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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:Our Identity is with the Triune God
Text:1 Peter 1:1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Suggested songs:

Psalm 138:1-4

Hymn 7:9

Psalm 88:1-3

Hymn 62:1-4

Hymn 18:1-2

Readings: Exodus 24, 1 Peter 1

Text: 1 Peter 1:1-2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,

Than Van Truong knows what it means to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Some time ago, this pastor had been held against his will in a mental hospital in Vietnam. Because he believes in God, because he is a Christian, Than Van Truong was declared insane by the Vietnamese government. And so, he was detained in a mental hospital for a period of several months and was regularly drugged and otherwise abused. This is a man who knows what it means to suffer.

But what about us? Can we relate to that dark psalm we just sang? Have we ever really been called to suffer serious hardship because of our commitment to Christ? Our country gives us the freedom to worship, to believe what we wish, to send out missionaries and to share the gospel with our neighbours. Most of the time, the unbelievers around us will tolerate our existence. Sure, we might be starting to see some limits on what we can do and say, but the fact remains that we do not really suffer in Canada because of our faith.

That brings us to the problem of reading First Peter in a meaningful way today. You see, this letter was written to believers who, like Than Van Truong, knew what it was like to suffer for the gospel. They faced enormous social pressure to abandon their faith – family, employers, neighbours – all of them put the heat on for Christians to turn against Christ. Many of these believers – living in what today is Turkey – they also experienced physical suffering. So, how can we, with our comfortable existence in Canada, still connect with this part of God’s Word?

We’ll see something of an answer to that question today with the introductory greeting of the letter. In this introduction, we’re right away faced with the fact that the Apostle Peter is speaking on the authority he’s received from Christ. On this authority, he writes to believers scattered throughout modern-day Turkey and he knows their situation. Peter knows that the need of the hour is for them to be clear about who they are. Specifically, they have to know their identity as strangers in the world. Believers don’t belong – Peter’s original readers felt it and he emphasizes that this is the way that it should be. They’re pilgrims in a strange land. And this identity becomes even more clear when it’s seen that this is all the result of what the Triune God has done in their lives. So, I preach to you God’s Word with this theme:

Pilgrim believers are to find their identity in who the Triune God is for them.

We’ll explore:

  1. The foreknowledge of the Father
  2. The sanctification of the Spirit
  3. The sprinkling of the Son

1. The foreknowledge of the Father

There’s no doubt about it. The letter does have an unusual beginning. I think if most of us were to write a letter to a church or group of churches, it’s highly doubtful that we would choose to address them as “the elect of God.” We’ll get more into that issue in a moment. For now, let’s think about why the Spirit would lead Peter to use this expression.

In the Greek, there are three words placed right next to each other. Literally, “elect, strangers, diaspora.” The word diaspora is translated in the NIV with “scattered throughout” – a good translation. This word has strong Jewish connections. For the first readers, it would call to mind the fact that there was one Jewish people spread over the whole known world. And this one Jewish people, well, they had been the elect of God in the Old Testament. During the old covenant era, God had chosen to work with this people of Israel in a special way. They were the apple of his eye.

So, now when Peter begins his letter by addressing believers in this way, that’s sending them a strong message. This message is that they are in the same line as the Old Testament people of God. The Christian church is the spiritual continuation of Israel. Even though most of the readers of First Peter were not Jewish by birth, they were still Abraham’s offspring by faith.

Recognizing this fact brings a sense of identity and history to God’s people, also for today. When we realize this, we know that our heritage goes back a long way. Sure, we’re Reformed and we have our heritage in Reformations going back to the 16th century. But more than that – we are the spiritual children of Abraham. We are the Israel of God, God’s chosen people. There is a continuity running through the ages. When God’s people suffer, they can look back and receive comfort knowing that they’re not the first ones to experience this. They can see, for instance, the experiences of God’s people in Egypt – that was our people back then! They can also see how God delivered his people in faithfulness – how God showed his love and compassion. When God’s people become comfortable and complacent, they can also look back in Scripture and see what happened to Israel. Think of Jeremiah’s warnings to those who said “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace. What resulted was the exile – alienation from God. So, it’s important for believers to grasp this sense of the continuity of God’s people.

That sense helps to shape our identity. And that brings us to think about why Peter can address them as “God’s elect.” We would probably not be so comfortable using an expression like that. After all, were all those believers in Pontus, Galatia and so on, were they all actually elect? Were they all guaranteed a place in heaven? Why doesn’t Peter take a more careful approach and maybe split them into groups and say, “To the elect, to the inquiring, to the hypocrites, to those who lack assurance, and to those who are clearly reprobate”? The answer is that this is not the Biblical way of addressing God’s people. Paul uses a similar approach to Peter when he writes to the saints in each place. Today we use the same approach when we begin each sermon by saying, “Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus” or words to that effect. This is a covenantal way of addressing God’s people. We are not making a judgment about anybody’s salvation. We are simply saying that these are God’s people – these are the people with whom God has cut a covenant. They are the chosen recipients of the promises of the gospel.

