A Time Of Exile

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My title is 'A Time of Exile' – because that's what we're living in if we are followers of Jesus. We're away from home. And this evening we're turning to 1 Peter 1.13-25. For hundreds of years Christians have found encouragement in these words. 300 years ago someone wrote that 1 Peter is …

"… a brief, and yet very clear summary both of the consolations and instructions needful for the encouragement and direction of a Christian in his journey to heaven, elevating his thoughts and desires to that happiness, and strengthening him against all opposition in the way."

That's wonderfully put: here is both encouragement and also direction – lifting our eyes to heaven where we're headed, and giving us power to keep going when things are hard. The first part of chapter 1 is solid encouragement. That was last week. Direction comes with verse 13: "therefore [with all this encouragement in mind] prepare your minds for action" – and so on. But this instruction is all wrapped up in repeated encouragement – because what we should be like and how we should live flows from all that we know about Jesus and all that he is to us.

This is a section of Scripture that is packed tight – there's so much in a short space that it can be hard to take it all in. So I'd like us to think about what Peter says under three headings, to help us inwardly digest it all. They are, first, What We Know About Jesus; secondly, What We Know About Ourselves; and thirdly, What We Should Do About It Now.

And I want to spend most of our time on the third of those – what we should do about it now – because that's the main thrust of this section: how we should live in the light of all we know. But interwoven with what Peter says about how we should live are reminders of what we know – much of which is there in the first half of the chapter, that we looked at last week. So briefly I'm going to remind us of what Peter reminds us of, before we think about the implications of it all for our lives. So:

1. What We Know About Jesus

What do we know of his past? Well he was chosen before the creation of the world by God his Father. He was revealed in the last days, to those with the eyes of faith, when he came as promised. He was sacrificed like an unblemished lamb for the sins of the world. And he was raised from the dead.

What about his present? Jesus is glorified by the Father now, and he is preached in the gospel, all over the world, in accordance with God's plan that the gospel should be taken to all the nations of the earth.

And, in the future, Jesus will be revealed to everyone when he returns as judge and King to bring in his kingdom. All of this glorious good news about Jesus has been revealed to us.

2. What We Know About Ourselves

We can think of this, also, in terms of the past, the present and the future.

So what do we know of our past? We lived an empty and futile life. We were ransomed and redeemed by the blood of Christ. The gospel was preached to us. It was like seed that was planted in our lives and bore the fruit of eternal life. The gospel was God's powerful and effective call to us to turn from our old lives and put our trust in Jesus. As a result, we believed and obeyed the gospel. We were born again into a new life. And we were given a living hope in Jesus.

What then about now? What of our present? We are living now as exiles in the old world. We are calling on God the Father habitually through the gift of prayer, which is simply talking to God – making use of the access to him that he has given us. And because the love of God has been poured into our hearts, we love our fellow believers.

What of our future? We will receive salvation by grace. And we will be judged on how we live.

So all that is a rapid bird's eye view – a helicopter ride – through what we wonderfully know, firstly about Jesus, and secondly about ourselves in the light of what we know about Jesus. What, then, is the difference all of that makes to the way that we live our lives? The simple answer is that it makes all the difference in the world. But let's look more closely at the specifics of what Peter has to say. So:

3. What We Should Do About It Now

All that we know has a profound effect on how we are to live in two directions, we could say – upwards towards God, and outwards towards the world. In relation to God, the key is there in verses 15-16, which puts in a nutshell what our transformed lives are to be like. It says this:

"… but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy.""

What does that mean? Well, God is utterly separate from sin, and constantly at work to bring honour and glory to his own name, as only he has the right to do, because he alone is God. That is his holiness. For us to be holy means that we should separate ourselves from sin and evil in all its forms. And we should be totally devoted to living a righteous life that is committed not to glorifying ourselves, because we are creatures, but to glorifying the living and true God, who is worthy of all glory.

This holiness that we're called to leaves no room for sin in our lives at all. None. It is completely transforming. Every day and hour and minute. Every thought and word and deed. Every aspect of our character and personality. Now of course sin does cling to us. And we cling to sin. We are far from perfect and we'll have to wait for heaven before we are. But total holiness is our task, and there can be no comfortable compromise with sin.

Imagine you're washing a dirty saucepan, and there's one stubborn bit of burnt-on old food. If you're doing a proper job – which of course you should! – you don't just say to yourself, 'Oh, never mind, I can't be bothered with that. I'll just leave it.' No. If you did that, the pan would collect more and more bits of burnt on food as you used it day by day, until it was a total health hazard. No. You scrub and scour until the dirt is all gone and the pan is all clean and shiny. That's what we need to be like with our lives.

So where are we tempted to say about some sinful area of our thought life, or character, or ways of talking to people, or habits of behaviour, 'Oh, never mind, I can't be bothered with that. I'll just leave it'? In the light of all we know about Jesus and ourselves, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, let's commit ourselves anew to a holy life. And we do that because God is holy. The Christian life is a life of imitating God, because we want to be like him, because his Spirit is in us. How do we know what God is like? By looking at Jesus, and getting to know him better and better.

