A. 85 Years Have Brought Many Changes
What was the world like eighty-five years ago? We have a tendency to glamorize the “good old days,” forgetting that they had problems of their own. We also forget that they didn’t have many of the things that we enjoy today—like hearing aids, microwaves, and frozen pizza. No, the old days weren’t perfect by any means.
But I think it is accurate to say that today the culture overall is less friendly to Christianity than it was eighty-five years ago. The culture is more ready to challenge Christians about their faith and even demand that they set their faith aside in certain situations, as we’ve seen with recent cases of Christian photographers, bakers, florists, and even county clerks.
Like it or not, the culture has changed. Christianity is not the norm anymore. Russell Moore, who writes about cultural issues, tells about a conversation that he had with an atheist lesbian:
We had a respectful, civil conversation, though she couldn’t help but laugh out loud several times when I articulated [Christian] viewpoints…
She said I was the first person she’d ever actually talked to who believed that sexual expression ought only to take place within marriage, and that I was the only person she’d ever met in real life who thought that marriage could only happen with the union of a man to a woman…She followed this up by saying, “So do you see how strange what you’re saying sounds to us, to those of us out here in normal America?”
Before I could answer, I was distracted by those two words: “normal America.” How things had turned around. Most of the people in the pews of my church back home would consider themselves to be “normal America.”…But I suspect she’s right. More and more, she represents the moral majority…She is normal, now.
She snapped me out of my daydreaming by asking again, “Seriously, do you know how strange this sounds to me?” I smiled and said, “Yes, I do…But what you should know is, we believe even stranger things than that. We believe a previously dead man is going to show up in the sky, on a horse” (Moore, Onward).
This is where we are at eighty-five years later, and no amount of wishful thinking or complaining or boycotting will ever bring those days back. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and become Amish, but we also cannot strike back in anger. But what we do need to do is to learn how God wants us to live as Christians in this new culture.
The first thing we need to realize is that this the kind of culture where Christianity was first planted—and it thrived.
Case in point: Peter wrote the letter of 1 Peter around AD 64-65, about the same time that Rome was burned. The burning of Rome killed many people, left many more homeless, and destroyed buildings of religious and cultural value. The Romans were devastated. Emperor Nero, who hated Christians, blamed the burning of Rome on Christians. As a result, Christians were widely and viciously persecuted. Christians were covered with tar, hung up on poles, and burned to give light along roadways.
We can be thankful that we aren’t at that point…yet. Peter wrote this letter to help those persecuted Christians know how to survive in a world that despised them and what they stood for. His letter can also help us live in a culture that is becoming more and more anti-Christian.
If eighty-five years have brought many changes, we can also say…
B. 85 Years Have Brought Clarity
One great clarity that God is teaching us through the changes in American culture is that Christianity isn’t about being American, Republican, or anything else connected with our culture. Christianity is not connected to any one culture.
We are going through the painful process of the tearing away of Christianity from our American culture. The process is painful, but in the end, it will bring clarity. What clarity?
Well, for one thing, Christians are becoming more clear as to who we really are. Peter tells us what we are:
1 Peter 2:11
I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims,
The word “strangers” (παροίκους, πάροικος, JAPM) refers to a foreign citizen, a traveler in a foreign country.
The word “pilgrims” (παρεπιδήμους, παρεπίδημος, JAPM) refers to being an exile, a temporary resident, or even a refugee.
How does a person temporarily reside in a different country? Suppose you go overseas to teach in a school, or attend college, or even as a missionary. Well, you don’t change your citizenship. You remain loyal to your own country. You do, however, respect the customs and laws of the country that you are in. But you don’t accept their religion or their morality. Their leader is not your leader.
Well, folks, that’s what we are to be like as Christians. Our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20)—and it’s time that we take that seriously. If we were in, say, a Middle Eastern country, we would find the people there strange—and we would be strange to them.
Likewise, to unbelievers, Christianity is strange and Christians are strangers. As strangers in this world, how ought we to behave?
I. A STRANGER ABSTAINS FROM SINFUL DESIRES
abstain from fleshly lusts,
which war against the soul;
What are these “fleshy lusts” or sinful desires that we are to “abstain from”? Here’s one list:
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery [relations with another person other than your spouse], fornication [relations with someone before you are married], uncleanness, lasciviousness [open, shameless display of sin], 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like…(Galatians 5:19–21a).
