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Message #7: “Saints as Sojourning Strangers”

We pointed out that the first section of I Peter, we believe, relates to the matter of salvation. There are a number of things concerning salvation that we saw in the first section of the book. In verses 3-9 we saw something of the Blessings of Salvation and it began with our position by faith, possessions by faith, promise of faith, proof of our faith, and the perspective of our faith. Position determines practice. I am about to conclude fifteen years as President of Lancaster Bible College, and you can’t practice the position of President unless you have the position first. You can say you are going to, but it won’t work out very well; and you can’t practice the life of a believer unless and until you are one, unless you have been born into the family of God. I Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who, according to His abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Prospect also affects our practice. We’re positioned into the family by the new birth, but the prospect of going home is also a tremendous one. The whole context of I Peter wraps around this whole thing of the idea of belonging to the family of God and longing for the return of our Lord and being with Him and experiencing the glory that will be ours in that future day. All of our activity inbetween is sort of polarized between those two - what He has made us to be by His grace when He saved us, what He is going to make us to be when He ultimately delivers us from this life, and all of its troubles and cares. These to whom Peter writes were suffering difficulty. In fact, they were undergoing great trial of affliction. We pointed out the theme of the book as we like to interpret it is “Sustaining Strength for Suffering Saints.” These who were called to serve God, these who had been saved by the grace of God, suffering affliction, undergoing difficulty and trials. Don’t ever think that because you are a believer that you are exempt from problems and difficulties and distresses. In fact, I am inclined to believe sometimes we end up with more problems because as the very verse that we are going to begin our study with indicates, we are strangers here. We don’t really belong here. We’re strangers and pilgrims in this earthly life, and so we are constantly at odds with the world and with all that the world stands for. Nevertheless, we have a tremendous position in Jesus Christ. We saw the basis of salvation in verses 10-12. We saw our behavior because of salvation and I quoted as I do so many times from our late pastor, Dr. Stoll, who used to say, “When you can say I believe, you can say I belong.” It is wonderful to know that you belong to the family of God, but then I’ve added to his quotation and I say “When you can say I believe, I belong, then you ought to add I behave; because one day I’ll be gone.” That places us back in that context that I talked about before. While we are here as children of God we are cordially expected to behave ourselves, and this is set forth in verses 13-25 of the first chapter. Then the benefits of salvation in chapter 2:1-10, the benefit of purification, of edification, and identification. May I just capsule verses 9 and 10 before we go into verse 11 of chapter two because it does relate to that which follows. “But ye are a chosen generation (Some have translated that an elect race, which relates us ethnically to God.), a royal priesthood (a kingdom of priests- This relates us religiously to God.), a peculiar people (This relates us culturally to God.).” Many people have totally misunderstood that “peculiar people.” They think it means you should be as odd or as strange as you can possibly be, but the expression “a peculiar people” from the original simply means a people surrounded.
I had a Greek professor when I was a student at what was then Lancaster School of the Bible who explained that verse to us, and I will never forget that phrase. He said, “Did you ever see a child who was playing with toys and another child comes into the room and all of a sudden the first child does this. You see that. He surrounds his toys with his arms. Now what’s He saying by that expression. These belong exclusively to me. Now that’s exactly what the Greek phrase here means— a people surrounded. That’s why in the revisions it is translated “a people for God’s own possession.” We belong exclusively to Him. Now that’s a precious truth. It is something that we should never lose sight of in all the afflictions and difficulties of life— we belong to Him.
When the word came down from the surgeon concerning our daughter’s illness which was on July 1 last year, my one immediate response to my wife was, “God knows.” Since we are His and belong to Him and He knows, God knows how to work all things together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose. I want to say today that I do not stand here glorying alone in the fact that the Lord delivered our daughter. I would stand here and praise the Lord if our daughter had died. You say, “Why?” Because in those very early days when we had learned of this, the Lord directed our thoughts to Philippians 1:20 that “God would be magnified . . . whether it be by life or by death.”
