands to judge peoples.
The Lord will enter into judgment
with the elders and princes of his people:
'It is you who have devoured the vineyard,
the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people,
by grinding the face of the poor?'
declares the Lord God of hosts.

The lives of the poor of a nation are the evidence of the corruption of the rich and powerful. The suffering of the most vulnerable is a testimony to the depth of corruption of the most comfortable.

Isaiah 3:24 (ESV)
Instead of perfume there will be rottenness;
and instead of a belt, a rope;
and instead of well-set hair, baldness;
and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth;
and branding instead of beauty.

The upside down kingdom will reverse the order for those who choose worldly wealth and power on this side of eternity. The great trade has already been made. By the mercy of God we are offered true and satisfying life now, through union with Christ. All the riches of this world are stained with blood. The violence of the way of the world is exposed on the cross. The wealth of the wicked will become for them its own condemnation.

Next Tuesday: Isaiah 4 - Living Branch From The Living Tree
Tomorrow: 1 Peter 1 - Salvation and the End of Suffering

Click the image above for the whole series from Isaiah
Click here for the whole series from Isaiah