11Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
1 Peter 2:11-12
Back in 1997, when I left school, I decided that I did not want to go to university. One of the main reasons was that I did not think I would fit into the student culture. A steady stream of partying, clubbing and drinking really didn’t appeal to me! Two years later, however, I decided that perhaps I would give university a try. Whilst I had undoubtedly changed in those two years away from full time education, I still felt much the same way about student culture; I decided that it still was not really for me. Four years and two universities later, that had completely changed! Now I am the one trying to encourage friends to go out for an evening! During those four years, I was sucked into the culture of students, and found that I quite liked spending evenings in the bar with friends, and actually really enjoyed dancing the night away at the weekend! The pull of everything student culture had to offer was too strong for me, and I succumbed.
Culture can have that effect on people. When everyone else around you is living a certain way, it can be very hard not to conform yourself. For me, this was a harmless cultural readjustment. Whilst this can be a very positive thing at times, Peter here warns that there are some issues that must be considered. Peter here refers to Christians as “aliens and strangers in the world.” Like me when I started university, or a foreigner in a different country, we ourselves as Christians are foreigners, or aliens, in the world, wherever we live. Why? Because we are citizens of heaven. We are simply passing through this life as we prepare to return to our home – the Kingdom of Heaven. As citizens of heaven, we are called to be “in the world, not of the world,” as the expression goes; we are called to engage with the world around us, but not to get sucked into earthly culture. No matter what those around us are doing, we must ensure that we are always conforming to the culture of heaven. We have been imbued with the standards of heaven, and must ensure that we always show this to the world. Rather than living for short term gain, as the world around us does – the constant quest for money, power and success – we are trying to live our lives according to the rules set down for us in the Bible, so that we can please God. We should be consciously living as aliens and strangers in the world, striving to be different.
Peter knows how much pressure we will come under as citizens of heaven living in the world to conform to a culture that is markedly different from heavenly culture. He says that the sinful desires the world expects us to engage in “war against” our souls. Difficult it may be, but we are still called “to abstain from sinful desires.” Peter knows that it can be very difficult to stand out, and to live a life according to God’s rules. It can be very easy to stray from the path of righteousness by being tempted to join in immoral activities, and activities that God would not be happy with us doing. This is why many people wear “WWJD” bracelets; these serve as a constant reminder that we are living for Christ. Would we tell that lie if Jesus was standing next to us? Would we have that one drink too many? Would be engage in that inappropriate activity with our girlfriend/boyfriend? We must ensure that we act as “aliens and strangers” in the world – not conforming to the culture of the world around us, but striving to live according to the heavenly culture that God has ordained for us.
Peter tells us that one of the reasons we must stand out from the world around us is so that our non-Christian friends “may see [our] good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” By conforming to the culture of heaven in all that we do, we can reveal that culture to those around us, who will see what a vastly superior culture it is – a culture in which people love and support each other, a culture with a focus which draws those who conform to it out of the selfish short term-ism of the world. People will see how happy we are because of the freedom we have been given through knowing Christ as our personal saviour, and will start investigating the Christian faith for themselves. By living as aliens who conform to the culture of heaven, we become cultural ambassadors for the Kingdom of God, and can encourage people to take an interest in our faith, and maybe even come to know Jesus for themselves. This to me seems like a fantastic incentive to strive to be different!
Consciously making a stand and trying to be different can be very hard, particularly when those around us are trying to lure us into their way of living. We as Christians, however, must strive to maintain our Christly pattern of living, and even to strive to live more like Jesus. The most pressing reason to stand out from the world is that this what God has demanded of us – this is how he wants us to live. He doesn’t want us to adopt the sinful ways of the world, but to strive for ever greater purity in our lives. A further reason is that by standing out as an “alien” in the world, we can demonstrate to those around us that there is a better way of living, and to point them towards Christ. This is why, although I recognise it is hard, I am trying to be an alien. I would urge you to do the same.