Identity matters - 1 Peter 1:1-2

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 18th April 2021.

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1 Peter 1 v 1-2 “Identity Matters”

Intro: In the part of Edinburgh where my sister and her husband used to live, there was a man who walked the streets dressed up as a cowboy. Big white hat, fancy boots and 2 toy guns that he was always ready to pull out of their holster and twirl around his fingers. How seriously do you think the people around treated him? Correct – not seriously at all. He wasn’t a cowboy, he really had no idea at all what actually made a cowboy tick, but he called himself a cowboy and tried his best to look the part. In the same part of Edinburgh there is a football team called Hibs and everyone who lives around that ground is passionate about them. If you support the other big team in Edinburgh, Hearts, you cover up your Hearts top as you walk through Leith. The cowboy that you can see across the street might get people rolling their eyes, but the Hearts top that you have got on will get them balling their fists.

This letter from Peter to an assortment of believers and local churches in modern day Turkey has got the theme of identity running all the way through it. Christians have a special identity that should lead them to live special lives that will result in special (and unfortunate) treatment from the world around. As we begin with verses 1 and 2 today and see both the incredible privilege of being a Christian as well as the incredible challenge that it brings, I pray that we will avoid at all costs the mistake of the Edinburgh cowboy and the temptation of the Edinburgh football fan. We want to be a local church that know for certain who we really are and a local church who refuse to hide our identity even in a world full of opposition and aggression.   


1) The incredible privilege of being a Christian

As Peter describes the incredible privilege of being a Christian we are going to look at a who, a how and a why question. We start with the who. Who is Peter? He is an apostle of Jesus Christ. That is an eye-witness of the risen Jesus who has been given a particular role by Jesus. Peter’s role is to speak words that have Jesus’ authority, words that testify to the identity and work of Jesus, gospel words that will build the church. This would be an amazing privilege for any human being and should excite us all as we realise that the almighty creator God who has no need of us still uses little people to do great things.

But it gets even more wonderful when we consider the gospel accounts of Peter’s life and relationship with Jesus. This Peter is the same Peter who promised to follow Jesus even to death but then fell asleep at Jesus’ most needy moment and ended up broken and denying that he even knew Jesus. But this is the power of the gospel – Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished everything that failed sinners need to be changed into secure saints. When Jesus returned to his Father in heaven he sent His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ to dwell within his people and it is this presence of Jesus within Peter that has brought him from his lowest point into this unique and vital job of apostle. Peter isn’t wearing some sort of costume here – he isn’t dressed up as an apostle (like that cowboy), no, the gospel of Jesus Christ has done to him what it does to people. It has transformed him so that he belongs to God and is useful to God. Identity and purpose are all through this letter.  

That’s who Peter is so who are they? Who are the recipients of Peter’s letter? They are no less privileged. Peter calls these Christians (probably mostly from Gentile backgrounds) “God’s elect …. chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Rather than getting all tied up in how God’s sovereign choice of people works and how it relates to a person’s response of repentance and faith, what this truth should primarily do for every individual Christian and for the whole church family is to lead us to thankful rejoicing (secure!). There is no greater treasure, privilege or prize in the whole of creation than being chosen by the Triune God to be blessed with the salvation that he has accomplished for us, despite our sin and rebellion.    

In his love and kindness he has always chosen people to bless, from Adam and Eve onward all the way through human history, and the people have never ever deserved it. Quite the opposite actually; as sinners the only thing we do deserve from God is his holy judgement, condemnation and wrath. But these Christians in Turkey in the first century AD, and the Christians sitting in CC Riverside this morning in 2021, we too aren’t just dressing up like Christians and hoping to pass ourselves off as Christians. Instead, through the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, God has met us when we were still in our sin and rebellion, and as his chosen people he has forgiven our sin and transformed our very natures. Those of us today who have responded to the gospel, who have accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour, we both belong to God and have been changed by God because we have been chosen by God. What a God! What security! (playground and choosing)

That is who they are (and who we are) but the next question with a brilliant God-glorifying answer is how? How can rebels really become God’s people? The answer is something infinitely greater than what many people in the estates around us might say to that question – we cannot become God’s people by trying to be good, or by a large commitment to any religion. If that is what you have been trying to do then the best you can hope for is to look like the Edinburgh cowboy in God’s sight. You won’t fool him. Salvation is no small thing. The changing of a person from being dead in their sin to being alive in Christ is a work of such scale and difficulty that the whole of the Trinity is involved – “To God’s elect … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with is blood.”

