What’s an Exile to Do? Brace Yourself to Face Fiery Trials with Joy

Posted by R. Fowler White

The sobering truth from Peter is that suffering for what’s right as God defines it is an essential part, an indispensable part, of the normal Christian life. So intent is the Apostle on getting this message across to us that he mentions it in every chapter of his first letter (1:6-7; 2:19-20; 3:13-17; 4:12-16; 5:8-10). This is his message because he’s well aware that, according to many in this world, Christians should be shamed and pressured to conform or be canceled. Peter says, “Don’t give in. Brace yourself to face whatever trials come your way with joy.” Wait, what? Please elaborate, Peter. He does in 4:12-19.

First, he wants us to understand that for Christians, fiery trials are normal, not strange (4:12). He begins the final section of his letter by returning to that theme he’s mentioned over and over: don’t be shocked by fiery trials for Christ; anticipate them; expect them. At the same time, bear in mind that as even the Prophets of old (like Malachi; Mal 3:1-5) teach us, there’s a central principle in the life of saving faith: God uses suffering to test, refine, purify His people. Knowing that truth, Peter exhorts us to face our fiery trials with joy: they’re normal, not strange for Christians.

Second, be sure to appreciate that fiery trials are a privilege now and a promise of joy to come (4:13). Perhaps Peter is remembering the day that Luke recounts in Acts 5:27-42. On that day Peter and the rest of the Twelve were brought before the Sanhedrin and accused by Israel’s high priest of disobeying that Court’s strict orders not to teach in Jesus’ name. Though the Apostles’ response provoked the Sanhedrin to have them flogged and to repeat their orders not to speak in Jesus’ name, they left court that day, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus (5:41). We should realize what the Apostles realized: present suffering for Christ points to future glory with Him. Appreciate this then: fiery trials are a cause for joy right now and a promise of greater joy to come.

Third, realize that fiery trials for the right reasons say that we’re blessed (4:14-16). For example, have we been insulted for Christ? Remember this: verbal abuse for bearing Christ’s name shows that we’re the resting place of the Spirit of glory and of God (4:14)! Don’t make the mistake of thinking, however, that all suffering says that we’re blessed. Suffering for the wrong reasons—say, for being a murderer, thief, evildoer, or troublemaker—is no cause for thinking we’re blessed, much less for being joyful (4:15). Make sure, then, that you do the right thing and suffer only for that. No shame there at all. In fact, our God gets glory when we suffer for what’s right (4:16). As Jesus taught us, Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account (Matt 5:11). So, brace yourself to face trials with joy: when you suffer for what’s right, you’re blessed.

Fourth, recognize that present trials are the beginning of God’s judgment process to purify the world of sin and its effects (4:17-18). Recalling that the church is God’s house (2:4-8), Peter reminds us that it’s time for judgment to begin at the house of God. Drawing primarily on Malachi’s prophecy (2:17–3:5, 4:1; see also Jer 25:29, Ezek 9:5-6, Amos 3:2, Zech 13:9), the Apostle emphasizes that the fiery trials of those in God’s house signal, not His absence from their midst, but His presence among them to refine them, both collectively and individually. Admittedly, the fire that comes first to test and prove the righteous is hard. How much harder, however, will be the fire that comes later to punish the wicked forever? Rejoice in the truth, then, that we have suffering only now and only glory later. By contrast, the lost have glory only now and only suffering later.

Fifth and finally, Peter exhorts us to follow in Christ’s steps when He suffered (2:21): entrust your souls to your faithful Creator as you do His will (4:19). Boiling down his teaching, the Apostle uses a banking term—entrust—to describe what we’re to do as we suffer. Basically, he tells us to leave our souls on deposit with our trustworthy Creator for safekeeping. God has made it so that trials do to faith what fire does to gold (1:7). Since He sends fiery trials to burn away impurities in His house, we should commit ourselves to Him for safekeeping, knowing that He cannot and will not fail us. Refuse to take a kind of health-and-wealth approach to Christian living: “do good to avoid suffering.” Know that our God has His good purposes in our suffering for His will, and that He sets the limits of how intense our suffering is and how long it lasts. Take the Apostle’s approach: do good and, if suffering comes, trust God to refine you and confirm you through it. Trust Him because He is trustworthy. Have faith in Him because He is faithful, both to His promises and to His people.

