Sermon Text: 1 Peter 5:12–14
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé
Stand Firm, Sojourner
This morning, we step into a scene in a story with hundreds of pages already written to our left in the book. This is the story of the people of God, of Christ’s covenant people. With every hymn sung and sermon preached and meal at the table, we continue that old story that we didn’t start, and that we will not finish before we lay down our bodies in our coffins.
The story of the visible church is a great and glorious story of a tree that grew from a tiny seed to a global oak—a tree that is still growing and bearing fruit and which will never stop growing until it has pressed into every corner of the whole world, if we take Jesus’ promises seriously.
And yet it is a story where branches that were once healthy, which once bore glorious and abundant fruit, grew diseased and withered—branches that the Lord ultimately cut off in judgment and cast aside to be burned.
This slow, withering death can happen to individuals and it can happen to families and it can happen to churches and it can happen to denominations and it can happen to movements, nations, whole peoples.
If you were to visit Princeton University in New Jersey, which is the fourth-oldest university in America, founded in 1746, you could still see it’s motto carved in stone reliefs over some of the oldest buildings: Dei sub numine viget, which is Latin for “Under God, she flourishes.”
Some of the first classes ever held at the University were taught by Reverend Jonathan Dickinson, a staunch Presbyterian Christian who was influential in the Synod of Philadelphia and other Presbyterian Christian circles in early America.
The training school for Christian ministers that was born out of the University in 1812, Princeton Theological Seminary, taught some of the brightest, most fruitful, and most tenaciously orthodox Christian theologians and ministers of American history—men like Louis Berkhof, Geerhardus Vos, Lorraine Boettner, Cornelius Van Til, James Montgomery Boice, J. Gresham Machen (founder of Westminster Theological Seminary), B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge—the list goes on!
But if you visited Princeton today, if you sat down with the average professor or student there, you would find the most shockingly unorthodox, evil, and dangerous ideologies, doctrines, and dogmas espoused, and held casually and uncontroversially. You will find a graveyard, mausoleum shell full of dead bones where a house full of life used to stand.
What happened? How did this bastion of ancient Christian glories become a sepulcher of heresy? How did all of the spiritual vitality leak out and leave old, dead buildings behind? One word: Drift.
Here is the reality we are confronted with in the final words of Peter’s first epistle: For us, there can no such thing as casual Christianity. The winds are strong; the waves are high; the storms are continuous, and unless we stand firm in the grace of God, ten-thousand forces would pull us into folly and death.
Peter ends his letter to us this morning with a simple yet stirring exhortation: Stand firm. Stand firm in the true grace of God. Look with me at verse 12, if you would.
“By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”
-1 Peter 5:12–14
This sermon will be simple with just two massively important things to do, both centering on verse 12: One, we need to get clear on what this true grace is that has been declared to us. Two, we need to get clear on how it is that we stand firm in that same grace. Let’s ask for the Lord’s help, then get to work.
Let’s get clear sight on what Peter aims to say to us in this final postscript so we can get to work on those two things we need to do.
Peter writes, “By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you…” What this means, very simply, is that Peter likely dictated the letter of 1 Peter to Silvanus, who wrote it down for him. Then, at the end, he picked up his pen and wrote this final paragraph with his own hand.
This was very common, and we see it with other letters in the New Testament. Silvanus is a faithful brother who appears in connection with various early church leaders and Apostles in Acts, 2 Corinthians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians.
We’re not entirely sure whom he is referring to by “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings…” in verse 13, save that this is a sister in Christ who lives in Rome. Babylon was long dead by the time Peter wrote this letter, but is used as a kind of poetic shorthand to refer to nations in rebellion against God and against the people of God. The Mark of verse 13 likely isn’t Peter’s literal son, but his way of referring to the Mark we see many other places in connection with the Apostles, especially Peter.
Finally, he instructs us to greet one another with the kiss of love, so if you would, please turn to your neighbor and…
Just kidding. This would have been a very culturally appropriate familial greeting, which showed that the early church weren’t just business associates; they were family.
