The Logic of Blessing
We have come to 3:8-12. In some ways these verses are a kind of summary of what Peter has been saying over the past few weeks. But these verses also also add a great deal to our understanding of God’s work to save sinners such as us and what our lives in this world are intended to look like as a result.
Now, I am not sure if you caught it, but this passage really challenges some common misunderstandings about God’s work of salvation and what is required to obtain eternal life. So what I’d like to do first is to walk through this passage to understand each part, but especially to highlight the logic of what Peter is saying.
Now, I am going to highlight the logic because if we were to ask some professing Christians, “what is required to obtain salvation?” I fear we might hear answers that don’t square with this passage. If I were to sit down with you and ask you, “what is required to obtain salvation?” how would you answer?
Scripture 1 Peter 3:8-12
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For
“Whoever desires to love life and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
There is no more pressing question than this and it is in all of our interest that we keep coming back to the Scriptures to conform our thinking to the Word from God – because it will be before Him that we will all stand and before whom we will each give an account. Let us remember with soberness that not everyone who says to Jesus Christ, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of the Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).
So, I want walk through this text and look at the answer Peter gives in these verses to the question, what is required to obtain eternal life.
Look with me at what Peter says here in verses 8 and 9.
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless…”
Peter is describing for us what the character of the people of God should be like, as they relate to one another and as they relate to the unbelieving world.
Now, if you look at the structure of how Peter lays out the character qualities we are t have within the community of faith, in verse 8, what you’ll see is an intentional pattern where harmony and humility are parallel and sympathy and compassion are parallel and brotherly love is highlighted as the central and most important of these character qualities.
So, in Peter’s mind the community of faith is to be made up of people who feel compassion and are sympathetic to the difficulties, hardships, and pains of one another. In this way we are to be a people inclined to bear one another’s burdens, to walk with one another through trials, and to seek to help build one another up.
What Peter describes is also a community that is made up of people who are humble and lowly, people who do not think too highly of themselves, but consider others as more important than themselves. And this humility leads to harmony. The community of faith should not be characterized by discord, strife, feuding, and power grabs. Instead it should be characterized by harmony, peace, unity, solidarity, and service.
But most of all it ought to be characterized by brotherly love. It is very significant that those of the household of faith will be those we spend eternity with. We are those who have been born again into the very family of God, a family that will never perish. There ought to be a bond among believers that nothing in this world can shake. We are brothers and sisters who are waiting to enter the heavenly country. We ought to love one another as God has loved us.
But the community of faith is also to have certain character qualities as we interact with the unsaved world. We are not to repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling. We are to be just like our King Jesus who walked humbly and peacefully to Calvary to heal our wounds (2:21-24). So instead of cursing our enemies, instead of avenging ourselves and making sure people know we won’t be taken advantage of, we are to be like Jesus: blessing even those who revile and do evil against us.
If we were to try to summarize Peter’s instruction here we might say, “Peter is instructing the believers to be holy and Christlike in this world.”
Good. But Peter goes on,
“…for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing…”
So Peter is giving a reason that Christians ought to take his instruction seriously. “Why, Peter? Why should we be holy and Christ-like in this world?” Answer, “because you were called to holiness and Christlikeness so that you may obtain a blessing.”
Let’s make sure we understand what the stakes are. Before we go any further we need to define what this “blessing” is that is obtained through holiness and Christlikeness. Is Peter talking about an earthly blessing? Long life in this world, and prosperity in this world, comfort in this world? Is Peter saying when you are holy and Christlike you will obtain earthly rewards? No.
If you are familiar with the rest of 1 Peter you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Peter does not have earthly blessing in mind. To begin with, from the first verses Peter has been pointing us away from this world. The very language of exile is used to remind us that in this world we are not at home here. We are told in verses 3 and 4 that we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. No where in Peter’s letter does Peter direct us to earthly blessings, but to heavenly ones.
And when are these non earthly blessings to be expected? According to verse 5 of chapter 1, the inheritance is being kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in last time. Peter points us forward to the last time.
And in the very next verse, verse 6, we are told that now for a little while, if necessary, we have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of our faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor (when?) at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Peter consistently throughout this letter points the believers away from this world and away from this time to the heavenly country and the last time when Christ appears and His reward is with Him.
1 Peter 4:12-13
“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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
And in our passage, it is without doubt that Peter is speaking about the blessing of eternal life in glory when Christ appears.
So back to the logic of verse 9 of chapter 3. Christians ought to be holy and Christlike in this world because holiness and Christlikeness are what we have been called to so that we may obtain the blessing of eternal life in glory when Christ appears.
Now, if you are paying attention at this point this may sound strange to you. Is Peter saying that in order to obtain the blessing of eternal life in glory when Christ appears that holiness and Christlikeness are somehow required? That is exactly what he is saying. Let me read it to you again to make sure you are hearing this:
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing…”
So when you here the question, “what is required to obtain eternal life?” does holiness and Christlikeness in your life now come to mind?
There are some people, whose understanding of salvation has no place for holiness and Christlikeness. For these people holiness and Christlikeness in this world are utterly separated from eternal life.
They reason that if salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone than that must mean that our holiness is not necessary in any way. According to this way of thinking one might believe upon Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and then turn right around and go on in sin and rebellion and wickedness. According to this view once someone makes a profession of faith it does not matter what the rest of their life looks like in this world. They are saved.
But Peter disagrees.
“…do not repay evil for evil or reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing…”
There will be no obtaining of the blessing of eternal life if holiness and Christlikeness are absent from your life.
