The following is a lightly edited transcript.
Today I’m going to begin the series on 1 Peter, which will carry us all the way through the fall, probably through the spring, and probably through next year, because as I planned the sermons for the fall, I will finish chapter 1 on the last Sunday of this year, Lord willing.
We will span four weeks on the two verses that I am going to read you this morning because they are so laden with God and with truth, and you will see that as we get into it. And as I was reflecting about the streets and what we’re going to be doing in about 30 or 40 minutes, this word “aliens” or “exiles” is very relevant. I hope I can make that plain so that you will feel what it means to be an alien out there on the street. First Peter 1:1–2:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Now if you were to begin a letter like that, writing to somebody, they would shake their head and say, “You’ve been reading the Bible too much,” or something like that. We put our names at the end, they put their names at the beginning. Everybody knows that. Peter starts with Peter, and then you say, “Dear so and so.” And let me just say a word about those two things, who it is that’s writing, and to whom he was writing.
The Writer: Peter, a Great Man
Let me say a word about Peter. I love Peter. My father almost named me Peter, but my mother won out because Peter Piper would have been a hardship all of my life. Peter was my father’s favorite apostle, so he shifted to John, second best he thought. Peter was one of those inner three around Jesus. He was a fisherman. He was married. He traveled. He left everything. He’s the one who got out of the boat and tried to walk on the water and succeeded for a while and then blew it. He’s the one who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
He’s the one that was asked by Jesus to go with him, along with James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, and then into the garden where Jesus wept so bitterly. He’s the one who said, “I will never leave you. I will never deny you. They may all go away, but I will never go away,” and then on that night, in the hearing of Jesus, he denied him three times and Jesus turned and looked, and he was the one who wept bitterly. And three days later, he heard the words, probably the sweetest words he ever heard was, “Do you love me, Peter?” “I love you, Lord.” “Do you love me more than these?” “Lord, I love you.” “Peter, do you love me?” “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Three times to let him restore the threefold denial.
Fifty days later, he stands up full of the Holy Spirit and he preaches fearlessly and 3,000 people come to the Lord. He risks life and limb and goes into prison right after James gets his head chopped off, and God delivers him that time. He heals people like the man at the gate. He raises Tabitha from the dead. He travels around, probably goes to Corinth, and he dies a martyr in Rome. That’s the Peter here. He was a great man.
The Audience: The Dispersed Elect
He’s writing to people that he calls “aliens of the dispersion,” and he identifies them as people who are elect or chosen, and then he qualifies the word chosen or elect, with three phrases in verse 2: (1) “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” (2) “By the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” (3) Obedience to Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of his blood.”
Now, did you notice anything about God in those three phases? God the Father, God the Spirit, God the Son. Elect by the work of the Trinity, chosen by the work of the Trinity. So he begins his letter by saying, “I’m an apostle of Jesus, and you are chosen by God the Father, through the work of the Spirit, unto the obedience of the Son.” What I feel when I come to the ends of those two verses is this is a God-saturated man. This is a God-saturated letter, and he means for us to experience a God-besotted, God-saturated life. It’s a weighty beginning.
So this Sunday, I’m going to talk about aliens. Next Sunday, I’m going to talk about how you maintain an alien-orientation in a world that’s always trying to make you feel at home here. The Sunday after that, we’re going to talk about election in relation to Father and the Spirit, and after that, we’re going to talk about election in relation to the Son. So four weeks on these two verses, because they are so full.
What It Means to Be Aliens — Exiles
The first thing we have to do is nail down the connotation or the meaning of the word alien. I came downstairs Friday after thinking and thinking about this, and there was this strange sound in the kitchen coming out of the mouth of Barnabas, and I looked around and I said, “What was that?” He said, “Maybe it was an alien” as in a little furry green thing.
So last night, without any coaching, I said, “Abraham, what comes to your mind when I say alien?” Of course he said, “What’s the context?” And I said, “Just any context. Any context. Just, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” And he said, “Either a green thing or a person from another country.” Okay, now I know what I have to do. It’s not the green thing. Alien in this verse is not the little E.T. It’s not the brown thing or the green thing. It is a person living in a place not at home. Different language, different values, different dress maybe, different rules, different authority, the atmosphere is different, and you’re just not quite at home. That’s an alien or an exile.