In 1 Pet 4:12-19, the Apostle reminds us as God’s exiles: don’t be surprised, confused, or ashamed when fiery trials come our way as we do what’s right. Suffering, he tells us, is an essential part, an indispensable part, of the normal Christian life. We, therefore, brace ourselves and face the fiery trials that come on us. And we even do so with joy, because we know that suffering while doing God’s will is His refining fire, and He is so radically in control of all things—even of our suffering—that He has made it so that trials do to our faith what fire does to gold.

What’s an Exile to Do? Arm Yourself as Christ Did

Posted by R. Fowler White

In 1 Pet 3:18-22, Peter told us about Christ’s victory proclamation and specifically about the victories that are ours in His death, resurrection, ascension, and session at the Father’s right hand. With those victories in view, Peter calls on us to share his confidence that, even while we suffer unjustly, we’ll keep dying to sin and living for God (4:1-2; 2:21). But how does that dying to sin and living for God come about? In 1 Pet 4:1-6, the Apostle lays out the details.

To keep us dying to sin and living for God, Peter starts with a general exhortation: since … Christ suffered [for righteousness] in the flesh, arm yourselves [for suffering] as He did (4:1-2). The Apostle picks up the thread he put aside in 3:14-16. While telling us earlier how to handle anti-Christian foes, he had admonished us to be truly fearless despite unjust suffering (3:14, 17), to defend our hope in Christ (3:15), and, even when we’re defamed, to respond confidently, respectfully, and conscientiously to our accusers and thus expose their shamelessness (3:15-16). Resuming these themes in 4:1ff., Peter declares that since Christ is the supreme example of how God gives victory to all who suffer for righteousness, and we’re being conformed to Christ’s image, arm yourselves for suffering as He did. As you live righteously and suffer unjustly, adopt Christ’s way of thinking (4:1a). His attitude was summarized in the saying that whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin. Christ’s suffering for righteousness throughout His earthly life showed that He was done with sin, indeed without sin. So, as Jesus prepared Himself by arming Himself with the right mindset, Peter calls us to arm ourselves with that same mindset. Here then is the content of the Christian’s attitude (4:1b-2): those who suffer for righteousness show that they have made a life-defining break with sin. In our case (not Christ’s), we’ve been converted from our old life of indulging sinful human passions (4:2a). We’ve been converted to our new life of fulfilling God’s will (4:2b). Those united to Christ have new affections to live new lives, not to please self with its sinful appetites but to please God. The Christian confesses, “I’m done with sin. I’ve set my mind on the things of God, not on the things of self.” So, Peter says, arm yourselves with Christ’s attitude, that is, with a resolve to suffer for doing God’s will and not to keep sinning.

What incentives do we have, however, to arm ourselves as Christ did? In 4.3-6, the Apostle gives us three motivations. First, we’re to arm ourselves because we’re done with the past (4:3). As the New Israel, we’ve cut ties with our Gentile past. It’s all behind us. We’re done with lives of license. We’re done living to satisfy our body’s appetites, engaging in self-destructive and even violent activities, throwing off self-control and moral restraint—all this is just lawless idolatry (cf. Phil 3:19). We’re done indulging vices that have wormed their way into our family celebrations, office parties, and national holidays. The past was more than enough time for that immoral nonsense. We’re done with all that, and it gives us motivation to arm ourselves as Christ did.

Second, we’re to arm ourselves because we’re now treated like outsiders anyway (4:4). Our former fellow partiers are surprised by our choices. It puzzles them that we don’t just dive into the same flood of debauchery as we once did. We’ve dropped out of our former lifestyle. Now we’re different. Now we’re even offensive to them, and they malign us. They’re now actually outraged that we no longer live for the weekend, that we’re effectively dead to the world. Now we’re too different, so they treat us like the outsiders we’ve become. In that light, we need to arm ourselves as Christ did.

Peter cites a third incentive to arm ourselves: in the future we’ll all give an account to God (4:5-6). Our non-Christian pals are surprised and offended that we don’t join them in taking advantage of their “insider” status. They miss the point: those on the inside today won’t have the last word tomorrow. Not even death will have the last word either. The Divine Judge will, and His word will be the last word over the dead as well as the living (4:5). You see, some of the dead will believe the gospel and will be judged by “insiders” as having wasted their lives in this world. From God’s viewpoint, however, those dead will have lived their lives in this world in the Spirit, and they will live again in the world to come in the Spirit (4:6). And that, dear friends, is motivation to arm ourselves in this world just as Christ did.

