Elect Exiles: Being God’s Chosen People in a Strange World (1 Peter 1:1-2)

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1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Peter chose to characterize his audience as “exiles” or “strangers” (KJV). The word could simply be understood as those “residing in a country not one’s own”—and that was certainly true of Peter’s audience. They were forced to flee to modern day Turkey to escape persecution that was initiated by the sadistic Roman emperor Nero. Peter’s letter may have been written shortly after July, AD 64 when it is believed that Nero set fire to his own capital city, Rome, to make room for more building projects. The Romans were devastated and began to cast blame in Nero’s direction. To protect himself, Nero in turn pointed to Christians, claiming that they had provoked the Roman deities by calling people to serve Jesus only.

However, Peter called God’s people “exiles” for another reason. Look ahead to verse 17. Peter tells these exiles to “pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” Then, in 2:11, he says, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles.” Peter said that because these Christians were strangers, pilgrims, and exiles, they should live a holy life. While these Christians were driven from their homes and forced to reside in a strange land, Peter encouraged them to remember that every Christian is an exile. No matter where we live, our true home is in heaven with the Lord, and we will never (or at least should never) feel completely at home in this world. Paul writes in Philippians 3:20, “our citizenship is in heaven.”

As a little boy, I enjoyed a quaint song that was sung by Jim Reeves:

This world is not my home, I’m just a’passing through
my treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue
the angels beckon me, from Heaven’s open door
and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If we are obeying Jesus’ command, our affections will be set on heaven, and life in this world will feel more and more like the life of an exile; the longing for our home country, heaven, will increase daily.

Always Exiles: Babel to Babylon

Identifying God’s people as exiles was not new with Peter. God’s people have always been exiles. The theme of exile runs through the Scriptures.

In fact, the Bible begins with an exile. Adam and Eve’s sin resulted in exile from the Promised Land. The world in which they were exiled was one where the Towel of Babel loomed large (keep this in mind, we’ll come back to it).

Abraham was chosen to be an exile. Hebrews 11:8-9 says,

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.

For Abraham, the cost of discipleship was to become a stranger—to leave his homeland and live in tents in a foreign land. But if we stop at verse 9 in Hebrews 11, we may think that it was only the earthly promised land which motivated Abraham. Verse 11 says instead that “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Abraham understood that our entire lives are one long pilgrimage; that the whole earth is a strange place for those whose citizenship is in heaven; that all Christians may rightly be called exiles who are longing for the heavenly city.

It’s hard to forget that God’s people were exiles in Egypt. Over and over, God reminds Israel that they were “strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 22:21; cf. 23:9). Their exile in Egypt meant exposure to the strange customs, culture, and gods of the Egyptians.

Israel’s kingdom ended in an exile. The mighty Kingdom that David built was crushed and God’s people were forced to live as strangers and exiles in Babylon. Remember the Tower of Babel? Babel is the same Hebrew word that we translate elsewhere as Babylon. It’s the same kingdom. The Old Testament begins and ends with an exile. Exile in a land where Babylon rules is the great type for all other exiles.

For hundreds of years of history, God’s people lived as literal exiles in foreign countries, and always as spiritual exiles in a sinful world. Peter reminds us that those who follow God are still exiles to this day. Hebrews 11 goes on to say that our forefathers who died in the faith

acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Even in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we must be very careful about growing too comfortable. Unless we feel a deep sense of longing for our heavenly homeland, we are likely to blend in with the world. This has always been the greatest challenge for God’s people living in exiles. Before entering Canaan, God warned them not to marry Canaanite women who worshipped pagan gods or to follow them in their practices. In Babylon, God’s people struggled to maintain their identity. Remember Daniel and the three Hebrew children? They kept God’s laws at the risk of their lives. God’s main word for people in exile was, “Be holy!” “Holy” means “separate,” and as we work through the epistle to Peter, we will see that it is still God’s word for Christian exiles in 2019.

Exile can be a hard way to live. The Christian life is sometimes a lonely road to walk. In chapter 4, Peter explains that the Gentiles think it strange when we do not join them in their drinking parties and sexual immorality. Exiles always face a reproach, because they don’t blend in. But there is one comfort above all comforts that exiles must keep ever before them: we are God’s chosen people.

God has always has a chosen people. This special people are referred to in the Bible as the “elect.” In the Old Testament, the elect were all those who were in Abraham. The great hope of the exiles in Egypt and Babylon was, “we are God’s people.” To his exiled people, God constantly reaffirmed his covenant promises. God’s covenant promises are the bedrock on which God’s covenant people stand when their exile is too hard to bear. It’s no wonder that Peter goes from addressing his audience as “strangers” to addressing them as the “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”

Exiled But Elect

God’s people are often referred to as the elect. Jesus said that the end days will be cut short “for the sake of the elect” (Mt. 24:22). He warns that “false christs and false prophets will…lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mt. 24:24). Paul described his motivation for ministry by writing, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). He goes as far as to call himself “a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1).

