Life can be hard.
It’s harder for some people than for others, of course. I’ve been privileged to grow up in a country that’s relatively free, in areas of that country (the Northwest, New England, and post-Jim Crow South Carolina) that have been untouched by violent upheaval. My early years were in the middle class—lower middle class, certainly, but we always had a place to live and food to eat and clothes to wear.
David expressed frustration that “the wicked” seemed to have easier lives than God’s people (Ps 37, 73). I wonder whether he was just noticing those “wicked” who indeed had easier lives, and not taking into account the many “wicked” whose lives were utterly miserable.
In our day, and particularly in the US, it’s hard to make the case that believers as a group have a harder go of it than non-Christians do. I’ve written on that before.
But it’s also true that following Jesus does cost something; Jesus taught that principle himself (Lk 14.25-33). Of the biblical passages that address the problem of “suffering for Jesus,” none is more explicit or encouraging than Peter’s first epistle. Though I’ve written a series on a portion of that book as well, I’d like to look at a different portion and talk about a different lesson from the letter.
The pervading theme of 1 Peter is suffering, and specifically suffering because of one’s obedience to Jesus. Peter matter-of-factly reports the fact of suffering and then applies it in the three institutional spheres of life: the state (1P 2.13-20), the home (1P 3.1-12), and the church (1P 5.1-11).
In the first chapter he spells out the reasons why this hardship is worth it. He begins with the primary cause of the suffering: we as God’s people have been called to live for him (1P 1.2).
- We have been chosen by the foreknowledge (or, more likely, foreordination; the same Greek word occurs in 1P 1.20) of God the Father—which choosing occurred, Paul tells us elsewhere, even before the foundation of the world (Ep 1.4).
- We have been set apart by the Holy Spirit as God’s own special people, what Peter calls in the next chapter (1P 2.9) God’s “peculiar people” (KJV) or “a people for [God’s] own possession” (NASB // ESV).
- We have been sprinkled—cleansed—with the very blood of Christ, at the cost of his own life. Peter’s use of the term “sprinkling” is theologically and culturally significant; the Mosaic Covenant was ratified with Israel by the sprinkling of the blood of the burnt offerings on the altar and then on the people themselves, as evidence that they were part of the Covenant (Ex 24.3-8). Peter, then, is clearly tying the death of Christ to the Mosaic Covenant and identifying his audience as participants in the New Covenant.
We are the objects, then, of the greatest work possible: a united and certain plan of the entire Godhead to form a covenant relationship with his people. This is much greater than my life circumstances, or yours, or those of all of us put together, and it is a worthy investment of our time and resources, regardless of the personal cost to us.
And that is not abusive, because it is consensual. We come to Christ willingly, and we determine that the cost of discipleship is a price worth paying.
Let me spend a few lines on a related issue.
We do not come to Christ simply because it’s a wise investment for us, because the payback is so much greater than the cost—and it truly is. If this is our primary motivation, then we are worshiping ourselves and not God; we are transacting business with God because it’s in our own best interests.
We come to God because we should, because he is our Creator, because he is our Redeemer, because he is our Life and our Hope and our Goal. We live for him because he deserves it. We live for him as an acknowledgement of his greatness, his glory, and his right.
Next time, we’ll look further into Peter’s reasons that suffering for Christ is worth it.