And finally, he ends the letter where he began: “Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”
The point of the postscript is what you would expect in the closing words of a letter like this—Peter aims, not to introduce a new subject, but to sum up the heart of what he has already said for five chapters.
The second half of verse 12 is that heart: Stand firm in the true grace of God. So now we arrive at those two things we need to do, one very briefly and then the other at greater length. First, we need to remember what it is that Peter means by “this” when he says that “this is the true grace of God. Then, we need to know how we stand firm in that true grace.
The DNA of True Grace
Peter says that he has “…written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God.” So let’s briefly remember what it is that Peter has exhorted and declared to be the true grace of God.
The Apostolic Gospel of Substitutional Glory
To put it simply, the true grace of God—which has been the absolute gravitational center of this whole letter, everything else orbiting around it—is the Apostolic gospel of substitutional glory.
It is the message of 1 Peter 1:3–5,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 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
In an act of one-side love, born out of a heart of mercy, God has caused the spiritually stillborn, dead in sin, to be raised to new life and immortal hope through the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ our Lord.
That, as Peter quotes in chapter 2, “[God has laid] in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Or as he told us in one of the most distilled descriptions of the gospel of grace in the whole Bible, 1 Peter 3:18, “…Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
And of all of this, as Peter assured us in chapter 5, he was an eyewitness—an eyewitness of the sufferings of Christ. This is no secondhand gospel; this is the Apostolic gospel, authored by Christ and faithfully passed on by his disciples.
Making Our Stand
That’s the gravitational center of our hope, then, and of Peter’s whole word to us in this letter. And he would have us stand firm in it. What does that mean? How do we stand firm in that grace?
As we close his letter for the last time together, let’s remember three of the ways that our brother Peter would have us stand firm in this grace:
1. Live in light of living hope in your earthly sojourn.
The hope you are planted in is deep, rich, living hope. 1 Peter 1:13,
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
-1 Peter 1:13
Peter has assured us of a heaven-kept hope that is hurtling towards us with every beat of our hearts. We stand firm in grace by setting our hope fully on that hope. We are vulnerable when our hope hangs on any other hook.
Why? Because there is only one hook that can hold the weight of your hope: the grace of the Jesus. Every single lesser thing that you could hang your hope on just won’t do it in the end. It will give way in the end and leave you hopeless rather than standing in hope-fulfilled and consummated.
Don’t hang your hope on your health; it will fail. Do not put your hope in the continued beating of your heart; it will stop and your body will go back to dust.
Don’t hand your hope on your children’s health, your wife’s health, your husband’s health; theirs will fail, too. One of you is going to bury the other someday. Don’t hang your hope on them.
Don’t hang your hope on money—either the making of it, the spending of it, the saving of it, the investing of it, whatever; it won’t insulate you from death or the fall or your own sin. Your money, your house, your car, your retirement accounts—all of it is going to someone else.
Don’t hang your hope in greatness—your own or someone else’s; you aren’t great enough. You can’t hold it up. No accomplishment will satisfy you. No job success, no success in homeschooling your kids, no great learning, not insightful philosophical and theological musing—none of it can hold you up in the end.
Put your hope—all of it! Set if fully!—on the Lord Jesus Christ. His coming. His salvation. His rule. His goodness. His blessing. Do that, and every hope below can live in the sun of his goodness. Trust in anything below and you will lose all.
Hoping in any lesser thing than that thing is like a man who hoped to marry a fictional character from a novel he read; she’s not real, hoping in her won’t satisfy.
2. Accept no neutrality.
1 Peter 1:14–19,
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
-1 Peter 1:14–19
The grace that bought you bought you. It doesn’t lay claim to mere religious or spiritual you, but total you. Think through the letter again: What of you does Peter lay claim to in Jesus’ name?
He lays claim to the spiritual food you feed on in chapter two—long for the pure spiritual milk, that you may grow up into salvation!
