The Meaning of Grace
We are studying the concept of grace as Peter explains it in his first epistle. When he talks about grace, he is referring to two things:
- God's work throughout the ages to save man's soul through Jesus Christ, the preaching of His gospel and the work of His church.
- The effect that this salvation has had on those who have been saved.
This epistle concentrates more on the effects of salvation because the gospels have already described God's work through Christ to save man. So far in our study Peter says that the effect of grace (salvation of one's soul) is seen in several ways:
- Security - People are no longer afraid of death and condemnation or an angry God.
- Sobriety (not under the influence of sin) - More holy living, respect for God, Christian love and spiritual mindedness.
- Submission - Knowing one's place in God's plan and not rebelling against it.
In the following section, Peter will add a fourth effect of grace on one's individual life: suffering. Before developing this idea however, he takes a pause and describes how grace affects Christians as a group.
Grace and the Church - I Peter 3:8-12
So far Peter has been explaining how grace affects the individual. What should a person who is not a Christian see when they look at a person who has experienced grace? Peter explains that they should see signs of a person who feels secure, lives a sober life and is in submission to God and those over him.
In addition to this, Peter says that grace also affects these people as a group (we call the church) because this group will interact with itself, the government, society and other families in a much different way than those groups who have not been touched by the grace of God.
Peter explains that difference in the next few verses:
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit;
- I Peter 3:8
The group that has been touched by grace has certain noticeable features:
- Harmony - Same minded, of one mind, not in division or conflict
- Sympathy - Sharing the feelings of others
- Brotherly - Kind, brotherly kindness
- Kindhearted - Compassionate (especially for those outside)
- Humble in spirit - Not proud or self-centered
not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.
- I Peter 3:9
The true spirit of Christ lives among them in that they turn the other cheek when wronged and seek peace rather than winning at all cost. Peter says that the motivation for offering a blessing is that Christians are the only ones that have blessings to look forward to, so they, as a group, can offer them now.
"The one who desires life, to love and see good days,
Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.
11"He must turn away from evil and do good;
He must seek peace and pursue it.
12"For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous,
And His ears attend to their prayer,
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
- I Peter 3:10-12
This is a quote from Psalm 34 and Peter uses it to remind them of two things:
- Much of the behavior he mentions before is possible if one is able to control and use his tongue properly and avoid evil practice. Evil speech leads to evil deeds, and evil deeds destroy peace and harmony. This is not a mark of grace.
- God blesses the group that acts in harmony, sympathy, brotherly love, etc., but he punishes and works against those who speak evil and do evil.
He uses this last idea (God blessing the good and punishing the evil) to open up his fourth meaning regarding grace, that grace may mean suffering.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that His disciples are blessed (happy) if they suffer on His account or because they are pursuing what is right (Matthew 5:10-12). Peter echoes this idea now when he refers to the suffering experienced by those who have received grace. Grace doesn't necessarily cause suffering, but those who experience grace often experience suffering because of their faith, and Peter refers to this kind of suffering (persecution) now.
He says that at times grace does mean that Christians have to suffer and, when they do suffer persecution, they should remember several things about this experience:
1. Don't be Afraid
13Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,
- I Peter 3:13-14
The harm is not physical harm but spiritual harm. The enemies of right can only kill the body but cannot take away a believer's "life." Grace gives us the power to not be afraid of wrong and of those who oppose God.
2. Don't be Quiet
15but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
- I Peter 3:15-16
Grace gives one the courage to withstand and oppose what is wrong by using the gospel of Christ. Peter explains that our response should be given in humility and respect. Christians don't destroy abortion clinics, don't attack homosexuals, don't take up arms against the government simply because they don't agree with certain policies or moral standards.
Grace gives the follower of Christ confidence to respond to ignorance and immorality with the truth and power of the gospel preached in love and with respect.
Peter mentions that our response should not only be in words, but in deeds that reflect our words. This type of confidence, this type of witness, he says, will win the respect of enemies and prove that their reasons for attacking us in the first place are groundless.
3. Don't Suffer for the Wrong Reason
For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
- I Peter 3:17
If a person suffers for wrong-doing, cowardice or rebellion, there is no glory in this. But if a person does right and suffers for it, the experience may be unpleasant, but it is pleasing to God. In the next section he explains why this is so. It was this kind of suffering that Christ experienced which led to the salvation of our souls.
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
- I Peter 3:18
In other words, suffering for right does have positive effects.
In verses 19-22, he gives the example that Christ's suffering, even though it led to death, provided positive results for those who believe.
19in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.
