The following is a lightly edited transcript.
At the age of 69, I need the word of God in my mind and in my heart daily more than I ever have — more than when I was 19 or 39 or 59. Psalm 119:9, 11: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. . . . I have stored up, I have treasured up, I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Let me ask: How do you keep from sinning each day? What’s your strategy to make war on your old or young, sinful heart? What’s your strategy? How do you go about killing sin? Or to put it positively, what’s your strategy for day by day maintaining a living passion for Jesus?
Here’s one biblical strategy. Second Corinthians 3:18 goes like this: “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed into his image from one degree of glory to the next. Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed into his likeness.” You are changed into a sin-fighting, Christlike person by seeing him.
If that’s the strategy, where do you see him? How do you fix your gaze on him? If that’s the strategy, if that’s the way it works, if you get changed by watching him, looking at him steadily, beholding his glory so that it starts to go in you and change you, where do you see him? There is one answer: the word. First Samuel 3:21: “The Lord appeared to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” That’s an amazing statement. The Lord appeared to you. The Lord will appear to you by the word of the Lord.
I know of no other way to live the Christian life than to store up his word so that all day long, every day, the Holy Spirit has something to set on fire when he touches it. The word blazes with Christ and in the sight of his glory. And you see him as preferable to pornography. You see him preferable to money and power and fame. You see him, and he’s preferable. He’s infinitely valuable. Why? Because a word has been touched by the Holy Spirit. It has flamed with his appearance in your heart, and you have become more like him.
If that’s the key to living the Christian life — to fighting sin — to having a passion for Jesus, to making a difference in the world, then we need the word of God.
First Peter 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to his great and mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Now, the focus of this message is on that phrase: living hope. “According his great mercy . . . he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection from the dead.” Peter assumes every Christian has been born again, and he assumes that everyone who has been born again has a living hope. If you’re a Christian, you’ve been born again, that’s how you got to be a Christian, even if you can’t remember it.
You know you’re alive today not because you have birth certificate, right? I’m breathing. I love him. I am alive. You don’t need to remember how you got into that glory, but everybody who is a Christian has been born of God again from the first time and have a living hope. We have been born again unto a living hope. If you’re a Christian, you’ve been born again. If you’re a Christian, you have a living hope. I have three questions about the living hope that I think the text answers.
I want you all believers to know your living hope. Where did it come from? What’s the basis of it? That’s the first question. What’s the basis of your living hope? Second question, what is the future experience of this living hope that we are hoping for, what’s coming? Third, since it’s a hope now, and I’ve been born now, what is the present experience like of having a living hope? Those are my three questions. What’s the basis of it? What’s the future explain of it? What’s the present experience of it?
I am assuming, as we go to this first question now — What is the basis of your living hope? — that Peter wants you to know that. I’m assuming he wants you to know. Here’s why I assume that. There are three answers given to that question in verse 3. I assume he wants you to ask the question and answer it since he gives the answers in verse 3. And the other reason is that he says we are to always be ready to give an answer or a defense to those who ask a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). Can you do that?
You’re walking out, somebody puts up a microphone. They’re doing a little Easter NPR interview of various worshipers, this is all about hope, right? Why do you have hope? It’s in your face now. Can you do that? Would you do that? I would like you to be able to do that when we’re done. That’s why we’re asking, What’s the basis of your hope? Peter wants you to know for your own soul, and he wants you then to be able to talk about it with other people. What’s the answer to the question, what’s the basis of your hope? Let me just name them first, so you see them right there in verse three.
The first basis of your hope is new birth. It says we were born again to a living hope — born to a living hope. The hope started in the birth. The hope wasn’t there before the birth. This event called the new birth gives rise to the hope. That’s number one.
Second answer: God’s great mercy. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).
Third, Christ’s resurrection. Notice the word “through.” “He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” No resurrection, no new birth. No new birth, no hope. Therefore, no resurrection, no hope.
Now, we have three statements of where your hope is resting. What’s the basis of it? You were born again, underneath your new birth is great mercy from God, and he did it through the resurrection from the dead.
Let’s think about each of those for just a moment. Let’s start with mercy because it’s where everything starts. When you think about your hope and new birth resting on great mercy, how does that affect you? It should have a very humbling effect and a very strengthening effect. Mercy: that means there is not a person in this room or anywhere else who deserves to be born again or to have hope. You do not deserve a living hope. It came from mercy.
A neighborhood fundraiser for the band at the school rings your doorbell. Kids got boxes full of candy bars, and they’re going to charge you two dollars for their candy bars because they’re raising money for their school. And they say, “Would you help us raise money? Two dollars for the candy bar.” You take a candy bar out, and give the kid two dollars. Zero mercy has happened there, but if you look with compassion upon these kids trying to raise money for their band and you take one candy bar and give them fifteen dollars, that’s called mercy. They don’t deserve thirteen extra dollars. You just feel generous. It’s who you became at that moment.
