What’s an Exile to Do? Live Your Life with Honor

Posted by R. Fowler White

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet 2:11-12)

At its core, the Apostle Peter’s first letter acknowledges that we Christians are exiles in this world and its residents are our hosts. At certain times, our hosts tolerate us; at other times, they’re hostile. Truth is, at bottom, they want us to become like they are and to live our lives as they do theirs. In 1 Pet 2:11-12, Peter presses us again to remember the truth mentioned in 1:1 and 1:17 that “we are just visitors here” and to live as the visitors that God has made us (2:11-12). 

It’s worth noticing how the Apostle begins his exhortation to us here. He addresses us as God’s beloved. He would have us remember that though the world may tolerate or reject us, God loves us, just as he’s explained in the preceding verses. But we’re not only beloved by God. Peter says that we’re also sojourners and exiles living among the Gentiles. Our ultimate homeland and citizenship are in heaven and in the world to come. Not only that, when Peter mentions the Gentiles, we think back to his identification of the church in 2:9-10, and we realize that, united to Christ, we are what Israel was called to be (Exod 19:5a): a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, God’s people. In short, we’re the Israel of God (Gal 6:16). The Apostle’s point is, then, because God has made us who we now are, we’re to live our lives in Gentile society for His sake.

Peter goes on to spell out what he means. First, what not to do: for the safety of our souls, we’re not to indulge worldly appetites (2:11). Don’t pander to the passions of the flesh, not just those appetites we have for bodily pleasures but appetites for possessions and power, those passions that wage war against our soul. Peter makes it clear that he’s not only talking about momentary urges that distract us, but also about deep cravings that corrupt and eat away at our souls. Appetites like those that Moses faced when he might have enjoyed the fleeting pleasures of sin while living in Egypt, but instead he chose to be mistreated with God’s people. Appetites like those Jesus faced when the devil tempted Him to exchange God’s good provisions of care, reward, and protection for his diabolically deceptive provisions. For the safety of our souls, Peter says, do what Moses and Jesus did: don’t indulge worldly appetites.

Now that we know how we’re not to live our lives, the Apostle tells us how we are to do it. His directives boil down to this: for the glory of God, conduct your lives in Gentile society with honor (2:12). We might read Peter’s words and think, “How positively cultured you sound, Apostle.” But then we realize that, by God’s common grace, non-Christians can recognize right from wrong in human relationships and can show at least a grudging respect for a Christian lifestyle of good deeds. Yes, they may well continue to disdain our love of the one true God, but our love of neighbor can win a grudging respect from some when we treat others as we would have them treat us. It’s not that we expect the world suddenly to show us support or to give us aid and comfort. After all, they speak against us as evildoers. The point is, the good deeds they see will contradict the words they speak. In fact, our good deeds will be either a testimony against them or a witness to them. And, as a result, on the day of judgment, whether they’re judged as God’s enemies or saved as God’s people, they will give glory to God. So, think of it this way: as Moses tells us (Gen 39), when Joseph was in Egypt, he lived his life with honor (just ask Potiphar and his wife), and the Lord gave him favor with the Egyptians. Or, as Peter tells us (3:1-2), non-Christian husbands can be won over without a word by the respectful and pure conduct of their Christian wives. In the same way, as Jesus said, You are the light of the world. … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. For the glory of God, then, live your lives in Gentile society with honor.

We Christians are visitors in this world and the world’s residents are our hosts. At best they’re indifferent to us, and at worst they’re hostile. Bottom line is, they want us to become like they are, and to live our lives just like they live theirs. Don’t do it, says the Apostle. Remember who you are—God’s people—and live your lives in Gentile society with honor for His sake.

What’s an Exile to Do? Proclaim the Excellencies of Your God

Posted by R. Fowler White

To hear the thought leaders in our culture tell it, we Christians are intolerant haters. We have the audacity to turn to the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture as the supreme judge to settle all controversies of religion and to examine all competing claims of truth. We declare that the salvation of sinners is in Christ alone by faith alone. So, in the opinion of many, we should be shamed and pressured to conform. In 1 Pet 1:22–2:10, however, the Apostle Peter has a different take on who should feel shame and pressure, and it leads him to tells us how to live lives that don’t yield to the world.

