October 17, 1993
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
THE ELECT ARE KEPT BY THE POWER OF GOD
(1 Peter 1:5)
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, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
There are no commandments in the first 12 verses of this letter. No demands or requirements or directions. What Peter is doing here is not telling us what to do but telling us what to enjoy. He is not exhorting, he is exulting.
We saw this last week in verse 3 where Peter begins this paragraph not with commands or even instruction, but with worship. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." His aim is to move us to bless God. To show us that God is the greatest value in the world.
He starts by blessing and honoring God. And God is the center of what he says in verses 3 and 4:
- God is great in mercy.
- God causes us to be born again
- God gives us a living hope.
- God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
- God promises an indestructible inheritance.
- God is keeping that inheritance so that it will never, perish or soil or fade.
But we stopped at verse 4 last week. The reason we stopped there is because I think verse 5 deserves a sermon of its own. You might believe all the great truth about God in verses 3 and 4 and then worry about one crucial danger not covered there; at least not explicitly.
Protected by the power of God through faith now
You may know that God is merciful. You may know that God has caused you to be born again. You may know that God raised Jesus from the dead. You may know that God promised to keep your inheritance imperishable in heaven. In other words, you know what God has done in the past to give you life, and you know what God is going to do in the future to give you your inheritance.
But what about now? What about the time between new birth and final salvation? What about the temptations, pressures, stresses, weariness, persecution, frustrations, suffering, confusion, perplexity, fears and traps that we face now? Does God do anything about that? Does he send his Son to die for our sins, raise him from the dead to open eternal life, cause us to be born again, and then stand back to see if we will make it to heaven? Peter is not about to leave that question unanswered, or even implicit. He makes the answer explicit, clear and powerful in verse 5.
Those who are born again "are protected (i.e. now are being protected) by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." There's Peter's answer: NO. God does not just stand back after he has caused us to be born again. He uses his divine power to protect us all through life for the salvation ready to be revealed.
What Peter wants us to see here is that God means for his people to be profoundly secure in him. He wants us to feel that God himself is doing everything that must be done to guarantee our final, eternal salvation.
Picture it like this. Your salvation is like a chain that extends back into eternity and forward into eternity. It is an unbreakable chain. Wherever you look on this chain you find links of iron forged by God himself.
If you look back into eternity as far as you can look you find election (1:1-2): "To the elect aliens." "God chose you from the beginning," Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, "for salvation."
If you look forward into eternity as far as you can on this chain of salvation you see an inheritance that (according to verse 4) is reserved by God for you, and is therefore imperishable and undefiled and unfading. God took charge of your salvation at the beginning before you existed, and God is securing its great goal before you ever get there in the future.
If you look back on this chain a couple thousand years you find God sending his Son Jesus to shed his blood for your sin (the sprinkling in verse 2). And then you find him raising Jesus from the dead to conquer death and give you hope (v. 3).
If you look back one or two or twenty or seventy years as a believer you see that great link in the chain called new birth, and you see from verse 3 that it is not a link forged by you but by God: "Blessed be God who caused us to be born again unto a living hope."
And if you look now at the chain of salvation being forged this very day in your life what do you see? If you look at the chain that connects new birth in the past with your inheritance in the future, what do you see?
Let me tell you what I hope you DON'T see first. I hope you don't see two images.
One image is of the Christian walking along the edge of a great chasm which he needs to cross to get to heaven. He is holding on to one end of the chain leading into the past. Day by day he is forging the links of faithfulness as best he can with some help from the Holy Spirit (not infallible help) so that eventually he can try to connect with the chain of heaven that hangs down from the high cliff on the other side. But he is never sure that he will forge the links well enough or have the strength to finish the chain.
In other words, I hope the image you have of the chain of salvation is not one that leaves the believer insecure and ready to fall out of faith and into destruction. I will tell you why in a minute.
The other image, which I hope you don't have, errs in the opposite direction. It's almost the same image as before. the Christian with the chain of salvation leading into the past is walking along the chasm attempting with some help of the Holy Spirit (not infallible help) to forge the links of faithfulness and eventually link up with the chain of heaven on the other side. But in this image the Christian has a safety belt around his waist tied to the chain of heaven on the other side so that even if he lets go of the chain leading to the past or stops forging any links of faithfulness, he will not fall to his death but be drawn into heaven another way than by the chain.
In the first image, the believer has no security or confidence that he will make it to heaven. In the second image the believer has security in the wrong place; a kind of automatic eternal security that can get you to heaven another way than by the chain of God's saving, persevering acts revealed in scripture.
Verse 5 points to a very different image. Remember, the question we are asking is: "If you look now at the chain of salvation (which connects new birth in the past with your inheritance in the future) being forged this very day in your life what do you see?
Verse 5 says, "[We] are [now being] protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." Now what image do you see of the chain of salvation in that verse? Here's what I see.
