Reading Peter’s Letter – 1 Peter 1.3-9, Acts 10-11
When we read through the New Testament, Peter becomes a main character, a person of interest for us today. We follow his journey as he leaves behind the community leadership role of being a local fisherman to become a spiritual vagabond on a journey traveling around Galilee, Samaria, and the Judean countryside with a ragamuffin prophet named Jesus who turned the world upside. Peter became well acquainted with Jesus as he earned his way into Jesus’ inner-circle of friends.
One would think that because Peter made his way into the inner-circle of Jesus friends that he would have been the best candidate for understanding Jesus, and in some aspects perhaps Peter did know Jesus but in others he did not. Peter denied Jesus three times. The night he was on trial he stood before a fire pit to be near Jesus only to find the painful words of betrayal coming out of his mouth. Fear of his own death overcame his conviction that Jesus was truly the Messiah.
But Jesus soon reinstated Peter into the flock. Jesus guided Peter through a spiritually painful affirmation of love. “Do you love me?” Jesus asked him three times. With the affirmation of love stitched deep into Peter’s heart, the rift between God and man was sown together. From this deeply painful event in Peter’s life story the Church is founded. With the repentance cry of the prophet Jesus still ringing in his ears, Peter stands before Jerusalem and announces the fulfillment of salvation history.
At Pentecost Peter becomes the emerging leader for the foundling community of believers. And, it is through Peter that many are converted and miracles performed. But perhaps the most significant moment in all salvation history is the moment when Peter shared the Good News with the Gentile peoples. Salvation history was realigned to include all people everywhere. Peter was the chosen one who preached the Good News to the first Gentile believers at Cornelius’ home. And, those hearing the Good News were filled with the Holy Ghost. Peter lived some twenty years leading the early Church, and making disciples. Peter’s testimony to us today is scattered across the New Testament. Three writings are particularly Peter’s: the Gospel of Mark and two letters bearing his namesake. These writings offer us Peter’s perspective of salvation history.
In our letter today Peter introduces himself as an apostle and addresses the believers in various places across the Mediterranean. Peter draws attention to the privileges and responsibilities that come with salvation. Believers are born into a new way of life and become heirs of a heavenly inheritance. Trials and afflictions refine true faith, and lead to an inexpressible joy.
Faith has been fortified by the love of Christ. Salvation history begins before the foundation of the world. You and I were just a glimmer in God’s imagination when Jesus said “yes” to the plan of the Incarnation and became a new born babe created in the womb of a woman. From the very beginning God planned for the multitude of possibilities that might emerge from a newly created world. God chose to give humanity free will, and Peter knows this too well. The cost of free will was that Jesus had to die for not only the whole world, but also Peter.
The cost of salvation was the life of our Savior Jesus. The Gospel involves transformation in thought and behavior. The foundation of the Christian faith is the love of the Christian community. Because the believer is a “new born babe” we are bound to our new moral obligations that have been written into our DNA. For Peter salvation had a building block or a stumbling block depending on whether you believed that Jesus was indeed the Savior of the world.
Peter provides key guidelines for the newly born Christians. Peter explains their new responsibilities. Christianity comes with a new life policy in Christ. All believers are given the ability to live into the expectations of this new life. Through the sacrifice of Jesus we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit within us our old way of living is compassionately confronted and we are given the opportunity to mend our ways. Our souls are sleeping until they are awakened at the moment of our conversation. The moment we believe is the moment we experience a sense of true remorse for the very first time. Repentance is the deep, decisive change in our attitude toward God.
The goal of our faith is salvation. The gift of salvation is hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Our DNA longs to be rejoined to God’s Holy Spirit in union with the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God in the experience of salvation leads us to remorse for our actions. We have sorrow and regret for our sins. It is only in the experience of salvation that we mourn the wrongs we have done to others. This is the new birthing process that Peter knows all too well. It is through the conviction of sin that we find new hope in our lives. Hope that we can live differently. Hope leads us to eternal life and away from our spirit death. Conviction leads us to know for sure that judgment of our sinful behavior is coming, and Christ Jesus is our Righteousness.
In the world is much sinfulness but you have been brought out of the world of sin and death by faith in Christ Jesus. Each of us no longer live to satisfy our sinful urges, but the Holy Spirit has given us power and authority to conquer those urges. And, now as born again Christ-followers we have God’s love shed abroad in our hearts that we may love our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength… and that we may love our neighbor as our self.
The Bible is full of witnesses who have made this same journey, Peter being one of them. Christianity has no meaning except through a guilty conscious. Until we have understood ourselves to be sinners, we have no need for a Savior. We need conviction in our sinful nature for our faith to take root in our hearts. And, if we don’t know the experience of conviction of sin in our lives… if we haven’t been personally convinced of sin in our heart as a genuine element of our personal experience …then we must examine our selves. Conviction of sin is the greatest work of the Spirit. As believers we never reach the real end of our self-discovery this side of Heaven, and conviction of sin is an on-going experience in the life of every Christian.
