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9. Marks Of The People Of God (1 Peter 2:9-12)

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But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 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. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live 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 2:9–12

What are distinguishing marks of the people of God which separate them from the world?

Peter has just been talking about how Christ is the capstone, the foundation of the house of God. The world did not receive him; they stumbled over him. He came like a servant when they were expecting a king. He came to suffer when they were expecting a conqueror. As the Jews rejected him at his coming, so has the rest of the unbelieving world rejected and stumbled over him ever since. Listen again to what Peter says:

And, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 2:8–9

However, this is not true for believers. In verse 9, Peter begins with “but.” “But you are a chosen people.” Christians should be drastically different from the world. Christ taught the same thing in Matthew 5:13, he said you are the salt of the earth. You preserve the world from decay. You have tremendous value. He said you are the light of the world (v. 14). Among the people of the earth, there are a people who are radically different.

Because of this radical difference, Christians often will be mocked and persecuted as was happening to the believers in this context. Peter writes to encourage them but also to reinforce why they should continue to be different. In the midst of persecution and suffering for our faith, there can be a tendency to dull the light and the witness of our lives in order to avoid offense. There can be a tendency to begin to compromise.

This seemed to be happening here in this context. That is why Peter “urges” them in 1 Peter 2:11 to live as strangers and abstain from sinful desires. Continue to be different, continue to be salty, continue to be light, and do not compromise with sin in the face of persecution. Peter reminds them of who they are and what distinguishes them.

For some of us, this text will be a challenge, as it was to this church, to continue to remain different, to continue to not compromise at the work place or amongst friends. For others, it may be a call to repent from ways we have compromised and conformed to this world.

Can the world tell that we are different? In this passage, we will see five marks that should distinguish us as believers in this world. As we go through these marks, we should ask ourselves are we living out these realities in our lives.

Big Question: What marks distinguish believers from the world in 1 Peter 2:9–12?

Believers Are a Blessed People

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 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.
1 Peter 2:9-10

Observation Question: What are some of the blessings and privileges that distinguish Christians from the world according to 1 Peter 2:9–10? What ways are these privileges similar or different to Old Testament Israel?

Here Peter begins to talk about all the blessings and privileges these suffering saints have received from God and that separated them from others. He wants them to know how special they are. They have a call and they are in the center of God’s will even in the midst of persecution. He writes to encourage them as they, no doubt, were discouraged by how they were being viewed and persecuted by others.

Chosen People

He calls them a chosen people. Peter uses terminology commonly used in reference to Israel. Look at what Deuteronomy 7:6 said about Israel: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (emphasis mine).

In the same way, Israel was called to be God’s chosen people on the earth and to be witnesses for him, the church is now God’s chosen people. This choosing is not because we are better than others or because we would respond to him. This choosing is a work totally of God’s grace. Look at what Paul says:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (emphasis mine).
Ephesians 1:4–6

This choosing is all to the praise of his glorious grace, his unmerited favor. This was important for these Christians to hear because they were deemed by others to be the scum of the earth, and therefore, treated as such (1 Cor 4:9–13). This choosing represented their salvation. They were chosen by God to receive salvation and to enjoy him forever.

What were they chosen for?

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 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.
1 Peter 2:9–10

The text can be interpreted to mean because you are a chosen generation, you are also a royal priesthood, a holy people, a peculiar people. Their election is first, and election is the source and fountain of all the other blessings and characteristics that distinguish them from others who are appointed to destruction (emphasis mine).1

Royal Priesthood

These chosen believers were called out from the world to be a royal priesthood. For an audience that was probably primarily Jewish, this would have stood out. In the Old Testament, the monarchy and the priesthood were strictly separated. Priest came from the lineage of Aaron from the tribe of Levi. Only they could approach God at the temple; only they could offer the sacrifices. The rest of the Jews could not.

In addition, the king was special in Israel because he was anointed with oil by the priest. This means he was equipped and empowered by God to do the task of ruling Israel and fighting the battles of the Lord. We see the Holy Spirit coming upon the kings to win battles. Similarly, the priest was anointed, and therefore, empowered by the Holy Spirit to minister to God and the people. But again, these privileges were not for regular Jews and they were strictly separated.

