Today’s passage can be divided neatly into two parts. The first part — verses 9 and 10 — is about the privileges believers enjoy as God’s elect people. In the second part — verses 11 and 12 — Peter reminds us that God’s elect people are also aliens and strangers in the world. So, we’re elect; and we’re aliens. We’re chosen; and we’re strangers. And so, these verses are helpful because they show us how we’re to regard ourselves; they help us to see what our true identity is. And, of course, these verses also help us to see how we’re to live our lives and what our duty is. Do you see that in verse 12? As aliens and strangers in the world, we’re to live good lives among the pagans; in other words, we’re to live good lives among those who don’t believe in the hope that they too will come to believe in and to glorify the Lord our God. So let’s look at those two sections now.
Verses 9 and 10
So, look with me at verses 9 and 10 where Peter writes:
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. 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.
These verses begin with the word ‘but’, which means that Peter is contrasting what he’s about to say with what he’s just said. Do you remember what he has just said? In verses 7 and 8 he was writing about those who, instead of trusting in the Lord Jesus for salvation, stumble over him. They trip over him and fall away from God. And Peter wrote at the end of verse 8 that they stumble over him because they disobey the message of the gospel which is that we’re to believe in the Saviour who died for us and was raised in order to receive eternal life. And then he added: ‘which is also what they were destined for.’ God, who is sovereign over all, determined that there would be some who will stumble over the Saviour instead of trusting in him. But — Peter goes on to say in verse 9 — but, on the other hand, you are a chosen people. So, he didn’t choose them, the ones who have stumbled over Christ; but he chose you. He didn’t choose them for salvation; but he has chosen you for salvation.
Right there, if you’re a believer, you ought to bow down before the Lord and give thanks to him, for his grace and mercy towards you, because you know — don’t you? — that we don’t deserve this salvation. We don’t deserve to be chosen by God, because we’re sinners; and we sin against the Lord continually. And every day we fall short of doing his will and keeping his commandments. There is nothing good in us, nothing good in us to commend us to him. But though we did not deserve it, he graciously chose us and he enabled us to repent and to believe in the Saviour and to receive from him the salvation he accomplished for us by his life and death and resurrection. So, right here, we ought to bow down and give thanks to the Lord.
But notice, as well, how Peter is doing what he’s done before. He’s taking ideas and terms and titles which once applied to the Israelites in the Old Testament and he’s applying them to Christians. You see, everything he says here in verses 9 and 10 are taken right out of the Old Testament. If he were using a computer to write this letter, he could have saved himself some typing by copying and pasting from the Old Testament, because he’s quoting from Exodus 19 and he’s quoting from Isaiah 43 and he’s quoting from Hosea 2. And perhaps he’s quoting from other parts of the Old Testament, which I may have missed. But certainly he’s quoting from those three passages.
So, he quotes from Exodus 19. Now, in the book of Exodus — which we’re studying on Sunday evenings — God rescued his people from their captivity in Egypt; and he led them through the Red Sea on dry land; and he then led them to Mount Sinai where he establishes his covenant with them, whereby he promised to be their God; and they promised to be his people. And in Exodus 19 — and in this chapter the people are standing at Mount Sinai — the Lord said to them:
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
So, you will be my treasured possession; you will be a kingdom of priests; you will be a holy nation. That’s what God said to the Israelites in the Old Testament. What does Peter say about Christians? That they’re a royal priesthood; that they’re a a holy nation; that they’re a people belonging to God. The order is different, but the ideas are the same. What God once said to his people in the Old Testament, Peter is saying to God’s people in the New Testament.
And then there’s Isaiah 43. In this chapter, the Lord was announcing how he will rescue his people from their captivity in Babylon. And he said this:
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
The wild animals honour me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.
So, he calls them my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise. That’s what God said to the Israelites in the Old Testament. What does Peter say about Christians? That they’re a chosen people who are to declare the praises of him who called them out of the darkness into his marvellous light. What God once said to his people in the Old Testament, Peter is saying to God’s people in the New Testament.
And then there’s Hosea 2. In the book of Hosea, God rebukes the Israelites for their unfaithfulness to him. However, he won’t give them up, even though they have turned away from him and gone after false gods. He won’t give them up. And in chapter 2, he said:
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’.
That’s what God said to the Israelites in the Old Testament. What does Peter say about Christians? Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. What God once said to his people in the Old Testament, Peter is saying to God’s people in the New Testament.