We may never truly realize the fullness of our need for Christ. We may even stop short of sanctification because we believe that just knowing Christ died for us is enough. We may not plumb the depths of the gift of Salvation. We may stop at just receiving the gift of salvation and never go on to examine it.
Imagine receiving a present and never opening it up to see what’s inside. Imagine carrying that present around your whole life, and the end of your journey you still haven’t unwrapped it. That’s what it’s like when we stop at justification.
The great work of God forgiving our sins was accomplished at the cross. We call that justification. But if the atonement were enough for salvation, Jesus would not have sent us his Holy Spirit. But God did sent his Holy Spirit that we might experience more. Peter understood the importance of the Holy Spirit, the early church understood the importance of the Holy Spirit, and so did John Wesley. Wesley understood there was a great need for the “new birth” to occur in the heart of every man, woman and child. The “new birth” was the event of renewing the inward squall, the storm of our fallen nature redeemed. The process of redemption of our sinful nature is called sanctification, and as a result of this great work within we are endued with love for God and neighbor.
The Gift of the Spirit within each of us occurs in the moment of repentance, and secures for us the regeneration of our fallen nature. God’s wrath is turned away, and our hearts begin the transformation process. Wesley’s main concern is the recreation of humanity’s “moral image” that was created in the image of God. Humanity at creation was full of love. This love was the foundation of humanity’s complete being in temperament, thoughts, words, and deeds. God is love and his moral image of pure love was instilled in humanity from the beginning. And, it was this understanding and expression of love that was distorted in the fall.
God created humanity with his expressive qualities from his character: justice, mercy, and truth. Humanity chose to exercise free will, and therefore decided to exercise their own will seeking happiness in the world and in the works of human hands rather than in God himself. Humanity lost its knowledge and love of God. Now the pure love of God is extinguished from our soul. As a result of the fall of humanity all subsequent peoples have fallen into a state of pride, self-will, sensual appetites and desires, all void of God’s image of love, without knowledge of God, and spiritually dead and in need of a spiritual awakening, a new birth. Wesley believed that all humanity was entirely corrupted in our nature and character. Humanity became the very image of the devil himself, and in need of a spiritual birth.
With the new birth comes a transformation from the old man to the new creation from the devilish ways to God’s ways. We are given the deposit of the character and nature of God that transforms our fallen heart into the heart of love. This “new birth” happens in an instant the moment we repent of our sins. Our hearts are changed from our bent toward sinning to an attitude of love toward God and neighbor. The process of transformation begins instantaneously, and continues little by little as we give ourselves into God’s care. The new birth process is an act of our will surrendering to God.
The “new birth” is not the same as baptism. Baptism is a sacrament, a sign and a seal of the regeneration process. It is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The outward sign of baptism is the washing of water in the name of our Trinitarian God whereby we believe that God is washing away our sins in the inward parts of us whereby we are born again. Baptism is the sign and seal of the cleansing process from sin in our lives and the beginning of the new birth process of becoming righteous.
It is important for us to understand that one may be baptized with water and not have an experience of being born of the Spirit. There may sometimes be the outward sign, where there is not the inward grace. It is up to the person being baptized with water whether there has been a spiritual awakening within. It is between that person and God Himself. But I urge you if you have not had an experience of a new birth, it is up to you to seek out this new birth experience.
Let us look to John Wesley as our example. John was a preacher’s kid, one of 19 children. His mother was a strong religious presence in his life teaching her children at an early age how to be spiritually minded. John’s life was filled with holy dialogue, and he eventually formed a “Holy Club” to deepen his religious experience. Wesley soon found his way as a chaplain sailing across the Atlantic on a mission to the Native Americans in Georgia. On his journey he was impressed with the holiness of heart and life that the Moravians possessed.
When Wesley returned to England he was unsettled, and one evening he was listening to the reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the Book of Romans. In that moment of preaching, Wesley had an unsettling experience – a heart-warming experience of (1) trust in Christ and Christ alone for salvation, (2) assurance that all sin was gone, and saved from the law of sin and death. Wesley’s heart-warming experience changed him for the rest of his life.
Wesley believed that repentance was only the porch of religion, and faith is the door. But true religion was the living into holiness of heart and life. Wesley didn’t believe in leaving people have awakened in their spiritual journey, and it was his goal to awaken people fully to their salvation. Wesley believed that all could know their salvation – and that all people can have a real and personal awareness of Christ living within them.
I am convinced like the Apostle Peter and John Wesley that this new birth experience is real and it gives us a three-fold hope. The first hope is that God is real. There is only One True God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no other way. The second hope is the salvation of our souls from death itself. Death cannot hold us. We will one day be with God in Heaven. We will have a resurrected body. The third hope is the salvation of our souls from our fallen nature. We are being transformed from the inside out to love God and neighbor. We are called to be holy. We are on a journey to love God, life with God, and be transformed into God’s likeness.
Will you join me on this journey of holiness of heart and life?