You Are an Alien
Now, are you that? That’s the next question. Is this referring to you, or another interpretation would be, is it referring to the Jewish people who are scattered outside of Palestine throughout these five Roman provinces, which are located in today’s Turkey. The Jews were called exiles of the dispersion, dispersed out of Palestine. And so some interpreters say what this is referring to is Jewish Christians, and he calls them aliens not because their home is in heaven and they now live on earth, but because their home is in Palestine and they now live in Turkey.
Now, is that right? Is that the right interpretation? I’m going to give you two or three reasons why I don’t think that’s the right interpretation, but I think it is referring to people who are Gentile and Jew living on earth, and therefore aliens from heaven from being at home with God.
“Your first citizenship is with Christ in heaven.”
The first reason is found in 1 Peter 2:10. He quotes Hosea 2:23 and he says, “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” Now that quotation is used by Paul in Romans 9 to argue that Gentiles were once not a people of God, and now through Christ, they have become a people of God. They have become Jews in a sense. They have become the real, true Israel because they’ve been united to the Messiah who is the seed of Abraham, and they are children of Abraham through Jesus. So that’s argument number one. Once you were not a people, you Gentiles to whom I’m writing, but now you are a people. God has made you a people of himself.
The second argument is found in 1 Peter 4:3. We know historically that the reputation of the Jewish people was a good one in the Roman Empire. They were people who had one God. They weren’t idolaters. They were people who believed in monogamy and not polygamy. They were people who had pretty high moral standards, and that’s why many Gentiles were attracted to the synagogues and became God-fearers. But now listen to the description of these people to whom he’s writing before they got converted.
First Peter 4:3: “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” In all this, they are now surprised that you don’t run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you.
So here’s the picture. These are Gentiles who had been leading the most debauched kinds of lives. They were abominable idolaters, not people who had the one true God worshiping in the synagogue on Saturday. And when they got saved and pulled out of that stuff, their former associates began to malign them. Why? Because they were now aliens in the parties. They didn’t fit anymore. They just didn’t fit.
My third argument for why I think he’s talking to Christians in general who are now aliens is that they’ve been converted, transferred out of the kingdom of Satan and into the dominion of God and Christ. In Philippians 3:20, Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” That’s a common teaching in the New Testament — that Christians live here as aliens and our citizenship is with God in heaven.
So my answer to this first question is aliens are Christians. Christians are aliens. If you’re here this morning and you believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you are an alien in America. Your first citizenship is with Christ in heaven. Your second citizenship is in America. And the gap of priority between those two is infinite, as I hope will come clear as we move forward.
How Did We Become Aliens?
How did you get to be that way? How did you get to be an alien? There are two answers here at least, and the first one is you were chosen, you were elect, there in verse one. Some versions have the word first, apostle of Jesus Christ to the elect sojourners or exiles, some have it at the end of verse one, who are chosen. You are an alien because God reached down before eternity, and out of the whole mass of humanity, he sovereignly and freely and graciously chose you to be his.
Now I can show you the connection between election and alien status in 1 Peter 2:9–11: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation . . . Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from freshly lusts.” There’s a link there. Verse nine says you are a chosen race, and verse 11 says you are aliens and strangers. The link is God chose you to be aliens. The reason you’re an alien this morning is because God set his favor upon you. You didn’t initiate your alien status. God initiated it.
The second answer to why you’re an alien is found in 1 Pet 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused you to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” There’s the second reason. Something happened outside of you before all eternity, God chose you, and something happened inside of you by the work of God. You were caused by God to be born again. Something happened in here.
Your heart of stone was taken out, and a heart of flesh was put in. The old man was crucified, the new man was created, and you are now new. You are born new, and the new person isn’t at home anymore in the world. The mark of your being a Christian is a sense that it doesn’t fit anymore. It isn’t satisfying anymore. This isn’t enough. This isn’t all. If this is all there is — the parties, the business, the family — if this is all there is, it is phooey. A Christian is a person who has been so born anew and given a hope of some inheritance that is so great that he has become an alien among all the worldly fun. So the answer to the second question is you’re an alien because God chose you, and you’re an alien because he caused you to be born again.
