August 16, 2018 Chapel Service — Dr. Stephen J. Nichols

Posted On August 23, 2018

Stephen Nichols
“To Be Known By God
—1 Peter 1:1-2

Dr. Stephen J. Nichols is president of Reformation Bible College, chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and a Ligonier teaching fellow.


I do speak in chapel every semester and, every semester, as I come to think about what my chapel message is going be, I spend a lot of time thinking about a text and I thought to myself, “I need to stop doing this.” So I’m going to start with a biblical book and I’m just going to stick with it until I’m done. I did not choose the Psalms, did not choose Isaiah; I would like to retire someday. But I chose 1 Peter. And so, today we will simply do the first two verses from 1 Peter 1:1-2. Now, not every chapel speaker will do this but as the Sunday worship service tradition has it here at Saint Andrew’s Chapel, the congregation stands for the reading of God’s Word, so may I ask you once again to stand for the reading of God’s Word.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

This is the Word of our Lord and the flower fades and the grass withers, but the Word of the Lord endures forever, please be seated.

Three questions, I want to answer with you from this salutation of this book. The first is, “Who is Peter?”, the second is “Who is his audience?” and you’ll have to just wait and see what the third question is. But 1 Peter, we see it there in the first line, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” and I would make the case that these are the five of the most unlikely words you would ever come across. If you were to plugged in at Peter’s life at any moment prior to this epistle, you would not have likely guessed that he would have turned out to have been an apostle. We’ll get to this in a little bit, but you remember John chapter 18 verse 10 and they’re in the garden and there’s the Roman soldiers off in the distance, and there’s the high priest and his entourage and as they come upon Jesus and the disciples, what does Peter do? Cuts off the ear. That’s a finely-honed instinct. That’s not something that someone just does. I think it’s indicative of the fact that Peter was likely a scrapper. If you were a fisherman, you were burly, you were rough, rough around the edges. We see this in Peter, don’t we? He’s impetuous, he’s bold, I would venture to say he was vulgar in both senses of the term: common and vulgar. This is what fisherman do when they get together, right? And this was Peter. What do you think Peter’s second grade teacher had to say about him? I don’t think anywhere on the list was apostle of Jesus Christ.

Peter knew the transformative power of the gospel. He knew it first-hand. We’ve got the incident in John 18:10. Calvin says in his commentary on John 18:10, “Peter probably designed to have cloven his skull in two when he took the swing at the ear.” He was out of practice for the last three years he had to put his sword down. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the first time he ever swung a sword at somebody. I don’t think Calvin’s right, I don’t think he meant to cloven his skull in two, I think he meant to cloven him in two, was probably what Peter was after. Even better is the note in the Geneva Bible. I love the Geneva Bible and its conservatism here, “We ought to contain our zeal,” that’s the note in the Geneva Bible. Lest you think it’s an example to follow, no. We ought to contain our zeal. Peter could not contain his zeal. There was nothing contained about Peter, if the occasion called for someone to just sit there and be quiet, Peter failed. He was always charging ahead, wasn’t he? He was rushing in and only occasionally is he right. What do we read as Jesus comes to Peter, and he says, “Oh, Peter, how Satan desires to sift you like wheat.” And then the betrayal.

This is not as literary scholars classify them, “A flat character in the narrative of the text,” this is a very complex, round character. And if we pop in at moments of the story we might not be sure of the outcome, but when we get to the end of the story, this is where he is. Very unlikely words, “An apostle of Jesus Christ,” and let’s not forget what this is. He is going to write two of the 27 books of the canonical New Testament; what a privilege. It wasn’t a privilege extended to someone who was learned to someone like a Paul, that you could say, “Well, that makes sense, here is his pedigree, he’s going to write books,” not Peter. What an example of God’s grace that Peter is privileged to open two epistles in the canon of Scripture. Peter understood a lot about the grace of God. He heard it first hand from his master and he saw it transform his own life right before his very own eyes. That is the author of this apostle, this Peter.

The second question, “Who is his audience?” We have a geographical reference. These are all provinces circling Asia Minor, this is modern day Turkey, this is that Western protrusion of Asia. The farthest West of Asia, an arm’s length away from Europe, Asia Minor. These provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia. Bithynia is going to be both a province and a city. This is the home of Istanbul. In the 400s, this is Chalcedon, this is a section of the city where the creed is given to us. These are cities where the gospel and churches are going to flourish as Rome is Christianized and Christidome spreads through the Roman Empire, but that is not the case at all back in the 60s AD. These were all Roman provinces first, and as Roman provinces, these were diametrically opposed to everything this new sect was about — this new sect of Christianity.

They believed in power, Christians believed in humility. They believed in cloven your enemies in two and Christians believed in loving your enemies. They believed that the essence of life was to accumulate. I’m in an interesting time in terms of thinking about one of our staff members, Chelsea, right now, because on Friday when you all came over, she brought a board game with her, Life. And so now, every night I am, I was going to say condemned, but I will say privileged to play hour upon hour of the game of Life with my family. I cannot wait to make sure Chelsea gets that board game back. But you all played Life, what is the purpose of that game? The most— the most money, the highest paying job, the most pets, the best house. Who was the winner of the game of Life? Whoever has the most at the end of the game. This was the Roman way and what is the ethic of these Christians? Whoever will hold onto his life, grasp it, make it the center of one’s ambitions, that one will lose their life. You want to gain your life? Lose it.

