Christians increasingly understand what it means to be sojourners and exiles in a Western world that, not long ago, commonly gave those with biblical convictions a seat at the table. Drawing from Peter’s first letter to the early, scattered church, Alistair Begg explains how to live faithfully in a world that has turned its back on God. By reminding ourselves—and each other—that we’re God’s children and foreigners in this place, we can live according to God’s will, stand firm in His grace, and focus on His everlasting kingdom.
The following message by Alistair begg is made available by Truth for life. For more information, visit us online at truth for life dot org. And I invite you as you’re seated to turn and follow along. As I read from first peter and chapter two. First Peter Chapter two. Actually, I’m going to read the closing two verses of Chapter one. So first feature chapter one and verse 24 then into chapter two. All flesh is like grass and all its glory. Like the flower of grass, the grass withers and the flower falls. But the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you. So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slender like newborn infants. Long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up into salvation if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good as you come to him. A living stone rejected by men. But in the sight of God chosen and pressures you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through jesus christ. For it stands in scripture behold, I am laying in Zion, a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, they stumble because they disobey the word as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession. That you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy, beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. Whether it be to the emperor or supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good for this is the will of God. That by doing good, you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor Everyone love the brotherhood. Fear God! Honor the emperor. Amen. Speak. Oh, Lord! As we come to you to receive the food of your holy word. Take your truth. Plant it deep in us. We pray for jesus sake. Amen. There were, I think one or two inquiries since last sunday when in preface to our pastoral prayer, I quoted actually it was from the BBC and people have called and said, what was the source of the quote? I didn’t know, but I do know now and I mentioned it not so that you can know, but because this quote has actually lived with me through the week that has passed And has really directed my attention in coming to the scriptures this morning. The quote was from an article by Sarah Smith on 24 June Sarah Smith is a Scottish girl as it turns out, she’s the North American editor for BBC News and this is what she wrote in the aftermath of the Roe vs Wade Reversal. America today feels like one country that contains two very separate nations inhabited by two tribes, that have completely different values, beliefs and goals. Now they have just moved further apart whatever you want to make of that. In terms of its political terminology, there is one thing that has become crystal clear to us in the most recent times and that is that as believing people here, people who are going to take the bible seriously who are going to love jesus and follow him. We are increasingly aware of the reality that we are living as sojourners and exiles or strangers and exiles in a world that was once very, very familiar to us and one in which we felt increasingly at home and the question that it raises and many of us I think are pondering this is what does it look like to live in a christian country that doesn’t like, what christians believe, What what is it going to be to think properly in a christian country where that country does not like the way in which we think Because I’ve been wrestling with this, I thought I would wrestle in front of you just a little bit and I’m not going to try and expound for Peter Chapter two or even expound the two verses that I’ve read. I want, I hope to make sure that what I’m saying is grounded in that rather than working in a very detailed way through the text. But by way of further introduction, I was reminding myself this week that it was 1976 when Francis Schaeffer wrote a book called How then shall we live? How then shall we live? He was commenting on the state of affairs coming out of the sixties and in a way that ranged through history and into politics and philosophy. He, at one point in the book, in a very prescient kind of way, imagines what might fill the vacuum what might fill the vacuum that is left by the loss of christian principles grounded in the culture and educational system and moral life of the nation. It’s interesting that he was writing in a rather philosophical vein, while the popular music of the day was addressing similar issues. For example, if he wrote that in 76, that was five years after Don McLean reminded us that the music had died and bye bye Miss American Pie, the three men, I love the most. They took the last train for the coast the day the music died, referring to somewhat wrongly the father, the son and the Holy Spirit. He wrote it in 71 Lenin who thought he knew everything in 75, was honest enough just to give us one word, help help. And he was probably more on track than he even realized himself. So some years after Schaefer then chuck Colson in 1999 wrote not how then shall we live, but how now shall we live? Feeling the pressure increasing in the 19 nineties. And in that book, Colson sounded, if you like a more optimistic note than perhaps have been present in Schaefer’s work And here we are this morning all these years later. So many years after 1999 actually. And uh, Those of us who have nostalgia as part of our life will on a weekend like this. I know I did, I went and looked for it. I’m unashamed of telling you that. I went looking for that famous Ronald Reagan commercial. It only lasted 30 seconds. And remember it began, it’s morning again in America. Well, it does induce feelings of nostalgia even as we descend into what seems to be chaotic and uncharted darkness. Um Carl Trueman in a wonderful book that will demand your attention if you’re going to pay careful attention to it writes as follows the era when christians could disagree with the broader convictions of the secular world and yet still find themselves respected as decent members of society at large is coming to an end. If indeed it has not ended already. Many of us are now living as strangers in a strange new world. So what are we to do? Are we going to become debilitated by a spirit of pessimism? Or are we going to embrace some kind of superficial optimism? Don’t worry, everything will be fine in the end. No, we have to forsake both of those alternatives. And the strategy that is given to us in the scriptures is then to have our minds renewed and our minds to be renewed by the truth of God. The truth of God that is given to us in the word of God. And therefore we forsake either some kind of crazy optimism or dreadful pessimism by embracing what we refer to as a biblical realism, a biblical realism. That christians of all people understand that the world is not a utopia, that it is a broken world. It is a fallen world, but christians also know that there is one who has stepped down into time, who has made such a difference, that the world can never ultimately be the same again And Peter, when he writes to the scattered believers of his day here in first, Peter is grounding them, if you like. At the end of Peter in chapter five, he says, this is why I’ve written briefly to you exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God stand firm in it. So he says, this is what you’re going to have to do. And remember in the first century, they were facing all kinds of persecution on the threshold of more. That was yet to come. And so is they face, if you like, stormy waters, turbulent waters, waters of persecution waving over them, he writes to encourage and to reassure them. And what he essentially does in the course of the letter is remind them of what it is. They believe, remind them of where it is, they belong and remind them of how it is they are to behave and in reminding them he is therefore reminding us So first, then what is it that they are believing? What is it that they are to believe are, Do they believe what they believe? Do you believe what you believe? Do you believe what you affirm, do I believe what I affirm as we go through this catechism, that’s why he’s writing to them. He doesn’t assume that they’re all on the page that they’re all paying attention that they are all moving directly in this way. That’s why when we read it, he says, you know this is the way you are to be if so be that you have tasted of the kindness of the Lord. He recognizes that there are those to whom he writes, who are if you like outwardly engaged but they’re not inwardly transformed and that may ring a bell as we think of ourselves here. Well what was it that they needed to be reminded of? What was it that they were believing? We could spend the whole time just working on this. But we won’t, they were scattered in different locations but they were united in the grace of God from the very beginning he’s reminding them of three things that are true of every christian. You’ll see them at the beginning of the letter when you do your homework later on, chosen by God, the father sprinkled by the blood of jesus christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Every morning when you awaken, every morning when they face the trials of their day, they were able to affirm this, oh God, you have chosen me from all eternity. Lord jesus christ, you have cleansed me by your blood Holy Spirit. You are at work in my life to make me more like jesus. He’s reminding them that they have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of jesus christ from the dead. He is reminding them that it is vital that they believe that they are being built into a spiritual house, that they’re not. Although they may be scattered. Although they may find themselves alone. Although they may feel on the average monday through friday that somehow or another they’re just blowing about by things. They are pressured by so much that comes at them. He says no remember this. That the God who has adopted you into his family is building you into a spiritual house and remember this. You believe this. He says you’re no longer what you once were, you were once darkness but now you are light in the Lord. You once lived in a different department, You once were in Adam. But now you are in the Lord, jesus christ and he goes through a whole succession of statements reminding them as we must be reminded of what we are. If your bible is open, you will see that he says there in verse 10 of chapter two, you are God’s people. In verse 16, he says you are people who are free. In verse 16, he says you are servants of God. In other words, they and we need to understand our identity. Our identity is made up of a lot of things. I am Scottish born, but I am also an american citizen. I am the husband of one wife. I am this, I am that I am the next thing we can put it all together. But the really unbelievable thing and the thing that is most true and most significant is that by Grace, I am a child of God. I am one of the people of God