Faith in Trial (F.I.T.)
“Faith in Trial (F.I.T.)
1 Peter 1:3-12
A lot of popular preaching in North America consists of a materialistic, comfortable, and sometimes fashionable Christianity. I would argue that this sort of teaching is not just a little “off base”, but rather is not true Christianity at all. It is pervasive and popular because it appeals to our fleshly nature. I see a serious distinction between what many preach and what Jesus Christ proclaimed. I don’t intend to be pessimistic. But rather I am grieved that many are led astray from the truth. Christ often used terms of self-denial, self-sacrifice, and forsaking all to follow him. How much sacrifice is involved in a health and wealth gospel? Are those in third world countries lacking faith because they are in poverty and illness? What about trials? Do they indicate that we are in sin and unbelief? Or are trials normative for the Christian life? I would suggest the latter. In fact, Peter tells us the same.
As you know, we have just begun a new study in the book of 1 Peter. Surprisingly, I have noticed some similarity between the book of Daniel that we recently concluded and this one. Daniel, we recall, was a physical exile from the Hebrews into the land of Babylon. He served under several different pagan rulers who attempted to reprogram his mind and beliefs. He constantly remained faithful to his God despite the pressures to conform and the persecutions that were threatened. God continued to bless Daniel and thus confirmed his sovereignty over nations and rulers. In this letter, Peter refers to believers as “elect exiles” and “sojourners and exiles” in this world. We are displaced in this culture and are awaiting our final destination which is to be ever present with the Lord. But, like Daniel, we are not called to merely sit back and survive until that time. We are on mission with God to be a light to those around us and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. We are called to be faithful disciples despite the surmounting pressures of our society to conform. I want you to be challenged and encouraged this morning.
I used to think that you could be a “cool” Christian – that somehow you could be accepted by the church and the world. Perhaps I might have a higher morality, but did not want to be labeled “strange”. The more I study Scripture, the more prevalent I see the call to “strangeness”. There is no blending or compromise. We are called to be distinct because we are strangers, aliens, and sojourners in this world. In fact, there is a growing trend and temptation for churches to adapt more to our changing culture. The argument is that the church has “lost touch” with culture and we have ceased to be relevant. And thus, the church has to change. I’m not convinced. The changes that need to be made are driven by our understanding of Scripture, not culture. In the words of John Piper, “we are called to faithfulness, not fruitfulness”. The results, as we know, are up to God.
Now I am not suggesting that the church cannot improve. Our improvements come not from adapting to culture, but living out what we know from Scripture. You see, we can continue to meet here and learn new truths that we file in our head. But if we are not applying those truths, we are ineffective and unfaithful. To talk about impacting our community and culture, I want you to use your imagination for a minute. And to be clear, I speak to myself in what I am about to say.
Imagine the impact that we could make on our community if we men were to love our wives as Christ loved the church. Imagine if we were actually the leaders in our families and we trained up our children in the instruction and admonition of the Lord. Imagine if women submitted to their husbands as to the Lord. Imagine if we took responsibility for our actions. Imagine if Christians would abstain from conversations on Facebook that might confuse their beliefs or post pictures that draw attention to the wrong things. Or imagine if our children would share their love of Christ with the neighborhood kids. Imagine if we sacrificially met the needs of one another in this body. Imagine if we proclaimed the good news as if we actually believed it! To live out what we are called to looks radically different than what the world espouses. I mentioned just a few things here that we probably already know. Often our failures in this Christian life is not a lack of knowledge, it is a lack of applying what we already know. We are called to be counter-cultural.
Peter wrote this letter in the context of persecution under the Roman Emperor Nero. And it was not fashionable to name the name of Christ. To do so would mean instant persecution. It is in this light that Peter writes to the dispersed believers in order to encourage them in their trials. In fact, suffering is a major theme throughout the letter. You may remember the quote I mentioned a few weeks ago. “Better Christians tend to produce persecution.” And I think we see this played out in 1 Peter.
If you have not done so already, please turn in your Bibles to 1 Peter 1. We will be looking at verses 3-12 this week. I have entitled the sermon “Faith in Trial” or F.I.T., if you will, because Peter shows how our faith is exercised and how trials refine us and shape us.
