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The Grace of God

Notes & Transcripts

Two weeks ago, my wife and I were in Maryland and Pennsylvania visiting family and friends. While we were there, I took the opportunity to research a little into my family’s background. I had always known that I had come from Methodist stock. My great great-grandfather was named Charles Wesley Walker after Charles Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist Church. But I discovered on this trip that his grand­father, a man named Christian Hoopman was especially devoted to Methodism. He was a brickmaker and builder by trade. In fact, at least two buildings that he constructed in the early 1800s are on the National Register of Historic Places in Harford County, Maryland. But he also donated the ground and built the church at which my ancestors worshiped for several generations. The same church still uses that building today — almost two hundred years later.

Now, lest you think that I have only Methodist blood in my veins, on my mother’s side of the family at about the same time there were several preachers who lived in the southern part of Virginia. In fact, my mother’s great-great-grandfather was named John Calvin Greer. Most of his brothers and sisters were given biblical names, like Isaac, Noah, Moses, Eli, Aquilla, Hannah and Elizabeth, but this one son was named after the reformer. Someday I would like to do more research into this part of the family.

But the one thing that impresses me in all of this is the grace that God shows to his people over the years. Not everyone was a believer. In fact, there were few, if any, believers for almost a hundred years, as far as I can tell. But then God, in his goodness, brought my mother to faith in Christ, and through her he saved me.

The Biblical Doctrine of Grace

This marvelous grace of God is what I want to look at today. In our text, the apostle Peter greeted his readers with an announcement of God’s grace and peace. He said, Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.

Some have defined God’s grace as the unmerited favor of God.  Others use the word grace as an acronym and say that grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. An Arminian with whom I spoke several years ago said that grace means that our whole salvation comes from God and nothing comes from ourselves. Each of these statements is correct as far as it goes, but they’re all missing one very important thing. Not one of them says that God gives his favor, riches and salvation to undeserving, condemned and miserable sinners. But we really do not understand the greatness of divine grace until we learn to loath the sin that it overcomes.

One of the greatest summaries of God’s grace in Scripture appears in Acts 16:14. Describing the conversion of Lydia, Luke wrote that the Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. Now, remember, that Lydia was a sinner just like everyone else. We don’t know much about her background, but it’s not hard to imagine that she may have engaged in all the pagan idolatry of her native Thyatira before she became a Jewish proselyte and then a Christian. But whatever her background was, Luke’s point is that she did not cause herself to hear the gospel. She heard the gospel only because of a prior act of God on her heart. The Lord himself gave her the desire to submit herself entirely to the apostolic message.

This morning’s text tells how God manifests his grace to his people. Peter informs us that each of the three persons of the glorious Trinity had a part in our salvation. The Father elected us unto eternal life. The Spirit of God sanctifies us. The Son sprinkles us with his precious blood. This work is God’s from beginning to end. Its success does not in any way depend on us. In fact, it runs counter to everything that we had desired in our unregenerate state. It overcomes all our natural hatred of God and our neighbor, and continues to work in us to make us more and more like Jesus Christ. This is real grace.

Elect According to Foreknowledge

The first part of this divine work is election, which he attributes to the first person of the Trinity. We are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. This does not mean that the Father alone elected us, but rather that work of election is preeminently assigned to him by emphasis, not by exclusion.

One thing that we have to understand here is that God’s election has specific individuals in mind. The Lord chose and set apart certain men, women and children to be the recipients of his favor. II Timothy 2:19 says, Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

Beloved, you and I do not know who belongs to the Lord and who doesn’t. Sometimes the Lord chooses people that we might pass over. My brother told this story recently about the time that he was eating in a certain restaurant when a biker gang drove up on their Harleys. Everyone of them looked the part of a typical biker: leather jackets covered with all kinds of emblems, torn jeans, long scraggly hair, and so forth. But when their meal came, they bowed their heads and joined together in a prayer of thanksgiving in the name of Jesus Christ. Who would ever have thought? And then we have the other side as well, viz., people who have made professions of faith and for years lived respectable, godly lives, only to walk away from the Lord in the end. Men can and will deceive us. Our own hearts sometimes make us believe things that are not so. But God cannot be deceived. He knows those who are his — every single one of them.

