This sermon is part of the sermon series "Miraculous Births". See series.
This sermon is part of the “Miraculous Births” sermon series. See the whole series here.
Getting Things Done, Deep Work, First Things First, What’s Best Next, Do More Better, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. Those are some of the books I’ve read in the past couple years on the topic of productivity. These books always get me excited about the idea of a fresh start at the beginning of the new year. This past year I had 15 resolutions. I wrote them down in an overpriced notebook and would regularly look at my lack of progress.
Tomorrow marks a new beginning. What is it about the New Year that gives one new hope for a better you? I won’t get into the psychology of it. But one thing is clear to me. I could use not just a better version of myself—not merely Daniel 2.0. But I could use a whole new “me.” A new me that is healthy, well rested, active, bold in evangelism, disciplined, well-liked by others, compassionate, a loving father and husband, a good friend, successful, generous, wealthy, well-traveled, joyful, thankful, and who always keeps an eternal perspective—just to name a few things. I’m a firm believer in goals and hard work, and I do think we can see progress in some of our ideals. There is just one problem. Me. I am my own worst enemy. Come February, the New Year’s motivation will have worn off and I’ll already be thinking, “Ok, maybe next year will be better.”
What we need most this year is not resolutions, hard work, discipline, or motivation. What we need is a new identity and a different goal. In Christ, we have that new identity, and salvation is that goal that together we strive for. This morning, I want us to consider this new identity and new goal corporately—not just for you as an individual Christian but for us as a church. My goal and main idea this morning is that we would rejoice that God has given the church the anticipated new birth through Christ.
And I have three points to unpack that: (1) A new identity (2) An unshakable joy, and (3) An anticipated salvation.
A New Identity
What most shapes your identity? Is it what you do? Where you are from? Your individual personality? I’d wager that more important than where you’re from or what you do is your relationships. And what relationships shape us more than any other? Family. If you really want to know someone, you need to know about their family. So it is significant that Peter begins his letter to this group of Christians by reminding them of who they are in relation to the Heavenly Father.
[Read 1 Peter 1:1–2]
Peter writes to “elect strangers.” I like how some translations put it—“elect exiles.” Peter’s readers are scattered throughout modern-day Turkey. Many of them are scattered because of societal pressure against them for their faith. What does it mean that they are “elect”? Well, verse 2 explains that these mainly Gentile Christians are “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” This doesn’t mean that God looked down the corridor of time to see who would believe in him. It means that God chose a people for himself. Just as he chose Israel in the Old Testament. Nothing that they have done makes them “foreknown.” God calls his children to himself because of his grace alone. This word foreknow is a deep word of love. You can look down at 1 Peter 1:20 and see that God also “foreknew” (translated “chosen”) the eternal Son—Jesus Christ our Savior. So he has called us to be incorporated into his eternal family through his Son.
We see this clearly in verse 2. The whole Trinity makes an appearance in this verse. The Father chooses, the Spirit sanctifies, and the Son saves us through his work on the cross. The word trinity is not in the Bible. But our relationship to God is only possible because of the work of our triune God. Who he is, as three in one, shapes who we are. This is why we conclude our services with the benediction (that is a blessing) from 2 Corinthians 13:14, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” From the time of the early church till today, Christians have understood themselves to be part of a community that is only possible because of the work of the triune God.
If you’re a non-Christian here today, I want to commend you for coming to a Christian church where you will hear a different perspective from what the world is preaching. It shows you are open-minded and willing to hear what God’s Word has to say. And let me give you a CliffsNotes version of the Bible in like 60 seconds to give you some context to this letter that Peter wrote to these churches in about AD 62–63.
We are all created beings. There is a creator God who is holy, good, and all-powerful. But like rebellious teenagers, we rebelled against this Father who had given us life. We didn’t want a divine authority over us but wanted to live our lives according to our own rules and what we think will make us happy. In the midst of our rebellion, God sent his Son in humility to be born as a man and to live the life you and I should have lived in obedience to the Father. He died on the cross for our sins. The sprinkling of Christ’s blood forgives us of our sin and cleanses us from guilt. And the Spirit sets us apart as a true child of God.
When you think of Christianity, you may think of a certain lifestyle, politics, refraining from certain behaviors, or just being “conservative.” But fundamentally to be a Christian is to turn from your sin and know the grace and peace that can be yours in abundance. That is grace from Jesus Christ and the peace that God secures between us and the Father through the blood of the Son. And God doesn’t just save you and then call it good: “Ok, you’re forgiven, now get on with your individual life.” No, he saves us into the church. We are to know a new identity corporately just as God’s identity is fundamentally corporate in the Trinity. This church you have found yourself in is not a social club. It is not merely a place to motivate “the faithful” to do good works. This is a place where Christians know their real identity as children together of the King. An eternal family. We understand that our relationships with one another are actually more fundamental than our relationships with our biological family because of how God has chosen us in the gospel. It's a radical idea.