I see the chapter to be a mini version of the book of Ephesians. We recall the structure of Paul’s letter where the first three chapters contain the doctrinal section of the letter. Paul reminds the believers in Ephesus of their position in Christ, their condition before faith, their oneness in Christ etc. In chapter 4, Paul begins the latter section with a “therefore”. In light of the truths that he presented to them, they had an obligation to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. He moves from the indicative to the imperative – what is true, to what must be done, the theological to the practical. Likewise, Peter in this letter begins the chapter reminding the recipients of their hope of salvation and the reality of trials until Christ returns. The latter half of the chapter that we will be looking at next week will include the imperatives where Peter will exhort us to respond to those truths.
Let’s read the text. We’ll look at the text in four points this morning: Faith to a Living Hope, Faith to an Eternal Inheritance, Faith and Trials, and Faith Proclamation.
My first point is Faith to a Living Hope. We are only in verse 3 and Peter breaks out in this doxology or praise to God. He says that in light of our great salvation and hope, God is to be praised. We often see this in Paul’s letters where he is writing and the things he mentions seemingly overwhelm him and he digresses in praise to his God. Here Peter must have already been thinking ahead because he doesn’t get very far before his doxology. At the outset, Peter wants his readers to recall their great God. He reminds them of the great mercy that God demonstrated to them in their salvation. We recall from our study of Ephesians what our spiritual condition is before salvation. We read from chapter 2 that we are dead in our sins, follow the course of this world and Satan. We are children of wrath and sons and daughters of disobedience. Paul indicates that this refers to all of us. There is not one who is righteous in God’s sight before His work in us.
But do you remember the next words of Paul in verse 4 of Ephesians 2? But God, being rich in mercy and because of His great love for us, even when we were dead in our trespasses GOD made us alive!! And the same concept is here in our text. Peter writes that according to His great mercy, he caused us to be born again – from spiritual death to spiritual life. I love the analogy of rebirth to refer to salvation. Remember the words of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3? Keep your finger in 1 Peter. But turn with me to John 3.
Read vv. 1-8.
Nicodemus is confused and asks how one can be “born again”. And then to clear it up, Jesus makes the distinction between flesh and Spirit. He was not referring to physical birth, but spiritual birth. Jesus indicates that to be born again, one must be born from above, or born from the Spirit. And John 1:12-13 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Salvation comes from God alone. So all those who are trying to earn their way to God, you really need to give up that pursuit today. It is a new birth. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that if we are in Christ, we are a new creation.
And Peter indicates that we are born again to a living hope. Whereas we once followed the course of the world into destruction, those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ now possess a living hope. Now we need to clarify what “hope” is. Hope is not a wish. “I hope I get a good grade on my exam”. Rather, “hope” is a confident optimism that is given by God. As believers in Jesus Christ, we now have the hope or certainty of eternity with him.
Another thing we need to understand is that this is a present and future reality. This point and next exist within an already/not yet tension. We have not fully realized our eternal hope and inheritance. But we already possess them. The moment that we are born again, made alive by the Spirit of God, we become eternally alive. We will not taste death. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. It’s a win-win. Ephesians 2 states that when God made us alive, he seated us with Christ in the heavens. So where are we now? We’re here in Squamish. But positionally we are already seated with Jesus Christ. And this will be fully realized after we leave this life or Christ returns. We are eternal creatures! If we have trusted in Christ for salvation we have hope!! Amen?? John 14, Jesus says that because I live, you will also live. Jesus said to Martha in John 11: 25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Do you believe this??
Peter indicates that this new birth was accomplished through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If he wasn’t raised, the whole thing is off. That’s what Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 15. 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Christ is risen! So we also have a living hope.
But there’s more. We have Faith to an Eternal Inheritance. We have been born again to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Now the inheritance idea we have some familiarity with. Some here may have received inheritance that relatives have left behind when they died. This may include house and property, cars, money, antiques and collectibles, etc. Some may have had wealthy parents and relatives and really benefitted from this. But if we have trusted in Christ, who are we related to? Ephesians 1 tells us that we are adopted sons and daughters of God himself. Romans 8 tells us that we call on God as Father and we are co-heirs with Christ.
How much of the world’s stuff is imperishable? None of it, right? Everything this side of eternity will rot. But the things that we inherit in heaven will never perish or decay. It is pure. It is not tainted with the things of this world. And it will never fade. “Fading” is used of flowers that wither and wilt. The inheritance is eternal life, the kingdom of God, blessing upon blessing. And like the living hope, we somehow already possess this inheritance. Ephesians 1:11 states that in Him (Christ), we have obtained the inheritance. And in verses 13 and 14, Paul writes that we were sealed with the Holy Spirit who guarantees our inheritance. He is the deposit of the inheritance. But it is yet to be fully realized when we are in His presence. Our inheritance is kept in heaven for us. It is secure.