Another very important verse for the doctrine of election is Revelation 17:8 — And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. This verse clearly teaches that God has a book in which are written the names of those who will inherit eternal life. These people cannot worship the beast because their names are inscribed in this book. In fact, their names were written in it from the foundation of the world. So, it’s not just that God knows every single one of his elect. He also knows each of them eternally. Their names were written in the Book of Life before God made Adam and Eve or anything else. Long before Paul preached in Athens, Corinth and Rome, God had specific individuals set apart to be the recipients of his grace and favor. This is, no doubt, what Luke had in mind when he wrote, And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

At this point, we have to make a very important qualification so that we do not misunderstand what this means. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Philadelphia, you should take a tour of city hall. Not only is it the tallest building in Philadelphia, it also sits at the center of the intersection of two main streets: Broad and Market. When the weather is nice, the tour will take you all the way to the top of city hall, where you will discover two things: first, the statue of William Penn that looks so small from the ground is gigantic; and second, you can see for miles up and down Broad Street, which is supposedly the straightest road of its length anywhere in the world. And while you are looking down at the roads below, you see two cars that are about to collide. Their crash is inevitable, but there is nothing you can do about it. You have foreknowledge about something that can have only one outcome.

A lot of people think of God’s plan in the same way. He looks down the corridors of the future to see what men will do, and then he calls that his plan. He foresees that Euodia, Syntyche and Clement will believe, so he elects them unto salvation and writes their names in the Book of Life (Phil. 4:2–3).

The problems with this view of divine foreknowledge are many, but I will mention only two of them.

The first is that it doesn’t really answer the question. Men want to limit God’s foreknowledge because they don’t want to admit that their actions had been staked out in advance by someone other than themselves. Yet, they admit that the things that God foreknows are absolutely certain. God, in this view, may not determine the course of history, but someone does. In any case, the actions of man are not free. But the bigger problem behind this is that it assumes some force that is greater than God. It creates an idol out of man’s thoughts. This is contrary to all Scripture, for only the triune God possesses omniscience and absolute sovereignty. Only he has sufficient knowledge to map out a comprehensive plan for the entire universe.

The next problem is that the Bible nowhere represents God’s knowledge as conditional. He does not know because something else is true; he just knows. Or we could say that he knows because history is nothing more than the outworking of his own eternal pleasure. It is the regard or attention that he shows to his creation. This is especially true in election, where we see that God’s foreknowledge implies his will for specific individuals. Jacob and Esau had not yet been born when God announced that he loved one and hated the other (Rom. 9:12–13). They had had no opportunity to hear the gospel or to respond to it one way or the other. Yet, God chose Jacob and rejected Esau.

What does this say about foreknowledge and election? Paul explains it as follows: For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth  (Rom. 9:11). The choice is entirely God’s and God’s alone. His foreknowledge is not a mere prescience (knowing something before it happens), but a determination that what he knows will be so. Peter used the same word to describe the crucifixion in his sermon on Pentecost. He said that Jesus was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). In other words, God the Father’s election and foreknowledge are one and the same.

Sanctified by the Spirit

Next, Peter mentions the work of the third person of the Trinity, viz., sanctification or the setting apart of God’s chosen ones for his service. Reformed literature written over the last century and a half stresses that sanctification is that part of the Spirit’s work in which the believer is gradually made to conform to the image of Jesus Christ. We call this progressive sanctification. Older theologies, however, tended to apply this word more frequently to the entire range of the Spirit’s work toward the redeemed sinner, which is probably how Peter used it in today’s text.

Peter’s point is that the Spirit of God puts God’s choice and purpose into effect in the lives of his people. In other words, it is the Spirit’s work to give to the elect everything that Christ purchased for us. As Jesus said, He will receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you (John 16:14). This includes the Lord’s sovereign and irresistible call, the new birth, repentance and faith, growth in righteousness, and eventually everlasting glory.

This sanctifying work of the Spirit is irresistible. The apostle Paul implied as much when he asked the rhetorical question, Who hath resisted his will? (Rom. 9:19). But this does not mean that God makes us do something that we don’t want to do. We are not mere marionettes that God controls by pulling strings. Now, his control is far more intimate and extensive, for he controls not only our actions but also our desires. He first gives us the desire to be obedient and then he gives us the strength to follow through with it. Philippians 2:13 says, It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. The Lord not only works on us, according to the apostle, but also in us.

This means that our response to the gospel is a fruit of the Spirit’s sanctification, not the cause of it. Even here we have anything to offer God that merits his favor. With the apostle we ask, What hast thou that thou didst not receive? (I Cor. 4:7).

