Peter has been teaching his readers that believers are aliens and strangers in the world. And we’re aliens and strangers in the world because we’re living far away from our true home. Our true home is in heaven, with the Lord Jesus Christ, because whenever we first believed, we were raised with Christ to the heavenly realms and we became citizens of heaven; and we’re now waiting for the Saviour to come again, because when he comes again, he’ll gather his people together and bring us to our true home, where we’ll live with him and with our Heavenly Father for ever and for ever. Our true home is in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ; and while we go on living on the earth, we’re living as aliens and strangers, because we don’t really belong here anymore.
However, even though we’re aliens and strangers in the world, even though our citizenship is in heaven, we’re to be the best citizens possible of whatever nation we find ourselves in while we go on living on the earth. That’s what Peter has started to explain to his readers. Look back to verse 11 of chapter 2 where Peter said:
I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul.
Don’t give in to those sinful desires which cause people to do sinful and wicked things. Instead:
Live such good lives among the pagans [your unbelieving neighbours] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God….
Instead of giving in to your old, sinful desires, live good lives, doing good deeds. And though your unbelieving neighbours complain and criticise you for what you believe, they’ll see the quality of your life and the good deeds you perform and who knows? Who knows? They too might come to believe and give thanks to God for his salvation.
So, we’re aliens and strangers in the world because we’re citizens of heaven. But we’re to be the best citizens we can be of whatever nation we find ourselves in while we go on living on the earth.
And then from verse 13 onwards, Peter refers to three areas of our life; and he writes about how we’re to live and behave and how we’re to conduct ourselves in these three areas. So, there’s the public square and our attitude and behaviour to the governing authorities. Then there’s the workplace and our attitude and behaviour towards our employer. And thirdly, there’s the home and how husbands and wives treat one another. And as we go about in these three areas of our life, the world is watching us. It’s watching us to see what we’re like and whether being a Christian makes a difference in how we live and how we treat other people. The world is watching us. And so, we’re to be the best citizens possible; we’re to live good lives, full of good deeds, so that those who accuse us of wrongdoing will be silenced; they’ll be silenced by the sheer goodness of our lives.
Think of the Israelites in the Old Testament. We’ve seen before how Peter takes ideas from the Old Testament which once applied to the Jews and he applies them to Christians. So, think of the Israelites in the Old Testament: a man like Daniel, for instance, or Nehemiah. They’d been taken away from the Promised Land to live as exiles in Babylon and Persia. So, they were aliens and strangers, living far away from their true home. But while they lived in exile, they were good citizens. Think of Daniel, who was one of the king’s most trusted advisers. Think of Nehemiah, who was cupbearer to the king. Think of Esther who became the king’s wife and her cousin, Mordecai, who exposed a plot to kill the king. They were all aliens and strangers, living far away from the Promised Land. But they were all good citizens in exile, doing good deeds. Or think of Jeremiah’s advice to the Jews who were living in exile in Babylon. Do you remember? Jeremiah 29 begins like this:
These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
What did he write to them?
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon … seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. You’re aliens and strangers; but be the best citizens you can be while you go on living there.
That’s the attitude we should take as well. We’re aliens and strangers in the world, because we’re citizens of heaven. But we’re to be the best citizens we can be of whatever nation we find ourselves in while we go on living on the earth. We’re to live good lives, full of good deeds.
And so, last week, we saw how we’re to submit ourselves to every human authority. Others might resent their authority, and resist it and disobey them; but Christians are not to be like that. And we saw that, for Peter’s first readers, that meant submitting to the Roman Emperor and to all his governors; but for us, it means submitting to the government and to the police who have been appointed to uphold law and order. We’re to submit to them, because that is God’s will for us.
And then, in verses 16 and 17, Peter goes on to give some more instructions about how we’re to live in the public square. He says we’re to live as free men, but we’re not to abuse our freedom and use it as a cover up for evil. So, what does that mean? That’s what we’re going to be thinking about now.
Freedom from the guilt of sin
Our church’s Confession of Faith is very helpful here, because it has a whole section on Christian liberty and on the freedom which the Lord Jesus Christ has purchased for believers by his life and death and resurrection. You see, the Lord Jesus Christ died and was raised to set us free. So in what sense are we now free? Well, the Confession lists various ways we’re now free. First of all, we’re free from the guilt of sin, and the condemning wrath of God and the curse of the moral law.
