A personal Bible Study I did six years ago made an impact on how I think about my relationship with the world’s culture. That year I studied 1 Peter, a letter that the apostle Peter wrote to Christians who had been scattered to foreign lands as a result of persecution. Many of them continued to face persecution, as a matter of fact. Peter’s letter therefore addressed the difficulties of living faithfully among people who hated the Gospel.
Six years later, my study of 1 Peter still affects me, I’m pleased to report. The Lord taught me, as I worked through the dictionaries and commentaries, how His people, because we’ve been regenerated through His word, are really aliens to the rest of humanity. Not just that we are to be separate, but that, if we’re truly born-again and bear the image of our Father, we are by nature separate (holy).
The world draws its nourishment from itself, I suppose. Look through the archives of this blog to find examples of how professing Christians (largely false converts) devour worldly junk food, proving that they belong to the world rather than to the Lord. The confines of today’s essay don’t allow me to cite specific examples without distracting from my main point. Suffice it to say that people feed on human philosophies (even when they delude themselves into thinking those philosophies can integrate with Biblical doctrine) rather than hungering after (to quote Peter) “the pure milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2).
But if we truly are regenerated by God’s word through the Holy Spirit, there will be consequential implications. Those implications penetrate much deeper than surface things like going to church, sexual chastity and humanitarian actions (as important as all those things are). God actually has “begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Thus, we are intrinsically different from non-Christians.
Yes, we still feel the old temptations, and sometimes fall into them (our pre-Christian natures don’t accept death willingly). But I can say, from experience, that I’m really uncomfortable around my own sin. When I pursue it, even if I know only God will ever find out what I’m doing, I know I’m not being who I am. I’m being who I would have been apart from Christ. But the Lord has made me a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), with values and desires that, on an ever-increasing level, reflect His nature.
This new nature, precisely because it exchanges my old desires of the flesh for holy desires in keeping with my Heavenly Father’s character, creates a palpable alienation between me and non-Christians. Peter explains with blunt candor that their puzzlement at our unwillingness to participate in sinful practices incite them to persecute us (1 Peter 4:4). Our new nature doesn’t permit us to blend in with the world. And that’s okay.
Sure, it hurts when people call us narrow minded bigots. I’ve experienced that labeling, even from close family members, for decades, so I well understand the temptation to camouflage Christian convictions for the sake of comfort. Yet 1 Peter 4:12-19 encourages us to rejoice in persecution, knowing that it’s actually evidence of our relationship with the Lord. What a joy to know that we resemble our heavenly Father!
Growing to be like Him necessarily alienates Christians from the rest of world. We can, and should, engage with non-Christians on some level, but our core values can’t help but depart from theirs as we feed on Scripture and learn to see things from our Father’s perspective. Peter repeatedly hammers home the point that, if we are true Christians, we cannot fit in with everyone else. And why would we want to?