1 Peter 2:11-17

People often suffer from massive identity crisis in the American society. Our laws often tell us that we have all rights as a person. We are important, and we cannot be deprived of our rights. We however are often involved in situations that deliberately deprive us of some of our rights, and we get the clear message. The message: "If you pursue your rights, you will pay severe consequences." In those situations, people often face a stressful decision: is my priority rights or survival. Who am I, and what am I about?

Sometimes that identity crisis is reflected in peer pressures. Who we are is decided by other people. We do not decide who we are. They decide who we are. Whether we are "in" or "out" is determined by them. And if "they" do not say "I" am in, "I" lose a sense of self.

Advertisers play on our identity crisis. "Buy our product and you will find a new identity." "Buy our product and you will know who you are." "Buy our product and make a statement to the whole world about who you are." "Our product allows you to make an important statement about who you are to all those who matter." A large amount of buying occurs in our society because people are searching for an identity.

This crisis of personal identity manifests itself in many ways in our lives. It manifest itself in our relationships. May I share two examples. The first: a common component of husband-wife crises in marriage is "not knowing who I am and what my life is about." So "I married you because I was confident that you can make me know who I am." The second: a common component of abuse is the frustration of not knowing "who I am." Thus many people abuse someone because "I am angry because I don't have a solid sense of who I am," or because "I will use you in an attempt to gain a sense of who I am."

To me, there is even a more serious impact of our all too common identity crisis. To me, the most serious impact of our all-to-common identity crisis is spiritual. Becoming a Christian is a redefinition of who I am and the purpose of my life.

My I call your attention to I Peter 2:11-17? Read with me.
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

  1. The first thing we must understand is that today's life and the American society is radically different to the everyday society and world the people of the first century lived in.
    1. Most of us have no concept of what it is like to exist in a society where there are no human rights.
      1. Allow me to share with you three examples.
      2. I once lived in a country where everything operated on the "gift" system.
        1. As an illustration, take acquiring a driver's license.
        2. To receive the form on which you made application for a driver's license, you had to give a gift of money to the person who controlled the forms.
        3. When you completed the application, you had to give a gift of money to the person who received the completed forms.
        4. When you took your driving test, you had to give a gift of money who gave you a road test.
        5. Finally, you had to give a gift of money to the person who issued you the license.
        6. Can you imagine that process in acquiring a driver's license?
      3. Second example: police road blocks.
        1. Imagine this situation.
        2. The temperature in the sun is much over 100 degrees.
        3. A series of police roadblocks within sight of each other are set up on the same road.
        4. The police stop a load of citizens and ask everyone to produce the documents they are to have with them at all times.
        5. After the check of documents, the police have the people set in the sun until they give them enough money to buy beer.
      4. Third example: documents.
        1. Every person in public must have his or her personal documents on them at all times.
        2. What kind of documents?
          1. Documentary proof that you have paid your taxes.
          2. Documentary proof that you have the right to travel.
          3. If you have a radio with you, documentary proof that you have the right to own a radio.
        3. You are subject to producing these documents (and others) at all times.
        4. Failure to have those documents subjects you to immediate arrest and fines.
    2. That is happening today in numerous countries of the world.
      1. Many of us have a hard time grasping those "now" circumstances.
      2. In the first century some circumstances make those things seem like freedoms.
      3. Life was cheap.
        1. A person could become a slave more easily than most of us care to imagine.
        2. Popular forms of entertainment commonly included human death.
      4. Very few people had rights.
        1. What you and I regard as corruption was a common occurrence in living.
        2. Injustices were so much a part of daily life that common people expected them to occur frequently.
      5. Most people were poor.
        1. Life was hard.
        2. For most people the primary concern of life was literally survival.
        3. You or some member of your family could starve to death, be caught in the middle of a war, be captured and sold as a slave--there were no guarantees, no recourses.

