By what do you persevere?
Why do you think you will wake up a Christian: because you cause yourself everyday to believe? Or because God causes you to believe?
This is an important question. How would you answer it? Have you even thought about it?
I grew up for the longest time believing the answer was that I caused it myself. I believed that the weight of producing faith for God and following him the rest of my life rested entirely upon my own shoulders. But years ago as I started truly digging into the Scriptures with an open heart to see who God reveals himself to be – not just the God I had formed from hearing others preach throughout my upbringing – I began to see a different story being revealed to me. What’s supremely important is not what I thought or believed the answer to the question was, but how it’s described in Scripture.
1 Peter 1 will be my home base for diving into this topic. This isn’t because it’s the only place in Scripture where this is discussed – far from it – but because of its context and contents combined with who wrote it. Simon Peter.
Most historians believe that this book was written a little before 64AD. 64AD is an important date in history because it marks the great fire of Rome. It’s widely believed that Emperor Nero started the fire himself so that he could rebuild Rome how he wanted. He blamed the fire on Christians, whom he despised and murdered. It was under Neros’ reign that believers were mounted to poles, drenched in oil and set on fire throughout the city. This was the type of persecution that followers of Jesus were facing at that time.
This background is important. It helps us understand what Peter’s audience was facing and adds to the gravity of his words in 1 Peter chapter 1.
God is in complete control
“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.” 1 Peter 1:3-5
There is some important language in here that is easy to brush by. “According to his [God’s] great mercy, he [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope.” This phrase “caused us to be born again” comes from the Greek verb “ἀναγεννάω” which translates two ways:
1. To produce anew
2. Thoroughly change one’s mind so that he lives a new life
So according to God’s mercy, that is God’s own graciousness a part from any outside power, he produces in us a new life that changes our minds to live differently. Being born again is at the root of the power of the Gospel. But its power isn’t something that we produce or find on our own. It’s produced by God from God because of God.
And because God is the one who causes and produces it, he’s also the one who protects it: “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for salvation” (verse 5).
The theology of God’s absolute sovereignty didn’t seem to be debated among Biblical authors and characters. It’s intertwined all throughout the entire Old and New Testaments – from the Rebekah’s womb in Genesis (Genesis 25:23, Romans 9:10-13), to the life of Pharaoh in Egypt (Exodus 9:12, Romans 9:17-18), to the interactions of Moses with God in the wilderness (Exodus 33:19), to the prophecies of Jeremiah (31), Ezekiel (36:26)) and Malachi (1:2-5), to Paul (Ephesians 1, Colossians 1, Romans 9), Peter (1 Peter 1), and John’s (John 6, Revelation 2) experiences after Christ’s resurrection – to name a few.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36:26-28
This is an infamous passage where Ezekiel is prophesying the salvation of Israel and the establishment of the new kingdom of Heaven - for those who are the sons of Abraham by faith (Romans 4). He beautifully lays out the process of being born again and receiving a transplant because of our sinful, self-reliant and selfish hearts. The Lord causes this transformation to happen and he protects it forever. On our own we are unable to truly love God without eyes to see and ears to hear without having our hearts enlightened through this transformation (Ephesians 1:15-23).
So again, why is this important? If you believe that the preservation of your saving faith is entirely up to you then that also means your endurance to continue in the faith is up to you also.
Imagine you are the audience of Peter’s letter. While things are bad now, in a couple of years the government of the Roman empire is going to be hunting you down to murder you. Not quickly, though. They are going to make your death a public display of torture. The bodies of your Christian brothers and sisters will line the streets of Rome while being burned alive. The light that illuminates sidewalks and streets won’t just come from torches but the smoldering bodies of those you care about most. Imagine facing THAT kind of persecution as a believer. And then imagine Peter’s beautiful words reminding you that God is in complete and total control of the situation. Your endurance and race towards your crown of righteousness is being guarded and protected by the authority and sovereignty of God Almighty.
If salvation was something that we chose completely and independently from God, then we could just as easily fall away at any and every trial or persecution. If the authority rests on us, then it’s also dependent upon us. Every day, all day believers around the world aren’t being sanctified for salvation because of their own will and determination. It’s not the Gospel of Man. The Bible isn’t a story of humanity, time and time again, enduring throughout centuries of history by their own strength. It’s a story of humanity struggling and destroying itself because of what happens when we live accordingly and independently from our own will.
The roaring lion
Later in chapter 5 Peter says:
“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devoir. Resist him firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm and establish you.”
Satan, the deceiver, who at times disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) seeks to devour our faith. The reason I thought Peter’s book would be a great example is because of what Jesus told him in Luke 22:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
Most people who grew up in the church know of Peter’s denial. It’s surely in every pastor’s yearly tool-belt of sermons. But the context of this in conjunction with this blog post is harmonious. Jesus predicts a moment when Peter would stumble and deny three different times that he was a disciple of Christ or even knew him. This same Christ says in Matthew 10:32-33
“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
If Peter chose Christ and lived for him according to his own will and strength, this could’ve be the end of the road. But that’s not what Jesus tells Peter. “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And WHEN you have turned again [denied me three times], strengthen your brothers.” Jesus is telling Peter that he is protecting his faith from Satan. The devil wanted to eat his faith and consume him, but Christ proclaims to use his trial to strengthen the other disciples and that Peter’s faith is secured.
We live in a society and culture that prioritizes its own sovereign choice above all else. It’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with the living human inside of her. It’s a person’s right to choose whether they want to be straight, gay, bisexual or have a sexual attachment to something inanimate. Or even the right to determine or change their own sexual identity by what they feel. We treasure our freedom to choose and dictate our own truth. It’s just not Biblical for salvation to fall into the same manmade-way of selfish thinking. We cannot consecrate in ourselves a new heart that is filled with the Spirit of God on our own. It’s not our responsibility to carry and fix.
The hope in all of this is why it has impacted me so greatly. The endurance of Christians in a dark, dangerous and polluted world is not dependent on ourselves. As I’ve set up in previous posts, we are all born with a sinful and diseased heart that blinds us from truth. In our blindness we will never be able to see without having an entirely new heart, which is called being born again. We are born again when God, in his great mercy, causes us to have a new heart, by his will, and calls us to a living hope which never fades. This faith is being guarded by God until the appointed time. And I would infinitely prefer to have the Lord of the universe calling and protecting my salvation than trying to do it myself.
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:38-40,44
The application of this is huge. Even though the devil prowls around and seeks to devour our faith, our salvation is sure to endure. Even when we falter and stumble, which we all do daily, God has secured our inheritance and hope for all who love and believe in his son. The inheritance is for those who treasure Christ above all other things. We can recognize this by the fruit produced by the Spirit in our lives.