Love in the Present Tense

You can’t believe in this Jesus and not love Him. It’s impossible. You can’t believe all of this is true, and not rejoice.

JDudgeon on October 1, 2023
Love in the Present Tense
October 1, 2023

Love in the Present Tense

Passage: 1 Peter 1:8-9
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In 1914 a homesteader named Elinore Stewart wrote a letter to a friend that described a wagon trip through the Wyoming desert. She describes overtaking another wagon where “In a wobbly old buckboard sat a young couple completely engrossed by each other. That he was a Westerner we knew by his cowboy hat and boots; that she was an Easterner, by her not knowing how to dress for the ride across the desert.” She later describes meeting them at their camp that night and learning that “our young couple were bride and groom. They had never seen each other until the night before, having met through a matrimonial paper. They had met in Green River and were married that morning, and the young husband was taking her away up to Pinedale to his ranch…

“The newly-weds were, as the bride put it, ‘so full of happiness they had nothing to put it in.’ Certainly their spirits overflowed… They are Mr. and Mrs. Tom Burney. She is the oldest of a large family of children and has had to ‘work out ever since she was big enough to get a job.’ The people she had worked for rather frowned upon any matrimonial ventures, and as no provision was made for ‘help’ entertaining company, she had never had a ‘beau.’ One day she got hold of a matrimonial paper and saw Mr. Burney’s ad. She answered and they corresponded for several months.”1Elinore Pruitt Stewart, Letters on an Elk Hunt, pp. 19-23.

A “matrimonial paper” was, as I understand it, like the classified ads where frontier men, who were homesteading out west, could place a request for brides from back east. This wasn’t like online dating; there literally were no eligible women for these men because they were all settlers.

And so adventurous young women could answer the ads, and the couple would get to know each other through letter-writing for a time. Couples reported falling in love through this process, and committing to marry the other person, though they had not ever seen them with their eyes. And as the story we just read shows, when they finally did meet it sounds like it worked out pretty good.

This is hard to wrap our heads around in our day and age, which is a profoundly visual culture. We all have cameras in our pockets, and the phrase “pics or it didn’t happen” reinforces our idea that without seeing there’s no believing. If you know anything about online dating these days, it’s all about the pictures as people try to entice each other with how they look.

This seeps into all areas of our life. At the men’s skeet shoot last Sunday, my oldest son took his first ever shot with a shotgun, and totally nailed it. He absolutely obliterated the clay target out of the sky, and made the rest of us look really bad. And I forgot to take a video. And honestly, at times I’ve felt more annoyed with myself that I didn’t catch it on video than happy that it happened.

Our culture has trained us to be so visual.

And not all of this is bad. God built us with two eyes. People who are blind can learn to get along quite well, but it is a struggle. And one of the great blessings of the promised future God is bringing to His children is sight. The last chapter in the Bible says that in the New Creation, God’s children will be with him and “they will see his face” (Revelation 22:4).

We’ll actually get to see the Lord.

Seeing Jesus is what’s pointed to by Peter in the last part of verse 7 of our chapter, when he speaks about the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” When Jesus returns in glory, we’ll see him.

But what about now? We don’t yet see him, but what do we have already now?

That’s an important question. And to get at that question, let’s just notice how Peter has drawn our attention back and forth between the “already” and the “not yet” aspects of our salvation so far.

We saw starting in verse 3 that God is to be praised because He’s caused us to be born again to a bright future, and then in verse 5 we shift to the present as we see that right now, He’s keeping us safe by His power, through faith. Verse 5 ends with a view of the future salvation, ready to be revealed, and in verse 6, we’re back tot he present as we consider our present joy despite various trials.

These trials purify our faith, like gold in the smelter. In the ancient world, and even today, this was an important way to make sure that your gold was actually pure and hasn’t been diluted with other materials. You’d put it in the furnace and turn up the heat. And because of the melting point of gold, as the fire gets hotter and hotter, everything else that isn’t gold gets burned off, and what’s left is the real thing.

