I am glad to have this opportunity to talk to you from the word of God this morning. I realize that this is a privilege and I would like to take you through what God has been putting on my heart regarding 1 Peter 2:11-12.
Before we jump into the text for today I’d like to briefly review what we have been going over the past few weeks? If we were to summarize what the whole thing has been about so far, it’s been about identity.
1 Peter Chapter 2, the first 3 verses starts out by saying that we ought to have a craving for pure spiritual milk, a craving for the word of God. Why should we crave the word of God? Just like babies need milk and grow, that’s how we grow.
The next few verses try to answer the question, what are we growing into? What’s happening to us? We are living stones, with Jesus as the cornerstone, being built into a Spiritual House (1 Peter 2:4-8) which then brings us to last week’s message.
Matthew spoke to us from verses 9 and 10. It reads in 1 Peter 2:9-10 –
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Who are you? A chosen people, A Royal priesthood, A Holy nation, God’s special possession. If you happen to look at the section of the bible that is a record of the time before Jesus, or in other words Old Testament times, people did not approach God directly. Instead, a priest would act as a mediator between God and sinful human beings. With Christ’s victory on the cross, that pattern changed. Christ himself is our high priest. He intercedes on our behalf before God the father, and as a result those who place their trust in Jesus can come directly into God’s presence without fear. Peter tells us that as priests, one of the responsibilities is to declare the praises of God.
Also, we have been given the responsibility of bringing others to him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). This work of making Christ known and thereby uniting God and man is a priestly work. Paul calls them ambassadors (i.e. someone who has been sent on behalf of a different country). You and I, we’re called to make Christ known to the rest of the world. That’s the kind of work priests do. Because we are priests, we are set apart, or in other words, a “Holy nation”, and this refers to Christians as a people who are distinct from all the others because of their devotion to God. Believers are also God’s very own possession.
First Peter 2:10 is drawn from Hosea chapters 1 and 2 (cf. Hosea 1:9-10; Hosea 2:23). Hosea, God’s prophet, was describing God’s rejection of Israel, followed by future restoration. Paul used these verses from Hosea and applied them to the Gentile believers (Romans 9:25-26). Peter takes the same verses and applies them to the New Testament church as a whole.
Just as Israel had been, at one time, rejected by God without any hope of forgiveness for their sins, so Christians had been, at one time, rejected by God without any hope of mercy. But believers are now the people of God because they have been chosen by him (1 Peter 2:9) and have received his mercy. What does the word ‘mercy’ mean? “Mercy” means God’s compassionate treatment of us even though we deserve the full measure of his justice.
Note: we were NOT the people of God, but now we have been made the people of God, we had not received mercy but now we have received mercy. What’s he saying? The kind of people that we were before, we are no longer that kind of people. We have a new identity; we have been grafted into this new kingdom. God did not owe us anything. None of us deserve his concern or attention. God drawing a people unto himself and lavishing mercy on them gives overwhelming evidence of his great love. This mercy ought to affect the way every believer lives, as Peter will point out in the following verses, and try to answer this question.
How then should we act with this new identity? Now that you are a people of God who have been granted mercy, how should we act?
Listen to 1 Peter 2:11 – “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles (some translations will say aliens and strangers), to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”
Most of you know that originally me and my family are not from the United States, we are from India, and by we, I mean Hannah, Cathy and I; not Sara; Sara was born here in the United States. You’ve probably figured that out by now, by my accent, etc. When we first came here, we had to apply for a visa. A visa is a document issued by a country’s government that lets a person enter or leave a country. The kind of visa that we had, allowed us, to work in the United States. In legal terms, we were known as non resident aliens. It is meant to say that we are not citizens of the United States, also that we were not here for the long term; we are here on a temporary basis. The visa that we had would allow us to work for 6 years, after which we would have had to return to India.
After a couple of years we applied for Green cards. You’ve probably heard of green cards, right?
What are green cards? Green cards are the informal name for permanent resident status. In legal terms, we would be known as resident aliens. i.e. We are allowed to work, pay taxes, and stay in the US, but we belonged to another place, namely India. We were not citizens of the United States.
So after about 6 years after we got our green cards, we applied for citizenship, a couple of years ago we became citizens of the United States. Because India and the United States don’t recognize dual citizenship, we had to give up citizenship of India. We had a new identity; we were no longer Indian citizens, we were citizens of the United States.
So did anything change? What were the implications?
I remember Hannah being totally uncomfortable with the Oath of Allegiance. There are some things that read: I will renounce all allegiance to any foreign state of whom I have been a citizen. I will defend the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Do you know what that meant? It meant that if the United States would go to war with India, we might be asked to fight for the US against India. Would that make you uncomfortable? Well we were uncomfortable too.
