Are You From This Planet?
I Peter 2:11,12
One year our son Jonathan wanted to go to a school dance. We had been reluctant to let the children go, but we chose on this occasion to let him go. As he prepared to go, we instructed him to remember who he was. Our older son, Joel, took it upon himself to help. He went out into the garage and after a while of hearing noises from the garage, he came back in with a large wooden cross made of 1x2’s and a string around them. He put the cross around Jonathan’s neck and instructed him to wear it the whole time. Of course he didn’t, but the point had been made that as a Christian, he needed to remember that he belonged to Christ and that knowledge should make s difference in his behaviour.
One year when our daughter was about in grade 8 or 9, the subject of evolution came up in class. She was very vocal in her faith and was not afraid to stand up and challenge the notion of evolution and suggest the possibility that God created the world. After the class, another girl who was also a Christian came up to her and thanked her for being so bold and confessed that she did not have the courage to stand up for her faith.
This morning, we will continue to study I Peter and look at I Peter 2:11,12. Let us read these two verses. Earlier, we were reminded about our new birth and our inheritance. Last week, we were reminded that we are a people belonging to God. Beginning with these two verses, the remainder of the book presents a series of very practical and relevant words on some of the specific details of what it means to be the people of God in this world. Being a Christian, Waltner says, “has to do not only with mental assent, but with trusting to the point of building a lifestyle in congruence with Jesus Christ.” That is what these verses and those which follow, are all about.
Peter addresses his readers as friends and urges on them the importance of considering and living as God’s people in this world.
I. From Another Planet
In many areas of the world, people are required to carry an ID card. For example, France requires every person over 18 years of age to carry a personal ID card at all times. In Belgium, a similar rule applies to all over 15. Every West German 16 or older must possess an identity card or a passport. The ID is also popular in Israel. In that nation, composed mostly of immigrants, many of whom were “stateless,” the card has taken on a positive association symbol of citizenship.
If we were required to carry a citizenship card, what country would we identify as our true home country?
The whole book of I Peter deals heavily with this idea. Repeatedly, as people who live on earth, we are identified as strangers in this world. I Peter 1:1 says we are “strangers in the world.” In 1:17, we are encouraged to “live as strangers.” In the passage we are looking at today, we are identified as “strangers and aliens. These two words mean approximately the same thing.
The first word means a resident alien. This is a person who has taken up a longer term stay in the country in which he is living. He plans to live there for a long time, but retains his citizenship in the other country. The concept was known in the Old Testament where Israel lived as strangers in Egypt for many years and even later while living in the promised land, David says in Psalm 119:19, “I am a stranger on earth…” My mother was a resident alien when she lived in the US. For all of the 13 years that she lived there, she never gave up her Canadian citizenship.
The other word is similar, but is often used to refer to someone who is not staying as long. It refers to someone who is just passing through another country, someone who is a sojourner. Such a person may travel in the host country, use the resources of the country, but is not planning to take up long term residence.
This is what we are on earth. Whether we live on earth for a short or a long time, we do not really belong here. As long as we live on earth, we have this awareness that this is not really our home.
Who we really are is also declared in this letter. In I Peter 1:1, we are identified as “God’s elect.” In 1:2-4, we are identified as chosen of God, newly born of God and having our inheritance in heaven. In the passage which we looked at last week there are powerful identifying words, which link directly to what we are talking about today. Larry helped us understand that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and as our title for the whole series identifies, “a people belonging to God.”
From what the Bible tells us, we would have to put heaven as our place of true residence.
II. Living As Aliens I Peter 2:11a
But, we live on earth and that isn’t easy! One writer says, “Christians are only temporary residents on earth and must not let their lives be shaped by its interests.”
What are the challenges of being heaven’s citizens living on earth? There are two opposite problems which arise because we are strangers and aliens. One problem is that we might be tempted to become too much a part of the foreign nation. On one Simpson’s episode, Apu, who is an East Indian grocer, is tempted to act fully American in order to avoid deportation. Later he is ashamed about giving up his cultural values. We struggle with that temptation. How is that a temptation for us? Do we struggle with identification with the world? What do we compromise, what do we lose when we are too closely identified with this world?
The other and opposite danger occurs when in identifying closely with heaven, we are misunderstood. How can we live and witness in this world when it doesn’t understand us and even sometimes persecutes us? We try to do our best and yet, people just don’t get it.
