Mercy “caused” us to be born again through resurrection (1:3). Born again into an inheritance (imperishable, undefiled, unfading), and “kept in heaven for you” (1:5), guarded and ready to be revealed.
1 Peter 1:1-5
This is the same powerful language of adoption that we find in so much of Paul’s own writings, and fleshed out here in the light of Peter’s own experience with the living Christ (being an eye witness of Christ’s Resurrection victory of the Powers of Darkness 2 Peter 1:16-19). I have long loved the picture that this verse in the letter of 1 Peter creates of our inheritance being “kept” in Heaven. It evokes the idea of Jesus praying for us (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:24) as he “guards” the truth of our identity in this already-not yet reality that we find ourself within. It’s hopeful, although in a slightly different way for me than the heavily modern “Calvinist” approaches that have held it hostage (within systematic theologies). For me it evokes this wonderful notion that within our doubts, our questions, our wondering and our struggles, there is something to anticipate, something that is and will be revealed to us in its fullness.
1 Peter in Context and Concern
1 Peter is addressed to dispersed Christians in Asia-Minor to places immersed in Greco-Roman culture. Further though, it is addressed to “Gentile” Christians (“elect exiles”) as a means of establishing the truth of their (our) adoption from within the grander narrative of God’s story. Christ’s saving work in their lives becomes a witness to the Spirit of Christ which was present “in the beginning” with the “prophets” (1:11), already bearing witness to God’s work in the Cross within the world of the Gentile believers. This is reminiscent of 1 John’s declarative opening statement, “in the beginning”, an understanding Peter uses to bring us back to Christ as the “living stone” (1 Peter 2:4).
These two ideas form the focus and interest of 1st and 2nd Peter, locating Christ’s saving work in the life of the world through the lives of these Gentile believers, and through their lives then building a case for adoption as a working metaphor for how salvation must work.
Adoption and God’s Forming Work
As we move through the first chapter of 1st Peter, having established that God’s saving work is indeed alive and true in the lives of the Gentile Believers (mercy caused them to be “born again” 1:3), Peter turns his attention to then bearing this witness out over and against their current reality.
Here we find the first of a series of metaphorical depictions of a “forming” faith, that same faith that has not yet been fully revealed and which remains bound in our wonderings and our questions. Faith here is like “gold” that is being formed out of the “testing” ground that is our experiences within the not yet reality of this world. Our experiences point us to a greater hope. This idea is declarative rather than prodding. It is a hopeful precedent, that although this world throws our faith into question, this faith endures on our behalf. There is also a secondary part to this declaration, in that while we do not yet see (our redemption) clearly, our experiences in the here and now, amidst the Darkness of this world, can begin to reveal this faith (hope) to us in very real ways. This is what it means to be “faithful.”
This is why Peter can move to say “therefore” (because of this) set your hope on these small graces by conducting yourselves in the Way of your salvation. It is all about seeing this bigger picture of our faith being “kept” for a time in which this world, in all of its darkness, struggle and injustice, will once again be made right.
For Peter, the hope of this grace comes from a “Father” (anchored in this adoption language) who “judges impartially”. The point of this is both positive (reforming) and clear (practical) in how it aims to lift up God’s saving work within the life of the “gentiles”. And it has a connective and establishing feature that is moving God’s saving work further and further out into the world. “Because” the Father judges impartially (equally), they can then live out their faith with (appropriate) “fear” (freedom) (1:17), and in living this out bear the knowledge of Christ’s saving work (making what is wrong right) both in their lives and in the world.
This is similar to the argument about knowledge that we find in 1 John, where knowledge is a gift, not something that is earned. Knowledge is an outflow of our conduct, but it is knowledge of a truth that precedes our conduct. And equally so for Peter (as it is for John), this knowledge stands on the simple truth that without Christ all we have to stand on in our struggle, in the injustice and partiality of this world, is the reigning witness of Darkness and Death. This is why, as Peter comes back to in 1:21, Christ was present at the beginning in the declaration of the Prophets making us (out of mercy) “born again” (adopted) as children of God. This is the hope of a world being made new.
Adopted in and for the Spirit of Love
It is this same spirit that then establishes that the point of this attention to “conduct” is so that their “souls” can be purified for the sake of “love” (1:22), which becomes the reigning and affirmative picture that carries us through the remaining chapters. “So then”, as chapter 2 begins, “because” of this love (Peter likes these connective pictures and arguments), and for the sake of this love, put away all manners of conduct which are not loving (malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander), all of which are the enemies of fellowship (which he shares with the letters of John as the thing that bears witness to to the light and life of the world, Christ).
