The Meaning of Grace
Peter the Apostle is a unique biblical character because he had a diverse life for a man of humble origins. There were four important phases in his life:
1. Peter, a successful fisherman
- He lived in Capernaum where Jesus lived as an adult (Mark 1:21).
- He and his brother Andrew had a fishing business together (Matthew 4:18).
- He was married (with children because he served as an elder) (I Peter 5:1).
- His mother-in-law lived with his family (Matthew 8:14).
2. Peter, a disciple of Jesus
Peter knew Jesus because they lived in the same town and he was introduced to Him by his brother Andrew, who was at first a disciple of John the Baptist before becoming Jesus' disciple. Peter had both high and low points as a disciple.
Among the highs:
- He witnessed miracles performed by Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33).
- He was present at Jesus' transfiguration (Matthew 17:2).
- Peter saw and spoke to Jesus after His resurrection (John 21:15-17).
Some of the lows:
- He was severely reprimanded by Jesus for suggesting that the Lord avoid the cross (Matthew 16:23).
- Peter denied knowing Jesus (three times). This event was recorded by all four gospel writers (John 18:13-27).
3. Peter, a leader in the church
Paul says that along with James and John, Peter was a "pillar" or leader in the early church.
- He was the first to preach the gospel after Jesus' resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:1-42).
- He stood up to Jewish leaders who threatened him because he was preaching about Jesus openly in Jerusalem (Acts 4:1-6).
- He stood up to Jewish Christians who wanted to deny Gentiles entry into the church (Acts 11:1-18).
4. Peter the author
- He was "uneducated" in the sense that he didn't have the kind of training that the Scribes had.
- His writing style was simple but his ideas profound. Some believe Mark's gospel is Peter's account of his experiences with Jesus dictated to Mark.
- He did write two letters (I and II Peter) to the same group around 64-65 AD, near the end of his life (died in Rome crucified upside down in 67 AD fulfilling Jesus' prophecy in John 21:18).
It is interesting that many study the book of Romans or Galatians to learn about the subject of God's grace, and this is fine, since in these two letters the theory and benefits of God's grace are well explained. But it is in Peter's first letter that we see what grace produces in a person's life, a life like Peter's which was a mixture of good and bad, success and failure, your life, my life.
In Peter's letter we learn about God's grace as it affects our everyday lives. Hopefully, by the end of our study we will have a greater understanding of what God's grace means as well as what it does. Before we do that, however, we must first deal with some incorrect ideas that many people have concerning the subject of God's grace.
What Grace is Not
Many people have unbiblical ideas concerning the subject of God's grace. For example:
Some think grace means that you can do what you want to do because as a saved person God will not let you be lost. After all, you're under grace! This idea is unbiblical because Paul says in Romans 6:1, "Shall we continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be." In this passage the Apostle says that grace is not an excuse to continue sinning without guilt or consequences. Those who are under grace are not free to continue to sin because the Bible says, "The wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23)
There are others who believe that grace means that when it comes to you, God doesn't care about sin. He's blind to your sins because of grace. In other words, grace somehow transforms God into an indulgent grandfather who literally says, "boys will be boys."
But the Bible says, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad," II Corinthians 5:10. Grace does not mean God ignores or indulges our sins, not a single one; on the contrary, the Bible teaches that God will judge us for every single sin.
Some people think that grace is a special permission they have from God to remain worldly. By grace they are going to heaven, so in the meantime, they can just be part of this world until it is time to go:
- No effort at holy living
- No effort at spiritual growth
- No effort at building the kingdom
These are the people who clock in at church just enough times to keep their membership on the rolls. The Bible clearly indicates, however, that those who are saved by grace are also transformed by that grace into something different. Paul says that Christians produce spiritual fruit (love, joy, patience, kindness, faithfulness as well as self-control, etc. - Galatians 5:22-23).
Grace doesn't excuse us from living a holy, pure, fruitful and faithful life, it promotes and permits it.
The worst misconception about grace is that you can use it to your advantage. In other words, thinking you can sin now and enjoy it because later on God's grace will cover your misdeeds.
Grace is not something we use to enjoy sinfulness. When we do this, we don't realize that the net effect of this type of thinking is that it hardens our consciences to the point where we can't repent (we don't know how to anymore). This is what the Hebrew writer is talking about in Hebrews 6:4-8, "...where we cannot be renewed again to repentance."
Liberalism, permissiveness, worldliness and premeditation are some of the things that are often mistaken for the blessing of God's grace. Let us now turn to Peter's first epistle and see for ourselves how this Apostle explains the true meaning and function of God's grace.
