Have you ever thought about what the most popular Biblical book is for Believers in parts of the world in which they are the minority? The book they turn to in order to give them comfort and hope? The answer may surprise you. It is the book of 1 Peter. One of the main reasons is that Peter wrote this letter to groups of Believers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia for they were suffering as a minority group within the eastern Roman empire. They faced the ostracism, abuse, rejection, and discrimination that comes with obedience to Jesus Christ in the midst of a pagan and sinful culture.
Peter’s letter is written to comfort these believers in the midst of a hostile world by calling them to remember their living hope in Christ, and do their duty as Christians no matter how hard the circumstances they faced. What is interesting is how Peter chooses to go about that process. He begins his letter by calling his recipients the “chosen” of God. This is the word for “election” in the Greek.
What does it mean to be a part of the elect of God? It means that God has chosen, or say elected, men and women in Christ before the foundation of the world according to His goodness, as He sees fit in alignment to His will and purposes. This divine choice is an expression of God’s sovereign grace. God’s choice is not merited by anything in those that are His. We must remember that God is God and can do what He wants. He is true and just and we must trust that all that God does is in accordance with His nature. The New Testament Church is made up of a community chosen by God.
J.I. Packer makes a good point,
“…it is a wonder, and matter for endless praise, that he should choose to save any of us; and doubly so when his choice involved the giving of his own Son to suffer as a sin-bearer for the elect.”
So the questions that begs an answer is “Why does Peter start his letter of 1 Peter with the doctrine of election?” I would like to examine that today by taking a look at the doctrine of election in 1 Peter 1:1-2.
The Doctrine of Election is a Comforting Doctrine
Imagine that you are a child once again. Were you ever picked last in a game of baseball, dodge-ball, basketball, track, ect…? How did you feel? I can honestly say that there were times in my life that I was picked last and it didn’t feel good. Imagine now, if you will, that you were picked first. Wow, that would be encouraging right? OK, so now let’s up the ante. You’re getting ready to play basketball and one of the captains is Michael Jordan and he picks you first. Wow, now that is special!
You see where I am going with this. God chose these believers that Peter was writing to and He chose YOU! You were not chosen last. You individually, were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)! What an encouraging thought. No matter how isolated Believers may become in a particular area, they were chosen by God Himself.
No matter what trials and suffering that you go through God has chosen you to be a part of His people and nothing and no one can change that. When people around you mistreat you, impugn your character, refuse to associate with you or try to do you harm because you are a Christian, then you must remember that you are elect of God. Jesus says this in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you…”.
It was not an accident that you came to know the Lord. It was not mere chance that you heard the gospel. It was the Holy Spirit who was working in your heart illuminating your mind to the word of God, convicting you of your sinful condition and showing you your need for a Savior. All of the Spirit’s work was in accordance with God’s sovereign choice of you before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). What a comfort that is to believers that are tired and weary of this world. No matter what obstacles you face, and how much pain you go through; God is present in your life. Romans 8:28-30 speak of this is a powerful way. God is working all things for the good of those He has called (elect). That ultimate good is Christ-likeness, culminating in our glorification.
Article 17 of the Anglican 39 Articles says,
“…our election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God…”.
You can imagine the Apostle Paul being comforted and motivated by this doctrine in his final letter to Timothy. After many years of effective and often painful service he could say, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect” (2 Timothy 2:10).
The Doctrine of Election Is the Reason That Believers Are a Minority
1. YOU ARE FOREIGNERS
The reason that Peter begins this letter with the doctrine of election is that he is seeking to comfort these believers with the great truth that they are chosen by God; and that it is this choosing that is the cause of their current suffering.
Peter seeks to give throughout his letter the outworking of the doctrine of election in the lives of God’s people. He does this at the beginning of this epistle by calling these believers “aliens.” In 1 Peter 2:11 he calls them “foreigners” as well. This is what a believer’s relationship is to the world around him. Peter reminds these Christians that they are different than the people around them. They are not citizens with the rights and privileges that go along with that status. They are not even considered temporary workers or even guests. Peter tells them that they are “aliens,” and “foreigners.” in the world that they live. The word here in the Greek carries the meaning of someone who is merely traveling through a particular area (a sojourner).
Peter lays the foundation for the rest of the letter here in verses 1-2 when he reminds these believers that they are chosen (elect) of God. It is this sovereign election that lays the foundation for the social situation of Christians in every society.
When you come to understand your place in this world it is a very freeing moment. No longer do you have to wonder what your purpose is in life and live moment by moment for the next thing that gives you temporary happiness. This world is not your home. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
Peter says that these believers have been rejected by men in 1 Peter 2:4. They are isolated and suffering to various degrees throughout this region. In an encouraging tone Peter continues in the same verse by telling them that they are living stones, “choice and precious in the sight of God.”
Later in the chapter Peter continues his encouragement by reminding these believers that they are part of a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s on possession” (1 Peter 2:9). For the Apostle Peter the doctrine of election was not some stuffy theological discussion to be debated in the halls of seminaries. It was an important reminder to him that he was special; that he was chosen by God. Just like these original recipients, your Election is a real and powerful reminder of your special place in God’s heart.
2. YOU ARE CALLED TO LIVE DIFFERENTLY
You are chosen by God to glorify Him, first and foremost in all that you do. The primary means that is accomplished by believers on this earth is through their obedience to Christ (1 Peter 1:14). God has not chosen you to live like the pagans around you. You are to show them what living according to God’s word looks like and tell them of their own need for a savior. Those that are the called are to demonstrate that they are the elect by their behavior. Paul says this in 1 Thessalonians 1:3-5 when he speaks of the Thessalonian believer’s faith, hope, and their love as an outworking of God’s choosing them.
Peter draws this out in 1 Peter 1:14-15:
“As children of obedience do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who has called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.”
Once again in 1 Peter 2:11:
“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.”
Peter speaks of the calling of the believer in his letter. Peter says that they have been called to suffer as Christ has suffered, with His behavior as the example to follow (1 Peter 2:21). He tells them that they have been called to live godly, no matter the opposition (1 Peter 3:8-9). Our election by God is what sets us apart from the world. We are the minority, those that have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
A practical benefit of the believer’s calling is being confident about his security before God. We are confident in our calling by our knowledge of God’s promise and our obedience to His commands. Peter says in 2 Peter 1:10:
“…be all the more diligent to make certain about his calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things you will never stumble.”
What things are you to practice? Peter gives these in 2 Peter 1:5-8: self-control, perseverance, godliness, love, to name a few.
If you want to be assured of your election then ask yourself these questions. Is my love for the things of this world and the power of sin in my life being continually weakened and diminished (mortification)? Am I growing in righteousness, bearing the fruit of the Spirit daily (vivification)? These will start occurring simultaneously throughout your life as you live out your calling in this world. This is the sanctification process that culminates with you in the presence of the Lord.
The doctrine of Election is not meant to be divisive. It is meant as a comfort for believers. It is the family secret, so to speak. We do not know whom He has chosen among those that are in this world; but we do know that we would not be Christians if he had not chosen us.