1 PETER #2: AWAY FROM HOME

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When we belong to Jesus, our entire identity is shaped by Him, and Him alone. Our identity has nothing to do with our earthly country, or our ethnicity, or our sexual desires. Instead, we are defined by God: chosen by the Father’s foreknowledge, set apart by the Spirit with the sacrifice of Jesus applied to our lives for obedience to His Word. We are no longer at home in this world, but instead, we are strangers, passing through, longing for our true and eternal home.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 2

Sometimes, when Paul begins his letters, he feels the need to say a little something about his calling or experience. That’s understandable, since Paul, unlike the other apostles, did not personally know Jesus. His calling as an apostle was unusual, different from the calling of the others. Peter, however, feels no need to elaborate about his calling. He is Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. That’s enough for him.

I want us to notice two things about this. First, Peter could have taken this opportunity to build himself up a bit. He could have said, “Simon-Peter, who walked on the water with our Lord,” or, “Peter, the first to declare that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God,” or “the disciple who was on the mount of transfiguration with our Lord.” But even as Peter ends this letter by explicitly teaching us to be humble, he begins it by demonstrating what humility actually looks like. For all his claims to fame in the Christian world, he offers us only the name that Jesus gave him (Peter, rather than his birth-name, Simon) and the fact that he is an apostle of Jesus.

Second, I do want to mention the fact that at this point in his life, he has quit using the name given to him by his parents, and uses only the name given to him by Jesus. He has allowed Jesus to define him so completely that he identifies himself in only the way that Jesus identifies him. It doesn’t matter that for all of his life up into adulthood, he had a different name. The only thing that matters now is how Jesus thinks of him, and Jesus thinks of him as “Peter,” or, in Greek, “The Rock.” He has accepted the way Jesus sees him as the only genuine way to see himself. By the way, when Jesus named Peter, he invented a name that was not in existence beforehand. There is no record of anyone being named “Peter” prior to that point.

Peter addresses the letter to the “elect exiles, the dispersion.” I mentioned briefly in the introduction that there is a little bit of dispute among commentators about whether Peter addresses the letter primarily to Jews, or to non-Jews (called Gentiles) or to both. One reason some think it was primarily to Jewish readers is because Peter mentions “the dispersion.” Sometimes, that word (in the form of “Diaspora”) was used by Jews to describe any Jewish people who lived outside of the Holy Land, which was considered to be their true home, even if they had never been there. But there are several points in this letter that seem to be speaking to non-Jews also. I raise this point because I don’t want us to sort of think, “Oh, this is just for Jewish Christians.” That, in fact, was an attitude condemned by all of the apostles. In Jesus, Jewishness, or non-Jewishness, are non-issues. In Christ, all are one, whatever their origin. So this letter is for all Christians, of any ethnic background.

I want us to consider what it means when Peter calls his readers “elect exiles, the dispersion,” because those words were written not only for Christians living 2,000 years ago in Turkey, they were also written for us. Scripture is very clear that since we belong to Jesus, this world is no longer our home. Like the Jewish dispersion (diaspora), we are living outside of our true homeland, and the place we live at the moment will never be our true home. Peter will elaborate on this several times in this letter, as do other New Testament writers:

By faith [Abraham] stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:9-10, CSB)
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16, CSB)
Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20 CSB)

Scripture is clear: our real citizenship is in eternity with the Lord. Our real homeland is someplace to which we have not yet traveled. If we belong to Jesus, then on earth, no matter where we live, we are not at home. We are foreigners, aliens, temporary residents.

I don’t think it is a sin to be patriotic about the country in which we are citizens. However, I do think it is a sin to be more patriotic about your earthly country than you are about your heavenly home. I admit, it is easier for me because of my childhood, but that doesn’t change this truth: we are more truly fellow citizens with Christians around the world than we are with non-Christian people who belong to our earthly country. So, for example, a Chinese Christian is more truly my fellow-citizen than an American who is not a Christian. In addition, both the Chinese Christian and I are not truly at home anywhere in this world. Like Abraham in the verses above, we belong to a country we have never seen, yet we long for it.