That’s God towards us. You are born again not because of there’s a sticker price on you and he paid it. He didn’t. He went infinitely beyond the sticker price. There was no sticker price. You are deficit. The meaning of “by great mercy” means you’ve been born unto hope, which further means all your hope is by mercy — all your hope and new birth are by underserved kindness, which should fill you with a sense of great confidence. I didn’t earn this. It was free. That’s what he’s like.
I’m just thinking of your church and what a sweet thing it is when a church is filled with people who know everything they have is from mercy. It changes the way you talk. It changes the way you treat each other. It changes everything around the dinner table. It changes everything in board meetings. It changes everything in worship services when everybody looks at everybody else saying, “I don’t deserve anything. I don’t deserve your friendship. I don’t deserve you to be nice to me. I don’t deserve the sweetness of this worship. I don’t deserve a family of believers, I don’t deserve life, and I don’t deserve breath. Everything I have, especially my living hope, is free from mercy.” It changes everything.
Second, we are born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. How does that work? How does the new birth come about through the resurrection? The new birth is something that happens in here. The resurrection is a historical event 2,000 years ago. What does he mean? I think it works like this. When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, invades us to cause us to be born, a new person is coming into being.
What he does is unite us to Christ. Romans 6:5: “If we have been united to him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united to him in a resurrection like his.” The Holy Spirit does this miracle. He unites so that the death that Christ experienced is counted as my death. My debt is paid. My punishment is experienced. I’ve been to hell and back. It’s over. I don’t have any judgment in front of me. His death counts for me, and I’m united to his life.
“My life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1). In union with Christ, the indestructible life that can never die again is mine — a living hope. I think that’s how it works. The new birth is the point where that union happens. You become united to Christ, his death counts for yours, no more sin. His life counts for yours so that you are with him forever in an indestructible life.
Now let’s bore in a little further on the new birth. Here’s a word about the new birth. It says, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope.” Everything I just described about the new birth is subconscious. You can’t see the miracle of that mysterious union of your soul with Christ. That doesn’t feel any particular way. It just happened. That was it, and put your finger on it. My question is: What did you experience in the new birth? What did you feel? What’s it like to be born again?
First Peter 3:15: “Always be ready to make a defense, to give an answer to the one who asked you for the reason for the hope that is in you,” and one of the reasons is new birth. What are you going to say to them? They’re going to say, “What’s the difference? What happened? Once upon a time, you didn’t have the least interest in Jesus. You didn’t care about religion. You were not a religious person. Now, you’re one of these weirdos. You sing, you read your Bible, and you don’t sleep around anymore. What happened? What did you experience? Talk to me about it. I want to understand what happened.”
Here’s an illustration. The real question is once you were doubtful and disinterested, and now, you’ve got a conviction that you could die for. What happened? In Kenya at Garissa University, terrorists came early in the morning on and they killed 147 students. If you read behind the headlines, you know they were asking, as they went from dorm room to dorm room, are you a Christian or are you a Muslim? The Christians were shot dead immediately. Now, we live in the Twin Cities, which has been pretty fertile recruiting ground for terrorists, which means that it is totally within the realm of possibility that before I’m done, someone would just walk right in there and shoot me dead, stand in front of you, said, “Don’t move,” and then just walk down the aisles and say, “Are you a Christian?”
So my question is where did you get the conviction that at that moment, you would not waver when they ask. Do you have that conviction? This is what the new birth is about. Here’s what happens in the new birth that you experience. The person has got the microphone out there in your face, or some friend tomorrow says, “What did you do yesterday? It was Easter. What does Easter mean to you?”
They want to know a reason for the hope that is in you. And you would say something like this: “I know that, once upon a time, it all seemed quite boring and irrelevant and untrue to me, but once I heard the story. I heard that there’s a personal God. I heard that he created the world. I heard that we humans have all become sinners and rebels. I heard the story that he sent or he came himself in his Son, and he lived a perfect life, and he died as that God-man to save sinners so that we don’t have to die. He rose from the dead, and he’s sending his Holy Spirit. He’s going to come again. He’s gathering the people. I heard that story, and something happened. Not with these eyes, there was no shock, there was no light, there was no thunderclap, I saw the glory of God in that story. I saw him. I saw the beauty of God. I could no longer go away. I was riveted. I was taken by the beauty of the Christ of that story. That’s how I was born again. That’s why if I they say, ‘Christian or Muslim,’ I’m not going to waver.” Christian. Bam. Paradise.
