Who Defines You?

Published August 10, 2020 S. Carpenter

So what would you pack in a bug-out bag?  When the zombies attack and you have to evacuate your home in an instant, what will you grab on your way out?  Guidelines on the web indicate you will need dried food, fire starters, water, and appropriate clothing.  Better to plan ahead as situations do arise.  There are natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and fires.  There are also issues of civil unrest.  Of course none of us  would consider accepting Jesus as lord and savior as the impetus for having to bug out!  We are fortunate in that regard.  The Christians who received Peter’s first letter…not so much.  When they became followers of Jesus Christ, they began to suffer as they gave up staying in stride with their culture. They stopped worshiping the gods of their empire, their city, their trade guilds, and even their families.  They gave up a lot!

When we share the good news of Jesus with others we tend to focus on what we receive rather than what we give up.  We receive a constant companion…a father who hears our prayers…a place in a new and eternal loving family…a comforter to help us…and many, many other blessings.

We seldom speak of what we leave behind.  Maybe we feel that kind of talk will hinder the sale?  After all, those who don’t follow Jesus tend to think of all the rules and regulations in Christianity that will rob them of their happiness.  So we don’t talk much about repentance and the changes that God expects to occur in our lives.  What’s more, it isn’t that difficult to be a cultural Christian in our society.

But for those of 1c Asia Minor, Christianity meant sacrifice.  And maybe it should mean the same for us?  Not sacrifices identical to those of old, but sacrifices nonetheless.  Maybe we should embrace the truth that any sacrifice God requests is for our benefit and enables him to bless us even more richly.  Surely the bottom line is that our new state of righteousness precludes us from some behaviors that were previously a part of lives.

When the new Christians of those early Turkish churches gave up the worship of their many gods, they were viewed as unpatriotic.  After all, worshiping the genius of the emperor was akin to our saluting and pledging allegiance to the flag.  It was expected of everyone, whether you meant it or not. They were defined as disloyal to their city.  For they would no longer take part in the various civil ceremonies that involved worship of false gods. They were defined as unprofessional in their trade.  Guild hall meetings took place in pagan temples.  The Christians stopped attending.  And they were defined as haters of the family. Households had their own gods and individual worship within the home was what held the family together.

Now no one was saying that Jesus followers had to actually believe in the many gods, but they did need to offer token and visible worship.  When they refused, they were labeled by Roman society as “haters of humankind.” Then, because they chose to follow a different morality, they were cut off by their friends.  These early Christians were socially ostracized. They were insulted, abused, rejected, shamed and persecuted.  Many of the  challenges were economic and so they lost their property and had to bug out.  They became a people of low social stature without legal protection and rights.  They were the disenfranchised.  The marginalized.  Such was their identity in the minds of society.

Identity is always an important issue.  We all take seriously how we are identified by others. We even take seriously how we see ourselves, and the result is often a dilemma.  We tend to struggle with an unclear sense of personal identity.  The famous German  philosopher Schleiermacher, who did much to shape the progress of  modern thought, told that one day as an old man he was sitting alone on a bench in a city park. A policeman thinking that he was a vagrant came over and shook him and asked,  “Who are you?” Schleiermacher replied sadly, “I wish I knew.”  I get it.  We receive so many conflicting messages.  We listen carefully and we watch for non-verbal signs from those around us and especially from those who matter most to us.  Unfortunately, we too allow others to define us.

Peter clearly saw the problem.  A common problem for humanity but potentially an even greater problem for the early church.  In his effort then to stem off the attack, Peter’s opening words were an encouragement to the believers to find their identity in God.  To realize they were part of his own family, and to allow God, and only God, to define them.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen and destined by God the Father, and sanctified by the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:  May grace and peace be yours in abundance. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…1 Peter 1:1-3

Peter acknowledged that the Christians are EXILES.  They were residents in a land that was not their own, for they lacked the rights and privileges of citizens.  They were exiles not because of their place of birth so much but because they were part of a different kingdom…God’s kingdom.  Consequently they would never feel fully at home in this world.  There would always be an element of discomfort…but in their situation, the discomfort was exacerbated by the persecution and abuse. 

