It is very clear as we read the conclusion of I Peter that Peter is trying to emphasize the practical impact of the undeserved kindness of the God of heaven. At the end of verse 5 he mentions that God "gives grace to the humble." In verse 10 he refers to God as the "God of all grace." At verse 12 he finishes by saying "I have been writing to declare and to encourage you that this is the true grace of God and that you should stand firm in it."
It is interesting that Peter has been, indeed, stressing this very theme throughout this whole letter. Back in chapter 1 he said that it was the grace of God which, as we sing sometime, drew salvation's plan. It is what the prophets were prophesying about when they told of the sufferings of Jesus before it happened, according to verse 10. At chapter 1, verse 13, he encourages his readers to prepare their minds by setting their hope fully on the grace that will be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ. He deals with family problems by saying that two people who are believers in the Lord ought to be joint heirs, ought to treat each other like joint heirs of the grace of life. As far as the work of a congregation goes, he says in chapter 4, verse 10, that whether we speak or whether we serve, we ought to behave ourselves as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. All through this letter Peter is emphasizing that those things connected with the gospel are the true grace of God and in Christian living, we should be concerned about standing firmly in God's grace.
The first question that comes to our minds is "Why, in a letter so practical as this one is, would Peter be talking so much about this theme?" I have, unfortunately, noticed that sometimes those of us who are followers of Jesus regard the thought of his grace as something which is easy and something which is familiar and something which does not require as much of us as teaching on some particular sinful activity. If I could be granted one ability and if I had one skill, I think I would wish that in some way I would be able to illustrate to myself and to other people how practically powerful the impact of God's grace should be in the life of a person who leans upon it.
The first reason, I think, why Peter has stressed this point so much in this letter is that he has some sympathy for the situation his readers find themselves in. He knows the need of the people that he is talking to. First, we learn in chapter 1, verse 6, that they are facing a fiery trial. Surely sympathy for people who are going through struggles makes us understand the need for undeserved kindness in their lives. We have also been reading in this letter of I Peter about various practical responsibilities that Christians have. Peter has talked about how to behave yourself in the community, how we are to behave ourselves on the job, how we are to conduct ourselves in our families, how we are to treat each other as brothers and sisters in a congregation and even how we are to respond when things that are unjust and unfair happen to us. Surely no one can face the demands of situations like that without understanding that he needs help more than just his own power and ability. And then, Peter has called these readers to the very highest kinds of moral and ethical and spiritual standards. In fact, in chapter 1 he has gone about as high as you can go by reminding us all that God said, "You be holy as I am holy." What one of us could look into the mirror of God's holiness and not realize that we need something other than merely what we deserve in our lives. Maybe Peter, because of that, has known that he could help these people most by emphasizing the undeserved favor of God to them.
On the other hand, it may also be true that Peter is emphasizing the true grace of God so much in this letter because of what he has learned in his own experience in trying to live for the Lord. You will remember the time in Luke 5 toward the beginning of Jesus' ministry when Peter and the others had been fishing all night and had not caught anything. Some of you guys have had that experience before. The Lord comes along and teaches out of Peter's boat and then tells Peter to put out into the deep water. Peter couldn't see any reason to do it, but he obeyed at the Lord's word. Sure enough, he brought up fishes that were so many they were about to burst the net. Peter came and fell down before the Lord and said, "Depart from me O Lord for I am a sinful man." Peter saw his own unworthiness and his own sinfulness and Jesus turned around and said to him, "You follow me and I will make you a fisher of men." Peter learned that the Lord was in the business of being gracious toward people who understood that they were sinful people.
Toward the end of Jesus' public ministry, something happened that illustrated this again to Peter. Remember in Matthew 26 and Mark 14 that Jesus had tried to illustrate to them that he was about to be smitten and then his followers would be scattered. But Peter spoke up and said, "Lord, even if they all fall away, if they all forsake you, I won't." You remember that Jesus told him that before the rooster was to crow twice, then Peter would have denied him three times. You remember the story of how that all happened, and while Peter was still speaking with that third denial still ringing in the air, the rooster crowed that second time. Jesus turned at that very moment and looked at Peter and Peter went out and wept bitterly, according to Luke, chapter 22. When Jesus then was taken and crucified on the cross, it must have seemed so much like blackness and darkness, confusion and hopelessness and despair to Peter. Yet when we read in Luke 24, verse 34, those two disciples who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples. When they got there, the disciples told them, "The Lord has risen, indeed, and he has appeared to Simon." That appearance is never recorded in the New Testament,but it is so interesting that the Lord, having looked at Peter and Peter's failure, appeared to Peter as if to restore him the first thing when he had arisen.
