#2 in a series on 1 Peter
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
1 Peter 3:18 is an easy verse to miss. Coming as a transition between two longer passages, we could read it as a summary of basic gospel facts, nod our heads and move along. But if we pass over this verse in search of something “more,” we can miss beautiful elements of the gospel that form the foundation of Peter’s letter and provide “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) in our everyday.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins”
As our substitute on the cross, Christ experienced physical suffering and death. But more than this, he bore the sin of all his people as God poured out his wrath on him. This is propitiation. Christ took on or absorbed the wrath of God, making God “propitious,” or favorable, toward us.
God could not simply wipe away sin–that would be unjust. Rather, his wrath stored up through the ages (Romans 3:25), a force no created being could have endured, was directed against Jesus. Only Christ was able to bear God’s wrath to the end. It was finished.
“The righteous for the unrighteous”
God does more than simply forgive us and say we have no penalty to pay for sin. In such a morally neutral state, we could not approach a holy God. Only one who has lived a life of perfect obedience may do this. Only Christ has done this. In justification, God declares us not just free from sin, but also righteous in his sight. He imputes Christ’s obedience to us, which means he thinks of it as belonging to us. We are now “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9).
“That he might bring us to God”
Through propitiation, God’s wrath against sin is removed. In justification, we are declared righteous to stand before a holy God, but adoption brings us into relationship with this God, allowing us to call him Father. We were once “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), but in adoption we are made members of God’s family, with its many privileges and blessings (John 1:12).
Does it matter if we know these doctrines? It depends on what we believe makes the gospel good news.
Forgiveness from sin or eternal life in heaven are not the good news, but rather gifts through which we may know and enjoy their giver. Christ died to bring us to God.
In his book God is the Gospel, John Piper says 1 Peter 3:18 is Scripture’s clearest statement that the aim of all Christ accomplished is “summed up in the ultimate gift of God himself.”
“It is God himself who will satisfy our souls forever,” Piper says. “Everything else in the gospel is meant to display God’s glory and remove every obstacle in him (such as his wrath) and in us (such as our rebellion) so that we can enjoy him forever.”
In these doctrines we see him, and because of these doctrines we may see him.
Propitiation removes God’s wrath, so we are not consumed as we come to him. Justification allows us to stand in the presence of this holy King, and adoption makes him our Father. And 1 Peter tells us not just that we will see God some day in the future, but that even now we see his glory in the Scriptures and by the Holy Spirit in a way that transforms our daily lives.
Because of adoption, we can give our anxieties to our loving Father (1 Peter 5:7). Secure in our relationship with him, we are freed to love and serve one another as brothers and sisters (1 Peter 4:8-11).
Because of propitiation and justification, we can remember that God has no more wrath for our sin; that he sees us not as pardoned criminals who have avoided a death sentence, but perfect through Christ’s righteousness. Therefore, any trials we face are not punishment.
Instead, we can be confident our Father is working in them for good (1 Peter 1:6-7; 4:12-14). And this “good” is not an abstract concept, but is God’s revelation of himself to us, giving us “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) and transforming us into his image.
In fact, because we are justified and adopted, it is not possible for God to act towards us in any way but love. In everything he is showing grace to us, revealing himself to us in glimpses of glory each day, so that we may “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8) both now and forever.