elect from every nation, yet one through all the earth. We are part of that in jesus, we are part of that and we have a mystic sweet communion with those whom God has already taken to himself. A vast company is quite amazing. You tend not to think about that as you begin your day, but maybe as you drive around, not just thanking God for the beauty of the place, but saying what an amazing thing you have made me one of your people. You see when you become one of the people of God, you’re no longer the person that you once wear this week, if you’ve been going through McShane’s readings, you will have been struck by this. I hope, as I was in part of our reading was in Isaiah chapter 65 And in that Isaiah 65, he refers to his servants again and again. Thus says the Lord God, my servants shall eat, my servants shall drink, my servants shall rejoice my servant shall sing. But he’s pointing that out, in contrast with those who are not his servants, he says, these other people insulted me on the hills, they gathered up into the mountains to make offerings to something other than me, the living God. Now in the prophecy of Isaiah, the clarity is unmistakable. Either they were the servants of God or they were the servants of themselves. Either they were listening to God’s word, or they were deaf to God’s word. Either they were delighting in that which God has given for us to delight in or they were delighting in. Whatever they fancied. Either they were gathering to God on the mountain that he said, he’d meet them or they were scurrying up into the hills in order to offer sacrifices to themselves and to other things. I have to say to you Quite honestly, that distinction runs throughout the whole of the bible and throughout the whole of the world. You see the issue that young Sarah is mentioning there about the divisions. There are all kinds of divisions in our world. But the great division is the division that exists between those who by grace are members of God’s family and those who remain outside of God’s family. Well, is it then, somehow or another that God is very limited in his in his designs and in his desires that he’s only got a small group that he’s interested in. No, no. The chapter 65 begins quite amazingly. This is God speaking, he said. I was I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me. I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. You see what he’s saying. God is such a seeking God and a gracious God, that he makes overtures to people who find him even when they’re not looking for him, jesus, my savior to Bethlehem came born in a manger to sorrow and shame. Oh it was wonderful, blessed be his name, seeking for me, for me. These are the things that Peter is saying, the believers of his day need to make sure they believe once you were not a people now you are a people, once you had not received mercy, now you have received mercy. Secondly, he is making sure that they understand where they belong, where they really belong. Where do you belong again? You say, well I belong here, I belong in Ohio belong in America, I belong to this club and that club and the next thing, but what is he doing here? He’s pointing out the fact that they don’t really belong where they live or they may live in Bethenny, Yah, or Cappadocia or pontius or Galicia, parts of Asia, parts of modern day Turkey, but he says to them, that’s not really your place. You don’t really belong there, he said, well, is he diminishing that in any way? No, he’s not. He’s simply saying, listen, this world is not your home, you’re actually passing through wherever you live is a temporary residence one day will be away from the body and we will be at home at home. Where’s our true home in the presence of God? The psalmist this morning, some 134 come, bless the Lord o you! People of the Lord who stand by night in the house of the Lord, this is where you belong. I’d rather live here and open the doors in the morning, says the psalmist than dwell in the tents of wickedness because you took me out of that camp and you put me in a new camp and therefore I belong somewhere else. Here’s the here’s the challenge that existed then and frankly exists now. There is no social benefit now to being a christian in north America. There’s no social benefit. People don’t go, We’ve got some wonderful christians here today. We thought we’d like to introduce you to them. No, not at all, no, it’s actually a cost. And why is that? Because there is a prevailing hostility against the teaching of the bible and therefore against those who will affirm the teaching of the bible and better than that, who will actually live it out. We’re living in a culture that has actually dismissed Biblical Christianity, superficial superstitious beliefs that once were regarded as remote from our nation have now been imported to our nation, are embraced as somehow another mainstream. And the problem that our culture has is that they believe Christianity to be responsible for superstitious beliefs, beliefs that are tied to a bygone age, an age of myths and an age of bigotry. So I say to you again, what is it going to take to live in this kind of framework. One of the ways, you know, you’re in a place that’s not your home as you travel the world is you discover that people are not speaking the way you’re speaking. I had an Uber driver this week and he was from Benin which is a french speaking, I think it was, I think it was once british, I don’t know, but anyway, that’s where he was from. And so I spoke to him for all of like half a second in french and then we then we tried english both of us. But when you travel you realize people are, they’re obviously talking but we’re not talking the same language well that’s