Exiles in the world: lessons from 1 Peter
Ever feel like you don't belong? Find out why!
Do you ever feel, as a Christian, that you don’t quite fit in?
It seems that every day, more and more people hate Christians. You only have to turn on the TV or look on Facebook to hear about an attack on Christians, or to read vicious comments from someone you thought was a friend.
But here’s the thing: this shouldn’t be a surprise to us. Feeling like we don’t belong is EXACTLY how the Bible says followers of Jesus will feel!
The letter of 1 Peter explains this complicated situation really clearly: we are exiles in the world… BUT we are residents… SO we can be lights to those around us!
We are exiles
In 1 Peter 1:17-21, Peter writes this:
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
In this passage, Peter is writing to Christians across the Roman world. Many of these people are Roman citizens, so they have the right to travel throughout the empire with the protection of their citizenship. Roman citizenship was highly prized.
However, Peter tells them to live as ‘foreigners’, or exiles! Why?
Well, the Christians had been saved by the blood of Jesus. They had something much greater than Roman citizenship – they were citizens of heaven.
Because of this, Peter calls them to live out their identity as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9).
We are the same – if we follow Jesus, our primary identity is not our race, citizenship, family or financial status. It is our citizenship of heaven. We should never forget that we belong to God first.
We are residents
But, for the Christians in 1 Peter and for us, living as exiles is not simple. We are also residents of this world, and the pressures of the world around us can make falter in living out our heavenly identity.
So in 1 Peter 2:11-25, Peter walks through a number of different ways that Christians can live as foreigners, not forgetting our primary identity as citizens of heaven.
Firstly, he says we must “abstain from sinful desires” (1 Peter 2:11). This makes sense – often we want to sin and live like others do, enjoying that which God forbids. But sin is characteristic of those who don’t know Jesus. We DO know Jesus, and so we should be fighting sin with all our might.
Then Peter says that Christians must “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” (1 Peter 2:13). Peter explains that by following the laws of the land and respecting those in authority, we are submitting to those God has put in place to lead us. He also writes that slaves should submit to their masters – even those who are harsh – just as Christ submitted to those who killed him. This sounds strange, but Peter wants the Christians who are slaves that read his letter to accept the position they are in, respect their masters and endure suffering with grace and patience, just as Jesus did.
Later in his letter, Peter explains that Christians living in the world will suffer for their faith. And he acknowledges many of those he is writing to have already suffered! But all Christian exiles can take encouragement from the fact that Jesus “the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).
We are lights
So as we live as exiles, we will have to constantly battle sin, submit to those who do not believe what we do and suffer for what we believe.
But it’s not all bad news! While we are here, God has gifted us with a special task: to be a light to those that don’t know Jesus.
This idea crops up several times in 1 Peter, but two of the most regularly quoted passages sum up how we can be a light in the world.
Firstly, Peter writes that Christians should “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.” (1 Peter 2:12). Peter is encouraging Christians to live in such a way that people who don’t follow Jesus wonder about our motivations and come to faith as a result of investigating what we believe!
What might this look like for you? It might look like someone asking you why you don’t swear or drink. It might be a friend wondering why you’re always so kind to those who others don’t like. It might be a teacher noticing how polite and respectful you are compared to your classmates.
The way we live can really make us stand out. And when that happens, Peter’s next piece of advice will come in handy. He says: that Christians must “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
When you follow Jesus, people are going to ask you why. So if you’re ready to answer that question, you could be a real blessing to someone seeking the truth about God and wanting a relationship with him. Notice though that Peter points out HOW we should answer questions about our faith: “with gentleness and respect”. There is nothing good that can come from getting into angry arguments where you disrespect or are rude to those who don’t share your faith.
We have a mission
We are citizens of heaven, whom God has placed in the world to be his lights. No, it’s not always going to be easy. But it is a special life-saving mission given to us by our Saviour and Creator, and carrying out that mission is the greatest thing we’ll ever do.
How are you going to live out your heavenly citizenship this week?