Living for God in a Pagan World (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Is Christianity good or bad for society?  It really wasn’t that long ago that the public square resonated with injunctions toward “tolerance.”  Now these conversations have been replaced by the language of power and privilege.  Christianity, it’s been assumed, has held too much power for too long.  All religions contain positive elements just as all religions are stained by hypocrisy and social evils.  So why elevate Christianity to a position of cultural privilege?  For example, in April of 2015, Frank Bruni wrote a piece for The New York Times in which he described “Biblical interpretation”—specifically in regard to human sexuality—as “debatable.”  But, wrote Bruni, “beliefs ossified over time aren’t easily shaken.”  His solution?  He joins his voice with a political advocacy group, saying that Christians “must be made” to change their minds with regard to their views on marriage and family.[1]  Not “must be encouraged;” not “must be encouraged.”  No; Christians “must be made.”

Christians have wrongly assumed that their faith has been pushed to the margins of human society.  This is no longer the case.  Now, Christianity is being brought into the public square—not for the purpose of dialogue but for a public flogging.  Christianity is the problem, we’re repeatedly told, not the solution.

Peter seems to have been experiencing something very similar to this in his own day.  He writes:

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 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. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Peter sees Christianity as having the potential for a positive impact on the world around him.  This meant two things.  First, it meant that Christians demonstrate character by not being ruled by earthly passions, and secondly, it meant that Christians demonstrate character through “honorable living.”  Why?  Look at the text: the phrase “so that” tells us his purpose.  Christian character testifies that the gospel is not simply true—though it is—but that it also is good.

Peter unpacks this command toward ethical character with a series of commands—or, more accurately, one command that he applies to three different spheres of life.  “Be subject,” he says—and he repeats this command in the world of (1) poltics (2:13-17), (2) vocation/career (2:18-25), and (3) marriage (3:1-7).  We’ll unpack each of those areas as we move forward this week.  But first we have to understand the relationship between Christian hope and Christian character.

Earlier in his letter, Peter unpacks the gospel this way:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  (1 Peter 1:3-5)

What serves as the basis for Peter’s faith?  It is the “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  The resurrection is a sure thing; it really historically happened.  Without it—well, without it we’re left to vague spiritual language and wishful speculation.  But because Christ literally rose from the dead, because he promises us “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,” this changes our outlook.  How?

First, the resurrection of Christ tells us that if we compare religions based on their impact on society, we’re asking the wrong question.  The issue is not: “Which religion offers the greatest social benefit?”  The issue is not even “Which religion has caused the least amount of violence?”  These kinds of questions may dominate the talking heads of nightly news; they may generate venom in social media debates.  But they are the wrong kinds of question. The issue is not primarily about which religion is “good,” but about which religion is true.

Secondly, there are commands in scripture that we may find culturally backward or even morally offensive.  The idea that I am to “be subject”—that is, to revere and obey authority—runs counter to my treasured value of personal freedom.  Such demands are difficult.  But again, the question for us is not: “Do I find Christianity culturally sensitive?   Do I find Jesus’ commands easy or hard?”  The question is: “Did Jesus rise from the dead?”  Because if the answer to that question is “yes,” then my objections don’t matter—or at least they don’t change the nature of Christ’s demands.  Instead, they press me to consider faith as an all-or-nothing venture.  I can’t selectively follow Jesus based on which commands seem best to me; I must devote myself to following Jesus because he has demonstrated victory over sin and death and invites me to share in that victory through daily living.

Such self-denial would seem almost cruel unless we consider the broader landscape of eternity.  If this life is all we’re given, then living for myself seems my best shot at being fulfilled.  But because the gospel provides us a grander vision of God’s eternal kingdom—coming at Christ’s return—then the surrender of my freedom for this paradise is less a burden than a bargain.

 

This week, we’ll look at how these kingdom values take shape on the stages of politics, career, and marriage.

 

 

 

[1] Frank Bruni, “Bigotry, the Bible, and the Lessons of Indiana.”  The New York Times, April 3, 2015.  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-same-sex-sinners.html

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