As the gospel age began, we read in Galatians, chapter 2, that on one occasion Peter failed again. He went up to Antioch and he ate with those who were from a Gentile background who had become Christians and he enjoyed their company and their fellowship. But then some people from the circumcision party from Jerusalem came up, and Peter behaved hypocritically and acted like he didn't know these gentile brethren any more. It was such an error that Paul confronted Peter to his face. Peter, in the last letter that he wrote, though, refers to Paul as "our beloved brother Paul." How many of us would have the kind of character to be confronted and corrected right to our faces, and how many of us could receive that and understand it and still regard the brother who challenged us that way as "a beloved brother?" Peter had learned much about growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ himself. So, for his own sake and for the sake of his readers, he is blessing them in this letter with what they need most and that is reassurance that when a person obeys the gospel of Jesus Christ and when a person is committed to following Jesus, he is standing in the true grace of God. He can be assured that he is doing the right thing.
It seems to me that the fact that Peter would so emphasize the grace of God in a letter like this tells us some very important things about the nature and the power of what grace really is. There has not been any theme from the New Testament that has been more a center of controversy, that has been more abused sometimes, and argued back and forth, than grace. That is no surprise. The devil would not want us to easily grasp something which has this much power to change us.
This letter helps us to avoid some mistaken assumptions that are quite common. It tells us first that grace is not a guarantee that life will be free of hardship or suffering. Peter has talked throughout this letter about suffering unjustly. That happens sometimes even to people who are standing in true grace. Grace doesn't eliminate human responsibility. That is why Peter has talked so much about how we are to behave ourselves every day in whatever situation we are. Grace is not inconsistent with truth. He has referred to the word of truth, and to the true grace of God here in this very passage. Grace is not an excuse for carelessness or apathy or indifference in the lives of people who are supposed to be leaning on him. To sing "Amazing Grace" and then for us to not care ought to be such a contradiction that it would shock us. When God invites us here to cast our cares on him, he doesn't mean that being carefree and being careless are the same thing.
On the other hand, this letter allows us to appreciate the profound significance of what grace is and what it can do in our lives. For one thing, grace on the part of God is something which is able to purposely pay the ultimate price. In this letter, chapter 1, verses 18-19, it is the blood of his own son to pay that price, to make a free gift available to undeserving people. Chapter 3, verse 18 says that he died, the just for the unjust. Grace extends to those who were no people and had received no mercy and it rescues them from a futile manner of life and transforms them into a display of God's glory, according to chapter 2, verses 9 and 10.
Then grace sustains those people who have been bought with a price. It keeps them through the time of their sojourn here and guards them, according to chapter 1, verse 5. It brings them through difficulties and disappointments and finally brings them home to an inheritance that is reserved for them in heaven.
I Peter not only talks about what grace isn't and what it is, but it also tells us that grace is a gift which demands a response in our lives. Peter began in chapter 1, verse 2, by talking about obedience to Jesus Christ through the sprinkling of his blood. He ends in chapter 5, verse 12, by talking about standing firm in God's grace. The Christian life begins with a response to the free gift of the Lord, and it is lived by a constant response to the free gift of the Lord in Christ Jesus. It involves obedience and commitment if it is really God's grace. Both of these are just as natural a response to grace as can be. What is offered must be accepted. What's available must be enjoyed. What God has done must be depended upon. That is what becoming a Christian through obedience to the gospel of Jesus is about, and that is what living as a Christian through daily commitment is about. Peter does not say, "Having started with grace, let us go on from grace." What he says is, "Having begun with grace, let's stand firm in it." In the second letter he says, "Let's grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ." (II Peter 3:18)
The question is "How?" How does a fellow like me with his weaknesses and his problems and his shortcomings and his human limitations stand firm in the true grace of God? That is the question, isn't it? How do we do what this passage calls us to do? May I call your attention to four important activities that Peter says standing in God's grace requires?
