Friday, January 18, 2013

A Living Hope

The epistle of First Peter is traditionally attributed to the apostle Peter, although many modern scholars dispute that today.  Regardless of the human author though, it is a very inspiring letter; and one filled with encouragement for believers who are suffering for their faith.  While not many of us in the US actually suffer for our faith, this letter is still very deserving of our study and meditation.

The introduction to this letter addresses it to God's elect, those he has chosen to be his.  No reason is given here for why God chooses us, apart from his foreknowledge; God knew us long ago and has chosen us.  Following this introduction the letter reviews where we stand with God, and the reason we can face challenging times with confidence.
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. - 1 Peter 1:3-9 NIV
This passage starts with a word of praise for what God has done for us.  And note that it is not something he did because we were deserving of it; rather it was because of his great mercy.  Because he has compassion on those he has chosen, God gives us new birth.  New birth implies starting afresh.  What we were and what we had to look forward to are left in the past.  God has transformed us, making us new, giving us both a new hope and an inheritance.

A Living Hope

As God's chosen ones, he has given us birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Vines Expository Dictionary defines hope as a "favorable and confident expectation".  What is this hope?  Given the context, I believe it is referring to to a confident expectation that we will share in Jesus resurrection, knowing that where Jesus is now, we will someday be.

That this hope is living would seem to mean that it is not something that I have put on a shelf to pull down someday.  Rather it is an active part of my life now.  Does it make a difference in my life now that Jesus rose from the dead, and that I can expect to follow him?  If it does not, then is it really a living hope?  We all know that life in this flesh is short; but my hope is in a life that will not end.  Why live as though this life is all I have?

An Inheritance

He has also given us birth into an eternal inheritance.  We often think of inheritance in conjunction with the death of the person leaving the inheritance.  But here, the only death is, in a sense, ours.  Having a new birth implies that we died to the old life, and in this new life we have an inheritance that is awaiting us; awaiting us until we indeed die to this life and enter into heaven.

This inheritance can never perish, spoil or fade and is safely kept in heaven awaiting us.  It does not need polishing or dusting.  It is not at the mercy of an investment broker and the economy.  It will not go out of style or spoil.

It is really easy to get caught up in the here and now, focusing on the temporary and volatile things that surround me and make up my life now.  But I have something waiting for me that is so much better.  I have no reason at all to be concerned about the little I have now.  No reason to hold onto it so tightly.  No reason to fear losing what I have here.  None of it will last.  None of it is worth taking with me.  Something much better is waiting.  Let go of the cheap trinkets of this life and embrace the glorious inheritance that awaits you.

Shielded by God's Power

We have new birth, a living hope and a glorious inheritance.  But we still live here in this world.  And the people of this world are not generally fans of Gods chosen ones.  Life can be hard: we face all of the difficulties that come from living in this world, as well as the challenges presented by people who take offense over those with a living hope, who look forward to a glorious inheritance.

But we are assured here that God's power serves as a shield to protect us while we are here.  Many would like to apply this shield to every aspect of our lives, but I do not believe that is appropriate.  God's people face hurricanes along with everyone else who lives along tropical coastlines.  All of us are equally at risk from disease and drunk drivers.  I believe Paul explains this shielding in 2 Timothy 1:12: "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day."  Paul had entrusted his eternity into God's hands, and was convinced that God's power would be a shield around him until he ultimately stood before God.

There is another interesting aspect to this passage here, and that is the role of faith.  I believe this is also explained in the 2 Timothy passage: Paul had entrusted something to God and was convinced he would guard it.  Paul, through faith, had given himself to God, and in faith believed that God would guard, in spite of what was going on around him.  We can be assured that God will guard what we entrust him with.  Will you trust him with yourself?

The Refiner's Fire

Do you ever find your surprised, and a bit discouraged, when you find yourself in the midst of challenging times?  Somehow many Christians have developed the feeling that God should shield them from all of the owies that life throws our way.  And so, when something unpleasant comes along, they are left to wonder why.

But it is unrealistic to expect that your life as a believer will be a bed of roses, nor is that really even a desirable goal.  We are told here that we may well have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  Some of these trials come simply because we live in this world, while others come about because of the worlds opposition to Christ.  But however they come, we can rejoice because of the hope we have and the inheritance we look forward to.  As Paul says in Romans 8:18: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."  Rather than moaning about what is happening now; look ahead to what is to come.  The present cannot begin to compare with our future.

Peter then compares our trials to a refiners fire.  I have never seen gold refined, but I did use to watch my dad as he prepared lead sinkers for fishing.  He had a small pan he put on the stove and added lead to the pan.  The lead would melt and he would scrape off the dross from the top before pouring the pure lead into molds for his sinkers.  I understand that the same process is used for gold: it has to be taken to the boiling point before the impurities can be stripped away.

But instead of gold, it is our faith that is being refined here.  How do you respond to difficult times?  Do you collapse or do you persevere?  Persevering is a demonstration of the genuineness of your faith, and is the desired outcome of the testing times.  Those challenges should lead us to trust ever more in our creator, and ever less on the temporary things of this world.  Instead of dreading the refiners fire, we should welcome it because when our faith is proved genuine, it results in praise, glory and honor in the end.  Hang in there during life's challenges, and rejoice in what they are accomplishing in your life; getting rid of the unimportant, and preparing you for a wondrous "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

An Inexpressible and Glorious Joy

The return of Jesus is still in our future.  Those of us living and following him now have never seen him, either in the past or the present.  But not seeing him with my eyes does not prevent me from believing in him, and loving him.  The world will scoff at faith, because it seems foolish to them.  Yet the foolishness of faith brings me into God's presence.

What is the goal of faith?  It lets me know God.  But the end result of faith is the salvation of my soul, the "me" that inhabits the shell I walk around in now.  I find it interesting that we are even now receiving the salvation of our souls.  It is not just something to look forward to at death, or at Jesus return.  But even now that goal is being accomplished.  The more I come to know God, experiencing his presence in my life; the more I experience the refining of my faith through the trials of this life; the more my soul is delivered from the bondage of this flesh and into the glory of his presence.  And that should fill me with a glorious and inexpressible joy.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

2 comments:

  1. Great post, my friend. I've been wrestling with these concepts a lot over the past 9 months.

    God Bess!

    ReplyDelete