We see the strict separation of these two roles in two kings that were judged by God for trying to combine the priesthood and the kingship. King Saul was anxious to go to battle, and instead of waiting for the priest Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice to the Lord, he decided to do it himself. In 1 Samuel 13:8–14, God told him that because of this, he had sought a man after his own heart to rule. Saul was judged for trying to merge the priesthood and the kingship.

We also saw this in 2 Chronicles 26:16–21 with a king named Uzziah. Uzziah became very successful, and therefore, prideful. He felt that because he was so great he could burn incense in the temple—again a work specifically for the priest to do. The priests gathered together to confront him and said, “You will not be blessed by the Lord because you have been unfaithful.” King Uzziah became angry at this and reached out to burn the incense, and leprosy broke out on his head because God judged him. He then stepped down from being king and passed the kingship to his son. He died a leper.

Therefore, the privilege of being a royal priesthood would have stood out to the original audience. A royal priesthood, a merging of the two lines together? The line of Judah was for the kings, and the line of Aaron for the priests. How is this reality possible?

The only way this is possible is because under the New Covenant, there is no longer a priest who must come from a specific tribal line. The writer of Hebrews argues in Hebrews 7:17 that in the New Covenant, Christ, our high priest, comes from the “order of Melchizedek”, who was the former king and priest of Salem, whom Abraham paid tithes to (Gen. 14:18–20). This was something prophesied about the coming Messiah in Psalm 110:4. He would be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, a kingly priest.

Christians being royal priests represent the fact that we have been united with Christ. We are his body, and whatever glory Christ receives we receive as well. Romans 8:17 calls us coheirs with Christ. It means we will reign with him eternally, and here on earth, our role is to draw men unto himself and to lead people in the worship of him as priests.

This should stand out. Peter wants them to realize that they are different from the world because they know Christ.

Application Question: What ways can we apply the role of believers being kings and priests?

It means we will rule with Christ. Scripture clearly proclaims we will rule in the coming kingdom. We see this in many texts. As mentioned, Romans 8:17 says: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Paul declares that this rulership will include judging this world and even angels. In the ancient world, coming to the king was like going to court. They would often rule over cases. We see that with Solomon as he decides between two women claiming to be the mother of a child (1 Kings 3:16-28). Look at what Paul says:

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life (emphasis mine)!
1 Corinthians 6:2–3

In fact, with this kingship that comes in Christ, there is also a measure of authority that should be seen presently in the life of a believer, especially in the area of ministry. We see this in the Great Commission as Christ sends the disciples out to minister in his authority. Christ commissions them saying, “All authority has been given to me therefore make disciples” (Matt 28:18).

But also as royalty in Christ, we fight wars on behalf of the kingdom. Ancient kings would go off and fight battles in the interest of their kingdom. What battles do we fight?

Christ said, “The gates of hades will not prevail against the church” (Matt 16:18). The church is seen tearing down the fortresses and strongholds of Satan. When you preach the gospel, you go into enemy territory. When you minister to those in depression and habitual sins, you trample on enemy ground. Paul in Ephesians 6 shows the church as a soldier putting on the armor of God, the armor of the King.

But, we are also called priests. One of the unique roles of the priest was to have an intimate relationship with God. In fact, the high priest was the only priest who could enter into the presence of God once a year on the Day of Atonement. No other person could do that. Well, on this earth, one of the things that distinguishes us as believers is the fact that we can walk and live in the presence of God. You talk to God, and he talks to you.

But not only that, the priest would pray on behalf of the people for the forgiveness of their sins and bring their requests before God. We see the priest Samuel says to Israel that he would not sin by ceasing to pray for them. Listen to what he said, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right” (1 Sam 12:23).

Not only did the priest have to pray for people, but the nation of Israel was called to pray for people because they were a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). When Israel was exiled in Babylon, God called them to pray for the prosperity of Babylon because when Babylon prospered they would prosper (Jer 29:7). Even though Israel was no longer in their land, that did not change their identity. They were still a priestly nation called to intercede for the nations.

Similarly, wherever God has placed you, in a nation, a work place, a church, or a family, they are to be places that you intercede for. You are to intercede for the leaders to make godly decisions, for strongholds to be broken, and for the light of the gospel to go forth.

First Timothy 2:1–2 commands believers to make intercession for everyone, for kings and all authorities that we may live peaceful and godly lives. Praying for everyone is a tremendous amount of work. It’s a job for priests, whom we have been called to be.

