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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                                           Sermon #1214

May 31, 2015                                                                                                  1 Peter 1:1-9

Dr. Ed Pettus

 

“Elect Exiles”

 

1.The Evangelical Church in America

a.Our Changed World

 

We know it true today that the world in which we live is changed from what we once knew.  Our world, our context of the USA, has changed dramatically in the last fifty years.  Our world, our culture, and our society is twisted around so deeply that we are no longer the nation that once held a Judeo-Christian consciousness, but now Christianity is a marginalized worldview that is barely in the conversation.  The biblical concept of “the world” is synonymous with our culture or our society.  Yes, that means America is nothing more than the world in biblical terms.  The world from a biblical perspective is that which needs God’s redemption.  We are a nation in need of redemption.  We are no longer the nation that sends missionaries out to evangelize the world, we are the nation in need of repentance.  Other, more faithful peoples in other countries are now sending missionaries to us. 

When the President proclaimed that we are no longer a Christian nation, he simply drove the last nail in the coffin of Christian influence and predominance.  The symbol of the end of Christendom in America might have been removing prayer from public schools.  When that became the norm, God was placed out of the consciousness of public life.  At one time we had something of a God consciousness in this nation.  That is no more.  For a time now we have seen God consciousness replaced with progressive inclusion, with political correctness, and with tolerance for all things non-Christian.  We used to at least be in on the conversation of all things education, medical, political, and other aspects of the national way of life. 

Am I being overly sensational is what I have said thus far?  Perhaps.  The news is so sensationalized anymore that it is difficult to get a read on the national pulse.  We hear the most extreme news stories and it becomes extremely hard to determine what is real and what is a projection of someone’s editorial skill.  But we know something is amiss and we have struggled with how to respond. 

 

b.How We Have Responded

 

I read recently an article from Daniel Darling from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who spoke of two ways we have responded to our changed world.  The first is to retreat.  We might argue that this has been the strategy of the PCUSA, to retreat from biblical orthodoxy.  Some denominations have opted to compromise the scripture and let the culture lead the way for the church.  This is the option with which we could not live.  A second option he calls the recovery option.  We have tried to take the nation back from the progressives of the world just by reclaiming the “Christian” aspect of being a Christian nation.  We seek to elect believers to key positions or enact laws that reflect Christian values.  This too, he concludes, has not been the best option, or at best, it is not the sole factor in responding to our national problems.  He does believe that it is best for our society if Christian values are reflected and thus the pursuit of Christian leadership is certainly not a bad thing, just that it should not be the sole strategy for the church. 

In Darling’s view, the best option for the church right now is to develop a theology of exile.  Even exiles are to seek the welfare of the city or nation in which they live.  But exilic living is different from living in a “Christian nation”.  Exile means living in a land in which Christianity is marginalized and irrelevant, even ridiculed and prosecuted under certain circumstances.  Being a Christian today can get one listed as a hate group.  Whereas we might have sought to live in faithful humility today, tomorrow will require a shift to faithful courage.  One other article spoke of how it used to take courage to claim to be an atheist because Christianity was the norm.  Now it takes courage to claim to be a Christian.  Atheism seems to be more widely accepted than the church.     

 

c.Biblical Exiles

 

But the question comes to mind, at least in my mind, is this anything new for the church?  In the Bible God’s people have always been on the periphery of the world.  We read in places like Jeremiah 29 about how to live in exile, looking out for the welfare of the city yet seeking to keep one’s identity as God’s people.  We read in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven.  And today we look at 1 Peter as he writes to the believers who have been yet again driven into exilic status. 

 

2.Are we in exile?

a.Culturally  

 

I think it is quite clear that we are a people exiled from our culture.  We know that all the signs are there, from having little voice left in the public square to the penalties of trying to run a business by Christian standards. 

 

b.Biblically

 

Most of us, having lived in a period of Christian national consciousness, find it more difficult to accept exile as a Christian theology in USA.  We have wanted to hold fast to America as virtually equivalent to the kingdom of God on earth.  But Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world.  Jesus said that the world hates him, would never accept him, and thus would hate and never accept those who follow him.  Biblically we are right where we always have been as disciples of Jesus Christ – despised and rejected by the world. 