First, he says, live a new life of love and increasing holiness (1.22–2.3). Your obedience to the gospel truth has brought about a moral transformation in you, a purification of your souls. Moreover, your rebirth (cf. 1:3) from imperishable seed—the living and abiding word of God preached to you—made you God’s newborns (1:23-25; 2:2). Furthermore, you’ve tasted God’s goodness to sinners in Christ (2:3). In light of these experiences, live a new life of fervent love for your believing siblings (1:14, 22). While showing that love for others, root out all disobedience to Christ’s law of love, especially disobedience to the sixth, ninth, and tenth commandments (2:1). And, all the while, satisfy that new appetite you have (2:2) for God’s goodness. As God worked through His preached word to give you new birth (1:23-25), so now through that word He’ll work to increase and strengthen all saving graces in you (2:2-3). Obedience to God’s truth, rebirth through God’s word, new appetites for God’s good grace—all these realities effect change in us to live a new life of love and growth in holiness.

Yet there’s even more to God’s conversion of us that should motivate us to live new lives. Peter says, now that we’ve come to Christ, we’re being built as God’s holy house. The big idea here is that God is building His new temple, and we—all who believe—are it (2:4-6)! The Apostle’s images may puzzle us. He had been talking about being God’s newborns, and now he’s talking about building God’s house. What’s up with that? In the ancient world, we hear about “the house” of Israel, of David, and of others. The point is, your family was your house, and your house was built by having children added to your family. So, just after Peter talks about our rebirth as God’s children, he now talks about God building His house. And notice: we’re not just any house. We’re a spiritual house of holy priests. We no longer need a temple on earth; we are the temple on earth. Through Jesus Christ, we believers are now being built as that spiritual house, the site of sacrifices pleasing to God.

Peter elaborates for us. He says, God put Christ in place as the living cornerstone of His new and true temple (2:4), living in that God raised Him from the dead. Christ Himself had taught that His resurrection would signal that God was building His new and final temple (John 2:18-22), and Peter picks up that teaching. Though Christ was rejected by other would-be builders (2:7; the leaders and followers of Jerusalem and Rome), the Divine Builder chose Him (cf. 1:2) and honored Him, placing Him in heavenly Mt Zion as the cornerstone, the first temple stone put in place. So it is, says Peter, that God is also now putting you yourselves in place as living stones joined to Him to make up the new temple (2:5a). Joined to Christ, we believers pass from spiritual death to new spiritual life and together we are being formed into a living spiritual house. In fact, through Christ we’re holy priests who please God with spiritual sacrifices (2:5b). Through Him we offer up praise, the fruit of our lips, as a sacrifice; we present our bodies as a living sacrifice; we bring tithes and offerings as a fragrant offering. Something better than the OT temple is here! Joined to Christ, we’re God’s true and final temple!

As we read of God making Christ the living cornerstone, making us living stones, and receiving our sacrifices, it’s vital for us who are rejected by the world to know that in doing these things God is fulfilling His promises documented in Scripture (2:6). According to those promises, though the world shames us, God honors us. It is unbelievers who bring shame on themselves (2:7b-8). They reject those whom God honors; they follow the builders of this world. They disobey the word, stumble, and fall where believers stand, namely, on Christ the Cornerstone. What happens to them is exactly the ruin that Jesus Himself predicted (Luke 20:18)—their downfall is no accident. In fact, it’s the destiny to which God appoints all sinners left to themselves. The destiny they have is not only the destiny they deserve; it’s the destiny they desire: honor and glory without Christ. So, without Christ, their destiny is nothing but dishonor and shame. By contrast, it is we believers who receive glorious honor and privileges (2:7a, 9-10). What honor? What privileges? All that God promised to Israel: being a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession … God’s people. Who receives these promises? According to Moses, it was whoever obeys God’s voice and keeps His covenant (Exod 19:5a). But who has done that? No sinner. Only Christ. And in the gospel God offers to impute to sinners the obedience He requires by faith alone in Christ alone. If you’ve believed in Christ, you have in Christ the obedience God requires—and in Christ all these glorious honor and privileges belong to you!

In the opinion of many, we Christians should be shamed and pressured into seeking glory and honor from our culture. But the Apostle Peter makes clear that all who want honor and glory without Christ are doomed. Unashamed, then, we’ll stand firm on Him and proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

What’s an Exile to Do? Know that Your God Will Have the Last Word

Posted by R. Fowler White

Dear Exile, when it comes to your suffering for Christ, who will have the final say: your persecutors or your God? Notice that we’re not talking here about hurt from hard providence. We’re talking specifically about being marginalized or worse for Christ in a world that’s against Christ, suffering for what is right in a world that’s gone wrong. So again: when we Christians suffer for Christ, will our persecutors or our God have the last word? In 1 Pet 3:13–4:2, Peter provides an answer to that question, and it requires our close attention.