The Sufficiency of Faith
But, just as there are those who fall of the horse by abandoning holiness and Christlikeness as unnecessary for the obtaining of the final blessing, so there are those who fall of the horse on the other side by making personal holiness and Christlikeness the basis and foundation of our justification, our being declared right with God.
The apostle Paul is clear in Romans 3:28 that, “…one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Salvation is indeed by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone – apart from our works.
But as Luther said, the faith that saves is never alone. What exactly is the relationship of holiness and Christlikeness to the final blessing of salvation in Jesus Christ? How does this work?
I think the answer to that question will begin to emerge if we consider the meaning of Peter’s phrase, “…for to this you were called…” What does Peter mean when he says we were called to holiness and Christlikeness?
Sometime we, and the Scriptures, use the word called to refer to what someone does when they invite or command someone else to do something. For example,
Now from Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
I think we are pretty familiar with this use of the word called. We might say, “The paster called us to repent and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now, there is an understanding as we use the word this way that the elders of the church and we can either comply to this call or not. The Ephesian elders might have said, na, not today Paul, and you might say, no, pastor I will not repent and believe. This is one legitimate way to use the word called. But is this the way Peter is using the word called here when he says that we have been called to holiness and Christlikeness?
I am sure many of you are aware that the Scriptures use the word called in another very significant way. For example,
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Here Paul sandwiches God’s call between His work of Predestination and His work of Justification. This is amazing. Everyone foreknew, that is set His love on before, he also predestines to be conformed to Jesus, and everyone God predestines, He calls. And everyone He calls He justifies, that is declares righteous. And everyone He justifies He also glorifies. There are no drop outs in this chain of redemption. If God has set His love on you, He sees to it that you make it to glory. And right in the middle of this unbreakable chain is a call of God.
This call is different from Paul’s call to the Ephesian elders or a pastor’s call. This call of God is effective. This call is like the call Jesus gave to Lazarus: “Lazarus, Come forth! (John 11:43)” And the dead man rose. Lazarus could not have refused to be made alive. When Jesus calls you this way, you are made alive.
And I believe it is this call that Peter is here speaking of. When Peter says, “…for to this you were called…” He is speaking about the call that those who are predestined to be conformed to Jesus receive. God determines that you will be conformed to the image of Jesus, then He calls you, and like Lazarus you are made alive, born again (1 Peter 1:3), and everyone who is called this way is justified and then glorified.
So Peter is here letting us in on a crucial purpose of God. The message of the gospel is not simply an offer of forgiveness of sins, leaving us to go on in sin and death. As Peter says those who receive the blessing of the eternal inheritance have been called effectually to Spiritual life – so that they may obtain the blessing.
The logic here is that God has called us to holiness and Christlikeness so that we may obtain the blessing of the everlasting inheritance. So, without holiness and Christlikeness, without spiritual life, there is no blessing.
Let me say this as clearly as I can. Your own holiness and Christlikeness is not what makes you right with God. We are declared right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But those declared right with God are made alive – made to be like Christ. They are truly born again.
What Peter is doing is very similar to what he did in 2:2 where he said,
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Peter is saying you need new spiritual taste buds. You need to have tasted that the Lord is good if you are going to long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up into salvation. You need to have been born again.
If you are a corpse this morning and have not been born again, you will not have a Christlike heart beat, you will not long to be holy or Christlike and you will not pursue love and humility and compassion and so you will not obtain the blessing.
But if you have been born again, you do have the heart beat of the Spirit of Christ and so pursue unity of mind, sympathy, and brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
Necessity of New Life
Peter makes things explicit in the next verses as He quotes Psalm 34,
For “Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
The stakes are very high. Holiness and Christlikeness are not optional in the Christian life. They are part and parcel of the Christian life, without which we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
So, I can imagine there are some here who know that they are living in sin. They have not kept their tongues from evil or their lips from speaking deceit. They are not now turning away from evil. Right now their consciences are bearing witness against them that they are not walking with integrity and uprightness. If this is you, I say to you repent. You will not enter the kingdom of heaven if you do not turn away from evil – no matter how often you confess that you are a Christian.
Ah, yes, it is true that it is only by grace that we are saved through faith. There is nothing you can do to merit God’s favor and so this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. And we cannot boast because Christians are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Even as salvation is all of grace through faith in Christ it is designed by God to produce Christlike people.
But, I can also imagine that there are others in this room who are truly born again, but who are struggling with remaining sin in their life. And these hear that holiness and Christlikeness are not optional and so you are fearful because you see in yourself so much sin. Well, there is nothing in this passage that would contradict or negate the clear New Testament teaching that Christians do indeed have the sinful flesh still clinging to them. Yes we do. But that is not who we are. And as Paul, so eloquently details in Romans 8 – Christians do not live in harmony with that flesh; we make war with it. We pursue after holiness and purity and brotherly love and humility and we seek to turn away from the passions of the flesh. And we confess and repent quickly when we fail.
We are not to set our hope on our performance; until Christ comes it will be war for every believer.
We are to set our hope fully on the Lord Jesus Christ and put our confidence in him.
But it is when we all our hope is in Christ that we will be more and more united, sympathetic, loving, tenderhearted, and humble. We will be able to turn the other cheek, no more than that, even bless, those who wrong and hurt us.
When our hearts are fixed upon Christ and God’s good intentions toward us we will become more and more like Him in our conduct.
The Spirit’s point is this: there can be no eternal blessing when Christ appears for those who have not been called out of darkness and into light; But all of you who have been called, you have been called to holiness and Christlikeness that you may obtain that glorious blessing, so all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless.