Peter and Jude, Part 2

What does it mean to be “a citizen?” For all the kerfuffle in the media, citizenship is still an important thing and there are some things a naturalized citizen can do that an alien or even a Green Card holder cannot. I went through the citizenship process years ago and I can tell you it was an expensive (very expensive, truth be told), intrusive, inconvenient, ordeal that ended up in a Federal courtroom with yours truly, along with 25 other immigrants, taking the oath of citizenship. I had been living and working in America for 13 years before I applied for citizenship. I had been obeying the laws of the land, filing income tax forms, and participating in many the things a citizen enjoys, all the while holding a mere Green Card (which is sort of pinkish nowadays).

As a citizen, suddenly I had more privileges than I imagined I would have. I knew that to vote I would have to become a legal citizen, but now I can’t be deported. I can now sponsor family members to bring them here. I can apply for all kinds of federal benefits (I wouldn’t, but I could), I can have a federal job (no thanks), I can run for public office (no way!), and I can get a passport. So, there are all kinds of benefits of being a citizen.

Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven because we are born again. We may be living here on earth, but our citizenship is in Heaven and we enjoy the benefits (or blessings) of our Heavenly citizenship and we have certain responsibilities, too.


In 1 Peter 1:23, we read a verse that contrasts perishable (earthly) seed with imperishable (spiritual) seed:

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23 | NIV84)

We Christians have been born of imperishable seed – of spiritual seed – making us spiritual people, not carnal or worldly people. In chapter 2 Peter keeps up the contrast by using the Temple in Jerusalem as his example.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4, 5 |NIV84, read 2:4 – 8)

Through Jesus Christ (the living stone), and our new relationship with Him, we become “living stones,” alive in Christ, built into a “spiritual house.” That’s a curious thing to say, but if we read a verse Paul wrote, it become a little clearer:

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22 | NIV84)

The Jews had their precious temple in Jerusalem, where they supposed God lived. But as Christians, we become the place where God lives. God lives in us as individuals and corporately. We as a group comprise a great big “dwelling” in which God lives. But we are not cold and hard or rigid like the bricks the of which the Temple was made. We are “living” or “lively” stones.

As a group we are a spiritual temple in which God dwells and as individuals we are like the Jewish priests who worked in their Temple. We as individuals have been consecrated by God and we are holy as He is holy. We function as priests, offering up our spiritual sacrifices, our very selves, as opposed to offerings of animals. Our spiritual sacrifices are automatically acceptable to God because they are offered through Jesus Christ, who is our great High Priest.

You and I have been “chosen” by God to become holy people. When we became Christians, we received tremendous blessings that only Christians receive, but that same salvation carries with it responsibilities. Those things are briefly mentioned in the first few verses of chapter two, but essentially they form the rest of this first letter.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1 – 3 | NIV84)

We have been chosen by God to be different from the rest of the world. God is holy – He is separated from all others – and we are to be holy, too – separated from all others by our behavior. That’s what Peter is getting at here:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9 | NIV84)

Verses 9 and 10 give us another contrast: the believer’s new, present life (verse 9) and their past (verse 10). Since God dragged us out of the darkness we were living in, we owe it to Him to start living like those living in the light. Or, put another way, because we are now God’s people, we should be proclaiming by word and deed the praises of God. Quoting Paul again, here’s his take on this:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | NIV84)

Imitate Christ

The question is, how do we do that? It would be nice if God made us live right, using His incredible power to force us into behaving the right way all the time. But that’s not how He works. So He allows us to the freedom to serve Him, and the easiest way to serve Him and to live right is to simply imitate Christ!

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21 | NIV84)

Peter is far cleverer than we give him credit for. Look at how he views the Christian living in the world today:

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world… (1 Peter 2:11a | NIV84)

That’s the best way to introduce his topic of living good lives. Since Christians are “aliens and strangers in the world,” we don’t have to behave like the world behaves. Here are some very specific steps believers should follow in living good lives before God, the world, and each other.

Abstain from sinful desires, verse 11.

How obvious is this? Godly living must begin with giving up sin! “Sinful desires” are “fleshly lusts,” and they are always – always – going against the spiritual side of our being.

Live good lives among the pagans, verse 12.

This seems obvious, but it escapes a lot of Christians who seem to think they can live Christ-like lives when they are around their Christian friends but live like pagans when they get around their co-workers or non-Christians friends. That goes right against the notion of “holy conduct,” which is a huge theme in Peter’s letter. Our holy and honorable lives need to be obvious to all who see us. This was a big teaching of Jesus when He said this: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 | NIV84)

Silence the ignorant talk of foolish men, verse 15.

Part of this is submitting ourselves to every law of man for the Lord’s sake (verse 13). Now, keep in mind that Peter wrote this during the horrendous reign of Nero, emperor of Rome. Peter makes it clear that as believers, we should do all that we can to obey civil authorities. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should break God’s higher laws for the sake of the state. It was this same Peter who, when standing on trial before the Sanhedrin, famously said: “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29 | NIV) We are, after all, primarily citizens of Heaven.

Live as free people, verse 16.

Here’s another aspect of our salvation that seems to escape a lot Christians: Jesus Christ has saved us to live a life of freedom. In fact, the only truly free people on earth are Christians! Paul was big on freedom in Christ, and he wrote this:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13, 14 | NIV84)

The great freedom and liberty we have in Christ should never, ever be used as an excuse to sin. As soon as we do that, we will lose it and slip back into the slavery of sin. All our freedom in Christ needs to be tempered with love for others.

Honor all people, verse 17.

The word “honor,” timao, is also seen in Matthew 15:4 as part of Jesus’ admonition to “honor our father and mother” and to “honor the Son as we honor the Father.” It’s powerful. The mark of a true believer is that we should honor all people; we should never treat anybody shabbily or as objects for us to use and then discard.

Love the brotherhood of believers, verse 17.

The word Peter used here is agape, a love that transcends feelings and sentimentality. This love that we have for fellow believers should mark the true believer’s life. We ought to honor and respect all people, but love for other members of the Body of Christ should be obvious for all to see. John, the so-called “apostle of love,” believed this to be true and in his Gospel quoted Jesus as saying this: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34, 35 | NIV84)

Fear God, verse 17.

To “fear” God is really the greatest need of the Church, which has come to treat God with far too much casual familiarity. The Greek word Peter used is phobeomai, from which we get our word “phobia.” It means many different things, including: “to be in awe of,” “to revere or reverence,” and also “to be put in fear or fright,” and “to be afraid.” You get the idea.

Honor the king, verse 17.

We can imagine why Peter wrote this: Nero was the emporer and to dishonor him could mean losing your head! But there’s a bit more to it than that, although preserving your life or freedom is good reason to at the very least “honor” someone in political office. Here’s another one: At that time in history, many Christians were accused of treason because of their confession of and allegiance to Jesus Christ, King of the Jews. No wonder Peter advised his readers to be obvious in their honor and respect for the King.

In many cases, the laws of the land line up fairly closely to the Laws of God, and there’s nothing wrong when the government does things or passes laws that benefit all people. However, Paul expands on this idea in Romans 13, and adds a qualifier:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18 | NIV84)

There may be times when a Christian cannot live at peace with a governing authority. When that happens, he must remain faithful to God even if it means dishonoring or disrespecting the king, or any governing authority, for that matter.

Living as a citizen of Heaven is the most rewarding life a person can live. It’s not always easy. It requires wisdom and discernment and determination. But God promises to guide and give us that wisdom and discernment and even the power to do so.

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