Identity and Mission in a Post-Christian Culture— Lessons from 1 Peter

Having recently finished preaching 25 sermons through Peter’s first epistle in a series entitled “Exiles on Mission,” I have chronicled some of the most important lessons learned. I chose this book because I found it to be particularly relevant to our church’s situation: a new church plant in one of the most secular, unchurched, post-Christian parts of our country. Peter’s letter is like a roadmap for our journey or an instruction manual for our life that contains our marching orders. I tailored the application and implications of his letter specifically to my congregation as we are breaking into new, hard soil and establishing our culture from the ground up. The advice of Diane Chambers (from the show Cheers) to a belligerent Yankees fan in Boston is particularly relevant to our situation: “Please bear in mind, you are in an alien camp. Tact is perhaps your wisest recourse.” My simple hope is that these ordinary, timeless principles are an encouragement from one fellow, weary exile on mission to another as we find ourselves in an increasing hostile, alien camp.

  1. As you are misunderstood, maligned, and marginalized today, you must look back to and learn from the church in the first century. The culture they were in was far more degenerate and hostile than the one you are in.
  2. Missions is more of a mindset than a method. You are called to represent Christ everywhere, all the time, and to everyone. As long as you are here on this earth and have breath in your lungs, God has you here for a compelling purpose.
  3. Your identity is essential and strategic to your mission. A heightened experience of exile provides you with a clarified understanding of your mission. By nature of being in Christ, you are a temporary resident, a distinct alien, a suffering sojourner, an optimistic pilgrim, and a strategic ambassador for Christ.
  4. To be in exile is to live in tension. It is to live between two worlds—between the temporal and eternal. You are misplaced, but not displaced; distinct, yet present; suffering, yet rejoicing; exhausted, yet hopeful; in the world, yet not of the world; against the world, yet for the world.
  5. An elementary understanding of the Gospel is not sufficient to sustain a life of hardship, risk, and sacrifice. Your salvation is multidimensional and broad in scope. It is explicitly trinitarian as it was secured by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is overarching as it stretches indissolubly from eternity past to eternity future bringing robust confidence in the present. It is comprehensive as it delivers you from the penalty, power, and ultimately the presence of sin. You were chosen, pursued, rescued, and loved and will be preserved both body and soul. What a fortified assurance!
  6. By God’s distinguishing grace, you have been born again to an enduring hope, an everlasting inheritance, and an eternal security that are protected by the power of God through faith. The same resurrection power that rose Jesus from the dead empowers your life and ministry.
  7. Expect trials, hardships, persecution; and expect them to be difficult. But know that God is too good, too loving, and too wise to allow his children to undergo meaningless suffering. Significant growth comes from significant loss. Significant Gospel opportunities will abound as well.
  8. A radically integrated life prevents you from having a mild Christianity. You must not live a compartmentalized or duplicitous life. Rather you should live wholeheartedly for Christ by bridging the inner/outer, public/private, sacred/secular, and clergy/laity divide. Leverage every part of your life always for the mission.
  9. As a pilgrim, your journey is not measured in miles, but by your progress in holiness and your closeness and conformity to Christ. Closeness to Christ and to your fellow pilgrims in the trenches will sustain you under the weight of opposition.
  10. As a church, we are the body of Christ—a spiritual building, a Gospel outpost in a secular world, an embassy of grace. There should be a qualitative distinction in the way you love those in Christ’s family. Our love for one another should be demonstrative. Our compelling community should be a counter culture in the midst of isolation and division.
  11. If you want to establish a Christian voice and influence your community, you must demonstrate that Christianity is not only true, but also beautiful, satisfying, and desirable. In a secular culture that is biblically illiterate, it might be best to start at the beginning of the story and help others see that they are infinitely valuable because they are created in the image of a personal God.
  12. Your life should be morally beautiful and compelling, exuding such otherworldly hope and joy and gentleness that it grabs the world’s attention and elicits curiosity. Your hope should be so vibrant that it rarely goes unnoticed. And you must always be doing good, especially in the midst of unjust suffering and mistreatment.