First, says Peter, know for sure that we who are devoted to what God calls good are blessed even if we suffer (3:13-14; cf. 4:1-2). While God’s grace prevails, we with a zeal for good and right in the sight of all have no extraordinary fear of hindrance or harm. Yet even when we do suffer unjustly, we who pursue a righteous life in Christ will enjoy God’s blessing. So, Peter says, recalling God’s words to Isaiah (Isa 8:12-13), be truly fearless despite unjust suffering (3:14). Defend your hope in Christ (3:15). Even when you’re defamed, respond confidently, respectfully, and conscientiously to your accusers and thus expose their shamelessness (3:15-16). Moreover, if suffering for Christ is in God’s providential will for you, rest in His providential control of that suffering. After all, it is He who has made suffering for good better than committing evil. So, continue to do what is right (3:17) because neither your persecutors nor the suffering they inflict will have the last word.

But what assurances do we have that our enemies won’t have the final say, or that suffering for good is, in fact, better than doing evil? In 3:18–4:2, Peter points us to Christ, the supreme example of how God has the last word over suffering by giving victory and glory to all who suffer for what is right. First, the Apostle reminds us of Christ’s victory over sins: God gave us victory by making even Christ’s death the way to bring us to Himself (3:18a). The words that follow (3:18b-22), however, are harder to understand, but in my view Peter most likely refers to Christ’s resurrection and ascension (as he refers to His suffering and death in 2:21-25). He tells us that Christ, made alive in the Spirit, proclaimed His resurrection-and-ascension victory to evil spirits from Noah’s day (3:18b-20; cf. Col 2:15; 1 Tim 3:16). But why bring up His victory over those enemies? Because that victory discloses Christ’s identity as the One who will have the final say not only against persecutors of God’s church in this world, but also against those in the world before the flood. In that old world, righteous Noah and his household suffered but overcame their enemies. Among those enemies were (evidently) disobedient angels (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; cf. 1 Pet 3:22) who breached the boundaries of their proper realm and seduced the ungodly in Noah’s generation to defy the patience God was showing them, all while Noah built the ark and proclaimed God’s promise of deliverance with His warning of judgment. Those evil angelic spirits, kept in prison since the judgment in Noah’s day, have now heard Christ’s victory proclamation. They have heard how, in this world, Christ the righteous suffered but overcame His enemies in His glorious exaltation. And His victory proclamation to those enemies from Noah’s day tells them and us just how comprehensive His victory is. It is Christ’s victory that makes suffering the way to glory. It is Christ’s victory that defeats both angelic and human foes. It is Christ’s victory that reaches from earth to heaven and even to hell. It is Christ’s victory that settles accounts both in this world and in the old world as it identifies Him as the Judge who will dispense final judgment and final salvation. It is Christ’s victory, then, that is so all-encompassing that it leaves all persecutors, even evil angels from the old world, with nothing more to say. His word is the last word.

Considering the ramifications of Christ’s victory, Peter reminds us that, like those passengers in Noah’s ark, we too will overcome our spiritual enemies (3:20b-21). As the visible church in the old world, Noah and his household endured opposition. Their baptism, however, made a visible distinction between them and the world, representing the benefits of God’s covenant with them and their solemn vow to live in good conscience before Him. Likewise, Christ and the households of faith are the visible church in this world, and we too endure opposition. Our baptism, however, also makes a visible distinction between us and this world, representing the benefits of God’s covenant with us and our solemn vow to live in good conscience before Him (4:1-2; 3:16). So, just as the baptism of Noah and his household signified their victory over the old world in the LORD of the flood (Ps 29:10), our baptism signifies our victory over this world in Christ.

Finally, the Apostle has us look again to Christ, this time as the One through whom our baptism becomes an effectual means of our salvation (3:21-22; WLC Q. 161). No, Peter does not teach here that baptism becomes effectual by any power in it or in whoever administers it. Rather, he teaches that baptism becomes effectual as it represents and confirms to believers all the benefits that God promises to them in Christ, and as the Holy Spirit, with Christ’s blessing, works through it to increase and strengthen the saving grace of faith in them. In this context, then, the Apostle would have us who believe to see our baptism as a sign and seal of the victories that are ours in Christ: in His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His session at the Father’s right hand. With those victories in view, how can we not share Peter’s confidence that, even while we suffer, we’ll keep dying to sin and living for God (4:1-2; 2:21)?! How can we not be fully assured that, because victory and glory are ours in Christ, the last word belongs to our God, not to our persecutors?!

