“Reminder: We Are Aliens!”
1 Peter 2: 9-12
Dr. Richard J. Alberta
Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Brighton, Michigan 48114
June 4, 2017
Text: 1 Peter 2:9-12 (NIV) 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
“Aliens!” Have you ever been called an “alien?” Let’s begin on a sort of a lite note this morning. Here’s a question. Suppose you are listening in at your funeral service and people have stepped up to comment about you. What would you like them to say… about you? If you could choose just one word that you would like others to use…to describe yourself….what might you like to hear? That you were “kind”… “compassionate”… “helpful?” How about “trustworthy and honest?” Those are good choices. But notice, we may never hear someone say, “I’d like to be known as… ‘peculiar!’” And yet, here where Peter says in the NIV we are “a people belonging to God”… we have a construction that the old King James Version reads as follows: we are “a peculiar people.” That captures Peter’s thought very nicely. The idea that Christians are an unusual people who belong to God suggests that we are peculiar…and if we check that word… “peculiar” in a modern dictionary we find it to mean “weird, strange, queer, bizarre, funny, abnormal etc.”
So, according to the Word of God, if we are serious about Christ, and our primary identity is with Jesus, the world will see us as “weird, strange, queer, bizarre, etc.” In other words, as “alien” we are a “peculiar” people!
He called them “aliens!” Notice that Peter has taken it for granted that his readers understand they are aliens to the world. This was a given in the minds of the believers in the early church. They saw themselves as unusual people…different from most people. One could almost say they were and we are people whose “identities” were very pronounced and atypical. This is about identifying with Jesus…that is, being known as one who is a Jesus person. The same as having an identify as a Tigers fan or a lover of the theatre.
We all identify with something outside of ourselves. That’s why in the fall on Saturdays we see Spartan flags on some houses and Michigan flags on others. You see bumper stickers that say “Tigers!” or “Marines!” If you walk into a Meijer’s store in Wisconsin you’ll find a whole section devoted to the Green Bay Packers. Everyone identifies with something they like or love or admire. This reality is a part of life and is usually quite harmless. Spartan fans and Wolverine fans can tease and debate but usually no one becomes violent over their identities. A Spartan fan typically does not hate a Wolverine fan and, up until now, most Republicans and Democrats were not filled with hatred for the other. But…there is one identify that thru the ages has caused hatred and distain and often rejection. That is, being identified with Christ. Feeling like yes…an alien. Feeling like you’re wearing a Tigers cap at Yankee stadium. People might look at you funny. Because wearing a Jesus cap among unbelievers can really get you some stares. So, now and again we need this reminder: As Christians, we ARE aliens!
Now…it seems to me that the question is simply this: how are we to live in a world where we are a bad fit? How are we to live in a world where if we live out our faith with passion and without apology, we may not be invited to the neighborhood cook out? Or, if we lived during Peter’s time we might be tossed into prison or burned alive. Actually, this is an easy time to be an alien where we live. In much of the world being a Christian today can cost you your job or your kids or your very life. Our persecutions are really quite soft in our society. But even so, in a society this vulgar that is bearing the fruit of fifty ears of wholesale humanism…where God has been pushed to the far margins of society….how shall we look at life as Christians in a post-Christian culture? In a culture that is undergoing what some theologians call “Paganization.” In a sense, we are like exiles living far from home…waiting for our eternal home face to face with God. We are a people like Abraham who:
Hebrews 11:10 (NIV) Was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
But until we get there, here are a few survival suggestions for us in our alien state from the text today:
FIRST: WE CHRISTIANS SHOULD ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT WE WERE CHOSEN TO GLORIFY GOD!
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Peter is taking the concept of Israel as God’s chosen people and extending it to those Jews and Gentiles who belong to Christ. As one who was ignorant of God and His kingdom, I was called to salvation years ago. I was called out of darkness and I was called into His marvelous light! And so were you! So, any distress or discomfort that I experience as an alien who does not fit into this world is quite tolerable! It is more than offset by the fact that God has included me…us…you in His family. So, when the Christian nurse is mocked in the nurse’s lounge for speaking up for the unborn or when the Christian lawyer is considered weird at the law firm because he does not defend gay marriage…when she or he is treated as an alien…as peculiar…she and he must take great comfort in this: FIRST: WE CHRISTIANS SHOULD ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT WE WERE CHOSEN TO GLORIFY GOD!
SECOND: AS ALIENS, WE ARE INVOLVED IN SPIRITUAL WARFARE! THE EVIL ONE WOULD LIKE TO WIN BACK OUR SOULS!
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
We need to be careful! Living as aliens, we can still be drawn in by the flesh and its desires. I’ve often reminded new Christians that their sinful natures do not go away when their spirits are given new life. It’s almost as if our sinful natures speak up and say to our spirits “Hold on here! I’m only gonna’ live sixty or eighty years here in the flesh and I’m not about to become a monk!” Sinful desires do not totally go away after we are saved. Our spirits feel alienated in society but our flesh still likes what it sees. Therefore, if a man has a great struggle with lust he better be very careful what he watches or brings up on the iPad. If a man or woman struggles with spending they should stay out of malls. Surviving as an alien means being careful for our own sakes.