Well, what we need to do here is to picture ourselves under a great burden. Many of you are familiar with The Pilgrim’s Progress and you’ll recall that at the beginning of the book the Pilgrim is weighed down by a great burden; it’s the knowledge of his sin and guilt. He cannot bear carrying this burden and he wants more than anything else to be delivered from this burden. It’s a picture of us all, isn’t it? At least, it’s a picture of us all whenever God awakens us by his Holy Spirit and through his word to our sin. And whenever he awakens us like that — so that we become aware of our sin and how we’re guilty of breaking God’s law; and we therefore deserve to suffer his wrath because of our sins; and we’re liable, justly liable, to all the curses of his law — whenever he awakes us like that, we too feel the burden of our sin and we long to be freed from it. And, of curse, this burden is more than just a feeling. You know, a feeling is something that comes and goes, depending on our mood. But this burden is more than a feeling, because we really are guilty before God; and we really are under his wrath; and we really are liable to all the curses of the law. The burden of our sin is a real burden and unless we’re freed from it, it will drag us down to hell where we will suffer everlasting punishment.
But the good news is that, since Jesus Christ died for sinners, since he died to pay for our sins, then all who believe in him are set free from that burden of sin. We’re untied from it so that it can no longer drag us down to hell. And when God looks upon us, he no longer sees us as those who are guilty, but as those who are innocent and righteousness in his sight. And he no longer looks upon us with wrath, but with love. And we’re no longer under his curse, but under his blessing.
Freedom from the power of sin
So, we’re free in the sense that we’re free from the guilt of our sin which drags us down to hell. But then the Confession goes on to say that we’re free from this present evil world and from bondage to Satan and from sin’s domination. If the guilt of our sin is like a heavy burden which drags us down to hell, then the Confession is now asking us to picture the world, the devil, and sin as evil task masters. You know, until we come to Christ and are set free, these three powers rule over us and boss us about and make us do what they want. So, there’s the evil influence of the unbelieving world, which is always tempting us and saying: Listen to me. Follow me. Join me in my sin. And there’s the devil who is always tempting us to disregard the word of the Lord, just as he tempted Eve to disregard the word of the Lord; and instead the devil tempts us to do what he wants, which is only evil. And then there’s sin living in each one of us, like an unwanted guest, who will not leave us alone or go away, but it’s always with us, always trying to prevent us from doing what’s right; and it’s always trying to get us to do what’s wrong. Until we come to Christ and are set free, these three powers, these three evil task masters, are always bossing us around.
But whenever we trust in the Lord Jesus, he sets us free from their evil influence over us. He delivers us from this present evil world; and he gives us the strength we need to stand firm against the devil’s wicked schemes; and he gives us his Holy Spirit to enable us say ‘no’ to ungodliness and to the sin living inside us.
Freedom from the effects of sin
So, the Lord Jesus — who died for us and was raised — sets us free from the guilt of sin and he sets us free from the power of sin. But the Lord also sets us free from the effects of sin. The Confession says that we’re delivered from the evil of afflictions. Now, that’s an interesting way of putting it. It’s not saying we’re set free from afflictions. Christians will still suffer; and Peter’s first letter says a lot about suffering as does the rest of the New Testament. But Christ sets us free from the evil of afflictions which means that God is able to turn whatever afflictions we suffer in this life to our good. He will use the sorrows and trials of this life for our benefit.
In the same way, the Confession says that he sets us free from the sting of death. We’ll still die — unless the Lord comes again — but he’s drawn the sting from death, because for those who believe, death is the doorway into the presence of the Lord; and for those who believe, death is gain, because we’re gaining entrance into God’s wonderful presence.
And the Confession says that he sets us free from the victory of the grave. Again, we’ll die and our bodies will be laid in the grave. But for those who believe, our bodies are only resting there, as in our bed, while we wait for the Saviour to come again and to call us and to say to us: ‘Come on! It’s time to get up now.’ And, of course, he’s freed us from everlasting damnation, because instead of rising from our graves to be punished forever, we’ll rise from our graves to live for ever with God in glory.
