Rev. Koole is pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered…, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit…: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.”
I Peter 1:1, 2
Peter addresses the church universal in a most significant and timeless way. He greets them as “elect strangers.” The true believer and faithful church always confess this to be their true identity. Those in the church today who have no desire for these names, especially the first, have divorced their identity from the name of Christ and the apostolic church.
The times in which the apostle wrote were strikingly similar to our own.
First, they were days of an astonishing deterioration in the whole moral fabric of Roman society. The pagan writers themselves decried the loss of all regard for virtue and honorable behavior. There was loose and insatiable appetite for entertainment. The coliseums were full. And the only thing that satisfied was violence and blood. In the theatres of that day, as in ours, that is what received two thumbs up.
Second, there was a growing hatred for the true name of Christ Jesus, the Nazarene. Things were building towards those “fiery trials,” a regular bloodbath for the early Christians. Peter writes to prepare the church for that day.
Today it might be argued that the name of Jesus is popular, never more so. But preach the Christ of Calvinism (and of Augustine and Paul); preach the predestinating God and a Christ who does not love every man, but who died for his own — and that spirit of tolerance changes markedly. Calvinism as Christianity? It is much out of favor in religious society today. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you…” (I Pet. 4:12).
Those who bear the reproach of Christ need much encouragement. To that end Peter writes. We need encouragement to live in such a way that it is apparent where our loyalty lies, regardless of the animosity and threats. We are to be Christians, and not in name only.
The apostle greets the church and blesses them. “Grace … be multiplied unto you….”
What a wonderful thing grace is. Not only for what it forgives, great sins, but for what it makes of a man!
I give you exhibit A — Peter an apostle. Petros! What a name, the Rock! — the name Christ gave to him. The name of a man who made a rock-solid confession and was bold in the faith.
But that is not who Peter was in himself. He had been Simon, Simon the boaster, with as much natural courage as you could find in any man. Witness Geth-semane’s garden and who it was who had swept out a sword and gone head-hunting. But when Christ disarmed him it was another matter.
It was Simon who on the night of Christ’s betrayal had, in the courtyard, denied his Lord with vigorous swearing. Spiritual courage forsook him. He was embarrassed at being identified with the Galilean. Bearing Christ’s reproach had been beyond him.
It is now this Simon Peter who writes, knowing full well the difficulty of discipleship and of confessing the Christ in a godless world, facing its animosity. He knew what it meant to cave in. He sympathized.
Still, this Simon Peter was, in the end, willing to bear the reproach of Christ, even to martyrdom if need be. He became rock-solid in his confession and in courage.
Peter is himself therefore a living testimony of the power of grace and what it can make of a man. Grace has a way of making boasters meek, to the astonishment of all, and making of the most timid souls men and women of remarkable conviction and strength. Satan himself finally asks, “What possesses these people!”; to which there is but one answer, “Christ does. They are Spirit possessed.” Grace puts brute strength to shame time and again. It conquers.
Now we must notice to whom Peter addresses this epistle, namely, the elect sojourners or strangers. In the Greek, the word “elect” is first. In the interests of smoothness of translation the King James has had to sacrifice something of the power of the original. That the word “elect” is first is not without significance.
Striking, is it not, that election is the first thing the Spirit puts into Peter’s mind when the apostle addresses the saints of God; yet today it is the last thing mentioned, if it is mentioned at all. Reformed pulpits, silent on the truth of God’s electing love, assure us it cannot be preached, it has no real practical value. Election is one of those great mysteries best left to God, it has no relevancy to the Christian faith and life.
Really! How simpleminded the apostle was, not to have known this. He must have attended the wrong seminary.
The simple fact is that no less an authority than the apostle not only mentions it, but opens by addressing the saints of God as the elect. And we are to understand that one’s personal election cannot be known? That those to whom Peter wrote could not be sure they were being addressed or not? And there is little practical value to this fundamental truth?