- I Peter 3:19-20
- His suffering caused death, but His death provided Him with the opportunity to show Himself to the unbelievers who had made believers suffer on His account in the past.
- Peter chooses Noah as a good example of one who suffered for righteousness. He explains that Noah is now justified as Christ proclaims the gospel to unbelieving spirits in hell, not to save them, but to show them that they were wrong and that Noah and other righteous men and women who suffered righteously were right all along.
In other words, we "go" into all the world to preach the gospel, but Jesus can and has gone everywhere, even into the spiritual dimension (hell) to proclaim the gospel. Therefore, those who suffer for Christ can now take courage because one day His return appearance will silence the modern day mockers and doubters, and confirm that we were right to believe and suffer for Him.
Another positive benefit of Christ's suffering...
21Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
- I Peter 3:21-22
His suffering also sets the stage for His resurrection, ascension and exaltation to God's throne of grace. If He had refused the suffering, He could not have sat at the throne of God and offered us the grace of forgiveness received at baptism.
Peter uses this opportunity to show that their baptism was not a mere ceremony or symbol, but embodied the actual way that they received the forgiveness from sin that was obtained through Christ's sufferings.
Let us not forget our main idea here, that we should be prepared to suffer for Christ because this is pleasing to God and produces spiritual benefits. Jesus is an example of this:
- His suffering proved to all unbelievers (even in the spiritual dimension) that they were wrong and the believers were right.
- His suffering purchased the forgiveness for our sins received through faith, expressed in the waters of baptism.
Suffering is never pleasant, but if we share in the sufferings of Christ, we will also share in His glorious resurrection, glorification and exaltation.
4. Don't be Seduced
1Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; 5but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.
- I Peter 4:1-6
When people have to suffer because of their faith, it is easy for them to quit following Jesus, and having nowhere else to go, they return to their former sinful lifestyle. Peter reminds them that grace has taken them out of the world and saved them from the judgment to come.
We shouldn't be fooled, both the promise of salvation for the faithful and condemnation of the unfaithful are equally true.
5. Don't Give Up
7The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. 8Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
- I Peter 4:7-11
Suffering, obstacles of faith, the sinfulness and disbelief of others are all discouraging. Peter exhorts his readers, then and now, to not give up living as Christians each day. In this section he mentions several things that can be maintained despite suffering:
- Remain sober-minded, don't get panicky or depressed.
- Remain fervent in prayer.
- Remain loving and hospitable.
- Remain helpful, using your talents to serve and build up one another.
Hard times and persecution do not have to destroy how we treat each other in the church, especially persecution that is caused by one's faith. On the contrary, suffering for Christ usually brings out these things in abundance and helps the church to grow.
6. Don't be Surprised
12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? 19Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
- I Peter 4:12-18
Peter says that if the Lord of the church, who was perfect and sinless, was cursed and killed, why should we be surprised when His followers are persecuted? He teaches us that God permits our suffering for His own purposes and our good:
- Suffering provides an opportunity to test or examine our faith and maturity to see what needs strengthening. When there is no testing it is difficult to know what needs fixing or improvement.
- Suffering provides an opportunity to more fully reveal Christ to those who do not believe.
- Suffering for Christ is a privilege and a proof of God's presence in the believer's life. After all, they don't persecute unbelievers for their disbelief.
Peter finishes this section with a reminder that he is talking about suffering for Christ, not suffering for sin. Suffering for Christ is a necessary part of a Christian's life and we shouldn't be surprised when it happens. We should rejoice and glorify God for the privilege since we understand the purpose, nature and blessing of it. Pity those who do not know God's grace and have disobeyed the gospel. Imagine their suffering!
In the end, the way to cope with suffering is to trust God completely for two reasons:
- He is faithful. He will fulfill His promises to not burden us with more than we can carry, and to resurrect us in the end.
- He is righteous. No matter what, He will always do what is right.
Peter explains that grace leads us to suffering at times, and when it does we need to remember several things:
- Don't be afraid, God is our shield.
- Don't be quiet, the gospel is our voice.
- Don't suffer for wrong, happy are those who suffer for Christ's sake.
- Don't be seduced, God will punish sinners.
- Don't give up, stay busy in doing good.
- Don't be surprised, suffering is a normal part of the Christian's life.
To these I add a seventh idea:
7. Don't Procrastinate
If you are suffering guilt and trouble because of your sins, don't hesitate to receive a clean conscience by calling on the name of Jesus in baptism (I Peter 3:21).
If you've been afraid or quiet, seduced by the world or given up faithful Christian living because of sin or discouragement, make sure you are restored through the prayers of the church.