There are some believers who think that God is only magnified or only great when He does what we think is great or what we think is good for us. God is always great and God is always good no matter what He does so long as He is magnified and made great in us. We should be careful not to dictate to God what He must do for us. Maybe He might on some occasions give you your request and send leanness to your soul. God is good and we are His. We are His own possession, and out of this what should we be doing? “That ye should show forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” We ought always to be praising the Lord. As the Bill Gaither song goes, “Let’s just praise the Lord.” This is the occupation that will be ours throughout eternity, and it is the occupation that ought to be ours now. It is the acceptable sacrifice that God is well pleased with according to Hebrews 13:15, when He indicates that we are to “By Him, therefore, offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His Name.” Let’s just praise the Lord, “show forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; which in time past were not a people.” Now I know that as we think of the bicentennial, at one time we as a nation were not a people but now we are a definite people. Spiritually, one time we were not a people, that is, not a people of God, “but are now (because we have been saved) the people of God; which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” I read something just a number of months ago, I think it was since I was here last summer, that has really been a striking thing to me. It said, “Anything apart from the Lake of fire is the mercy of God. We, who have been saved or lost because the fact that you are not there yet is the mercy of God. We, who have been saved, have been saved by the mercy of God— God doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
In light of all that, we come to the second section of the book which I call, rather than salvation, I call this Sanctification. Sanctification is the matter of holiness, and it relates both to a position and a practice. Immediately when you believe, you are declared to be a saint. It means literally “a holy one.” Now that doesn’t mean that you have really arrived yet, but you have to begin practicing what you have already been declared to be. So, as saints we are declared here to be strangers and pilgrims. In looking at those words, the first word relates to the fact that we are in a difference of location and the second one relates to the temporary nature of our sojourn or our period of time here. If you turn to Philippians 3:20-21, you will find that we have dual citizenship. Today we are rejoicing in our citizenship as Americans, and I think that we ought to be grateful; and those of you who have traveled abroad as I have done will be increasingly grateful when you return to America to the land that we love and the freedom we enjoy here. We who are believers have a higher citizenship. Philippians 3:20, “For our conversation (and the better translation of the Greek word there is our “citizenship” and you will find that in the margin of your Bible, if not in the actual translation) is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, (that’s the prospect) the Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall change our vile body, (or the body that continually humiliates us) that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.” We have a citizenship in heaven. We represent heaven here on earth, because we are transformed individuals. In II Corinthians 5 referring to this it indicates beginning in verse 17, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: (literally a new creation) old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” You receive a whole new life: you receive new perspective, you receive new ambitions and “behold all things are become new And all (these new) things are of God, Who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” You see while we are here from this far country, heaven, we have a job to do. We are ministers, we are ambassadors to represent God to men; and that which we proclaim is in verse 19, “To wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them (because they were dealt with at Calvary), and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” Now that word “word” there can be a couple of meanings. One, it can refer to the inner word of assurance that we have because we have believed. It can also refer to the word that we proclaim out of that which we have believed because as verse 20 indicates, “Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ.” We used to think it was a wonderful thing to be an ambassador and always have a great time. You represent your home country, and we learned recently that if you are in a country where there is hostility, as in Lebanon, it sometimes means you pay with your life to be an ambassador which our ambassador did. Sometimes even in this life you end up paying with your life because you are an ambassador for Jesus Christ. We haven’t faced too much of that yet here, but it could come. Pray God that we be spared from anything like that. “We are ambassadors,” we represent a foreign country “as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” This is the message we ought always to be proclaiming, “For He (God) hath made Him (Lord Jesus),Who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. We, then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” We are strangers. We are here from a far country, and we ought to live in that way.
In Hebrews 10:32-35 it says, “But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated (that is the light was turned on and you saw the truth), ye endured a great fight of afflictions, Partly, while ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, while ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, (Notice this expression.) knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.” One of the things, we find with inflation, is that things tend to fade away. In heaven, we have better and enduring substance. “Cast not away, therefore, your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.” You know, even the saints of old including the saints of Abraham according to Hebrews 11:10, “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Verse 14, “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from which they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city.” You might feel that Christians are in the minority here on earth and we are, but there is a place where we are in the absolute majority and that is in heaven.
I’ve dealt with cultists through the years, and I believe sociologically one reason Jehovah Witnesses get hot under the collar is that there is no place on earth where they are really in the total ascendancy. Mormons do have a place on earth where they’re in the ascendancy, Salt Lake City. Sociologically they can always retreat in their thinking to one place on earth where they are in the dominance. We may not have any place on earth where we are totally in dominance, but we have in heaven. We have an enduring substance there, and the victorious saints of old are already there; and one day we’re going to be there. While we are here, we’re strangers; but we are ambassadors. We represent that country here on earth, and we aren’t going to be here too long.