These are the things that humans, by default, because of our sinful nature, are prone to do. Even Christians, as new creatures, are subject to falling into these sins, which is why the Bible warns us to “abstain” from them. They “war against” our very souls.
In what way do fleshy lusts, or sinful desires, wage war against our souls? They take our minds off from Christ. They take our minds off from our true home in Heaven. Christ is not a person who participates in those sinful desires. Heaven is not a country where those desires exist. You can’t think of the pure and the sinful at the same time.
Why is it important as strangers in this world to abstain from these sinful desires? Because they take our minds off from Heaven, but also, based on what we’re going to see in verse 12, I think we can also imply that doing such things is a bad witness to the world.
Imagine being a foreigner in another country. When you live the distinctive life of your home country, they will be thinking about the country that you are from. For example, if you say that you wouldn’t want to eat the fried spiders dipped in crow gizzard pudding, they’ll say, “Oh, you don’t eat those things in the country you’re from? What do you eat over there?” That gives you an opportunity to witness about your nation’s wonderful food.
In the same way, when you refuse to participate in the desires of the flesh. you can have discussions about sexual ethics, or why you don’t cuss, or any number of things.
A stranger abstains from sinful desires, and…
II. A STRANGER IS WITNESS TO HIS TRUE HOME
A. Good Behavior That Gets A Bad Response
Tourists to other countries are often guilty of giving their home nations a bad name. Which country has the worst behaved tourists is a matter of debate: Americans, Russians, and the Chinese seem to rank high up on the surveys that I’ve read.
What makes a bad tourist? Anything from stealing the hotel towels to scratching your name on an 3,000 year old Egyptian statue (that was a Chinese tourist who did that).
The point is, when you are visiting somewhere, you should be concerned that you don’t give your home nation a bad name. That should also be the concern for the Christian stranger here on earth. Listen to what Peter says…
1 Peter 2:12a
Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles:
A few words here require explaining. The first is “conversation,” which, in the KJV, means more than speech, it includes conduct—our behavior. The Greek word for “honest” refers to being honorable or good. “Gentiles” are the non-Jews, but here Peter is using it in a broader sense: the unbelievers.
1 Peter 2:12b
that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers,
Isnʼt that crazy? Christians who do good works and live honest, moral lives are called evildoers! But it is true. Try standing up against homosexuality or abortion or premarital sex or even Creationism. You will soon be called a bigot, a hypocrite, an intolerant person, a narrow-minded, dogmatic, out of step, out of sync, unloving, anti-intellectual, naive and, oh yes, a very dangerous person.
Peter calls us to avoid sin, but not to avoid sinners. We have to get in the habit of walking the thin line—we know that our good works will sometimes cause the unbeliever to be angry with us and call us “evildoers.” Being pro-life is one issue where this happens today: being a pro-life Christian automatically means to unbelievers that you are anti-choice and anti-woman. And if you talk about adopting children, the left accuses you of trying to steal children to brainwash them with Christian teaching. Don’t talk about adopting, you get blasted for wanting to bring unwanted babies into the world!
People are challenged by our different values, our different morals, our different worldview. They are unable to reconcile that with their view of what is good and so have no choice but to call the Christian worldview evil or give up their own beliefs.
That is why Peter called Christians strangers and pilgrims. We are like the new guy in town, we are different. We’re the tourists! Some Christians are bothered by that, they want unbelievers to like us (which is fine), but they are willing to strip away that which offends in order to appease them. This is misguided.
No, we are not seek to offend the unbeliever every chance we get, but we do need to hold to biblical values. Holding to those biblical values will sometimes bring persecution our way: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12). Even Jesus, in His hometown, was rejected—
24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. (Luke 4:24)
B. A Reason To Tolerate Abuse From Non-Christians
Why should we tolerate the abuse from non-Christians? So…
1 Peter 2:12c
they may by your good works,
which they shall behold,
glorify God in the day of visitation.
Jesus said something similar in Matthew—
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16).
The unbeliever may not like your behavior, but in the day of visitation they will glorify God. What is this day of visitation? Some take it to mean a day of wrath and judgment.
But the word for “visitation” is usually used in a positive sense in the New Testament, not in a sense of judgment. Furthermore, the word “glorify” is “used over sixty times in the New Testament, but never to refer to unbelievers being forced to glorify God” (Barton, 65).
