Suffering and Salvation – 1 Peter 1:3-5

PersecutionIt is possible the original readers of 1 Peter wondered about the status of their salvation. They knew God had promised the Jewish people a return from the exile, a return to the “promised land” and a righteous and just king to rule over them in a time of prosperity. Yet the Jewish people remain in exile, Rome rules over them with an iron fist and the political circumstances of the early 60s would seem to indicate that some sort of war between Rome and Jerusalem was inevitable.

The original readers believed Jesus was in fact the messiah and that his death and resurrection had inaugurated a new age. They were awaiting the return of the Messiah to establish his kingdom in Jerusalem. But instead of a glorious return of the Messiah, the original readers of this letter were suffering oppression and persecution as a result of their faith in Jesus as Messiah. It is unlikely this was the sort of systematic persecution by Rome that would later be the case, but it was no less shocking given the hope they have in Jesus.

Does the persecution mean that they have not inherited salvation? Have they put their faith in Jesus in vain? Peter’s point in these opening verses is that the believer in Jesus has a new status (they are born again into God’s family) and that their inheritance is kept for them by God himself. In fact, by its very nature, their inheritance is unable to fade or become worthless.

In response to these fears, Peter first describes salvation as “an unfading inheritance” (1:3-5).  Peter is writing to Jewish Christians who are in fact suffering for their faith, so in this introductory prayer he introduces the main themes of the letter. The Christian will suffer in this age, but that suffering is not an indication of punishment. In fact, genuine salvation is completely secure because it is kept by God himself.

Second, Peter says we are born again into “a living hope.”  While “born again” is a common way to describe Christians in the contemporary church, Peter is the only writer in the New Testament to use the verb ἀναγεννάω to refer to the spiritual experience of the believer, although the concept appears in 2 Cor 5, for example, and is implied in several adoption passages (we are children of God, etc.).

All of this language refers to the Holy Spirit’s regeneration of the believer. Peter says here that we have “a great salvation” not simply because we get to go to heaven someday, but because we have been fundamentally changed through the power of the Spirit of God and the resurrection of Jesus.  Ernest Best points out that this should not be reduced to a metaphor. It is not the case that believer’s experience is “like being born again.” We are in fact born again (Best, 1 Peter, 75).

Third, this regeneration to new life is through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is somewhat surprising that he does not say through the blood of Jesus, or the Cross. Peter’s focus is on the coming of the new covenant in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; since he lives, we also can have life.  Peter described the hope we have on the basis of the resurrection of Jesus and the regeneration of the spirit as an inheritance.  This is a very biblical way to describe salvation. In the Hebrew Bible, Israel was redeemed from their slavery in Egypt and brought to the “promised land.” That land was their inheritance, promised to Abraham in Gen 12. In the New Testament Paul describes our salvation as an inheritance (1 Cor 6:9, 15:50, Col 3:24, Titus 3:7; cf., Heb 1:14).

In our increasingly post-Christian America, it is possible some more conservative evangelicals may have the same questions as Peter’s original readers. When is Jesus going to return and judge those people! How should this description of our salvation in 1 Peter change the way we look at the changing role of Christianity in contemporary culture?

12 thoughts on “Suffering and Salvation – 1 Peter 1:3-5

  1. I do not feel that Christians today think like 1 Peter teaches, especially in areas of us being truly changed by the Spirit of God, and that God holds our inheritance. Because he holds it no matter what happens to us in this life, and sufferings are not a punishment, we should greet the trials that come to us as we live separate from society. They are to be expected since we are now living as children of God which means we are made new, unlike the world we live in that has not surrendered to God. 1 Peter 1: 7 says that the trials come to prove our genuineness in our faith. Our culture today is based on being comfortable, and suffering is unwelcome to the point of alleviating it in whatever manner we can. We also doubt our ability to conquer sinful patterns because we do not believe in the power of the Holy Spirit in us, which means that we have God on our side and his power to tap into. Jobes says that believers should view these things in light of, “Although believers share in suffering by following the example of Christ, they also share in the sure victory of the one who has gone ahead of them and should therefore be encouraged to persevere in faithfulness.

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  2. “In our increasingly post-Christian America, it is possible some more conservative evangelicals may have the same questions as Peter’s original readers. When is Jesus going to return and judge those people! How should this description of our salvation in 1 Peter change the way we look at the changing role of Christianity in contemporary culture?”

    You bring up a great point. I believe we have the opportunity to see more true conversions as Christianity leaves the center square. Christianity spread the best under persecution.

    As Americans we now live in a mission field which is much different than a Christian nation. Because we live in a mission field it is better. It is a better opportunity to bear real Kingdom Eternal Fruit.

    We face this opportunity with the type of assurance you illustrated from the mouth of The Apostle Peter.