  13. People should know what you are FOR and not only what you are AGAINST.
  14. Submission to and respect of God-ordained human institutions is an act of worship and trust to God. Submission is not weak or cowardly, it is Christlike. If you are ever to object, may it be civil—conscientious, confident, and calm. And may it never taint the collective Christian witness.
  15. Christ is the hope of the world. The Gospel alone—not any particular country, system of government, political leader or party, ideology, philosophy, or movement—has the power to reconcile man to God. Your mission transcends politics and the culture wars that distract and entangle you. Don’t forget that the early church grew, multiplied, and thrived in a secular, pluralistic culture.
  16. Keep your eyes on the cross. Christ’s endurance in the midst of suffering is your example. You must also entrust yourself to the care of your Father. Vindication is a self-centered desire. Vengeance is antithetical to trusting God. Sometimes it takes more strength to refrain from than to take action. There is something bigger at stake—the eternal soul of your accusers. Imagine being reunited with your enemy in eternity!
  17. It is better for you to suffer injustice than to do injustice.
  18. As a Christian, you have two powerful tools in your arsenal—the message of Christ and the example of Christ. Use them in tandem, but be able to discern when one is more effective than the other. Love has a way of disarming people’s obstinance and opening doors to discussions about spiritual matters.
  19. Although otherworldly, your faith and hope are not irrational or illogical. You must employ the private use of your mind to diligently study and formulate a coherent defense of the truth and be prepared to communicate competent answers when questions are asked of you. You must not only be able to defend the Christian faith, but also to expose the absurdity of unbelief and poke holes in other ideologies and worldviews.
  20. Being a moral person, a decent human being, an upstanding citizen—these are essential to your witness, but they are not evangelism. Evangelism—by definition—is proclaiming the truth. Ambassadors don’t simply represent, they proclaim. Christianity does not have a monopoly on love and kindness, but on truth. You must be willing to cross the threshold of your comfort and intentionally move conversations into the realm of Gospel truth however unwelcome, offensive, and uncomfortable, in order that the real life-transforming content of the Gospel can have real contact with real people and real evangelism can take place.
  21. Nothing is more inspiring or galvanizing for wearied troops headed into battle than the presence of their king. Persevere to the end knowing that your salvation, your victory, and your vindication have already been infallibly secured by your crucified and risen King. He has already overcome the world and we are more than conquerors in him. You don’t live for approval but from it. You don’t fight for victory, but from it. You have nothing to lose!
  22. Everything in this life is temporary—the best things, the worst things, the fleeting pleasures of sin, the stinging pangs of our suffering, the weight of man’s disapproving stares. But nothing can separate you from the eternal love of Christ. Your living hope transcends the best and worst things in this world.
  23. Suffering is normal. Suffering is a privilege. Suffering is an opportunity. In a strange way, it assures you of your salvation and causes you to live in light of the end. It helps you remain alert, sober, watchful and ready for your death or for Christ’s return.
  24. The God of all grace is an inexhaustible fountain of undeserved favor. He did not give you a one-time measure of grace at our conversion, but he Himself is a measureless supply for your journey. The author and finisher of your faith will bring you safely all the way home. His keeping power will never let you go. The work of salvation which he has begun, will, no doubt, most certainly be completed. Endurance flows out of this security.
  25. Your faith is guaranteed to turn to sight. Your hope is guaranteed to be realized. Your joy is guaranteed to be made full. All sadness, suffering, mistreatment, persecution, and hostility are guaranteed to come to an end. All slander is guaranteed to be proven untrue. Therefore, rest in the true grace of God in Christ Jesus. You can stand firm in the flood of hostility, rejoice in the midst of real suffering, exult in the storm of tribulation, do good to those who mistreat you, persevere in your mission even through the painful opposition knowing that none of it compares to the eternal weight of glory waiting for you on the other side. Live fully and triumphantly here; set your hope wholly there!

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