I want to be like my dad. He died three years ago, and in the last years of his life he suffered quite a lot. But he always showed a remarkable, cheerful, positive, uncomplaining patience in the face of adversity. That made a deep impression on me. I want to be like that in the face of whatever adversity comes my way. My dad's suffering was nothing in comparison to what Jesus went through for us. We are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and work hard in his strength to be like him.

In relation to God, be holy because God is holy. And then the other side of the coin is that in relation to the world, we should live as exiles with a right fear of God. So says the apostle in verse 17:

"… conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile."

You can see that too at the beginning of the letter in verse 1:

"To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia …"

… and, we might add, Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland and Durham. As those who belong to Jesus, we are in the world but we are not at home here. Our real home is where Jesus is – in heaven now, and in the new heaven and earth for all eternity. So we will be different. And that, of course, is nothing to do with skin colour, or accent, or what we wear. Our loyalties are different. We have another King – we live under the rule of Jesus. We long for another home. We strive for a holiness that stands out from the way of life of those among whom we live. We live with a right fear of God's fatherly and loving discipline. So when we're deciding what to say and how to behave, we're not primarily concerned with what other people think. We're concerned with what our heavenly Father thinks.

Why then do we live like this? Because of all we know about Jesus and ourselves, as we've seen. That's the significance of the "therefore" at the beginning of verse 13. And that's what Peter is driving at when he says at the start of verse 18, "… knowing that …" and then he goes on to talk about our redemption by the blood of Christ. So then how in practice are we to live these holy lives in reverent fear as strangers and exiles in the world? "Prepare your minds for action". That's there in verse 13. Or to use the old language, 'gird up your loins'. The picture is of getting ready to run if you're wearing the kind of long robes that they used to wear. You couldn't run in them. So you would pull them through your legs, pull them up and tuck them into your belt. Then you could run. There's a great example back in 2 Kings 4.29 where the prophet Elisha urgently says to his servant:

"Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply."

That is, prepare to run, run fast, and don't get distracted by anything. That's what we've got to do in following Jesus. Get your Lycra on, mentally speaking. Following Jesus is an urgent business, and we mustn't allow ourselves to be distracted.

Be sober-minded. Back to 1 Peter 1.13 for that. So get a grip on yourself – so that you can pray; so that you can resist the devil's schemes. The alternative, as someone has put it, is:

"… letting the mind wander into any … kind of mental intoxication or addiction which inhibits spiritual alertness, or any laziness of mind which lulls Christians into sin through carelessness …"

In our generation, TV, websites, and social media have their place – but too much or the wrong sort can take hold of our minds and cause us seriously to lose Godly self-control. We must keep alert.

Set your hope on God and your future inheritance. Verse 13 again:

"… set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

And also verse 21, where Peter speaks of …

"… you who through [Jesus] are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God."

This hope is a very confident expectation so strong that we act on the basis of it. It reorders our priorities so that we live now according to God's agenda, and not our own. We must be constantly looking up to God and forward to our future eternal inheritance.

Obey the word. As verse 14 has it, we are to be "obedient children". The word of God in the Scriptures is the voice of God. The voice of God is the voice of our heavenly Father. Obedience is a deeply personal matter. Disobedience is a direct defiance of child to Father. Obedience pleases him and deepens the bond of love between us.

Don't be shaped by your old evil desires. Verse 14:

"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance ..."

And we must be under no illusions about this. These sinful passions still war against our souls. They are ultimately defeated. We will be rid of them in the end. But we're not shot of them yet. We have to struggle against them and refuse to let our behaviour be shaped by them. Because let's not kid ourselves, they're called 'passions' for a reason. This is evil that the old nature that's still in us is passionate about. We want it. It's attractive. It doesn't satisfy – but it's seductive and we feel the pull. So we have to train ourselves, by grace and the power of the Spirit, to turn away from what we want, but which will do us harm if we get it, so that we can take hold of one we want more – and that's Jesus.

And when we learn to love Jesus, we also learn to love one another. So finally Peter says to us that we should love one another deeply from the heart. Verses 22-23:

"Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…"

This glorious new life to which we have been called in Christ is for ever. It is enduring, imperishable, indestructible, eternal. That means our relationships within the church are also for keeps. We're going to share eternity together. So we'd better learn to love one another. And not just politely and superficially, but sincerely, deeply and from the heart. As Jesus has loved us.

To finish, let me tell you about a man I once met. He was living on the South Coast, and none of you know him. He became a Christian about 50 years ago, as did his then fiancée. Soon after the birth of their first child, his wife fell ill with an incurable degenerative disease. She suffered for 38 years. In the last two years of her life there was a period when her husband was bedridden, and she nursed him even though she herself was dying. When he recovered, he nursed her until she died – many years ago now. He told me he couldn't help getting rather emotional as he talked about it. But what he'd seen was that his wife's faith had been tremendously strengthened through these terrible trials. He said to me:

"The Scriptures were so encouraging. Especially the First Letter of Peter. That meant so much to me. It was so helpful – and gave me such strength."

When I met him about two years after his wife died, he was still grieving. But he was also rejoicing in the beginnings of faith in his children, and he was praying that their faith would be strengthened in turn. He was an example to me of one was learning to live a holy life, as God his heavenly Father is holy. Such is the power of this message when we take it to heart.

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