The reality is this: if you do not confess and believe the election of God, which means that salvation was determined not by man’s own will and choice but by the eternal selecting will of God from before the foundation of the world, you cannot address the church. It’s who she is made up of, the elect of God.
One’s election is not unknown to the child of God. It is something known and cherished. This the apostle himself declares in II Peter 1:10. “… give diligence to make your calling and election sure….” Be sure of your own election. Not make yourself elect, but give diligence to be sure of it. It is knowable. It is knowable in the pursuit of godliness.
This knowledge does not hinge on some mystical vision and sign, nor does it come via some extra-ordinary experiences in life that only the elite receive. Peter addresses common children of God. It becomes known by the testimony of the Spirit in one’s heart, and in the way of godliness and spiritual interests. That is why mention is made in verse 2 of the “sanctification of the Spirit.” Do not expect this testimony if you live carelessly in sin. Then you quench the Spirit. But by the Spirit’s fruits one may know himself elect, loved by God from before the foundation of the world.
The truth of election is a practical truth. This is why when Peter addresses the church he chose this word and not some other.
First, Peter’s purpose is to remind the saints that the source and fountain of all our salvation is of God. We refer not just to the plan of salvation, to the way in which God will save men, but we refer to the personal salvation of each person who shall be saved. Why have you been saved? Why have you been awakened unto salvation and the confession of Christ? Because God so willed. Not your wisdom, but God’s deep, gracious will is the origin.
This is why Peter says, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” This demonstrates that one’s salvation finds its source in God’s choice.
God’s foreknowledge is not simply “foresight” or “foreseen faith.” This emasculates election. Then Peter could better have written, “Elect according to your faith foreseen” or “according to your choosing,” or “as you have shown yourself worthy.” Nothing of the kind. “Elect according to foreknowledge.”
Foreknowledge is God’s determining before time who would be His children, and who would come to know Him in love. That this is the meaning of foreknowledge is plain from what Peter says a few verses later (v. 20): “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world…” (i.e., Christ as sacrificial lamb). The word translated in verse 20 as “foreordained” is the same word translated “fore-knowledge” in verse 1. Certainly Christ’s death was not simply something God was able to predict. Such a view is unworthy of God’s wisdom. The heart of history was merely foreseen and predicted? Nor was your salvation. Give the glory to God’s electing love, not to your imagined wise choice.
Secondly, election means God determined everything about us. Why are you who you are, what you are, where you are, and when you are? Why were you born in the latter part of the 20th century and not in the 1st century with the apostle Peter? That you were born in the 20th century is not by chance or biological quirk, some genetic coincidence. It was God’s foreknowledge. Some were formed to bear witness to Christ back in the 1st century. But you and I have been chosen to bear witness over against this present age’s immorality and apostasy. We have been appointed to stand rock-solid against these great evils. It is no little honor to have been chosen and formed to bear the name of Christ in the close of the New Testament age. As the elect of God, let us not become faint of heart.
And, finally, the practical value of election is found in its comfort and encouragement.
Consider whom Peter addressed as elect. He was addressing those who were going to endure a bitter persecution, a great trial of their faith. They were going to be required to pass through fires for Christ’s sake. What would see them through? What hope had they?
This! They were the elect of God. The electing God would see them through.
How well Peter knew this.
Peter had denied his Lord with cursing and swearing. Yet he had not been disowned. He had been kept and restored.
Why? Because he deserved it? No! His Lord’s electing love. “You are mine, given to me, bought by my blood. I will never let you go.” So the risen Lord sought him out and restored him again.
Election, beloved, electing love is the basis of our confidence in times of greatest trial. God’s love is rock-solid, eternal. Though we falter and fall, the Father will bring us through.
And election is of no practical value, and cannot be preached? Be not deceived. There is no other gospel.
Remember, our faith is not simply in election, our faith is in the electing God! He is a Father who knows His own from eternity. His enduring love is what makes all the difference.