If you are a Christian, your response to what God has done must be one of praise. And that is exactly where Peter goes in verse 3.
[Read 1 Peter 1:3–5]
This sermon marks the conclusion of our “Miraculous Births” sermon series. And here in 1 Peter 1:3 we see that God wasn’t done with miraculous births with Jesus. Individuals who are dead in sin are “born again” into God’s family. God gave us that new birth into a living hope through Christ’s resurrection. Our hope is that we will follow the incarnate Christ in resurrection one day! In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul makes the point “if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith. … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. … If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.” If Christ was not raised from the dead, we have no hope. And then the church is worthless and we should be pitied. But Jesus was raised and, therefore, we have hope that we will be raised. This literally “living” hope gives us a new identity.
You can’t change who your parents are, the DNA they gave you, the influence they were on you for good or ill. But you are offered a new identity that is more powerful than your DNA, more powerful than the lessons of your parents, because this identity is rooted in the resurrection of the God-man. Those who turn from their sin and trust that he is who he says he is by virtue of his indestructible life are made children of God and given a hope that nothing in this life can take away.
1 Peter 1:4 shows us that this new identity as children of the risen Christ also comes with an inheritance. What is this inheritance? It is the living hope we have already considered. The inheritance is also connected to our future salvation that we see in verse 5. And Peter uses the strongest possible terms so that we might know that our hope and salvation is secure. This isn’t like how we use the word hope like, “I hope I have enough money to retire” or “I hope I can find a spouse” or “I hope my kids have happy lives.” This hope is certainty. Because it is rooted in Christ’s resurrection.
You’ll see in verse 5 that the tool that God uses to shield our salvation until the end is “our faith.” Which may make it sound like our salvation isn’t as secure as we thought. I’m sure you have had friends or family who have “left the faith.” But faith is a gift from God. It is something he does in us from first to last. Real faith won’t leave due to doubts or difficult circumstances. Real faith perseveres. And God himself is the one who ensures that. That is why I love the song we sing, “When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast.”
But we often fear. And not just losing our faith. We have small identity crises all the time. At least if you’re anything like me. If I give a poor sermon, I can feel insecure. If I come to the realization that I haven’t been a loving father or husband, I am insecure. But this new identity is rooted not in us but in the living Christ. This knowledge of where you come from and where you are going should change everything for you. If you know that your Father chose you before time began and you know that you have an inheritance of a living hope that is 1 billion times better than a generous retirement account, it changes your outlook on your future. Our inheritance is rooted in the new birth. Think of it this way: What did you do to be born? Nothing! In the same way, we contribute nothing to our new birth! We are secure in this new identity.
So would you say that is how you understand your identity here this morning? Or is your identity more rooted in you and the things you do? I’d encourage you to consider a much more secure and joyful identity in Christ. One that is rooted in the sovereign choice of the Father, the Son’s sacrifice and resurrection, and the Spirit’s setting you apart to be in the eternal family of God.
As we’ve considered these last four weeks, Samson, Samuel, John the Baptist, and Jesus must have known they were special. I wonder if their moms told their sons the story. “An angel appeared and told me you would be born of a miracle! And that God would make you great and accomplish great things through you! This is your destiny; God will accomplish it in your life!” These men of miraculous birth had a supernatural origin and a God-given destiny. As the church, we are no different. Together we have been born again through the miracle of the resurrection. And God will witness to his great power and love through us, the church. He will accomplish it, and we can’t mess it up. Doesn’t that make you want to be a part of God’s family in the church? Doesn’t that give you great confidence and trust that God will accomplish great things for us and through us despite all our failures and weaknesses?
How would our life together change if we really lived in this reality? I know for me, it makes me want to take more risks for the sake of the gospel. To be bolder in sharing Christ with others. To make it more of a priority to be fully present with God’s people as we sing, pray, and hear his Word.
An angel might not have announced your birth. But angels long to catch a glimpse of what God has done in the church. How the triune God has brought us into a relationship with himself is breathtaking. It should fuel our confidence in evangelism and our zeal to know his Word and commune with him in prayer, and it should give us an unshakeable joy.
An Unshakable Joy
You would think with having a new and secure identity as a child of God with an imperishable inheritance that life would be grand! What is there to worry about? Well, in verse 6, we get a reality check. Suffering. Trials. But in verses 6–9, we see that not even suffering can shake the joy of our salvation.