Romans 8 is by far the most famous passage on the election of God’s people; verse 33 asks, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” Keep your finger in 1 Peter and turn to Romans 8. Verses 29-30 state, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”

Notice the word that appears in both of these passages:

1 Peter 1:2 — “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”
Romans 8:29 — “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son”

In both cases, God’s foreknowledge is key to understanding election and predestination. Foreknow simply means to know before—to know something even before it happens. The only foreknowledge that humans have is knowledge of future events which God reveals to us. Foreknowledge belongs to God alone. The Greek word translated as foreknowledge is prognōsis. Doctors give a prognosis in that they predict the likely outcome of a disease. But we’ve all heard about doctors whose prognosis has been false. God’s prognosis is never false. He is complete in all of his perfections. His foreknowledge is perfect. Foreknowledge is an aspect of his omniscience. God knows everything—past, present, and future. God created time, therefore he must dwell outside of time. Time does not apply to God. We cannot know the future because we do not live in the future; we live in the now. But God lives in the past, present, and future. He knew that Germany would declare war on Russia and that the American people would vote to elect Donald Trump as president.

The question is, “What is the relationship between God’s foreknowledge and God’s election and predestination?” This is a major dividing point for Arminians and Calvinists. Our church is Arminian. John Wesley was an Arminian (he even named his magazine, “The Arminian”). We identify as Wesleyan-Arminians or just Wesleyans because we share John Wesley’s emphasis on entire sanctification. Arminians believe that God’s foreknowledge is foreknowledge of who will receive Christ and who will reject Christ. In other words, even before the foundation of the world, God knew who would receive Jesus and who would reject him, and on that basis he predestined certain people to be saved.

If you asked the average Arminian, “Do you believe in predestination?” he would say “no.” That’s a grave mistake. Because people pick up their Bibles and read Ephesians 1:5: “predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” And Ephesians 1:11: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” The Bible clearly teaches predestination. Arminians believe in predestination.

Unfortunately, predestination is so central to Calvinist theology that they have gained a monopoly on the word. And so we sometimes shy away from it. But the reality is that all Christians believe in predestination. The question is whether this predestination is conditional or unconditional.

Calvinists believe in unconditional predestination: God chooses who will be saved without any conditions. That is, there’s no apparent reason why God chooses some people and not others. And they would affirm double predestination, which is that God not only predestines some to be saved, but also predestines some to be damned, all without any consideration for their choices.

Arminians believe in conditional predestination: God foreknows who will believe in Jesus and who will reject him, and on that basis, he predestines them to be part of his elect people.

Election is a corporate thing. In the Old Testament, God’s elect were those who were in Abraham. In the New Testament, God’s elect are those who are in Christ. And the way to be in Christ is to have faith. Peter wrote to those who were elect according to the Father’s foreknowledge—chosen to be part of God’s people because of the Father’s foreknowledge of their faith in his Son.

The Trinity’s Work in Our Salvation

Peter goes on to say that we are elect not only according to the foreknowledge of God, but also “through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”

We should notice something right away. God the Father, Son, and Spirit all have an essential role in our salvation. I encourage you to always look for the Trinity when you are reading the Bible. The Trinity shows up everywhere. The Trinity is the gospel, because the salvation promised to us is an encounter with the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father foreknows and elects us; the Son sheds his blood for us, and we obey him; the Spirit causes us to be sanctified.

Here’s a simple threefold formula for you to memorize, and you can see it very clearly in 1 Peter 1:1-2:

  1. The Father planned our redemption.
  2. The Son purchased our redemption.
  3. The Spirit applies our redemption.

The Father planned it, Jesus made it possible, and the Spirit makes it a reality in our lives by regenerating us through the new birth. We’ve already made a connection to Ephesians 1. Let’s turn there for a moment.

Look at verses 3-5: “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…[v.4] hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world…. [v.5] Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children.” God planned it.

Verse 5 transitions to Jesus: We are adopted “by Jesus Christ… [v. 7] In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Jesus purchased it.

Verse 12 brings us to the Spirit: “we…first trusted in Christ. …in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance.…” The Spirit applies our redemption. The indwelling Spirit brings us into the Kingdom, according to John 3, and if we have him in our hearts crying, “Abba, Father,” we can be sure that we will gain our heavenly inheritance.