The priests were also called to teach the people. We specifically see this with Ezra who devoted himself to the study and teaching of the law of God (Ezra 7:10). Similarly, for the New Covenant believer part of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 is to make disciples by teaching them everything Christ commanded.

The believer’s job as a priest is to learn the Bible, to never let it depart from their mouths, to talk about it at dinner, to talk about it at work. One of the reasons you have been chosen to be a priests is to be a teacher of the Word of God. Most of the world will never read the Bible, but they should see and hear the Bible coming out of your mouth all the time. God told Joshua, “Never let it depart from your mouth” (1:8). God told Israel the same thing.

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:6–9

When they lied down, when they got up, when they walked along the road, they were supposed to be biblical. Israel the nation was called to be a nation of priests, even though the specific priestly role was reserved for the family of Aaron.

You, as a follower of Christ, have been chosen to be a royal priesthood. You minister with authority, you will one day rule and judge this earth; you fight the battles on behalf of the kingdom. You, of all people, have an intimate relationship with the Father. You intercede for people and teach them God’s Word. Christians have the privilege of being a royal priesthood.

Holy Nation

Peter also says they are a holy nation. This again was terminology used of Israel. In Exodus 19:6, they were called a holy nation. They were set apart by God for good works, to serve him and worship him. In the same way, we have been chosen and set apart for good works. This separates us from the world. Look at what Paul said about believers: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10).

The word he uses here for workmanship is the Greek word poema from which we get the English word poem. We are God’s poem—his artistry. Similar to the way a poem is carefully crafted and constructed with each verb, adjective, adverb, noun, and preposition to achieve a desired goal. God has and is carefully crafting and constructing us through various events, teachings, and even trials for the purpose of producing good works for his glory. God chose us to display his beautiful artwork—his character and good works to the rest of the world.

Holiness has the positive element of righteousness or good works, but it also has the negative element of staying unspotted or free from the pollution of sin. James 1:27 says this: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (emphasis mine). The church is a holy nation separated from sin and set apart for the purpose of good works. Are you staying unspotted, unpolluted from the world and the things of this world? Are you practicing a faith that helps and serves others, especially the less fortunate?

A lot of Christians have a religion that does not create holiness in their lives. It essentially makes no difference for them or others. This is not a religion that our God accepts (James 1:27). Cain and Abel both practiced religion, but Cain’s religion was rejected because it was not pure and spotless. God has chosen to call out a holy nation to represent him and to serve others.

People Possessed by God

Peter declares that the church was a people belonging to God. Again, this was something said about Israel: Deuteronomy 7:6 says, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (emphasis mine).

What does this mean? It means not only are we here to serve God, but we are here for his pleasure. Whatever you own, you own for your pleasure because it gives you joy. Well, God chose you for the purpose of his pleasure.

This was a phenomenal concept that would drastically change how these persecuted believers looked at themselves. They were mocked, abused, and rejected and yet, owned and treasured by God. Therefore, it was important for these believers to know how special they really were, because if they didn’t, they would adopt the mindset the world had about them. They needed to know they were chosen as God’s special possession in the earth.

We also see this reality taught in the book of Ephesians. Look at what Ephesians 5:18 says, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (emphasis mine).

Paul prays that their eyes may be enlightened to know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints. It’s interesting because you would think he would say “our inheritance in God,” meaning how special he is to us, how rich we are in him. But Paul says “his glorious inheritance in the saints.” We are his wealth and his pleasure. It’s a very powerful concept that Paul prays for the church to grasp.

Look at what Zephaniah says about the people of God: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17).

Zephaniah talks about the people of God in a language we are not used to hearing. He says God takes great delight in us; he rejoices and sings over us. This is a phenomenal concept. We are God’s inheritance, his own possession.

This is something I have never truly understood, but I think I’ve started to get a better understanding as I have become a parent. When I see my daughter, I often just shower praises over her. “You are a cutie; you are so cute. You are just a cutie. Yes, you are.” And I just get giddy being around her. It’s like I’ll be singing to her about how wonderful she is.

