This article on 1 Peter 1:1-2 is about our place as pilgrims in this world.

Source: Reformed Herald, 2008. 4 pages.

1 Peter 1:1-2 - Elect Pilgrims

The Reformed faith is pervasively biblical. It is articulated in many passages of Scripture, one lesser-known of which is 1 Peter. It is interesting to note the key concerns Peter voices at the outset of his letter:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.1 Peter 1:1-2

Peter the Apostle🔗

The letter begins with Peter introducing himself. He appears to have been the most vocal of the disciples of Jesus Christ. A native of Galilee and a fisherman by trade, he was brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew and became one of the earliest disciples. His bold confession of Christ as being the Son of the living God was the occasion upon which Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter, which means “rock.” Peter here calls himself by this new name.

Peter identifies himself “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” He was chosen by Christ himself to be a witness to the resurrection and was sent by the authority of Christ to lay the foundation of the church. Peter’s work focused on establishing churches. For this purpose he was given special revelation by the Holy Spirit to write this book. Peter’s words in this letter are not mere opinion or advice, but are inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Dispersed Pilgrims🔗

To whom does Peter write this letter? He addresses it, “to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” Peter writes to those that he has most likely never met. He writes to those Christians who lived in the various Roman provinces located in what we know today as Turkey. Although this term “dispersion” often refers to the Jews who were scattered among the nations, Peter has in mind those Jewish and Gentile converts who were dispersed as Christians.

Notice that he calls these believers, “pilgrims.” He wants them to know that their “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), and that this citizenship is primary. They may be citizens of the Roman empire, but they are really God’s pilgrims, spiritual foreigners looking for a “city that has foundations” — the City of God. This implies that their earthly citizenship is secondary. They were to see themselves as living temporarily in an alien environment. Such is our condition as believers today. Though we are citizens of the United States, our citizenship in the Kingdom of Christ is primary.

Peter’s design is to teach them how to live in the midst of an ungodly culture as God’s people. He not only seeks to explain more fully the doctrines of salvation and to exhort them to live in a godly manner in the various relationships of life, but also to prepare them for sufferings. Writing about thirty years after the ascension of Christ, Peter writes to Christians who had already experienced various forms of persecution, and he is preparing them for further opposition.

Living godly in an ungodly society brings persecution. Today, persecution happens not only in other countries, but in our land as well. It takes a variety of forms and is not limited to martyrdom for Christ. It is persecution when believers suffer in their families or in their workplace or in civil court for their commitment to the gospel of Christ.

Interestingly, Peter does not call these early Christians to a monastic life. Instead, they are to live “in the world, but not of the world.” God’s people were dispersed in the midst of societies that were dominated by secular worldviews and pagan practices. God has also placed us for a purpose in the midst of a culture that does not know Him — that we might be His witnesses as salt and light.

Trinitarian Grace🔗

What is Peter’s way of encouraging these believers? He does not begin by giving them practical steps on how to deal with their difficulties and problems. He will teach them later in this letter how they should live in the various relationships and hostile circumstances in which they find themselves. But he first lays a proper foundation for their understanding of who they are in their relationship to God. He is God-centered in his approach.

Likewise, if we begin by focusing on our circumstances, and especially our inability to deal with them, we may become discouraged and defeated. It is only as we turn unto God as our sovereign Lord and Savior that we can have a proper view of living in an ungodly culture. Peter wants them to focus first on God’s great salvation.

The central thrust of his viewpoint is this: Elect pilgrims must stand firm in the true grace of God.” Grace is a biblical term that describes how God has redeemed guilty sinners by setting them free from bondage to sin and death. Peter sees true grace as that salvation which is the work of the Triune God. He says in verse two that they are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”

The Father’s Elect🔗

He reminds his audience of their new identity as Christians. The word “elect” in the Greek text comes before the word “pilgrims.” Their status before God is stressed — they are God’s elect pilgrims. Their salvation is not something they stumbled upon by chance, but was planned by God the Father from the beginning. They are, “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (2:9).

Many in our day recoil when they hear the word “election.” Yet this is not a teaching hidden away in one or two chapters of the Bible. Rather, it is a teaching that is given prominence by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. If you read the beginning of Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, or Titus, and many other passages, references to election are plentiful and prominent.

For Peter and the other Apostles, election is important because it sustained them in the midst of an ungodly society. They had come to understand that by grace alone they had been chosen by God to be His children. As such, their new identity as Christians was not due to what they had done for God but what God had done for them. We love God because He first loves us. Peter wants us to know that while we live in this world, Christians are God’s chosen people.