Summary of our freedom
So, we’re free in all these ways: freed from the guilt of sin; freed from the power of sin; freed from the effect of sin. Of course, if you’re not a believer — if you have not yet confessed your sin to God and asked God to forgive you for the sake of Christ who died for sinners — then you’re still under the guilt of sin; and you’re still under the power of sin; and you’ll still suffer the effects of sin. Sin is still a heavy weight which will drag you down to hell; sin is still a wicked task master, pushing you around; and until you come to Christ and receive his salvation, then there’s no one who can protect you and relieve you from the painful effect of sin in this life and in the life to come. And that’s why you need to trust in the Lord Jesus. That’s why you need to confess your sin to God; that’s why you need to ask him to forgive you for the sake of Christ who died for sinners. Until you do so, you’re not able to live as someone who is free.
But for all those who do believe, you’re able to live — as Peter says — as free men and as free women and as free boys and girls. Christ has purchased your freedom from the guilt of sin and from the power of sin and from the effect of sin. And so, we’re able to live as those who have been delivered from the guilt of sin and from that fearful dread that God is against us. And we’re able to live as those who have been delivered from the power of sin so that we can resist, with God’s help, the evil influence of the world, and of the devil and our own sinful human nature. And we’re able to live as those who have been delivered from the effect of sin, so that we can live joyfully in the knowledge that he will ensure that all things — even afflictions and adversity — will work together for my good. We can live like that. However, we’re not to abuse our freedom. That’s Peter’s point in the second half of verse 16.
Don’t abusing our freedom
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.
We can imagine someone saying to themselves: ‘By his life and death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ has paid for my sins. And God has promised to forgive all those who trust in his Son. Therefore, I can do what I like. I can do what I like and sin as much as I like, because whatever sins I commit are covered by the blood of Christ and forgiven by God. I can do as I please.’ This is not a far-fetched idea. Down through the centuries, there have been people in the church who have thought this way; and said this kind of thing; and have lived like this. In fact, our church’s Confession of Faith, in the same section where it describes the freedom Christ has purchased for us, goes on to warn us about abusing or misusing the freedom Christ has purchased for us because those who wrote the Confession knew how we tend to abuse our freedom. And so, it says to us:
Those who practise any sin or cherish any lust in the name of Christian liberty destroy the purpose of Christian liberty.
What is the purpose of Christian liberty?
that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life.
It’s saying what Peter says: we’re to remember that while we’ve been set free from the guilt of sin and the power of sin and the effect of sin, nevertheless we’re to regard ourselves as servants of God. So, we’re to listen to him; and we’re to seek to do his will; and we’re to make it our aim to obey him. The world is not our master; the devil is not our master; sin living in us is not our master. But I need to understand and believe that I haven’t been set free from them to do as I please; I’ve been set free from them to please the Lord.
Think of the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, thinking about all that he was about to endure and to suffer on the cross for us and for our salvation. And, do you remember? He prayed to his Father in heaven and asked that, if possible, if possible, let the cup of God’s wrath which he was about to suffer be taken from him. And yet he went on to say: ‘Yet not my will, but yours be done.’ That should be our own attitude: Not my will, but your will be done, because I’m your servant; and what I want to do most of all, now that Christ has freed me, is to spend my days, loving and serving you.
So, we’re aliens and strangers in the world, because we’re citizens of heaven. But we’re to be the best citizens we can be in whatever nation we find ourselves in, because we’re to live good lives, full of good deeds, in obedience to our God whose servants we have become. And as servants of God, we’re to honour everyone. That’s really how verse 17 begins, though the NIV uses the word ‘respect’. We’re to respect or honour everyone. Everyone! And it’s everyone because even the unbeliever around the corner — who does not know God or love him and who lives in rebellion to him — is made in the image of God. And so, we’re to honour him; just as we’re to honour every one else.
And we’re to love the brotherhood of believers; and Peter is referring here to our fellow believers, our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We’re to love them, which means we’re to show that we love them by the things we do and by how we treat them.
And we’re to fear the Lord, giving him first place in our lives and worshipping him alone.
And we’re also to honour the king, which means we’re to honour and submit to the ruling authorities whom God has placed over us.
This, then, is how we’re to live our lives. And we’re to live our lives like this because we’re servants of the Lord who want to do his will. And we’re to live our lives like this in the hope that an unbelieving world will see and will be convinced and converted to faith in Christ.
And we’re able to live like this, because Christ our Saviour has died for us and has purchased our freedom so that we’ve been set free from the guilt of sin and from the power of sin and from the effect of sin so that we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life.