Living God’s way and choosing our identity in Christ means going against the grain. Listen to Alison Eloff guide us in navigating the road of a believer.
Living God’s Way vs My Way
We’re in a fixed bubble as it were, and all the time that we’re here waiting for that bubble to end is the time of waiting that God expects us to use well.
I must choose that I’m going to serve, rather than expecting to be served. Peter warns that giving into my way, that is choosing self-centredness instead of obedience to God, is dangerous to my soul.
Topics & Timestamps
0:00 – The desire to live meaningfully
3:35 – We are citizen’s of God’s country
5:50 – Waiting actively in exile
9:05 – Wage war & guard your souls
11:57 – Living my way versus God’s way
14:04 – Believe to help others believe
18:35 – Do genuine good
21:03 – Engage honourably among non-believers
22:59 – Follow God’s direction
Top Quotes: God’s Way vs My Way
“We’re in a fixed bubble as it were, and all the time that we’re here waiting for that bubble to end is the time of waiting that God expects us to use well.”
“Choosing my way challenges God’s right as the creator king to rule my life. I’m practically saying that I know better than God does what is best for me.”
“I do ask you, how are we going to win a hearing for the Lord Jesus if people know that we trash them behind their backs?”
Other Content On This Topic
Text: 1 Peter 2:11-12
Conference Date: 7 August 2016
Location: REACH Women 2021 Online Conference, Cape Town, South Africa
The Desire To Live Meaningfully
Hello ladies a very warm welcome from me. It is such a privilege and such an honour to be speaking to you more from God’s word as we are living as strangers and looking at that from 1 Peter. Now I don’t know what stage of life you’re in but I suspect that we all want to do the best we can with the gifts and the time that we’ve got. We want to live meaningful lives don’t we? And I suspect COVID has really sharpened our minds on this hasn’t it? This desire to do the best we can creates a bit of a dilemma for us doesn’t it? Because how do we actually choose what’s best? Best? Good? By whose definition? Have you noticed that there is no shortage of opinions on this? Almost everywhere we look people are urging us to be your best self. Work for what really matters. Reach your maximum potential. Don’t let anybody hold you back. And I hear these calls and I wonder well what do they actually mean practically? Because we can feel very pressured and we can get into a spin trying to decide who do we listen to? How do we meet all of the different labels and the expectations that are put on us? Both our own expectations and the expectations perhaps of our group or even our broader society.
Now I have found it a huge relief to realise that deciding what is best or good with all of the labelling and the expectations that goes along with that is not a new problem. We’ll see that Peter and those that he was writing to were facing exactly the same pressure with very, very clear expectations on them. Peter was writing at a time of Nero in the first century and he was living in a society where the huge pressure then was to be a good Roman citizen with all that that meant.
Roman citizenship had unique privileges and protections as well as many obligations. Being a good citizen affected every area of life and if one didn’t comply or meet society’s standards, one was branded as an evildoer. One who was not or would not act as a good citizen. So for these first century Christians that Peter’s writing to, it raised the same question that we face: what does good or best mean? And who decides?
Peter’s going to help us here and we’ll see that he outlined some definitions and some surprising consequences to those definitions. As we read won’t you look with me at our passage we’re picking up from verse 11 of 1 Peter chapter 2. He says, “Beloved I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the gentiles honourable so that when they speak against you as evildoers they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
We Are Citizen’s Of God’s Country
Now won’t you look back at that and did you notice how Peter begins and ends just that little section. He begins by describing these people who’ve got this great remarkable new identity from God as sojourners. Some of your bibles might have strangers and exiles. That is those who don’t have the legal status of being a resident citizen. A person who doesn’t belong permanently to where they’re presently living. They’re journeying to another homeland. We could think of them as maybe a pilgrim who is passing through. They don’t have citizenship with all of the privileges that go with that of where they’re living now. And ladies we all know people who live this experience don’t we? With the great difficulties that it brings. And Peter says this is true of us, this is our lived experience as God’s chosen people. Because you see we’re citizens of another country, we’re citizens of God’s country. We’ve moved, we saw earlier, from darkness to light. We are passing through. So in fact we are strangers and exiles.
