1 Peter 2v11-12
These 2 verses introduce a package of practical teaching from Peter of what it means to pursue holiness in the different contexts we find in life – as part of society, as part of enterprise, and as part of family.
He starts with a reminder that we are aliens and strangers in this world.
The world “alien” immediately, for those of us who love a little bit of science fiction, immediately makes us think of strange new worlds, new life and new civilizations, of boldly going where no man has gone before 🙂
The word “stranger”, we are brought up to believe they are someone to avoid – stranger danger. Don’t talk to strangers.
But Peter also knows that the word “alien” means a foreigner, and “stranger” to mean a person who does not know, or is not known in, a particular place or community.
Now, many of us here, have been living in the Highlands for many years. We are not aliens and strangers in our communities. We are known. But we have to remind ourselves who Peter is writing to – he is writing to people exiled and scattered throughout the provinces – he is writing to people who are living for Jesus wherever they are – and for many of them they were actually aliens and strangers in the communities that they found themselves.
They were people were from, say somewhere like Jerusalem, and now found themselves as aliens and strangers in places like Pontus, Galatia, and Asia.
Now many of you know that I am originally from Hamilton where I was born and brought up and at the age of 19, 1 week before my 20th Birthday, I moved to Inverness. I know you’ll find this hard to believe because of my youthful looks, but I’ve actually lived in Inverness longer than I’ve lived in Hamilton. And when I arrived in Inverness, I took some time to get to know the place because, to me, Inverness was a strange place, I was an alien, a stranger in these parts. And as I got to know the place and the people my life and my speech slowed and I began to become more ‘Highland’. I was speaking to a work colleague on Thursday evening who was from the village of Cleland, which is not too far from Motherwell and Wishaw, and he was amazed that I was from Hamilton – I obviously don’t come across as someone from Hamilton, whatever that means, maybe because my accent has mellowed from that central west of Scotland dialect you know by the way.
When my cousins moved from Cumbernauld to Preston in the late 1970’s, my aunt and uncle kept their accents but my cousins who were all below the age of 10, almost immediately adopted the Lancashire accents of those around them.
Because it’s the most natural thing for us as humans to try and blend into the society and the culture that we live in. Because by nature, we don’t want to be aliens, we don’t want to be strangers.
But Peter is reminding them they are aliens and strangers in the world – not aliens and strangers in a place, but in the world. And he urges then, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against their souls.
In other words, no matter where you are folks, you need to remember that you are a whole new person. You have received a great salvation in Jesus, you have a hope that holds the future in the present because its anchored in the past. You are called to pursue holiness – to show love, to bring life and light! Because you have been called out of darkness into His wonderful light.
And Peter is urging them not to go back into a lifestyle from that which they have been rescued from. Because Peter is well aware that as they try to live in a new place, in a different part of the world, it’s the most natural thing for them to try and blend into that society, blend into that culture – when in Rome do as the Romans do type thing.
He is reminding them as As Paul reminded the Philippians “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body”
Paul is saying, and Peter is saying, conforming to society and culture around us is not the model folks – because we are chosen, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. We are now citizens of heaven and we need to reflect the standards of heaven.
Peter is telling us that we cannot afford to return to that which we have been saved from, because we are looking towards that which we have been saved to. Our great salvation in Jesus.
And the challenge of pursuing holiness that we have been talking about over the last few weeks is based on not conforming to the standards of this world – to be different – to live differently. In other words don’t do what your natural instinct tells you to do and conform to the society and culture you find yourself in.
Because this society and culture with its temptations are waging war against our souls. And we are urged to fight against that onslaught. For the salvation of our soul is of prime importance – that’s why we’ve accepted that great salvation in Jesus, because that salvation is of prime importance; that’s why we pursue holiness, because that salvation is of prime importance.
Our citizenship, our culture and our society is heaven. We have been bought with a price – with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without sin or blemish. He has redeemed us for Himself and Jesus has sent us His Holy Spirit to live in us. We are His temple, where He dwells, we carry His presence. Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God. We are citizens of heaven. Peter urges us not to be ashamed of that – not to “fit in”; but be an alien, be a stranger in this world for that is who you are, because you’re a citizen of heaven.
Peter urges us to live as citizens of heaven, so that, as he goes on to say in verse 12, we 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.
The goal is the glory of God. “Live such good lives, or keep your behaviour excellent, as some versions put it, so that . . . the pagans, non-believers, might see your good deeds and glorify God.” The challenge of our lives in living as aliens and strangers is whether our lives direct people’s attention towards the glory of God.
If we live our lives in such a way that it doesn’t point people to the glory of God, then our lives are not as they ought to be. We become nothing more than people who conform to a culture and society that ignores God. Because we are ashamed.
But here we have yet again, an urging, a commending, to live in a way that pursues holiness, that points to the glory of God. Its from the time we get up in the morning till the time we go to bed at night and everything in between is to point people to the glory of God.
Notice too that the doing needs to come out of our being. Because Peter urges us to win the war of our desires – verse 11 – before telling us to live such good lives that point to the glory of God in verse 12
Because Beautiful Conduct Springs Only from Right Desires
Verse 11 says that it is “sinful desires that wage war against the soul.” So Peter says abstain from them. Then in verse 12 Peter says we should keep our “behaviour” excellent so that people will see and give glory to God. So first he focuses on desires and then on behaviour. This is the same pattern we saw in 1 Peter 1:14–15. “Don’t conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance, but . . . be holy in all you do.” Fight first at the level of desires and then at the level of conduct. Out of our being comes our doing.
Jesus said in Matthew 23:25, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
In other words, it doesn’t do any good to try to shine up the conduct on the outside without changing the desires on the inside.
Good deeds flows from good desires. As Paul put it to the Galatians – “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature”
So How Does Excellent Behaviour or good deeds Point to God’s Glory?