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  3. I think that today some of the conservative Christians spend so much time judging others on their own time that they neglect to remember that Jesus and God are truly the only people who can judge anyone especially based on their salvation. As Peter describes salvation and in our post-Christian society we need to hang on to the truths that Jesus has said and others have written on throughout the Bible. As Peter says our salvation is an “unfading inheritance” and we should do well to remember that is a valid statement. Our salvation is an inheritance and once we accept it that it cannot be taken away. It is from God and it is a gift, an inheritance as Peter says. Peter uses different word choice than others who write on these topics, however we should look at the way he writes from his point of view but we can use these even today. Peter speaks on the resurrection and of salvation as not changing and today I feel that we should spend more time looking at how Christianity is changing through Peter’s eyes. Even as the Christian role in society changes, truly God and Jesus do not. They are and they always will be and they haven’t changed although the Christianity in society continually seems to have a smaller and smaller presence, but salvation truly doesn’t nor does the way you attain it. Peter writes on truths that are even still valid today and we should look at it from that point of view.

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  4. We need to realize that Christianity is not about judging others for the actions that they have done or the attitudes that they might have towards fellow believers, but rather the Christian religion is about accepting those who are different from us and allowing God to use us as an avenue to change the culture around us. If we focus on the wrathful judgment that God will bring to the people who displease him, just as the Westboro Baptist Church does, than we are losing out on a significant aspect of God’s personality, that of forgiveness and mercy. Christians do not need to worry about the evil aspects of this degrading world, for this world is perishable and will be cleansed away when its time has come, but should instead focus on the eternal unfading treasure that our acceptance into God’s family has given us. When we focus on this unfading treasure, the evils and tribulations that come with living in this world lose much of their significance. The presidential race matters little to me in the end, because whoever wins the presidency has little impact on my eternal salvation. Given this I would still want to be an agent of God’s will in this world, bringing change and light to the stagnant and darkness, but I know that the outcomes of the world’s decisions do will not diminish my reward in heaven.

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  5. I tend to agree with those who have posted above, we like to sit in judgment of our fellow Christians and non-Christians alike. I think that for many believers in this day and age, the issue of salvation is only skin deep merely stopping at the “I’m not going to hell” level and goes no further. According to Peter there should be an evident and core deep change in the believer because the believer has been born again into a new state of being through the transformative power of Jesus. I am a firm believer that persecution is a very real side effect of Christianity, simply because Jesus said it will happen to us because it happened to Him and if we follow Him we should expect the same. The Bible never promises that the Christian life will be easy, but rather that we should expect persecution.

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  6. Maybe I’m not understanding the question correctly, but I don’t think the role of Christianity is changing, but maybe the application and context in which its being lived. If our country and culture is moving further and further away from christian values and a christian world view, Christians are going to look more like the believers that peter was writing too. Our hope and belief in the Gospel is going to need to be strong. Our joy is going to have to come from the fact that this world is temporary and we will one day be with our Lord in Heaven forever. The hope that the Gospel gives that is talked about in the Bible will be so much more real. I think we as 21st century Christians living in America cant even begin to understand to think of the salvation through Jesus as our only hope, and all we have to fall back on. We need to work in order to have that mentality.

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  7. I suppose I am not sure how to compare our current Post-Christian America with that of Peter’s original readers. They were facing major oppression, like you have mentioned in this blog post, “Rome rules over them with an iron fist.” In America, the most oppression that we see has to do with the Starbucks red cup or maybe a dirty look from someone who does not agree with us. We have not really faced the oppression that Peter’s original readers have. Some conservative Christian’s may be eager for Jesus to come back and judge people, but those same Christian’s probably have not tried to show Christ’s love to those people either. I understand that Peter’s original readers would have been eager, because they most likely lived in fear, but today we have it easy. We are comfortable. When the time comes that we do start to receive this kind of oppression, we should look to what Peter has said. We should stand strong in our faith through the circumstances.
    -McKenzie McCord-

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    • McKenzie,

      Post-Christain America is absolutely different from back then because we have it way easier than the people described in 1 Peter as you stated. And it is definitely hard to compare considering they we were oppressed and we were not. This is a tough question to answer because it is just causing me to ask more questions. Honestly, I think rather than the role of Christianity changing it is adapting to the times of today. Everything is changing or adapting in America and it has been apparent the last couple of years. We have been more accepting I feel like but there still people in this country that try to oppress others. We must stick with what Peter has written and put all of our trust in God. Jobes states in her book that, ““In the context of post-Christian America, our task is to preach the gospel and to proclaim the truths of God’s Word” (Jobes, 331). This right here shows that we need to stand up for our faith and our selves in this post-Christian America.

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    • McKenzie,

      You are absolutely correct and I’d agree with when you said we have it way easier than what the people did back when the book of 1 Peter was written. We have like you described it, have gotten way too comfortable in the sense of living in a world that is “easy”. I also really liked it when you said that we as humans and children of Christ need to stand strong in our faith through some tough circumstances. In Philippians 1:27 NIV, it says that, ” Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.” Basically, the first word that comes to mind for me is trust. Wen need to be more trusting in Christ that even though the really tough times in life that he is in control.

      -Chris

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