This is a reflection of a deeper truth: Jesus Christ fundamentally alters who we are. Our primary identity is now “belonging to Jesus Christ,” and that identity is more important than any other part of who we are. To say it another way, the fact that we belong to Jesus matters more than anything else. And the fact that we belong to Jesus means that we no longer wholly belong to this world. Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). If we belong to him, then we too, do not belong fully in this world.

This should be good news. I know for myself, I am often uncomfortable in this world. I don’t fit in. The things are that are important to the world are often not a big deal to me. The things that I care about are sometimes despised, mocked, or even hated by the world. Also, as I get older, I realize more and more that the things I really long for cannot be found in this life. I will never, in this life, truly have everything I deeply desire.

All of this can feel lonely sometimes. It can feel like maybe you are crazy, or stupid, not to just go along with everyone else. You may feel foolish to have such deep longings for things that will never come to pass, sometimes longings you cannot even fully describe. But Peter’s opening words remind us that we do have a home, and we do truly belong somewhere. It just isn’t here. We are travelers, temporary residents waiting until we finally get the chance to travel to our permanent home. It is there, in our permanent home, that all of our longings can be finally and completely fulfilled.

Peter says that his readers are strangers in this world, chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in connection with the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling with his blood to Jesus Christ.”

Let’s unpack this a little bit. Peter mentions here the Father, the Spirit and the Son. The Father, Spirit and Son are all one being, which we call God. God is made up of three persons, but not three beings.

 We can imagine something that is like a person, but somehow less than a human person. Our pets are like this. They are like us, but they are not quite actual people. They don’t have the same sense of self-awareness or sentience that human beings have, and they have other limitations. Now, just as pets are like persons, but somehow less-than, so God is  a person, but is morethan a human person. We are all mono-persons. I am Tom, and Tom is just one person/one being. But God is a “three-person being,” which is more than a mono-person. If God is in fact God, we should expect him to be more than us, exponentially more. We do not mean that there are three Gods. There is only one being, called God. But that being is a three-person, rather than a mono-person.

The three persons of God are part of the same being, which means that that each person shares the power, honor and glory of God. But the three persons, though the same being, are not the same person. They each have different roles. The Father does unique things, and so does the Spirit, and the Son. Peter here describes some of the uniqueness of the three persons.

God the Father knows all – past, present and future. His foreknowledge was involved somehow in the fact that we have been chosen to belong to Jesus and become citizens of God’s kingdom, strangers in this world. The bible does not describe in detail exactly how God’s foreknowledge relates to our being chosen, only that it does, in some way.

The person of the Spirit is involved in our sanctification. In case your head is still hurting from my pathetic attempt to describe the Trinity, let’s at least make “sanctification,” easier to understand. To “sanctify” something is to make it holy. When something is holy, or “sanctified,” it is special, no longer ordinary. One silly example might come from clothes. I think most of you readers live in places where you can afford more than one outfit of clothing. When that is the case, usually people have “everyday” clothes and then also “fancy” clothes. We don’t use our fancy clothes very often. Usually they are more expensive than other clothes We save them for a special occasion. I would never clean a toilet in my suit and tie. My suit and tie are reserved for times when I want to feel exceptionally uncomfortable. No, sorry, that ruins the analogy. Let me try again: My suit and tie are reserved for special occasions, like when I perform a wedding ceremony, or when I want to take Kari on a very special date. They are set-apart from other clothes, special, and I wear them to communicate that the occasion is very important.

So, God has set us aside. We are not like all people. The Holy Spirit has chosen us to be special to God, precious to him, important to Him. We are no longer ordinary. This is not something we have done for ourselves, so there is no cause for us to be arrogant or smug about it. There is no cause for us to judge anyone else, because God chose us for his own reasons, not because of anything we have done, or even who we are. It is his choice that makes us special, and that is not our doing.

Now, isn’t everyone special and precious in God’s eyes? In this day and age, it sounds like blasphemy to say “no.” But the answer is no, in a technical sense. God would make everyone who has ever existed into his holy people (1 Timothy 2:3-5). However,  not everyone wants to be his holy people. Many, many, many people instead reject his salvation. Jesus himself said:

13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. (Matthew 7:13-14, NLT)

One of the major themes of the book of Revelation is that God offers salvation again and again to the people of this world. Over and over he gives people a chance to repent. But over and over, most people reject God’s terms, insisting on their own way instead. The Father, in his fore-knowledge saw who the Spirit would make holy, and who would not.