You don’t have to be able to explain it. In fact, you can’t fully explain it. It says in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “The God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” What is that? That’s the new birth. You hear the story, and different from all other times, as you’re looking at the Christ of the story, light comes in, and you’re looking, and you say, “You’re magnificent. You are self-authenticatingly awesome. Nobody made you up. You’re real.”
I’m arguing, that kind of knowing, the light streaming in, the lights going on, the glory of Christ being manifest to you is the only kind of knowing that will keep you from wavering as they point a gun at you because if you have the kind of confidence that is based on your parent’s faith, tradition, historical arguments and inference, logical deductions, you know what your soul is going to do at that moment. It’s going to say, “Our parents could be wrong. I could be wrong. The tradition could’ve been all messed up, or I could’ve made some historical mistake. Maybe it’s a mistake,” because you want to live.
Maybe my mind is not so logical after all, and all my deductions over all the years were just a little bit off. And you waver. Why? They haven’t seen it. To see is to know. That’s how you know. The gospel is spoken. You look at the word through the word stored up, and you see the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Those are the three answers to the first question. What’s the basis of your living hope? The basis of your living hope is the mercy of God — totally underserved — and the resurrection of Jesus so that you are caught up into his indestructible life, and this miracle by which the eyes of your heart are opened to see the self-authenticating glory of Christ in the gospel.
Second question, what is the future experience of your hope? The answer is given in verse 4, and then expanded in verses 7 and 8. Let’s start in the middle of verse 3 so we get the flow, “You are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” here it is, “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
The word inheritance implies future. It’s coming. To be born again is to have an inheritance secured for you, and then he gives three words to describe the inheritance, and all of the three words are meant to make the inheritance feel durable. It will be there, and it will be there forever. It is imperishable. Have no fear, it will never disappear. Don’t worry. It’s out there, but it will not fail you. It will be there. It’s unfading, have no fear that the inheritance would become less glorious. It will be unfading. It will get brighter and brighter as our eyes are capable of more and more forever. And then, thirdly, undefiled — there will be no sinfulness in it, no defect in it. There will be nothing to jeopardize its greatness, and your inheritance.
It will never end, there’s nothing defective, and it will never ever fade. But let’s be more specific down in verse 7 in particular. This is almost too good to be true. First Peter 1:7: “So that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Here’s my question for you: Is that praise, glory, and honor your praise that is your being praised, your being honored, and your being glorified, or is it Jesus’s?
What do you think? Just looking into the flow of the thought there. It’s all we got to go on here. No voices can tell you this. If you get a voice, you don’t belong in this pulpit. I get no voices. What I get is words that you can look at, which means I could be tested. Okay? Look at it. My answer to the question is this is praise of you, honor of you, glory to you.
Why do I think that? I think it because the comparison is being made between the genuineness of your faith and gold. The image is that there’s fire, there’s gold that’s got some dross in it, that’s your faith and the genuineness of your faith, and how is the dross going to be burned up? He’s going to put it through fire. You’ve been through fire as a church. You’ve been through fire, every one of you. What are the testings of these various trials? What is the fire supposed to do? It’s supposed to make the gold come out at the other end, so that you praise it, and honor it, and glorify it.
That’s our faith. That’s the picture. That’s the way the thought works, so he’s actually saying, “What is it that you have to hope for? Well, there’s this inheritance, and it’s undefiled, and it’s imperishable, and it’s unfading,” and as you enter it, heaven is going to praise you. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:5, “Then each one of you will receive his praise from God.” That’s not even open to question. That’s just what it says. 1 Corinthians 4 verse 5, “Then each one of you will receive his epainos.” I know it says “commendation” in the ESV, but it means praise.
Each one of you will receive praise from God. It goes the other way. I’m going to praise him. You will not be the one praising you, not by anything. You will be praising God, and what you praise him for is his mercy. In mercy, he’s going to be saying, “Well, done, good and faithful servant.” You will scarcely be able to believe it. Almost too good to be true. If it helps, remember what the gold is. What’s the gold? The gold is your genuine faith, the genuineness of your faith is being tested with fire. Out the other side of the testing comes genuineness. You have some terrible loss in your life or as a church. You have some awful blow to your life. It threatens your faith. You wonder why. Where did he go? What happened?
You hold on, and years later, you come out, and you’re stronger, and Christ is more precious and more real. That’s going to be praised. That’s what’s going to be praised. God is going to smile upon that faith that came through hell, that came through fire, and did not throw God away, which means that what’s being praised is Christ-exalting faith. Christ loses nothing when Christ praises faith in Christ. What do we have to hope for in this living hope? An inheritance that’ll never let us down, and when he comes and brings us into it, there will be this amazing festival, by which, of course, he is center stage as we praise him for his mercy, but he will look with praising, honoring, glorifying favor upon your tested faith. Don’t give up.
