A Brief Look at Peter’s Understanding of Election and Christian Living

            Today we want to take a brief look at the letter of the apostle Peter (primarily the first one) and see how he understands the dynamic of election and Christian living. According to Klein, “[i]n 1 Peter we meet an epistle that devotes much attention to the theme of election, especially for a book of its size” (The New Chosen People, 229). In his introduction and salutation Peter already begins the theme of election (vv. 1-2). He writes,

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1:1-2, NIV [emphasis mine])
There is some question about whether eklektois – that is the elect – is to be understood as being substantively (as the NIV renders it) or adjectivally as is in the ESV “to those who are elect exiles”? But we will not squabble about such, since in any case the theme of election is introduced.

            Further debate is made concerning the prepositional phrases.  How are they functioning? These are the phrases “(1) chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, (2) through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, and (3) for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” Are they solely and explicitly referring to election or to “all that Peter and his readers are” (Klein, 238)? Whatever the case might be, election is included in both views and thus according to Elliott “[t]hese three qualifications regarding the origin, mediation, and goal of their election announce emphases to be developed later” by Peter (416).   

In his doxological section Peter tells us of the outcome of such an election. Let us isten to what he says,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1:3-5; ESV)
We “have been ‘born anew’ to (a) a living hope (v. 3), (b) a permanent inheritance (v. 4), and (c) a salvation soon to be revealed in this final age to those who are guarded by God’s power” (Elliott, 417). Such benefits however do not exclude suffering (1:6).

Peter now turns from the benefits and blessings to practical outcomes. Starting in 1:13 the apostle stresses the necessity of holiness. Another behavioral aspect as the outcome of our election is our relation to fellow believers. Love is the foremost characteristic of such (cf. 1:22; 3:8; 4:8). Elliott again makes crucial observations to 2:4-10 and it is worthwhile to quote him here at length,
Verses 6-8 contain a set of Old Testament texts (Isa. 28:16; Ps. 118:22; Isa. 8:14) concerning a “stone” which in both Jewish and Christian tradition served as a metaphor for the Messiah (see Mk. 12:1-12 par.; Acts 4:8-11; Rom. 9:31-33). Verses 9-10 involve a second complex of Old Testament texts containing honorific terms for God’s elect covenant people which are now applied to the Christian community of the end time (Ex. 19:6; Isa. 43:20-21; 42:6-9; 63:7-9; Hos. 1:6, 9; 2:1, 23). Finally, verses 4-5 anticipate and unite these two scriptural complexes by applying elements from each of them to both Jesus Christ and the believers.[…]
As Jesus Christ, the stone, was rejected (v. 4, 7-8), so believers too are opposed by a hostile society. As God, however, made this stone alive (v. 4; cf. 1:3, etc.), so believers are “living stones” (v. 5) with a “living hope” (1:3). As this stone is “elect and precious in God’s sight” (v. 4, 6), so believers are an elect and holy people (v. 9) who share in the Lord’s preciousness and honor (v. 7; cf. 1:7). […]
Like their Lord, the elect stone (v. 4), […] the believers (v. 9-10) are an “elect generation” (Isa. 43:20), a “royal residence,” “priestly community,” and “holy nation” (Ex. 19:6), God’s special people (Isa. 43:21), once named “Not-my-people” and “Not-shown-mercy” but now called “People-of-God” and “Those-shown-mercy” (Hos. 1-2). (Elliott, 421-422)
In this awe inspiring passage, Peter also quotes Ex. 19:6  “the basic form of [the] agreement [i.e., the covenant at Sinai]” (Alexander, Ex. 19) and thus reminds the readers that they are chosen for a purpose. Once the believers were alienated from God but now through response to his call they have emerged from darkness to light and have been embraced as his children” says Elliott (422).

            Crucial to his entire theology of election is 2:4-6. Christ is the elect cornerstone and only through him are we “build up as a spiritual house.” 

            In summary of the apostle Peter’s first epistle we see that he employs the concept of election to assert that Christians are on the receiving end of God’s calling to salvation (see Klein). Thus Klein writes, “Christians bear the standing or status of God’s ‘called ones,’ a virtual synonym for ‘those whom God has named as his own’” (“Election”).

Looking briefly at the second epistle (2 Peter 1:10) we see Peter juxtaposing, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Here mere profession of faith without any behavioral change is thrown out of the window. In a very practical manner Peter combines the theology of election with Christian living.  

This is challenging and invites us to examine our lives and see who we are in Christ. If we allow Paul to comment on such, he would say that “we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10; ESV). 
Works Cited:
Alexander, T.D. “Exodus.” New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.). Eds. D.A. Carson et alias. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

Elliott, John Hall. “Salutation and exhortation to Christian behavior on the basis of God’s blessings (1 Pet 1:1-2:10).” Review & Expositor. 79.3 (Sum 1982): 415-425.

Klein, W.W. “Election.” Dictionary of the later New Testament and its Developments (electronic ed.). Eds. R.P. Martin and P.H. Davids. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, c1997.
——-, The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election. Grand Rapids, Mich: Academie, 1990.  

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