Because the Spirit of God makes us alive, he also makes us active in the service of Christ. Before this, we were passive. God the Father chose us without consulting us for our opinion on the matter. We had no input whatsoever, and we had no choice. Nor did we contribute anything to the satisfaction that Jesus Christ made for us on the cross. We were not there at the time, and we have nothing to add today. But when we come to the Spirit’s work, he requires that we do something. When the Spirit calls us to believe, we must believe. When he gives us repentance, we must turn away from our sins and pursue holiness, without which no man can see the Lord. When he gives us his sanctifying grace, we must do those good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). These works are truly ours, and we are responsible for them, because the Spirit gives them to us to do.

Further, we are not only responsible to do good works, but we should pursue them with enthusiasm. Paul told Titus that we should be zealous of good works because we have been redeemed from all iniquity and purified unto the Lord as a peculiar people (Tit. 2:14). Or to put it in the negative, we must not waste any of the Spirit’s grace.

The Blood of Jesus Christ

Finally, we turn to the work of the second person of the Trinity. The Father’s election and the Spirit’s sanctification result in obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.

The Bible uses many expressions to convey the fact that Jesus died only for the elect. Psalm 22 calls us his brethren (v. 22). Isaiah refers to believers as his children (8:18) and his seed (53:10). The angel told Joseph that Jesus would save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). And Jesus spoke of his people as the sheep in John 10 (vv. 11ff). The doctrine of limited atonement, as this is called, is also evident in our text. If obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ is the result of election and sanctification, then the blood of Christ cannot be efficacious to anyone apart from election and sanctification.

But to those who are elect, who have put their trust in the once-for-all atonement of Jesus Christ, there is tremendous power in his blood. The sprinkling that Peter refers to here is not justification, which is more properly part of the sanctification mentioned earlier, as the order of the phrases in our text proves, but rather the daily cleansing of our sin.[1] Peter wants us to understand that the blood of Christ has the power to bring us into obedience and submission to the Word of the living God. In the book of Exodus, after the Israelites affirmed their commitment to keep the covenant, saying, All that the LORD had said we will do, and be obedient, Moses took the blood that was in the basins and sprinkled it on them, saying, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words (Exod. 24:7–8). He sprinkled the blood on the people to show them that God’s grace, when fully relied upon, will give us strength to honor our commitment to righteousness.

However, there is a big difference between the sprinkling of blood in Exodus and the sprinkling of Christ’s blood in the New Testament. The only time that the whole congregation of the Israelites was sprinkled with blood was at the inauguration of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 24. Other sprinklings were used for specific things, but this was the only time that the people as a whole were sprinkled. But in the New Testament the blood of Christ is constantly washing away our sins. When John speaks to this in his first epistle, he uses the present tense to highlight the fact that this is an ongoing operation. He wrote, But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:7, 9).

The fact that believers have been chosen in order to be obedient and sprinkled by the blood of Jesus Christ is one of Peter’s major themes. It reminds us of what God has done for us and then calls us to obedience on that basis. It also assures us that we can live righteously before God because the power to do so is not in ourselves, but in the cleansing, crimson tide that flowed out of our Savior’s wounds. Therefore, you should not be hesitant about doing the Lord’s will, but aggressive.

Peter was a man who had to learn these things the hard way. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, his impetuosity often stood in the way of his learning. When Jesus announced that he had to go to Jerusalem to die, Peter brazenly rebuked him (Mark 8:31–33). And when Jesus declared that his disciples would be offended by his death, he was the first to say, If I should die with thee, I will not deny the in any wise (Mark 14:27–31).

After the Lord’s resurrection, Peter confessed his love for him in the weakest terms and expressed some jealousy toward John, whom Jesus seemed to treat differently than the rest (John 21:15–23). His weakness turned into boldness when the Spirit descended upon him on the day of Pentecost, but this did not preempt occasional displays of weakness, such as Paul reports in the second chapter of Galatians (vv. 11ff.).

Little by little, Peter learned not to trust his arm of flesh, but to put his faith entirely in the Son of God. He came to appreciate the wonder of God’s grace in the Father’s election, the Spirit’s sanctification and the sprinkling of Christ’s blood . It was only as he truly began to value what God had done for him that he could greet the church with the words, Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.

Having learned the hard way, he wrote to you so that you might benefit from his lessons. Look at what he wrote beginning in verse 13: Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy (I Pet. 1:13–16).

May the wonderful grace of God be evident in the lives of each and every one of us! Amen.


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[1] The apostle Paul followed a similar order in II Thess. 2:13. In both the order is temporal: God chooses who will be in his kingdom, he brings us in by the power of the Spirit, and as a result we believe the truth and seek to live in accord with his laws.

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