In 1 Pet 4:1-6, the Apostle assigns determinative importance to our attitude as exiles, specifically to our attitude toward suffering for righteousness. He challenges us: have we armed ourselves for suffering as Christ did? Peter knew that our attitude in life, in the church’s life, is on display in seasons and moments of testing and even crisis. Those times show what preparations we’ve made—or not made. It’s a lesson impressed on Peter on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. Before that night, particularly before Peter warmed himself at that courtyard fire (Mark 14:54), he had not armed himself. And he fell apart. Christ restored him, however, and despite those shameful moments, Peter armed himself thereafter with Christ’s way of thinking. As exiles in this world, our life, in God’s providence, is made up of moments and seasons of testing and even crisis. To make sure that we keep dying to sin and living for God during our life as exiles, then, we must be sure to arm ourselves as Christ did.

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? 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!

What’s an Exile to Do? Devote Yourself to Your God

Posted by R. Fowler White

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:14-16, ESV)

The First Epistle of the Apostle Peter meets us where we live as a kingdom-colony of resident aliens in this world. We’re making our way to New Jerusalem, and we need directions on the right path to take. Having filled us with courage in our elect identity and with thanksgiving for God’s saving work, Peter exhorts us in 1:14-16. Be holy, he says. Be devout. Devote yourself to your God. Look at the details.

First, he tells us how we’re not to live our new life (1:14). Don’t let your pre-Christian ignorance determine your choices and affections now. Don’t stay stuck in those old patterns of passing pleasures. Don’t follow your former routines. Remember what life was like as a non-Christian (see Rom 1:18-32): you and I suppressed what we knew of God, and we didn’t see fit to acknowledge Him. How’d that work out for us? He gave us up to dishonoring our bodies and debasing our minds. Captive to corrupt cravings of body and mind, you and I were hopelessly confused, with darkened minds and hardened hearts, without a sense of shame. We lived for pleasure, shaped by our corruption, defiled in all the parts and faculties of our souls and bodies. By nature, you and I were utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil. We were, spiritually and morally, corpses in coffins, prodigals in pig pens. In light of all that, Peter says, don’t let your former ignorance keep shaping your life. Or as Paul said it, don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold (Rom 12:2, J. B. Phillips).

Having told us how we’re not to live, Peter now tells us how we are to live (1:15-16). Leaving behind our old appetites and priorities, we’re to devote ourselves to the holy God who called us into a new life. In 1:2, Peter mentioned what God did for us: the Spirit set us apart from the world and devoted us to (i.e., reserved us for) God, so that we obeyed the gospel and were cleansed by Christ. That phase of the Spirit’s sanctifying work is finished. But in 1:15-16 Peter mentions what God requires from us now: we’re to be holy, devout, devoted to our God. Strengthened by His Spirit and lined up with His Word, we’re to emulate our God more and more. Look to God’s own character. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all holy, holy, holy, entirely devoted to Their glory, each and all. Heed, then, His revealed will: be holy—be entirely devoted to God’s glory—in every department of your lives (J. B. Phillips). And just how does devotion show up in our lives? It shows up as we nourish and develop our new passions to know God and His revealed will. It shows up as we bear the fruit of the Spirit more and more. It shows up in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Overall, devotion to our God shows up in change from likeness to the world to likeness to Him, not just on isolated occasions, but in our new affections, priorities, and routines. In Peter’s words we hear echoes of Paul’s command in Rom 12:2, Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. To be holy is to be devout. It is to be committed to the process of progressive conversion to the likeness of the holy God who called us.

On the way to New Jerusalem, what are we exiles to do? Recognize that the holy God has called us to Himself. In doing so, He has united us by His Holy Spirit to Christ. Old unholy passions have been cut off from their food supply. New holy affections have been implanted. The seeds of holiness have started to grow. Meanwhile, Peter directs us onto the right path to take: don’t let the passions of your former ignorance keep shaping your life. Cultivate your new affections for the holy God who called you, and devote yourself, soul and body, to the glorious fame of His name.[i]

[i] For more on the theme of holiness as devotion to God, see S. B. Ferguson, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).