First, to stand in God's true grace, we must humble ourselves, according to verses 5-7. Peter uses an illustration of this that must have been so vivid in his mind. He starts out in verse 5 saying, "All of you gird yourselves (or clothe yourselves) with humility." And the word clothe means actually "to tie the knot." Guy N. Woods says that it was the practice in those days to tie a white apron around the waist of a servant or a slave as an indication of that person's role or status in life. Peter is saying, "Tie the knot around you. Put on humility like an apron. Let that be the indication that you are followers of Jesus Christ." Why would Peter use a picture like that? Do you remember that last night? Some of the disciples are in a little bit of dissension over who is the greatest. Jesus, knowing that and knowing what was about to happen to him, knowing where it would all lead, got up and took a towel and tied it around him, and took a basin and started washing their dirty feet like a slave would have done. This word "clothe" is the word for tying that knot of that towel around him. He got to Peter and Peter said, "Lord, you will never wash my feet." Jesus said, "If I don't, you have no part in me." Peter said, "Not my feet only but my hands and my head, too." He had learned to humble himself. In this passage, humbling ourselves requires two things. First, that we humble ourselves by serving each other. Second, that we humble ourselves by hurling all of our cares upon the God who cares for us. Both are expressions of humility, recognition that we cannot do it alone and that we are dependent on God's grace.
The second thing that Peter says in this passage is be interested and alert regarding spiritual things This is verse 8 where Peter says be sober and be watchful. And again, a scene from Peter's own life must have flashed through his mind's eye when he said that. That night in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said "sit here and watch with me a little while." He took Peter and James and John and then he went a little farther, about a stone's throw, and he began to be sorrowful and he fell on his face in prayer, praying that if it might be possible God would remove this cup of suffering from him. When he had been through that agony, he came back to his close friends who were there and he found them asleep. He said to Peter, "Peter, you, the one who wouldn't fail me or forsake me even if everybody else did, could you not watch with me even an hour?" And he said, "Watch, and pray. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." His idea of watching and praying involves the sensible facing of reality and being thoughtful about God's grace and recognizing that there is danger and that we are delivered, after all, from something. Be sensible and alert.
Third, Peter says to stand firm in God's grace remain active. In verse 9 he talks about resisting the devil, firm in our faith. What he is saying here is that to resist is not just to take a defensive position. It is a word that talks about an army gathering to array itself for battle. It means to go on the offense - to resist actively what this evil one would do. The devil is said to be (in verse 8) like an adversary in a lawsuit. The word devil means that he will slander, he will spread false reports, he will try to ruin your good name in every possible way. The picture of a lion seeking someone to devour is the picture of a wild animal pacing back and forth on the outside of where the flock is - afraid to go in and take them on but willing to catch and destroy any straggler that he can. Resisting. James in James 4 uses this to say "resist the devil and he will flee from you." Peter, again, had been through this in Acts, chapters 4 and 5. He knew what God was able to do to people who will actively serve him.
And then fourth, Peter says, "Keep your confidence in God." In verse 10, "after a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ." Notice the contrast between "suffering a little while" and being "called to eternal glory." After a little while that God will himself "restore" (and the word he uses is the word for mending a net or for fixing something that has been messed up or even setting a broken bone back in place), he will "confirm" (that is, establish or put you on a good foundation), "strengthen" you. He will give you the moral and spiritual strength to survive. God sees brining us home as part of his own work, too. He is fully able to do it, according to Jude 24 and other passages like that found in the New Testament. In other words, if we are active, his grace goes on being active. This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.
There is another little phrase that is emphasized here in this passage that we shouldn't overlook. It is the phrase "In Christ." In verse 10, Peter says he has called us to his eternal glory "in Christ." And then, right at the end of the letter, he says, "Peace to all of you who are in Christ" at the end of verse 14. That little phrase describes the vealm of grace, where God makes grace available to us, where grace is enjoyed and where it is to be practiced. It is in Christ. When we believe in his name, when we repent of our sins, when we confess his name, when by faith we are baptized into him (Gal. 3:26, 27), there occurs a transfer of ownership from life lived in our power and authority to life being lived in him. And in him there is the true grace of God which can finally bring us home to heaven.
Are you standing in the grace of God and the undeserved kindness of God this morning? Have you made the beginning in gospel obedience? And are you standing firm in that through faithfulness in everyday life? If you are, may we encourage like Peter did these readers. If you are not, may we call upon you to begin this very day. If we can help you, won't you come while we stand and sing together?