1 Peter 1:3 "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."
Happy New Year 2018! Every year the Southern Baptist Convention encourages churches to take up the study of a particular book of the Bible. For January 2018, Peter's first letter will be the focus, with a suggested theme of: "Living As Strangers In A Secular World". I find Peter's words to be apropos for our 21st century world. Peter’s purpose in writing his first letter was to urge his readers and us to stand firm in God’s grace. (1 Peter 5:12) 1 Peter 5:12 reads accordingly: "Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!" If Christ-followers are going to live effective lives as strangers in a secular world, on what basis do they do this task? How does one begin standing firm? By being “born-again”.
To be born again means receiving by faith a "God-given" second chance
Another way of describing the "new-birth" could be “the God-given second chance”. In grasping the significance of this truth, you can have the assurance you’ll need to stand firm for God. What can we note about the importance of being “born-again”?
1. Born-again to a living hope. 1 Peter 1:1-9
The truth of the New Birth is found throughout the pages of the Old and New Testaments. (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 3:1-8; Titus 3:4-5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3,23). John 3:3 points us to the urgency of this truth by quoting Jesus Himself:
“Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Not only can one not "see" or "enter into salvation" apart from the new birth, no one can be saved from the pending wrath of God. The Apostle Paul writes in Titus 3:5
“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”
Whenever we see such uniformity of testimony on doctrinal truths like the New Birth, we know we have struck upon a fundamental truth of scripture. The Apostle James notes in James 1:18
"In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures."
No doubt the Apostle Peter underscored the priority of the New Birth in providing what was needed to "stand firm" in the grace of God. In the opening verses of Peter's first letter, we can note the following guarantees granted by the new birth in saving faith:
a. Guaranteed beginning. 1 Peter 1:1-6 (sin’s penalty is removed)
b. Guaranteed process. 1 Peter 1:7-8 (sin’s power is relinquished)
c. Guaranteed finish. 1 Peter 1:9
(sin’s presence will be rid of in heaven)
For Peter, salvation is conceived of in three ways. There is "salvation past", which is to say, salvation in its beginning (i.e regeneration, justification). Such salvation is viewed as "salvation past" for the Christian. This is where it all starts. No doubt Peter prefaces the doctrine of regeneration with God's purposes of grace in foreknowledge and election in 1 Peter 1:1-2. Such working by God establishes the eternal salvation which He begins when dealing with sinners and their need to respond to the Gospel. As the Baptist Faith and Message reminds us about regeneration:
"Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace."
Then there is "salvation present" which involves the believer's progressive, onward and upward growth in sanctification. This progressive work is a cooperative effort between the Holy Spirit and the Christian.
Then there is "salvation future" or "glorification". This is where we find the soul of the Christian purified from all sin at death and the promise of the resurrection of the body given at Christ's return. (see 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). All of these observations serve to underscore the mighty hope made accessible to the sinner at saving grace by faith in the new birth.
2. Born-again by the Word & Spirit. 1 Pet 1:10-12; 1:23-25
The hymn by Daniel Whittle: "I know whom I have believed" is a beloved song celebrating the wonder of Christian salvation. In the hymn we find two stanzas that ponder over how the Holy Spirit uses the word of God in His work of salvation:
"I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.
"I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word, Creating faith in Him."
Such lyrics, based off of 2 Timothy 1:12, find their clarification in what Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:10-12 and 1 Peter 1:23-25. If we were to summarize what we find in Peter's exposition in these verses, we could note the following:
a. Spirit is the agent of our salvation. 1 Peter 1:10-12
b. The scripture is the tool of our conversion. 1 Pet 1:23-25
Without a doubt, faith is included in this important point of the Spirit's use of the scriptures in salvation. (see 1 Peter 1:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). The doors of grace have doorknobs of faith which we must voluntarily turn if we expect such to swing open for our entryway into God's heavenly kingdom. (see John 3:1-8) As the Apostle Peter writes on about the role of the New Birth in enabling the believer to stand firm in the grace of God, we also find there is a purpose for which the new birth takes place.
3. Born-again to live for God. 1 Peter 1:13-22
As echoed throughout the remainder of sacred scripture (Ephesians 2:10; James 2), faith without works is dead. Not only does the new birth grant spiritual life, but also the desire to live such a life. God gives the sinner a second chance in saving faith to live a life that honors Him. We can note the following three observations from Peter's exposition on how the new birth leads to a life devoted to God:
a. Live holy lives (we ought to want good works). 1 Peter 1:13-15
b. Live preparing for eternity (crave heaven). 1 Peter 1:17-21
c. Live to love with God’s love 1:22.
The third point is particularly convicting, since we discover that not only does the new birth entail one living for God, but also learning how to live with others in such a way as to love them as God loves them. The Apostle John writes in 1 John 4:20 "If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."
Today we explored what Peter meant when he wrote about being "born again to a living hope" or what we deemed a "God-given second chance". The new birth enables the Christian to carry-out the main point of Peter's first letter, namely "to stand firm in the grace of God". (see 1 Peter 5:12) The new birth in saving faith results in three profound realities:
1. Born again to a living hope
2. Born again by the Spirit and Word
3. Born again to live for God