What does all this have to do with 1 Peter 2:11 & 12? Peter is reminding us that our status in this world is resident aliens. In other words, we are really green card holders. We are allowed to work, pay taxes and live in this world, but we actually belong elsewhere. We have no status as citizens of this world, we are citizens of God’s kingdom. Paul eloquently describes this status in Ephesians 2. He is going to talk from the perspective of heavenly citizenship so when he refers to foreigners and strangers, he is doing it from the other side, in comparison to Peter. Here are Paul’s words in Ephesians 2, verse 12
(Ephesians 2:12-13) Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. This is who we were: verse (13) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
(Ephesians 2:19-22) Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, (20) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (21) In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. (22) And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
As you read these verses you get the idea that there’s some construction work going on, but Both Paul and Peter are warning those who trust in Jesus to remember their status as aliens and strangers in the world. The world is not the Christian’s true home; our real home is with Christ. We are just passing through this world on the way to our real home in heaven’s glory. As so Peter says in verse 11, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers, to abstain(or keep away) from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”
There’s an implication here, isn’t there? Because our real home is in heaven we ought to remain as untouched as possible by this world’s rampant sin, keeping away from sinful desires. Is this possible? Probably not, because we will not escape our sinful surroundings until Christ returns, and we still have a sinful nature that wants us to act on its desires, we will not be able to remain completely free of sin and its effects. But Peter tells us that we should try; we should try and keep away by controlling the desires right from the start.
Why must we keep away from sinful desires? Because those desires fight against our very souls. The word “souls” refers to the inner, spiritual part of a person. Once we become a people who have place their trust in Jesus, a battle has begun between Christ and Satan. The bible tells us that Satan prowls around looking for people to devour. Notice Peter uses the word “desire.”
Desires come from deep within us; often our sinful desires never actually become sinful actions. Peter wrote that while believers know that their lives and actions must be changed by Christ, they also must have their inner lives transformed. Sinful desires may seem much less evil than sinful actions, but Peter is letting us know that they too can hurt us because they war against our souls. Entertaining sinful desires, even if those desires are never acted upon, takes our focus off of Christ and turns our hearts from heavenly to earthly desires. All evil actions begin with a single thought; therefore, Peter advised believers to kill sin right at its root.
Now that we have this background, we can now read 1 Peter 2: 12
(1 Peter 2:12) Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
This thought follows from verse 11 without a break in the Greek text—that believers were to have their inner selves under control so that their outer lives would be honoring to God. We are called to honor God by living honorably and morally upright in and in spite of an unholy world so that unbelieving neighbors will glorify God. It sounds as though Peter is repeating Jesus’ advice in the Sermon on the Mount, particularly Matthew 5:16:
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
This idea that, if believers’ actions are honorable, even people who are hostile to the gospel might end up praising God. Peter was writing this letter to Christians who found themselves living among unbelieving Jews and Gentiles who were inclined to believe and spread vicious lies about Christians, accusing them of wrongdoing, blaming them without cause. Not too different from what it is today. Peter is urging his readers at that time, and now for us that gracious and upright behavior could show these rumors to be false and could even win over some critics to the Lord’s side. Peter urged believers not to be surprised when persecution and false accusations arose, and to live above reproach so that the accusations would have to be dropped.
- How about you?
- Are you living your life above reproach (or accusation)?
- What does your passport say, are you a citizen of God’s kingdom?
- Are you doing good deeds that even those who are unbelievers give glory to God?
I can’t answer these questions for you, only you can.
Are there practical things we can do for keeping our inner selves under control?
Sometime ago, I used to listen to the Z100 on radio on my way to work. For those who don’t know it’s a program that pokes fun at anything and everything, sexual innuendos, just a regular morning show on radio. At some point, I recognized that this program was putting me in a bad frame of mind, and I had to stop it. It was a small measure of changing my thinking, and helping me keep my inner self under control. This was for me: it may not be the same for you. It may be very different things.
Also I would suggest finding someone you trust that you can bare your soul to (confess), I would suggest someone other than your spouse. Some might call this person as an accountability partner. James tells us in James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
In the next verses, Peter is going to expand on this idea about living good lives in the culture that we find ourselves in. He’s going to talk about how Christians should live (1) in their relationship to government (1 Peter 2:13–17), (2) in their relationship to masters (1 Peter 2:18–25), (3) in their relationship to their non-Christian husbands (1 Peter 3:1–6), (4) in their relationship to their wives (3:7), and (5) in their relationship to the Christian family of God (1 Peter 3:8–12).
This morning, if you are not a Christian, if you haven’t placed your trust in Jesus, know that God is in the business of reconciliation (or bringing together) that which was lost by man’s disobedience. God pursues human beings. It’s probably the reason you’re here this morning and not on a golf course, or on the beach. Come see me after service, and we’ll talk.
This morning, if you are a Christian, if you don’t take away anything else from this message, I want you to leave with one question and its answer in your hearts: Why are we (as Christians) to live in this manner (that Peter) talks about?
Simply because we are citizens of God’s Kingdom who have been granted mercy, and are called priests, we have the duty of being ambassadors (God’s representatives) and uniting God and man, and declaring his praises. And because of our status as priests and ambassadors, we are to change our inner self in accordance with that calling, by rooting out sinful desires from our minds. We cannot do it on our own, but we’ve been given a counselor to lean on.
The New Testament letter of Hebrews tells us that Jesus looked ahead to the joy set before him as he went to the cross. In the same way we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, and our real identity. We are not citizens of this world; we are citizens of God’s Kingdom, so go live life that way.