Everything about this new sect of Christianity was diametrically opposed to the worldview of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. So Peter has no choice but to call these people “exiles.” Now when I see that expression “exiles,” I think “pilgrim” I think “traveler.” If you have been in a former country like Texas, for intense, you know what it is to be an exile. And there is a little bit on unease. You don’t know the language, you may not understand the money. Been in a few Europe countries thanks to the benevolence of Ligonier and the Reformation tours we do. I never figure out the tipping until I’m done and have moved on to another country. You just feel out of sorts, don’t you? But being an exile in far more than that, I think a better understanding of this term is not this sort of stranger who’s the tourist having difficulty asking where the bathroom is. I think a better image of this is the refugee camp; a truly marginalized, unwanted social group— “you do not fit in here, and we do not want you, and we will keep you at bay.” That’s how Rome treated these Christians. Didn’t allow them to pursue certain careers, didn’t allow them to have that upward mobility that other Roman citizens had. And yes, very shortly they are going to start persecuting them economically, physically, verbally. All of that’s in 1 Peter, all of that’s in here for those “who are in exile.” You’re not a Roman, you’re not a Bithynian, you’re not a Galation, you’re a Christian. You’re not a Roman first, you’re a Christian first. You still need to honor the Emperor, you still need to pay your taxes, you still need to be a good citizen. Some of these even highly placed citizens were Christians, let’s not forget that. The director of the public water system was Christian, that is a very high political position to be in. Paul tells us, doesn’t he, that there are members of Caesar’s household who are a part of the body Christ.

But you’re not a Roman first. Paul calls them exiles. But here’s the crucial word of their identity, they are “elect,” they are chosen by God. That’s the word that Peter wants to emphasize in this salutation. This is a very different greeting than other Greco Roman epistles would have. It’s true that letters were crucial form of communication in the Greco Roman world. That genre was adopted for the biblical writers. It shows that these biblical writers, as Dr. Briones has taught you and will teach you, were very intent on having relationships. The fact that they write epistles and not just abstract commands shows that they cared about the relationships with the people, the Christians, the churches they planted. They were very relational. And in that case, this very conventional following of the Greco Roman epistle style. But there is always these twists and nuances to the New Testament epistles that set them apart from and so nowhere is the salutation of a Greco Roman letter are you going to find a trinitarian reference. And nowhere in a salutation are you going to find the author can’t even wait to spill doctrine all over the pages— “Greetings, now let’s talk about election.” Let’s just say Peter would not make it very long in the American Evangelical scene. I think a focus group would say to him, “Alright, Peter, fifteen words in, let’s not talk about election.” But this is our identity, ultimately. Not that we are Bithynians, and not even that we are exiles. Who is this audience? They are the elect, God’s chosen.

And these three clauses in verse 2, adumbrate and develop this notation of election first, what do we see there, “According to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Now we need to recognize that there’s a Reformed view of the understanding of election and there are non-Reformed views of the understanding of election. And in the non-Reformed view, we talk about “foreseen electionism” and the idea is that God elects those whom foresees as being obedient, or those whom He foresees exercising the act of faith in Him. So, He looks down, as it were, the corridors of time, He sees all of you who chose to sit here and rejects you, and He sees Tim, who alone chose to sit in the right section, and so He chooses Tim, and that is a non-Reformed understanding of election. Nine, the strongest possible term. God foreknows because God foreordains. He knows perfectly because He has brought it to pass. God foreknows all that comes to pass because God has ordained all things that come to pass. So, first we have to get that proper view of election and Dr. Mathison [professor of Systematic Theology] will help you.

I want to talk about this for a moment. I think we skip over this because we hop to views of foreknowledge without understanding this; foreknowledge is a subset of the knowledge of God and I want to dwell there for a little bit. Do you all have your copy, “Chosen By God?” I just happen to have mine with me. I have said this a couple of occasions this year, this is our first academic year beginning without Dr. Sproul and we miss him. But the beauty of Dr. Sproul is we always have him and so here he is in print. “From all eternity, God foreknew his elect; he had an idea of their identities in his mind before he ever created them. He not only foreknew them, in the sense of having a prior idea of their personal identities, but he also foreknew them in the sense of fore-loving them. We must remember that when the Bible speaks of “knowing” it often distinguishes between a simple mental awareness of a person and a deep, intimate love of the person.” God knows not only presciently – pre-knowledge, foreknowledge – He knows omnisciently; He knows fully and wholly. And as Bromley says, in his little definition of foreknowledge in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “He also knows omnipotently.” Isn’t that beautiful what Bromley does there? We talk about the omniscience of God and the omnipotence of God, Bromley brings them together.

