April 10, 2016
It’s an election year and we want to know what the candidates think. We’re not interested in vague political spin. We want to know what they think about the issues important to us. We want them to stake out clear positions. It’s the only way we can compare the candidates. A clear position helps us know where the candidates stand in relationship to each other.
Every person alive has a relationship to the world around them. Our choices in life reveal how we relate to the world. Today we begin a series of messages from the book of 1Peter. Peter has much to say about how Christians relate to the world. And this morning we begin by looking at 1Pt.1:1-2. You see, being a Christian clarifies our relationship to the world.
I. CHRISTIANS IDENTIFY WITH THE PEOPLE OF GOD. 1Pt.1:1
Peter is writing to “elect exiles” scattered about in the provinces of Asia Minor in what is today the country of Turkey. The fact that they are “elect” means that Peter is writing to men and women who have received the grace of God in Jesus Christ. They have become Christ followers and are part of the people of God, the Church. The word, “Dispersion” was used to refer to Jews who had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire. The fact that Peter uses this term to refer to Christians who were largely Gentile implies that Peter sees the Church as the People of God, the new Israel. This is the view that I take, but not everyone would agree with it.
Some say that the words, “exile” and “dispersion” are only a metaphor referring to the fact that our homeland is in heaven, not this world. Others say that Peter is writing to people who were literally exiles and were marginalized because of their social status as slaves. Both ideas may be in play here. After turning to Jesus these people experienced even more social marginalization.
So let’s think a little bit about the people Peter is writing to. Many believe that these folks were primarily of the slave class. They were not Roman citizens and had very few rights. It is likely they were far from their homeland. Our identity is shaped to a great degree by our position in society. If you are a slave with few rights, that is going to shape how you view yourself and your situation. We know plenty about this because of our situation in the United States. The personal and social destruction that has resulted from slavery continues to rip apart our society and relationships. It would not surprise me if many of these people felt hopeless and disenfranchised.
But at some point they heard the good news about Christ and the kingdom of God and they turned to Christ, becoming his follower. When they did this they received a new identity and an eternal hope. They entered into the family of God and were brought into the Church of Jesus Christ. They were Christians. And this made a huge difference. Since coming to Christ they came to understand that they were now living under the good rule of God. Every circumstance of their lives was fully known to God. They belonged to God who would care for and provide for them. They were a chosen people. They belonged to the church who worshiped God and encouraged one another in living the Christian life. So they went from having little sense of identity, to having a wonderful new identity in Christ and his church. It is often the case that those who are socially marginalized turn to Christ first.
Now, you and I do not live in that kind of situation. The words of Peter do not apply to us in the same way that they applied to the believers in Asia Minor. Most of us do not experience social marginalization as these people did. But we do live in a world that is increasingly hostile to the person and ways of Jesus Christ. Because our society is increasingly pluralistic, values are relative and personal. And when the situation arises when values are made public like in the current political debates, we see great incivility and hostility. In a pluralistic society religious beliefs are to be held privately. Every person can define their own moral and spiritual truth as long as it does not interfere with others. When you add in the values of materialism and wealth, it creates a powerful force that invites and compels people to comply. In our culture, you can have a pretty good life if you go with the flow and don’t rock the boat.
But the flow of our society is not flowing in the way of Christ. The way of Christ is the way of humble, self-denial and service as opposed to political power. The way of Christ is the way of Christ-like righteousness and love as opposed to moral relativism. The way of Christ is the way of material and financial moderation as opposed to materialism and greed. And the way of Christ is the way of community and love as opposed to individualism. These are the values that Christ taught. These are the values we profess to embrace. Our identity is found in Christ and the church. So it is confusing when Christians live self-centered, churchless, morally relative lives.
It’s not that Christians look for trouble and persecution. No. As Christians we seek to be salt and light in society, bringing the Lordship of Christ to bear on all our social and personal circumstances as we live by the Spirit of God. When we do this, it is very likely that at some point we will experience various forms of persecution. But the temptation is to cave into our society by fitting in. Men and women, the goal is not to fit into society, the goal is to fit into the church. Christ and the church are our primary reference for shaping our identity. It is in the church where the people of God worship and learn and pursue life in the kingdom of God together. Does this make sense or not? Is this in keeping with the teaching of scripture or not? I don’t want to say something that is not true.