One of the things that I have found most interesting about being a parent, is that I sometimes enjoy my baby the most when she is mimicking me. I shake my head, and she shakes her head. Or I clap my hands, and she claps her hands. Or I walk in a room, and she can’t take her eyes off me. It does something to me inside. My joy is then fulfilled as I praise her.

I think this helps us understand the concept of us being God’s possession. Typically, your possessions are used to bring you joy—your TV, your internet, your pets, your family, and your friends. Well, God, who is independent and needs nothing, has chosen to create you for his pleasure. You are his treasured possession. He gets great joy over you, and no doubt, he gets the most joy when you imitate him as well--when you enjoy him, and when you walk like him.

Like me praising and enjoying my daughter, he praises and sings over us. We see him bragging even before the angels in the book of Job. “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Yes, you were not only made to enjoy God. You were made so God could enjoy you.

You are a people on the earth whom God enjoys. You are his possession… If you truly understood this, if the eyes of your heart could really grasp this, it would deliver you from all your insecurities and fears. The world says you’re too short, too tall, not smart enough, not a great enough leader, not a great enough speaker, you don’t have enough money. No, you are perfect. You are perfect because you were created by God (cf. Psalm 139:13-14) and he can use even your weaknesses for his glory (cf. 2 Cor 12:9-10).

Paul prays similarly in Ephesians 3:17-19:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (emphasis mine).

Paul prays that the church may comprehend his love so they could be filled with the measure of his fullness. What does that mean? When you understand how much God loves you, when you truly comprehend it, it will change you. You will be filled with his fullness, transformed by his grace. Let us pray as well, that we may have power to grasp this. These persecuted believers needed to understand this, and so do we.

Application Question: What does the concept of the church being God’s possession and that he enjoys us make you think of? How should we respond to this reality?

People Who Have Received Mercy

“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” (1 Pet 2: 10). Here in this passage, Peter says the church has received mercy. They were a people whom God did not give the judgment and punishment that they deserved.

It has often been said grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve. Mercy is when God does not give us what we deserve. As the church, we were once a people under God’s wrath because of our sin and rejection of Christ. But because of God’s grace, we have now received mercy, forgiveness of sins and have become the people of God. Listen to what Paul said:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (emphasis mine).
Ephesians 2:1–5

Scripture declares that we were dead in our sin, and therefore, separated from God. We followed this world, we followed Satan and we followed the desires of our hearts. We were going our own way, and were objects of God’s wrath (Eph 2:4). God is angry at sin all the time, and therefore, we were under his wrath and on the path to being separated from him eternally in hell. But because of God’s love and mercy, God removed the wrath we deserved and gave us undeserved mercy and salvation instead. Believers have received mercy.

Peter teaches this by using another analogy with Israel from Hosea 1:9-11. He says: “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” (1 Pet 2:10).

In chapter 1 of the book of Hosea, God gave names to the Prophet Hosea’s children in order to display Israel’s rejection by God--how they would no longer be his people, and how they would no longer obtain mercy. However, at the end of chapter 1, God declares that though this may be true for a season with Israel, ultimately they would again be his people and would again receive mercy (Hos 1:9–11). Israel is still waiting for this mercy, which will be fulfilled at Christ’s coming (Rom 11:25, 26).

Peter, in this analogy, says the church is similar—the church was not deserving of mercy, but God gave us mercy and called us to himself. He sees a picture of the nation of Israel’s ultimate restoration to God in how the church, who formally was separated from God, now is a people united in worship to God. This makes the church unique in the world—they are a people who have received mercy.

Interpretation Question: Why does Peter emphasize this mercy after talking about all the other blessings and responsibilities of the people of God?

1. Understanding God’s great mercy would be very important in order for them to not boast in God’s sovereign choice of them but to instead boast in God.

Paul said the same thing about the believer’s salvation. Listen to Ephesians 2:8–9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (emphasis mine).”

It is necessary to remember the depths of our sin in order to properly view Gods mercy and grace. We were separated from him and under his wrath, but God saved us by his grace.

2. Understanding God’s great mercy would also be necessary in order to be effective priests and ministers of God.

This is an important revelation we must have in order to be effective at any type of ministry. When we have lost the realization of our sin, it is then that we have become unequipped for the priesthood. It was right after Isaiah saw the depth of his sin in Isaiah 6 that God called him to be one that spoke for him (Isa 6:5–9). We also see the importance of this in God’s words to Israel about serving the alien. Look at Deuteronomy 24: 17–18,

Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this (emphasis mine).

