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Sovereign Identity: 1 Peter 1:1-2

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

War Time:

America as a post-Christian nation is a truism. None more evident than the backlash that is being experienced by the current Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett herself. Regardless of where we stand in our opinion upon her credentials to uphold such an office, her Judeo-Christian values have not benefited her one bit. Rather those bedrock pillars that have shaped not only her moral compass, but this country’s progression toward overall betterment has worked mightily against her ploy in obtaining a civilized and candid hearing. The current climate of our societal make-up is structured in such a way that the Christian moral ethos is something to be held with disdain. Meaning, the Christian ideals that fuel and inform the outworking of human life as we—the body of believers—know it are viewed as offensive and, to many, abhorrently repulsive. Again, one does not profit—within this secularized America—by upholding the badge of evangelical Christianity.


Along the same thread, the church has also witnessed a shift within the moral fabric of societal norms. What can be known as the Moral Revolution has been strengthened amid the post-modern ideology of relativism. Subjectivism, then, has consequently shaped the communal bent toward affirming right/wrong amid an existential grid. Meaning, the basis for true morality is found within the individual self rather than the objective standard of the Creator God. Such movements were birthed amid the disenchantment of modernity (i.e. Enlightenment) and are being further leveraged within the contours of secularism.[1] As Nancy Pearcey rightly conveys the philosophies of this culture “deny the reality of the Fall and give birth to progressive methods of education that refrain from teaching students true from false, or right from wrong, but instead expect them to discover their own ‘truths.’”[2]


Both phenomena speak to the ever-increasing tension that is felt amid the current climate of a post-Christian America. The pathos and ethos of Christianity, contrary to modern sensibilities, has never been a private matter. The covenant people of God “are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14). Nor has Christianity ever been merely a set of dogmatic claims. Rather the salvific realities of Christ are the fusion and form of redemptive life flooding into the depth of the human enterprise and interaction. As one author conveys, “Skillful living begins with being properly aligned with the intrinsically relational, triune God.”[3] Thus, surrendering to the cultural customs cannot be a faithful response for genuine followers of Christ. How, then, should the church understand her posture during such tumultuous times? How will we navigate through the streams of secularism that knocks upon our and our children’s doors? Where is God amid such troubling seasons? What are we, the church, to do amid such anxious days?


Who Am I?


We live in polarizing times where the discrepancies toward the Christian faith are ever present. At every turn, believers are being bombarded with a host of ideologies that do not jive with the fundamental values of our biblical worldview. This, in turn, can erect a host of emotional realties like anxiety, depression, nervousness, uneasiness, and more. What are we to make of the tension-filled spaces we are vocationally called to? How are we to approach these politically charged topics? How do we, as Christians, function amid the gender pronoun dilemma? How should we respond to the racially charged atmosphere of societal life?


The first epistle of Peter embodies an encouraging charge that is construed for the benefit of the covenantal people of God. Not only does the apostle centralize the message of the Gospel, but he simultaneously applies timeless truths to a culturally bound context. By encouraging the saints in what would be known as modern day Turkey, Peter fashions—by the power of the Holy Spirit—a divine Word that is not ultimately constrained to one circumstance nor a moot historical point. Meaning, that which is given to the people of God in the first century context has authority, power, and applicability for the church today. Thus, amid our cultural unrest the Word of God speaks clearly and objectively with an aim to embolden the saints to live courageously for the glory of God. Our focus, then, will be cemented upon two centralized components amid the opening lines of the epistle: (1) our identity as elect sojourners and (2) God’s sovereign oversight in all things.


Elect Sojourner. Upon addressing the covenantal people of God, the apostle vehemently describes them as “elect exiles” (v. 1a). This description is profound and significance historically because it has been traditionally attributed to the ethnic nation of Israel—God’s covenant people. By referring to the community in this manner, Peter is including these churches, which are predominantly Gentile [“of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (v. 1)], into the covenantal narrative of God’s people. Meaning, these nomenclatures applied and administered to the Gentile churches speak to how the nations has been grafted into God’s people through the blood of Christ (cf. Rom. 11:11-36).[4] Thus, we will, first, examine the latter term, “exile,” prior to divesting ourselves upon the former, “elect.”


The concept of exile is pregnant with meaning amid the developmental stage of redemptive history. For our purposes, we will look at three fundamental narratives to shape a canonical view upon the matter. We first see the notion of exile within the Garden of Eden. After Adam’s defiance and act of treason, God banishes the image bearers and, thus, begins their exile from the temple garden (cf. Gen. 3:24).[5] The second encounter is enveloped amid the Abrahamic proposal (cf. Gen. 12:1-3). As the promise of land is associated with the premise of a covenantal people, Abraham acknowledges his foreign wandering as he awaits God’s prophetic fulfillment.[6] Upon the burial of Sarah, Abraham concedes, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight” (Gen. 23:4, italics mine). The third and final example is the Assyrian captivity of the nation of Israel (cf. 1 Chron. 5:26; 2 Kings 17:3-6; 18:11-12) and the Babylonian exile of the nation of Judah (cf. Jer. 52:10-11). Though the Lord had given His people the land promised to the patriarch Abraham, the dual captivity experienced by the northern and southern kingdoms were indicative of the sinfulness that polluted the covenantal people of God. As one author articulates, “This was the literal situation of the Jewish Diaspora after the Assyrian and Babylonian armies forced exile of Israelites from Palestine: they were exiled from their native land where they were citizens and forced to live as immigrants or resident aliens in foreign lands.”[7]