These are the ones who have been “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” That’s what it says in verse 2 of our text. You might see the word “foreknowledge” and think that this only has to do with looking into the future and seeing who is going to be a part of God’s people. As if God is some kind of divine fortuneteller. But that would miss the point. This foreknowledge is first of all connected with the election in verse 1. This foreknowledge is not just about looking ahead, it’s all about choosing to take an action. This becomes even more clear when you see how this word is used in other places in Scripture. For instance, in Acts 2:23, Peter says that the Lord Jesus was handed over to the Jews “by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” In other words, God took an active role in bringing this to pass. It’s the same here in our text. God’s foreknowledge includes an act of choosing, it’s about God’s covenant love.

And notice one more thing: Peter’s readers have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. This is where a huge step forward is being taken. In the Old Testament, God was seldom referred to as the Father of his people. But since the coming of Christ, God’s people have been adopted into God’s family. They are God’s children and heirs. God set his love upon them and chose to include them in his home.

This helps believers, also today, to find their identity. Yes, we’re strangers in the world, but we have been chosen as members of God’s family. Our true identity is not just with a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, but also with a divine family. For Peter’s first readers, this would give comfort when they faced suffering brought on by unbelieving family members. They could remind themselves that their true family tree is through Jesus Christ to the Father in heaven. Brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, might forsake them, but God their heavenly Father would never turn his back on them. And we can also take this truth into our lives too. When we’re serious about serving the Lord, perhaps even family members in the church will make life difficult for us. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened in the history of God’s people. When that happens, a reminder of our true identity will give us strength to persevere. And when things are going in a positive direction, we can simply rejoice in who God is for us. Our Father in heaven is actively working in our lives. We look at that and want to worship. We want to live as the children of our Father. The way we do that is explained further in our text as we come to our next point…

2. The sanctification of the Spirit

After he’s pointed to the work of the Father, Peter turns to what the Holy Spirit does. Verse 2 says, “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” This means that it’s through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit that God’s choosing is brought to reality. The Holy Spirit is God’s tool or instrument to make his election happen. God uses the Holy Spirit to bring about sanctification, which in turn makes the election a visible fact.

Put simply, sanctification is about being set apart for dedication to God. Sanctification means making something special or holy. In this text, this sanctifying means that God’s people have been set apart and made holy for him -- dedicated to the LORD for his use.

This sanctification is a process. It’s not something that happens at one given moment. The Spirit is working constantly to set apart the people God has chosen. The Holy Spirit is also working constantly in the lives of each of these individual people. It’s not like one of those wind-up radios that you wind for a minute and then can sit back and listen for an hour. Instead, it’s more like being on one of those exercise bikes where the display only works when you’re pedalling. In the same way, the Holy Spirit keeps working in our lives, day by day, transforming us into the people God wants us to be. He brought us to faith in the first place and then he keeps on working us over.

And how does he do that? The sanctifying work of the Spirit takes place through the Word of God. The Spirit doesn’t work independently. He works with the Word. He works with the reading and preaching of the Holy Scriptures. That’s part of the reason why it’s so important for us to be in church as often as we have the opportunity. When the Scriptures are preached, the Spirit is working. Why would we want to miss out on an opportunity to have the Spirit working in us? Why would we want to forfeit an opportunity to grow closer to our God? Why would we short-change ourselves spiritually? No, being God’s children, it’s only natural that we’ll want to be where the Spirit is working with the Word.

Seeing the work of the Spirit in our lives helps us to be more clear about who we are. We’re strangers in the world, but we have been marked off for God. Do you remember the story of Viktor Navorski? He’s the fictional character who was stranded in New York’s JFK airport for several months. Viktor was from the fictional country of Krakozhia in Eastern Europe. While Viktor was enroute to the United States, there was a revolution in Krakozhia and his country ceased to exist. Viktor’s passport was invalidated and so he wasn’t allowed into the United States and he couldn’t return home either. He was stuck in the no-man’s land of the airport terminal. Well, the good news is that believers are not like Viktor Navorski. Yes, being strangers in the world means that we’re here and we don’t belong. We’re not spiritual landed immigrants and we’re not seeking citizenship. We’re just visiting in a foreign country temporarily. We have citizenship, but it’s somewhere else. We have the Holy Spirit who has set the mark of citizenship in the kingdom of God on our lives.

There is a purpose attached to all this. Our text tells us that it is “for obedience to Jesus Christ.” This first of all means obedience to the gospel call. The Spirit initially works so that people respond to the call to believe in Jesus Christ. But the Spirit also continues to work in a process of transformation. Our lives are changed so that we more and more die to sin and live to Christ. Our old natures are being put to death, and the Spirit brings our new nature to life.