In verse 5, Peter writes that believers are guarded by God’s power and through their faith. John MacArthur writes, “Supreme power, omniscience, omnipotence, and sovereignty, not only keep the inheritance (v. 4), but also keep the believer secure. No one can steal the Christian’s treasure, and no one can disqualify him from receiving it.” Don’t you find that comforting? Those that are genuine believers need not worry about their eternal condition before God. It is God’s power manifest through our faith that will ensure that our salvation will come to completion in the last time. Note the three time components of salvation in this text. Peter says that we have been born again, are being guarded in our salvation, until the future. And in verse 9, Peter says that in the future we will obtain the outcome of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls. So if we have been born again, sealed by the Spirit, it is God who is grasping us, not us grasping him. No one can snatch us from his hand.
Next, we will look at Faith in Various Trials. Peter acknowledges the trials that the Christians are enduring. Trials and suffering, like I mentioned, are going to be a major theme of the book. Chapter 3 contains a section of suffering for the cause of righteousness. And chapter 4 talks about suffering as a Christian. 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
In this passage, we learn several things about trials. First, we discover that trials are only temporary. It seems to me that Peter is trying to give his readers an eternal perspective. He has just reminded the believers of their living hope and eternal inheritance. And now he introduces the temporal nature of their trials. He does not minimize their intensity, just highlights their brevity. He does so by contrasting the eternal nature of their salvation and the trials that will but last “a little while”.
The second thing we note about our trials is that they can be distressing. Peter acknowledges that they have indeed been distressed by the persecution they were enduring. Trials often come in various forms. In this case, there was physical persecution. In the past several months I have been contemplating the church around the world and realizing that at the moment in North America, it is pretty “safe” to be a Christian. I have been tracking the Voice of the Martyrs on the web to see what Christianity is like around the world, in countries where it is not encouraging to be Christian or even forbidden. I recently read this article of a house church leader in China:
“On July 2, Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers evicted prominent house church leader Pastor Hua Huiqi and his family from their home in Beijing, China.
According to China Aid Association (CAA), "Hua and his family were resting in their rental apartment when PSB officials led by Officer Yang Jian used a 10-pound hammer to break down the doors and locks of the apartment. Hua's brother was beaten by police officers and suffered severe damage to his eye. Hua and his family, including his 90-year-old father, were forced onto the street with their furniture. They are currently in search of a new home and are being hosted by a Christian family in Beijing."
According to CAA, "The Chinese government has expressed its intentions to either detain Hua until September 30, a date well after the Olympics, or to remove Hua and his family completely out of Beijing during the Games. The Chinese government had branded Hua and other human rights and religious activists as 'troublemakers' and is adamant about keeping such people from attending the games in August."
"We have predicted that things like this would happen ahead of the Beijing Olympics," said Todd Nettleton, Director of Media Development for The Voice of the Martyrs. "The Chinese government is determined that there will be no distractions and no embarrassment when the eyes of the world turn to Beijing next month. Our Christian brothers and sisters, like Brother Hua and his family, are not 'troublemakers,' as China's government says. They are simply Christian people who want the freedom to follow Christ according to their conscience."
This recent incident is the latest in a series of attacks, arrests and imprisonments Pastor Hua and his family have endured from the PSB. In January 2007, Hua and his 76-year-old mother, Shuang Shuying, were attacked and wounded by seven police officers while walking near a 2008 Olympic hotel site in Beijing. CAA reported, "They were kicked to the ground and later taken to the Olympic police station for questioning." Hua's mother was sentenced to two years in prison, while Hua served six months. In October, while under house arrest, Hua was repeatedly attacked and beaten by police at his home. CAA reported, "Hua was reading his Bible at his home despite police surrounding his house. He was sent to Beijing Tiantan Hospital because he lost consciousness after repeated beatings from the police."
Shuang Shuying remains in prison and is very ill. According to CAA she is being held in a medical center because her health has deteriorated. "The doctor said she is too weak to send to a formal prison because of heart problems, diabetes and other medical problems," CAA reported.VOM contacts say she is being held hostage by police in order to put pressure on Pastor Hua to reveal names and information of believers.”