In my life I have lived in 19 different homes, 12 towns, 7 states, and 2 countries.  Every move has been accompanied by challenges.  Local cultures are always different.  For a period you are always an outsider.  I have at times been lonely, confused, and sometimes depressed in the midst of settling in and making a home.  Maybe you have had similar experiences?  Even now, when someone asks, “Where’s home?” I pause because I’m not sure.  Is home where I live now?  Where I have lived the longest?  Where I grew up?  Where my family is buried? God says my home is with him.  Your’s too.  My home with my family, where I will live…forever, is with him.  When I was adopted into the family of God he became my eternal father and even as we speak, my Lord Jesus is preparing a place for me in heaven.  Where I live now, or where I have lived, is really insignificant.  We are now defined as full fledged members of God’s family, on our way home.

And Peter says Christians are CHOSEN.  Christians have been selected by God himself. Instead of being the lowest of the low, God says we have the highest position in all the world. We are God’s own holy and dearly loved people.  Personally, I’m glad to be beyond my school days when teams were picked on the playground and in gym.  There was a time when I could throw a football further and with accuracy.  Those skills got me an early round pick at school.  And it was always exhilarating to know everyone wanted me on their team. But then other kids starting catching up.  Others began to excel in sports.  My own abilities became more and more academic.  The result: No longer a first round pick.  In fact, there were times when I was the caboose on that train. And it didn’t feel good. Fortunately I can avoid those situations today. And… I can focus on my new team.  God’s team.  God’s family. But here’s the thing.  God hasn’t made me his number one pick.  And, his team is not exclusive.  Chosen is not synonymous with exclusive.  Ours is a God who chooses each AND chooses all.  Plus, when chosen by God at his very own initiative, we can be assured that we will be cared for.  No matter the difficulties, even blatant persecution, God will be there. God will see us through.God will encourage us and God will continually bless.

For Peter says Christians are DESTINED.  This is comforting.  It means that we always are on the mind of God.  In some cultures people say “Remember me to…”  God always remembers.  In fact, he has known us long before we existed, and he will know us forever. There is also assurance and encouragement in being destined.  For those who are destined are affirmed and being celebrated as part of God’s purpose for the world. In other words, God has you here, in this place, at this time, for a reason…just as he had those in the churches in Asia Minor. And consequently, God has big expectations for us. Ephesians 1:4-5,  Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. These verses answer for me the questions of both origin and destination.  God loved us before he created the world and he continues to love us so much that through Jesus, he will bring us home to him.

Have you ever had a boss, or a teacher, or a coach say to you, “I’ve had my eye on you all along?”  That they noticed something about you from the start and they are excited to see their perceptions played out.  Well God’s eye has always been on us and in his strength, we too will be all he hopes for us to be.  Whenever you and I are living and operating within God’s will, he is so pleased. This is what Peter is talking about when he says Christians are   sanctified.  Now the emphasis here is not on what we do as believers.  The emphasis is on the activity of God through the Holy Spirit, manifested in us.  God’s spirit enables us to attain and maintain a sincere level of holiness, even in the midst of troubles. The spirit enables us to reflect on the nature of God in his acts and in his relationships that are furthering his kingdom purposes…through his church…even when his church is under attack. For the spirit never sleeps and so we can be confident that God continues his absolute involvement in our lives.

Our response is to be obedient.  Our obedience is an indicator of what team we are playing on.  Our response, out of our love and appreciation for his love and grace, is to live as he has called us to live.  Our response is to be mindful and aware of God’s spirit within us and the promptings we are given.  When received, we are called to act on our convictions.  That’s the response of those truly sanctified…or made holy in the eyes of God.

What we have here in these first couple of verses is clearly two ends of a rope stretched taut in a tug of war.  One end represents the world and bombards us with the negative.  The other represents God and covers us in his goodness.  As a kid I heard repeatedly, “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words will never hurt you.”  I’m glad we have let that old saying fade away.  Words can bruise and batter.  Words can even make us question ourselves and our value.  So it is important whose words we are listening to…whose words we allow to describe and define us.

The world says we are unpatriotic, disloyal, unprofessional and a bunch of all around haters…losers with a capitol “L.”  The world seeks to insult, abuse, reject, shame and persecute.

God responds and says though you are exiles and aliens, living in a place that is not your home, you are chosen and destined and sanctified. You are so important that God wants you with him forever.

So what’s it going to be?  The word of God or the word of the world?  I say, let’s choose God and live our lives as a witness, no matter what, to his great glory.  After all, in God’s family, we are who he says we are.