We’re in a fixed bubble as it were, and all the time that we’re here waiting for that bubble to end is the time of waiting that God expects us to use well.
And then Peter ends these verses did you notice to be reminding his readers about the day that God is going to come back. Look at the end of verse 12. He calls it the day of visitation. This is the day when the Lord Jesus is going to return to wrap up history as we know it. He’s going to end all hardship. We will be with him forever. We will see him face to face and the exile will be over. We’ll be home. So Peter is urging us to recognise that there is a time frame to our being strangers and exiles. We’re in a fixed bubble as it were, and all the time that we’re here waiting for that bubble to end is the time of waiting that he expects us to use well.
Waiting Actively In Exile
Now I don’t know about yourselves but I used to think that i’m quite a patient person. And I would say to my children i’m quite a patient person until I had to wait somewhere usually when I can’t do something useful. Like the school run when i’m waiting in my car fetching my children. Or when i’m in a queue at Home Affairs. I mean I thought about what i’m like when i’m waiting I realised actually no I can’t wear the label of patient. And what is the big temptation when we’re faced with waiting? What is the big thing that we find really hard? Well, we often do get very impatient don’t we? We feel that we can’t settle to anything and we can’t get involved in anything. We don’t want to engage in anything because what’s the point of starting something if you can’t finish it? Ao we just sit and we twiddle our thumbs and we get more and more irritated. Or is that just me? Or we might go to the other extreme and we get so involved that we get sidetracked from our original plan. But Peter pulls us back and he says even though we’re on the clock, even though we’re waiting, that we’re just passing through, a very different dynamic is now working. Our very heavenly citizenship is the reason that we need to wait, but we’ve got to wait actively. Which brings us back to where we started and you may be thinking, “Well thanks for that Alison.” You see we still face the issue of how do we decide what is the best way to wait? How does knowing that our exile is limited help us to know how to live during our exile?
Peter urges us that knowing the God controls the waiting time because only he knows when he’s going to come back again, this reminds us that he’s the one who’s going to tell us what he wants us to do as we wait. And from these verses we’ll see, won’t you look at them again, that we’ve got to wait, we’ve got to be active in two different directions. Both are very important and both are the outworking of our new status, the extraordinary position God has moved us to that we looked at in our first session. And look with me would you at verse 11 because the first direction of our active weighting is our inward private work. Look again at verse 11. It says, “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul.” I urge you to wage war against the things that are damaging your soul. We’re to be fully engaged, deeply committed to guarding our souls. Then the second direction is outward. It’s our public work. We’re to be fully engaged in living honourably amongst those who do not yet know God as their rescuer.
Wage War & Guard Your Souls
Isn’t it striking that god starts with us? He doesn’t start with the outward, he starts with the inward. The private work the work of guarding our souls. When you look at that language in verse 11 it’s very strong isn’t it? He’s urging us. There’s waging war. You really do get the sense that Peter thinks that this is very important. And as you read that phrase there, ‘passions of the flesh’ did he wonder what he meant? Because I have to say the way that we often think about it is we limit it very narrowly to physical things. And we think of them as one-off events. But here and in fact in the whole of his letter when Peter uses that phrase ‘passions of the flesh’ he uses it to refer to the former way of life of these Christian believers. The way they lived before they got those great gifts that god outlined in verses 9 and 10. So it’s shorthand for when they previously lived by their own rules, their own wisdom. When they defined for themselves what was good or bad for them. So Peter’s referring here to a whole way of thinking, a whole world view that is ruled or was ruled by me, myself and I.
And what’s the shock? That even as god’s new people these formal ways of choosing what was good or bad shaped by our previous world view, are waging war against our new identity in God. How does that work? You see we become the enemy when we go back to saying my way not God’s. So these aren’t external things done to us. This work of guarding our soul is what you and I need to do as we need to choose whose side we’re going to be on. We’re going to have to choose in every situation in every day whose definition of good or bad we’re going to be ruled by. Will it be my wants, my opinions and feelings, moulded by what we think and what others say to us. But it’s me versus what god says on an issue. And ladies it’s the oldest conflict faced by humankind isn’t it? The one the devil loves to fuel. He whispers, “Did god really say… does he really mean… Does he expect that… Can God really be trusted in this situation?”