What’s an Exile to Do? Live in Confident Expectation

Posted by R. Fowler White

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 1:13)

Therefore … The commands for the new life that we Christians should live always seem to begin with that word therefore. After summarizing what God has done for our good in the opening (1:1-2) and thanksgiving (1:3-12) sections of his first letter (aka his “Survival Manual for Exiles”), the Apostle Peter turns in the letter’s exhortation section (1:13-25) to tell us what God calls us to do for His glory. The order of indicative/imperative is particularly important here: it reminds us that God does not address His commands to us His elect exiles as those who are still in bondage to sin. No, He addresses us as former slaves now free for a new life, free to grow in holiness. By free, we don’t mean that we’re fully and finally freed from sin’s presence, but we are freed from sin’s penalty and power, free to live the new life to which Christ calls us. So now, as we take courage from our elect identity in Christ and give thanks for God’s saving work, Peter instructs us about how we exiles should live.

So, what’s an exile to do now? Live in confident expectation (1:13). Our salvation calls for—in fact, it brings about—a reset of our outlook. Peter says, set your hope fully …. Fasten your gaze entirely, fix your eyes completely, focus your energies totally, on your hope of the grace of resurrection life to come (1:3), of the eternal glory that will be yours (1 Pet 5:10). Don’t set your hope on anything that’s of this earth or of this world (like an election cycle). Don’t focus your energies on anything that’s temporary, on anything that dies, goes bad, or fades away. Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

But we ask Peter, how? How do we go about fastening our gaze, fixing our eyes, focusing our energies on our hope of our future resurrection life? Peter answers, by preparing your minds for action. Our translation blurs the image that Peter provides us. The Apostle refers to the fact that, in ancient times, men wore long robes and would tuck them into their belts if they wanted to move more freely and quickly. Peter may even be recalling what happened at the Passover. Remember how, once the blood of the lamb was applied, God’s people were to be ready to leave Egypt for Canaan (Exod 12:11). Get dressed and ready to take off. So, exiles, says Peter, get your minds ready for action. Don’t imagine that we’re just going to stroll or coast to the finish. Roll up your sleeves; tighten your belt. Get ready to roll, to exert yourself in a vigorous and sustained way. Live your life in confident expectation by preparing your minds for action.

But Peter mentions one more way to live in confident expectation: by being sober-minded, that is, by disciplining yourself, by getting your mind in gear. In other words, gear up and stay alert. The tests and trials peculiar to our exile can make us careless. So we need to concentrate. Don’t let your mind wander. Don’t zone out. Sure, take time to rest and worship, but don’t just veg out and “let life happen” to you. Don’t get distracted by leisure and recreation, personal peace and affluence, worldly reputation and power. Lock in on your life to come in that lasting city.

Noah, an exile who preached (2 Pet 2:5) while he built an ark to sail to a new world (Heb 11:7), was called to live in confident expectation. The OT church, exiles freed to march to a new land, was called to live in confident expectation. So it is with us. Resurrection life in our heavenly country awaits us. For now, we are exiles set free from this world, and we live in confident expectation of the world to come. And, oh, yes: Peter provides us more detail on what our life of confident expectation looks like. Keep reading in 1 Pet 1:14ff.

What’s an Exile to Do? Take Courage

Posted by R. Fowler White

The Apostle Peter’s first letter has been described as a Survival Manual for Exiles, for Christ’s kingdom-colony of resident aliens in this world. His letter was relevant in the first century and is relevant now because, in the ebb and flow of divine providence, Christians can find themselves at the margins of life, relegated into social-cultural, if not geographical exile. To increasing numbers of people in our world right now, we who confess the historic Christian faith are outmoded at best and hateful at worst. It is vital, then, for us to know how Peter would have us approach every area of life. The Apostle’s opening message (1 Pet 1:1-2) to us is straightforward: though we’re exiles, we ought to take courage in our identity as God’s elect.

First, our present reality: we’re exiles (1:1). To be specific, we’re exiles of the Dispersion. But what does this wording mean? Originally applied to deported Israelites, Peter now applies it to the NT church, including Gentiles, scattered throughout the nations. But Peter’s words tell us more. They tell us that, like our father in the faith, Abraham, we’re resident aliens and strangers in this place. Meanwhile, however, by faith we understand who we are: we understand that God has made us heirs of a better country, a heavenly homeland. Knowing, then, our identity as God’s exiles, Peter says to us, “Take courage.”

