Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. – 1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV
We all need encouragement at times. Especially when it comes to our walk of faith as believers. Living the Christian life can be difficult. There are pressures and expectations. There are constant temptations and trials. Our own sin natures wage war within us, attempting to lure us away from obedience to Christ and back in to the self-gratifying lifestyle He died to deliver us from. It is during those times that we need to be encouraged and reminded of our calling. When times are difficult, it helps to have someone come alongside us and boost our spiritual confidence by pointing us back to the reality of our relationship with Christ.
Some time in the middle of the first century, the apostle Peter wrote a letter to believers living in northern Asia Minor. These people were living in a Roman province that is now modern western Turkey. Peter refers to them as “elect exiles of the Dispersion.” They were believers who found themselves living as relative strangers because of their faith in Christ. The Greek term Peter used was παρεπίδημος (parepidēmos) and it was used of “one who comes from a foreign country into a city or land to reside there by the side of the natives” (“Blue Letter Bible – 1Pe 1: Peter’s First Epistle – 1 Peter 1, Blue Letter Bible: KJV – King James Version). Peter was using the word metaphorically, calling his readers “strangers” or “aliens” because their real home was in heaven. They were essentially passing through this land on their way to their real homeland. They had been dispersed, so to speak, among the Gentiles living in northern Asia Minor and, as a result, were suffering the effects of their status as believers living among unbelievers. It was not easy. Their lives were not always pleasant.
They were the “elect”, chosen by God for salvation and set apart by Him to live holy lives in the midst of an unholy world. Their salvation had been God’s doing. He had made it possible for them to be restored to a right relationship with Himself. It was His Son who had died in their place. It was His Son’s righteousness that had been imputed to them and made it possible for them to stand before God as justified. Their situation was part of that election. God had saved them, but had also placed them in the context in which they found themselves. God was not surprised by their circumstances. He was not unaware of the difficulties they were facing as His children living in a sinful and, oftentimes, hostile world. Dr. Thomas L. Constable explains what Peter meant by the foreknowledge of God.
The foreknowledge (Gr. prognosin; cf. Acts 2:23) of God refers, of course, to what God knows beforehand. God’s foreknowledge has an element of determinism in it because whatever really happens that God knows beforehand exists or takes place because of His sovereign will. Therefore when Peter wrote that God chose according to His foreknowledge he did not mean that God chose the elect because He knew beforehand they would believe the gospel (the Arminian position). God chose them because He determined beforehand that they would believe the gospel (the Calvinist position).
God had predetermined their salvation and their circumstances. They were right where He wanted them to be. Their struggles and trials were not to be viewed as indicators that they were out of God’s will, but right in the middle of it. He was in control. He was sovereign. He had chosen them and He would care for them.
In a single sentence, Peter mentions sanctification, obedience and sprinkling with blood. It almost comes across as a throwaway line, but there is significant meaning behind what Peter is saying to his readers. The sanctification of which he speaks is that which is accomplished by the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. When we come to faith in Christ, we receive the indwelling Holy Spirit. His presence within us sets us apart from the rest of the world. He becomes our guarantee, our down-payment, so to speak, of all that is to come. It is His presence and power that enables us to live the life to which God has called us. It is the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for us to live obediently to Christ. No longer is our obedience dependent upon our own self-effort, but on the power of the Spirit of God who lives within us. And while we still struggle with sin in this life, we must never lose sight of the fact that we have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. His blood, shed on our behalf and as payment for our sins, cleanses us from all unrighteousness. He has purified us with His blood.
The blood of Christ has provided us forgiveness of sins and a right standing with God. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to live in that right standing, obeying the will of God even in the midst of the troubles and trials of life. And our willful obedience is the proof of God’s ongoing sanctification of our lives. He is at work within us. And He uses the circumstances surrounding our lives to mold us into the likeness of His Son. Just like those to whom Paul wrote this letter, we are “elect exiles” living as strangers and aliens in a foreign land. We are citizens of heaven. We are members of another Kingdom who find ourselves living temporarily in a land that is hostile to our King and opposed to His rule. The rest of Peter’s letter will be a loving reminder of who we are in Christ, how we have been called to live and what our faith will look like as we live out our lives in this world.