Fresh Air in the Atmosphere of Trinitarian Grace

“To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” (I Peter 1:2)

Throughout his first letter, Peter reminds his readers their suffering, rejection, and experience as exiles is normal. The kingdom of light is no more welcome to a kingdom of darkness than the bedroom light being flipped on while I’m sleeping is welcomed. And yet, as exiles they are God’s people, and are called to reflect Him. Though kicked to the curb by the world we are called into a new family and given a sense of belonging by our Triune God. Even as we struggle in a world that’s against us we are empowered by a God who is for us. Only this God-given grace, not the weight of duty or demands, can motivate  maturity and obedience when we’re constantly swimming upstream.  

Peter calls his Christian readers to live holy lives reflecting their righteous God rather than giving in to the unrighteous culture. To do so, Peter points them to the Trinitarian grace belonging to them. In 1 Peter 1:2 we see the grace of the Father’s love to us, the grace of the Spirit’s power in us, and the grace of Jesus’ accomplished work for us.

If we’re not rooted deep in the soil of these gospel indicatives then we’re likely to snap under the force of the law’s imperatives.

The Grace of the Father’s Love to Us

The Bible pictures God’s love for His children in a number of ways. Peter captures one snapshot of God’s love when he says the Father foreknows the children. While foreknowledge for some people feels like a cold concept tied to a mere awareness of facts before they happen, the Bible uses it to designate a loving and relational knowledge.

God knowing us before the foundation of the world isn’t like how you can guess a movie’s ending. It’s more of an intimate, personal, and relational knowledge, such as how Adam knew Eve. “We should begin by observing the covenantal dimensions of the word [foreknowledge]….The word ‘know’ in Hebrew often refers to God’s covenantal love bestowed upon his people (cf. Gen. 18:19; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2). The rich associations of that term continue in the New Testament.”[1] Foreknowledge weds God choosing those who would be His with the idea of setting His favor and affection on them—not because of their worth but because of His grace.

Paul regularly grounds his encouragements towards sanctification through grace in God’s fatherly love and affection for us as adopted sons and daughters. In Galatians 4, Paul says God sent Jesus to redeem us from the law “so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:5-7).[2] There’s a strong connection between knowing God loves us  deeply as His children and how that spawns a free and joyful obedience.

When we worry that God is not for us it pushes us away from Him. But when we believe and live in light of His kindness towards us it melts our hearts and wills into a childlike adoration for Him. The experience of the Father’s love turns burdened and resistant grownups into carefree, trusting, and joyful little children that can’t wait to be with Him again. “Who can describe our state when we are assured in our heart that God neither is nor will be angry with us, but will forever be a merciful and loving Father to us for Christ’s sake.”[3]

Because this love is freely given by God’s mercy and purchased by Christ’s blood, we never have to earn it, keep it, prove our worth of receiving it, or worry about losing it. Understanding this kind of free, gracious, abundant, and generous love of God allows us to obey Him out of gratitude, joy, and freedom. When love is not earned by our works it is not lost by our works. When the Father pours His love on us out of His grace and not because of any goodness in us, we know that love and mercy must surely cover us still today despite ourselves.[4]

The Grace of the Spirit’s Power in Us

Returning to I Peter 1:2, he says they’re sanctified by the Spirit. Sanctification can refer to both positional (definitive) sanctification occurring at conversion as well as an ongoing process of progressive sanctification.

Positional sanctification refers to the definitive break from sin’s power over us as we die with Christ and are raised to newness of life with him (Rom. 6:1-11). When we turn to Jesus, we’re given the Spirit who changes our hearts, sets us apart to God, and makes us a new creation. This same Spirit then helps us live in light of the freedom Christ has purchased for us as we say no to the dominion of sin (Rom. 6:14). Both aspects of sanctification—positional and progressive—are essential to knowing the work God has already done in us and the powerful help He gives to us.[5]

Believers aren’t left to their own resources and strength to say no to those seemingly irresistible passions of the flesh. Instead, the supernatural Spirit grants us the unequaled power of God to help us do what we can’t on our own. As we walk in the Spirit (new self) and not in the flesh (old self), our spiritual taste buds develop so we begin wanting what the Spirit wants.[6] When you were a kid you might have gagged at the sight of asparagus, but now as an adult you look forward to the crisp taste of that green asparagus goodness hot off the grill. Not only do your tastes develop but you might actually delight in things you used to dread.

Whether it’s the physical taste buds of our tongues or the spiritual taste buds of our hearts, the changes taking place aren’t usually evident in the moment. But, there will be times when you look back and say, “What happened? I don’t choose the things I used to like.” This is the grace of the Spirit at work in you, however so slight it might seem. There is effort as we work but it’s the effort of something we do through grace as the Spirit helps us. The Spirit himself is cleaning up our hearts and lives and remaking us into true image-bearers. It’s our role to march to the beat of the drum of what He’s doing. “The Spirit does not just clean up an old life but introduces the person to a whole new life, making him or her holy.”[7]

Apart from the Spirit, we might know what’s right but we’re powerless to do it. Thankfully, the amazing and gracious power God has poured out on us so we might have reoriented desires and a transformed heart is the indwelling Spirit. The Spirit does what the law and our own attempts at self-improvement can’t. He not only changes our desires so we want what’s right but He actually empowers us to then do what’s right. “Desires for sin still crop up in believers but now believers can slay these desires and actions by means of the indwelling Spirit.”[8]

We grow through the Spirit who is given to us (grace) to empower us (grace). We battle sin and put forth effort to pursue God, but it’s always done in the Spirit’s power and not our own.