Though like other exiles we lack a permanent homeland here, we’re different from others too. We’re elect exiles, loved from eternity by God the Father (1:2). Just as the Father foreknew His beloved Son (1 Pet 1:20), so He foreknew us. That is, before the creation of the world, the Father, who set His affections on His Son, set His affections on His people too. While we humans make our choices based on something worthy in others, God’s choice of us as His own is not based on anything worthy that He has foreseen or sees in us. As the Apostle Paul plainly states, God chose as He did so that no human being has anything to boast about before Him. So, nothing in us made us deserving of His choice. His choice is purely gracious. By contrast, the world measures our worth by ever-changing standards, vacillating between tolerance and hatred. Disdaining the world’s ambivalence toward us, we take courage in our gracious God: we’ve been irrevocably under His care since before the world began.

Speaking of God’s irrevocable fatherly care, we’re His elect exiles, set apart from the world by God the Spirit (1:2). Chosen precisely as the Father foreknew us, Peter says that He chose us for the purpose of having the Spirit sanctify us. That is, He had the Spirit set us apart from the world to be saved through faith. We ought to take courage, then, knowing that our present identity is no accident, no product of good luck. To the contrary, it is the Father’s eternal choice of us coming to fruition through the Spirit who set us apart for salvation.

Being now saved just as the Spirit sanctified us to be, we’re God’s elect exiles, obedient to and purified by God the Son (1:2). Focusing on the goals (not the grounds) of the Father’s choice and the Spirit’s sanctification, the Apostle describes the two sides of our conversion: side one is our obedience to Christ’s gospel; side two is Christ’s cleansing and forgiveness of us who believe. God chose us, not because of obedience to Christ, but for obedience to Christ. That is, He chose us to the end that we would obey Christ as He called us to repent and believe His gospel. God also chose us for sprinkling with His blood, to be cleansed from the sins that defile and doom us. Most likely, Peter means to remind us that Christ is like Moses, but also better (see, e.g., Heb 9:11–10:18). Moses put the old covenant into effect, and the high priest kept it in effect, by sprinkling the blood of sacrifices that could never take away sins. Christ, however, put the new covenant into effect and has kept it in effect by sprinkling the blood of His one sacrifice, by which He has forever taken away our sins. We who believe, then, should take courage from knowing that we have become just what God chose us to become: obedient to Christ and purified by His blood.

So what’s an exile to do when relegated to the margins of society? Take courage. Though we have no lasting city here, we bear witness that our triune God has given us an identity better than anything this world has to offer. By His grace alone, we are His elect, loved from eternity, set apart for salvation, purified forever.

Isaac’s two blessings

Jeremiah Burroughs notes the switching of the order in heaven and earth between Jacob’s and Esau’s blessings:

Mark it, Isaac blessed them both with the dew of heaven and fatness of the earth (this could be disputed, LK). But in Jacob’s blessing the dew of heaven was first and the fatness of the earth was second; while in Esau’s blessing, the fatness of the earth was first and then the dew of heaven. Note that a godly man stands in need of earthly things. As Christ said, “Your Father knows you stand in need of these things.” But the great thing, in the first place, that a godly heart minds is the dew of heaven, and then second the blessing of the earth. Now a carnal heart thinks that it has some need of the things of heaven; it will acknowledge that. But it’s the fatness of the earth they desire, and then the dew of heaven (A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness, SDG 1991, p. 8).

The Tragedy of Misunderstanding

Great tragedy can result from misunderstanding. Most people can probably point to times in which other people have misunderstood what they said or did. However, we are still so, so confident that we know exactly what other people mean by their words or actions. Other people need to be careful, but we do not. Shouldn’t it rather be the other way around, in a sense? By that I mean (lest I be misunderstood!) that we should make every effort to be crystal clear in our own communication, and yet be very cautious about what other people say and do? Should we not make every effort to prevent misunderstanding by clarity in our own words? And yet shouldn’t we also be very generous (or at the very least patient!) in how we read other people’s actions and words? Yet we live today in a society that tends to encourage people to put the onus of responsibility on other people: it’s their fault for misunderstanding us, not our fault for being unclear. We tend to assume that our own words were clear, and that it is other people’s fault for misunderstanding.

