This morning I was led to read 1 Peter 1. Although there is a lot of rich text included in that chapter, it was two words that really pulled me in. Right in the opening greeting, Peter is addressing “those who are elect exiles“. Those two words grabbed me like nothing else in the text. Realize who Peter is addressing and what is going on around them. These believers, some who had personally witnessed Christ and others who have not, are now being persecuted across the land. They are very literally exiled from their homes, from their land, from everything they have ever know. They are literally running for their physical lives.
The people have “elected” this status of exile. Not in the sense that they chose on their own free will to give up everything and flee. No, this ‘election’ was based on the choice they made to stand firm in their faith and belief in Christ Jesus. In this crazy time of strong persecution of these new Christians, they could just as easily have chosen to turn away from that faith in order to remain in the life they’ve always known. But instead, they have elected to make their new faith, their defining characteristic. By electing that title of Christian, by accepting the free gift of grace that Christ has died for their sins, they are electing a life of exile from everything they’ve ever known.
While there are still places in the world today (like Iran), where such faith can lead to your punishment by death… here in The United States, we don’t face such judgement. Yes, there is still judgement here, but nothing like these early Christians. Here in this country, in this century, in these times… it’s acceptable to ‘elect’ a Christian faith. In fact the amount of judgement we face (relative to those early Christians) should not even be considered judgement at all. We’re free to live how we want, eat where and what we want, drink what we want, say what we want. We have so much freedom that it’s easy for some to not fully grasp the depth of this decision.
It’s often said that accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior is a ‘life or death’ decision. In fact, from a spiritual perspective, this is true. But for those early Christians, like today in Iran and other countries, that life or death decision is very physical. When someone in those circumstances grabs hold of these free gift of grace, they are doing so with the full knowledge that although this is granting them eternal life, it’s most likely condemning them to physical death.
So when you read the rest of Peter’s letter, recognize who he’s writing the letter too, and what their circumstances are. They are in exile because of a choice they made. A choice that will end up costing most of them their physical lives, but granting all of them an eternity united with God. It is to these people that Paul says in versus 14-16 “As obedient children,do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.””
So as we sit here in our relative luxury, in our freedom to worship how we wish, don’t lose site of how valuable your inheritance really is. Don’t take it for granted like a “trust fund kid” does with the monetary wealth he has inherited. Recognize the price that has been paid, that many around the world continue to pay, for such a decision. You have in your possession, the most valuable gift conceivable, that was paid for by the blood of Christ. Don’t waste that gift, don’t squander it, don’t hide it. Instead, let that gift ooze out of every pore in your body. Let it shine in ever action that you do.
Only this way will ‘they know we are Christians by our love.’