Adoption in The Metaphor of Mother and Child, Christ as the Living Stone, and the Nature of God’s Love
Here we now get the second metaphor for the working out of their adoption (God’s saving work), moving from the picture of forming gold to the picture of a child weaning on its mother’s milk (2:1-3). This metaphor takes the forming of the gold and sets it into an intimate picture of what it means to be a “child of God” in relationship to God. What a wonderful, and richly feminine, picture, one that will become important for unpacking chapter 3.
The intimacy of this metaphor opens us up to one of the most recognizable passages in 1 Peter, mother and child being set within the larger metaphor of a “spiritual house” (2:4). The mother translates through the “living stone”, which opens up this picture of God’s saving work in the light of this reigning already-not yet reality even wider. What will be revealed to us, what is being “kept”, is our lives as a “spiritual house”, one built by the “living stone” (Christ).
This is so massively important for moving into chapter 3 as good readers of scripture, those notorious verses that have been used to underscore the paradigm through which we arrive at this all to prevalent male-female divide (with the male as the head of the house and the wife in submission). In the analogy of the living stone, Christ is established in His work on the Cross, the means through which he is building this “house” that is our salvation (His saving work). With this as the central paradigm through which we are to see both God’s “adoption” and God’s adoption of the “Gentiles”, this then reaches out into the picture of the Christian life as a witness to God’s saving work as one that is anchored in faith, hope and love. This is what the language of the “living stone” as a stumbling block is meant to evoke, is the upside down nature of the Cross as one that calls us in its mercy towards a life of servanthood rather than distinction. This is the impartiality language at play and in context.
The reason the living stone is a stumbling block is because of the way it extends Christ’s salvation out into the world, without distinction and without regard for one’s conduct as the source of our saving work. Set within this Jewish-Gentile context, the election of the Gentile Believers and the declaration of them as a ‘chosen race” (distinct Jewish language) is paired with the declaration that God’s light is bearing witness in them for the sake of the world. This carries a sweeping force that works to dismantle their (and our) expectations, thus setting them apart, according to the virtues of the Cross (faith, hope, and love) in ways that stand antithetical to the world (in its Greco-Roman context and within the honor-shame systems that they are being pulled out of in their adoption).
Adoption and Servanthood
It is from this perspective that we can then understand the motivation behind the following verses and chapters, beginning with the call to be “subject to every human institution”, so that “by doing good you should put to silence” ignorance (2:15). Live as “free” people (in Christ), not using their adoption as a cover up for evil (matters with are antithetical to fellowship), but rather be “servants” (2:16-17).
The word servant feels like an affront to our senses of course, and yet this is the work of Christ on the Cross. It feels backwards, its challenging, it is even offensive. It’s “foolishness” when set in the ways of the world. This is even the case when seeing it through our modern lens (maybe even more so). The way to liberate oppression, be it racism, feminism, or any number of social issues, is not found in the Way of the servant, but rather in the raising of our rights as a means of counteracting discrimination (which follows in line with the indiscriminate judge that we find in Peter). And yet, the point Peter continues to make here is that if we see freedom exclusively in this light, a light that holds a shared dependence on the idea of the indiscriminate judge (equality), we will inevitably find ourselves bound to the same kind of honor-shame systems that governed the Greco-Roman world, one based on the aquisition of our rights as the way to liberation and one raises up new discriminatory lines in its place. Rather, the Way of Christ is one in which we are called to give up our rights for the sake of the world. We lower ourselves so that others might be raised up. We give of ourselves so that others can have. This is different than the raising up of our (equal) rights for sake of liberation. It is the only way we can truly arrive at a place that is indiscriminate in nature..
For the Gentiles to be considered equal to the Jews, this was not about declaring themselves to hold equal rights and deserving of God’s saving work. If it depended on this they would already be declared condemned by the nature of the Jewish inheritance under the “law”. Not only would they be condemned by it, but they would be left with a salvation that must, by nature, raise them above the world in which they exist as well, limiting the sweeping force of God’s saving work. What Christ does is pull us out of this narrative and set us into the light of the Cross as our foundational image, our building force.