If it is in keeping with scripture, then I need to ask, what shapes your identity? Is it Christ and the church or your social group? Of course all Churches are imperfect. So how can you help to make the church better? And are you willing to be a part of the solution so that the needs of others are able to be met in the church?
More and more I am thinking that as Christians we are shorting ourselves of the life God has given to us in Christ because somehow the life we see in society is more attractive. How can that be, when Christ is the treasure, Christ is the pearl of great price? How can that be when the church is the means through which the manifold wisdom of God is revealed in the world?
As followers of Christ we really need to evaluate every association and affiliation that we are part of. We need to evaluate every relationship we are involved in. We need to evaluate everything that attracts us. Does it compromise our life with Christ and his church? Does it shape our identity apart from Christ and his church?
II. CHRISTIANS LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST. 1Pt.1:2
The truth regarding our Christian identity in v.1 is based upon the reality of conversion which Peter writes about in v.2. The first two phrases of v.2 refer to the work of God in salvation, while the third phrase refers to our response to God’s work
The wonderful thing about Christianity is that it teaches that God cares so much about people that he is deeply involved in seeing that people turn to Jesus. The foreknowledge of God is active in bringing events about in such a way so as to make it possible for men and women to embrace Christ and be saved from their sins.
You notice that salvation is Trinitarian in nature. We see God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son referred to in v.2. God the Father sends the Son, Jesus Christ to live on earth, showing us what it means to live in the kingdom of God while living in a hostile world. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the grave for our justification before God. He ascended to the Father where he reigns and intercedes for us. He is coming again to take us to be with him.
God the Holy Spirit brings about our sanctification in conversion. The word, “sanctification” refers to being holy. In 2Thess.2:13 Paul writes, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” You see, sanctification does not just refer to the process of growing in holiness after we are converted. Sanctification also involves our initial separation from sin as we embrace Christ. The word sanctification covers the entire process of salvation. We are sanctified or made holy at conversion. We learn how to live holy lives in daily Christian living and the day will come when we will be presented to Christ spotless and without blemish.
But what is the purpose of God’s gracious work in bringing us to Christ? Peter tells us that it is for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood. When the call of God comes to a person to embrace Christ as Savior, Lord and King, the person who commits his life in faith to Christ is obedient to God’s call. Conversion is hearing the call of God to be saved and obeying his voice. Becoming a follower of Christ requires a posture of trusting obedience. It’s not just a matter of believing that Jesus will forgive my sins. It is a matter of believing that Jesus will give me his eternal life to live through faith along with the forgiveness of sins, referred to in the phrase, “sprinkling with his blood.” Christians are those who receive the wonderful life of Jesus and begin to live as Jesus would live if he were in their shoes.
Perhaps you are thinking, “Pastor Dave, this sounds so complicated.” Doesn’t it? I mean it sounds like such an arduous project. Men and women, our salvation in Christ is an immense work of God’s mercy and grace because our hearts and minds and bodies are so completely separated from his goodness, righteousness, and love that nothing short of a miraculous work of God could save you or me.
Do you really think that God would go to such great lengths to save you only so that you can just go on living according to you own desires? Our version of life will always fall short of the glorious vision God has for you and me as we follow Jesus day by day.
Men and women, who are you? Whose are you? To whom do you belong? Did you pray a prayer to receive Christ at some point in your life? That’s good. But what of it? I want to know if you are following Christ. I want to know if you are walking in obedience to Christ? (Main)
So there are many things that describe our identity. You might say we are what we like. Some like sports and physical fitness. Some like food. Some like travel. Some like clothes. Some like technology. Some like family. Some like crafting and art. Some like music. Some like knowledge. Some like sci-fi or romance or mysteries. What defines you? How does Jesus Christ and the church fit into your identity? What are you doing to orient your life around Christ and the church? “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” I wonder, do you know Christ? Are you a follower of Christ? Amen