How does verse 12 work? How do our good deeds point people to the glory of God?
The answer, I think, is given in 1 Peter 3:15 where it says “Always be ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” What they see is some external action, and what they ask about is your internal hope.
What Peter is saying here is that when people look at you, what they see expressed in your actions, is what you hope in. So they see a certain way of acting—some humble act of love (Galatians 5:6) or some righteous act of courage (Hebrews 10:34) or some self-denying act of generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1-2)—and they notice that you must not be hoping in what people usually hope in—self-exaltation, safety, money—and they are puzzled as to where your hope is.
So they ask about your hope: where do you get your confidence, your contentment, your satisfaction when you act that way? Especially when people think what on earth are you doing?
For when we direct our desires to God and find hope and contentment in his mercy and power and promises, then our outward life starts to show what Peter calls “good deeds or excellent behaviour”. These behaviours point to God’s glory because they point to a stable, sure, satisfying object of desire and hope that is not of this world. The point to Jesus.
You see by pointing to the glory of God, we see the heart of God in urging us to live this way. Because who is glorifying God in verse 12, but the pagans who see our good deeds and glorify God on the day He visit us.
Now how can pagans glorify God on the day He visits us. I think the answer is very simple. They themselves come to know this great salvation in Jesus, though the lives that we lead as citizens of heaven, as aliens and strangers in this world. For the heart of God is that none should perish, and when He returns, He desires as many as possible to glorify Him on that day.
And before Peter then launches into practical teaching about how we live as citizens of heaven as part of society, as part of enterprise, and as part of family – he tells us, no… he encourages us, no…. he urges us, to have very strong desire for, to have a fire in our belly for living as a citizen of heaven so that others can become citizens of heaven.
As we were hearing from Ps Tim Jack at our Highland Network Leaders weekend: on the day of Pentecost everyone had something in them – the Holy Sprit; but that was just the beginning, that was if you like a breathing in, but the rest of Acts 2 is the breathing out – the disciples breaking out of the room and into community and they spoke a language that people understood. Our job as spirit filled believers is to engage a society that understands a language we speak by the breathing out of the Holy Spirit.
And this is what Peter is also urging. Our citizenship in heaven, our status as aliens and strangers in this world does not mean we talk a different language that no one understand, but we speak and show a language that points people to the glory of God, that even though they see we are different, that breathing out of the Holy Spirit, causes the Holy Spirit to work in them so that they come to understand for themselves this great salvation in Jesus.
What these two verses make clear is that there are two tremendous issues in the world. They are, quite possibly, the most important issues in the world. And one of the reasons we know that we are aliens and strangers in the world is that the modern world we live in does not believe that these two issues are the main issues.
If the world believed this, the newspaper and TV and the theatres and the universities and popular music and industry mission statements and government goals would look and sound very different than they do. But in fact we live in a world that shows by its priorities and values and preoccupations and pleasures that it does not regard these two issues as paramount. In fact, they are not even on the list of the world’s priorities.
The two issues that dominate these two verses—and indeed dominate the whole New Testament—are <slide> the salvation of the human soul and the glory of God. The two great issues of the Bible are how the soul of man might not be destroyed and how the glory of God might not be belittled.
As I said earlier, many of us here, have been living in the Highlands for many years. We are not aliens and strangers in our communities. We are known.
If someone was to ask me to describe myself, I might say that I am a 48 year old married man who is father to 3 boys. I work 4 days a week as an IT project manager and the rest of the time I work as a Pastor in a local church.
In others words – a fairly average kind of guy that fits into a middle class society of family life and work life. Nothing special.
And there in lies the problem. Because in that description of myself I have conformed to how society and culture describes themselves. People will think that’s nice, they may think that’s ‘interesting’; If I do some good deeds, they may think I’m a good guy with a big heart, but they can’t see anything that will point them to the glory of God, in other words I am belittling the glory of God in my life.
But if I started with, I am a citizen of heaven, I’m seeking to live a Godly lifestyle in this world because Jesus has saved me from destruction and given me a hope for the future that is sure. And I outwork that lifestyle as a 48 year old married man who is a father of 3 boys. I outwork that life style as an IT project manager and as a Pastor in a local church.
Then they may think I’m weird, a bit of a fanatic, maybe an alien; but when I do good deeds, they know the reason why – they know the motivation – they know it’s because I’m seeking to glorify God, I am seeking to maximise the glory of God because God has saved me through Christ. They will observe my lifestyle, my deeds, and if there is a fire in my belly that seeks to live to the Spirit and live as a citizen of heaven then one day, if the Lord tarries, I might have the privilege of seeing those who have observed my lifestyle, they might accept salvation in Jesus for themselves, and so another soul may be saved for the glory of God.
But we need to be unashamed of wearing the badge of being an alien and stranger in this world. We need to be unashamed of the gospel of Christ. Unashamed of declaring our faith in Him. Unashamed of having fingers pointed at us as a result. Unashamed of people thinking we are weird. Unashamed of living to a different standard. Unashamed of having excellent behaviour. Unashamed of Jesus. Unashamed.
Because we are chosen. We are a royal priesthood. A holy nation. A people belonging to God.
It’s time to stop being a hypocrite. It’s time to stop playing Christian. It’s time to stop conforming to this world and this culture. It’s time to repent from those ways and time to turn again to what Christ saved us to be, and made us to be; It’s time to be the aliens we are and speak and live differently to this world.
Invite the scrutiny. Live lives that can stand up to such scrutiny. Live lives that show that out of our being in Christ comes our doing of love, life and light.
Cause them to ask us why we’re different. Why are we an alien. And as we do, let’s be ready to give an answer and pray one day they too may become citizens of heaven.