Human Institutions, Wives and Submissiom: The Real Work of Redemption
Peter’s call to serve “human institutions” then flows out into the call of wives to serve their husbands, and the call of husbands to honor their wives. The flow of this verse is personal rather than descriptive. We see it pulling in the direction of 3:7, framed by the idea that wives are “heirs with you” (equal), and pushed by the narrative interest that precedes it, the case that Peter has been building (out of the grace and freedom found in the indiscriminate judge). The motivation for this personal admonition is at once particular (this is their reality and the reality of the world they lived in, entrenched in Patriarchal society and Greco-Roman ideals), and similtaneously forming (that this world is being made right). It is both judging (what is wrong) and saving (what is being made right), with the concern for the particular being the unity of Christ (fellowship) wrapped up in love as its guiding nature. It gives emphasis to the idea that we do not “repay evil with evil”, rather we work to demonstrate the Way of Christ as the greater way (that of the humble servant). It is by living into this “conduct” that Christ then becomes revealed as a light for the world, the thing that can defeat the Powers of Sin and Death (all the manners of injustice and partiality) and restore life to our particular contexts.
To be clear, this admonition does not come as an endorsement of the abuses these verses have led to in many Christian circles. In context, I believe these verses are concerned with drawing out the dangers of inequality. It carries a concern for the resistance of these worldly “institutions.” To be set apart from it. But if is a resistance that sees outwardly regardless of our position, one shaped by the power of witness over restitution, and one that desires to bring freedom and change from within. One that moves forward in the grace of God as the indiscriminate judge. It is a kind of resistance that takes a formative position with an outward focus, one that sees our adoption (the claim that we are free and that our situation is being made right) as a freedom “for the world:. Its meant to give hope in hopeless and oppressive situations, not to leave us stuck in it or willingly submitted to it. This is what it is for our kept salvation to breathe into our particulars, whatever that might be.
This all becomes even more poignant in Peters setting of Christ’s work on the Cross into the wider picture that lays claim to the salvation of the Gentiles. Peterson says that on the Cross Christ preached to the “spirits in prison”, those who were judged in the flesh in the days of Noah, so that they might find life in the Spirit. It sees the flood narrative in the light of “baptism”, which is the lens through which the metaphors of the gold, the mothers milk are then placed as an appeal, not of “the removal of dirt” but as a declaration of who we already are in Christ, a declaration which comes in the same spirit that formed the prophetic ministry of old. This is Christ’s work of righteousness (one who is not under the Power of Sin and Death) for the unrighteous (the created world which is under the Power of Sin and Death). (3:18)
Good Conduct and A Witness to the Light, and the Knowlege that Forms Us
Therefore, Peter exhorts using the same connective language at the start of chapter 4, “because” of this we are to think in a ‘similar way” as a servant, for what is not right does not determine our movement from death to life. What is yet to be revealed does. This is what our conduct bears witness to, otherwise why suffer the humiliation of a servant for the sake of the world if we are simply going to align ourselves with all manners of conduct that is antithetical to this fellowship? When we do so (live opposed to the proclamation that we have been made new) we are simply demonstrating that the world is still under the power of Sin and Death (the adversary being the Devil 5:8). The point of the (impartial) judgment of the household of God is so that the world may find righteousness (what is wrong being made right) 4:17,18, see that the Powers of Sin and Death have been defeated and that this world has been placed under the light and in life. Therefore “entrust your souls to a faithful creator while doing good” (conduct), trusting that God is restoring, confirming, strengthening and establishing us as “spiritual houses” in order to bear witness to the light (Christ).
This is the nature of the knowledge that Peter understands in his second letter. What we know in Christ is the work that God is doing through the “living stone”, brick by brick, the promise being that “we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13) Therefore, patience is required. Patience, as Peter’s first letter has established, is necessary (2 Peter 3:9). Indeed, patience is counted “as” salvation as we entrust the process to God. But we do so with God’s sweeping view in mind. What is happening to the whole of creation is what is happening to the gold that describes our own sanctifying work (3:10). And the Cross gives us a way into the world according to the impartial judge, not by way of our rights but by way of the servant. This is how the light shines in the face of Evil.
In the meantime, this knowledge affords us Power over Sin and Death, over the Darkness. The great supplementation phrase here essentially declares this- faith leads to virtue, leads to knowledge, leads to self control, leads to steadfastness, leads to godliness, leads to fellowship, leads to love, with love ultimately depending on the presence of faith for its expression in “fellowship” with one another.
By entering into this flow, the flow of God’s movement from Heaven to Earth that has been apparent not only from the time of the Prophets to Christ but through all of history, we bear witness to the light of Christ, and we are also reminded of this great proclamation ourselves. What we see in the stories of the angels, noah, sodom, and all of the ancient narrative that upholds the Jewish narrative through which God has been seen making Himself known to the world, is being made right. This is the truth that the Gentiles hold, and it is the truth that we can still lay claim to today as adopted sons and daughters of God.