Thus, the return from exile and the reestablishment of the temple did not surrender their exilic phase. Rather, the nation was aware of their prolonged expulsion throughout foreign rulership (even amid their “return”) that was due to their own sinfulness against the covenantal Lord. T. R. Hatina helpfully writes,

The underlying reason why many Jews saw themselves as still remaining in exile was their assumed perennial state of sinfulness (Bar 1:15-3:8; 1 Enoch 89:73-75), a concept that is grounded in the “cursing and blessing” motif in Deuteronomy 27:32. The true return from exile was inseparably bound with the forgiveness of sins. And as long as Israel was dominated by foreign oppressors, the sins were not yet forgiven.[8]

Exile, then, speaks to the foreignness and disposition of sojourner who identifies themselves as pilgrims. Thus, Peter’s call to the covenantal community as the “elect exile” communicates their propensity as aliens. Aliens not in the sense of citizenship to a governmental structure per se, but rather to the covenantal kingdom of God. Thomas R. Schreiner rightly accentuates, “They are not aliens literally; they are sojourners because they are elected by God, because their citizenship is in heaven rather than on earth.”[9] Furthermore, this description is further articulated with the adjective of “elect” which modifies the noun, “exile.”


The term election has a theocentric aim in conveying the Creator God’s active engagement and sovereign freedom to choose a people for His purpose. Simply put, those who are elected are chosen by God. Thus, according to Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Peter’s characterization of his recipients’ identity in those terms represents an effort to equip the church for the fulfillment of its mission.”[10] Their posture as exiles, then, are intrinsically tied to the elect nature of God’s expressed will within the confines of space and time. Encouragement and steadfastness, thus, should be a response to the notion that divine intention is saturated within our finite efforts to walk in obedience amid the course of this world; the call to be countercultural is fastened upon the Spirit’s power to strengthen the sails of each individual believer as well as the collective church.


Covenantal Grounding amid the Wisdom and Counsel of God. The election of God, then, is modified by the notion of the Father’s foreknowledge. Peter mentions that their election, and hence their posture as exiles, are “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1:2). Grudem defines foreknowledge as “a personal, relational knowledge that . . . God, looking into the future, thought of certain people in saving relationship to Him, and in that sense He ‘knew them’ long ago.”[11] Consequently, Peter acknowledges the community of saints’ exilic disposition not in response to sinfulness, but, quite the contrary, in reflection to God’s redemptive decree grounded in the work and Person of Jesus Christ. Meaning, their status as sojourners and aliens are intrinsically tied to the wisdom and decree of God’s omniscient will to “work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Thus, the assembly of saints can take courage and be emboldened to know that their struggle amid countercultural pursuits is set within the sovereign decree of the triune God of the universe.


In this sense, as relational beings created in the image of God, persons of all sorts—regardless of ethnicity, gender, and/or religious affiliation—have an existential desire to be known. There is a longing within the human psyche that aspires to know and be known, especially within darkness of nights and depths of brokenness (cf. Gal. 4:9). And yet, it is only within the Gospel of Jesus Christ that the longings of the heart can be satisfied, and the flames of self-destruction be squelched. The apostle mounts, then, the covenant community amid the infallible counsel of the Lord in order to strengthen and invigorate the people of God toward the task that has been divinely mandated upon them. As elect exiles, they can press forward through the muck and the mire knowing that they are intimately accepted and covenantally bought by the blood of the sacrificial lamb.


I Am Whoever YOU Say I Am:


The reality of being known by the Creator God of the universe purports and colors one’s perspective amid the daily grind of life. Not only does it spur one toward existential tranquility, but, also, informs the saints toward an ultimate telos of the struggle—the glory and fame of God. Therefore, as elect exiles the church is anchored upon divine realities and are, simultaneously, boundless to the circumstantial elements of our finite existence. Our hearts, minds, and hope can be elevated toward greater truths and clearer certainties. As the Apostle Paul exhorts, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Our identity, assurance, and home are not built upon perishable things, but rather find their origin in an everlasting certitude.


Thus, as followers of Christ Jesus, let us take hold of our identity, and charge forward amid a world that is deeply and painfully contrary to the truths of Scripture. Let us, with certainty, press onward amid the societal norms in such a fashion as to bleed forth the love and truth of the Gospel. The Lord Himself has called His people to be “salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13) which function as a preservative in operation for the good of all. In doing so, the church will inevitably be counterintuitive to the worldly mind and the spirit of the age. Regardless, according to the Apostle Peter, “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will than for doing evil” (1 Pet. 3:17). Our anguish, then, is one of witnessing to the beauty and satisfaction of the Gospel. Conveying, ultimately, that this beauty is worth the trouble, danger, hardship, and misery. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] See Charles Taylor, A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard Press University, 2007. [2] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 129. [3] Robertson McQuilkin & Paul Copan, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 17. [4] See Andreas J. Kostenberger, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020), 91-97. [5] See G. K. Beal. The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. NSBT. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004. See also Stephen G. Dempster. Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible. NSBT. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003. [6] See Oren R. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015), 62-75. [7] Peter H. Davids, A Theology of James, Peter, and Jude: Living in the Light of the Coming King, BTNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 123-124. [8] T. R. Hatina, “Exile,” Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. Craig A. Evans & Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 348-349. [9] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, NAC (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 2003), 51. [10] Kostenberger, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, 93. [11] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 676. See also Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 52-54.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (10), McColsen (8), and DeYoung (5).  He is a Teaching Pastors at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.


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