It is an unnerving experience to be a stranger in a new environment. It is hard to be the new kid at school (grade school, high school, or college). I remember my first day in High School. I went from a school of a couple hundred students to a school which housed over 5000; from a simple two story building to a sprawling four story campus. I felt lost, intimidated, and very alone. I missed my first band class because it was on the fourth floor and the fourth floor didn’t go all the way around the school and I couldn’t find the right stairway to get there.
It’s scary that first night you bring your baby home from the hospital. You are so in love with this little bundle and so afraid that you are going to do something that will hurt them or mess up their life forever.
The first day on a new job you feel like a fish out of water. Everyone around you knows things you have yet to learn. You feel conspicuous and often feel like everyone disapproves of what you are doing and doesn’t like you personally.
It’s also scary the first time you come into a church. You don’t know when to stand up or sit down, you may not know the songs, and as you look around everyone is talking to friends and no one seems to notice you (and you are surprisingly relieved).
We have all been in situations where we felt like outsiders. It is seldom a pleasant experience. Sometimes these experiences are necessary to get to something better. This morning we are going to look at one of those necessary times. In 1 Peter 1:17-21 the apostle Peter tells us to live our lives as strangers who live in reverent fear. We’ll try to understand what that means this morning.
We Should Live With a Healthy Fear of the Coming Judgment
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.
Peter is talking to believers. As believers, we embrace a forgiveness that is ours because of the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a wonderful privilege. However, it is a privilege that carries with it a great responsibility.
Peter tells us we are to live in reverent fear. This is not the same thing as being afraid. We are to live our lives aware of the greatness of God. We live mindful that someday we (even as believers) will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. This should motivate us to live well.
Think about it this way: When you are aware that a big test is coming (in school or for your job) it impacts the way you study. This is why people who may goof off for weeks suddenly lock themselves in a room to study for three days straight. The upcoming test has become a reality and that reality now dictates or determines the actions of their lives. Peter is trying to do the same thing. He reminds us of the reality of Judgment in the hope that it will spur us on in our Holy Living.
What is the nature of this Judgment? The Bible seems to indicate that we will be evaluated in two areas. First God will examine us to see if our profession matched our living. According to Jesus there will be some who come to the seat of judgment with their membership cards, baptismal certificates, and service pins and will be told, “Depart from me for I never knew you”. (Matthew 7:21-23) We do not become a part of God’s family because we said a prayer, walked an aisle, or raised a hand. We become part of God’s family when we truly repent and follow Christ! The words are nice but the true nature of our hearts will be revealed by what we do and why we do it. A Christ who is our Lord only in the church or in our words is a Christ who is not really our Lord at all.
Second we will be examined for how faithfully we followed. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 that what we have done will be quality tested. What is of poor quality (what is done half-heartedly, or for the wrong reasons (like being seen by men)) will be burned up. The Bible teaches that there will also be rewards (no, I don’t know what they are) for faithful service. If you think about it, this only makes sense. Those who served more faithfully should be honored more fully.
Think about it this way. Suppose you are hired by an organization. Each year you have a performance review. At this review the employer will determine whether or not you are doing your job or merely claiming a paycheck. If you are doing your job the quality of your work will be examined and your “merit raise” will be based on that evaluation. Usually, the better the work you do; the better the raise you are given. If you are not doing a good job you will not only be denied a merit raise; you may be demoted or even fired!
We live in a world where sadly, justice seems to be inconsistent based on the amount of money you have (to afford a powerful attorney); the people you know; the name you have; or the office you hold. The Judgment of God will be impartial. The word “impartial” is both a great and a terrifying word. We are comforted by the fact that this Judgment will be free of corruption. However, this also means that in the Judgment based on clarity and complete understanding, some of the things we have been “getting away with”, will be exposed for what they really are. In other words, He will know
When our words did not match our deeds
When the excuse that “we didn’t know it was wrong” was false
When we did “good things” not to honor God but to make ourselves look good.
When we were falsely accused or taken advantage of by others
When we were rightly accused and escaped the just consequences
When we were trying to do something good and loving but it turned out bad.
