A brief word study through 1 Peter will reveal that this is a letter that focuses deeply in part on the suffering and trials that Christians will inevitably face. Yet, immediately after his introduction to the letter, starting in verse 3, Peter’s words ring with a statement of joyful praise! What sort of circumstances can bring forth such exaltations as “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Peter 1:3a)?
Certainly, if we look at Peter’s worldly circumstances, and those of the church of that day, such praise might seem rather out of place. With this letter likely written in the early 60s, it was a time where persecution of the church was on the rise. Within perhaps a year or two of this letter being written, Emperor Nero will blame the torching of Rome on Christians, which will lead to even more persecution, exile, torture, and death. Early writers place Peter’s own grisly death likely not long after at the hands of Roman authorities. The ideas of worldly health, wealth, and prosperity were not even on the radar, so to speak. Yet Peter is offering a warm statement of praise. Why?
Simply put, Peter’s joy does not rest in any circumstances or actions based in this world. His praise is towards what God has already done:
“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be 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, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
We notice here that God is the one taking the actions here. It is according to his great mercy Christians are born again. He has caused this. It is kept in heaven for us. We are gifted our faith by God’s power.
We know well from the Bible that salvation is of the Lord, that it is not our doing (Ephesians 2:8-9). We have no cause to boast, or to say that by any inherent merit or righteousness were we chosen by God (2 Timothy 1:9). It is that security—that God is the originator and guardian of salvation—that gives us assurance, and a cause for praise. We praise a God who saved us when we could not save ourselves. As Jonathan Edwards wrote, “'You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary”. When we understand it is through God’s power and decree we were called unto salvation, it should take away any idea of self-praise, and make us understand that this was an inheritance granted to those who would have only chosen sin and death if left to their own devices. Instead, God gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), one capable of repentance and turning to Jesus in faith as having made the atonement for our sins upon the Cross, and even grants us to be co-heirs with Christ in eternal life (Romans 8:17).
How small and insignificant the temporary offerings of the world appear when we understand this! What sort of affliction can stand before this wondrous truth? And yet, how often do popular teachers focus on “claiming/activating our blessing” or having our “best life” right now, and always with a bent towards the material? How often does that worldly aim become the measure of what Christ can do for us, or in how much favor God holds us? As the great Puritan author Thomas Watson wrote, “A man's greatest care should be for that place where he lives longest; therefore eternity should be his scope”. I know I too often regrettably place my own scope firmly on what I can do or gain now, versus what God has already done in terms of the eternal.
In truth, there is no “happy switch” that is flipped when we follow Christ. Anyone who promises to someone “turn to Christ, and your struggles will all be over” is spreading a false message. The Christian knows that we will still have days of grief and hardship in life. But joy, contrary to how the term is employed today, is not simple happiness. Rather, biblical joy is a firm hope in God’s promise in eternity, and delighting in the knowledge of the golden thereafter that awaits those in Christ. Whether in fairest weather or the most tempestuous of days, we have all fallen short of the standard of a holy, just, righteous God (Romans 3:23). But for the Christian, we do not put our faith in our own abilities under the Law, but in the grace and mercy shown to sinners by God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:8-11). Here, there is assurance and hope, knowing the Good News of Christ is not about conquering this temporary, fleeting, world, but in the imperishable inheritance God guarantees by His own unbreakable Word, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 1:6).
The Christian’s hope and joy is never to be in success in this life, but in being elected to eternal life. God has taken the spiritually dead and made them gloriously alive. The great love, grace, and mercy shown to us by a sovereign God is a cause for true joy and praise, no matter what tomorrow may hold.