  2. In the reading from 1 Peter 2:11-17, I want to call you attention to key words.
    1. The words are "aliens" and "strangers."
      1. Those two words do not have to same force in our western American society of today that they had in the first century world of the Roman Empire.
      2. Today the first thought that comes to many minds when we use the word "aliens" is some unusual life form that has human characteristics that comes from some place other than the earth.
      3. To us a "stranger" is someone we do not know--he or she may be from right here in Fort Smith, but he or she is a "stranger" because we do not know him or her.
      4. In that age, those two words labeled people who did not belong to the area.
        1. Those words referred to people who did not belong culturally.
        2. These people were "not of the place."
        3. Let me illustrate this concept in a way that many of us can quickly identify with.
          1. Recently I shared with you that my family moved to a rural area near Crossville, Tennessee, when I was 7 years old.
          2. When we moved to this rural community, my father was known as and called "Mr. Chadwell."
          3. In no way was that disrespectful, but it was a way of acknowledging that "you moved here; you are not one of us."
          4. When my father died at 83 years of age having lived in the same house on the same farm for decades, he was still "Mr. Chadwell."
          5. That is the concept of an alien and stranger: "You do not belong here because you were not born here."
    2. Peter gave them a serious reminder.
      1. "Never forget who you are."
      2. "Never forget you do not belong to your community or in this world."
      3. "Always remember that you belong to the Lord."
      4. "Always be aware of the forces that fight against the Lord's presence in your life."
    3. "If I do not belong to this physical existence and environment, if I belong to the Lord and not the world, how am I to behave in this physical world?"
      1. There are a lot of options.
        1. I can live a bad attitude existence: "I belong to the Lord, not to this place, so forget you! I will not allow myself to have any concern for you! You have no influence on me! I will not respect you because I belong to the Lord! I exist to condemn and I will condemn every chance I have!"
        2. I can have the compliant existence: I act so much like every one around me who does not believe in God that people cannot distinguish between me and everyone else.
        3. I can have the pragmatic existence [the "what works today in this situation" existence]: if I am among Christians, I act like a Christian; if I am among people who do no believe in Christ or God, I act like a person who does not believe in Christ or God--my behavior is determined by the behavior of those I am with.
      2. The question, "how do I behave in this physical world?" is an excellent question that goes to the core of Christian existence.
        1. It deserves an answer!
        2. It deserves an answer that comes from God, not from human ethical struggles.
    4. Focus your attention on Peter's answer, and remember that these people lived in a truly evil society dominated by idolatry.
      1. Answer one: recognize the internal forces that attack God's influence in your life.
        1. The standards and values that allow ungodly emotions and behavior cannot be the standards and values that determine our emotions and behavior.
        2. A Christian never forgets that "I represent God in an evil world, and I want people who do not know God to be exposed to Him through me and honor Him for good."
        3. Thus I will make a special effort to allow godless people to see God's kindness, grace, and mercy in my behavior.
        4. They may talk about what a bad person I am, but my life constantly demonstrates God's goodness in me.
      2. Answer two: I will not act like an obnoxious rebel.
        1. For the Lord's sake I will not act like a godless, undesirable person.
        2. I will show respect for human institutions.
        3. Even though the king thinks he is god and worships idols, I will show respect for his authority.
        4. Even though the governor in my district abuses his position, indulges himself for the sake of pleasure, and worships idols, I will show him respect because I understand God's purpose for government is to punish those who do evil and honor those who do good.
          1. I want authorities to see that Christians do good deeds.
          2. I will silence ignorance by doing good.
          3. Though God freed me, I will be God's servant.
        5. No matter where I am or who I am with, they will see respect and good deeds in me.
          1. I will treat all people like people; I will love other Christians; I will hold God in reverence; I will give the king the respect he should receive.
          2. I will not do this because everybody agrees with me.
          3. I will do this because that is what God wants, and I belong to God.

We cannot eliminate the tension that will naturally occur between living in a physical world and belonging to God. We can make God the greatest influence in our lives.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 14 December 2003

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