What we did in shadows hidden from everyone else
The coming Judgment reminds us to live responsibly rather than recklessly.
We Must Remember that the World has Little to Offer Us!
Let’s face it, there are a lot of nice things in this world that God has made. There are also a lot of things that are pure hype. The world around us promises us many things that it cannot deliver,
It provides no real foundation because what is true is constantly being changed to coincide with public opinion or political fiat. What is good today might be bad tomorrow.
It offers a happiness that is temporary. Though we can know the excitement of a one night stand; the feeling of goodwill that comes from drugs or alcohol; or the feeling of importance from the stuff we own, none of these things last. They are all empty promises.
It cannot lead us to God. The reason is that the world lets every person define “god” as they choose. When you can choose God according to your own imagination, then it follows that your God is an imaginary God.
It cannot address the problem of guilt, failure, or emptiness. The world has no solution other than denial, repression or reprogramming. It has no Redeemer.
It leads to a dead end. The world tells us that this is “all there is”. In other words the only purpose in life is to have as good a time as possible before you die and are gone forever. There is no purpose and no hope.
On the contrary, Jesus offers us
A relationship with the God who wants to be known and has revealed Himself clearly
A foundation that is based on truth that is unchanging.
A real “new beginning”. Jesus offers us forgiveness, acceptance, and a new start. He paid our debt by the sacrifice of His life.
A future that is better than the present. Jesus says that He has opened up the door to eternal life. He came back from the dead and says those who have put their trust in Him will also live even though they die.
Peter’s argument is simple: Why would you continue to choose to embrace the futility from which you were delivered? It is like asking a person with Emphysema why they continue to smoke cigarettes? It is like asking why a person who can’t swim would jump into the deep water? It is just crazy!!!
It has been rightly said that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.” The person who hopes to know new life in Christ without making a change in the way they live is therefore insane!
We Should Live As Strangers Because We Have Been Redeemed at a Great Price
18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
The word “redeemed” was used of someone who paid money to buy a slave’s freedom. Today we might think of it as the paying of a fee to adopt a child, or paying a fee to get a puppy from the Animal Shelter, or even paying bail for someone who had been arrested.
Peter argues that we should live as strangers in the world because we know the price that was paid to set us free. One of the reasons we celebrate days like Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day is to remind us that our freedom as a nation must never be squandered. We must always remember that this freedom came at the price of many lives. We must never forget the sacrifice that was made for us because when we remember we will more greatly cherish what we have been given.
This is what Peter is saying. We must remember the price of our salvation. The “lamb without blemish” gave His life so that we could be forgiven. God loved us when we were unlovable. We must never ever forget what He has done on our behalf. We must never treat this privilege lightly or trade it away for a few temporary pleasures as if it were of no value.
There is an old story that may or may not be true. A child was caught in a horrible fire and was saved because someone battled the flames and rescued him. In the process of the rescue the rescuer was badly burned. The child never met the one who saved him.
Not long after this, the parents of the child tragically died. The boy had no other family so several people stepped forward to offer to make him a part of their own family. One family had a big house, a good income, and potential to provide a good life for the child. Another loved kids and had a houseful of children already. They told the child that he would never lack for a playmate The Third person was a very common man. He was older and did not have much materially. The child was asked to choose his new family. The decision was made when he saw the fire scarred hands of the older man. He recognized those hands as the ones who had rescued him from the fire. In light of such sacrifice and love, the boy had an easy choice. He chose the man who had so clearly demonstrated his love rather than choose the material comforts the others might provide.
The point is: If we continuously remember the nail pierced hands and feet of Jesus upon that cross, we will run to the One who demonstrated His love and has earned our love, and will be much less likely to be taken in by the empty promises of the world.
We Are Part of a Plan that is Bigger Than We Are
20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
Most of us are short-sighted. We live for the moment. We seldom think about long term consequences of actions. Peter urges us to see the big picture.
The Bible tells us that Christ was chosen even before the world was made to be our Savior. God was not surprised by sin. We don’t know why He gave us freedom to rebel, but He did. Perhaps it was so we would see how desperately we needed Him. The point is that the cross was not a back-up plan. You and I are part of God’s eternal plan. We are part of something much bigger than what we see and know. We no longer have to put our hope in the schemes of the world. We can put our hope in God.