Standing in the middle of this chasm which disappears into the abyss so deep no one can see the bottom is God Almighty. Under his right arm he is squeezing against his chest the chain of my salvation that leads into the past and connects with election, the death of Jesus, his resurrection and my new birth. Under his left arm he is squeezing the chain of heaven. The end of the chain of heaven hangs loosely over his left forearm waiting for the eventual attachment to my life. The end of the other chain is in his hands. And he is forging the necessary links of faithfulness that will make the chain long enough to connect properly with the chain of heaven.
Now there are two crucial differences between this image and the other two:
A. One of the differences is that the last image seems to make the security of the believer uncertain while the second image seems to make it certain. The reason the last image could appear to make our security uncertain is that there is no safety belt and the links of the chain are not connected yet. Either there will be links of faithfulness forged in our lives or we will not connect with heaven. The Bible does not guarantee security at the expense of faithfulness to Jesus. That seems to many to make our security uncertain.
B. But the other difference is that God himself is holding the chain and forging the links with infallible power. It is we who do the acts of faithfulness--the chain of salvation is now being forged in our lives--but it is God who "works in us to will and to do his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
What is God protecting his elect from?
Now let's check this out with verse 5: "[We] are [now being] protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."
Notice several things:
- There is a salvation ready to be revealed. We are saved now, but our salvation is not complete. There is an inheritance imperishable, undefiled and unfading yet to be received. There is much more grace and glory to be experienced (1:13; 4:13; 5:10). We are not yet across the chasm.
- There is danger on the way to salvation in heaven. We need ongoing protection after our conversion. Our security does not mean we are home free. There is a battle to be fought. And in this battle we need protection and help far beyond what we can supply for ourselves.
- Our protection comes from God. More specifically, from the power of God. "[We] are [now being] protected by the power of God." In verse 3 we saw that God causes the new birth, and in verse 5 we see that God protects his children all the way to heaven. So our security doesn't mean that there is not battle, or that we don't have to win it, but that God will fight for us with infallible skill and omnipotent power.
- The means God uses to protect us is faith. "[We] are [now being] protected by the power of God through faith." Now think with me carefully about this for a moment. What is God protecting us from? That is, what, in the end, is the only thing that can keep us from salvation ready to be revealed in the last time?
Death won't keep us from salvation. It takes us straight to heaven. So we don't need protection from that. Suffering won't keep us from heaven. Verses 6-7 says suffering will refine our faith. So that's not what we need protection from.
It's true we need protection from Satan "who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). And we need protection from overwhelming temptations and "lusts that wage war against the soul" (2:11). So we should pray, "Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from the evil one" (Matt. 6:13; cf. 1 Cor 10:13).
But why? What's the bottom line in the damage that these enemies can do? What is the one thing that cuts us off from heaven? The answer is unbelief. Not trusting God. Not living "by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us" (Gal. 2:20).
So what does verse 5 mean then when it says we are "protected [from losing our final salvation] by the power of God through faith." It means that God's power protects us for salvation by sustaining our faith. The only thing that can keep us from heaven is forsaking our faith in Christ, and turning to other hopes, other treasures. So to protect us God prevents that. He inspires and nourishes and strengthens and builds our faith. And in doing this he secures us against the only thing that could destroy us; unbelief, lack of trust in God.
This is very different from the security of the safety belt. Some people think that, because of some past experience, they have a safety belt and can leave the forging of faith behind, drop off into the chasm of sin and unbelief and just swing low over to the promised land. Well, there is no safety belt. There is one way to heaven: the way of persevering faith. And this is why verse 5 is so important.
Our security is not in making heaven unconditional. Our security is in God's infallible commitment to fulfill the conditions of heaven.
Let me close with an experience that Peter had which taught him this lesson very powerfully. On the night when Peter betrayed Jesus, the Lord said to him, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat [in other words to press Peter through sieve of temptation to try to strain out his faith]; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-32).
Jesus prayed that Peter's faith not fail utterly. That is why Peter wept bitterly and returned from his sin. But to whom did Jesus pray? To God, his Father. And what did he ask God to do? To not let Peter's faith come to an end. So who forged the link of faithfulness in Peter that awful night? God did. And who brought him back from precipice of unbelief and gave him tears of remorse? God did.
Peter knows first hand what he is talking about. Those who are born of God "are protected by the power of God through faith--through God's sustaining their faith--for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. He caused us to be born again by creating our faith; and he protects us on the way to heaven by preserving our faith.
The chain of salvation is a God-forged chain. And therefore it is gloriously and invincibly secure. We have a great God and a great salvation!
For more on the preserving power of God in the life of the believer see 1 Peter 4:19; 5:10; John 6:37-39; 10:27-30; 1 Cor. 1:8-9; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:23-25; 2 Thess. 3:13; 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 13:20-21; 1 John 2:19.
Copyright 1993 John Piper