What’re Exiles to Do? Be a Refuge for Fellow Exiles

Posted by R. Fowler White

Even as exiles in this world, we Christians desire to lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim 2:2). There’s no doubt that we American Christians have had it better than our persecuted siblings in other times and places, even in the NT era. Like other “traditional Americans,” many of us see the prospect of that peaceful and quiet life exemplified in the promise of the American Experiment, designed as it was to secure the unalienable rights with which we and our fellow citizens are endowed by our Creator. Too frequently, however, it seems that skilled polemicists have manipulated our trust, convincing us that they share our belief in the promise of America when, in fact, they redefine it for personal, political, or commercial gain. Acting as mere power brokers, these pugilists apply a double standard to snub those they deem deplorable, to decry those they consider lawless, and otherwise to hinder certain of their fellow citizens’ prospects for a peaceful and quiet life. As new Orwellian measures of population control take hold, no one seems to know how to dispel the anger and fear among those convinced that their unalienable rights are now less secure and their prospects for a peaceful and quiet life are now more remote. In such an environment, what becomes of that peaceful and quiet life that the Apostle would have us lead? What  does God require of “traditional American” Christians who are members and officers of His church? The Apostle Peter offers at least part of the answer in 1 Pet 3:8-12.

As he did during those NT days under the fickle thumb of imperial Rome, Peter commands that we be a refuge for fellow Christian exiles, a holy haven exhibiting five virtues (3:8). The first and fifth of these traits—be like-minded and humble-minded—actually share a verbal component in the original text, and so it’s best to take them together. Truth shared is the basis of love shared, so like-mindedness in confession is indispensable to being Christ’s refuge. As the fellowship of the Spirit of truth, it is like-mindedness in truth that binds us together in love, and its complement is humble-mindedness. Rejecting self-interested competition, we’re to commit to the common good, sacrificing individual interests for the interests of the whole. Two other traits, the second and fourth mentioned by Peter, will also mark Christ’s holy haven: be sympathetic and tender-hearted. To understand this synonymous pair, Paul’s words offer the best commentary: rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cor 12:26). Holding all five virtues together is the third virtue listed by Peter: be brotherly, that is, love your family members in the household of faith. As he does in 1:22 and 2:17, Peter again commands us to heed carefully the Second Great Commandment. We’re to promote the good of our siblings by building such community with them that together we offer sacrifices pleasing to God (1:21–2:10). What’s Peter aiming for here in these five virtues? A refuge for fellow exiles who will support each other as they pursue godly and dignified lives in a hostile world.

Even as we’re to be a holy haven for our fellow Christian exiles, we must also know how to deal with critics. Anticipating his fuller teaching on persecution from non-Christians in 1 Pet 3:13–4:19, Peter tells us initially how to defend ourselves against insults and verbal abuse. Perhaps unexpectedly, he says, show your critics favor, not disfavor (3:9a). But why this tactic? Because in the blessed life to which God has called us, we’re not to live a life of retaliation, but of repentance; not of payback, but of conversion. Since we’re now at odds with non-Christians, we cannot avoid insult and evil, pain and suffering, so as to see only good days. Rather, despite insult and evil, despite pain and suffering, we can live godly and dignified lives in communion with God. In fellowship with Him, we watch how we talk and how we walk (1 Pet 3:10-11). As Jesus taught us: Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:28). As Paul stated: See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone (1 Thess 5:15; cf. Rom 12:17; 1 Cor 4:12). So, when we’re insulted, we’re not to insult in return. When we suffer, we’re not to retaliate with threats. We’re to live our lives before our Lord who not only requires us to live a godly and dignified life but who also inspects the way we live our lives (3:12). Meanwhile, we live our lives knowing that the ears of the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls are open to hear our prayers that we might break the cycle of verbal abuse and other evils that only spirals downward.

What, then, are Christian exiles to do if we’re convinced that our unalienable rights are less secure and our prospects for a peaceful and quiet life are more remote? Whatever else Scripture may teach us, following Peter’s directions, God requires us to be a refuge where with fellow Christians we pursue godly and dignified lives before Him who alone judges justly.

