Aliens in America
I Peter 2:1-17
Aliens in America
I Peter 2:1-17
Introduction – How Did We Get Here?
It has been a very interesting week on social media and in the blogosphere. The Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage the law of the land on Friday, June 26th has sent shock waves throughout Bible-believing congregations. Not that we didn’t see it coming. Our culture has been headed this way for a long time.
But how did we get here – to this day – where sin is celebrated and institutionalized in same-sex marriage? I think we must begin with understanding that the Devil is in the mix leveraging our fallen nature. Beyond that broad understanding, we need to recognize that the factors that brought us same-sex marriage a few days ago have been at work a long time in our culture. We have benefited greatly from modernism and humanism that has its roots in Europe about the same time our country was being founded. The modern age has given us wonderful things like our democracy, the industrial age, modern conveniences like electricity, cars, and computers. But at its core, modernism has elevated man over God and given us secularism, Darwinism, Communism, and militant atheism. Into this secular, man-centered worldview, we added the ingredient of the sexual revolution in the late fifties and early sixties with the Pill and Playboy Philosophy. Sex was no longer considered the sacred physical union between a man and a woman, as the Bible teaches, but it became solely a means for self-gratification. In biblical marriage, where sex is an act of self-giving love, with the advent of the Sexual Revolution, it became a source of getting, rather than giving.
That was the beginning of the destruction of marriage in our culture. We furthered its demise by instituting “no-fault divorce” making it easier to break up what was promised to be “till death do us part.” The proliferation of pornography during the same time and especially with the advent of the internet has further weakened the uniqueness of the marriage relationship and the sacredness of sex. The entertainment industry, of course, jumped in all this and reflected what was happening in culture with its celebration of sex outside of marriage. In all of this, the church has not been innocent. Our divorce rates and use of porn is not much different than those outside of the church.
It wasn’t long, then, that media and our society began to celebrate homosexuality. Why not? Marriage had been diminished. If the primary purpose of sex was self-gratification, then why not ignore what God revealed in his word. You remember the shows. Will and Grace. The Ellen Show. American Family. And countless episodes of TV dramas and comedies that seem to always normalize and celebrate what the Bible calls sin. It has been a non-stop onslaught to normalize sinful behavior.
And that has brought us, not surprisingly, to today. Homosexuality and transgender lifestyles are now celebrated and considered a normal and healthy option in our culture. All week long, I’ve read blogs and FaceBook posts fearing backlash against Bible-believing Christians who still believe that homosexual acts are sinful and same-sex marriage is an abomination of what God intended. There is talk about loss of free speech and tax-exempt status for churches and para-church ministries. I believe the risks are real. There is a lot of fear.
May I suggest to you: this is not a time for fear. It is a time for courage and clarity. This is a time for the church to truly be the church. What should we do? How should we act?
Friends, the church of Jesus Christ has always been counter-cultural. In fact, we have been at our best when the world has been against us. That was certainly the situation when Peter wrote his first letter known as I Peter. Rome was no friend to Christians, and Peter calls the recipients of the letter “exiles” and “aliens.” Though they lived in the Roman world, their primary citizenship was elsewhere. It is a good word for us today as American Christians.
The Word – I Peter 2:1-3
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
This is where we must begin. We cannot complain about the world around us and live just like those who do not know God. The sins that Peter lists are relational sins: the way that we live and talk with other people. We who call ourselves Christ-followers must live as the Lord taught us.
And I love the picture that Peter offers in the second and third verses. A newborn baby is dependent on its mother’s milk for survival, health, and growth. In the same way, we are to earnestly long for what Peter calls “the pure spiritual milk.” Some very good translations render it as the “milk of the word.” Certainly, God’s word is central to what is necessary for our health and growth. Other elements are important, too: prayer, a sense of God’s presence in one’s life, and deep fellowship with other believers. The important point that I want to make here is, if you have known the grace and goodness of God, then you will want to grow. Your passionate desire for God’s word and work is evidence that you are spiritually alive. Peter continues:
“As you come to him, (you’re coming to him, remember, because you long for “pure spiritual milk”) a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” (vs. 4-10)
Jesus is the key – the Cornerstone. He always is. It’s true today, as it was nearly 2,000 years ago when Peter wrote this letter. If it seems the world is against us it is because they are. They have rejected Jesus. If we are following Jesus, they will reject us. Jesus said it himself:
If you find the godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me. If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you. “When that happens, remember this: Servants don’t get better treatment than their masters. If they beat on me, they will certainly beat on you.