He knows you in such a way that He knows you all powerfully. So, what does all this mean? It means that when God knows you, He calls you and when He calls you, He loves you. And when He loves you, he forms you and He shapes you. He makes us into vessels of honor, perfectly and intricately shaped and designed. It means that God’s knowledge of us is at once infinite and intimate. Here’s a great hymn, if you want to look at it you can, it’s number 6, “O, Come My Soul, Bless Thou the Lord.” Stanza 3, “His love is like a Father’s to His children, tender and kind to all who fear His name,” now listen to this, “For well He knows our weakness and our frailty, and He knows that we are dust, He knows our frame.” We talk about the knowledge of God, we talk about it as unbounded, as infinite, as immense, as vast, as broad, He knows everything perfectly, it also means that He knows the infinitesimal dot intimately and perfectly. And it means that His love is at once infinite and intimate.

Who is Peter’s audience? The elect and to be elect is to be known by God. We talk about knowing God a lot. I love this subject. It’s the essence of what Ligonier is about: Who is God? We also need to talk about being known by God. This God we know knows us. There are two other clauses here, second clause, sanctification of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes us holy. The Holy Spirit has sanctified us already; positionally we are saints, positionally we are holy. We are sanctified, we are holy, we have the righteousness of Christ, there no more holiness either one of us or any of us needs, but we are also being sanctified as a process. And so, as those instruments that were used in the tabernacle, and then in the temple, underwent the ceremonial washing and the careful construction according to plan, then they could be brought it to the presence of God and be used in His service. Same with us. We are being sanctified, we are being made holy, we are vessels being made useful for the service for a holy God, we are vessels that are being made holy in the worship of a holy God. Sanctification is a process. And also, someday, our sanctification will be complete.

Edwards put it, I wouldn’t say poetically but vividly, when he said, “Someday we will be unclogged.” Those besetting sins will be removed by some sort of cosmic Drain-o that will be at work within us. Our robes will be spotless, pure, and white. My white shirts have a short life span. We get spots on them, don’t we? Someday, spotless. Sanctifying process of the Holy Spirit, and then there’s a third clause, isn’t there? “For obedience to Jesus Christ,” for Peter, not a day went by that he did not re-hear the words, “Follow me.” The essence of discipleship, Christ’s call always was and always will be “Follow me.” Our calling is to be disciples of Jesus Christ, our calling is to be obedient to our Master, and lest we think we do this all ourselves, Peter ends this Trinitarian expression by reminding us of the blood of Jesus Christ. In fact, he can’t help himself as the chapters unfold, he is going to have to call it the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

It is Christ’s sacrifice, it is Christ’s work on the cross that accomplishes our redemption. God decrees it and doctrine of election. The Holy Spirit applies it in our regeneration and works it out in our sanctification, but Jesus Christ accomplished it in His atonement. And so, our identity is bound up in the Trinitarian God. Who is Peter’s audience? They are ultimately known and called and loved by the Trinitarian God. I told you there are two questions: Who is Peter, who is his audience? But there’s also a third question and now this is the application, “Who are we?” How do you answer that question?

Maybe at various moments in Peter’s life he would answer that question differently, “Who are you, Peter?” “I’m a fisherman and I have a sword so get out of my way,” “I’m a disciple,” “I’m an apostle.” These people he wrote to, probably at one point in their life, “Who are you?” “I’m a Cappadocian,” “I’m a Roman,” “I’m a weaver of cloth,” “I’m a mason,” “I navigate the Black Sea;” they’re chosen. Trumps all of their other identities. Who is Peter? He’s an apostle, he’s chosen. Who’s his audience? They are all those things and more, all the roles we play, all the identities we have. They’re real roles, they’re real identities, God gives us calling, He gives us vocations. I don’t want to dismiss those, we take those seriously. We serve God by being our callings that He calls us to, we don’t dismiss those, but that is not our ultimate identity.

So, if we say ultimately, “Who are we?”, we are elect. This is what we are saying, “We are known by God.” The Trinitarian God, we belong to Him and He is ours. This is who we are and that gets at the essence of who we are, we are the elect. To be known by God means that God knows us perfectly, infinitely, intimately, omnipotently. In short, it means God loves us; it’s who we are, Beloved of God. And what does that mean? Look at the end of verse 2, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” We’ve all experienced God’s grace in our lives, we’ve all experienced God’s peace. What does Augustine say, we are all restless, anxious, nervous. We’re like sharks, always on the move, always looking for the next meal, never calm. Until we find our pacem requiem, our rest, our peace in You. What does it mean to be at peace? No more anxious thoughts, no more racing mind, but to be at peace. We’ve all experienced it, to be known by God means to know grace and to know peace. And here’s the beauty of this, we keep on knowing it and we keep on getting it. And so in God’s goodness, what does He do? He multiplies grace and peace. To be known by God mean to have a super-abundance of grace and peace.

Let’s pray. Our Father and our God, may we know you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May we know that we are yours, your elect. May we experience Your grace and peace. And in your kindness and in your goodness, may grace and peace be multiplied to us. We pray this by the precious blood of Christ. Amen.

Transcripts are lightly edited.