Why Does It Matter?
What difference does it make to be an alien? In your life now, if you’re an alien, what difference does it make? Three answers and they all start with the same sound so that you can remember. You live under a new constitution, you bow before a new King, and you enjoy and indulge new cravings, if you’re an alien, if you’re Christian.
- New constitution
- New King
- New cravings
Let me show you each of these from the text.
A New Constitution
I get this idea of constitution in the very first verse from the word apostle. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ is writing to you. What weight is carried in this word apostle? What does that mean? It’s not the same as disciple. Don’t confuse those two words. Disciple means a learner, anybody who follows Jesus. An apostle is somebody who was chosen as one of the twelve, and then Paul, commissioned and authorized by Jesus to be his official representative in the world, and to speak on his behalf with authority.
So when Peter says, “I’m writing this letter as an apostle,” what he means is, “I’m writing this letter on behalf of Jesus Christ. I speak in his place. I have his authority. When you read what I read, you read what he says, and you bow.” This is your new constitution. This is authority. To put it very simply, Christians are aliens, and that implies we have a new constitution, namely the New Testament, the new covenant, or insofar as the New Testament endorses the old — the whole Bible. This is our constitution.
This is the Constitution of the United States of America. What’s the relationship between these two? The Constitution takes three pages in a document like this, plus the Bill of Rights. There are some profound differences. Let me read you the Preamble to the Constitution and relate it to your constitution, your Christian constitution.
We the people of the United States, and then comes six purposes for which this constitution is being established. We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, we do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The most profound difference between this Constitution and our constitution is that this one is manmade and the Christian one is God-made. We the people do ordain and establish, and this is the word of the living God. We are not as Christians a government of the people and by the people. We are a government of God and by God and for the people, but not of the people and by the people. There’s the most fundamental difference between these two documents. This is manmade. This is God-made. America’s is fallible. Ours is infallible. This can accomplish what man can accomplish. Ours will accomplish what God means to accomplish.
Now here’s another glorious difference. Let’s just take them one at a time. The six purposes for which this constitution exists are strangely echoing to that constitution. Very good reason for that, the people that framed this knew that book a lot better than our present leaders. First, why this document was written and now exists is to form a more perfect union. Our constitution says, “I pray for them, Father, that they might be perfectly one, just as you and I are one” (John 17:21–23). The heartbeat of the Christian constitution, the Bible, is that we might have a more perfect union.
“Jesus has a peace and a tranquility to give that no constitution and no human authority can ever give.”
Second, Paul said, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Jesus Christ came into the world to destroy the works of the devil, to establish justice and righteousness in the earth through faith in him.
Third, Jesus said, “My tranquility I leave with you. My peace I give to you” (John 14:27). Not as the world or the Constitution gives to you do I give to you. Jesus has a peace and a tranquility to give that no constitution and no human authority can ever give.
Fourth, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and world rulers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12). And how? With the armor that God gave, the breastplate of his righteousness, the belt of his truth, feet shod with his gospel, a shield of faith in him, a sword of his word (Ephesians 6:13–17). There is a defense that God provides.
Fifthly, “All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).
And finally, “If you keep my words, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (8:31–32). Or what about this one from Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Or what about Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set you free, therefore stand fast and do not be enslaved to a yoke of bondage.”
So there are differences, very profound ones between man’s word and God’s word — the Bible. One is manmade. The other is God-made. This can accomplish what man can accomplish, and insofar as men can do it, there will be welfare and defense and tranquility and union and liberty, and insofar as man can’t do it, there won’t, except for those people who bow to this constitution and agree to the terms of it, namely, faith in Jesus Christ. We are aliens in America because we put it like that. The Bible and its constitution judges the constitution and all of those authorities that it ordains by man.
A New King
And we have a new King. I get that from the next words. “Peter, an apostle” — an authorized representative and spokesman for Jesus Christ. Peter was not speaking in his own name. He was not speaking on his own authority. He was speaking in the name of Jesus Christ, and Jesus is the only authority and rightful ruler over the new people who are aliens in America.
