The Meaning of Grace
We are studying both the life and the first epistle of Peter the Apostle in order to gain a better understanding of the biblical concept of grace. Our basic idea of grace is that it is either:
- A character trait of God referring to His kindness, His mercy, His generosity (a gracious God, the God of grace).
- What God gives (unmerited favor; a gift that we don't deserve).
The character of God and His blessings on us also create something within us as we come in contact with Him and the blessings He generously gives. Grace takes on new meanings for those exposed to it:
- For Peter it meant transition from fisherman to Apostle to church leader and inspired martyr.
- For those of us who come to know God and His salvation through Peter's preaching, grace has come to mean several things.
In our last chapter, we said that grace also meant security. When we think and experience God's grace, we also experience the secure knowledge that the blessings He gives actually:
- Come from the only divine Lord
- Grow stronger with adversity
- Will last forever
To know the grace of God, is to know what security really means and feels like. We can look for security and safety in all kinds of people, things and institutions in this world, but Peter tells us that the only way to feel true security is to experience the grace of God.
In the next section of his epistle, Peter explains that grace also means Sobriety.
As I mentioned in the previous chapter, some people think that grace means that God allows a person to simply go ahead and live his life in the way he has always lived it, except now because of this grace thing, he is going to heaven. But to know God's grace means that you not only experience security for the first time, you also experience sobriety for the first time. While we are lost sinners, we are under the influence of sin, the world and Satan himself. This influence makes us think, say and do all kinds of things. Paul names some of them:
19Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
- Galatians 5:19-21
Peter says that when we are saved by Jesus Christ we come under the influence of grace, and grace produces sobriety (we're not drunk with sin anymore). This sobriety manifests itself in four different ways:
1. It Manifests Itself in Holiness - 1:13-16
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
- I Peter 1:13
Soberness requires one to be focused on what is important, and ready to challenge anything that threatens what is important. In our case what is important is the second coming of Christ and our resurrection at that time. Nothing should distract us from this goal.
14As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."
- I Peter 1:14-16
Grace has put us into the position of receiving eternal life and the blessings of heaven. In order to receive these, we must not go back to being under the influence of sin but rather let ourselves be influenced by grace, and this grace will lead us to holy behavior. Holy behavior is behavior that reflects the character of God and Christ Jesus.
The word "holy" means separate.
The priests were holy because through their selection, ceremonial clothing and work they separated themselves from the dress, work and calling of ordinary people. A place or a thing became holy because it was set aside for a special religious purpose.
Peter says that we become holy by separating ourselves from the things we used to do and say when we were under the influence of sin.
Grace leads to sobriety and sobriety enables us to understand and obey God's commands. This obedience separates us from the normal activity in the world. This separation from sinful and worldly habits is what makes us holy.
2. Sobriety Manifests Itself in Fear - 1:17-21
One of the more sobering experiences of being saved is realizing that if there is a heaven, then there is also a hell.
The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God."
They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;
There is no one who does good.
- Psalm 14:1
Many go through life daring death, reviling angels and God, not having a clue that God will require their souls one day.
Grace brings us to the understanding of how close we came to being lost forever.
17If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; 18knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
- I Peter 1:17-21
Peter says that if you really do believe:
- That God is the Almighty Judge
- That He sacrificed His only Son for you
- That this was God's plan from the beginning (that you be saved and go to heaven)
If you know and believe these things then you should behave yourself and walk in fear and respect of the One who has the power of life and death over you. Grace means that God has exercised His power to save you rather than punish you, but this realization should produce a healthy respect. Everyone will be judged:
- Some will be judged guilty and punished.
- Some will be judged faithful and spared.
We should live soberly and respectfully knowing that all (including us) will receive that judgment.
Grace leads to sobriety and manifests itself in holiness, fear...
3. Sobriety Manifests Itself In Love - 1:22-25
Grace produces new behavior. There is the new behavior seen as things we don't do anymore (immorality, hatred, carousing, etc.) and, as Peter explains, there are now things that we do which were not evident before.
22Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24For,
"All flesh is like grass,
And all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
And the flower falls off,
25But the word of the Lord endures forever."
And this is the word which was preached to you.
- I Peter 1:22-25
Here he explains that the very special love that Christians have for one another produced by the Word of God in their hearts is like a seed bearing rich fruit. In the world, we loved ourselves and sin and the things of this world, but under the sobriety produced by the influence of grace, God through His holy Word is producing a special kind of love that only Christians share. We are no longer seduced by the love of the flesh and the vanity of life, but now quite deliberately choose to love our brethren with a forgiving, sacrificial love that reflects the love that Christ showed for us on the cross.
The Word of God produces agape love which is love that is unselfish, asexual and uncompromising. It produces a kind of love that we have never experienced before. Grace equals sobriety, and sobriety leads us to holiness, respect and love.
4. Sobriety Manifests Itself in Growth - 2:1-10
The spiritual sobriety generated by God's grace provides the right environment and motivation for personal growth. The purpose of sobriety is to allow us the state of mind and spirit that can perceive and experience why we were saved in the first place.
1Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
4And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
- I Peter 2:1-5
Peter says that once you begin to live in holiness, respect for God and love, you begin to fulfill the original purpose of God's grace and that is to build you into the church. We often say, "the church is not the building, the people are the church." Peter goes one step beyond this saying, "not only are the people the church, but the purpose of these people in life is to make pleasing offerings to God." Paul explains in Romans 12:1-2 and Ephesians 5:15-20 that these sacrifices consist of two things:
- A holy style of living filled with service.
- A joyful heart full of spiritual praise.
He then goes another step by describing the true identity of these people who are the church.
6For this is contained in Scripture:
"Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed."
7This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,
"The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the very corner stone,"
"A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense";
for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
- I Peter 2:6-10
The priests and Levites in the Old Testament were not allowed strong drink while they served at the temple. They had to remain sober in order to carry out their tasks. The point that Peter is making is that grace leads us to the spiritual sobriety we need to function in our new roles as:
- The chosen race
- Royal priests
An interesting note is that in Old Testament times the kings could not offer sacrifice and the priests couldn't be kings. Only Melchizedek in the Old Testament and Christ in the New Testament were both kings and priests. Now Christians are added to that group.
- Holy nation
These were titles enjoyed by the Jews in one way or another for a time, but now through the grace of Christ, they have been conferred on those who believe and follow Jesus. Like any other role or position, a person has to "grow into" the situation.
Peter says that through the sobering effect of grace, we are prepared to enter into and function in our new roles as God's chosen, holy nation of royal priests, building His kingdom through holy living, praise and Christian witness.
The grace of God is at work before, during and after our salvation:
- Before: God from the beginning of time has been planning and working towards the salvation of sinners.
- During: When we believe, confess, repent and are baptized, the grace of God, through the cross of Christ, washes away our sins and fills us with His Holy Spirit.
- After: Following the moment of our salvation, the grace of God continues to be effective in our lives.
- It provides a feeling and knowledge of security as well as reassurance that God will fulfill His promises to us.
- It releases us from the influence of sin and leads us to spiritual sobriety which manifests itself in:
- A holy living style
- A new fear or respect for God
- A different kind of love for those who believe (Christian love)
- Development as royal priests offering sacrifices of service, praise and witness