In the end, this means that those in whom the Spirit lives will be increasingly different from those around them who aren’t believers. More and more, your unbelieving friends and acquaintances, co-workers, whoever – they’ll see that you’re not like them. Your priorities are different. Your allegiance is higher. For Peter’s first readers, they would read this and understand why they suffer. They suffer because they’re different. For us, our being different may result in more suffering in times to come. It may not. The fact is, it doesn’t really matter. God’s call is not about suffering as such – though it may very well lead to that. God’s call is to be faithful in being who we are: called out by God the Father and chosen by him, set apart by the Spirit, and also sprinkled with the blood of the Son. Let’s find out what that sprinkling entails in our last point this morning…

3. The sprinkling of the Son

“Sprinkling by his blood” – that’s another phrase Peter uses which would have resonated with believers familiar with the Old Testament. It right away turns the readers’ thoughts to Exodus 24, the passage we read earlier. In Exodus 24, Moses read the book of the Covenant. The people responded, saying that they would be obedient. And then Moses sprinkled the people with what he called the blood of the covenant. It symbolized washing and purification. It spoke of renewed fellowship and relationship with God. In these ways, it pointed ahead to the blood of Christ.

And so, in 1 Peter 1:2, when the Spirit speaks of sprinkling by the blood of Christ, this is a reference to cleansing. Because God’s people have been chosen by him, because the Spirit has sanctified them, the result is that they are cleansed from their sins by the blood of Jesus Christ. The result is that they are brought into full relationship with God. For us, too, this means that we are no more strangers, but children and heirs of the most high. Through the sprinkling by Christ’s blood, we have been brought close to God.

These words remind believers then and now of what has been signed and sealed to us in our baptism. Baptism sacramentally presents to us the washing of Christ’s blood and Spirit. Think of the beautiful way that the Belgic Confession puts it in Article 34,

By [baptism] he signifies to us that as water washes away the dirt of the body when poured on us, and as water is seen on the body of the baptized when sprinkled on him, so the blood of Christ, by the Holy Spirit, does the same thing internally to the soul. It washes and cleanses our soul from sin and regenerates us from children of wrath into children of God. This is not brought about by the water as such but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God, which is our Red Sea, through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharaoh, that is, the devil, and enter into the spiritual land of Canaan.

The sprinkling of the water, therefore, points to the spiritual reality of the sprinkling of Christ’s blood.

So, who are we then? Well, because we have been washed, we are incorporated into Christ by faith. We are in Christ. This is what makes us strangers and pilgrims in the world. This is what makes us into what the ancient Christians called “the third race.” Back then, there were Jews and Gentiles, and then there were Christians – the third race. Christ is who makes all the difference in who we are. Through sprinkling by his blood, we are in him and that sets us apart.

So, what does this mean for how we live out our daily lives? What does it look like to live as a stranger in our world, someone sprinkled with Christ’s blood, washed to be part of a third race? It’s first of all a matter of the heart and what drives us and motivates us. We can enjoy the good things that are around us in the world. For instance, we can enjoy music, also some of the music created by unbelievers. But what’s in our heart while we enjoy that? Do we praise God for giving these possibilities? And we ought to be examining our hearts regularly to see whether we are perhaps getting too comfortable with the world. Are we setting down roots, applying for citizenship, so to speak?

Being sprinkled with the blood of Christ, being a stranger, does not mean fleeing the world and all it offers. We still live here. But it also does not mean completely and uncritically embracing the world and all it offers. Sprinkled with the blood of Christ, having been washed, means that we have a certain mindset: a pilgrim mindset. Though we’re living here, this is not really our home. When we go to church on Sunday, when we spend time in family worship or personal devotions, we get postcards from our real home. These are things that remind us of our homeland. And the bigger picture reminds us that we’re still in a foreign land. Think about that the next time you enjoy something our culture has to offer – so long as you’re sure it’s not offensive to God, enjoy it – but enjoy it while keeping in mind that we’re like our Father Abraham, wandering Arameans. We don’t belong here and we don’t really fit in. These things we might enjoy here pale in comparison to the inheritance waiting for us. And lingering long over the postcards will help us to keep that in mind.

So, this is our identity. Our identity is in who the Triune God is and what he has done for us. When we embrace this identity, then we can also know the abundance of grace and peace mentioned at the end of our text. Grace is the compassion and mercy of God for sinners. Grace is what has been shown to us in God’s election, sanctification, and sprinkling with the blood of Christ. And peace is the result of that – peace, a holistic and healthy relationship with God – the kind of relationship with God that we were created to be in. This grace and peace are not merely a pious wish – no, Peter expects that his readers, knowing their true identity, will experience this abundantly in their lives.

And that’s really the whole point here. No matter what our situation in life, whether we’re suffering or comfortable, we have to know who we are. An accurate sense of identity is a key part of developing Christian maturity. This morning, we’ve seen that our identity as pilgrim believers is intricately tied to the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Because it’s in this Triune God that we become who we were created to be: instruments of glory. AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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