Israel is called to care for the alien in the land, the fatherless, and the widow on the basis of remembering they used to be slaves in Egypt. In order to properly minister, they must first remember the mercy they themselves had received from God. Certainly, we see this in Paul as well. He declared in 1 Timothy 1:15 that he was “chief of sinners.” Paul remembered how he received mercy. This recognition of his own sin prepared him to be a proper minister of God.

However, when we have lost this reality of our state as a sinner, it is then that we are prone to pride and being judgmental. We are unfit for ministry. This was the problem of the Pharisees. They did not see themselves as sinners, and therefore, misjudged everybody else (Luke 18:10–24).

In this passage, Peter tells these people and us how privileged we are as the church. Though mocked and at times persecuted, we must remember that we have been chosen by God and given great grace. We have been called to be a royal priesthood as we minister to God and the nations. We are a holy nation called to be separate from sin and also called to a life of righteousness. We are God’s possession made to be enjoyed by him. We are a people who have received mercy.

Do you realize this? Like Paul, I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened to understand God’s inheritance in the saints. I pray that you may have power to grasp the power that is working in you as people who believe (Eph 1:18, 19). I pray that you may know the depth and height of God’s love so that it may change your life (Eph 3:18, 19). This is something we often forget and need to hear again and again, we are recipients of God’s amazing grace.

Application Question: What way were you encouraged or challenged by looking at the blessings we have received as the people of God? How can we apply these truths?

Believers Are a Worshiping People

That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9

Another privilege of believers is their commission to declare the praises of God. I have chosen to separate this verse into a point since it marks the first responsibility given to the believer in this passage. Believers have been saved from the darkness of sin and out of this world, in order to be a unique people who worship God.

Again, this would have stood out to a primarily Jewish congregation or Gentiles familiar with the Old Testament. It mirrors God’s original call on Israel. He called them out of Egypt for the purpose of worshiping the Lord. Look what Moses said,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me” (emphasis mine).
Exodus 9:1

Israel was called out of Egypt to worship God in the wilderness. This would distinguish them from all the nations of the earth. Similarly, one of the things that should distinguish the life of a believer is a life of worship. This should separate us from all other people groups on the earth; this is a spirit of gratitude to God for what he has done and will do in our lives. In fact, we see this distinguished even more when Paul talks about God’s judgment on the unbelieving world in Romans 1. Listen to what he says:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (emphasis mine).
Romans 1:20–21

When Paul describes the unbelieving world, he describes them as people that neither glorified God nor gave thanks to him. They are distinguished as a people whose hearts are darkened, ones who do not worship or give thanks to God. In fact, listen to the instructions Paul gives the children of God in Philippians:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe (emphasis mine).
Philippians 2:14–1 5

He says do everything without complaining and arguing. For what purpose? So you may become blameless children of God. See, Paul sees doing everything without complaining and arguing as something that should distinguish the children of God. It marks them as different from the world.

Paul also pictures this world as dark and the children of God as lights and stars in the sky. They are lights in what way? They are lights because when things go wrong or are difficult, instead of being found in the garments of complaining and arguing, they are found in the garments of praise and thanksgiving. That marks them as different from the world. They are a worshiping community.

Don’t we see this with Job? When Job had lost family, job and health, how did he respond? He says, “The Lord giveth and he taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). He doesn’t curse God or the raiders who killed his children; he instead praised God. That type of worship and praise is a light in a dark world. See in the world system where people don’t see God as in control, they are prone to point fingers, complain about bosses, the government, the weather and everything else. However, for the believer who sees their Father in control of everything (cf. Eph 1:11, Rom 8:28), it should be drastically different.

Listen again to what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

How is your worship? How is your thanksgiving? Are you holding forth your light as a child of God? This should distinguish us as believers. What circumstances is God calling you to give thanks in and worship right now?

You can imagine these Christians in Asia Minor who are being persecuted for their faith. Some are probably saying to themselves, “Worship? Worship? How can we worship in this circumstance?” “Yes,” Peter says, “That’s one of the reasons that God called you out of the world. He called you to worship him.” They needed to be reminded of this message, and we need to be reminded as well. He called us out of the slavery of sin to worship him, whether on the mountaintop or in the wilderness.