John 15:18-20a (The Message)
So why are we surprised? This all comes with the landscape of following Jesus.
“But 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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (vs. 9-10)
We can whine and complain. In a democracy, it is quite appropriate to let our voice be heard. But let’s not perpetuate the thought that the sky is falling. God is still on the throne and Jesus is Lord of all. In the midst of our concern, let us not lose hope or perspective. We are citizens of another kingdom. We are shaped by another culture. We are God’s people, his holy nation. We are to proclaim the greatness of God in our words and actions. Look at the specifics of Peter’s statement! We have plenty to be thankful for – every reason to be confident. God called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once we were lost, with no hope and no identity. But now we are God’s people. Once we were destined for destruction and judgement, but now we have received God’s overflowing mercy.
Let’s put fear and complaining aside. We are God’s people.
Aliens in America
We are aliens in America. Hear me carefully. America is not a Christian nation any more than this building is a church. (That’s worth tweeting.) Of course, that all depends on how you define “Christian nation” and “church.” In this place, we gather and worship and pray and fellowship together. But according to the Bible, this building is not the church. We, the people are. In the same way, America was established by mostly godly people who understood the wisdom of biblical principles. And those biblical principles inspired and informed them as they were writing our founding documents. (http://www.sermonspice.com/product/63150/independence-day-mini-movie)
We have much to be grateful for. Biblical principles guided the founding fathers. For many years, America has been blessed because those principles have been acknowledged. We grieve because they are more and more being pushed to the side, resulting in the moral slide of our culture. Nevertheless, we are not, nor have we ever been a Christian nation. There is only one Christian nation, and that is you – the Church. And the Scriptures make it very clear that God’s nation will always be counter-cultural to the world. Finally, Peter continues with very specific teaching for us as to how we should live as aliens in America:
For Such a Time as This
Peter continues, "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 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.
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor”
Can you see how relevant Peter’s words are to us today? Part of the bad rap against the church today is our own hypocrisy. We must live above reproach so that the world will have nothing to leverage against us. I read a blog just the other night by David Brooks of the New York Times. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/30/opinion/david-brooks-the-next-culture-war.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fdavid-brooks) Now normally, I wouldn’t read, much less cite, the New York Times. Brooks was suggesting that socially conservative Christians give up on our moral culture war. We’ve lost. Well, I don’t buy that. We’ll keep standing for life and for traditional marriage. But I did appreciate what he suggested in its place. We are postured to really make a difference in the lives of hurting people in our culture. It seems that our biggest reputation is based on what we are against. Friends, we need to turn that around. We need to stand for life and morality. But I believe the time has come for us to use our significant resources, imagination, and the power of the gospel to reach hurting people in our homes and on our doorsteps. Let our reputation be changed. We will not change our stand on moral issues. But friends, let’s get about the business of changing lives through acts of love, mercy, and justice in the name of Christ.
Along with changing our reputation, let me add a few more practical things that we can do that align with God’s word.
First, Honor the government. Do you pray for those who govern us more than you criticize them? I suggest that before we criticize them, let us obey the word of God and first pray for them. Be thankful that you are blessed to live in America. Be a good citizen. Vote.
Second, We must be Christ-like. Love people, including LGBT. Jesus loves them. He spent a lot of time with sinners and society’s outcasts when he walked on earth. Pray for them. (That will help you to love them.) Just like you, they need Jesus.
Third, We must live like the church. Honor marriage. We must stop winking at our own sin. If you’re having sex with anyone, either virtually through pornography or in reality, you cannot condemn practicing homosexuals without condemning yourself. We cannot bemoan same-sex marriage and ignore other sinful sexual expressions outside of marriage.
Finally, we live in challenging times. The world is becoming more and more antagonistic against Christians. God knew that you would be alive in 2015 when the Supreme Court of the United States mocked the Supreme Lord of All by making same-sex marriage the law of the land. You were born for such a time as this. We can’t play games. We can’t play at this thing we call “church.” We can and we should pray for revival. But we need to do our part. We need rigorous discipleship and an understanding of what it truly means to be a Christian and follow Jesus. That’s why our mission statement is not only helping people find Jesus, but to follow him, too. Our lives need to reflect Christ in all that we do. We need to vigorously pursue our vision. We are not holier-than-thous. We are not spiritually elite. We need the grace and mercy of God just as much as gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders. “We are ordinary people, being transformed as Jesus-followers through the power of the Holy Spirit, changing our families, our community, (our country) and the world for the glory of God.”
Do not despair. We are aliens in America. But we are citizens of God’s holy nation.