At Odds With the World

Salvation brings us home to God. Our encounter with the Trinity places us in Christ and therefore part of his body; his chosen people; his exiles. Peter puts it this way in chapter 2, verse 9: “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.” That’s what Christians are. And it makes us strangers in the world, because the world is still in darkness. They don’t have the light. They don’t have God as their God. They are without God in the world.

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul asks,

“what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”

Being in Christ puts us at major odds with the world. We don’t fit in. We can’t fit in. If we do fit in, we do not belong to Jesus. That’s why we can be called “exile” in the fullest sense of the world. The differences between God’s people and the world are more serious than the differences between Americans and Asians. A foreign language; foreign food; foreign culture; foreign dress—those things are minor compared to the differences between Christians and non-Christians. So inevitably, it’s going to create some awkwardness. Some tension. Some confusion. Some frustration. Naturally, it’s going to be hard at times. But unlike an American living in Asia who can adapt over time, God warns Christians, “Don’t adapt! If you adapt, you’ll die! You’ll perish!”

John writes,

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn. 2:15-17).

As we go through 1 Peter, you’re going to see that the connections are just incredible. Remember reading ahead: “I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts….” Abstain from fleshly lusts, because fleshly lusts are the lusts of the world, and John says, “the world is passing away along with its desires.” That’s why Peter’s epistle is an epistle that could be titled, “Called Unto Holiness, Church of Our God.” Christian exiles must concern themselves with separation from the ungodliness that dominates the world.

Exiles have a new allegiance. Our allegiance is not to the president of the nation in which we live, but to King Jesus. Many Christians in Peter’s day had to choose between Caesar or Jesus. Now, Peter himself goes on to write in chapter 3, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme.” But we also know from the book of Acts that it was Peter who declared, “We ought to obey God rather than men!” If the authorities tell us to rebel against our king, bad news for them! We’re not bowing. We bow to king Jesus. He’s the Most High King. He’s the King of Kings. If you say, “don’t preach Jesus,” we’re doing it anyway. When the trumpet blows, we’re standing with the three Hebrew children. And the Bible warns that a day is coming when we will face that kind of persecution, except we will not all be delivered from the fiery furnace. Many Christians will die. And many died in Peter’s day.

This may sound a bit scary, but that’s okay. We need to feel estranged in the world. It will drive us closer to God and closer to other exiles—the church, because we are all in this together. The reason why so many Christians are not seriously committed to their local body is because they are comfortable in the world. They feel just as at home at the baseball game or at the supermarket as they do in church. They don’t understand what it means to be exiles.

The culture is against us, more and more in our day. And everyone is lamenting it. Everyone is freaking out about how bad things are getting. And I share many of those concerns. But my feelings are mixed. Because since our founding, Christians have had it easier in America than in any other country in the history of the world. That’s why a sermon like this is really hard for us to feel down in our gut. Peter’s audience would have understood it immediately. And it was a huge motivation to maintain a unique identity as God’s holy people. There was no middle ground. In America, there’s too much middle ground. We’re far too comfortable. The church needs a purging. And it’s just possible that God is allowing persecution to come because his church needs cleansed. Once again, we need to experience what it means to be exiles and strangers in the world.

Grace and Peace to Exiles

Peter ends his introduction with a familiar Christian greeting, “Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.” We read that in a lot of epistles, and breeze past it. But if you’re understanding this message, I think you’ll see how momentous it is. In our exiled state, with threats and fears all around, we need grace and peace to flow to us. That’s our greatest need in this wicked world. God’s grace is sufficient for Christian exiles. And whatever comes our way, God will give us his peace that surpasses all understanding.

Whatever we face, it’s worth it. Because God is our God, and we are his people, and Jesus is our King, and heaven is our home. For all of that, exile sounds like a pretty small price to pay.

Adam and Eve were sent into exiles, but God gave the promise of a Messiah. The woman’s seed would come to destroy the serpent and restore fellowship. That seed is Jesus. He brings the exiles home.

Abraham was called into exile, but God gave him the promised land as a home. Jesus secures for us the promised land of heaven.

Moses was sent to Israel in Egypt to deliver them from their exile. Jesus has delivered us from the slavery of sin, and someday he will grant us a full deliverance from our exile in this world.

Israel was delivered into Babylonian exile, but God allowed them to resettle their homeland. Jesus is the greater Ezra and Nehemiah who will one day bring about the final regathering of God’s elect from every corner of the earth.

We are people of exile, but we are elect exiles. God is our God. Jesus is our King. And one day, Jesus will come to judge the world. Only to exiles will God grant an eternal homeland. And so we say, “Even so, come [quickly], Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

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Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is President and Founder of Holy Joys. He serves as a preaching and teaching pastor in Newport, PA, where he lives with his wife Alexandra and son Adam. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.