The Israelites could once say that they were God’s chosen people; from all the nations of the world, he had chosen them to be his special people. And Christians can now say that we are God’s chosen people. Before the world was made, he chose us: I want him; I want her; I want them to be with me forever. And having chosen his people, he did all that was necessary to deliver us from our sin and misery and to bring us at last into his presence. We are God’s chosen people.
And the Israelites could once say that they were a kingdom of priests. They were a kingdom of priests because they were members of God’s kingdom and served him as his priests. Now, of course, some of them — the descendants of Aaron — were specially chosen to serve in the temple as the official priests: priests with a capital P, if you like. But every Israelite was a priest in the sense that they were able to pray to the Lord and to offer praise and thanks to him. And Christians can now say that we are God’s royal priests. And we can say that because we belong to his kingdom and we’re able to come to him in prayer and we’re able to come before him to offer praise and thanks to him.
And the Israelites could once say that they were a holy nation. And that meant they were set apart for God. That’s what ‘holy’ means here: set apart for God. They were set apart from the rest of the world which was under God’s wrath and curse, to enjoy God’s grace and favour. And that’s what believers can now say: we’ve been set apart from the rest of the world, which is under God’s wrath and curse for their sins to enjoy God’s salvation.
And the Israelites could once say that they belonged to God: they were his special possession and they could count on him to help them and to protect them. And that idea is now applied to Christians: we’re God’s special possession. We belong to him so that he is ours and we are his; he is our God and we are his people. And as his special possession, he will look after us. Think of how we look after whatever is precious to us: a man will say his wife is the most precious thing he has; a parent will say their children mean more to them than anything else. And we’ll do whatever we can to help and to protect those who are precious to us. Well, we can count on the Lord to help us and to protect us, because we belong to him as his treasured possession.
So, believers can rejoice and say: we’ve been chosen by God for eternal life; and we’re priests who can come before him in prayer; and we’ve been set apart from his wrath to receive his salvation; and we belong to him and can therefore count on him to help and protect us. And once we know this, and believe it, we’ll want to join together to praise him, won’t we? That’s why Peter talks about declaring his praises in verse 9. Since he has done all of this for us, since he’s called us out of darkness into the light, we’ll want to join together to declare his praises and to worship him. And so, the Christian’s life, the Christian’s life is a life of praise and worship and thanksgiving to Almighty God for all that he has done for us, because he has called us and made us his people and he has shown mercy to us.
I think I’ve mentioned before the minister whose neighbour complained that in his church — the neighbour’s church, which was a church where the gospel was hardly ever proclaimed — the singing was woeful. ‘Why is the singing better in your church?’ the man asked. And the minister replied — and he was very wise — he replied and said that in his experience, people will only praise God enthusiastically when they’ve got something to praise him for. Well, if you’re a Christian, you have many reasons to praise God. And so, every Sunday we ought to gather together to declare his praises. And as we come here, we’re to look forward to the time when we will come into his presence in glory to declare his praises for ever and for ever.
Verses 11 and 12
Let’s move on to verses 11 and 12 where Peter reminds us that we’re aliens and strangers. Now, we came across this idea back in verse 1 of chapter 1 where Peter referred to his readers as strangers in the world. And he also referred to it in verse 17 of chapter 1 where he wrote about living our lives as strangers here. And, of course, he’s making the point that believers are aliens and strangers in the world because we’re living far away from our true home. Our true home is in heaven with Jesus Christ. Do you remember? In Ephesians 2, Paul tells us that we’ve been raised with Christ to the heavenly realms. That’s where we now belong by faith. In Philippians 3 he tells us that our citizenship is in heaven. In Colossians 3 he tells us to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things, because our life is now hidden with Christ in God. And in the book of Revelation we’re taught to look forward to the coming of Christ, when all of God’s people will come at last into the presence of the Lord which is where we really belong. Christians are strangers, aliens in the world, because for the time being, we’re living far away from our true home. Our true home is in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s where we belong.
And, I’ve said before, we often feel out of place here. Things seem strange to us. The people of the world think differently from us. They believe different things from us. They behave in a different way from us. What they hope for and desire is different from what we hope for and desire. We feel out of place here because this world is not our true home. We belong, by faith, in heaven with Christ.