And Peter says, that’s what’s going on with you right now. God is testing your faith by turning up the heat. Just like gold in a fire, trials have a way of refining us, of burning away the things that don’t matter. And just like gold, real faith survives the fire. Real faith perseveres to the end. And at the end, as we shift back to the future again, we’re told that our genuine tested faith will “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Jesus will get praise and glory and honour when He returns (2 Thessalonians 1:10), but Scripture also suggests it’s a glory He’ll share with us. “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).

So we’ve gone back and forth between the present and future. And now, in verse 8, we’re back to the present again. We know that our tested faith will bring glory to Jesus when He returns. But what about now? What about today? What does our tested faith look like, and result in, today? Is our experience right now just about grief through trials?

And we already know the answer to that is “no.” There’s more than just trials. Verse 6 said, “in this you rejoice.” Present-tense. Christians rejoice through faith right now.

And that’s what Peter explores and unpacks in verses 8 and 9. What does our present day joy look like on the other side of faith-purifying trials? As Sam Storms explains, “verse 8 describes what is left of Christian faith after it has passed through the furnace of afflictions.”2Sam Storms, “1 Peter,” in Hebrews–Revelation, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar, vol. XII, ESV Expository Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 305.

After the trials have burned off any extra junk mixed in there, this is the pure gold left behind.


And the first truth we discover here is that pure, tested faith results in loving someone we’ve never seen. One day, Jesus will be revealed to us—to our eyes. But today, by a fire-tested faith, we love him.

a. Having not seen Jesus…

Peter introduces this idea in verse 8 when he writes, “though you have not seen him.” In English translations, we need to start a new sentence here. But remember that in the original language, this is a part of one big sentence, and it would have sounded more like this: “…praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ, who, having not seen, you love.”

Peter here is pointing back to the historical past for his readers and is recognizing that these people never set eyes on Jesus while He was on earth.

That’s unlike Peter. Peter spent three or so years with Jesus. Certain memories of Jesus—perhaps especially seeing him suffer on the cross-must have been burned into Peter’s memories. I wonder how often Peter’s memories turned into dreams where he saw Jesus’ face and heard his voice. Peter had seen Jesus.

But not his readers. They had come to faith in Jesus after His ascension, based on the testimony of the Apostles. Just like us, they believed what they had not seen.

b. …we love Him

But having not seen Jesus, they love him. Present tense. “Though you have not seen him” in the past, “you love him” in the present.

These people had not just been introduced to ideas about Jesus, concepts surrounding the gospel. Through the preaching of Peter and others they had been introduced to a person, a person who was alive, a person who was coming for them, and a person whom they loved. Like Mrs. Tom Burney, but in a much greater way, they loved someone they had not met.

So what does a refined and tested faith look like in the present tense? It looks like love for the person of Jesus. Faith means loving someone you’ve never seen.


And second, as Peter goes on to explain, faith means believing in someone you don’t see. Half-way through verse 8 we read, “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him.”

a. Not seeing Jesus today…

The first thing we want to notice here is that true faith means not seeing Jesus today. And in this, Peter’s readers joined Peter in this experience. Though Peter had not seen Jesus, he didn’t see him now. Together with his readers, he was exercising faith in someone he did not see.

And we might be tempted to think that Peter had an advantage over this readers because he had seen Jesus in the past. But do you remember what Jesus said to Thomas after he saw him? “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29).

There’s a special blessing pronounced by Jesus on those who believe without any sight. And Peter’s readers continued in this state.

Our visual age gets really excited with stories about dreams and visions of Jesus. Movies and TV shows about Jesus are all over the place. And I don’t think that the Lord has never or can never use a dream or a vision to prepare someone to hear the gospel. I don’t deny that movies about Jesus have been used to introduce people to the truth about Him. But we can’t miss that Peter assumes that the Christian life is an ongoing experience of sight-less faith. Christians do not see Jesus, in his human body, with our eyes.

b. …we believe in Him…

And yet, not seeing, we believe. “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him.” This is close to the very essence of faith. Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is “the conviction of things not seen.” Including Jesus. Not seeing, we believe.

c. …and rejoice in Him…

But like we’ve seen, this faith is more than a purely mental experience. We’ve heard how this faith includes love for Jesus, and now we read that this faith includes joy in Jesus. “You believe in him and rejoice.”