What’s an Exile to Do? Live in Reverent Awe of Your God

Posted by R. Fowler White

Exiles are non-essential, or haven’t you heard? Even as God’s kingdom-colony of exiles, the church is expected to pipe down, if not shut down. In response, however, the Apostle Peter cites a higher standard. Throughout the time of our exile, he says, we’re to trust and obey God’s commands. Called as we are to His eternal glory in Christ, we’ll endure the trials that test our faith, confessing that the God of all grace will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us after we’ve suffered for a little while (1 Pet 5:10). In the meantime, Peter exhorts us: conduct yourselves with fear—that is, live in reverent awe of your God (1 Pet 1:17b). In 1 Pet 1:17-21, Peter provides us ample incentives to do just that.

Live in reverent awe of our God, says the Apostle, because He is our Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds (1:17). In saying that it is our Father who judges, Peter teaches that the judgment that God’s children (1:14) experience is different from the judgment that God’s enemies undergo. The standard of His judgment is the same for all (cf. 1:16): in that sense, our Father plays no favorites in His judging. The purpose of His judgment, however, will be different for us who through faith call on Him as Father. Let’s elaborate. At the last day, all people who have ever lived on earth will appear before Christ’s tribunal, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds and to receive according to what they’ve done in the body, whether good or evil (WCF chap. 33.1). Just as certainly, God the Father will judge His children not for entrance to His eternal kingdom, but for greater or lesser reward in it. Thus, Peter’s point is not that we believers should live our lives scared of being openly denied or condemned on the last day. After all, the Apostle has just exhorted us to live in confident expectation (1:13). Instead Peter’s point is that we should live our lives with an attitude that so highly esteems and deeply adores our Father God that we cannot bear the thought of displeasing Him. In colloquial terms, it’s like the fear that keeps conscientious student drivers from driving recklessly. Biblically, it’s the fear that comes from knowing that we’ll answer to our Father. It’s the fear that Paul describes in 2 Cor 5:8-10; 7:1 and 1 Cor 3:13-15; 4:3-5: the fear that God’s refining fire will burn up our works, and we’ll suffer loss (though we ourselves will be saved). Thus, the fear to which the Apostle refers here is the fear not of final condemnation, but of lesser commendation when He evaluates our thoughts, words, and deeds. In that light, we’re to live in reverent awe to please our Father and to avoid grieving or dishonoring Him.

Peter cites another reason to live in reverent awe of our God: because the price of our salvation was the precious blood of Christ (1:18-19). What a declaration this is! In contrast to Greco-Roman custom in which slaves and captives in war went free when money was paid for their freedom, the price for our emancipation from sin and death was like that of Israel from slavery in Egypt: the payment God demanded for their release was not silver or gold, but the blood of a physically flawless firstborn lamb. Yet to be set free for holiness, we sinners needed a redemption from sin and death with a blood more precious and powerful than that of a physically flawless firstborn lamb. We needed a redemption with the blood of a morally flawless firstborn son. Such was the blood of the Son of God sent from glory, of Him who was eternal but incarnate, sinless but slaughtered, put to death but raised immortal. To paraphrase John Flavel, Christ [was] so in love with holiness, that at the price of His blood He [bought] it for us. Dare we ask: how precious is that blood?! Ponder, then, what incentive we have to live in reverent awe of our God. Not to live in reverent awe of Him is to deny the supreme value of Christ’s sacrificial death, is it not? Just so, Peter admonishes us: live in reverent awe of your God because the price of your redemption was nothing less than the precious blood of Christ.

As if we need more incentive to live in reverent awe of our God, the Apostle provides another reason: because even our faith and hope are the fruit of God’s eternal plan (1:20-21). We’re told here that, before the foundation of the world, our God planned redemption for us in Christ. With a view to His only begotten Son’s appearance in these last times, the Father chose and ordained Him to accomplish redemption for our sake. And now through Him God has applied that redemption to us (cf. 1:2). So much is this the case that it is through Christ that our faith and hope are in God. All the blessings of redemption, even the faith and hope we have in God, are gifts to us through Christ in keeping with God’s eternal plan. Believer, consider what Peter teaches us here: God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain our redemption and even the faith and hope we now have. How can we not live in reverent awe of such a God as ours!

Though the world may treat us exiles as non-essential, the Apostle Peter addresses us as former slaves freed to live new and holy lives in reverent awe of God our Father (cf. 2 Cor 7:1). What extraordinary incentives he provides us to do just that! And what a tragedy—no, what a travesty—it would be to live any other way!