Application Question: What ways is God calling you to worship in your current circumstance? Do you often struggle with complaining and worrying? How can you remedy this?

Believers Are a People Away from Home

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
1 Peter 2:11

Next, he talks about another distinguishing factor that separates them from the world, he calls them “aliens” and “strangers” in this world. The reason Peter uses these adjectives is to help them recognize that this is not their home. The word strangers can also be translated pilgrims. Pilgrims were a nomadic people traveling in search of their own country. They often left their previous land for religious reasons. Because they were seeking another country, they would not buy a home or settle down. They were a transient community looking for their home land.

In a similar sense, this is not our home. We are different from everybody else and we should not look like the world because this is not our home. There should be extreme differences between you and the world because you are from another place with a different culture, language and norms.

Application Question: What differences should mark the life of a believer because this is not their home?

Look at what Christ said about pagans in Matthew 6:31-32,

So do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (emphasis mine).

“Run after” can actually be translated “eagerly seek,” meaning the world is on a frantic search for material. Jesus said that one of the things that mark the culture of this world is being materialistic. They are running all over the place for food and clothing. Listen to what Paul says about how believers should be in1 Timothy 6:6–8,

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (emphasis mine).

Paul says that with food and clothing, we should be content. The word clothing just means “covering” and could refer to housing and clothes. But contentment should be the norm for a Christian, instead of “Oh I’ve got to get new shoes, new phone, the new iPad, etc…” The world is in a frantic search for these things. But the believer is to be like a pilgrim. John describes how this should distinguish the believer as well. Look at 1 John 2:15: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

What’s another thing that should distinguish the believer from the world? Look at what else Peter says:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 3:3–5

Peter later in the letter tells the women to not be consumed with outward adornment. The Greco Roman culture was consumed with the outward appearance. We see this in the artwork of muscular men and scantily clad women. In fact, even plastic surgery was common in the Roman culture. We have ancient documentation of the removal of scars, breast reduction on overweight men, and also nose surgery.

There is nothing new under the sun; the world culture really hasn’t changed. People are pretty crazy. If they don’t like their noses, they buy a new nose. Like the Greco Romans, the world today is consumed with the outward appearance. But Peter tells these women that because they are God’s children they should instead be consumed with their inward beauty instead of outward.

Many Christians are insecure and depressed because their focus is the same as the world. They have been pressed and molded into the customs of the world (Rom 12:2). I must be skinnier, I must be voluptuous, I must be more muscular, I must look like him, I must look like her. We live in society much like the Greco-Roman system consumed with the external.

Again, Peter says this is not true for holy women. Why? Listen to what he says:

Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 3: 4–5

Christians are different because they put their hope in God. Their focus is God, and they think like God. Beauty is internal. When God chose David to be king over his brothers, God said the reason he chose him was because he was not like man. Man looks at the outside, but he looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Christians are consumed with their inner person, not their outer person. This makes them strangers in the world.

I fear this type of mentality of being a pilgrim in this world has largely been lost in the church, and therefore, the church has become very ineffective and looks just like this world. Much of the church has settled down in this world instead of being pilgrims in it. The world culture is their culture. They are frantic after material. They are consumed like the world with beauty and their outward appearance. Many Christians struggle with tremendous strongholds and insecurities because they have bought into this idol of outward beauty instead of having the mind of God who is consumed with inward beauty. That’s what makes you beautiful.

Does anybody know what the most-sold Christian book is outside of the Bible? It is called The Pilgrims Progress. It is a book by John Bunyan written while he was in prison. He wrote about how we are pilgrims on this earth just passing through, our home is in heaven. It’s very interesting we do not see many sermons on our identity as pilgrims anymore, not many books. The reason there are very fewer books on this is because the world is in the church, and therefore, it is difficult for the church to affect the world.

I cannot but be in awe that one of the bestselling Christian books of a few years ago was Your Best Life Now. I have never read the book so I cannot speak with confidence about the content. My problem, however, is with the title. If you are a Christian, it is impossible for you to have your best life now. I cannot but think this is a commentary on the state of Christianity. Everybody is living for their riches now on the earth, their honor now on the earth. When they don’t get honor, they want to fight and sue everybody. However, many years ago, Christians had an understanding that this was not our home; we are just passing through, and because of this, we should expect persecution and being misunderstood because we are different. We are pilgrims just passing through.

