Strangers And Aliens (4): Living As Resident Aliens (1 Peter 1:13–21)

Peter wrote this epistle to be circulated among Christian congregations in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). He wrote to them about their faith, their hope, and their life living in this world—God’s world—as those who have been delivered out of Egypt, as it were, saved by grace alone, through faith alone about how to conduct their pilgrimage. Every Christian has a dual citizenship. The Apostle Paul says “your citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Hebrews 11 says that believers who lived in the period of types and shadows were looking for a heavenly city, “a better country, i.e., a heavenly country” (vv. 11, 16). We are resident aliens. The Christian treatise written to a certain Diognetus (Ad diognetum) about the middle of the second century captures this reality quite well:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. 2For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life…4For while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. 5They live in their own countries but only as nonresidents, they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. 7They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth but their citizenship is in heaven. 10They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. 11They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.

Unlike the Jews, Christians (both Jews and Gentiles) are not distinguished by our food, hand washing rituals, or language. Unlike the pagans we do not worship idols, do we leave our children on the front stoop to die, nor are we marked by sexual immorality. Because we do not always look and act the way pagans and other think “religious” people should and because we do not conform to the prevailing pagan (e.g., polytheistic) assumptions of the age we are misunderstood by both groups.

1 Peter 1:13–21

Διὸ ἀναζωσάμενοι τὰς ὀσφύας τῆς διανοίας ὑμῶν νήφοντες τελείως ἐλπίσατε ἐπὶ τὴν φερομένην ὑμῖν χάριν ἐν ἀποκαλύψει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. 14ὡς τέκνα ὑπακοῆς μὴ συσχηματιζόμενοι ταῖς πρότερον ἐν τῇ ἀγνοίᾳ ὑμῶν ἐπιθυμίαις 15ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸν καλέσαντα ὑμᾶς ἅγιον καὶ αὐτοὶ ἅγιοι ἐν πάσῃ ἀναστροφῇ γενήθητε, 16διότι γέγραπται [ὅτι] “ἅγιοι ἔσεσθε, ὅτι ἐγὼ ἅγιός [εἰμι].” 17καὶ εἰ πατέρα ἐπικαλεῖσθε τὸν ἀπροσωπολήμπτως κρίνοντα κατὰ τὸ ἑκάστου ἔργον, ἐν φόβῳ τὸν τῆς παροικίας ὑμῶν χρόνον ἀναστράφητε, 18εἰδότες ὅτι οὐ φθαρτοῖς, ἀργυρίῳ ἢ χρυσίῳ, ἐλυτρώθητε, ἐκ τῆς ματαίας ὑμῶν ἀναστροφῆς πατροπαραδότου, 19ἀλλὰ τιμίῳ αἵματι ὡς ἀμνοῦ ἀμώμου καὶ ἀσπίλου Χριστοῦ, 20προεγνωσμένου μὲν πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, φανερωθέντος δὲ ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτου τῶν χρόνων, δι᾿ ὑμᾶς, 21τοὺς δι᾿ αὐτοῦ πιστοὺς εἰς θεὸν, τὸν ἐγείραντα αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ δόξαν αὐτῷ δόντα, ὥστε τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν καὶ ἐλπίδα εἶναι εἰς θεόν. 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. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (ESV).

When Peter says “wherefore” (Διὸ) he is signaling that he is about to draw some inferences from what he has already said in the previous passages about the nature of our salvation and our sojourn as pilgrims. When says “girding up the waist of your understanding” (ἀναζωσάμενοι τὰς ὀσφύας τῆς διανοίας) he is thinking back to the Exodus when we were to eat the passover “in haste” with our sandals on our feet and with staff in hand (Ex 12:11). We are here (and that is real and God’s world is still good—we are not Gnostics) but we are not settled here as if this is our permanent home.

v. 13: The Big Picture
Thus “sober-minded” (νήφοντες) we hope completely (τελείως) on the return of Christ. We are not Millerites (19th century) or Jehovah’s Witnesses (the successors of the Millerites) nor even followers of Harold Camping. We are not selling all we have, living on our rooftops, or purchasing billboards to predict the return of the Lord. Rather, we are always to live in light of the return of Christ. We are looking forward to the great manifestation of God’s favor (χάριν) toward us at the revelation (ἐν ἀποκαλύψει), i.e., the visible manifestation of Christ.

vv. 14–17: The Implications of Grace
We are not only those who live in two worlds simultaneously but we are also those who have, as it were, two lives. We have a former (πρότερον) life and our new life, in Christ. By definition, grace is unconditional but grace has consequences. This is a vitally important distinction. Our old life was characterized by ignorance (ἀγνοίᾳ) of the truth and ungodly desires (ἐπιθυμίαις). This is not to say that Christians do not continue to struggle with ignorance and desires but our lives are no longer characterized by them. In light of the free favor with God that Christ has earned for us we are called (καλέσαντα) to live as obedient children (τέκνα ὑπακοῆς). In contrast to conformity (συσχηματιζόμενοι) to surrounding paganism we are called to a clean, distinct, holy (ἅγιοι) in all our conduct (ἀναστροφῇ). We are live as those who have been redeemed. The logic of Peter’s instruction is clear. Our future salvation is not contingent upon our behavior now. It is not even contingent upon our cooperation with grace. Our present life is, however, to be shaped by that future favor of which we are now in possession by grace alone, through faith alone.