The Father chooses, the Son goes to the cross and pours out his blood so that a people can be cleansed from sin (Gentiles and covenant), and the Spirit sanctifies (that means changing both our position before God as well as our very nature, changing our heart). God is at work in every aspect of salvation and no one but the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, could accomplish such full and free salvation for a chosen people (expecting your good works or any religion to be able to do the same job is far more ridiculous than expecting a toddler to complete a heart transplant operation – salvation cannot accomplished by anyone but the one true God!) The gospel is unique mind-blowing news about the almighty God’s most incredible triumph – a people can belong to God and be utterly changed all because of what He has done that we couldn’t.

Who are they? God’s chosen people. How are they? By the work of the Trinity in every aspect of salvation, planning it, accomplishing it, and applying it. Why? Why are they? The whole bible demonstrates again and again (here too) that God chooses a people to bless based on His righteous and loving character and not based on the people’s merits or achievements. He chooses to make sinners into his people both simply because he loves and because he wants to demonstrate his glory in their lives. But actually, these are 2 sides of the same coin anyway since God’s glory and love are inseparable. So in these verses we read that people are chosen so that God can “sprinkle them with Jesus’ blood” (he chooses so he can save) and they are chosen “for obedience to Jesus Christ” (so that Jesus can be proclaimed their Lord and Saviour).   

If you belong to Jesus, God has great reason for saving you. You are more cosmically significant than Kings and Princes and Presidents and CEO’s and the rich and the famous (except the Christian ones – you are equal with them). You, continuing to walk with faith in Jesus’ blood and continuing to walk in submission and obedience to Jesus as your Lord, you are showing the world and the heavens that God is the God of love and glory. Christian young people going into School, College or University – God has chosen you so he can show your friends and teachers and fellow students that he loves and saves and changes normal sinners. Christian parents – God has chosen you so he can show your friends and family and neighbours that God loves and saves and changes normal sinners.

Christians working and retired, Christian singles and couples and widows and widowers, Christian men, women and children of CC Riverside, God has chosen you so that he can show this area of Hull and the world around that God loves and saves and changes normal sinners. Each persecuted Christian we have never heard of in the open doors world watchlist countries has been chosen by God to show the people all around them including their opponents and persecutors and even captors that God loves and saves and changes normal sinners. Who? God’s chosen people. How? From start to finish all by the work of the Triune God. Why? To show the whole universe God’s love and glory. What an incredible privilege it is to be a Christian.  


2) The incredible challenge of being a Christian


Having said all of that we come to the key need for this letter. Have you ever thought how wonderful it would be if when we became a Christian we immediately got to go to heaven? If there were no sin and curse on this world then belonging to God would only be a privilege. And one day, when God makes all things new, we will only know the joy and delight of belonging to him forever. But until then, and as the persecuted church around the world especially testifies to right now, with the awesome privilege comes the incredible challenge of being a Christian. In this letter Peter will talk seriously about suffering as a Christian and that is because along with the who, how and why, there is also a where?

Where are we as God’s people in this world? Verse 1 again; “To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces.” We are on foreign soil. We are not from around here. We are strangers, outsiders, our home is elsewhere, and it always will be until Jesus returns. The history of the people of Israel meant that they were very familiar with being scattered, but even in the brief history of the church at the point where Peter is writing we know that after Stephen’s death in Acts 8 the believers were scattered out from Jerusalem. In Acts 8 v 4 we see that this scattering was actually a very good thing; “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” It is actually right for followers of Jesus to feel like a scattered people, strangers in a world that is hostile.