God’s Foreknowledge🔗

Peter adds further in verse 2 that these Christians are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” What does he mean by foreknowledge? Some think that means simply foresight — God sees ahead of time what people will do. According to this view, God is very much like us. He is like a meteorologist forecasting the weather by looking at a computer model, or as an astronomer foretelling when there will be an eclipse. If this is true, then God learns from history and science.

But look ahead to verse 20, “He (Christ) indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world.” This is the same term. Did God learn about Christ from history? Did He choose the Son because He learned what He would do in time? No, God knew Christ because He was his only-begotten Son, loved before time began. We read in Acts 2:23,

Him (Christ), being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.

Foreknowledge thus signifies God’s predetermined purpose to ordain whatsoever comes to pass. The death of Christ was not merely foreseen, but fore-ordained.

In a similar way, God knows believers. He knows them before they believe. The foreknowledge of God is not learned from the creature but from His knowledge of Himself. He knows because He wills, and He wills that which He knows in Himself. God knows actively, not passively. The election of individuals is not based upon something in themselves, but rather flows from something within God Himself. Foreknowledge is thus a divine love that chooses a man or woman, boy or girl, to be His child, and because of this love, He provides all that is necessary for that person to be saved.

Pilgrims Set Apart by the Holy Spirit🔗

How are we as Christians to live out our faith in a culture which has become increasingly opposed to the Gospel? Peter’s letter provides much insight into this topic. He refers to holiness as an essential manifestation of the salvation flowing from God’s electing love. God’s pilgrims have been elected, he says in verse 2, “in sanctification of the Spirit.”

This helps us understand our unique identity as God’s people. Elect pilgrims are called saints. Sanctification commonly refers to the work of God transforming the believer’s way of life. But it also can refer to the objective fact that God takes a sinner and makes him or her His unique child. He sets believers apart as His special people.

The use of the term “sanctification” here focuses on the unique work of the Holy Spirit whereby we obey the gospel by faith in order that we might be sprinkled by the blood of Christ. It is used in the same way as when God said,

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.Deuteronomy 14:2

Such positional holiness refers to our status before God as peculiar people (1 Corinthians 6:11). Some call this definitive sanctification, and it lies at the heart of a life of progressive sanctification.

It is interesting to observe that Peter mentions the work of the Holy Spirit prior to his reference to the work of Christ. Why is that? Well, if we understand him correctly, the way in which a person comes to be united to Christ is through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. We must have the Spirit of Christ before we can enjoy the redemption purchased by Christ. While the order of the three persons of the Trinity in the work of salvation is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Peter speaks from the standpoint of Christian experience.

When God changes a person’s heart, He sets him apart from a secular pagan culture to be a child of God. The person who has been brought out of the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ is now “set apart” to do God’s will. Do you know Him, is He your Lord? Do you trust in Him alone for your salvation? If so, then He has called you to a unique lifestyle.

Pilgrims United to Jesus Christ🔗

The chief purpose of the electing work of the Father and the sanctifying Holy Spirit, as Peter sees it, is that sinners are to be brought into a saving relationship with Christ. He says again in verse 2, “for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”

Why does Peter connect obeying Jesus Christ and being sprinkled? Sprinkling refers to the Old Testament application of blood to expiate sin. The design of the Old Testament sacrifices was not simply that blood was to be shed — it was also to be applied.

In the New Covenant, the blood of Christ as the Lamb of God is to be applied to sinners when they believe. This is also called justification — which the Heidelberg Catechism describes as,

God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me. Q. 60

When we are sprinkled with the blood of Christ, all of our sins are covered in the eyes of God — we are forgiven and declared righteous.

Hence Peter’s reference to obedience, while not disconnected from living a life of obedience, refers to the initial act of faith at the time a person comes to believe on Christ. We do not typically speak of faith as obedience. It is right that we guard the doctrine of “salvation by faith alone.” But the Bible often speaks of “the obedience of faith,” such as we find in Romans 1:5. This means that God’s electing and regenerating grace does not eliminate our response. God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). God does not believe for us. We must embrace Christ and all that He provides, commit ourselves to Him, and make a definitive break from sin and the world. When we have done so, Peter says, we are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ.


Peter wants Christians to understand that their identity is primarily found in their relationship to the Triune God who saves them by sovereign grace. The rich heritage we have as Reformed Christians is based not on an assortment of various prooftexts, but on key teachings which the apostles place in the foreground of their letters.

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