[Read 1 Peter 1:6–9]
Verse 6 says, “In this you greatly rejoice …” What are we to find so joyful? Well, verse 5 says that our salvation is coming and will be revealed in the last time. This is such a future certainty; it changes our present. Suffering and trials may be swirling all around us and will certainly be unpleasant and painful. But even in the midst of this, our eyes and our hearts are turned upward, looking forward to the revealing of our final salvation. And this gives us great joy even in the midst of suffering. Verse 6 says that we suffer “all kinds of trials for a little while.” You may take issue with that “little while” because you have known suffering for many years. So how can Peter say that we endure it for “a little while”? Well, I think Peter is getting at the same idea that Paul was getting at in 2 Corinthians 4:17–18:
For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Compared to eternity, our current affliction is “light and momentary.” Peter and Paul are not belittling suffering. It is very real, heavy, and discouraging, but our trials will seem light in the future by comparison with the salvation that will be ours forever.
Not only does our future inheritance and new identity inform how we perceive our present suffering, but suffering itself has a purpose. It proves our faith. How can we know if our faith is genuine? Faith is key, as we saw in verse 5, because God uses our faith to shield our inheritance by his power. At this we might despair, and say, “Oh no, my inheritance of salvation must not be very secure because my faith is weak! I doubt him. I fall into sin. I have this sin I keep falling into. And when I look at other Christians, they are so much farther along than me in faith.” But if you think that way, you don’t really know what faith is. One way to think of faith is faithfulness, and faithfulness is proven over time. True faith perseveres to the end. Amidst struggle, amidst doubt. Because the point is not the strength of our faith but the object of our faith—Jesus Christ and his promises. That’s what makes the gift of faith more valuable than gold. As Thomas R. Schreiner says in The New American Commentary, “Approved faith is more valuable than gold because the latter is temporary and perishes. But faith is also compared to gold, for like gold it is refined and proved through fire.”
Suffering is often thought of as a problem for faith. How could a good and all-powerful God allow this pain and suffering in my life and in the world? Have you ever asked that question? I wonder if we really want an answer? Because if you do, we have one here in verse 7. Did you hear that? Peter is arguing that suffering is the crucible for faith. Trials test the genuineness of faith, revealing whether or not faith is authentic, according to Schreiner. If faith was never tested by suffering, we would just be like prosperity gospel believers—trusting God for our best life now. That kind of “faith” that the TBN preachers peddle isn’t really faith at all. It is living by sight, that God’s blessing is proven by the good things he gives us in this life.
If suffering in this world and in your life causes you to wonder about the goodness and power of God, welcome to the club. We don’t dismiss suffering and just say tritely, “Well, it will all work for good in the end.” It will. But we struggle to believe that, and that is one reason we gather as a church to remind ourselves that this world is not our home and that what is coming will make sense of all the troubles we know now. If you would like to think through these difficult questions, though, we’d love to connect you with someone to do a Bible study or read through a Christian book on the topic. We realize that it isn’t easy to trust a God who has brought suffering into your life.
Verses 8–9 explain that faith is more than just “faithfulness,” but it is belief. Hebrews 11:1 agrees, “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.”
You will be criticized by the world for your faith. The world finds its trust in “reason” much more rational and secure of a foundation than our “blind faith.” After all, isn’t that what Peter says our faith is here in verse 8? A trust in what we cannot see? Isn’t sound thinking and living according to what we can see more reasonable? Isn’t basing our whole life on what seems like a fairytale a bit risky?
Peter’s answer to your objections is “love wins.” Love is greater than doubt. Love is greater than sight. Think about it. All of us live by faith in things we cannot see. Human rights, equality, and love are not things that we see or can be proved by science or an evolutionary worldview. But we build our lives and society around these ideals. Christians love Jesus not because we have seen him but because we have heard his words of love. He has changed us and given us a new identity and an imperishable hope—a salvation from our sin and the joy of life forever in his glorious presence.
This is the goal of our faith. The coming salvation that we see in verse 9.
Recently a member of our church did a commendable thing. She emailed me and asked me if I could connect her with another member for discipleship and mentorship as she was struggling with some difficulties in her life. In my reply to her, I wrote, “I’m sorry that you’re experiencing difficulties.” To which she replied something like, “Don’t say sorry for that! This is part of God’s purpose for me!” And she is exactly right.