Last question: What’s it like now to experience this? There are five answers given in this text. I’ll just name them quickly, and you enjoy them. Number one, we experience faith. Verse 5: “Being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Verse 8: “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him.” You’re guarded through faith, and though you don’t see him, you believe in him. We are believing. We’re trusting. We’re resting in Christ in our living hope.
“In the new birth, we have been shown God’s infinite value. That’s what it means to be born again.”
Second, we love him. Verse 8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him.” Isn’t it good to know that you’re in the same position as the people that got this letter in the first century? Peter is already writing the people who’ve never seen him. He knows that’s the way it’s going to be for the years until Jesus returns. All the people who believe are believing through the words of the apostles. Though you don’t now see him, you love him. You cannot love someone you have not seen or do not know. There is a seeing that makes love possible. Total ignorance of a person makes love meaningless.
If you say, “I love Joe,” and they say, “Tell me about Joe,” you say, “I don’t know Joe.” They say, “Well, that’s meaningless.” Love is a response to what you know. In the new birth, we have been shown his infinite value. That’s what it means to be born again. Jesus has become your supreme treasure. You now see him as different, more than money, more than stocks, more than fame. That’s what happened in the new birth. Eyes went open in the new birth, and Christ became precious, and now you love him. He’s precious to you.
Third, there is joy inexpressible and glorified. Verse 6: “In this you rejoice,” that is in this keeping that God does of you, and in this inheritance you rejoice. Then verse 8: “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,” or literally, “glorified.” That’s amazing. When we’re seeing him as we ought, and it goes up and down. We’re not naïve. Joy rises and falls. Some days are intense days, and other days are more flat days, but on our best days, when we’re seeing him as we ought, our joy is inexpressible.
What does it mean that the joy is glorified? That’s the literal translation. Our joy now is glorified, receiving, present tense, not just in the future, the salvation of your souls. I think it means that we know that we’re going to be glorified out there. Redound into praise in honor and glory, we’re getting glorified out there, and that streams back in to inform our joy now so that we taste by faith and in hope of the glory that God is to us, and that is coming into being as we’re being transformed into his image from one degree of glory to the next.
Number four, we presently experience sorrow and grief. Verse six: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by the fiery trials, these various trials.” Second Corinthians 6:10: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” That’s exactly what we have here. These are simultaneous. In this, you rejoice. Though now, for a little while, you are grieved. That’s not what it says. That’s not what the Christian experience is.
Grief comes into joy, makes joy more difficult, more complex, and the moment where grief is getting the upper hand, joy doesn’t look like joy. There are tears and sobbing, but it is there. In a world that’s fallen with Al-Shabaab happening virtually every day in one form or another and a world where Jesus is raised from the dead, God is merciful, and we are born again to a living hope. There will always be joy and sorrow all the time in one soul.
If you try to carve your life and say, “I got happy days and sad days,” you got a big problem. Of course, you have sad days, every day, or you must not be watching the news or pray for your kids. Every day is a sad day, and every day is a happy day. We have reason for sadness every day, and we have better reason for gladness every day. I take these together. In this, you rejoice being grieved.
Number five, we are being kept. Look at verse 5. I love this verse. I put this verse in my mother’s gravestone. I use the King James Version because that’s what she would’ve wanted. The verse says in the ESV, “Who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed.” Do you see the wonder of how verse 4 and 5 are connected? I just love this connection. Verse 4 says, “There is an inheritance being kept in heaven for you,” and verse 5 says, “You’re being kept for it.” I just love that.
It’s as if God said, “I’m going to keep your inheritance. It’ll never fade. It’ll never be defiled. It will never diminish or go away. And I’m keeping you for it. I’m not letting it depend on your failure or its failure. I’m totally into keeping you and keeping it so that your hope is absolutely unshakeable.” I just love that. I put on my mother’s gravestone, kept by the power of God, because that’s what King James says. She was kept 56 years old and killed in a car accident. One of the things I exalt in most is he kept me. He has kept me, but like I began, there are disadvantages of growing old and real advantages.
One of the disadvantages is your mind isn’t quite as sharp in the sense of memory and focus. That’s dangerous, spiritually. You lose focus on Jesus, you lose memory of his word, you’re a sitting duck for the devil. We need to help each other. Help the older people in this church. If they can’t read anymore, read to them. If I go to the hospital and you come visit me, read the Bible or quote me the Bible.
You have a living hope. That’s the point of this message. You have a living hope because God is great in mercy, because Jesus is raised from the dead, because you have been born again, unto this living hope, which is an inheritance that will never fail you. It will never be defective in any way. It will always be perfectly suited to satisfy you forever, and now, in this present time, you believe him, you love him. You rejoice in him, and maybe, best of all, he is keeping your church, and he’s keeping you.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.