Peter addresses both of these concerns in these two verses.
A. The Battle For Your Soul I Peter 2:11b
In verse 11, Peter addresses the temptation to identify too closely with the world when he says, “abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”
1. Sinful Desires Which War Against The Soul
What exactly are the sinful desires which war against the soul? Or “fleshly lusts” or “passions of the flesh” or “bodily passions” as different translations have it?
I suspect that the first thing that comes to mind is sexual sins and that certainly is part of it. Then, perhaps, our mind might turn to such things as stealing, lying and the rest of the ten commandments. This too would be a correct application. But as I read this, I wonder if that is the complete answer to the question? Particularly when we look at the phrase “which war against the soul,” I have a suspicion that we had better take a deeper look at this.
In the book, “Imitation of Christ” Thomas a Kempis says, “Do not covet that which it is not lawful to have. Do not have that which may entangle and deprive you of inward liberty.” I was struck by this second sentence “Do not have that which may entangle and deprive you of inward liberty.” It makes me ask, what do I have that entangles me or deprives me of inward liberty?
There is a story of two monks walking in a drenching thunderstorm. They came to a stream, and it was swollen out of its banks. A beautiful young woman stood there wanting to get to the other side but was afraid of the currents. In characteristic compassion, one of the monks said, "Can I help you?"
The woman said, "I need to cross this stream."
The monk picked her up, put her on his shoulder, carried her through the water, and put her down on the other side. He and his companion went on to the monastery.
That night his companion said to him, "I have a bone to pick with you. As monks, we have taken vows not to look on a woman, much less touch her body. Back there by the river you did both."
The first monk said, "My brother, I put that woman down on the other side of the river. You're still carrying her in your mind."
It is easy for us to identify obvious physical acts of sin, both sexual and otherwise, it is not as easy to identify those things which war against the soul. Jesus taught this idea in the sermon on the mount when he taught that murder went much deeper than actually killing someone. He taught that even words of anger and hatred were as bad as murder. The reason he made this identification was because he knew that hatred, anger and the expression of it wars against our soul.
The soul is not simply our inner self, but according to the Hebrew concept it is our true self, our whole self in relationship to God. It is the same word which is used in Matthew 10:39 when Jesus says, “whoever would save his life (soul) will lose it.”
We are at war. Satan is constantly trying to take away faith and to destroy the intimacy of our relationship with God. Any thought, value, activity, action which causes us to lose ground in our relationship with God is included in “sinful desires which war against the soul.”
What we are talking about here is anything that causes our spiritual life to be lost or diminished in any way. It may be what we love. Jesus said “he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” It may be a possession. The rich young ruler could not follow Jesus because his wealth prevented it. It may be an attitude, Paul accused Peter of making a distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians. It may be a value. Paul challenges those who value days and foods to realize that we are saved by grace through faith. It is any “impulses toward comfort, self-protection and self-gratification that get in the way of God’s intention.” Whatever it is, if it breaks our confidence in God, our complete trust in Him and our relationship of love and intimacy with him, it is a sinful desire that wages war against our soul.
When we define it that way, we need to take a deeper look at our life and examine, what is it in your heart or life that wages war against your soul?
Calvin Miller in “A Requiem for Love” talks about sinful desires which wage war against the soul with this graphic description “A cannibal committing suicide by nibbling on himself.”
If we are destroying ourselves by our sinful desires, the only solution is as Peter says, “Stop!” As we remember that our citizenship is in heaven, that we are strangers and aliens on earth, that we want to remain pure and whole and do not want to compromise our heavenly identity by walking in too close alliance with our earthly dwelling, we are called to abstain.
That may seem almost too simplistic, but it is the bottom line. If someone asks about a struggle with temptation, the answer is “Don’t do it.” We know full well that it is easier said than done, but it is still the right response. Thankfully, we have the power of God’s Spirit to help us, but that does not take away from our responsibility to not do it.
May the reminder of who we are help us to abstain from anything which will destroy the God life in our being.
B. Lives That Bring Glory To God I Peter 2:12
In verse 12, Peter deals with the struggle with being misunderstood.
1. Accused For Wrongdoing
The reality about being a Christian is that we will be misunderstood.
When Paul was preaching to the Jews and the Gentiles in Corinthian, many could not understand that the cross was central. As a result, believers were persecuted.
