Text: 1 Peter 1:1-2 | Listen to Message
How are Christians to live in a culture that’s increasingly hostile to our faith and values? How are we to act when our impulse is often to compromise or sell out our future for some immediate benefit? How do we react to the incessant ridicule of and discrimination against our beliefs? These are some of the timely, relevant questions addressed by the apostle Peter’s first letter.
To help them navigate the challenges of living as Christians in the idolatrous empire of Ancient Rome, Peter told believers of the Diaspora to see themselves as elect exiles.
Elect exiles is somewhat of an oxymoron. If someone’s been chosen by God to receive the gift of salvation, then in what sense is he or she an exile (which sounds very negative)? And how does understanding this seeming contradiction help them navigate life between two worlds – an earthly and a heavenly one?
Elect means chosen. And Peter goes on to explain that believers have been chosen by the foreknowledge of God the Father. God didn’t simply know in advance who would choose him, he chose us – and his knowledge of us was determinative. It is the Spirit who set us apart from sin and death to belong to God. And the sprinkled blood of Jesus brought us into a new covenant of grace, where we are washed clean and forgiveness replaces the judgment we deserve.
What an encouragement our election is! God is always for us, even when circumstances and society are against us. Though we stumble into sin, though we sometimes hide or compromise our faith, God has chosen us to receive mercy. Our salvation and eternal life are secure not because we’re good, but because God is!
On the other hand, an exile is a stranger, a sojourner, a temporary resident who lacks the rights and privileges of a full citizen. For Peter, the word exile is primarily a metaphor to describe the fact that being committed to Christ will by definition cost you the acceptance of the world. If you follow Jesus with radical, life-transforming faith, you will lose the rights and privileges that come from swearing allegiance to the idols and values of this world. If you refuse to climb into bed with consumerism, money, power, tolerance, and relativism, you will find yourself alienated and excluded by this present world. That’s what it means to live as an exile.
Many . . . dare I say most . . . Christians think exile is too high a price to pay to really follow Jesus. And so they find other ways of relating to culture, ranging from conformity and consumption on one end of the scale to condemnation and censure on the other. It’s easier to “go along to get along” than to stand out with Christlike distinctiveness. It’s also easier to separate from and lob grenades of angry judgment at those you identify as corrupt. But neither extreme is consistent with our calling to live as elect exiles.
As elect exiles, we devote ourselves to the God who loved and accepted us before we’d done any good or evil. We gladly suffer the cultural consequences of associating with Father, Son, and Spirit, believing the treasure we’ve received by grace is far more valuable than the one we’ve given up by refusing to serve the gods of this world.