Something we need to understand here is that those words “in him” don’t just apply to the words “believe.” They also apply to the words “rejoice.” In Him we believe and rejoice. This is another case where the King James gets a little closer to the sense of the original, when it says, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

In Jesus we believe and rejoice. Genuine tested faith is not just about our brains. It’s about our whole selves rejoicing in such a saviour as this.

And this isn’t just a little bit of joy, or some some shallow fake bubbly experience. No, this joy we have is “inexpressible,” which means it can’t be put into words. Like Sam Storms has written, “This joy defies all human efforts at understanding or explanation.”3Storms, 306.

You’ve seen this joy when you’ve talked to someone who has just gone through an excruciating tragedy and yet they are joyful. You’ve seen that joy in someone who has suffered and yet through that suffering has found Jesus to be more precious than everything they’ve lost. How do you explain that? How do you put that into words? You don’t. That’s the whole point. This joy is inexpressible.

This joy is also “filled with glory.” In other words, it’s “glorious.” And this word “glory” reminds us of the “praise and glory and honour” which will be found “at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 7).

In other words, the joy that we experience today is shot through with foretastes of the glory Jesus is going to receive and share with us when He returns.

Haven’t we all seen this kind of joy in the eyes of a child who is looking forward to their birthday? The glory of their birthday party is working backwards and already filling their hearts with joy today even though it’s months away. And we could point to all kinds of other situations where the glory of something in the future becomes a source of joy in the present.

And that’s what Peter is pointing to here. Which means that Peter has begun to shift our attention back to the future. Our present joy in Jesus is shot through the future glory. And we see this point even clearer when we turn to verse 9 where he makes it very clear that our joy is found in the hope of our future salvation.

d. …because of the hope of our future salvation.

He writes in verse 9 that we believe in Jesus and rejoice because we are “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

The word “because” isn’t in the text, but that’s the best way to make sense of the wording here. Peter is saying that we believe and rejoice because we will know we will obtain the outcome of our faith.

And we might wonder why he uses a present-tense verb, “obtaining” to point to a future reality. Why not say “you will obtain” instead of “obtaining”? Well, we do this in English all the time. We might say “you’re getting a bike for your birthday” or “you’re getting hamburgers for supper.” “Getting” is present tense, but the rest of our sentence shows that we’re talking about the future.

That’s what’s going on here. “Obtaining the outcome of your faith” means that we will obtain the outcome of our faith. And this is what causes us to rejoice in Jesus. We rejoice because we know that we’re going to get what our faith is set on and results in: our full and final and future salvation, the salvation of our souls.

We should know that the word “soul” in the New Testament doesn’t just refer to the inner part of us that nobody can see. Twice more in this letter Peter will use this word to refer to our whole person. And that’s the full and final salvation we’re waiting for: new bodies on a new earth with Jesus.

This is the future we all long for. This is the hope that haunts our joys, the truer and better country we’ve been looking for our whole lives, even if we don’t know it. The best things we’ve enjoyed in this world have only been tiny tastes of the New Creation.

And what will make the New Creation truly perfect? Will it just be new bodies, or a world without sickness? That will be wonderful, but won’t the best part be being with the Lord?

Jesus said in John 17:3, “this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” And that hope is realized in Revelation 21:3 where we hear “a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’”

That’s the real salvation of our souls that Peter is pointing to here. Not just avoiding hell. Just just being a sprit floating around some clouds some day. No, actually living with God on a world made new, better than Eden, perfect forever.