Do you remember the time when Jesus stood before Pilate? He’s standing there and Pilate comes back in after consulting with the Jews, and he said, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus said, “Who told you to ask that question? Are you speaking of yourself, or did someone tell you?” And Pilate became very indignant and said, “I’m not a Jew. Those who handed you over to me, they’ve spoken to me.” And Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).
And Pilate said, “So you are a king.” And Jesus said, “For this reason I have come into the world, that I might bear witness to the truth. Those who are of the truth, hear my voice” (John 18:37). That was an invitation. And Pilate damned himself. “What is truth?” And that was the end of it. What is truth? He did not have ears to hear truth standing before him. The King of the nations and the King of the universe and the King of the truth was standing before him saying, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” What is truth?
God or Caesar?
Remember what Jesus did? He stood before his enemies and they came up to him and they said, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not” (Matthew 22:17), thinking they will get him this time. In other words, is our allegiance to Caesar or is our allegiance to God, the King? And Jesus said, “Give me a coin. Whose picture is on it?” And they said, “George Washington. Caesar.” And Jesus said, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). What is that?
You know what he meant? I think he meant, look, God owns you, Pharisees. God owns Palestine. God owns Caesar. God owns Rome. God owns the Mediterranean Sea. God owns all the silver in Fort Knox and all the gold there. He owns everything. He owns you. He owns every shirt in your drawer, every dress in your closet, every car in your driveway, every toy in your house. He owns the hairs on your head. He owns all your insurance policies. Every line of your portfolio is God’s. You give that back to God, and you’ll know how to handle it. You’ll know what to give. You won’t be an idolater anymore. You won’t do any false submission anymore. You just submit all that is God’s to God, including your life and soul, and then you relate to the King appropriately.
Look at 1 Peter 2:13, and you’ll see how this works itself out practically. Christians are the best of all citizens when governments are not idolatrous but just, and they are the most dangerous of all citizens in regimes that are idolatrous and presumptuous against the living God. Why? “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him” ( 2 Peter 2:13–14).
Now just stop there for a minute. I read it too fast. Submit yourselves how? For the King’s sake, the Lord’s sake, God’s sake, Jesus’ sake. In other words, as you stand before Caesar, and the question of whether to submit or not to anything he says comes to you, you don’t look to him for an answer to that. You do not look to Caesar for an answer to whether submit to Caesar. His word is not your law. You look over Caesar to the Lord of Caesar who made the universe and rules Caesar and put him in his place. And you say, “Lord, do I submit?” And the Lord says, “For my sake, submit.”
The Will of God
Keep reading. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15). And here’s the key verse, act as free men. Freedmen. Those who have been set free. “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:16–17).
“God didn’t come into the world to frustrate you.”
My son Abraham has a collection of Abraham Lincoln things. This is Abraham Lincoln was the president of the United States, in case you’ve been let down by your school system. He was a great man. He was a wise man. He received the presidency and gave his second Inaugural address, and in it were probably some of the most profound, wise, sober, weighty words that a president or king has ever spoken to a nation divided. The war between the states was near an end, and 500,000 people just like you had been blown to smithereens by cannonballs and cut to pieces by bayonets — 500,000. That could happen over abortion in America today. It was more before the war was over. He bore this weight. He received the presidency with words like this. When he says neither party, he means neither the south or the north.
Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, both pray to the same God. Each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in the wringing of their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces. But let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered, and that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes.
Now what I find most admirable and awesome in that is the submission as a person with a political agenda to the providence of God to say we were praying against each other. It could not work. Neither side, my side nor the southern side got its prayers answered fully. God was doing something here beyond what either side was dreaming, and may I be found a faithful guide in the ship of state under that sovereign providence that I cannot control and must submit to.
Christians are the best of citizens under that kind of leadership, and Christians are the most dangerous citizens where God is defied because we lift our banner above every authority and say we are aliens here. We bow to Jesus Christ alone, and if he sends us in freely to submit to the authorities of the world, we come to bear witness to his authority that he created you, and we submit to you for his sake, not your sake. And where you cross him, we cross you.
