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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:How do we live in a strange land?
Text:1 Peter 2:11-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Suggested songs:

Psalm 123:1-2

Hymn 62:3

Psalm 15:1-3

Hymn 53:1-2

Hymn 59:1-3

Reading: 1 Peter 2

Text: 1 Peter 2:11-12
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

Isn’t it true that we all appreciate having God’s Word applied to our lives in very concrete and practical ways? In the first chapter of 1 Peter, we learn about how the identity of believers is caught up in who the Triune God is for them. And while we know that has very practical implications for what goes on in our hearts and lives, it’s perhaps not as concrete as what we find in our text from 1 Peter.

And that’s so typically apostolic and Biblical. First the facts of salvation are laid out – we hear the proclamation of the good news about Christ. And then, only after we’ve heard about the precious blood of Christ, only after we’ve heard about our being called out of darkness, only then do we get told about the lifestyle that should result with us who believe this message.

So, our text works with the identity of believers that we learn about in the first chapter of this book. Peter addresses his readers as “dear friends,” or more accurately put, “beloved.” Peter’s readers are those loved by God and loved by the apostle. The love of God, the Triune God, is what has turned these people into aliens and strangers in the world – into people who are like their spiritual father Abraham – they’re wanderers. Having been sprinkled with the cleansing blood of Christ, they’re those who don’t belong. They live in the world, but their citizenship is elsewhere. They are a chosen people, the people of God, recipients of his mercy. Now having that mark of the Spirit upon them, and us having that mark upon ourselves, the question comes up: what does all this say to how we live out our daily lives? And that’s why our theme for this sermon is this:

How should beloved aliens and strangers live in this strange land?

The answer is in that:

  1. They fight an inner battle.
  2. They reveal glorious victory in good deeds

1. The answer is in that they fight an inner battle

In our text, the Holy Spirit gives two commands through the apostle Peter. The first one is in verse 11. Peter urges his readers, those who are loved by God, “to abstain from sinful desires.” He exhorts them to stay away from the impulses that have to do with sin.

The first question we should ask when we read this is: what are these desires that Peter is talking about? In older translations like the RSV, we read that these are “passions of the flesh.” Such an expression has the tendency to make men squirm, while their significant female others watch their uneasiness. But it is clear that the desires or passions spoken of in our text are much more than sexual – and definitely apply to the fairer gender equally. These are desires, any kind of desires, that people have in abundance apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. This cuts across a wide swath of terrain. You only need to look in your own heart and life to see the kinds of sinful desires that you struggle with particularly. I could give examples, but the danger in doing that is that someone could come away feeling smug, knowing that I didn’t mention their pet sinful desire. So, you’ll have to take a close look at yourself to apply what’s said here.

That brings us to noticing something else here. That’s the fact that these sinful desires are still found with believers. Peter is writing to churched, believing people. They have these sinful desires – Peter has to exhort them to abstain. This means that if you have those desires, it doesn’t mean that you’re not a Christian. It just means that you’re a work in progress. It means that being a believer is being on a journey of sanctification – the process of being transformed into who God wants us to be.

And so this abstaining from sinful desires is a part of that process. It means the daily struggle of putting those sinful desires to death. How do we do that, exactly? It’s about the daily process of having a change of mind – it’s about daily repenting. Through the gracious work of Christ’s Word and Spirit, we have a change of mind about our sinful desires. At certain times, perhaps we’ve cherished our sinful desires. Maybe we lay in bed at night and we think up ways that we can get our sinful desires fulfilled. We daydream about our sinful desires. We enjoy them. But when we repent, we have a change of mind. Those sinful desires become disgusting to us. We want to begin to see them as God sees them.

We also have a change of mind about who God is. At certain times, perhaps we’ve imagined that God would cut us some slack about our sinful desires. After all, he knows that we’re weak and sinful. He’ll understand. We imagine that God is like us. But when we repent, we have a change of mind. We understand that God is holy and becomes angry with those who cherish sin in their hearts. Being in covenant relationship with God, means a greater degree of responsibility to understand God’s character and live accordingly.

Finally, we have a change of mind about who we are. At certain times, perhaps we’ve thought that we’re just weak and sinful. This is who we are and we can’t help it. “Boys will be boys,” or something to that effect. Putting our sinful desires to death, abstaining from sinful desires, means that we have a change of mind about our identity. We are children of God. We are in Christ. That means that we have to be who we are. When we go on living in sin, happy to keep on with the status quo, we are not living out of our identity. Being a believer, means that we, by the power of Christ’s Spirit and Word, that we increasingly live as those who are in Christ. Our lives reflect who Christ is to greater and greater degrees.

Of course, this is something we cannot do by ourselves. This is also a gracious work of Christ in us. We need Christ to work in us with his Spirit. We need Christ’s Word to speak to our lives and transform what lives in our hearts. So, we urgently need to pray for his work in us so that we can and want to abstain from these sinful desires.

And why is this abstaining from sinful desires so important? The Spirit gives us a good reason in the last phrase of verse 11 when he says that these are waging war against the souls of believers. So think about it: why do people wage war? Or when terrorists set off bombs, what’s their goal? It’s death – they want to kill as many people as they can. So it is with these sinful desires – their end is death, eternal spiritual death. And so you can see that this is a powerful motivator to stay away from these sinful desires, to put them to death rather than to have them put us to death. After all, we were redeemed by Christ to live, to fully experience life in its fullest sense, also in the here and now.

