Preaching throughout the season of Pentecost or Trinity, Ministers of the Word cannot help but be conscious of the connection between Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and our own Holy Baptism. The seasons following Easter emphasize how the life of the Christian ought to manifest resurrection life. That is, sanctifying life in the Spirit since our own spirits were raised in baptism.
Saint Peter’s first epistle takes up this point: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” the Epistle begins because, “According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Peter 1:3) Here, Peter sets the preaching horizon as that which emerges from regenerate life consequent upon Christ’s resurrection: “He has caused us to be born again... through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
What is new life in Christ like for the baptized, what is it about, what is it for, what is it? The word Peter uses several times in 1 Peter 1:3-9 is the word “faith.” The new life Christ opened for us in His justifying resurrection, the new life into which we were baptized is a life of faith.
At once there is an issue preachers need to clarify. The word “faith” means two things. Sometimes we use the word “faith” to mean the things we believe. So, we speak of the Christian faith as the things we believe to be true, the things about God, for example. When we confess the Creed, we say, “I believe...,” and then we delineate several crucial facts about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is our faith, and it is very important. It matters very much that we know the truth of these sacred matters, the truth God has revealed to us. But this is not what the word “faith” means in 1 Peter 1 or the trajectory of experienced resurrection life.
The faith that characterizes the Christian life — in a sense actually is the Christian life — is not the facts, the things and the events out there, but something given within. The faith of the creed is something shared by all believers, but the faith within is personal and individual: a real, ontic something. And it is the very essence of the new life. When differentiating “faith” in this sense, preachers ought not talk so much about agreeing with the facts and acknowledging the truth of them (which is very important but it is something which goes on in the mind). The relationship to that kind of faith is knowledge. No, we are talking now about a matter of the heart because we are talking about a relationship, the crucial relationship with God through Jesus Christ, stirred within us by the Holy Spirit. It is the act of believing, rather than the fact of our believing, if you like. Actually, a better English word for it might be trusting, rather than believing. This trusting is a gift from God, a consequential reality of the monergistic work of justification and regeneration.
The faith of the creed is something shared by all believers, but the faith within is personal and individual: a real, ontic something.
Preachers should use a metaphor or analogy to explain the difference. Take, for example, when I say I have faith in my doctor, or I do not have faith in a politician. I do not mean I believe the doctor exists and the politician does not. It means I trust my doctor. I might even consent to a doctor making me go to sleep and pushing a sharp blade inside me, maybe even yanking out one of my organs. When Peter speaks of our faith, he refers to the trust we have in Jesus Christ – so much so that we anticipate what he calls an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in Heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (I Peter 1:4-5) It means we anticipate eternity with Him, and we depend on Him to give us this inheritance. This, in fact, is the most distinctive feature of the Christian faith. It trusts in what Christ has done for us and continues to do for us and not in what we might do or not do for ourselves or for God for that matter.
Preachers would do well to extrapolate a couple things about this faith. It is faith in Jesus. So, it is justifying faith. It is a justifying faith which is itself a gift, an endowment. Christ is the one we trust and depend on and love. But here is an obvious though curious point. We have not seen Him, and we do not see Him now. Yet, we have faith in Him. Our trust is in someone we have never set eyes upon, except representatively through the crucifix and sacramentally through the Eucharist. “Though you have not seen Him,” writes Peter, “you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible.” (I Peter 1:8)
Well, that is the preacher’s auditors. Your congregation has not seen Jesus, but it does not matter. They are still blessed. “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible.” (I Peter 1:8) It turns out we have hit upon a feature of faith. The New Testament’s letter to the Hebrews sets out a definition of faith in the very sense of the word we have been talking about. “Now faith,” it says, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Then it goes on to give a bunch of examples from the Old Testament, of its heroes of faith, because they trusted in things they simply could not see. What is more, the life of faith-given includes a dimension of love-toward-Christ. This is nothing other than the Fruit of the Spirit about which Paul writes in Galatians 5.
And faith must be this way. It must be so because nobody can see everything. Even the disciple Thomas, who saw Jesus risen from the dead in such an indisputable way, could not see the end of it for him. Preachers ought to encourage the baptized with this understanding of faith in post-Pentecost life. Peter ends this passage with the words, “...the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:9) Again, even Thomas who felt the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands, could not see the outcome, the salvation of his soul. He had to trust Christ to accomplish that. All Christians must trust Christ to this end, rather than see it during this life.
Nor can the baptized see how God’s hand will guide through every challenge of this life. That too, is a matter of faith. Post facto we see how this or that happened or unfolded, but amid challenges and trials, we walk by faith and not by sight. Such faith, Melanchthon says, glorifies God as the highest form of worship for it trusts that the promise-making God is the promise-keeping God in Christ Jesus.
Nor can the baptized see how God’s hand will guide through every challenge of this life. That too, is a matter of faith.
This is the other thing we learn about faith. In order for our trust to be cultivated, trials are necessary. “You have been grieved by various trials,” writes Peter, “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.” (I Peter 1:6-7) Faith is tested by trials, not to destroy it but to refine it, as gold is refined.
This was always something of a mystery to me. But a few years ago, Harvard University and the British Museum jointly published some research into the refining of gold in the ancient gold works excavated at Sardis. Apparently, gold was refined by beating it into thin leaf, sprinkling it with salt, and heating it in an earthenware cooking pot to somewhere around 600-800 degrees Celsius (1100-1500 degrees Fahrenheit). Apparently, the salt releases chlorine, which allows the impurities, which are mainly silver and copper, to be leached from the gold. But the point is our faith is also refined by its own fire. This same letter from Peter tells his readers, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (I Peter 4:12) The fiery trial may be the flames of persecution, sometimes even literal flames as those confessing Christ were burned to their death. But most probably the trials his first readers faced had to do with opposition or health matters. We too face opposition, sometimes scorn, because of the faith and hope within us. Well, do not be surprised. You do not need to invite it or seek it out, but when it comes, it refines our faith, even the approach of death or the anguish of family death. It may be the greatest trial. However, so far from being reason to abandoning trust, these trials really terminate in the only hope which relates to and terminates in eternal life. As the athlete becomes stronger by exercise, by pushing physical muscles against resistance, so faith is strengthened by the exercise of trial and testing.
Post-Pentecost life, then, is a life of faith, not merely a belief that but the trust in our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Life in Christ or life lived as faith in Christ, which amounts to the same thing, sets the preaching horizon during the seasons following Easter.