Getting back to the business of being set-apart, and special (that is, sanctified) we can see why we are strangers and exiles in this world. When so many people reject God’s salvation, then we who are set apart by God look like weirdos. Jesus told us that since the world hated him, we should expect it to hate us also.

18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. 20 Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. 21 They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me. 22 They would not be guilty if I had not come and spoken to them. But now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Anyone who hates me also hates my Father. (John 15:18-23, NLT)

The foreknowledge of the Father, and the sanctifying work of the Spirit (setting us apart) lead to two additional things: our obedience, and us being “sprinkled with the blood of Jesus.”

Let’s take the blood sprinkling first. If you have grown up in church, this might not even register, but it sounds kind of gross and shocking if you hear it for the first time. In ancient Israel, when animals were sacrificed to represent the seriousness of sin, some of the blood of the animal was sprinkled. This sprinkling of the blood in a sense “applied” the sacrifice to people. So what Peter means by “sprinkling of the blood” is that the sacrifice that Jesus made has been applied to our hearts and lives.

We all know what obedience is. What I want to point out is that our obedience is the result of being chosen and sanctified, and comes as the sacrifice of Jesus is applied to our souls. It is not the cause of salvation, but the result of salvation.

Let’s take a few moments to apply these words to our lives. We are strangers and aliens in this world precisely because we have been chosen and set apart for obedience and forgiveness. Although it can feel lonely and scary when the whole world looks down on us for following Jesus, our differentness is, in fact, a reminder that God is saving us. It can actually become a comfort to us.

Maybe we need to remember that we are holy (that is set apart) not because of anything within ourselves, but rather because God foreknew and chose us. Again that should be a comfort, because I know that I don’t have, within myself, what it takes to become holy. I don’t need to. God has already done it.

Perhaps we need to be reminded that we have been sprinkled by the blood of Jesus. His sacrifice has been applied to your life. Now, if we can get out of our own way, we can let Him live a life of obedience through us.

Another possible application is to take the example of Peter, who let Jesus change his name, and was content to be defined entirely by the fact that he belonged to Jesus. We can resist the temptation to pursue an “identity” as a person with this or that ethnic background. We can stand out from our culture, and stop seeking identity in being part of a group of victims or minorities or being a person with certain minority sexual desires. The only identity we should seek is as a chosen one of God, a foreigner here on earth, but a citizen of His kingdom.

LIVING CRUCIFIED #8: BORN AGAIN

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Our identity, our place of citizenship, and our rights and privileges are determined not by how we act, not by how we feel, but by our birth. The scripture tells us that when we receive Jesus, we have been born again, as citizens of the Kingdom of God. This is true even when don’t feel like it, and even when we don’t act like it.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 8

LIVING CRUCIFIED #8: BORN AGAIN

Galatians 3:2-5; John 3:3-6; 1 Peter 1:3; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Romans 8:28-39

You might want to listen to this one, even if you normally just read. I preached this in an Australian accent to make a point; to illustrate the sermon. It could be entertaining. On the other hand, it could be excruciating.

This series is called “Living Crucified.” I am trying to flesh out something Paul wrote to the Galatians:

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

You see, many Christians get the basic message of salvation, but they are confused about how to live the Christian life. We understand that our actions are of no value in getting salvation for ourselves. Salvation is a free a gift of God, and it cannot be earned through good deeds (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is appropriated through faith. In other words, we get it when we believe that we need it, and that God has really done this for us. God did it all for us. Now, (we think, wrongly) it is up to us to live as good followers of Jesus, out of thankfulness to God. Classic devotional writer Andrew Murray puts it like this:

“The idea they have of grace is this – that their conversion and pardon are God's work, but that now, in gratitude to God, it is their work to live as Christians, and follow Jesus.  There is always the thought of a work to be done, and even though they pray for help, still the work is theirs.  They fail continually, and become hopeless; and the despondency only increases the helplessness.” (Abide in Christ)

