We have been studying the foundations of repentance and faith this month. I want to conclude the series by looking at true faith. There are all kinds of religions in the world, and all kinds of political and philosophical ideologies. Lots of people talk about faith. I think it’s important for us to distinguish between true biblical faith and other kinds of faith. To help us to do this, we will be looking at a scriptural text from 1 Peter.
1 Peter 1:18-21 NET
18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed – not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
The apostle Peter lived through one of the most difficult and challenging times for the early church – a time when both the Jewish establishment in Palestine and the Roman authorities throughout the Gentile world were turning against Christians, treating them with discrimination and violence, and persecuting them for their faith.
The reason I mention this is that nowadays when some people talk about faith they are referring to something entirely different than what Peter was talking about in this passage. I have heard people describe faith as if it is some magical power that Christians get that they can use to make themselves healthier, wealthier, and more intelligent. Some people think of faith as a kind of spiritual strength that can help them get promoted at their workplace, make a million dollars, or raise super-spiritual children without any effort.
Peter lived in a world where true believers did not think like that. They were treated very badly by everyone else, and some were being slaughtered for their faith. They were being set on fire to light Caesar’s parties. They were being beheaded. They were being sent to the arena, to be murdered by gladiators, or eaten by lions. It seems to me that if faith was something that you could use to overcome worldly distractions and be victorious over all your enemies, Peter had the perfect context in which to talk about that kind of faith. He could have told the believers he was writing to that if they wanted to keep from being persecuted and murdered by Jewish fundamentalists and Roman Nazis all they needed was more of this magic faith. Instead, this is the kind of thing we read in this letter:
• “This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials” (1:6).
• “Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:7).
• “But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken” (3:14).
• “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil” (3:17).
• “Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad” (4:12-13).
• “So then let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good” (4:19).
My point in bringing this up is that there are all kinds of “believers” in this world, and all kinds of “faith.” So, when we talk about faith I want to make it clear what we are not saying. We are not saying that we have found the super-drug that is going to make us impervious to the problems and trials that normal people face in this life.
Doctor Graham said “Mysterious as it appears to be, true faith and suffering go hand in hand. You can’t have the one without the other … it is difficult to understand that suffering is with God’s permission.”1
If you’ve found the kind of faith that avoids suffering, I’m glad for you, but I haven’t, and neither did doctor Graham, and neither did the apostle Peter. He lived in a real world, where God’s love for him did not mean that he was going to live above its problems. Peter – and all the other apostles except for John – were executed for their faith. But their faith was true, and I believe it was that true faith that Peter was talking about. It is quite possible that some of the people in this generation who call themselves Christians have never been introduced to that true faith. Today’s text gives the basic defining elements of it. Let’s review them, shall we?
God is the founder of true faith (18, 20).
As odd as it may seem, true biblical faith does not begin with the act of believing. It begins with the object of that belief. You can have the strongest faith in the world, but if you put that faith in a rock or a piece of wood, your faith is useless. That’s why Peter begins his faith talk not by asking his readers to look deep inside, but by asking them to look up. Faith works only if there is a powerful object of that faith.
The church’s faith object is its founder: almighty God, who set the processes of our eternal redemption and restoration in place. He did this by choosing his own Son and sending him to die in our place, as the ransom to buy us back from the consequences of our sin. Biblical faith begins with God.
Christ is the focus of true faith (18-19, 20).
The second basic element of biblical faith is also not something that we do, but something that was done for us. Christ’s death on the cross was essential. We could have had all the faith anyone has ever seen, and it would have been useless to save us. Sin had separated us from God’s favor and condemned us to experience his enmity and wrath. So, God in his love paid the sacrificial price for us. Jesus himself is described here as “the sinless, spotless lamb of God.” Suddenly, all those sacrifices under the old covenant make sense. They make sense not because God could ever really be appeased by an animal sacrifice. They make sense because they were pointing forward to the day when God himself would provide the sacrifice to bring atonement.
So, Peter tells his readers that those former sacrifices were prophecies and that they have now been shown their fulfillment. Biblical faith can save because God has paid the ransom, “the precious blood of Christ.”
The focus of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ, and he is enough. You haven’t even begun to express that faith if you are still expecting God to do something else for you before you will commit to him. Satan knows how to push your buttons, and he will keep pushing you as long as he thinks it is working. If you get into despair every time the road gets bumpy, he will keep you traveling on a bumpy road for the rest of your life. His goal is to get you to give up.
But what happens when you are traveling that bumpy road, and you look to Jesus? He traveled it first, didn’t he? He came to this planet for the very purpose of suffering, being defeated and killed – for you.
He is the focus of your faith, not your faith. So, it does not matter how much faith you have. All you need is a little tiny bit of faith – a mustard seed’s worth because it’s not the quantity of your faith that matters. It’s the sufficiency of the focus of your faith: Jesus Christ. Your weak, small, tiny, diminutive, teentsy-weentsy faith is enough to save you for eternity if it is focused on the amazing, miraculous grace of God and the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
The resurrection is the future of true faith (21).
Peter also tells us something about the future expectation of biblical faith. I think this is important for today because even Christians are often caught up in the wrong kind of hope. Listen to what Peter says about the Christian hope:
• “But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess” (3:14-15).
If you ask many average Christians today what their hope is, they will probably say something like “going to heaven when I die.” That would be the natural response that many would have to the question. The problem is, that response has absolutely nothing to do with what Peter had been talking about. Here is what Peter mentioned about the believer’s expectation in today’s text:
• “Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory” (1:21a).
The hope that Peter steered his readers to was not a hope of something happening at death. It was a hope of a resurrection. Just as God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, so he will raise us when Jesus returns. Just as Christ suffered once, but he is glorified now, so we might suffer now, but we will share his glory at his return. Peter told his readers that they can stand firm in their faith because the same God who raised Christ and glorified him also intends to do the same for us. So, even if we do suffer during this life, our destiny is sure. The fact that Jesus suffered and then was raised and glorified is all the proof we need. And, the little faith that we have is all the faith that we need, because it is faith in the God who raises the dead.
1 Graham, Billy. Who’s in Charge of a World That Suffers?: Trusting God in Difficult Circumstances. (Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group, 2021), p. 93.