Remember Peter? Acts 5:28–29: “‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” It’s dangerous, and they knew it. They tried to kill him.
Finally, we have new cravings. First Peter 2:11: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Aliens abstain from certain desires. Why? Because they kill you. Now God has parables in the world to illustrate that. He’s established a connection between nicotine and cancer to say something. He’s established a connection between promiscuous sex and venereal disease to say something.
He’s established a connection between alcohol and destroyed families and multi-billion dollar losses in business to say something. He’s established a connection between gambling and poverty to say something. And what he’s saying is not mainly that you die of cancer if you smoke or that you get veneral diseases if you fool around or that you destroy your family if you drink or that you’ll probably wind up in the poor house if you spend your time gambling. That’s all very superficial. It sounds awful, but it’s superficial. You destroy your soul if you sin. You destroy your soul if you give into desires that this world commends to you.
“Strategize your life to maximize your joy in God.”
The last thing that’s on my table up here is money. Money is the great purchaser of pleasure, the great gateway into hell. Do you remember Peter learned this lesson so well? He was filled with new desires, desires for God, desires for salvation, desires to deliver people from bondage. And so he got the word that the people in Samaria had received the word of God, and he went down to Samaria and they had not received the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
And so Peter, with Simon the magician watching him, lays his hands on them and says, “Spirit, come.” And the Spirit falls on these Samaritans, these aliens. And Simon the magician, whose heart is wrong, even though he had made a profession with his lips, he was still in love with money, he still had desires of the world, he was still on his way to perdition, said to Peter, “Oh, here’s some money. Take my money and give me the power to lay my hands on people so that they can get this big gift called the Holy Spirit” (see Acts 8:18–19).
Do you know what Peter said to him? In gist: “To hell with you and your money.” That’s an almost literal translation. Literally, it would be, “You and your money be to perdition” (Acts 8:20). I don’t care about your money. Do you see what has just happened? Life, joy, everlasting salvation and power have come into people who had nothing, and you think you can buy it? You think I’m going to be enticed by money when I have God?
Live to Love Your King
What should we do with this truth? First, read your constitution — your Bible. Love your constitution. Get up and open your constitution in the morning. Don’t lay your constitution aside. Second, love your king. Trust your King. Bow before your King. Know your King. Live in the light of your King.
Third, indulge yourself with new desires. God didn’t come into the world to frustrate you. He came into the world to cause you to be born again to new desires. Glut those desires.
I don’t think everybody should follow me in this, but I’ll just confess to you for your own consideration the reason I do not have a television is that it causes my desires for holy things to shrivel, and it ignites desires for unholy things. If it doesn’t do that to you, that’s fine. It does that to me. I cannot afford to be made shallow and worldly. My life is over. My ministry is over. My family is over. I don’t want to be shallow. I don’t want to be worldly. I don’t want to just putz along in the Christian life.
I want to be aflame for God. I want to have new desires. I want to long for God. I want to be intense and wide-eyed with hope. And I know what happens to me when I watch television. Right down the tubes. Flat, banal, silly, empty, zero, nothing. The soul just shrivels up inside. And there are many things in the world. You know what kindles a love for prayer, a love for God, a love for his word, a love for souls, a love for worship. You know what they are, and you know what tears you down, and you ought to strategize your life to maximize your joy in God.
Fourth, give yourself to the tension and the ambiguity of being like and unlike the world. It’s a tension. I walked into a class in Germany one time and sat down beside a guy, hoping that he could speak English. He said, “You’re an American, aren’t you?” That was the first thing he said. I said, “How’d you know that?” He said, “Your tennis shoes.” That was in 1971. This is American clothes here. What is this? I’m an alien. Why am I dressing like this? We live in a tension between being like the world in all kinds of ways that we pray and hope are innocent, and being unlike the world in all kinds of ways that will confront the world with God’s distinctiveness. I invite you into that tension.
Finally, the last implication is from 1 Peter 2:9: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim” — on the streets — “the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” And so the final implication of being aliens is that when you hit the streets now, you go lifting the banner of the excellency of the one who made you an alien, united you to Jesus, gave you over to God, put you out of sync with this world order, and made you get into step with the one who will live forever and ever.