The Grace of the Son’s Work for Us

Having seen the grace of the Father to us and the grace of the Spirit in us we now arrive at the grace of the Son for us. Most commentators take the phrase “for obedience to Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:2) as referring to our response of faith to the gospel in conversion.[9]

When we’re united to Jesus by the obedience of faith we are sprinkled with his blood. Jesus cleanses and forgives us through the perfect blood he shed for us on the cursed tree. In his blood, the New Covenant is sealed and we as the people of the covenant are made clean. Unlike the ceremonially cleansing of the OT, we receive a deep clean that penetrates to the heart and the conscience. In Galatians and Romans, Paul ties this forgiveness to the removal of our condemnation as we’re justified through Christ’s righteousness given (imputed) to us. Because we’re saved by grace alone in Christ alone, or since we’re justified through God’s promise and not our performance, we are freed from the law. It’s our forgiveness from sins through Christ’s blood and our justification through Christ’s righteousness that sets us free.[10]

And yet, Christians who believe in a gospel of free grace are still prone to see their right standing before God not in their justification but in their sanctification. It’s often a focus on the means of sanctification, so if we read our Bible enough, pray enough, share our faith enough, and do all the things we know we’re supposed to do, then we feel like God must be happy with us. But if we think our works appease God, we’ll never be able to do enough. While we practice spiritual disciplines and pursue sanctification, we don’t make those things the basis of God being for us.

If we are united to Christ by faith then when God looks on us He sees the righteousness of His Son, and the verdict remains not guilty but welcomed. Matt Chandler captures the irreversible, rock-solid hope we have in justification. “Romans 8:1 tells us that there is not condemnation for us, not because of all the great stuff we’ve done but because Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death. My sin in the past: forgiven. My current struggles: covered. My future failures: paid in full all by the marvelous, infinite, matchless grace found in the atoning work of the cross of Jesus Christ.”[11]

Really experiencing justification like this doesn’t lead to an autonomous freedom where we then go do whatever we want. It floods the heart with gratitude and leads to a freedom to live out of the fullness of who God is for us and who we are in Jesus. Justification creates the security of knowing when we fail our forgiveness and righteousness is still found in Jesus. It provides rest as we no longer run on the “works-treadmill” where there’s always more we could have done. When the enemy whispers in our mind what sins we’ve done and what good works we haven’t done, we must go back to God’s promise that Christ alone is our righteousness.

God’s Grace for His People

This Trinitarian atmosphere of grace fills our lungs with oxygen to grow. It’s grace, not law, that motivates maturity. When we know and live in light of our adoption, sanctification, and justification, we live out of gratitude instead of guilt. We are freed to follow Jesus joyfully rather than be dragged along unwillingly.

Too much of our effort in sanctification is begrudgingly done because we’re supposed to be doing it, which is why I think so often it terminates in frustration and disappointment when change doesn’t takes place. The last thing I want is for Christians to stop putting forth effort or to not use the means of grace God has given us to grow. But what I do desire is for the knowledge of God’s Trinitarian grace to be the starting place that changes our motivations, reorients our desires, and fuels the strength we depend on. If we know the Father is for us no matter what, if we know the allure of sin is outmatched by the power of the Spirit in us, and if we know Jesus’ blood and righteousness frees us from all our guilt and sin, it is then we can move forward and grow through grace.


[1] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 53. In the NT see Rom. 8:29; 11:2; I Peter 1:20.
[2] A parallel passage in Rom. 8:12-17 also roots living according to the Spirit in our adoption as sons and daughter of God.
[3] Martin Luther, Galatians (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998), 241.
[4] For resources on the Father’s love, see: Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008); John Owen, Communion with the Triune God, ed. by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 89-132. You can also read a short blog post of mine on the Father’s love.
[5] For resources on the Spirit’s sanctification of us, see: David Peterson, Possessed by God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995); John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955) 141-150.
[6] I believe this chiefly involves seeing and savoring the beauty of Jesus Christ. The Spirit always points us back to exalting in Jesus. Therefore, at the heart of what Spirit-led, grace-driven growth looks like is beholding and becoming like Jesus.
[7] Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 48.
[8] Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 483. Schreiner’s section on the power of the Holy Spirit in us and for us (pages 480-85) is a very helpful example connecting the Spirit’s sanctifying work to us under grace.
[9] See also I Peter 1:22 and Romans 1:5 for similar usages.
[10] For Resources on Christ’s work for us, see: Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced For Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007); John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955).
[11] Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012) 15.

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