understandable when the language is chinese or french or Portuguese or german or whatever it might be, but when the same language is english then it becomes quite alarming, doesn’t it? When we’re certainly using words that used to be clearly defined, that have apparently lost all their definition. Suddenly a word like marriage or an institution like marriage understood throughout time As between one man and one woman to affirm that now is to be regarded as big as it. When the christian affirms these things affirms the fact that society can only be strong and happy where the marriage bond is held in honor instead of people standing up and saying, wow, that is so wonderful. It helps our nation. No, it’s regarded as a threat to the well being of a culture to the well being of a culture That is actually decided that the self that you the me the thinking feeling? Doing Part of me is actually at the center of the moral universe. You see what has happened in the period of time that some of us have most recently lived through that ideas and concepts in France in the 19th century that finally filter into the university and college structure of Western thought finally make themselves down into the movies into the books, into the educational principles. So, young people are growing up being told how you think and how you feel and what you desire is the key to your entire existence and you’re able to make sense of yourself in that way. So, if we are says carl Trueman above all what we think feel or desire, then anything or anyone that interferes or obstructs those thoughts, feelings or desire inhibits us as people and prevents us from being the self, that we are convinced we are the self, that we are convinced that we are not the self that God has made us. Now I listen to BBC this week, sometimes at lunchtime. I do on the BBC app is a good app and incidentally, you strange accents, but it’s quite all right. And it just so happened. It was around the noon. Alright, so it happened, I clicked onto a conversation that was taking place between a british journalist and 22 people. Two people, one was a girl And and one was a boy, one was a man and one was a woman. They were talking about transgenderism and the journalist said, what about your pronouns? The girl said, I am there and them, I am there and there. He pressed on her a little bit and he asked her, how how do you get into that plurality? While she said, I am non binary. How does that work? He said, well, it works in one of two ways I can either be gender absent or I can be gender fluid. And so in myself, sometimes I like to be and other times I feel this way to be. And the point is that whatever I am or believe myself to be by self definition, that makes sense of it all. The fellow when he asked about your pronouns, he said, I am she and her. One of the ways you know, you’re in a foreign place is by the use of language by the use of language when words no longer mean what they clearly mean when we have, if you like now moved into a realm where the syntax has completely changed and where language means whatever we want it to mean, then we’re really in trouble now. So don’t misunderstand me on this is not a diatribe about about sex per se, But when I preached at the very end of 99 into the beginning of 2000 for those seven of you are still here. We said on that occasion The challenge, going into the 21st century would be as always if we’re going to affirm the exclusivity of christ if we’re going to affirm the absolute authority and sufficiency of the bible and if we’re going to maintain a biblical framework of human sexuality and we said the challenge to number one exclusive exclusivity of jesus and the number to the authority of the bible. That challenge we said will be waged out in realm number three in the realm of sexuality. Now, how does it get there because of the autonomous self? I left it upstairs, I wish I had it with me. But I was in a bookstore just during the week. You’re saying goodness did you ever study at all? But anyway, I was there and ah at the check out there were journals and it was unbelievable to me. What’s on the front this journal? It was a journal that you’re supposed to get it. If you’re like a teenager. It just says in bold letters, I am awesome. I am awesome. And then if you don’t like that when there’s another one, I got this, I got this, I am awesome and I got this and I am whatever I say I am despite biology, despite sociology and definitely despite any of that bible stuff. So he says to them, you are strangers. You live in a world that does not embrace what you believe it’s important that you are convinced about what you believe, it’s important that you understand where you belong. And thirdly, it is important how you behave, how you behave. Now, I’m just going to mention two things and leave them for you to follow up notice, first of all negatively and then positively, from a negative perspective, there is that from which we must abstain, we must abstain from selfish, indulgent natural appetites which feed our egos and destroy our souls. That’s what he’s saying. And it sounds out a very important note for those of us who attempted to become very pharisee ical who can say what we say about people who have determined to think in the terminologies to which I just referred to, want to adopt a position that says, I thank you that I’m not as other men are. No, we mustn’t do that. We have to deliberately separate ourselves emotionally physically from all the mutineers that rise up to attack our spiritual devotion. And again, let us be absolutely clear. You go to romans 12 1 and two is a cross reference. I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God, present your bodies a living sacrifice. Holy, acceptable to God. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may be able to test and approve what the will of God is, that’s not about finding out who you’re supposed to marry, that’s not about whether you’re supposed to move to Toronto or something like that. What he’s saying is that we when you submit to God and to his word in that way, then you’re able to say the will of God is the best way. The will of God is the perfect way the will of God is the right way and there is no possibility of merging the two perspectives. Either either we are operating from a world view that is framed by the thought forms of the age or by a worldview that is grounded in the will of God. No possibility of compromise actually between the two. They’re incompatible zones and you can try it in any area you want. What about purpose? What about meaning success, ambition, sex, money, gender. Now, we’re to live faithfully in a fallen world. That’s the sort of private element of it. That’s what’s going on when we drive in our cars. That’s what’s going on in our bedrooms if you like. And what about when we get outside? Well, there it is. That’s the second aspect your to abstain on the one hand, and your to become an advert on the other hand, an advert for what an advert for jesus keep your conduct among the gentiles. That’s amongst those who do not believe among them. Keep your conduct honorable. Look at verse 16, live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover up for evil, but living as servants of God not engaging in the cultural warfare. Using the tools that the world offers us rhetorical tools and weapons that destroy and demean and are cruel. No, the weapons that we’ve been given. Two Corinthians 10 4 are weapons not of the Flesh, but they are the weapons that have the power to destroy strongholds. Well, how comprehensive is this was very comprehensive. That’s why I read verse 17 very slowly. Who am I supposed to be honorable about? And to and with everyone? Oh, you mean the people that you just talked about on the BBC? Exactly. You see when you think about homosexuality per se, forget transgenderism for the moment, but homosexual people ri are either hated or they are affirmed. Those are the only two options, either you hate me or you affirm me, christian actually does neither We do not hate, but nor do we affirm we cannot hate because of God’s word, and we cannot affirm because of God’s word. And we have to be prepared to say that we are unprepared to rewrite the bible in order to accommodate a society that needs the bible and that needs the jesus. Who is the focus of the bible? You see the tension that existed for those folks is the same tension that exists for us because when they were on the receiving end of Peter’s instruction here. The temptation was either to rebel against everything or to conform to everything, we’ll pull this down, we’ll storm the capitol. Well, if you can beat them, we’ll just join them. Neither option is a biblical christian option. Why? Because of the bible? And if you doubt any of this, just go home and read the gospels. If you say to yourself now, how would this honor people thing work? He said, well how did it work for jesus? Because one of the great tests of any exhortations such as we are embracing now the great test is does this work for jesus? Well, think about it as a boy in the temple, he honored his teachers. He honored the woman at the well she had five husbands and a live in lover didn’t give her a big talk. He asked for a drink of water. He honored the disciples by washing their feet even though they were a even though they were a challenging group and even in a series of wars against the Pharisees, he never treated them as subhuman. And he didn’t call on people to rebel against them. And even when he was faced with the agonies and the humiliations that found him nailed to the cross, he did not, as he could have done, called down legions of angels to destroy. And I think that’s why Peter when he gets out of Chapter three and goes to Chapter four says since therefore Christ suffered in the Flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking the same way of thinking, our focus is not on a kingdom in this earth, not a british kingdom. An american kingdom, a chinese kingdom. Any jolly kingdom. Our focus is not on that, but on the kingdom of heaven and our enemy is not our unjust boss. Our enemy is not a tyrant, not an emperor, not a president. Our enemy is the great dragon, Satan The Evil one. So my dear friends Peter says to them and we say to each other, let’s make sure that we understand our identity. People of God, People who are free servants of God, sojourners and exiles. Let’s make sure that we engage in the activity that we’re called to engage in. Abstaining from that which may bolster our self esteem and destroy our souls. And instead make sure that we are an advert for the gospel and then rest in the security with which Peter ends when he says and after after you have suffered a little while which in some cases was their entire life after you have suffered a little while. The God of all Grace who has called you to his eternal glory, will himself restore confirm, strengthen and establish you when the cares of life seem overwhelming and my heart is sinking down. Gonna lift my hands to the one who helps me to the one who holds my crown. How great is the father’s love? How steady is his hand to guide me through this world. This is the true grace of God says Peter stand firm in it, in it. This message was brought to you from truth for life, where the learning is for living. To learn more about truth. For life, with Alistair begg visit us online at Truth for Life dot org.