But, while we go on living on the earth, while we go on living in this world, we need to ensure that the way we live here on earth reflects the life of heaven. Just think of the Polish people who have moved to the UK and Ireland to live and work here. Although they’re living here, they’ve set up their own shops so that while they’re living here, they can still enjoy the food they used to enjoy back home in Poland. So, if you were to go into their homes, and open the cupboards in their kitchens, you’d think you were in Poland because of all the Polish food that’s there. Well, while we go on living on the earth, while we go on living in this present evil age, as the Apostle Paul calls it, we need to ensure that the way we live here on earth reflects the life of heaven. But I’m not talking about the food we eat. I’m talking about the way we live and how we behave.
So, look at verse 11:
I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires which war again your soul.
Now, when Peter mentions ‘your soul’ here, he’s referring to the whole person. We sometimes talk about the soul as something distinct from the body. You know, a person is made up of body and soul, two different things. However, Peter isn’t using the word ‘soul’ in that sense now; he’s referring to the whole person. So, we’re to abstain from sinful desires which war against all of me and all of you.
And then the expression ‘sinful desires’ should really be translated as ‘desires of the flesh’, because the word ‘flesh’ in the Bible often refers to life in this present evil age. And life in this present evil age is characterised by sin and shame. It’s normal for people who belong in this present evil age to sin against God. But as people who now belong in heaven, as people who have been raised with Christ to the heavenly realms, our life — the Christian’s life — should reflect the life of heaven and not the life of this present evil age. So, abstain from the desires of the flesh which belong to the life of this present evil age. Have nothing to do with that kind of life.
But, of course, it’s a struggle, isn’t it? Though we belong in heaven, we’re still living here. And the pull of the present evil age is strong. And so, Peter refers to this war, this battle, in our lives. Paul does the same in Galatians 5 where he refers to the conflict between the Holy Spirit who wants us to do good; and the sinful flesh which wants us to do evil. But we’re to fight with all our might against these sinful desires.
And we’re to live good lives. Do you see that in verse 12? In fact, we’re to live such good lives, such good lives among the pagans — or among those who don’t believe — that though they accuse of us of doing wrong, they may nevertheless see our good deeds.
The history book tell us how unbelievers were very suspicious of the first Christians; and they often slandered the Christians, because, of course, the Christians didn’t do what the unbelievers did, because they were trying to live obedient lives. And we know that the Christians to whom Peter was writing were being persecuted for their faith and were suffering grief in all kinds of trial because of the opposition they faced from unbelievers. But here’s Peter saying to his readers — and to us — that even though people accuse us and slander us and oppose us for what we believe — nevertheless, while they might hate us, we ought to live in such a way that they cannot, cannot deny the sheer goodness of our lives.
What does a good life look like? What are the good deeds we’re meant to do? Well, it’s not complicated. It’s the things Peter goes on to talk about in his letter. Look at verses 13 of chapter 2: Peter tells us to submit ourselves to every authority instituted among men. So, although we’re citizens of heaven, we should be the best citizens where we live. He goes on to tell slaves to submit themselves to their masters. We would say that employees are to submit to their employers. So, we’re to be the best workers where we work. He then goes on to address husbands and wives. In particular, he’s addressing believing wives who are married to unbelieving husbands. And he’s saying that even though they don’t believe, submit to them and love them, because who knows? Who knows? Without having to use words, but by the sheer goodness of your life, you may be able to win your unbelieving husband over to faith in Christ.
That’s how we should live. And those are the kind of good deeds we need to perform. It’s all very simple; it’s all very ordinary; it’s not very flashy. But this is how we’re to live our lives here on the earth. And Peter adds at the end that, if we live like this, the people around us will see our good deeds and do what? Glorify God on the day he visits us. He’s talking about the day of judgment, when God comes to judge and to save. Those who are judged will wail and cry; but those who are saved will praise the Lord. And Peter is hopeful that some of those who see our good deeds will repent and will believe, so that when God comes to judge and to save, they’ll not be among those who wail and cry, but they’ll be among those who praise God for his salvation.
Well, that’s a form of evangelism we don’t often hear about. But, of course, it’s matches what the Lord Jesus said. Didn’t he say ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’? Didn’t he say that? You see, it’s about letting people see what the life of heaven is like. It’s about letting people see how the life of heaven is so much better, so much better than the life of this present evil age. And when people see that the life of heaven is so much better than the life of this present evil age, they’ll want it for themselves. And they’ll not only want the life of heaven for themselves, but they’ll want the Saviour for themselves, because he’s the one who lifts us to heaven.