Saturday, January 26, 2013

Living as an Alien

Have you ever wondered what an alien from another world might look like?  Oftentimes we might visualize ET or one of the critters from MIB.  But all you really have to do is look at a Christian, at least one who is truly a follower of Christ.  According to Peter, we are aliens, foreigners to this place, belonging to another world, citizens of the kingdom of God.
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 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 ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 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.
- 1 Peter 1:17-21 NIV

An Empty Way of Life

This passages talks about redemption, or being delivered from one way of life to another. The life we are delivered from is described as the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, a life that we were born into, but also a life that is empty, without meaning.

What purpose did your life have prior to Christ?  It might have been to enjoy life; to survive; to raise your children; to make the planet a better place for those who follow after you; to grab all the gusto you can.  But eventually you die and either cease to exist, or continue on in some other form after death.  And what difference then will it make how much you enjoyed life, or how many toys you were able to accumulate; what difference will it make how many trees or salmon you saved; what difference to eternity will anything you do now make?

We are born into this life, live a relatively small number of years, and are gone.  And it is a rare person who is even remembered long after their death.  The life we were born into was empty, without purpose.  But God has redeemed us from that and into a life with purpose; a life that is just now beginning, and will stretch out into eternity.

Exiles and Aliens

This letter was addressed to God's elect, exiles scattered throughout what is today the country of Turkey.  But I think it is safe to say that is is also written to God's elect, exiles scattered throughout the world today.  We oftentimes identify ourselves as God's elect.  But how often do you think of yourself as an exile, enduring a forced absence from your home?

In the passage shown above, Peter also gives us some instructions on how to spend our time as foreigners, or aliens, here.  This really carries the same idea as being an exile.  This world is not really where I belong.  It is where I find myself temporarily until I am able to go home, to be with Christ.
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. - Philippians 1:21-24 NIV
Paul expresses the same sentiment in the passage above where he expresses his internal conflict between staying here in the flesh where he might be useful to other believers, and leaving this life to be joined with Christ; identifying the second option as preferable.  Paul was here on Temporary Assigned Duty (TDY) and looking forward to finishing his tour and going home.

As citizens of the kingdom of God, this world is really not our home.  We are here only for a short time; and yet what we do during that time is important.  This section of Peter's letter is really about living as an alien during our sojourn here; making the most of the time we have here.

Living In Fear

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.
Verse 17 in the NIV tells us to live out our live in reverent fear, but the word reverent is not a part of the original text.  We are called to live out our lives in fear (fear, dread, terror).  That, at least for me, is pretty hard to grasp because that kind of fear is foreign to me, nor is it something I am really interested in experiencing.  So why does he give me this instruction?

Because I call on a God who will impartially judge my works.  It is all too easy for us to just live life here as if it really didn't matter; I am redeemed and all is good, regardless what I do now.  Romans 14:12 says "each of us will give an account of ourselves to God."  That should make clear to us that how we live now, even as believers, makes a difference, and we will be called to give an account to God when we stand before him.  Note also the Parable of the Talents and the accountability that is expected from the servants.

Now I do not believe that we should be paralyzed by fear, but we really should not take God, and his judgement, lightly.  Someday I will stand before him to give an account.  If I really believe that, it should make a difference in what I do today; just thinking about explaining some of my actions and attitudes to God makes me shudder.

When I was stationed overseas, my neighbors judged the US by how I lived and interacted with them.  In the same way, I am a foreigner here, and this world where I temporarily reside is watching me.  Are my actions reflecting well on my King, or do they put him into a bad light.  Live here as a foreigner, in fear of the God who will impartially judge me, in a way that will glorify him.

Bought With a 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 ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
While not always true, the things I value most are frequently the ones that cost me the most.  In general, the more valuable I consider something, the more I am willing to invest in it.  And the cost is not just a financial calculation.  Cost can also include personal sacrifice and personal investment of time and effort.  The financial cost does not generally identify the value of something to me nearly as much as my own personal cost in obtaining it.

Peter here expresses that the cost of my redemption was not an impersonal sum of money.  Rather it had a very personal cost; the blood of Christ.  That should tell me something about the value God places on me.  And it should make a difference in the way that I respond to God.  He did make a very personal and costly investment in me.  Should I think that he will not care what I do with that investment?

There should be a certain amount of fear involved, realizing that he has invested a lot in me, and probably expects a lot out of me.  I should be driven to live my life here in a way that he would find pleasing, rather than in a way that I find comfortable.  I find it hard to believe that he would invest so much in me, for me to be no different than the people around me.  Am I living up to his expectations?

Chosen Before Creation

20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
It seems common for Christians to believe that God created a perfect world, put perfect people into it, and expected perfection to continue throughout the earth's history.  And then Adam bit into the apple that Eve offered, the world fell into sin, and God's plan was frustrated.  As a result he had to develop a fallback plan, a way to bring us back into the relationship with himself that he desired.  While you may not believe all of that, it is likely that, assuming you are a Christian, you believe, somewhere in the back of your mind, that we messed up God's original plan and forced him to do something different.

Yet Peter says that before Eve gave Adam the apple to bite, before this earth was formed, before the Big Bang; Jesus was chosen to be our redeemer.  Do you catch the implication of that?  We did not mess up God's plan in the garden; Jesus death was not something that had to be done to get things back on track; it was the original plan.

It was a plan that was kept hidden until about 2000 years ago.  A plan that brought Jesus to this earth to live among us, die for us, and then rise from the dead.  A plan that then offers redemption to all who will respond to Jesus death and resurrection in faith.

Faith and Hope in God

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.
God raised Jesus from death and seated him in a place of honor.  By believing in Jesus, and what he did, I escape from the empty way of life handed down from by ancestors and become a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  As a citizen of God's kingdom, I live here now as an alien in this world, waiting for the time to come when I will enter into his presence.  While I am here, I should live in reverent fear, as one who does not belong to this world, knowing that I will give answer to my King for my actions here, and knowing the price he paid for me.

My faith should be in God, not in my own personal strength, my investments, the economy, science, or the nations military.  And my hope should be in God, in what he has prepared for me, rather than in the temporary things of this life.

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