The second word there in I Peter 2:11 is “pilgrims.” We are just passing through. It is a temporary sojourn. At the longest, it won’t be very long. I’ve heard some people say, “Well, everybody has the same amount of time.” No that’s not necessarily true. My grandfather died at the age of 92, my mother at the age of 83, my father at the age of 74, my mother-in-law at the age of 66, and my father-in-law at the age of 58. Obviously, they didn’t have the same amount of time in life’s span, and no matter whether you live to be 58 or 92, it is still a relatively short period of time compared with eternity. So we are just here for a short period of time and then we pass on to that which God has in view for us. How tragic, however, if you are here and you never receive Christ as your Savior. Someone has wisely said that for the believer that when he dies there is endless hope, but for the unbeliever there is a hopeless end. What a contrast. If you happen to be here this morning and you have never received Christ as your Savior, there is no better time then right now. Even though when you become a believer you may have problems, and you may be misunderstood, you are still better off because the best is yet to come.
You also have substance and strength while you are traveling through this pilgrim pathway. “Dearly beloved, I beseech you (I plead with you) because you are strangers and pilgrims, (Do as you please? No.) abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” In II Timothy 2:22, Paul admonishes Timothy in regard to youthful lusts. He says, “Flee also youthful lusts.” One thing I have been discovering is that youthful lusts sometimes last to an old age. Shades of Wayne Hayes and others. “Flee also youthful lusts, but follow righteousness, faith, charity (love), peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Because we are strangers and sojourners just passing through, be careful of the way you act while you are here. Americans for the most part are well thought of in many countries of the world, but in some countries they are ill thought of because of the way some American tourists have conducted themselves abroad. They have gone in as if they have sort of owned the place, and everybody was to get out of their way and all the rest of that. They have brought our country into disrepute abroad, shades of the ugly American and that kind of thing. I don’t believe that that is a true representation of our country abroad, but you know I found that there are many believers unfortunately who poorly represent their home country, heaven. Frankly, I have found some born again believers simply unkind and some of them actually obnoxious. I read years ago in a Christian magazine, “If you have been saved by grace, be gracious.” We ought to abstain from these fleshly lusts which includes immorality as well as unkindness and having my own way, which is the dominance of the flesh, which war against the soul. “Having your conversation (or manner of life) honest among the Gentiles; that whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” It is never right to do wrong to do right. I Peter 2:12, “Having your conversation (your manner of life) honest among the Gentiles (among unbelievers).” As believers, our word should be our bond and people should be able to rely upon us and to believe what we say. Be honest, upright among the Gentiles. We have been called to represent the heavenly country here on earth with an upright behavior and even though they do speak against you as evildoers, “they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” Our Lord Jesus in Matthew 5:16 said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, Who is in heaven.” People may not hear all of your testimony, but they will see the light that you live. The poem that we have quoted many times, “You’re writing a gospel, a chapter each day— in things that you do and words that you say. Men read what you write, whether false or true. Say, what is the gospel according to you?” Sometimes that is the only gospel people will read. The gospel that you demonstrate in your life by having your manner of life honest among the Gentiles.Well, we only got into the first section today, “strangers” and “sojourners.” We will be going on from here to the matter of citizens; and then we’ll go on to the matter of servants, and then of the suffering of our Savior in relation to all of these things.
May I just part with this plea that Peter gives, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain (stay away from) from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” I heard a tremendous message last week given to pastors on immorality in the clergy. If pastors aren’t exempt from this, you aren’t exempt from it either. You overcome evil with good. You flee youthful lusts but you follow righteousness. The Lord convicted me of something at the end of last year, the beginning of this year, that I just don’t like to miss three meals a day, but you know what? I discovered that there were many days that went by that I wasn’t having three spiritual meals a day. Do you? You don’t want to miss those three physical meals. Do you have three spiritual meals? The Lord convicted me of that and one of my resolution for 1976 was to have at least three spiritual meals a day. Now you think about that, and maybe the Lord will convict you; or maybe you ought to cut down the number of meals you eat physically to the ones you eat spiritually. Maybe that would be good for some of us. You see as you take in the Word, that guards you from sin.

As it was delivered at
Dr. Stuart E. Lease
July 5, 1976

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