Application Question: Do you feel the concept of being a pilgrim has been lost in the church? Why or why not?

Believers Are a People at War

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
1 Peter 2:11

The major difference that makes us pilgrims, or strangers, on the earth in this passage is a war that we fight in and the world does not. One of the bad things about a lot of evangelism in the church is that sometimes the evangelist promises that your life will get better if you accept Christ. It will be easier; you will hit more home runs and make more money. And maybe some of that is true, but for most Christians, we would say our life actually got harder in following Christ.

One of the ways it gets harder is because you enter into a battle, not even focusing on the spiritual battle with demons and principalities, but the daily war with our inner desires. Look at how Paul describes it in Romans 7:15–23,

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members (emphasis mine).

We see here that Paul was in a battle with a nature inside of him. He says in his inner being, he delights in God’s law, but inside his body, he sees another law at work, waging war and seeking to make him a prisoner of the law of sin. Paul declared what he wanted to do, he didn’t do, and what he did not want to do, he did. He had a war going on inside of him. Many of us have experienced this as well with our anger, lust, anxieties, etc.

David talks about his battle also; he says, “Oh soul why are you disquieted within me, I will trust in God” (Ps 42:5). He repeats this throughout the Psalm as he is wrestling with himself to trust God. You will often find yourself battling with your flesh to not worry about the future but to instead trust God. This is our war.

This is one of the things that should mark you as a believer and make you different from the world. The world just accepts their lusts, their desires and seeks to satisfy them. They fill up their lusts for pornography, their lusts for materialism, addictions, etc., and they don’t understand why you are not seeking to do the same.

Before you were born again, you only had one nature—the sin nature. But now you have two; Peter says we “participate in the divine nature” in 2 Peter 1:4. There is now an inner war happening inside you that is not happening in those who are part of the world.

Listen to what Paul says in Galatians 5:17,

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

Interpretation Question: How do we get victory over these inner desires to sin that try to enslave us? How do we win this battle?

How do we have victory? Listen to what Paul says in Galatians 5:16: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (emphasis mine).

How should a person win this victory? He says “live,” or make your home in the Spirit of God.

This battle has often been pictured as two starving dogs fighting in the believer. If there are two starving dogs that are fighting, which one will win? It’s the one you feed. If you feed your new nature the Word of God, prayer, small group, fellowship, service, and worship, then you will find the Spirit will start to dominate. But if you feed your flesh television, ungodly movies, music, ungodly conversations with friends, ungodly thoughts or ambitions, you will find that you have no power. Your flesh is big and muscular, but the new nature inside you is anemic and weak.

If I find myself stumbling in the area of lust, anxiety, or depression, for me I have begun to look at it as a “hunger pain.” A hunger pain is a signal to eat. In the same way, these struggles with our flesh are signals for us to feed our new nature more.

How do we live by the Spirit or walk in the Spirit?

We do this primarily by living in the Word of God and obeying God. The Spirit is the author of the Scripture, and we walk in him and live in him by living in his Word.

At times, when my flesh is winning, I have had to implement times of fasting to pray and spend more time in the Word. Sometimes, it means to seek the Lord like Daniel and go on a three-a-day plan of spending time in the Word and prayer. Daniel 6:10 says he got on his knees three times a day to give thanks to God. This is a great discipline for your spiritual life or to especially add in times of trial.

It seems David at times sought the Lord seven times a day. He says in Psalm 119:164 that he praised the name of the Lord seven times a day for his statutes. Seeking the Lord seven times a day is not unrealistic; it takes discipline, but it is not unrealistic. When I used to body build, I would eat six to eight times a day; I would eat every two to three hours. I was eating to put on bulk. How much more important is it for us to at times go into a routine like this to break a battle with lust, anger, depression, etc?