I know a Pastor who came out of alcoholism many years ago. He became a great servant of the Lord. But one night he was sitting in traffic and he looked over and saw the old bar he used to frequently years ago. And in a moment, all he wanted to do was park the car and go in there and sit at the bar and drink. And he knew if he even went in that day he would be ruined because alcoholism is a very patient disease and sin. It will come back years after you think it is gone. In fact, any sinful behavior is only arrested in the Christian not completely removed. He threw himself upon the Holy Spirit and begged to be delivered immediately and God be praised! The desire vanished but he heard the Holy Spirit tell him “Get out of here right now!” SECOND: AS ALIENS, WE ARE INVOLVED IN SPIRITUAL WARFARE! THE EVIL ONE WOULD LIKE TO WIN BACK OUR SOULS!
THIRD: AS ALIENS, WE ARE GIVEN THE PRIVILEGE OF BRINGING GLORY TO God THRU OUR LIVES!
Peter was really a terrific spiritual and psychological coach to these early Christians. He told them that as aliens they would be watched but because of that, even though they would be accused of weirdness…God would be glorified.
12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
In other words, even though we are not a good fit in our culture, we can live in such a way that people must respect us and must admit that God is a work in us. Perhaps even on Judgment Day itself. Look closely at this for a moment. In the New Living Translation, it reads:
1 Peter 2:12 (NLT) 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.
I think Peter is saying that even though people regard is as aliens, some will see our Christ -centered lives and want to know God and will come to faith and be praising God on judgment Day! So, God can use His army of aliens to bring glory to Himself. If we persevere, non-Christians may actually come to admire and like us. I’ve always liked that scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Rectevia is talking about his new son-in-law whom he is trying to love. Finally, he says “Well…he’s a little crazy but I like him!” THIRD: AS ALIENS, WE ARE GIVEN THE PRIVILEGE OF BRINGING GLORY TO God THRU OUR LIVES!
These thoughts emerge from the text itself but let me share two other ideas in this message about survival as an alien in this society.
FOURTH: WE MUST HAVE SUPPORT FROM OTHER CHRISTIANS; THE TRUE CHURCH IS ACTUALLY AN ALIEN SUPPORT GROUP!
Every time I see an ad for some online church that says you do not need the church and you can worship and grow by yourself at home I cringe! Of course, the organized church is flawed and imperfect. But it is like Churchill said about democracy: “It is the worst form of government except for all the others!” The church is an imperfect entity. But the church is where we hear the Word of God and receive the sacraments and sit down next to someone who needs help or who provides help. Christianity was never meant to be a solitary activity. The writer to the Hebrews said this:
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We aliens need each other! “Spur one another on” is literally the word for “paroxysm” meaning to stir something almost violently. You must reach into my life and work the paddle to stir me up to be more loving and seek to do good deeds. I must encourage you in all things Holy because we are facing the GREAT DAY! “The Day approaching” is Peter’s reference to the return of Jesus. God be praised! To survive as aliens…. FOURTH: WE MUST HAVE SUPPORT FROM OTHER CHRISTIANS; THE TRUE CHURCH IS ACTUALLY AN ALIEN SUPPORT GROUP!
Finally, here is a very practical word about how to look at life and how to live it while we are here on Planet Earth. We are very much like the exiles of Israel who had been carried off into foreign lands because they broke covenant with God. God still cared about them and wanted them to nonetheless try to enjoy their lives. So…
FIFTH: AS EXILES OR ALIENS OR PECULIAR PEOPLE WHO BELONG TO CHRIST WE SHOULD STILL LIVE THIS LIFE TO ITS FULLEST!
Sometimes Christians feel as if they should not enjoy this life or try to be successful and achieve anything at all. Almost as if God is calling us to a complete state of misery while we are on this side of the Kingdom! But here is what God told his people who were carried into exile around 700 B.C. We read:
Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NIV) 4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Even though we are exiles and peculiar people, we are to make the most of life right here. Build houses! Plant gardens! Marry and have families! Increase and care about the place where you are living. Pray for it because when things go well in that land things will go well for you too!
And all the while we must feed upon Christ who called his exiled and peculiar people to a frequent meal with a promised blessing. The Apostle Paul tells us:
1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (NIV) 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Growing up, I watched my father’s Italian immigrant family survive as aliens in a sense in an America culture that typically looked down on them or at least found them…odd…even peculiar. Looking back, I realize that one way they coped with that was by gathering together for a meal. All the immigrant communities did that and still do. That’s fascinating because that is exactly what Jesus instructed his flock to do. To gather for a meal in remembrance of himself. And so…as aliens…as peculiar people we are regularly called go to the Lord’s Supper. God be praised!