 

3.Holding Fast in a Changing Context

a.Identity Crisis

 

What then shall we do?  In the movie Hoosiers, Coach Dale holds to a particular identity for coaching and shaping a team.  You might remember the booklet he would hold during the games.  He held to that plan and to that team identity no matter what happened.  Some players tried to ignore the plan.  Fans booed the plan, but in the end the plan brought a state championship to a tiny school in Indiana against all odds.  The church has been struggling with its identity throughout this cultural worldly transition in America.  We truly have an identity crisis and it is partly because we failed to stick with the plan.  Churches have tried every avenue of new thing and in some ways have rejected the Bible in doing so.  I mean how can one stick with the Bible as a plan when the Bible speaks against so many things the culture is about?  So we compromise a little here and a little there until we become a seeker sensitive church which sometimes just means a lukewarm church.  Or we invite people to come as they are but never expect them to repent and become transformed in Jesus Christ and a radical disciple.  Or we reduce the gospel to positive thinking, or prosperity gospel, or we abandon scripture all together for what makes us happy and serves the felt needs of everyone.  I cannot tell you how many proposed answers for the church have crossed my desk in the last 25 years.  Strategies are far and wide, but the way is straight and narrow.  We just have not had the courage to walk the plan revealed in Jesus Christ. 

 

 

b.Remember Who We Are

 

Perhaps the first step is to remember who we are in Jesus Christ.  Let’s look at a few of the many scriptures that identify us.

 

1 Corinthians 6:18-20

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

 

1 Peter 2:9-10

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, 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.

 

            Colossians 3:1-4

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

What each of these passages reflect is the identity of the Christian Church: we are bought with a price and do not even belong to ourselves.  We are chosen royalty, holy, and God’s special possession.  Our life is in Christ, He is our life.  This is who we are!

 

 

4.Peter’s Word of Hope

a.Elect/Chosen

 

What does Peter say to exiles?  1 Peter is a word written to exiles and perhaps the most timely writing for us today.  Let’s take a closer look at some details in 1 Peter 1:1-9.

Verse   1. – elect, God’s own – This is our identity: chosen, elect of God, we belong to him because we have been bought with the price of the cross of Jesus Christ.

            2. – foreknown, sanctified, obedient (grace and peace).  We have been known, cleansed, made holy, given faithfulness toward obedience, and all because of God’s grace and peace.  We have not done this on our own.

                       

 

b.One People Under God

 

The response to our election is to bless God, verse 3,

3. – Bless God, for he has…birthed us into a living hope in the living Jesus.  We are reborn to a living hope.  It does not matter if we are in exile, because we have hope against all odds. 

            4. – given an inheritance in heaven.  We have been given an inheritance that the world cannot touch.  They might take away Christian businesses, they might run God out of the public consciousness, but they cannot touch what God has set aside for his own. 

5. – God guards us through faith for salvation to be revealed.  The promise is that God will guard us until his salvation is revealed to all.

            6. – Therefore, rejoice, even through trials.  This is a tough one sometimes, but our exiled position is reason to rejoice.  We can cry out against what we see going on in the nation right now, but it is still a time to rejoice in Christ. 

            7. – Faith is tested, resulting in praise, glory, and honor to Jesus.  In the end this is our only goal – to glorify Jesus Christ in our lives and in our nation. 

            8. – Not seen, yet love and believe.  Rejoice, joy, glory. 

            9. – outcome of faith: salvation!  Peter’s first words to the exiled Christians is a huge boost of encouragement.  God is working in our midst, bringing salvation, increasing our faith, guarding our hearts, and reminding us of an inheritance beyond our imagination. 

 

c.No Identity Crisis Here!

 

We have no need to be in an identity crisis.  The church belongs to Jesus Christ and Christ alone.  He promised that he would build it up and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.  Nothing in our culture can destroy the church.  No one in the middle east can destroy the church.  No government in any country can rid itself of the church.  Jesus is Lord of the Church as he is Lord of the nations and Lord of all lords.  Exile is a place where God is at work encouraging us to become a faithful presence within a hostile environment.  We might view how we got here as a work of evil people or even satanic forces, but we could also be in this context by God’s plan.  It may be a plan to strengthen his church that has become so complacent in a nation of easy Christianity.  Our identity is tied deeply in the truth of our Holy Scripture upon which we must stand firm.  We are being called to live out our identity in ways that serve the community, that witness to Jesus Christ, and never compromise who we are in Jesus.  In other words we must come to terms with how we are to live as a faithful presence in an exiled condition in America.

 

5.Good News!

a.Joy Inexpressible

1 Peter 1:8-9  Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

            There is good news for us today.  We have the most indescribable joy possible because of what Jesus has done.  It seems incredible to me that Peter would write these words to exiles.  Here we are exiled in our own nation and yet we have the joy of the Lord filling us up with glory.

 

b.The Revelation of Jesus Christ

1 Peter 1:7  so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

            I love it that Peter speaks to the revelation of Jesus Christ.  When Christ is revealed, all the scoffers and non-believers and progressive thinkers will see.  They might never see in our lifetime, but they will see one day.  May our faith result in the confidence that gives praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

 

I want to add one more word that I did not get into the outline this morning.  It is a word that I will probably preach sometime later.  It is from Jude.  Keep in mind the overall picture I have outlined today and the current atmosphere of our nation as I read these words.

Jude 1:17-25

17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.  20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.  22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.  24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.