And that future glory is the source of our joy in Jesus today. It’s that future glory that fuels our joy and causes us to rejoice knowing all that’s been promised.

And all this is what a purified faith looks like. This is what remains after suffering has turned up the heat and burned off any hope that this present world will every truly satisfy us. This is what’s left over after persecution has burned off the naive belief that maybe we can enjoy Jesus and still fit in with this world.

Suffering has a way of burning off our love for this world, and what remains of our faith is love and joyful belief in someone we have not and do not but one day will see. And it this hoping and longing for a future with Jesus flows backward to give us love and joy in Jesus in the present tense.


And that’s what we want to fix out attention on now—what it means to have love, in the present tense, for Jesus. What do Peter’s spirit-inspired words here tell us about the nature of genuine faith?

1. Faith Means More Than Nodding “Yes”

There’s two tracks we want to go down as we consider our place in all of this. The first is this: according to today’s passage, faith means more than nodding yes.

What I mean by that is that faith is not just something that we do in our brains.

Some of you may have heard of the phrase “mental assent.” That’s talking about when you, with your brain, say “sure I can believe that” to something you’re told.

For example, if I told you that on Wednesday I had salad for lunch, you’d probably believe me. And that is a kind of faith. You didn’t see me on Wednesday. You didn’t see the salad. You didn’t watch me eat it. But you take me at my word. “Okay, you ate salad on Wednesday. Great.”

With your mind, you just agree with what I’m telling you. That’s what we mean by mental assent. Just like nodding yes. “Sure, I have no problem believing that.”

And sadly, that’s how some people think about faith in Jesus. You tell them that a man lived and died in ancient history to give them salvation, and they’ll agree with you. “Sure, I’ll believe that. Why not?”

Especially if you tell them that, if they just believe this, they won’t go to hell and get to go to a better place when they die. I mean, that sounds pretty low-risk right? Just sign on the dotted line to some unimportant theological truths that will never make a difference in your life, and in the remote chance that it’s all true, you don’t have to worry about hell.

It’s like clicking “I agree” on the terms and conditions when you sign up for an account on your computer. Or signing our name on the credit card application with the 18 pages of small print that you’re agreeing to without reading. Who really cares what’s in there? We’ll agree to a lot if we can get the good product at the end.

I remember setting up a Bible study over Zoom back during the covid lockdown, and someone texting me that they were going to be late because it was taking them so long to read through all the terms and conditions for the Zoom account. And we laugh, because who reads those?

But I wonder How many people “believe in Jesus” the same way we click “agree” on those terms of service? We’ll raise our hand or go down to the front, and the Bible is just a whole bunch of fine print we need to agree to in order to get what we want, whether that’s escaping hell or dealing with our guilty conscience or having a nice group of people to hang out with on Sundays.

But that is not the kind of faith that Peter has in mind. Peter does not have in mind just nodding yes, clicking “agree,” or mentally assenting to a set of facts. Jesus is not a ticket that we use to get to something else.

Genuine faith, according to Peter, is about Jesus. It longs to be with Jesus. It’s evidenced by love for Jesus and joy in Jesus. That’s why Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” Genuine, fire-tested faith always shows up in love for Jesus.

And this is true because of who Jesus is. It’s not like love and joy are additives to our faith. We believe in Him, and then we need to go over here to cook up love and faith. Rather, if we really believe in Jesus, we will love him and rejoice in Him.

How could it be possible to really believe in Him and not love him? Who else is like him? Where else do we see such a perfect arrangement of glories? Who else is as gentle as a lamb and as fierce as a lion?

Just look at him. Look at him in the manger, descending from heaven’s glory to the fragility of an infant’s body. Look at him cheerfully submitting to human parents for all those years. We can barely work a job for two weeks when we think we know better than our boss, and there He is.

Look at him live faithfully for 30 years, the first man in history to perfectly keep God’s law.

See him there on the banks of the Jordan, humbling himself even further by letting his cousin baptize Him as if He were a sinner. Feel the Father’s delight in Him as He shouts his pleasure from heaven.

