We carry out our calling as we live in this fallen world, but our hopes and our future ultimately go beyond the hopes of this twisted, sin-filled world.

Let me begin with a confession: I am an alien; I even have papers to prove it. Of course, those who know me would probably say that comes as no surprise, since I’ve always been just a tad weird. Mind you, I’m not the kind of alien Will Smith chased around in the Men in Black movies. Rather, when I was pastoring in Jamaica, the Jamaican government called a “resident alien” - a foreigner living in Jamaica.

That reality in which I lived has helped me appreciate more fully the apostle Peter’s words in 1 Peter 1:1-2:

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.”

In case you haven’t realized it, Peter is writing to Gentile believers from very lands he talks about. His original readers were probably born and raised in those lands, yet he refers to them as resident aliens because he wishes to remind them of their essential identity as followers of Jesus Christ. This means that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am a resident alien in a fuller, more comprehensive sense. And so are you, my friend, if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ.

On one hand, this means that this world is not our home; we are, in fact, citizens of heaven. We carry out our calling as we live in this fallen world, but our hopes and our future ultimately go beyond the hopes of this twisted, sin-filled world. Whatever difficulties and hardships we may face, they are temporary. Moreover, Paul reminds us that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” Mind you, Paul isn’t saying that his hardships were easy and short-lived. In the same passage, he describes himself as “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” What he means is that the greatness of what God has prepared for his people makes whatever we might undergo seem trivial, no matter how painful they might be.

On the other hand, that we are aliens also means that we don’t belong in this world. It is a world in revolt against God, a world whose rejection of God was most fully expressed in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Thus, as children of God and followers of Jesus Christ, we need to recognize that this world in which we live is enemy territory. Just as the world set itself against Jesus, so it sets itself against us. As if that were not enough reason, the world also hates us because we are traitors in its eyes. Because God’s redemptive act transferred us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his dear Son, the world considers us to be turncoats who have betrayed our friends and loved ones to follow a different master.

As aliens, then, we are estranged from the world because God chose us to be his people. Our identity is defined by God’s sovereign prerogative to set us apart for himself through the Holy Spirit to be saved through Jesus’ sacrificial death. Peter emphasizes the greatness of this privilege when he says we are chosen according to the Father’s foreknowledge. The foreknowledge of God doesn’t mean that God anticipated that we would choose him. Later on in this chapter, in verse 20, Jesus is referred to as having been foreknown before the foundation of the world. God didn’t simply foresee that Jesus would give his life as a sacrifice; he himself provided Jesus. God’s foreknowledge of Jesus must be understood as God’s choice or determination that Jesus be the redeemer. In the same way, God’s foreknowledge of us is his choice that we be saved by Jesus Christ. To be part of God’s elect, then, is to be privileged because before the world began, God sovereignly chose to love you (since “to know” in the Old Testament had overtones of intimacy and affection) and to give his Son for your sake so that you might be saved. Strangers though we may be in the world, we have confidence that we are not strangers before God.

Our identity as aliens by virtue of our privilege as God’s elect must be the reality that shapes the way we live in this world. The first implication of our identity is that because we were chosen, according to Peter, “to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with his blood” our lives must be characterized by whole-hearted submission and obedience to Jesus Christ, so that we no longer live for ourselves. His desires and purposes for us and for the world must be our own desires and purposes. But lest we think that obedience is the prerequisite to forgiveness, we must recognize that Peter uses “obedience” to mean “willing acceptance of the gospel.” Our willingness to accept the gospel and submit to it is the result of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work. Our obedience is not a substitute for faith; it is the proof that we have genuine faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Second, our status as aliens must be the basis by which we must evaluate our goals, objectives and activities. There is a very real danger that we would “go native” or become so chummy with the world that we are captivated by its values and attitudes and essentially deny our identity as children of God. Let us be warned: “Friendship with the world is hostility toward God.”

Third, as aliens in this world, let us be ever homesick for heaven. It is only as our affections and priorities are properly focused on eternal values that we will be able to properly fulfill the earthly responsibilities to which God has called us.

Topics: Christian Living