Introduction - I Peter 1
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen
Peter begins by introducing himself (letters in those days had the writer introduce himself at the beginning, and the greeting at the end). He immediately establishes his credentials and authority as not just any Apostle (messenger) but an Apostle chosen by Christ Himself. The letter is directed to churches scattered throughout Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and would be passed around among them upon reception.
2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.
He offers a blessing upon them and gives the reason why they should receive it. The blessing is that grace and peace be upon them in full measure.
The reason for them to have access to this is fourfold, and I list these in reverse order for the sake of clarity:
- Jesus died and shed His blood to wash away their sins.
- They obeyed the gospel in repentance and baptism to access this blood of Christ.
- The Holy Spirit has filled them and continued to work in them.
- God knew from the beginning that all those who would accept Christ would have these blessings.
He prays that the blessings of grace and peace, as a result of their salvation through Christ, known and promised by God, would result in them experiencing the joys produced by these blessings.
In the next verses, he will explain that one of the joys and meanings of this grace he wishes upon them is security or hope.
Grace Means Security - vs. 3-12
In verses 3-5, Peter explains that since salvation and the grace that flows from it comes from God, it is therefore secure.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
It was God's plan to save us through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Salvation and its accompanying grace is not a human invention, it is a Godly thing. It is born of God's plan.
4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,
Because salvation comes from God, it is a powerful and sure thing. The inheritance he speaks of is the glorified body and eternal life that we, as Christians, experience after we are resurrected from the dead at the end of the world when Jesus returns. This gift, through grace (God's favor), is sure. It will not be destroyed like a material inheritance would. It will be revealed at the resurrection when Jesus comes.
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
This sure gift (glorified body, eternal life) is the cause of rejoicing and happy anticipation. However, in the meantime, there may be suffering involved while we wait for it. Remaining faithful while waiting for this gift of grace does several things:
- Confirms that our faith is genuine. If a person endures while the going is rough, it demonstrates that his faith is real, not just talk. (James 3:18)
- It honors Jesus Christ. Suffering in patience is a demonstration of love and loyalty to the Lord, and genuinely honors Him. (Romans 12:1)
- It generates joy and love within. Jesus said, "Blessed (happy) are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:10) Suffering righteously for the Lord produces happiness and is a natural reaction for the spiritual person.
- It guarantees salvation. A proven faith results in a secure hope of salvation which produces peace and joy in one's heart. (James 1:3-4)
And so, Peter tells his readers that grace means feeling sure about salvation even though there are times when one's faith is tested. Continuing in faith will only strengthen that hope and increase the joy that one feels.
10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven-things into which angels long to look.
In the last three verses of this section, Peter compares his readers to two other groups in order to show how secure they are in Christ.
- The prophets, who spoke from God, did miracles, counseled kings and saved the nation.
- Angels, who are mighty beings, stand before the throne of God.
Peter states, however, that neither of these groups received the revelation about God's gracious plan to save men through faith in Jesus Christ, and give them glorious bodies to live forever with Christ in heaven. Even though they were mighty servants who searched for the answers, all they knew was that God's plan was to serve people in the future. We are those people and this is how we are in the "Book of Life."
God's grace is no afterthought. It was planned for and passed on carefully throughout the ages until the right moment arrived for it to be revealed to the world so all could receive its blessings.
Peter begins his epistle by explaining that the grace of God is a sure thing. When we think of His grace (His favor towards us) we can feel secure. Peter explains why this is so:
- It comes from God. When a promise of blessing comes directly from God, we can be sure that we will receive it.
- It grows stronger with adversity. The promise of grace itself cannot be diminished by trials. The harder one struggles to remain faithful, the more His grace produces in terms of joy, hope and security.
- It has lasted throughout the ages. Long ago angels and prophets handled it and passed it down. We receive His grace today as it forgives us and grants us eternal life. The promise and its effect on us is as fresh and motivating as it was 4000 years ago when God announced it to Abraham.
Grace means security. Security in God's desire and ability to fulfill His promises to bless us now and save us forever.
We sometimes doubt or are afraid of the past or perhaps an uncertain future, but God's grace has wiped away the past with Jesus' blood and guaranteed the future with His resurrection. The knowledge of this is how one is able to live in the "now."
In the chapters to come, we will continue with other meanings of grace, but for now we will remain with security. If you have received the grace of God through Christ, you can be sure of your eternal salvation. For this reason, we should not be afraid to go through whatever trials are before us in order to remain faithful. Jesus never said it would be easy, but His promise of grace assures us that whatever we suffer to remain faithful will be worth it when He comes.