Thomas à Kempis, a fourteenth century Christian, once wrote:
It is a good thing that we have to face difficulties and opposition from time to time, because this brings us back to ourselves; it makes us realise that we are exiles and cannot pin our hopes on anything in this world (The Imitation of Christ, pg. 52).
Although I would not subscribe to all of his theology, this is a very pastoral observation and one which rings true with the circumstances of 1 Peter. The people Peter wrote to were Christians spread across Asia Minor facing fierce opposition and hostility. For that reason Peter’s message throughout his letter is that his readers should maintain the highest standards of holy living as a witness to those persecuting them. He calls his readers to exhibit obedience in the face of opposition, holiness in the midst of hostility.
The point I find significant and interesting about Peter’s argument is not the call for obedience in the face of opposition, and holiness in the midst of hostility, but how he constructs this call.
The Glorious Gospel: Redemption
Ed Clowney points out the significance in Peter’s argument. He observes that ‘Peter does not begin to exhort Christian pilgrims until he has celebrated the wonders of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ’ (Bible Speaks Today: 1 Peter, pg. 61).
In the opening twelve verses of chapter 1 Peter praises God for the great mercy shown to Christians in giving them a precious inheritance, won through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice in their place. In other words he waxes eloquently about the gospel. Peter writes:
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. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and enquired carefully, enquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1:1-12)
His purpose in dwelling on the gospel is to equip the Christians, to whom he is writing, to be able to endure hardships in this life because of the joy of the next. This becomes clear in verse 13, ‘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.’ This verse speaks of final salvation whenever Jesus returns. Peter in effect says look to the final salvation, when Jesus will return, we will be made perfect and life will be lived in the new creation.
Toward the end of chapter one then Peter dwells on the gospel again. In verse 18 Peter reminds the Christians he writes to that they are rescued from an old way of life. Each and every Christian used to live in the ways inherited from their forefathers, in sin. It doesn’t matter if we became a Christian at age 4, 14 or 24 – we all lived in sin prior to God saving us. But, by God’s grace in Jesus we have been rescued from that way of life. Peter’s words are:
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. (Vv. 18-19)
The idea in these verses is one of buying freedom. At the time when Peter was writing this letter it would have been common for slaves to take a large sum of money (silver and gold) to the temple of their local deity. In giving this money to their god, their god would then be enabled to ‘redeem’ them from their slavery. In other words, rescue them, release them; activate them as common citizens. This meant that in the eyes of their master and the society at large they were now free people. Peter makes it clear to his readers that this is what God has done for Christians – God has redeemed them from a life of slavery to sin. However, we have not had to pay with silver and gold, our redemption is not achieved by handing over money, but by the death of the perfect Jesus in the place of immoral sinners. God has actually paid the price for this freedom with the precious blood of Jesus, the death of his only Son.
Peter has spent a considerable amount of time in chapter one dwelling on the glorious gospel: redemption.
The Only Option: Obedience
It is only against this backdrop that Peter can then say the only option is obedience. Given that God crucified his only Son; given that Jesus willingly went to the cross; given the glorious gospel, there is only one option – obedience! As we said above though this call for obedience in the face of opposition only ever comes after the proclamation of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. This exhortation from Peter is found in the middle of chapter one:
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 all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (Vv. 14-16)
Here Peter quotes Leviticus 19:2 (LXX) exactly, and the point he is making is that the God who saved us calls us to holiness that is characteristic of him. You must be holy, because I your God, your Saviour, am holy. We must note here that ‘The call is to live differently, not just practice religion differently’ (K. Jobes, BECNT: 1 Peter, pg. 113). This is not just one aspect of life that is to change; our whole lives are to be transformed by this salvation we have experienced.
If the gospel has taken root in our hearts, Peter argues, we are to live very different lives from those we used to live and from the lives of others around us. We are to be totally different from those around us who are not Christians. The only option is obedience.
Another Walked this Way
The significance of the way Peter constructs his argument is found in the reality that another has walked this way before us. Due to this other person there is obedience demanded. All ethical exhortations in Scripture follow the reality that Jesus has given his life for ours.
Peter is encouraging his readers to remember that God knows what it is to offer obedience in the face of opposition, holiness in the midst of hostility. The Second Person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ, took on flesh and walked this earth. While in the flesh he faced fierce opposition and hostility to what he taught and how he lived. Ultimately, this ended in his brutal crucifixion, and sin-bearing death.
So as we look toward another week, month, or year; as we resolve to live obediently in the face of opposition; as we desire holiness in the midst of hostility, we do so knowing Jesus has walked this road before, and in walking that road has won our redemption.
The only option? Obedience.