We tend of think of it like this: ultimate failure, and the power of death and hell, are defeated through Jesus. Now, once we trust in Jesus we can play the game “safely” so to speak. So we can try and fail and try and fail as much as we need to, without being in danger of going to hell. But does that really sound like “good news?” We are “free” to pursue a cycle of failure? Andrew Murray adds this:

“Dear souls!  How little they know that the abiding in Christ is just meant for the weak, and so beautifully suited to their feebleness.  It is not the doing of some great thing, and does not demand that we first lead a very holy and devoted life.  No, it is simply weakness entrusting itself to a Mighty One to be kept – the unfaithful one casting self on One who is altogether trustworthy and true.  Abiding in him [living the Christian life] is not a work that we have to do as the condition for enjoying his salvation, but a consenting to let Him do all for us, and in us, and through us.  It is a work he does for us – the fruit and the power of His redeeming love.  Our part is simply to yield, to trust and to wait for what He has engaged to perform.”  (Abide in Christ).

In this series, I am trying to explain this in several different ways. So, we’ve learned to put what God says after the “but…” – to agree with Him, and to let our dominant reality be determined by God’s Word and God’s actions. We’ve learned to draw life from the Spirit, not from our outward circumstances – not even the good ones. We’ve learned that when we are in Christ, our old self has been crucified, and we are dead to sin, and to the law. We’ve begun to learn how to fight the ongoing temptations that would try remove us from all these truths we’ve been talking about.

Perhaps some of you may have been trying to put some of this into practice recently. Maybe you’ve been facing temptation and saying, “I’m dead to sin, I don’t want to do that anymore,” but it hasn’t always worked for you. Maybe you’ve been trying to believe desperately, who you really are in Christ, but you still have doubts. And because you don’t fully believe, your actions still don’t look like someone who is dead to sin. If sin is still a struggle, I want to preach the good news to you again today. We’ve discussed why and how it can be problem. We’ve talked about how to fight it. But remember, we are dead to it. Now I want to start talking about our new life. We died to sin, but what are we alive to?

This is important because we are often deceived into thinking that our actions determine who we are. If we act sinful, we think we are fundamentally sinners. If we act righteous, we feel good about ourselves and we think we are, by our own efforts, incorporating the righteousness of Christ into our lives. It is to people acting like this that Paul writes:

 I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh? Did you suffer so much for nothing — if in fact it was for nothing? So then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?  (Gal 3:2-5, HCSB)

No. We didn’t become Christians by behaving rightly, but trusting ourselves entirely to Jesus. That is exactly how we should continue. You see, your actions do not determine who you are. Instead, your identity is determined by your birth. I was born in the United States of America. But when I was very young, my family went overseas to be missionaries. The majority of my childhood was spent in other countries.

Taim mi stap liklik pikini, mama, na papa, na susa, na mi save silip sampela taim ‘lo’ ol ples. Na taim mipela stap ‘lo’ ples, mipela save tok Tok Pisin tasol; i no gat Inglis. Tasol, mipela i no kamap manmeri b’long PNG, bilong wanem, mipela tok long Tok Pisin. Nogat. Mipela stap manmeri b’lo’ Amerika yet.

I spoke above in a language of Papua New Guinea to illustrate a point. Let me explain the point I was making in that language. Sometimes, we would live in small, remote villages, and when we did, we spoke that language – called Tok Pisin. But the fact that we spoke the language and lived in the village did not make us citizens of Papua New Guinea. Though we were not behaving like most Americans, we did not, for that reason, cease to be Americans.

By the time I was sixteen I did not sound like an American, even when I spoke English. I actually had an Australian accent, since when people there spoke English, that’s how it sounded. I didn’t really know American culture. My first few years in the US, I didn’t get most of the jokes and wise-cracks, because humor is one of the most culture-specific things there is. I didn’t dress in American fashion.

My memories were not of America. In fact my memories and experiences were in a place that was radically different in very fundamental ways from the United States. In short, America had a very limited role in shaping my thoughts, actions, personality, memory or experience. I did not feel like an American at all.

For that reason, did I cease to be an American? Not at all. My citizenship was determined by the country I was born into – not by my feelings, not even by actions. The key was my birth.