In North America, we don’t know this kind of persecution or the kind under the Roman Emperors. But we do encounter other forms of trials. There are many here who are facing health issues, deaths of loved ones, or relationship issues. As fellow believers, we want to be able to identify with your suffering as Peter knew personally the persecution they were facing. And yet, he was also able to offer hope in the midst of their circumstances. So I hope that those of you who are encountering these trials can find hope this morning in this passage. There will come an end to the trials you face.
But I also want to point out that they also have a purpose. Verse 7 introduces us to that truth. It tells us that we have these trials so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perished though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. These aren’t just random trials that we need to endure. The first benefit of these trials is for us. Our endurance through trials validates our faith. When we come out on the other side of a trial still trusting in Christ, we are confirmed to be His child. Those that claim to be a Christian because they thought it was about their health and prosperity (or anything else for that matter) will likely fall away in the midst of trial because it is not what they have bought into. Those who endure are shown to possess genuine faith. And this, as Peter points out, is more precious than gold that has been refined. It is the refining and strengthening of our faith.
Next, Peter points out the result of these trials. The Christian’s endurance through trial and abiding faith glorifies the God who saved them. It is not natural for a person to sign up for a life of trial and persecution. But when God calls and saves someone, that’s what happens. Christians will persevere to the end despite what circumstances they must endure. They know the reality of trials. They know the purpose of trials. And they also know the result. It brings God the glory when believers can say “I know what I have to encounter. But He is worth it.”
Trials should not diminish the Christian’s joy. Peter encourages his readers to rejoice. In the beginning of verse 6, he tells them that the eternal nature of their hope and inheritance should allow them to rejoice in trials. Turn over just a few pages with me to chapter 4 of 1 Peter. Read with me beginning in verse 12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
Verse 8 is interesting to me. It does a pretty good job of painting a picture of what faith looks like. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” That is truly the essence of faith. We believe in One whom we have not seen. Many people want to be convinced in logical fashion of Christianity. Others want physical proof (even one of the disciples). But what did Jesus say? In John 20, Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” That’s us. We are blessed because we have not yet seen him, and yet we believe. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says that we walk by faith, not by sight. We believe and are willing to deny ourselves and endure suffering so that we might spend eternity with Him. And we rejoice.
How many of you woke up this morning and came here rejoicing with joy inexpressible? I must admit, not me. If we believe that we have been born again to a hope of eternity with almighty God and an inheritance that will never fade, why not?? One of the speakers that I heard last weekend shared something that has revolutionized his walk with Christ. He said that before even one foot hits the floor when he wakes up, he thanks God for his salvation. Would that not change our days? Our lives? Everything would come into focus and we would begin the day with a thankful spirit. We need to recall daily that apart from God giving us new life, we would spend our eternity in sin, hell, and apart from Him. We truly should lives lives characterized by joy that is inexpressible!
And that leads into the last point: Faith Proclaimed. Peter concludes this section by indicating that the prophets before the time of Christ were curious about the specifics of what they wrote. They searched and inquired carefully, but could not grasp completely how their prophecies would be fulfilled. We know that from our study in Daniel. He knew vaguely of his visions and what he was writing, but not completely. What I want to point out here is that there was a proclamation of salvation. We know from many of the prophets the coming of the Messiah: the virgin birth in Isaiah, the location in Micah, the prophecies of his death also in Isaiah. In fact, we could spend an entire sermon on the prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament.
But look at verse 12 with me. “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” What we have here is the prophets proclaiming the Messiah and those that believed their message preaching the good news to the readers in this letter. Those that believe the message also proclaim it. How can we not?? Again, if we truly believe the message of the Scriptures, how can we keep it to ourselves? We are the recipients of the greatest gift imaginable. And we possess the greatest news of all time – that man can be reconciled to God!
And I would suggest that the message becomes that much louder when others see how we go through trials. Do we groan, complain, blame others? Or do we accept them as part of our call in life and give glory to God in the midst of them? This is a tremendous opportunity to declare Jesus Christ as our rock and fortress in the storms of life. Do you remember the words of Satan to God in the beginning of the story of Job? “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” Job’s testimony became that much greater when he lost everything and yet remained faithful to God. He wasn’t merely seeking the benefits of a relationship with God. He was seeking the relationship itself.
If you do not know this relationship, you need to realize that apart from Jesus Christ you will continue to be lost in your sin for eternity. But the good news is that Christ has paid the penalty for that sin on your behalf. And if you repent of your sin and place your faith in Him who is unseen, you will inherit eternal life and hope forevermore. Let’s pray.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
As you rise out of bed this week, make it your practice to say with the Apostle Peter: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has given us a living hope and eternal inheritance.