After all, we have been and are being dramatically changed by the Spirit of Jesus Christ so that we are less like those around us and more like Jesus himself. What did the world do to Jesus? They rejected him, they treated him as an outsider and they killed him as if he were an exile. If Christians go about living out their true identity in this world then there will be no escaping this reality of being outsiders. Scattered exiles are going to face a very difficult time. We will come to spend more time on this as we go through 1 Peter but what I want to set clearly before us today is the challenge to avoid being like that Edinburgh football fan that we started with, hiding his colours because of fear. Too many of us, having been dramatically changed by the gospel but now living in a culture that is getting more hostile and scornful, too many of us are hiding who we really are, trying to fit in, giving in to the temptation to stay under the radar.

But this is so sad and so wrong – God’s deep love and awesome glory deserve and demand to be proclaimed and demonstrated to the nations and he has chosen us for this purpose. The people around you this week must see and hear from you that God is full of love and glory. They must get the chance to do business with Jesus before they waste their lives and before they stand in front of God for judgement. Don’t hide who you are, either by your actions or your words. Don’t keep your head down and your mouth shut.  Get your head up and filled with the confidence that comes from being a child of the King, point others to that king and live your whole life as worship before that king. What a challenge it is to be a Christian in this post-Christian society.   



Are you sitting thinking right now “I am not up to that challenge”? Thinking, “that’s ok for him to say but he doesn’t know my family, my workmates, my friends, my teachers, my neighbours, my situation. That’s ok for the strong Christians here to say but I am so weak.” Look, the truth is this – none of us here are somehow up to this task. Nobody in the CC Network or in AMiE can hope to be strong enough to live genuine Christian lives in this foreign land. The who, how, why and where mean the challenge is such a lofty one. But brothers and sisters, there is a what that means every one of us can live lives of obedience and courage and sacrifice even in the glare of persecution. If you are a Christian, you can live a Christian, a Christ-like life. And it is because of what we have.

Since the Holy Spirit lives in us and sanctifies us, Peter can say to these believers at the end of verse 2; “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” We will feel like exiles but we are not alone. We have God with us and we have the church family around us. We have infinite grace and peace from God.

  • Grace and peace that can allow you to speak up when the temptation would be to go quiet
  • Grace and peace that will allow you to bear well the scorn and abuse you might get for going God’s way in a situation
  • Grace and peace that when you do fail will remind you that God forgives and changes and puts you back on the road of obedience


We have Grace and Peace in abundance from God. And this is what is going to keep us strange saints safe until the day when we aren’t scattered strangers and exiles anymore but instead gathered citizens of the new creation in God’s presence and knowing only grace and peace and joy and glory and love forever.




1 Peter 1 v 1-2 “Identity Matters”

Intro: The Edinburgh Cowboy and the Edinburgh Football Fan



1) The incredible privilege of being a Christian

a) Who?

-    Is Peter?


The power of the gospel turns a failure into an apostle.



  • Are they?


God’s elect, chosen people.



b) How?

“chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with is blood.”



Salvation is so great it requires the work of the whole Trinity


c) Why?


God has saved youbecause he loves you and because he wants to demonstrate his glory through you.



God loves, saves and changes normal sinners.



2) The incredible challenge of being a Christian

d) Where?

“To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces.”



Scattered exiles are going to face a very difficult time:

But we must not hide our colours, we must not hide God’s love and glory in Jesus.




e) What?

“Grace and peace be yours in abundance.”


One day scattered exiles will become gathered citizens!


1 Peter 1 v 1-2 “Identity Matters” Home Group Questions

1) Do you ever feel like you are just ‘dressing up’ like a Christian? When are you tempted to ‘hide your colours as a Christian’?


2) Why is it surprising that Peter can be called an apostle of Jesus Christ? Why is it surprising that the Christians in Turkey that Peter is writing to can be called ‘God’s elect’? Why then should we not be surprised that God has chosen people like you and me?


3) How does this passage explain the work that has happened for sinners to become God’s people? What should this do for our security as Christians and what impact should it have on our witness to the people around us?


4) ‘God loves, saves, and changes normal sinners.’ How does this truth help us to see the great purpose the glorious loving God has in choosing each one of us and placing us in our individual situations?


5) Why does our special position as God’s chosen people inevitably mean we will face opposition in this world? What confidence can the end of verse 2 give us as we live in this world waiting for our true home?

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