Let this sink in. The world is not merely moving forward without purpose or meaning. We are not part of some religious fad; we are part of the eternal plan of the God of Creation. You and I are not simply cosmic accidents; we are fashioned by the God who loves us and created us for His good purpose. We belong to something bigger than our own little world. Does that mean we are less significant? On the contrary, it means we carry a greater significance than anything we can imagine.
Peter is calling us to make choice. We must choose between the shine and polish of the world and the love of God which has been demonstrated over and over. We must choose between the empty promises of the world and the sure Word of God. We must choose between living for the moment and living for eternity. We must choose between the world and the Savior. We must choose whether to stand up or blend in.
Let me speak to three different groups of people. First, I speak to those who have never truly trusted Christ. You have listened to messages. You’ve seen something in Jesus that attracts you but, you either don’t want to admit you can’t earn your way to Heaven or you simply don’t want to change. Sin is pleasurable or it wouldn’t be tempting. It’s possible you don’t want anything to interfere with your “good times”.
To you I ask a simple question: Where are you headed? If you lived this way the rest of your life, what would you have? A bad liver? A criminal record? A truckload of regret? A string of failed relationships? A bunch of friends who could share lots of wild stories about the “fun you’ve had together”? OK. But then what? What if there really is an impartial judgment where we are held accountable for the way we lived our lives? You won’t be able to charm your way out of the consequences of this judgment.
I encourage you to change direction today. Look carefully at the two ways before you. Take a good look at Jesus. He has demonstrated His love, His power, and His greatness. He invites you to be part of His championship team. Will you join Him today? I invite you to be honest with Him (more honest than you have ever been). Admit the truth about your sinful and rebellious life. Turn away from the empty way of the world and embrace the One who has loved you from before the creation of the world. Experience His forgiveness, His new life, and His equipping power.
Second, I speak to those who profess faith but are not real followers. You may be making great claims; you may have others convinced; but the judgment that matters is that of the impartial Judge. Kyle Idleman relates the story of Matt Emmons,
He was one shot away from claiming victory in the 2004 Olympics. He was competing in the 50-meter three-position rifle event. He didn’t even need a bull’s-eye to win. His final shot merely needed to be on target. Normally, the shot he made would have received a score of 8.1, more than enough for a gold medal. But in what was described as “an extremely rare mistake in elite competition,” Emmons fired at the wrong target. Standing in lane two, he fired at the target in lane three. His score for a good shot at the wrong target: 0! Instead of a medal, Emmons ended up in eighth place. That’s a picture of what happens to a lot of fans. If you asked them, “Are you a fan or a follower?” they would confidently respond “follower.” It’s not a question of their effort or desire. They are following hard. Here is the problem; it’s not Jesus they are following. Without realizing it, they are aiming at the wrong target. Instead of following Jesus they are following religious rules and rituals. They have confused the targets. (Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan Kindle location 881)
Is it possible that you are aiming at the wrong target? What are you aiming at in life? Ask yourself, “What is it that drives my life? What is it that I want more than anything else? Is it to be successful, to be comfortable, to be well-liked by those around you? If so, this is the target at which you aim. Are you aiming for the applause of the world or the smile of God? Friend you may believe you are a believer—but if you are not following Jesus, that belief, though sincere, is a delusion rather than reality. If this describes you the solution is clear: Repent. Re-Aim. Pursue the Lord of life.
Finally, a word to those who are living as strangers in a strange land in the strength God gives you. To you I have a simple message: don’t give up! Though the world may ridicule you, draw comfort from the fact that God knows the truth. Though you may be excluded by the world remember that you are a child of God who is deeply and eternally loved. Though you are battered and bruised in this world, remember that you are forgiven and made new by Christ. Though this world is filled with lots of scary things, remember that this world is not your home . . . or mine.
It is hard to live as a stranger in the world. It is more comfortable to blend in. It is always easier to conform than to stand for the truth of God. Peter’s message is simple: Make the most important choice of your life: Choose to live as a stranger in this world, so that you can live as a Child of the King, in the next.