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Elect Exiles - 1 Peter 1:1-2

Exiles. Foreigners. Strangers. Pilgrims. Resident aliens. This is how Peter describes Christians living in an unbelieving culture. This isn’t your home. You don’t really belong here. Your ways and customs and language and lifestyle are different from everyone around you. You don’t fit in. You’re an outsider. You’re suspicious. You may be a threat.

But that’s not the full description. You are not just an exile; you’re an elect exile, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. And notice that this foreknowledge is the foreknowledge of God the Father. You weren’t driven into exile by an enemy; you were chosen for this calling by your Father.

The book of 1 Peter addresses you right at this point of tension: The world says: “You don’t belong here,” but God says: “You’re right where I want you to be.” Because you are caught between the world’s “Go”, and God’s “Stay,” there is bound to be conflict, and so Peter writes to tell you how to live in this world in light of that conflict.

In verse two, Peter introduces the main themes of the letter in a short Trinitarian formula: These saints were foreknown by the Father, set apart in the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ. This description contains three aspects of election that lay the foundation for the whole book:

1: you are elect according to foreknowledge. Peter brings up God’s election as a bulwark against doubt and despair. Your exile is not a surprise to God, not meaningless. You didn’t make the wrong choice; this was chosen for you by your Father. For some people, election is a scary doctrine. For Peter, it’s a great comfort.

2: you are elected in holiness. Not only did God call a certain people, but He called them a certain way: in the sanctification of the Spirit. To be sanctified is to be set apart, and the distinctive manner in which the set-apart live is called holiness. Holy lives set you apart and mark you out as strangers and exiles. As the paraphrase of Jesus puts it “In the world, but not of it.” You’re not so set apart as to be cut off from society, but you are set apart enough to be different.

3: you are elected to obedience. The particular shape that your holiness takes is obedience to Jesus Christ. You must live differently in order to show that you are set apart, but how, specifically? Initially, by obeying Jesus Christ as Lord, and being marked out as belonging to Him. Then, by living consistently with that identification. A few examples from later in the book: Jesus tells you to submit to the emperor, to keep your body pure from sexual immorality, to avoid drunkenness, and not to be ruled by your passions.

When the Triune God sets you apart from everyone else in this way, and you don’t participate in their worship or their lifestyle, this is what turns you into an exile; socially, at first, and then sometimes literally, when the emperor can’t figure out how to make you go along and get along with everyone else, and so he sends you way out into Bithynia.

Christians are those who are chosen by God and set apart by the Spirit to share in the life of Jesus. You’ve become one with Him, which means that as obedient children, you should walk the same way He walked. This also means that you will suffer just like He suffered. This is the life of an elect exile, because Jesus Himself lived as an elect exile. Verse 20 says that Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world. His Father set Him apart by the Spirit for obedience to the eternal plan of God. The reason why you are living as elect exiles is because you’ve been sprinkled with His blood and thereby united to Him. You’re elect in Him; you’re exiles because of Him.

This means that your exile is not a problem to be overcome, either by giving up on holiness in order to fit in, or by giving up on the world and hiding out in the boonies until you escape to heaven. Don’t think of yourself as a homeless refugee. Think of yourself as an ambassador. Exile is not a problem to be overcome; it is a calling to be embraced.

And so as Peter reminds Christians of this calling, he concludes his greeting with a powerful word of blessing: in your role as Christ’s ambassadors to a world in darkness, foreknown by the Father and sanctified in the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ, may grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Posted on Wednesday, June 01, 2016 by CJ Bowen