God’s Way Versus My Way
And I find that even as a 48 year old Christian I’ve still got to choose to be kind, not to slander, to genuinely love my fellow Christian sibling. I must choose that i’m going to serve, rather than expecting to be served. And Peter warns that giving into my way, that is choosing self-centredness instead of obedience to God is dangerous to my soul. It’s dangerous to my relationship with the Lord Jesus. Why? Because choosing my way challenges God’s right as the creator king to rule my life. I’m practically saying that I know better than God does what is best for me. And ladies this is a real battlefield isn’t it? With all of the dangers of warfare. Is it possible not to give into self? Because it actually feels very hard. Well, yes, says Peter there’s a lot that we can do.
Choosing my way challenges God’s right as the creator king to rule my life. I’m practically saying that I know better than God does what is best for me.
We can battle against our own self-rule by reminding us of all that God has given us as his new people, his new nation. We see in chapter 5 verse 9 that we battle against my way by preaching the truth of our faith to ourselves again. We preach the gospel to ourselves. We see in chapter 1 verses 4 and 5 that we remind ourselves that God has promised to guard us by his power. And we see that he’s committed to doing life’s journey with us so we never do any of life on our own. And he is so sure that we will finish the journey that he already has our inheritance waiting. I don’t know about yourselves but I find that a huge relief. Makes me feel I can take a deep breath, relax my shoulders, and then get back into this battle against self as a priority. So we’re battling on that front in that direction.
Believe To Help Others Believe
But there’s another direction in which we need to be active, our outward public work. We see it in verse 12. We need to be fully engaged in living honourably among those who do not yet know God as rescuer. Ladies would you look at that verse again and see if you can pick up the reason, the motivation that Peter gives for this outward work. Did you see it there? So that, or because it will give the reason to the gentiles, gentiles mean those people who do not yet know God, to think differently about Christians and the God they believe in so that they may also come to glorify him. To honour him as God when the lord Jesus returns. It’s a different way of saying that they might become believers too. That they can also share in all of those glorious things that God has given us that he outlines in verses 9 and 10. They’ll share our new identity.
Well, what can we expect from this public life? Peter’s very honest, it’ll often be hard with many who are hostile many who are opposed to us and even people who misrepresent us. Have you noticed the thread of suffering for one’s faith that runs through this whole letter? But why is there suffering for doing good and why are Christians labeled as evildoer? Do you remember that we noted that Peter’s first readers, for them their big societal pressure came from the need to be good citizens. Look again at the word that Peter uses here. He says that they’re to conduct themselves, they are to do good deeds, or they will be labeled evildoers. Those are technical words with very clear social expectations that any Roman citizen would have learned from childhood. Think of the roman equivalent of life orientation classes. So once conduct meant your civic or your public square life. How you behaved outside your home.
Good deeds meant public good. Real good that benefited society. And it was assumed there was a real expectation that people should and would be publicly rewarded for the good that they did. There could be a special mention in the theatre or a civic reward or a tablet detailing your good work. Or maybe even a monument built in your honour. And historians have found several of these commending citizens for acts of civic kindness and anyone who is not a good citizen by these Roman definitions was labeled an evildoer with all of the negative consequences of this label. Ladies if you think about it, we have our own labels don’t we?
So we begin to understand what Christians were facing as the society watched and evaluated them. And it often looked as though Christians were not being good citizens because they didn’t live by the roman society worldview. We see that in 1:14. They didn’t go to the trade guild after parties. We see that in 4:3, where there were drunken orgies that followed. They revered God as God. And they honoured the emperor but just as a human leader, we see it in 2:17. And this not honouring Caesar as God would have been very publicly noted in all of the events that they went to where they would have to toast to Caesar being lord and the Christians sat out. Peter knew it would be hard but he urges that instead of instinctively withdrawing from public life as a way of protecting ourselves. Maybe withdrawing into a Christian-only circle. Only Christian schools, only Christian shops, friends, sports groups, whatever you can add as many as you like. Peter’s saying instead of withdrawing into those little enclaves, get involved where you live in whatever area of life that you can. And live among those who are suspicious of your worldview.