So I think Peter is referring to the “day of visitation” in a more positive and personal way, namely, when God visits an individual and opens their heart and they in turn respond to the gospel.
Do not take this to mean that we can save people by our good works. We still need to speak the gospel to the unbeliever. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
I don’t think Peter is excluding the gospel when he says that they “may by your good works…glorify God in the day of visitation.” He is simply making a point that our “good works” are an important part of our overall witness. If the gospel is water, our good works are like the glass that the water is in. If the glass is dirty, the water simply doesn’t look all that appealing.
C. Examples Of Good Works
What sort of “good works” will help an unbeliever respond to the gospel? Peter, in the rest of the letter, gives examples:
1) Obedience to the laws of the land that we currently live in:
13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: (1 Peter 2:13–15)
You can imagine a diplomat coming to another nation and using his “diplomatic immunity” to break the law willy-nilly. What will the citizens of that nation think of him and his nation?
A Christian will obey the laws of the land that don’t conflict with Gods clear teaching. And, before you say that this passage couldn’t apply to you because our situation is worse, remember that Peter was writing to Christians who may have even seen their friends hung on poles and burned as lamps.
2) Respecting other people, even those whose political or moral persuasion is not to your liking:
17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. (1 Peter 2:17)
He doesn’t say “Honor some men” or “Honor worthy men.” He says “Honor all men.” Everyone, because they are people made in the image of God, deserve some sort of respect. Our worst enemy deserves our prayers and kindness in hopes that they will respond to the gospel and believe in Jesus.
3) Being good employees, even to bad bosses:
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward [someone who is difficult to deal with]. (1 Peter 2:18)
These kinds of behavior are important for us to do, because they are how we will act in our own country—in Heaven. In Heaven, everyone obeys the King. In Heaven, all people are respected. In Heaven, we live as servants for our King.
These are Heaven’s values, and we don’t change our values while we live as strangers in this world. Instead, we do our best to live them out while here to show the world a glimpse of what Heaven is like.
It’s terribly easy for Christians to have a “us versus them” mentality. We are rightly offended by the immorality of unbelievers. We are sad and scared to see our culture become more non-Christian and even anti-Christian, but this is not a time to fear or to panic.
Instead, this is a gospel opportunity like we’ve never had before. Why? Because God is bringing us clarity as to who we are as Christians—we’re strangers living temporarily in a foreign land. Even eighty-five years ago, Christians were strangers in a foreign land, but it’s definitely more clear today.
And because the distinction is more clear, the urgency is more apparent. It’s becoming easier to see that the people around us are lost. The Christian facade that many unbelievers had eighty-five years ago has been pulled down. Unbelievers are free to be their sinful selves in public. It’s easier to see that we are citizens of another country—Heaven—and strangers here on earth.
Now is not a time to panic, no sir, it’s a time to thank God for the clarity and to get back to our mission: being witnesses to a lost world.
How do we do that? Peter told us an essential part in this passage: we must have stranger behavior. We will avoid sinful desires that will make us like the world. We will also live our lives in such a good way that the citizens of this world will take notice.
But Peter did not mean for us to leave out the gospel message. He only meant to teach us how to be good ambassadors for preaching the gospel message. The gospel must be preached to this world.
13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:13–14)
What is the gospel? Well, to the world it is strange, like foods from different countries might be strange to us in America.
The gospel says that Jesus lived and taught, and then He died for our sins (which is strange to unbelievers), but then…He rose from the dead (which is stranger yet to unbelievers). Oh, and some day He is returning in the sky on a white horse—yes, He is, with an army of believers in white robes following Him (Revelation 19:11-14)!
It’s all very strange to unbelievers—but it’s true. Okay, we don’t have to tell them the part about the white horse the first time we tell them the gospel. But the rising from the dead is critical to Christianity, without it, our faith is in vain. It’s a basic part of becoming a Christian:
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Barton, Bruce B. 1 Peter, 2 Peter, Jude. Life Application Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 1995.
Cleave, Derek. 1 Peter. Focus on the Bible Commentary. Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999.
Helm, David R. 1 & 2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008.
MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1 Peter. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004.
Marshall, I. Howard. 1 Peter. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991.
Moore, Russell D. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Nashville: B&H, 2015.