Even though I didn’t feel American, I recognized that America offered me more opportunity than anywhere else in the world. I saw my citizenship here as a gift that I could use. I believed what my parents told me, that I was an American citizen. I believed my American passport was valid. You might say, I believed the words that were written about me, and also those that were spoken to me by people I trusted. So I came to America, and now, because I believed that my birth determined my citizenship, I have received many benefits from being American.

Spiritually speaking we need to recognize that it is our birth, not our actions, which determines our identity.

Remember, action follows belief. And Romans chapter ten tells us that the kind of belief we need for this comes from hearing the word of God. We need to trust what has been written about us, and what has been told to us. So I am going to dwell on some more truth from God’s Word today. If we have trusted in Jesus, the bible is very clear about our birth:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:3-6)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1Pet 1:3, ESV)
Since you have been born again — not of perishable seed but of imperishable — through the living and enduring word of God. (1Pet 1:23, HCSB)
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of Him. (1John 5:1, HCSB)
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (Eph 2:18-19, ESV)
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Phil 3:20, ESV)

We have been crucified with Christ. The old has gone. The new you has been born into a new life. We have been born citizens of heaven, members of God’s household. Regardless of what we know about heaven, regardless of how we sometimes act like we are from someplace else, Heaven is the place of our citizenship. Our birth certificate proclaims it, our passport affirms it. All of the resources of heaven are ours.

Now, one of the problems is that sometimes we don’t know our own birth rights. We are like princes and princesses who have born to inherit a kingdom. But we were kidnapped as babies, and raised in poverty. Now, our Father, the king has found us and brought us back to the palace. But we don’t even know the rights and privileges and tasks that are ours as royal children. We don’t know the vast resources we have now to fulfill our positions as princes and princesses. In the same way, so often Christians don’t even know everything that is ours, in Christ Jesus. So Paul writes to the Ephesians:

 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength. (Eph 1:17-19, HCSB)

His prayer is that they (and all followers of Jesus) can know these things. He wants us to know our birthrights, now that we have been born again. So I am going to share with you, some of the riches that are yours and mine when we are in Christ. This is what it means to be born again as a citizen of heaven:

In Christ, we are holy, blameless, righteous and above reproach (Eph 5:4; 2 Cor 5:21; Col 3:12; 1 Cor 6:19).

He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and  above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation  under heaven,  and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Col 1:22-23)

The “if you continue” is clearly about continuing in faith and hope. It is not “continue to act righteous” but “continue to hold fast to the faith that this is true, that Christ has done this for you.” A wise pastor named Dan Stone wrote: “It is not your striving that releases Christ’s life through you. It is your trusting.” We are in Christ when we continue to trust Him and rest in Him day by day. And in Christ, we are holy and blameless.

In Christ, we are safe and free. I am free from condemnation. I am free from sin and death. I cannot be separated from the love of God (Romans 8:1-2; also 8:31-39). God works for my good in all circumstances (Romans 8:28). I have been established, anointed and sealed by God. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). I can approach God with freedom, confidence and boldness (Eph 3;12; Hebrews 4:16). My real life is already hidden away with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-4). I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me. (1 John 5:18).

In Christ, we are significant and important. I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life (John 15:5). I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit (John 15:16). I am God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). I am a minister of reconciliation for God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6). I am God’s workmanship; created by Him to do good works, which he has already prepared for me to do (Ephesians 2:10).

These are just a few of many verses and concepts that describe who we are when we are born into Christ and into citizenship in Heaven. This is the true you, the you that is more real and more powerful than what you see in the flesh or feel in the soul. If you continue in faith (that is, if you continue to believe, to trust Jesus and trust that this is all true in Him) then this you will last forever, and ultimately will be expressed through a transformed soul and a new, eternal body.

You may still act or think like a foreigner, from time to time. But if you trust Jesus, you have been born again as a citizen of heaven. All this is truly yours, even though your actions may not yet reflect it perfectly.

All this is leading toward an ultimate purpose: so that Jesus Christ can express His Life through you. Let me put a different way: The purpose of it here on earth is so that Jesus Christ can live your life. That is what we will explore next week.