This is what it means to “live in the Spirit.” It essentially means to make our home in the things of the Spirit all day long, staying away from sin and things of the world and living in the things of God. This is the way we battle. When someone comes to me with a besetting sin, the first thing I ask them about is their devotional life, which includes church attendance, small group, prayer, worship, etc. We have a promise that if we live in the Spirit (sometimes translated “walk in the Spirit”) we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

I was ministering to a person who was having anxiety attacks every hour on the hour. He had sweats, fear of dying, etc. We put him on a three-a-day Daniel-style devotional plan, and his anxiety attacks were gone in a week—fully gone. Why? It’s because the fruit of the Spirit is joy and self-control, not fear. We simply took the promise of Scripture and applied it. This does not deny the fact that sometimes we should treat things physically through medicine such as depression and anxiety. It does, however, emphasize the promises of the Word of God on areas that are clearly of the flesh. “Live in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

What way is God calling you to live in the Spirit to defeat the work of the flesh? What is your plan to make the Spirit your home instead of only being a visitor?

Application Question: What ways do you practice a lifestyle of living in the Spirit? What ways have you seen a lifestyle of discipline help bring victory over a besetting sin in your life or others?

Believers Are a Beautiful People

Live 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 2:12

Here Peter says that these chosen people, these strangers, and soldiers should live such good lives that pagans will glorify God on the day he visits us.

The word good can also be translated “beautiful.” Peter says that Christians, even though they are being persecuted and mocked for their beliefs by unbelievers, should respond by demonstrating a beautiful life, which will one day help these pagans glorify God on the day of visitation.

Interpretation Question: What does Peter mean by the pagan glorifying God on the day of visitation because of the believers “good life?”

What does it mean when it says “they may glorify God on the day of visitation?” It could mean two things. It possibly is referring to the time of Gods judgment. They may not recognize the beauty of the believer’s life now, but one day, when God visits for judgment, the beauty of the believer’s life will be undeniable. Or it could mean that the pagan glorifies God on the day he accepts Christ. I have no doubt he is at least referring to this because he gives an example of this in the next chapter. Peter specifically talks about the situation of an unbeliever who gets saved while married to a Christian wife. Listen to what he says:

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 3:1–2

Essentially, he cautions these believing women against nagging, complaining, or even preaching at their unsaved husbands. He says they should win them without words by the reverence of their lives. By submitting to this man—who could be difficult and probably disrespectful about her faith—by loving him and serving him without a complaining heart, she could potentially win this man to Christ. Similarly, these believers who were being persecuted for their faith were called to demonstrate beautiful lives even in an ungodly situation. Look what he tells them to do later in this same chapter describing this beautiful life. He says they should respond like Christ.

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
1 Peter 2:21–23

When Christ was persecuted, he didn’t commit sin. He didn’t lie or become deceitful. When they insulted him, he did not retaliate. He didn’t make threats but instead entrusted himself to the just God.

Christ had a beautiful life. Peter says one of the things that should make you different is your beautiful life. I believe the beauty of this life will shine especially when one is persecuted or accused wrongly (1 Peter 2:21-23). People should be able to tell you’re a Christian because of how you respond to persecution or mistreatment from the world. Look at what Christ said in Matthew 5:43–45,

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (emphasis mine).

Christ said to love our enemies and to pray for them that we may be sons of our Father in heaven. That result doesn’t make sense. Does a person become a child of God by loving his enemy? No, he is manifest as a child of God. He looks like his father who blesses and cares for those who curse him all the time.

Do you respond with cursing, anger, and complaining when unjust things happen to you? Or do you respond with a beautiful life—without complaining, without bitterness, humbling yourself, and entrusting your life to God who is just. This should mark the life of a believer. I have to remind myself of this at times when I’m tempted to respond in a negative way. No, I must live a beautiful life. Jesus responded with a beautiful life, and we should as well.

Application Question: How have your responses been recently to times when you have been misunderstood or mistreated? How can we better practice this beautiful life?


What are some characteristics that should mark the lives of believers and separate them from the world?

  1. Believers are a chosen people with many privileges. They are chosen by God to be royal priests, a holy people, a possession of God, and a people who have received mercy.
  2. Believers are a worshiping people.
  3. Believers are a people away from home—pilgrims who are waiting and seeking the kingdom of God.
  4. Believers are a warring people fighting against the flesh.
  5. Believers are a people with beautiful lives especially when faced with persecution.

Application Question: What marks is God calling you to especially work on or restore in your life? What is your plan to do so?

Chapter Notes









Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.

1 Hanko, Herman (2012). A Pilgrims Manual: Commentary on I Peter. Reformed Free Publishing Association.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Discipleship