Life is difficult. But this harsh truth has not always been understood by those following Jesus Christ. Many Christians today have trouble sorting out the complexity of their identity and calling in Christ. They were reared to believe that a Christian should only experience the joys of being one of God's elect. They have been taught nothing of our exilic state. With three simple words in the opening of this letter, Peter gives us the biblical corrective—a profound clue for finding life's true horizon. We are the "elect exiles of the dispersion" (1:1).
How did this phrase come to describe the true state of Christians in every age? "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" (1:2). Our soul rises in praise and falls in sorrow on the same afternoon "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." We are God's beloved, and yet we are carried off into exile like Daniel of old "in the sanctification of the Spirit." We remain on the outside of the world in which we live "for obedience to Jesus Christ." And we are all these things as a fragrant offering in Christ's "blood." According to Peter, we owe our full identity as "elect exiles" to the mysterious plan of God.
Throughout the Scriptures, the way up comes by going down; restoration comes after trials (5:10). It is this inversion in attaining glory that marks Peter's theme throughout this letter. Christians' future inheritance and exaltation—our eternal share in the glory of Christ—will be awarded to us on the day of his appearing (1:13; 2:12; 4:13; 5:1, 4, 10). But that promised day only comes after this brief season of present-day sufferings. For suffering always precedes subsequent glories. As it was for God's Son, so it will be for all of us who are in him.
This bringing together of two seemingly incompatible truths—our status in Christ and our sufferings on earth—is how Peter's letter begins (1:1,2). And in the body of the letter these incompatible ideas are continually joined to one another. In 1:3-12 we see that an eternal inheritance is linked to various trials. In other words, salvation's future goal (vv. 3-5) is built upon the present trials (vv. 6-9) as well as the past glories (vv. 10-12).
Beginning with verse 13, Peter begins to establish answers to some pending questions. In light of these present trials, how are Christians supposed to bear witness to Christ's glory? How are we to live in this wilderness world? Peter's prescriptive answer centers on the Christian's conduct (v. 15). The word translated "conduct" in this verse is used only twenty-four times in the entire New Testament. And yet nearly half of those come from Peter. He uses it eleven times (see 1:15, 17, 18; 2:12; 3:1, 2, 16; 2 Peter 2:7, 18; 3:11). In essence, Peter's strategy for Christian conduct, rooted in a settled hope, comes from a focus on:
These are the elements of Christian conduct.
Peter goes on to develop this theme of Christian identity and conduct in light of a settled hope. Reaching a turning point in 2:11, 12, we find a concise exhortation to live lives worthy of our unique calling. Examples of what this looks like abound (2:13, 18; 3:1). And in case Peter's early readers have trouble grasping this gracious truth, he will go so far as to argue that Jesus Christ was the supreme example of this teaching (2:21-25). Aware of the high demands this will place upon his readers, Peter encourages them by setting forward the exilic-like wandering years of King David, the anointed one who suffered, in an effort to help them press on (3:9-17). Finally, in 3:18-22, he returns to Christ and grounds the irony of his divine logic in the demonstration of Christ's ultimate vindication as proof of our future hope and present calling (4:19).
In these later chapters Peter continues to encourage his readers with the example of Christ overcoming extraordinary trials. He concludes by making an appeal to the elders specifically (5:1-5) and then to everyone more generally (5:6-14) to fulfill their unique callings in humility and grace. The divine principle of "true grace" (5:12) is this: God has established our salvation, given us our identity, confirmed our present-day calling, and secured our future inheritance by means of an inverted irony—namely, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Therefore, just as the exaltation of Jesus followed a season of humiliation, so too our share in his eternal glory will appear after we have learned to follow in his true and gracious ways.