Do Genuine Good
This is so counterintuitive isn’t it? We want to run away from potential trouble but Peter’s urging stay where you are and change your attitude. Change your attitude so that as we engage we look at every conversation, every time we talk to somebody, do something as a witness opportunity. And Peter explains in the rest of his letter what this might look like. He says, “Do genuine good that is recognised as publicly beneficial,” in 2:13, as those who work constructively in every area of social structures. Do genuine good as workers who may have to work for those who are unjust or unfair, 2:13. Do genuine good as a wife whose husband may not yet be a believer. We see it in chapter three. Or is a husband who is determined to view his wife the way God defines her and not the way society tells him to. And then from chapter 3 verse 8 following he says do genuine good as a Christian community who treat each other with love, compassion and kindness. And each time you do this you’re acting as a signpost, an advertisement about the greatness and the glory of God. And he gets the praise not us.
Is it worth it? Absolutely, says Peter. Because this way maybe the way that some of those who are now name calling and slandering Christians they may come to understand what God is offering and they may be saved themselves. Will it be easy? No because there is the constant challenge about who may claim to be defining what is good – Me shaped by my society or God? And so the ongoing work, the big challenge for God’s people is to keep learning what God says about different facets of his worldview and then to apply his view to what we’re hearing from the world. As we engage with them we can bring god’s ideas. And it means that we never stop learning there is always more for us to learn about God and always more therefore that we can apply.
Engage Honourably Among Non-Believers
But notice the big challenge ladies, did you see it there in the middle of verse 12? We’re to do this work honourably among the Gentiles where to engage with them not wage war on them. We do find this hard don’t we? Think of some of the jokes, the Facebook posts, the Instagram threads that you’ve seen recently. Think of some of the things that you’ve heard that mock, bad mouth or they just write off those who don’t honour the Lord Jesus or think the way we might. Ladies I do ask you how are we going to win a hearing for the Lord Jesus if people know that we trash them behind their backs?
I do ask you how are we going to win a hearing for the Lord Jesus if people know that we trash them behind their backs?
And Peter urges us he says every time we do things God’s way his name is proclaimed and he is glorified. Will every person we engage with stop calling us evildoers? No. Does this mean that we should stop our public square living for God? No. Because it’s very helpful to remember isn’t it that dealing with people’s hearts is what God said is his work. Our work is to remember that we are now his people who are to signpost to him. We’re to remember where our real home is. And because our status before God is fixed by the work of the Lord Jesus and the certainty of getting to our new home is so sure, we can entrust ourselves now to our redeeming loving God as we live the way he knows is best for us, We can embrace the freedom we have now and our new status before him to live fully for him by his definition of what is good until he returns.
Follow God’s Direction
Ladies, I don’t know how you process things that happen in your life. And we’ve all been through a really tough time haven’t we? And we’re all different, but may I encourage you as I need to do myself to take some time to think through what Peter’s been saying here and to think about what we might need to tweak. What we might need to reprogram in our response to these two different directions that Peter is asking us to follow. Our inward private work and our outward public work. And let’s read this whole letter again asking god to ignite our hearts with a wonder of who he is and what he’s done for us. Peter tells us that he wrote so that his readers may know the true grace of God and that they would stand firm in it. We see that in 5:12. This is possible for us as his children and it remains an open invitation to you if you are not yet part of his family. Please ask a Christian friend to explain this to you. It’s god’s plan and purpose to bring anybody who wants to come into his kingdom of light. He is a great and a gracious God.
Please would you join me as I pray. Our great God and Father thank you that you had the plan and then made it real in the lives of so many people. A plan to rescue us from the darkness of our self-rule. As we think through what this means in each of our own lives, please would you help us to trust you as we live for you and may you be glorified. We ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus, amen. Thank you for listening. It’s been great having you with us, bye.