When believers in the early centuries stood up and said that they could not say “Caesar is Lord” because they were loyal only to Jesus as Lord, they were misunderstood and many were thrown to the lions.
When early Anabaptists insisted that baptism must be for those who have a faith in Jesus and that faith meant discipleship, they were misunderstood and many were killed.
When we discouraged our children from participating in certain activities, other people in the community could not understand and were puzzled at what we did.
When believers speak up to protect the rights of the unborn, many people do not understand and accuse us of violating the rights of women.
When as believers we identify homosexuality as sin, people who disagree with us do not hear our call to hate the sin, but love people who are trapped in a very confusing situation. They accuse us of being homophobic.
Just as a resident of Canada cannot understand all the cultural practices of someone who comes here from another country, so we as people whose citizenship is in heaven will not be understood by those whose citizenship is on earth.
2. Your Being Watched
Whenever I see a black person playing on an NHL hockey team, I usually notice it. It is not that I am prejudiced, it is just that it is unusual. My brother and his family are here today, and many of you may not even know it. That was likely not the case two weeks ago when he attended a black church in Kansas City. You can’t hide when you are different. As Christians we are different and we can’t hide. We are being watched.
3. They May Glorify God
How do we live in this tension? Knowing that we will be often misunderstood, and even accused and knowing that we are being watched because we belong elsewhere, how do we live?
Peter says, “live such good lives that they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.” What he is saying is simple. In spite of opposition, in spite of the possibility of being misunderstood. In spite of the fact that we may become discouraged and would rather give up. We are called to live good lives. We are called to live lives that are deliberately lived in the eyes of unbelievers, lives that will draw them to Christ.
The phrase “that they may glorify God on the day He visits us” simply means that we live lives that draw others to Jesus. The day of visitation is the day when Christ returns. The only way that pagans can glorify God on the day He visits us is if they know Him. The way that they come to know Him is when we live lives that draw them to Christ.
What does that mean in practical terms? Have you ever listened to unbelievers talk about believers? It may feel like persecution, but it can also be very instructive.
What are the things that turn them away and what draws them?
What have you heard? Here are some of the things that I have heard. When we communicate to them that we are better than they are. When we communicate to them that we are holier than they are. When we are stingy with our money and always expect a good deal. When we are so shrewd in business deals that they don’t want to do business with us. When we live legalistically. There is a difference between legalism and holy living that is misunderstood and we need to make sure that we live holy lives even if we are misunderstood, but we should not destroy the faith of others through legalism. We do not win people when we are complaining and grumbling all the time. Being hypocritical also will not win. These kinds of actions, I have heard directly from unbelievers that when they see these things, they are not drawn to Christ.
What are the good actions that draw people? Acts of love that are genuine. Lives of integrity that are respected. Lives of generosity that have no strings attached. Listening to the heart of unbelievers with love and compassion knowing that we are not better. These are actions that draw. When we live the gospel as Jesus did, then we will draw others to Christ.
I knew a man who had a farm. His neighbour was not a believer and often gave him grief. One time the Christian man’s cows got out and got into the neighbours field. The unbelieving neighbour was so angry that he called the Christian man and told him to get his cows and that if it ever happened again, he would shoot them. It wasn’t long after that the unbelieving neighbours cows got out and were in the Christian man’s crop. The Christian called for his sons to come and help and together they chased the cows back into the neighbours pasture, repaired his fence and went home. When the unbelieving neighbour heard about this, it had a powerful impact on him and he came to respect the Christian man.
Are we attractive Christians? Do we give people the impression that the most marvellous thing in the world is to be a Christian and to have the Spirit of God within us? This is the thing to which we are called and the way to do that is to walk by the Spirit, to dwell in him as he dwells in us, and to be led by him in all things.
I would like to ask the ushers to hand out the cards which I have prepared for each one of you. It is a resident alien certificate. On the card it says, “This is to certify that __________________ is a citizen of heaven and a resident on earth.” It is assured by God the Father on the basis of I Peter 2:11,12. As a response to this message, I would like to invite you to put your name on the card. This will indicate your recognition of who you are. With that recognition comes a commitment to do what Peter says in these verses. I would encourage you to carry it in your wallet. As you see it, remember who you are. Abstain from those things that war against your true identity and live such good lives that you faithfully and lovingly represent your home country. We will take a few moments to distribute the cards and to put your names on them and then I will ask Lorne to lead us in a song.