Rejoice in your inheritance
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Pet. 1:3-5
What Peter does here is to show them that what God has promised them is infinitely better than anything that this world can offer. It is the fruit of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, sealing his redemptive work with victory over death. As a result of this, we are, according to the mercy of the Lord, “born again to a living hope” (3, ESV). I don’t think I really understood what this meant until just the other day. Perhaps I am just dull. I guess when I read “living hope” I just understood that to mean a vibrant, exuberant hope. And probably that is included in the meaning. But the fact that our hope is “living” also surely means that it is growing. For it is the property of living things that they grow. This stands in stark contrast with the things of this world. We may start off having bright hope in something, like a new political party, or a new job, or a new friend, or a new church. But then over time we begin to learn that there is nothing in this world that is without fault and failures. Our hopes diminish over time, or at least become more damped over time. With the Christian hope, it is the opposite. It grows, because this hope does not make one ashamed (Rom. 5:5). Those who hope is in Christ will never be disappointed.
What is the content of this hope? Peter tells us: “to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (4-5). Here Peter gets at the heart of that grace that is to be brought at the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of history. He tells us five things about it.
First, it is an inheritance. Canaan was described as Israel’s inheritance. But this pointed to the greater inheritance that we have in Christ. An inheritance is not something that we obtain because we saved up enough money for it. An inheritance is something bequeathed, something given. Israel certainly didn’t deserve the land of Canaan. It was nevertheless given to them because God had promised it to Abraham. In the same way, we don’t obtain heaven because we deserve it. It is bequeathed to us by grace. For that reason, our inheriting it does not depend upon us but upon the grace of God that gives it (cf. Eph. 1:11).
Second, it is incorruptible. This again stands in stark contrast to everything in this world. Everything here ultimately disintegrates. People die. Machines break down. Flowers fade. Houses fall down. Governments crumble. Stock markets crash. But the kingdom of God endures forever. It is imperishable. The gates of hell will never prevail against it.
Third, it is undefiled. I suppose that imperishable is not necessarily desirable on its own. But this inheritance is also undefiled. That is, everything that might cause it to become stained with sin is absent from it. Remember that everything in this world that is bad – all the pain and suffering and injustice – ultimately comes from the fact that sin is now part of the warp and woof of this world. That is all gone in the age to come. There is therefore nothing undesirable in that land. It is pristine and lovely in its holiness. “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13, ESV).
Fourth, it is unfading. That is to say, it can not only never be destroyed, but its pristine glory will never fade either.
Finally, it is kept in heaven for you. These are two of my favorite verses in the New Testament (4-5). This is not like a hotel reservation, which completely depends on you getting there on time. Rather, not only is heaven kept for us, but we ourselves are kept, not by our own feeble efforts, but by the very power of God. This is one of the reasons why I get upset when I hear people downplay the final perseverance of the saints. It borders on blasphemy, because it basically says that God’s power is insufficient to keep God’s people in faith to the very end. Grudem comments that the word can mean “both ‘kept from escaping’ and ‘protected from attack’, and perhaps both kinds of guarding are intended here: God is preserving believers from escaping out of his kingdom, and he is protecting them from external attacks.”
But this is not apart from faith: we are kept by God’s power, yes, but it is through faith. We must preserve this balance. There is no hope for those who abandon the faith. That is because those who are kept by God’s power are not kept apart from faith, but through faith. This is why the phrase “the perseverance of the saints” is better than the “eternal security of the believer” or even “the preservation of the saints.” Both of the latter descriptions are helpful, but the perseverance underlines the fact that we are secure and preserved by God as we persevere in the faith.
But even our faith is supported by our faithful God. We must never imagine that our faith depends solely upon our own fickle resources. We are ultimately kept by God’s unwavering, unstoppable power. We could never be more secure. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.” (Jn. 10:27-29).
What Peter is doing here is to show us that the inheritance that is ours through Christ is both incomparable and infinitely desirable. His readers had already found it so: “In this [inheritance] you rejoice” (6). This is what Christ came to purchase for us. He did not come to give us this world, but the world to come. This does not mean, of course, that believers can’t be successful here. But that is not the promise, and it certainly should not be what our hope is in. Those who are rich in this world are exhorted to “be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Tim. 6:17-19).