Doctrine is not (or should not be) a strictly intellectual, academic, cerebral thing. It should be viewed as the root and foundation of life. It should be that which guides us and informs our decisions. It should create the framework in which we place and understand ourselves, God, His world, and His plan. In short, we must never view our lives or choices independently of anything. The truth God teaches in His Word must be the reference point, and there is nothing more practical than how we live and feel. Doctrine, then, should inform and be allowed to change our perspective, our emotions, and (if God wills), even our circumstances. Peter has just finished extolling the glory and security of God’s electing grace for suffering believers, and now he continues his encouragement by expounding two more doctrines: regeneration (vv. 3-4) and preservation (vv. 5-9). Because this is a continuation from an earlier message, my outline will pick up from where it left off.
B. Regeneration (vv. 3-4)
Regeneration, simply defined, is the sovereign, monergistic (only one actor or effecter) impartation of spiritual life to the spiritually dead. It is God birthing the sinner into new, spiritual life. Where he was once dead to God, hostile to His will, and in love with self and the satisfaction of sinful pleasures, he has a new governing principle of the soul—towards life, righteousness and the glory and authority of God. He holds within himself a microcosm and down payment of the coming new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; compare Ephesians 1:14 with 5:5, where the relationship between the Holy Spirit as the down payment of our inheritance and the kingdom as the inheritance is displayed; the Spirit brings to our present experience aspects of the coming kingdom, such that the kingdom itself is present in this way). He has the very life of God in his soul—God, where he was once home to Satan and rebellion and enmity (Rom. 8:7-8).
The debate over who initiates or causes regeneration goes back centuries. The Bible appears very clear that God is sovereign and acts alone in regeneration; we do not cause it and it is not the result of our faith (many teach we believe and are then born again). John 1:12 says that regeneration is not a result of man’s swill. While faith is a free gift of God (Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29), we exercise our will in choosing and committing to Christ. One must truly wonder how a spiritually dead person can so use their will! Our deadness is not the deadness of inactivity, but a deadness of insensitivity created by hostility. Our minds and hearts are calloused towards the things of God (Eph. 4:17-19), and we were enslaved to lusts and passions (Tit. 3:3), blind to the glory of God in Christ (2 Cor. 4:4), were impenitent and hardened (Rom. 2:5), raged against God’s person and authority (Prov. 19:3; cf. Psa. 2:2-3), had a perverted heart and way (Prov. 12:8, 14:20), did not receive the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14), pursued our own way (Isa. 53:6), and in our flesh dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). Can this dead person, this God-hating person, choose Christ? Perhaps we shall argue for some form of prevenient grace, as Arminians and some softer Calvinists do. But where is such grace taught in Scripture? Is not God’s grace always effectual in salvation? In other words, does God give “empowering” grace to one who will fail to use it to come to Christ? (This is like sidestepping God’s effectual calling/drawing by saying God calls everyone. There is a universal call, but it must be distinguished from a call that accomplishes what it intends—namely, a call that intends salvation, and always infallibly secures it.) No indeed! God imparts the new birth, and instantaneously in response (not months or years later, as some have taught) we cry out in faith and repentance. God must remove the stony heart and give us a soft heart that sees and is irresistibly, lovingly attracted and drawn to Him as truly wonderful, beautiful, glorious, and precious. When we see Him as such, we cry out for rescue, and God does not lie in His promise to save.
What motivates God to do this? Peter tells us it is his “great mercy” (v. 5); Paul highlights God’s pursuing, sovereign love (Eph. 2:4). The combination is interesting, as it evokes the OT concept of lovingkindness—God’s loyal and committed devotion, love for, and blessings and provision for His exclusive covenant people. It is this distinctive commitment from the depths of God’s heart that motivates Him to do all He must to establish and sustain a relationship with those whom He loves. God will have a new humanity to whom He will fully display His glory, and who will see it as glorious. Because we are helpless and deserve death and condemnation, God’s motive is mercy. Because we are unlovely and unlovable and only God is strong enough and good enough to make us both, the motive is love. Love, mercy, and grace combine to be the covenant bond that ties OT and NT saints together with one great and glorious Savior God.
What is the purpose of our new birth? There are many, but Peter highlights two.
A living hope
Because we are infallibly and eternally alive, granted by sheer grace the very life of God Himself indwelling our souls, it makes sense that our hope would be living. Because hope is not a person, calling it “living” might sound odd at first. But it makes sense; it is sourced in our new life, it is active and at work and purposeful (not dead or dormant), and it chiefly concerns the fullness of life to be revealed in the future when Christ returns. “Hope,” as almost always used in the NT, refers to a confident expectation of future good, not a wish or a mere possibility. Because of this, “living hope” probably also has reference to a hope that gives/sustains life and which is the realm where we live.
