As we’ve seen already in our study of 1 Peter, the Christians of Asia Minor Peter was writing to did not live in a world that was overly friendly to their faith. Only worshiping one God? How strange. And a crucified Messiah? Stranger still. Refusing to worship the emperor, honor idols, or participate in the religious festivals that were woven into the fabric of Roman society? Strange–and maybe even a little dangerous. How were Christians to live in a world where slaves were expected to participate in their master’s faith, pledging allegiance to a patron deity was necessary to participate in a trade guild, and refusing to acknowledge the emperor as divine could make you an enemy of Rome? Peter gave these vulnerable believers four tools they could use to live godly lives in an ungodly world.
1. Resist temptation. Peter told the Christians of Asia Minor to “abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your souls” (1 Peter 2:11). Sin may be attractive, but it is also destructive. What looks good in the moment can also destroy our soul. What are these sinful desires? Paul lists a few of them in Galatians 5:22 “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealous, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and drunkenness, orgies and the like.” We could add others to the list. Lies. Gossip. Slander. Materialism. Greed. Sin–in whatever form it comes–is not neutral. Dress it up and justify it all you like, but sin deadens our soul so that we become deaf to the things of God. If we want to live godly lives in an ungodly world, we must resist temptation, not flirt with it.
2. Do what is right. Peter urged his readers to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). Many false accusations and stereotypes circulated about early Christianity in the Roman world. Roman historians described Christians as “notoriously depraved” and promoting a “contagious superstition.” Some accused early Christians of incest; others claimed they were cannibals, and others still claimed they were sorcerers. Yet Peter urged them to live such good lives that those who knew them would recognize their good deeds and glorify God.
Like Peter’s first readers, we live in a world that increasingly has negative views of Christianity. Television writers wouldn’t dream of mocking Muslims, Hindus, or Jews for their beliefs, but Christians are fair game. Biblical views of sexuality are labeled as outdated, prudish, bigoted, or homophobic. Our belief in God and God’s Word is dismissed as fables and superstition. And while the faithful remain faithful, the number of those not affiliated with any religion and who see faith as not too important to them continues to grow. Yet people still recognize goodness when they see it. Our challenge is to live in such a way that whatever people think of Christians in general, they recognize Christ’s presence in us. We are to live such godly lives that though our coworkers, neighbors, or classmates may think Christians in general are a little weird, they see genuine kindness, grace, and love at work in us.
3. Embrace submission. “Submit yourself for the Lord’s sake to every human authority . . . for it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:13-15). Peter called for his readers to voluntarily submit themselves to the emperor and Roman governors–the very people who held the power of life or death over them and who were often inclined to distrust of the fledgling faith. Yet Peter recognized that Christians owed submission and respect to the government officials who represented an God-given authority to punish those who did wrong and reward those who did right.
If Peter could call early Christians living under the thumb of Rome to honor and submit themselves to the emperor, are we obligated to do any less? We may not always like the laws of our country or the people who make them, but we owe them submission and respect. We should show our elected officials proper respect–even when we disagree with them. And though there may be times when we are compelled to honor the laws of God rather than human beings (Acts 5:29), our default position toward our government should be obedience and respect.
4. Use your freedom well. “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves” (1 Peter 2:16). We are free in Christ, but our freedom is not an excuse to do what is wrong. We are citizens of God’s kingdom, freed from sin to live as servants of the Most High. And what does that look like? Showing respect to all. Loving the family of God. Giving those in authority over us the honor that they are due. Doing what is right in the eyes of God. Our freedom is an not an opportunity to indulge ourselves, but an opportunity to love and serve.
Questions for reflection:
1. Why is it important for us to resist temptation? How do we resist temptation? What strategies help you stay strong when you are tempted?
2. How can doing what is right bring glory to God? What types of actions do even non-believers usually recognize as doing right? How can we practice these things?
3. What obligation do Christians owe those in authority over us? How does this obligation affect our testimony and witness?
4. What does it look like to use our freedom well? What is one way you are doing this?