The other problem we have is that postmodernism has put the location of meaning within the reader instead of the author, or at the very least unbalanced the relationship between reader and author. If past generations ignored the reader, today’s people almost ignore the author.

Should we not always ask this question: what don’t I know about what I just heard? Should we not always ask: what extenuating circumstances might there be? Should we not always ask: have I heard both sides of the story? I do not get the impression that very many people are asking these sorts of self-diagnostic questions about their own interpretive procedures. Could this be one component of why America is so very, very angry today? We hear one side of an issue, and we rush to a judgment. How about slowing down a bit and listening, especially listening hard to those people we don’t agree with? We might even want to listen MORE carefully, not less, to the people we “despise.” If we don’t, then we run the risk of letting our emotions cloud our judgment of what was even said, done, meant, etc. High emotions are not conducive to understanding. They aren’t bad, but if our goal is to understand, then they can get in the way if we are not careful. Of course, many people simply don’t want to listen anymore. That is the real tragedy of misunderstanding.

On Confessing Specific Sins

I have heard many people confess sin in an exclusively generic way: “Lord, forgive me for my sins.” While it is certainly a good thing to acknowledge that there are sins that we have committed that we don’t know about directly, either because of our ignorance, or because of an underdeveloped conscience, or for some other reason; nevertheless, it is not healthy at all to confess this way all the time. Confessing specific sins to God comes with the following benefits (which can also be viewed as reasons to do so):

1. It helps develop our conscience. The work of the Holy Spirit is a gradual one in the Christian life. He sharpens our conscience, so that sins that we were committing unwittingly before become conscious later on. This process can have the incidental effect of tempting us to think that we are worse sinners later in the Christian life, when what is actually happening is that we are becoming more sensitive to our sin. Confessing our specific sins is integral to this process of discovery. We start to see the interconnected nature of our sins, and how one sin leads to another. Confessing only generically will actually deaden our consciences over time.

2. We develop a far more accurate picture of who we are in relationship to God and to other people. Confessing only in a general way tempts us to think that we are far better people than we actually are. There is an epidemic of self-satisfied Christians in the world, who might, on a theoretical level acknowledge that they are sinners, but who become extremely perturbed when told of a supposed actual sin that they might possibly have committed. Whereas, if we are confessing specific sins to God, we will not be so surprised to find out that other people have noticed some of our faults. Confessing only generically will grossly distort our own self-portrait.

3. Confessing specific sins helps us to empathize better with other Christians and with those whose consciences have been awakened to a realization of their sin. All Christians struggle with sin. All Christians fight the good fight. Isn’t that fight hard enough without other people constantly telling us how inadequate we are? Of course we are inadequate! If we were adequate, it would be because we were in heaven. But it seems clear enough that one of the reasons why some Christian lack empathy is because they rarely confess specific sins, and therefore think of themselves as only theoretical sinners, and not actual sinners, and thus better than their struggling church family members. In this way, point 3 connects very closely with point 2. Confessing only generic sin will result in a serious lack of empathy and love for other believers.

4. Confessing specific sins will sharpen our understanding of the law and its requirements, which will in turn hone our understanding of the gospel. The gospel cheapens in our minds when we think we have less need of salvation.

So, with all of this in mind, how do we confess specific sins better? For this, a study of God’s law is indispensable. We must understand the proper rubrics that WLC 99 so eloquently lay out: 1. that the Ten Commandments always lay out the most extreme form of the sin or duty in view. 2. that all sins of the same category are included under the most extreme form (as well as all sins which lead to the most extreme form); 3. that not only outward behavior, but also our inner thoughts are included; and 4. that where the law commands something, the opposite is forbidden, and vice versa; as well as that if something is promised, then the opposite is threatened, and vice versa. It is only as we understand the perfection that the law demands that our consciences will become more adept at self-judgment.

However, a growing understanding of the gospel is also essential, because if we forget the gospel with regard to the confession of sins, then we will simply lose all desire to confess our sins. We will forget the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, and we will therefore think that it is better to live with the burden than to try to rid ourselves of it through Christ. The gospel is the promise of the clean slate, due to Christ’s blood and righteousness, and the promise that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

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