Heavenly Hope: Part 5
The Hope of Heaven, True Faith, pt. 5
3“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”
It would be easy to think that with all of the data on heaven, assurance and hope, we could lose sight of precisely how we are supposed to maintain our hope. Are we to constantly look at the doctrines we believe? Certainly! Are we to look at the fruit in our lives to see whether or not what we see represented in Scripture is indeed present in our own deeds? Without question. But when it comes to focusing our faith on what matters most, Peter tells us that our faith must be firmly fixed upon the one that we have not seen; Jesus Christ, the One whom we love. He is the personification of our hope. That is exactly what Jesus is to the believer. He is the personification of all our hopes and dreams. The author of Hebrews summed it all up when he said:
Hebrews 12:1–3 1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Our hope therefore will only be as strong as our love to the unseen Christ. That is really what true faith is all about— Christ the object of our faith. He is the one that makes all of our trials tolerable. Had Jesus not said, “be of good cheer I have overcome the world” our tribulations would overtake us (John 16.33). Had Jesus not risen from the grave we would have a dead hope versus a living hope (1 Cor. 15.19). If we were not fellow-heirs with Christ, we would have no inheritance to look forward to (Rom. 8.17). Were it not for Christ’s intercession for our lives, God’s power would fail to protect us since God’s protection of us is an answer to Jesus’ intercession on behalf of His people (John 17.6ff.; Heb. 7.25). If Christ were not both the Author and Perfecter of our faith and if He did not finish what He has begun, then we would certainly fail the test (Heb. 12.2; Phil. 1.6).
THE CHARACTER OF GENUINE FAITH
8“and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”
Verse eight is closely connected to the idea of the second coming in v.7, “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v.7). What is left for Christ to do is to return, that is when He will be revealed, that is, He will be seen! But now He remains invisible. But that does not mean that He is not present. Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of age” (Mt. 28.20). Unlike Peter, his readers had never seen Him. Though they may have seen this as a disadvantage by the time Peter is done pondering the nature of true faith and its connection to the unseen Christ, he leaves them exulting in the glory of God. What we see in this text, is faith in action, faith that is genuine is also effectual and productive. Here are three observations.
Genuine faith loves the unseen
The first thing to note here is the connection between faith and love, “and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him” (ὃν οὐκ ἰδόντες ἀγαπᾶτε, εἰς ὃν ἄρτι μὴ ὁρῶντες πιστεύοντες). The two apparent disadvantages are that they had never seen Jesus either in the past or in the present. But seeing is not what constitutes believing, we could say, and loving is just as important even more important than seeing.
Surely there were many people who saw Jesus, saw the miracles, saw His public ministry, heard Him teach and saw His crucifixion— the most powerful things about Jesus. Sadly many of those eyewitnesses had Jesus in their midst to no avail. Scores of those who saw Jesus in the flesh did not “believe” in Him (cf. John 6.66). In fact Jesus taught His disciples the advantage of faith to sight:
John 20:29 29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
We are called to walk by faith not by sight. In fact, in Paul’s parallel passage to this very idea this is exactly the way Paul encourages the Corinthians to live as they anticipate the day when their faith will be sight:
2 Corinthians 5:6–7 6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight—
But this is precisely what faith is all about, trusting in what we do not see so that we have the capacity to love Christ who we do not see now (Heb. 11.26-27; 2 Cor. 4.16-18). This is precisely what Scripture calls us to do now, love and trust in Christ (1 Pet. 1.8; Eph. 6.24). This is precisely what true faith looks like. To the degree that we are loving Christ, we will be trusting Christ and to the degree that we are trusting Christ we should be loving Christ as well. In the wider context, this is how our hope is made practical, tangible, and visible. We see the reality of what we are hoping in through our capacity to love and trust in Christ. In fact, our love-fellowship with Christ is what distinguished Jesus’ disciples from those who rejected Him:
John 8:42 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.
Consequently, we should also point out that it was Jesus who joined the idea of believing and loving and loving and believing. This is precisely what Jesus goes on to say the Pharisees (who represent those who have chosen to trust in themselves).
John 8:43–47 43 “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 “But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 “Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
Therefore, it is the lack of true faith that kept the self-righteous from fully trusting in Christ; and where Christ is not trusted, He is not loved. Ultimately, all true love to Christ in Scripture is salvific love (1 John 4.19), it is sanctifying love (Rom. 5.5), it is an assuring love (1 John 5.2), demonstrable love (1 John 4.20), obedient love (John 14.15) and is therefore not shallow love. It is all together spiritual love, covenantal love so that if you do not love Christ you are accursed and cut off, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Cor. 16.22). Therefore, the kind of love Peter and the New Testament envisions is love for Christ that cannot be in competition with anything else:
Matthew 10:37–39 37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.
Genuine faith rejoices now and forever
The opposite of shallow superficial love for Christ ought to be the predominant truth in the life of the believer. Our love is to be an exalted love and an intense love for God’s salvation:
Psalm 18:1–3 1 “I love You, O Lord, my strength.” 2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies.