When suffering and trials come into your life, what is your prayer? That the suffering would go away? I know that is often my prayer. And that is okay, Jesus and Paul prayed that too. When there are trials in marriage, we pray that things would go back to the way they were before. We are plagued by nostalgia. “Lord, make things like they were before this trial hit, when our family was unified. Before that divorce or death. Before the financial trouble. Back when I was happy and everything was peaceful.” What a lack of imagination we have! We need to stop looking back at the way things were before and instead look with hope and great expectation for what God is accomplishing in us and for us through our trials.
God is doing something beautiful through the pain of our suffering. Do you trust him even in the suffering? Not to take away the trial but to grow your faith in him and cause you to see him for how beautiful and powerful he is? Seeing him and knowing him more deeply is better than things going back to the way they were before. Do you believe that?
I think the following lyrics from Gungor’s “Beautiful Things” capture what we’re talking about:
All this pain
I wonder if I'll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change, at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
We don’t sign up for faith because God promises to make this life easy. On the contrary, faith is proven through these trials as we await our glorious hope.
An Anticipated Salvation
[Read 1 Peter 1:10–12]
In 2014, Sports Illustrated magazine predicted that the Houston Astros would win the World Series in 2017, and they put their prediction on the cover. Sports Illustrated got it right. The Houston Astros were the 2017 MLB champs just as SI predicted three years prior.
You and I today are like the 2017 Astros. The prophets of old were the Astros in 2014. Only they knew that the prediction was certain. They just didn’t know when. Just that God would fulfill his promise someday.
We live in the day of prophecy fulfilled. We live on the other side of the prediction. Those who feared God in the past trusted God to fulfill his promises and send a king, Abraham’s seed to bring restoration and salvation to Israel. But how privileged are we as the church of Jesus Christ to be on the other side of those promises? Those prophets and promises serve us now. The Spirit sent by Christ himself gave the prophets their message and then Christ came and fulfilled those prophecies himself. All so that we can wonder that God has accomplished our new birth and salvation through his beloved Son.
What would Daniel, Ruth, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Abraham, and David say if they could see us today? With all that we have? With the salvation realized in Jesus? The Holy Spirit dwelling within us, no longer a law that is external to us but a law now written on our hearts by the Spirit? The church, God’s people who are part of the family of God? And the Scriptures? They would go nuts! Angels currently look at our church, the fulfillment of God’s promises, and it’s like they want in!
Did you notice that in all the miraculous births we’ve considered this month that angels are present? From Samson to Jesus? There is an angel announcing the upcoming birth in each story. Here in 1 Peter 1:10–12, we see that the prophets announced the new birth of the church and our salvation. We don’t get angels. But we do get angels longing to see this amazing thing that God has done.
If angels are amazed at what Christ has accomplished in the church, does that change your perception of the church? Yes, we are weak. Yes, we are culturally out of touch. Yes, we are often boring. But the prophets of God foresaw a day when God’s people would be redeemed, and we are that redeemed community. No longer defined by our failures, our sins, our weaknesses, or our politics. But defined by our new identity in Christ’s resurrection and our common goal (and destination)—salvation in Christ. Together we gather to remind one another that this world is not our home. We are elect exiles. Chosen strangers. Not strangers to one another. For this a forever family. But strange to the world in its rebellion against God.
If this is true (and it is) does that change how you will invest in God’s people today? And this year? Does that change your goals for this year? What if instead of merely improving yourself starting tomorrow, you resolved to invest deeply in this church? What would it look like for you to sacrifice your own desires and inconvenience yourself to take some risks for your “forever family”? God has shaped our identity and goal to be centered in what God is doing here, in this supernaturally called community of faith.
What God has accomplished in the church—giving us a secure identity, an unshakable joy, and a longed-for salvation—is a work of mysterious love and grace, as Peter writes in verse 2, “multiplied.”
Why would God be so kind to us? Why would God make us so rich with blessing? It’s not because he thinks we are so great. It’s because he identifies us with his Son. He calls us the body of his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the head, and we have our new life in him. We no longer belong to ourselves, our previous ambitions and goals. Instead, our goal is to make much of Christ together. To know his joy, to share in his sufferings, and to long for the day when together we will see him—when our faith becomes sight.
This year may not turn out to be the year that you finally have a quiet time every day, or lose 20 lbs., or whatever your New Year’s resolution is. But may this be the year that you see Jesus. And when you do see him (whenever that may be), your salvation will be complete. He will make all things new in your life. A new body. A new reality with no more suffering. Just pure joy. That day is coming soon. Will you encourage your brothers and sisters with this certain hope in the New Year? That is our goal together: to press on in hope to salvation. Let’s pray that God would help us.
Daniel Schreiner serves as an associate pastor at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, OR.