1 Peter 1:1-2
God’s Chosen Exiles: The Calling of a Christian
Truth Taught– God, in His Trinitarian nature and Sovereignty, has chosen those who would become His exiles in a world not their own.
In order to understand what the phrase “God’s chosen exiles” means for the Christian life, there must be a comprehension of to whom and for what reasons Peter wrote this letter. We can gather from the opening verse of chapter one that Peter introduces himself as an apostle of the Lord Jesus, establishing his authority to be writing, but then proceeds into saying something very unique and central to his overall reason for writing. Peter addresses the recipients of his letter as “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1). What could this mean?
By calling his recipients “elect exiles”, Peter can only have one audience in mind. To put it simply, the church! While this letter may be addressed to the church, Peter has good reason for doing so. His aim is to teach the church about how to prosper in the faith, trust in God, remember the works and teachings of Christ, and all while enduring suffering in this world as God’s elect exiles. This letter is filled with reminders of encouragement of how to suffer for the glory of God, a timely teaching for the world then and the world now.
It can be seen from the writing of Peter that the church was made up of a mixture of people, both Jew and Gentile. It has widely been accepted that Peter’s letter was writing primarily for a Jewish audience, but Scripture within the letter itself may not indicate that to be necessarily true. Consider 1 Peter 1:18, “Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers”, and 1 Peter 2:10, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’ people”. Both verses would indicate something not normally attributed to Jewish Christians.
However, this is not to say that there were not Jewish believers in the church congregations either. It is historical fact that many types of diverse people were mixed during this time. We get a picture of this from Acts 2:9. However, this does not mean that we cannot gather an even more beautiful picture of Christ from this mixture, because the mixture of Jew and Gentile in the churches goes to show that in Christ the wall between Jew and Gentile has been broken down making the two people one in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2: 11-22).
With this information in mind, it leads us to our full discussion of the text itself. Within these opening two verses of 1 Peter, there are three major themes that jump out. 1.) God electing individuals to become the church which in turn are the “elect exiles” spoken of. 2.) There is a Trinitarian understanding of election in which the reader sees the origin, the experience, and the goal of election. 3.) There is also a reminder from Peter that though believers are still sinners and sin willingly sometimes, there is continual restoration in our relationship to God through the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood. It is a very humbling reminder indeed.
Right from the start, Peter wants his readers to understand something of monumental importance. He wants them to grasp the fact that they, who are true believers in Christ, are in fact elect. The doctrine of election is such a controversial theme in today’s society that it can cause serious divisions in the church body. However devastating this may be, and it is very unfortunate, Peter is opening his letter with a greeting about the doctrine of election. If doctrine of election is so notorious for being held in low regards, why in the world would Peter open his letter talking about it? Peter understands what many of us today may not ever come to terms with, and that is the fact that God is completely sovereign and holy, even in the calling to salvation Christians.
What is even more striking about these “elect” that Peter mentions is an understanding of their true identity as those who are elect. They are exiles; they are aliens; they are sojourners as some other translations put it. When you seriously think about what it means to be an alien, exile, or sojourner, the first thing that comes to mind is a sense of not belonging. When we hear about immigrants entering into the country illegally, we think of them as not belonging. They are refugees to our country and their home is of another place. A negative example would be to consider what a foreign bacterium is to the human body. When the human body senses a strange life form, it tries to do away with it; the body does not like the intruder. In much the same way, only in a positive sense, Christians are these aliens or exiles chosen by God to this way of life. Our home is not here in this world, but with Jesus in heaven.
Consider these passages, John 16: 32-33,
“Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world”.
John 17: 14-19,
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth”.
As is evident from these two passages, our place is not of this world, but our mission is to be here as those elect exiles of the faith and endure for the sake of Christ. Our true identity as believers in Jesus is to be those aliens. However, Peter does not stop there, but goes directly into a Trinitarian explanation of how it is and for what reasons God has chosen to elect His exiles.
1.) According to the foreknowledge of God the Father.