This logic, this arrangement is signaled by Peter’s use of “because” (διότι) in v. 16, which leads to a quotation of Leviticus 11:44: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Peter again places us in the wilderness, as the Israel of God. We have been redeemed out of Egypt, as it were, by a holy God that we might be holy. We are to be set apart not by Israelite rituals. We are not set apart by dietary laws or any of the Jewish ceremonies. We are not set apart by the Mosaic judicial law, all of which been fulfilled by Christ. The old, Mosaic, Levitical system has expired. Nevertheless, Peter writes to us as if we, in Christ, are the Israel of God. We are on a pilgrimage to a holy land, as it were (heaven). We are being made holy by the favor (grace) of God, by the present, powerful work of the Holy Spirit. We live out our pilgrimage as those who call God our Father, who is an impartial (ἀπροσωπολήμπτως) judge. He is no respecter of persons and therefore we are respect him. Peter did not write within our radically egalitarian context. Our perception of fathers has been shaped by generations of exasperated, befuddled, television goofballs or unreasoning tyrants. For Peter to speak of God the Father is to invoke neither of those images. The paterfamilias in the Greco-Roman world almost a civil office. It was a cultural office. The family was a more structured institution. The office of father was to be accorded respect as the final arbiter of family matters, discipline included. Hebrews 12:7–11 reflects the same view of fatherhood. It is not that we have been put back under a covenant of works. The return of Christ and the judgment is good news for us because Christ has undergone the judgment for us. God the Father is gracious (favorable) to us for the sake of his Son, our Savior, but we are not to presume on his favor and we are to conduct ourselves as those who have been given a great inheritance for which we shall have to give an accounting.

vv.18–21: Ransomed From Futility
If our new life is to be characterized by wisdom, obedience, and self-control, unbelief is characterized by futility (ματαίας). Notice that unbelievers have this futility as an inheritance that has been handed down (πατροπαραδότου) to them. We were part of that family but now, by God’s grace, we are part of Christ’s family, as it were. He is, Hebrews says, our older brother (Heb 2:11). We have been redeemed, purchased. The price was something we incurred by our sin and disobedience in Adam, to which we contributed our own actual sins but it was not one that we could pay. God the Son incarnate, like us in every respect (sin excepted; Heb 4:15) paid the ransom price for us.

Peter invokes a second image: the lamb. The price was paid with the blood of a spotless lamb. He assumes that we are familiar with the typological sacrificial laws. Isaac was already familiar with the sacrifice of lambs (Gen 22:7). Peter seems to be thinking here especially of the passover lamb of Exodus 12. That lamb had to spotless (Ex 12:5). The blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the blood of the doorposts (Ex 12:7, 22) and it was by that blood that God’s people were protected from his wrath. So it is for us. All those spotless lambs and all that blood was a type and shadow of the sinless, perfectly obedient Christ, who laid down his life as a sacrifice for all his people.

Christ our Lamb was foreknown (προεγνωσμένου) by the Father and finally manifested “at the last days” (ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτου τῶν χρόνων) for us. As has already been noted, Peter’s eschatological language should not be misinterpreted as though it were misguided apocalypticism (part of which held that Jesus was expected to return in their lifetime) only to be disappointed. Consider that Peter has placed us in the desert, as it were. In other words, Peter’s eschatology is not what we are sometimes led to be believe. He took a longer view. Jesus’ advent did mark the “last of the times” in that it inaugurated the final epoch of redemptive history. The next great episode is the return of Christ but Peter was quite aware that it was thousands of years before the promise given to Noah, in “the world that then was” and the coming of Christ. The whole tenor of 1 and 2 Peter is the very opposite of the sort of hyper-eschatological fervor that is sometimes falsely attributed to the apostles.

Christ was manifest for our sake. Through Christ we are now believers in God. For Peter, as for Paul, and John and the rest of the New Testament writers, grace comes first. It is sovereign. This is Peter’s way of saying that we were dead in sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1–4) but God, in Christ has made us alive with him. The same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead has also raised from the dead. Our hope is fixed upon Christ, who has been glorified. As we sojourn our eyes are cast heavenward to our glorious, reigning, ruling, sovereign Savior-Lamb who, through the foolishness of the cross triumphed over Pharaoh, sin, and death.

Here are all the posts in this series on 1 Peter.

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