Watch Him in the wilderness, pushed to the limits of human endurance and yet not yielding an inch to the onslaught of the dragon. Watch Him rely on His father with perfect, unflinching trust.

See Him in the boat, talking to storms who actually listen. Watch the demons whimper and cower in the presence of a power they’d never encountered before.

See His tenderness as he takes a little girl by the hand to lead her out of the grip of death and back into the arms of an astonished father. Look at Him reaching out to touch the scabby sin of lepers and see how their diseases give way to His contagious wholeness.

Look at Him sweating in Gethsemane, already feeling crushed by the weight of what’s coming, and yet accepting it in perfect surrender. See Him knock over the soldiers in the garden with two words, and yet offer His hands to be bound.

Watch at the Lord of angel armies holds his tongue all night long while petty bullies invent silly lies about Him.

Watch as He lies down and receives the nails with open arms. Watch as He fights for every breath as He hangs on the cross, cursed by God and man, lamenting and yet still trusting. Watch as the Good Shepherd bares his throat and let the wolves take him down in order that His sheep might go free. Watch as He gives up his life and commits His spirit into the hands of His father.

Go to the tomb and see the dawning of the Age to Come as Jesus, the New Adam of the New Creation, breathes anew, and leaves the place of death behind. Hear the angels rejoice as He returns to the right hand of His father, pouring out the gift of His very spirit upon His followers below.

Consider His work today in heaven—how He watches over his loved ones, praying for them before His Father, faithfully serving them as a High Priest.

Consider His work today on earth—how, though the Spirit, He is bringing together His people and calling together His body from all concerns of the earth. 2,000 years of Satan’s best efforts have not been able to put an end to His kingdom. Though locked up in prison, killed by the hundreds, pushed around and oppressed, Jesus’ resurrection life in His followers has been unquenchable.

Consider His patience—how we waits until his Bride is ready, for all peoples to be invited in. Consider the might of his power, how He will soon invade planet earth in person and all of the superpowers in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, will be impotent to do a thing to stop Him.

You can’t believe in this Jesus and not love Him. It’s impossible. Someone who has never tasted love for or joy in Jesus has never actually believed in Him, because you can’t believe all of this is true, and know that you get to spend forever with Him, and not rejoice.

Believing in Jesus means more than nodding our heads. Believing in Jesus means embracing a person, which will show itself through love and joy.

2. Pursuing joy in Jesus

And I trust that what we’ve just done in these past few minutes together has been encouraging to you, because instead of just talking about love or joy in Jesus, we just talked about Jesus, and I trust that as we did that you tasted, even just a little, the very thing we’ve been reading about this morning. You know that you’ve experienced what Peter has described.

And that’s where we want to end our time here today, by considering how we might continue to pursue love for Jesus and joy in Jesus. I hope we can see that love for Jesus and joy in Jesus aren’t mystical experiences that float above the ground somewhere. It’s not like we have our Christian life over here, and then we go somewhere else to do some woo-woo practices to get some love or joy.

No, the purified faith that produces this love and joy is a faith that comes from the preaching of the gospel and the teaching of the apostles. It’s a faith that’s rooted and fuelled by God’s word. Because it’s the truth about Jesus that fuels our love for Him and joy in Him.

So church, love this Jesus! Let the sufferings of this life burn everything else away until what remains is a pure love for and joy in our saviour. And pursue this joy in Jesus together.

That’s what we’re after here together as a church. When we gather here on Sundays or in homes throughout the week, as we learn and pray together, we’re not just trying to pack our heads with stuff. We’re not just doing religious duties together. We’re not a social club.

We’re here to help each other grow in he grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

So let’s do this together. And let me encourage you to take a step towards Jesus this week. Whether that’s a first step, or just one more step in a long line of steps towards Jesus. Take a step towards Him with His people as we help each other love Jesus more and more, though we haven’t seen Him, as we help each other press on until the day when our faith becomes sight.

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