Last week we came to grips with the reality of our homelessness in this world, yet our sense of belonging to the family of God. We are adopted sons and daughters, this is true; yet we wait to go Home. So we are pilgrims on the journey. Peter calls us “sojourners” and “exiles” in his first epistle. But the question from last week remains:
How should we then live as a people of God who are not Home-less, but homeless in this world?
Thankfully, Peter expounds on what we read in 1 Peter 2:9-11 with outlining the implications for his points over really the rest of the letter. The rest of the letter serves as a response to our stated pilgrimage. Since we are talking a lot about the election and government here, I think it will be helpful to zero in on 1 Peter 2:11-25 specifically.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pt. 2:11-12)
Why are we witnessing such violent hostility in our culture’s words and actions (including us homeless evangelicals) towards the candidates in this election? It has been really easy for me to criticize Donald Trump’s misogyny and arrogance, or Hillary Clinton’s dishonesty and contempt. Why is this? Because it is easy for me to deflect what is inside of me to a scapegoat. We are all like Adam, caught in our sin yet wagging our finger to blame someone else.
Despite what they say and my limited knowledge, maybe (like me) you believe that Trump and Clinton both have a faulty understanding of the gospel and what it means to follow Christ, given their words and actions. You probably affirmed that statement as you read it. But look at your own life, as I look at my own.
Are you abstaining from the passions of the flesh? Are you keeping your conduct honorable? Are people seeing your good deeds?
It is far easier to vouch for holiness and condemn wickedness when our own hearts are not involved in the conversation. Don’t misunderstand me; it is good to oppose what Trump and Clinton stand for. But doing so without examining our own sin problems, our own heart issues, only makes us believe the lie that the problem is out there, not in here. Peter encourages us to examine our own hearts first. Phil Ryken sums it up well: “The most dangerous spiritual condition in the world is to think you have already done all the repenting you need to do.”
Submission and Charity
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Pt. 2:13-17)
As homeless evangelicals, how shall we live in this world? Once we commit to making sure we ourselves are striving for holiness, Peter says two things in this passage that are significant. The first is that we must “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” the second that “by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
There is a murmur in us that wants to merely revolt and war the culture and its government, no matter who gets elected. This view, called “Christ against culture,” was explained by H. Richard Niebuhr in his classic Christ and Culture. Christians who strive for a “Christ against culture” stance want to withdraw and remove themselves from the culture and only pursue the growth of the church. There are many problems with this view. First, it overlooks the reality of God as Redeemer and Restorer. Second, it misses the minimizes the impact of original sin. A “Christ against culture” view only furthers the divide between the city of Man and the city of God, and makes the task of going and making disciples of all nations exponentially more difficult.
Peter instead argues that we should have more of what Niebuhr calls “Christ transforming culture.” We witness Christ transforming the brokenness of our culture through our being sent into, not of, the world (Jn. 17:16). The best way to change the culture is not to yell at it to “be different,” but to effect a difference with our lives and watch God redeem and judge as He sees fit. We do this by submitting to our God-appointed authorities. We do this by doing good works. These are possible for evangelicals, even in America.
Suffering For God
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Pt. 2:19-25)
When suffering and trials come their way, many Christians resort to the Coldplay lyrics, “Nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be this hard.” But this is not true, of course, given what we have just read in Peter’s letter. Suffering is not just a possibility in Christianity, but an inevitability. As we live as homeless evangelicals in this city of Man, we must remember that our hard times are not necessarily an indication of weak faith or of God’s disapproval of us. We have been appointed for such a time as this.
In this season of governmental uncertainty and hostile political discussion, we have the privilege to endure these hard times for and in Christ’s name. We live in the tension of the already-not-yet, we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, we seek the welfare of the city, and we wait upon the Lord.
We know how the story ends, after all.