That is why eve, now in the context of our trials, true faith leads us to have affections for Christ that are “filled with glory” (δεδοξασμένῃ). Our love for and trust in Christ should leave us animated with “joy inexpressible” (χαρᾷ ἀνεκλαλήτῳ). Peter make this point plain when he uses the words related to joy back to back. Not only do we “greatly rejoice” (ἀγαλλιᾶσθε) but Peter goes on to compound the joy by describing it as a type of rejoicing that is “inexpressible” (ἀνεκλάλητος) and “filled with glory” (δεδοξασμένῃ).
Have you ever become so emotional that you could not speak? Maybe you have been overcome with tears so that all you could do is weep; if someone were to ask you what was wrong, you could only shake your head in inexpressible joy or grief. That is what Peter means by, “inexpressible” (ἀνεκλάλητος). The word is a compound word that takes the alpha privative (ἀ) and joins it to (ἐκλαλέω) meaning to speak out or “publicize something” (BDAG). If you have never known the love of Christ so much so that you are left speechless, you have not tasted the depths of what Peter means when he says, “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2.3, ESV). All such powerful expressions simply speak of the fact that Christian love is when faith becomes emotional. Regarding this whole experience, Thomas Schreiner writes:
“Believers should long for the Lord if indeed they have tasted or experienced his kindness… Longing to grow spiritually comes from a taste of the beauty of the Lord, an experience of his kindness and goodness. Those who pursue God ardently have tasted his sweetness. Christian growth for Peter is not a mere call to duty or an alien moralism. The desire to grow springs from an experience with the Lord’s kindness, an experience that leaves believers desiring more.” (Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003) p. 102.)
Remarkably, if we heed the context of Peter’s words in (2.1-3), Peter’s use of the metaphor for tasting arose, not out of the mysticism of contemplative practices but out of studying the Word! We go deep with God by going deep with the Word so that we grow spiritually in sanctification. Likewise, we will know this inexpressible joy not simply through emotionalism per se but by filling ourselves with the knowledge of Christ. This is why Paul tells us to allow the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Cor. 3.16). Now in order to get a proper balance of what I am saying here, we should turn to a real expert on this. In his famous treatise on the The Religious Life of Theological Students, Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield argues for a blend between mind and heart, passion and precision, tasting and thinking:
“Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. "What!" is the appropriate response, "than ten hours over your books, on your knees?" Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? If learning and devotion are as antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life is in itself accursed, and there can be no question of a religious life for a student, even of theology. The mere fact that he is a student inhibits religion for him. That I am asked to speak to you on the religious life of the student of theology proceeds on the recognition of the absurdity of such antitheses. You are students of theology; and, just because you are students of theology, it is understood that you are religious men—especially religious men, to whom the cultivation of your religious life is a matter of the profoundest concern—of such concern that you will wish above all things to be warned of the dangers that may assail your religious life, and be pointed to the means by which you may strengthen and enlarge it. In your case there can be no "either—or" here—either a student or a man of God. You must be both.” (B.B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings. P & R Publishing 2005; vol. 1, p.412).
To sum up what Warfield is saying, we ought to study with our hearts open and pray with our Bibles open. The beautiful thing about a life devoted to Christ and devoted to His Word, which results in inexpressible joy, is that we are given the privilege of knowing this joy now and forever. What we experience now is but a foretaste of the glory that we shall receive in the future. This is precisely where Peter takes us.
Genuine faith lives in anticipation
Now the future aspect of this joy is contained in the words, “full of glory” (δεδοξασμένῃ). The phrase really is one word in Greek (δοξάζω) which carries the idea of being glorified in the past with ongoing results i.e. into the future as v.9 makes clear, “obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (κομιζόμενοι τὸ τέλος τῆς πίστεως [ὑμῶν] σωτηρίαν ψυχῶν). That is the glory to which Peter is pointing us. As we contemplate our hope in Christ our lives are filled with love and joy. That joy however is an eschatological joy because it is joy that is rooted in the reality of our glorification. Here, Peter and Paul speak of the same reality i.e. living in the hope of our glorification as a settled fact. This is how Paul said:
Romans 8:29–30 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Glorification could not be described any better than with Peter’s own words, “obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1.9). This is what we are hoping in. We hope that amidst life’s storms we will save our souls. We hope in the fact that we will not lose our inheritance, or fall short of it. Paul even saying of himself, “after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9.27). We are hoping in Christ and in our union with Christ that He will not fail us. What holds our hope together is faith! This is why the salvation of our souls ([ὑμῶν] σωτηρίαν ψυχῶν) can be described as faith’s final goal, purpose or end (τέλος).
When we stop to contemplate the everlasting truth that our souls will be saved, our trials have purpose. For, if our souls will be saved than we can count all things as loss (Phil. 3.7-8), we can rejoice in the midst of suffering (Phil. 4.4), we can trust that our hope will not disappoint (Rom. 5.4; 2 Cor. 1.9), we can overcome the world by looking to the exalted state of Christ (John 16.33), we can run the race with endurance by fixing our eyes on Jesus who is Himself the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12.1-3).
The Hope of Heaven presented to us in the opening of Peter’s letter ends on a strong note of assurance. Peter insists that we will “obtain” (κομίζω) salvation. The word implied something being carried off (BDAG). The imagery is one of not only taking hold of our salvation but then carrying it into eternity where we will glorify God and enjoy Him forever.