Peter first gives his readers the origin of election, it is found in the foreknowledge of God the Father. It is not uncommon that the phrase “foreknowledge of God” can be taken in completely the wrong way. Most of the time, readers will interpret the foreknowledge of God as something like God just knowing a fact in advance. So the end result is that God chose those to be elect based on the fact that he saw that they would chose Him, but this is a false understanding of the text.
To correctly understand the foreknowledge of God in this text, the reader must understand that this foreknowledge is a fore-knowing of a person in a personal context. Very much like a father knows his child, or Adam knew Eve. There is an intimate understanding to the word foreknowledge in this text. Very much like Ephesians 1:3-14, God chose us (believers) in Him (Christ) before the ages began to be as adopted sons. God intimately knew His exiles.
2.) In the sanctification of the Spirit.
Next, Peter gives his readers the experience of election that is found in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. The term sanctification literally means to be “set apart”. As believers, God has set us apart to become more like His son Jesus and to be holy as He Himself is holy. Consider these two verses,
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of Spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”.
When Peter speaks of “sanctification of the Spirit” he means to portray the idea that we as believers in Christ are surrounded by the atmosphere of the Holy Spirit being sanctified through various trials as discipline. So as God’s chosen exiles of the dispersion, we are being trained and disciplined by God to produce a greater yield for His kingdom. Remember that we are chosen exiles in a foreign place that is hostile towards us because of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3.) For obedience to Jesus Christ.
We have seen that due to God’s foreknowing of His elect, it is by the Holy Spirit that we are involved in daily sanctification to make us holy as He is holy. But what does it mean to be holy as He is holy? There is a greater purpose and that is for us to have complete obedience to Jesus our Lord. But what does this obedience look like? Consider these two passages of Scripture,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”.
1 John 5:2,
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments”.
As God’s chosen exiles, He has pre-ordained that we should walk in good works because of what Christ has done. It is when we as believers are active in these good works that we are showing our love for God because we are keeping His commandments. What should some of these good works look like? We are to love the lost and share the gospel just as Jesus says in Matthew 28 before He ascends into heaven, we are to abstain from any sinful actions against God or our brothers and sisters as is seen in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7. There are pages full of commands from God in Scripture and all are what would constitute obedience to Christ Jesus.
Finally, we come to our last point in the passage. It is not only by the foreknowledge of God, the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, or for obedience to Christ, but also for the sprinkling of Christ’s blood as well. So far we have seen the origin, experience, and goal of election, but it is here that we see the how being put into action. We all know the Romans 3:23 passage about all being sinners and falling short of God’s glory, so how are we to keep moving toward obedience in Christ if we continue to sin?
The question addresses the heart of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. It seems as if Peter has taken truth of the latter part of verse two and compared it with what we find in the book of Leviticus about those who suffered from leprosy. Not only was this physical disease deadly in a biological way, it was also unhealthy in a communal way. Consider this passage,
“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, unclean, unclean. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp”.
Peter too recognized that because of our sinful human condition, our spiritual status was also in the same kind of trouble. This time, we were not outside of a physical camp, but the spiritual camp of God. As a result, there needs to be reconciliation happening. A cure needs to be administered, because without one, all sinners are as good as dead! Again consider this passage of Scripture,
“He shall take the live bird with the cedar-wood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field”.
It is from this passage that we see the connection with Jesus’ blood. Just as it took the sprinkling of blood from an animal to cleanse the leper, it takes the blood of an innocent lamb to cleanse the sinner. Now the unrighteous sinner can be seen as clean by a holy and wonderful God. It is through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood that we are able to have restoration with God even if we succumb to sin in this life. It is truly an amazing concept!
Now we as Peter’s readers are able to step back and see the majestic work of our Trinitarian God in the opening verses of 1 Peter. We should now have a fuller understanding of what it means to be God’s chosen exiles. We know that we do not belong in this world, but God has us here to do good works, even if it costs everything. Thankfully however, we can have restoration in our relationship to God through the blood of our Lord Jesus. To Him be the glory forever!