He lays claim in that same chapter to your heart and mind attitudes—put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander.
He lays claim to political you—be subject for the Lord’s sake to human government, living as a free people, as servants of God.
He lays claim to marital you—wives, be subject to your husbands. Husbands live with your wives with understanding and grace.
He lays claim to your dress—ladies, lean into the adornment, not of outward appearance as primary, but to inward beauty, to the hidden person of the heart, adorned with gentleness, quietness, and respect.
He lays claim to communal you—all of us are to have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tenderheartedness, and humility.
He lays claim to us in all circumstances of life, including suffering—beloved, do not be surprised at fiery trial, but let it further drive you into the tenacious grip of grace.
He lays claim to elders and church members—elders, to lead with eager willingness out of pure motives, and for the church to be subject to qualified elders.
What of us is not bought by Christ? What of us belongs to our own direction and oversight? What of us exists autonomously of his gracious rule?
And so as your pastor, I would plead with you along with our brother Peter that you would eliminate all concept of no-man’s-land from your life and conception of self. You belong to God if you are in Christ, body and soul, life and death, vocation and home, resting and working, politically and religiously—and this is good news! It is better news than the howling wasteland of self-rule, autonomy, self-law. Finally,
3. Refuse to tamper with God’s grace.
The universal human impulse when confronted by divine grace is to try to find a way to make it about us, that is, to try to find a way to make something in it count on, depend on, and therefore give credit to, us.
Imagine you went to a 3-Michelin-Starred restaurant, where the chef was world-renowned for his cuisine. And the Maître D brought your dinner to the table, and you fished around in your jacket pocket, pulled out a seasoning packet from a bag of 17-cent Top Ramen, and proceeded to dust the whole plate with a ponderous layer of MSG-riddled salt-gunk.
That’s you trying to add works to the gospel; you’re not improving it, friend, you’re ruining it.
Be tenacious in your refusal to so do. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:2 of his refusal to practice cunning in tampering with God’s word. Likewise refuse to tamper with God’s grace in Christ.
What that means is that when you sin, you boldly, promptly, with alacrity lift your eyes to the throne for help and grace. Repent with bold alacrity born of grace. When you lie, covet, steal, lust, err, snap, self-protect—whatever!—run, don’t walk, to that throne.
I’m convinced that someone this morning needs to hear this exhortation: Stop doubting the grace of God and simply believe him and rest in him. His grace is cast iron. His blood is wholly effective. That sin is gone. Stop trying to atone and justify yourself and drink living water.
Repenting of our Boredom
When the Scriptures speak a word of instruction to us, they always do so strategically. The Scriptures rarely carpet bomb us with exhaustive lists of things to avoid, but rather tend to work like sniper fire—precision targeting of what we need to hear into the places of our greatest vulnerability to death and folly and danger.
So to children, the word is, over and over, “Obey your parents!” Why? Because children are weak there! So when Peter, with the final strokes of his pen, chooses to give us this one, great exhortation—stand firm in this grace!—what can we conclude?
That we are in danger here. That there is something in us that needs to be strengthened on this point, that we are prone to not stand firm.
In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul engages in a conversation with some of the prominent men of Athens, Epicurean and Stoic philosophers and other thinkers. Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, records this about these men,
“Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”
May we never tire of hearing the ancient and well-worn contours of the gospel of grace. May we resist the urge of our flesh to flit around from wind of doctrine to wind of doctrine, looking for a fresh and scintillating breeze to excite us.
May we be a people who drink deep of the aged wine of the gospel without a glance at the ten-thousand Kool-Aid knockoffs that our flesh and false teachers and the world would fling at us with all the advertising dollars and neon lighting they can muster.
Stand firm, Refuge. Stand firm in the grace of Jesus Christ; his finished work, his shed blood, his forgiveness given, his restoration offered, his mercy new, our resurrection coming. Ephesians 6:13,
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”