And with that thought in mind, we should remember that there is a command here. And when there’s a command like this in Scripture, it’s not pie-in-the-sky idealism. This is expected to be seen in the lives of those redeemed by grace. That means no one can come away from this and say, “Well, I have my sinful nature and I guess I’ll always be this way, I’ll always have this sinful desire (and actually I kind of like it that way).” Brothers and sisters, that’s a kind of spiritual defeatism that doesn’t fit with what the Scriptures teach. Sure, there’ll always be a process and it won’t be completed in this life, but we should expect to see spiritual growth and advancement in God’s people.

Aliens and strangers in this world – that identity begins to be lived out with what goes on in our hearts. It begins with an inner battle against the sinful desires that want us stone cold spiritually dead. But it obviously has an impact and effect on the outward way that we live our lives. And that leads us into our second point…

2. The answer is in that they reveal glorious victory in good deeds.

As we make progress against those sinful desires waging war against our souls, there are a couple of things that result. When, by God’s grace, the inner battles are being fought and won, then there’ll also be a noticeable difference in the way we outwardly live. In the NIV, it appears that verse 12 begins with a command. However, this verse can also be translated as being a consequence or result of what we read in verse 11. In other words, “abstain from sinful desires, with the result that you are having good lives among the pagans.” So, our inner battles reveal themselves in our outer conduct and behaviour. And this outer conduct and behaviour can be seen by all, including unbelievers or pagans, as Peter calls them. The progressive victory of the gospel of Christ in our hearts becomes visible through good deeds, beautiful works of righteousness. The kinds of things that Peter has in mind for his readers are laid out through the rest of the letter. Maybe we’ll get an opportunity to look at that together some other time.

For now, notice that these aliens and strangers in the world live among pagans – actually the word that’s used there in the original points again to the idea that believers are God’s Israel and all others are Gentiles. For the time being, these Gentiles might make accusations of wrongdoing. Remember: the original readers of this epistle suffered for the gospel. Social pressure from family, friends, neighbours and employers was very strong, not to mention the suspicion of the Roman authorities. All kinds of slanderous things were said about the Christians. The heat was on to get them to turn against Christ.

In view of all that social pressure and heat, the Spirit says that the good deeds of believers, showing the victory of the gospel of Christ in our hearts, that can make a difference. Believers simply living their faith, showing what lives in their hearts, can be a powerful act of Christian witness. When the Gentiles see how the people of God live, the Holy Spirit can use that to powerful effect. The Spirit can use the lives of God’s people to prepare unbelievers for their initial conversion to the faith, for regeneration.

Many examples of this can be found through the history of God’s people. Probably one of the most powerful is the story of Alban, the first British martyr. Alban lived around the turn of the 4th century. He’d been a Roman soldier, raised a pagan with the gods of Rome. He was known to be a kind man and so when a Christian minister was fleeing persecution, Alban took him into his home. During the course of this minister’s stay, Alban was converted to Christ. But the story goes on. The Roman soldiers came to Alban’s house looking for the minister. Alban changed clothes with the minister and allowed himself to be taken captive in his place. Alban was brought to the governor of the Roman colony. After the deception was revealed, Alban was commanded to worship Jupiter, but he refused – he claimed to believe in Jesus Christ alone. After being tortured in a further effort to get him to abandon his faith, Alban was taken out to be beheaded. As he was being led out to his death, the executioner himself suddenly became converted to Christ. This man had never read the Bible, but Alban’s short life as a Christian spoke volumes about the gospel of Christ. The executioner begged permission either to die for Alban or with him. Both ended up being beheaded.

You see it, don’t you? The Holy Spirit uses our outward walk, our way of life, our good deeds, to lead people to Christ. And that leads to the ultimate result: when people repent and believe the gospel, there is more glory for God. Our text tells us that this glory comes “on the day he visits us.” Literally, it’s “the day of visitation.” That expression is used in other places in the Bible and it often refers to the day that God comes with salvation for somebody. The day of visitation is the day when God works faith and repentance in the hearts of pagans. These pagans then get a new identity: the people of God, aliens and strangers in the world. And then the pattern continues: they in turn abstain from sinful desires, live out of their faith, others are converted and yet more glory for God!

So, in this way our living out our identity, being who we are called to be, all of this results in the amplification of God’s glory. And this makes the victory of Christ even more apparent in this world. Christ has conquered sin and death and you can see it in the lives of God’s people! You can see it when more people are freed by Christ to live as his subjects. And then there is an exponential amplification of glory.

It’s like a series of earthquakes slowly increasing in strength. And you know how the Richter scale works? It’s logarithmic. That means the seismic waves of a magnitude 6 earthquake are 10 times greater in amplitude than those of a magnitude 5 earthquake. That’s how the kingdom of God is progressing in history. A series of earthquakes gaining in power and intensity. Giving more and more glory to God.

When believers live out of their identity – it shakes the world around them. Think of what happened in the early days of the church – the believers were said to be turning the world upside down. The message we bring, the lives we live, all of it is subversive to the kingdom of darkness. We pray to God and ask “Your kingdom come.” We parse that out to mean, “So rule us by your Word and Spirit, that more and more we submit to you.” And further, when we pray “Your kingdom come,” we ask that God destroy the works of the devil and all God’s enemies, and establish his kingdom more and more. As beloved aliens and strangers in a strange land, our calling in this is clear: be agents of the kingdom, starting in our own lives, affecting the lives of others, and drawing them in, all to the greater glory of the one who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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