In an earlier post we were looking at how Peter identifies his readers (and us). The first thing he said is that we “elect exiles.” But he doesn’t stop with that. He proceeds to define election both in terms of its basis and goal.
(1) We are elect, says Peter, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”
The first thing this tells us is that divine election was an eternal, pre-temporal act of God before the foundation of the world. According to Paul in Ephesians 1:4, God “chose us” in Christ “before the foundation of the world”; he “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ”. In 2 Timothy 1 Paul says that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (v. 9).
If that weren’t enough, in Revelation 13 and 17 John speaks of God’s elect as those whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of life “before the foundation of the world.”
“Foreknowledge” does not mean that God merely observes the elect or sees them or is aware of them or has knowledge of who they are or has information concerning their lives. Nor does it mean that God simply predicts our conversion or knows about it in advance.
Many times in Scripture know has a pregnant meaning which goes beyond that of mere cognition. It is used in a sense practically synonymous with “love,” “to set regard upon,” “to know with peculiar interest, delight, affection, and action” (cf. Gen. 18:19; Exod. 2:25; Psalm 1:6; 144:3; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2; Hosea 13:5; Matt. 7:23; 1 Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9; II Tim. 2:19; 1 John 3:1
See, for example, Matthew 7:23 where Jesus reveals his future response to false disciples at the last judgment: “I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Clearly, mere intellectual cognition is ruled out as the meaning of 'know' here, since it is precisely Jesus' knowledge of their real motives and covenantal status and commitments that leads to their condemnation. Rather, he says that these people never had covenantal relations with him; the Good Shepherd did not know them as his sheep, and they did not know him (John 10:14).
Thus, to foreknow is to forelove. That God foreknew us is but another way of saying that he set his gracious and merciful regard upon us, that he knew us from eternity past with a sovereign and distinguishing delight. God's foreknowledge is an active, creative work of divine love. It is not bare pre-vision which merely recognizes a difference between men who believe and men who do not believe. God's foreknowledge creates that difference! Foreknowledge is destiny shaping! Speaking about God's foreknowledge is a way of expressing his eternal commitment to individuals as part of his determination to bring them to faith and to all the glories and benefits of Christ's work. God’s divine initiative in pursuing you has been operative from eternity past, long before you had any awareness of God or even thought about pursuing him. Charles Spurgeon thus declared:
"In the very beginning, when this great universe lay in the mind of God, like unborn forests in the acorn cup; long before the echoes awoke the solitudes; before the mountains were brought forth; and long before the light flashed through the sky, God loved His chosen creatures. Before there was any created being --- when the ether was not fanned by an angel's wing, when space itself had not an existence, where there was nothing save God alone --- even then, in that loneliness of Deity, and in that deep quiet and profundity, His heart moved with love for His chosen. Their names were written on His heart, and then were they dear to His soul. Jesus loved His people before the foundation of the world --- even from eternity! and when He called me by His grace, He said to me, 'I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee’” (Autobiography, I:167).
(2) We are elect, says Peter, “in the sanctification of the Spirit.”
“Sanctification” is a fluid word in the NT and can refer to any one of three things: (1) the initial act of God the Spirit by which we are set apart unto the Father as his own, consecrated and claimed to be holy; that inaugural separation from all others and everything so that we might be exclusively his, owned by the one who chose us (Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor. 1:2; 1:30; 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13); (2) can also refer to on-going, progressive work of the Spirit by which we are changed and conformed to the moral image of Christ (Rom. 8:13; 2 Cor. 3:18; 7:1; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 12:10,14); (3) and can refer to the final act of God when he makes his people wholly holy (Eph. 5:25-27). Here I believe it is the first usage Peter has in mind.
Taken out of the realm of the profane and common and sovereignly placed in a holy realm. Not emphasizing that we are moral and others aren’t or that we are pious and they are wicked. It emphasizes that by the Spirit’s operation we have been set apart as a unique community with a singular mission and focus.
More than anything else, this is Peter’s way of describing not simply who we are but WHOSE: we are God’s! We belong to him. He has set his saving love upon us, set us apart exclusively unto himself.
(3) We are elect, says Peter, “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”
The act of the Father in foreknowing and electing us and the Spirit’s work in setting us apart to himself have as their aim or purpose or goal our obedience to Christ and our sprinkling with his blood.
The background for this statement is found in Exodus 24:3-8 where Moses inaugurates the children of Israel into a covenant with God. When the Israelites promised to obey all that the Lord commanded, Moses sprinkled sacrificial blood on them signifying God’s gracious acceptance of them into the old covenant and their obligation to be faithful and obedient to him. Peter seems to be saying that just as Israel first pledged their obedience (24:3,7) and then are sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice (24:8) to inaugurate their entrance into the Old Covenant, so also we pledge obedience to God and the blood of Christ is applied to inaugurate our entrance into the New Covenant.
“This consecrating work of the Spirit has a specific goal. He does not bring a person to some generic spirituality, such as is currently popular in much of Western culture, but more specifically into the new covenant founded on the blood of Christ Jesus” (Jobes, 71). It isn’t enough to affirm belief in a supreme Being or God or to speak of the Spirit at work in your life or of your awareness and sensitivity to the transcendent realm of spirit. God has chosen us and the Spirit has consecrated us unto obedience to Christ!
There can be no mistaking that Peter wants us to understand who and whose we are in relation to God, not the culture, nor any other human relationship, but in relation to God. He does this by describing Christians as those who are chosen, the elect of God. Election is rooted in eternity past in the Father’s choice, it accounts for how we came to be God’s unique and peculiar possession through the consecration of the Spirit, and the aim of it all is so that we might live in obedience to Jesus. All three persons of the Trinity are involved: Father, Spirit, and Son.
It’s simply amazing that at the beginning of Peter’s letter to hurting, persecuted, oppressed people facing a myriad of trials he focuses on election! Why? Because God’s eternal purpose for us and in us and through us is the only thing ultimately that will sustain us in hard times. Knowing who we are as God’s elect and whose we are is a truth that the Spirit will repeatedly bring to mind to encourage us in times of affliction and to strengthen our wills when tempted and to sustain hope when everything appears to be falling apart.
Yes, we are aliens and sojourners on this earth. The language and values and customs of this world feel foreign to us. But we are more than exiles. We are elect exiles, the chosen people of God.
Do you see yourself as the world does? Do you embrace an identity forged by the culture? Do you struggle with a sense of personal significance? Do you feel cast aside and ignored by the power brokers of the world? You are God’s chosen children!
Satan may have tried to steal your identity and to convince you that you are a nothing, a useless appendage on the body of Christ. Perhaps sin has blinded you to whose you are. Maybe the world itself has all but crushed any sense of meaning and significance out of your soul. But God wants to remind you here today of who you truly are and to whom you truly belong.
Your core identity is as God’s elect, members of his spiritual family, the church. This truth must be established in our hearts. God wants you to know that none of the hardships or disappointments you face as an exile in the earth are a surprise to him. Your life as an exile is rooted in God and his eternal purpose to make you his own. Dwell on this majestic truth. Let it sink deeply into your soul. God has chosen you. The Spirit has set you apart for his unique and beloved possession. And your life has been designed for obedience to Jesus.