An eternal inheritance
The believer’s inheritance is difficult to define. It is first and foremost God, but it is also heaven, eternal life, all of God’s blessings material and spiritual, God’s work in our lives, sanctification, the body of Christ, answered prayer, overflowing abundance and restoration in everything on the new earth, spiritual gifts, and our position of reward and service in the future kingdom. Here, inheritance likely refers to our hope of heaven and our spiritual life. Because these are sourced where God is and are His gracious and sovereign gifts, they are characterized by four wonderful terms. “Imperishable” means permanent and unable to be spoiled; “undefiled” means incapable of corruption, decay, pollution or contamination; “will not fade away” literally means “unwilting” and refers to the ongoing vigor and vitality of our inheritance; and “reserved” here means to attentively or watchfully guard something precious, so as to protect it.
The God who graciously and sovereignly gave us life promises to permanently protect our access to everything He purchased for us with blood, the greatest and highest of which is Himself.
C. Preservation (vv. 5-9)
There are two great doctrines of preservation in Scripture, both of which are necessary to the success of God’s work in the world. The first is the preservation of Scripture; God promises the written text of His Word (not the papyrus or vellum pages, but the words themselves), will be protected and intact so God’s people always have access to it (Isa. 40:8, 59:21; Psa. 12:6-7, 119:89, 152, 160; Matt. 5:18, 24:35; Jn. 10:35; 1 Pet. 1:23-25). This preservation does not occur in only one manuscript, text type, printed Greek/Hebrew text, or translation, but in their totality. Second, because the life-giving Scriptures have been preserved, God’s people can have assurance of their preservation—God’s infallible keeping work to protect them from unbelief and guide them safely to heaven and eternal blessing.
This second preservation has two sides. One is our perseverance. The Bible is clear that we must persevere in faith and holiness if we are to enter heaven (Col. 1:22-23; Matt. 16:24-27, 24:12-13; Luke 18:1-8; Jn. 13:35; Rom. 2:5-10, 8:3-17; 1 Cor. 9:24-27, 10:1-14; 1 Thess. 3:1-8, 12-13, 5:1-10; James 1:12, 2:1-26, 4:4-10, 5:7-11; 2 Tim. 2:11-13; 2 Pet. 1:2-11; Heb. 3:12-13, 6:11-12, 10:19-39, 12:14; Jude 21-24; Rev. 2:7, 11, 16-17, 25-26, 3:4-5, 10-12, 19-21, 14:12, 16:15, 22:11-15). Our eternal security is not passive or automatic. While true Christians are eternally secure and can never be lost, they are not kept apart from their perseverance. This is our responsibility.
The other side is God’s preserving and protection of us so that we are eternally secure. Besides the new covenant promise of God putting the fear of Him into our hearts that we will not turn from Him (Jer. 32:40), God promises to keep us saved, and human will cannot overrule omnipotence (John 5:24, 6:37-40, 10:28-29, 17:11-12; Rom. 8:29-30, 38-39; 2 Cor. 5:4-5; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:24, 2 Tim. 1:12, 4:18; 1 John 5:18; Jude 1, 24; Rev. 3:5). Because of our indwelling corruption, were it not for God keeping us saved, we would overrule our new nature and commit apostasy, likely with a massive flourish for emphasis. But God keeps. Recall that Peter was writing to persecuted, suffering believers, who were likely fearful their faith would fail and they would reject the Lord. Peter assures them it is not possible, for God constantly protects them. It is interesting that Peter says they are protected (God’s side) through faith (our side). We must keep believing, but God promises to sustain our faith. He gives us what we need to endure the ravages of a fallen world and our own flesh. God keeps us through faith, but He also keeps our faith. The protection is unto a goal: “the salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” This is final salvation, ultimately referring to final glorification in heaven. God preserves us to the ending point of His purpose for us. No one drops out; no one slips through His sovereign fingers.
Peter reassures them that the purpose of their trials is to prove their faith genuine, for true faith cannot fail to ultimately endure (vv. 6-7). Verse 8 describes the characteristics of true faith—sacrificial and all-encompassing love for Christ; persevering trust in and allegiance to His person and Word; and unspeakable joy in Him and His every promise. Love and faith lead to joy, and these both bring about and flow from the present laying hold of our salvation (a present, not just future, reality).
The outcome of our faith is salvation in every area of life, and from everything bad—if not in this life, then the next. The God who chose us, gave us life, and gave us faith not merely gives us everything else good, but uses all the sheer dominion of His omnipotence to ensure this full salvation will be irrevocably ours.