Good Works in a Watching World (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg | October 2, 2011


Dear friends, I urge you, as temporary residents and foreigners in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet. 2:11-12)


The past few weeks we’ve been looking primarily at our relationship to Christ and to one another. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. And Christ is our cornerstone and the high priest of the temple God is building among us.

Next we’re moving to a section that tells us about our relationships with those who are unbelievers as we live among them in our communities, families, work-places and schools.

As you know, God doesn’t immediately remove us from this world as soon as we become Christians – as much as we might prefer that. We learn from this passage that he has a work for us to do in relation to unbelievers, and it affects how we think as well as how we behave. This passage tells us four things: Who we are in the world; How we should think in the world; How we should behave in the world; What our purpose is in the world.

First, let’s see what it tells us about

Who we are in the world  

 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as temporary residents and foreigners in the world…

There are two aspects to this. We are temporary residents and we are foreigners in the world. They might sound the same, but there’s a bit of a difference that is helpful to understand. A person can be a foreigner in a place but still be a permanent resident. For example, if someone moves from South Korea or Sierra Leone and becomes a U.S. citizen, they have taken up permanent residence here. This is their new home. However, if a foreigner only lives here temporarily for school or a job and then moves back home, their residence here is only temporary. They are a temporary resident.

This passage says that we are foreigners in this world because Christ has made us citizens of heaven. Scripture says in one place, “…our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phi 3:20 NIV). Other translations call us aliens, strangers, or exiles. We are non-citizens of the world because we are citizens of heaven. One can’t have dual citizenship in this realm.

Scripture says,  At one time we were all “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ…  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens [that is, to the world], but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (NIV Eph. 2:12, 13, 19).  We are “in” the world but not “of the world”. (Ref?).

When I moved from OH to NC 35 years ago, I was like a foreigner there. Now Beth and Stephen, who both grew up in NC are like foreigners here in OH.

All who are in Christ are foreigners in this world because it is not our true home.

Second we are temporary residents in the world. This is not our permanent home. We are living here until we can go to our permanent home in heaven. Other translations call us sojourners or pilgrims indicating our non-permanent residence in the world. We are just passing through. But we’re in good company.

Abraham was told that his descendants, the Israelites, would be foreigners and sojourners in Egypt. That was not their home and they were just passing through. “Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. (Gen 15:13 NIV) Later they would be exiles in Assyria and Babylon as well.

Moses and his wife were aliens and sojourners in the land of Midian before he led Israel out of Egypt in the Exodus.  “MOSES FLED AND BECAME AN ALIEN IN THE LAND OF MIDIAN, where he became the father of two sons.  (Act 7:29) Then she gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” (Exod. 2:22) The science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein was said to be based on this passage.

The OT believers in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 were strangers and exiles on the earth. “All these died in faith…having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.”  Heb 11:13-14

Jesus himself was sent into to the world temporarily and later returned to his home in heaven. (John 17).

We are like diplomats sent to posts for a couple of years in other parts of the world. They do not take up permanent residence, or change citizenship.

So we have seen who we are in the world – we are temporary residents and foreigners.

Second, let’s see what it tells us about

How we should think in the world

Abstain, or keep away from – sinful desires, or wordly passions, or fleshly lusts – which war against your soul. 

Since you are aliens and strangers, should not THINK like citizens of the world.

As John Piper has pointed out on a sermon on this passage, the word translated desires, passions or lusts refer to our THOUGHTS.

Peter is not assuming his readers are doing these things. He is simply warning them, urging them, encouraging them to continue to stay away from these thoughts, not to follow through on them.

Piper says, “We must cultivate the mindset of exiles. What this does mainly is sober us up and wake us up so that we don’t drift with the world and take for granted that the way the world thinks and acts is the best way. We don’t assume that what is on TV is helpful to the soul; we don’t assume that the priorities of advertisers are helpful to the soul; we don’t assume that the strategies and values of business and industry are helpful to the soul. We don’t assume that any of this glorifies God. We stop and we think and we consult the Wisdom of our own country, heaven, and we don’t assume that the conventional wisdom of this age is God’s wisdom. We get our bearings from God in his Word.

When you see yourself as an alien and an exile with your citizenship in heaven, and God as your only Sovereign, you stop drifting with the current of the day. You ponder what is good for the soul and what honors God in everything: food, cars, videos, bathing suits, birth control, driving speeds, bed times, financial savings, education for the children, unreached peoples, famine, refugee camps, sports, death, and everything else. Aliens get their cue from God and not the world.

We all know what abstain or keep away from means. It means to refrain from participating in it. It means to stay away from it. Sometimes Christians abstain from food for a particular period of time for the purpose of focusing on prayer. This is called fasting. They don’t participate or stay away from eating certain foods. Christian teenagers are encouraged to abstain from participating in any form of sexual activity in order to prevent pregnancy. They don’t participate or stay away from it. When we take a vote on a particular issue, some people do not vote either yes or no, they abstain from voting. They don’t participate in the vote.

Scripture says, “do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature…(rather) clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”  Romans 13:14

 Notice it says don’t think about HOW TO gratify the desires of the sinful nature….

Sinful thoughts will enter our minds because we live in a fallen the world. We will experience temptations. Even Jesus was tempted, yet did not sin.

Have you ever heard the saying, “Don’t even think about it!?” This phrase has been popularized in many commercials in recent years, but it originated on the streets of NYC. The city crews, to keep people from parking on certain streets, put up signs that said, “Don’t even think about parking here.” They knew people were already thinking about it. They meant don’t continue to think about. Move on to another street.

I am reminded of what we were told in seminary about dealing with persons who are considering suicide. They told us, if you think someone is considering suicide ask them two questions. Do you have a plan? And Do you have the means? Some people may think briefly of suicide when they are in significant emotional or physical pain, but normally the thought passes. Similarly, people may think briefly of gratifying our sinful desires, but normally the thought passes without our devising a plan or finding the means to carry it out. Peter is warning believers to do just since pursuing those thoughts causes damage to our souls.

As we said earlier Jesus was tempted, yet he never followed through to develop a plan or find the means to carry it out because he knew the serious consequences that would result. Because he was an alien and a stranger, he “took his cues from God and not the world.”

We have seen who we are and how we should think in the world. Now let’s look at

How should behave in the world

12 Live good or exemplary lives among the pagans… which, though they accuse you of doing wrong, or slander you…

We should live exemplary lives among unbelievers even when they accuse us of doing wrong.

There are two parts to this. First, our deeds should be consistently good. We will see why in a few minutes. Second, unbelievers will accuse us of doing wrong even when we are not.

Let’s look at the second one first. Unbelievers seem to make a sport of finding fault with Christians to deflect attention from their own feelings of guilt before God. The Scripture says that all men are aware that there is a God and that there is a law that they are breaking. (Rom 1, Psa 19). If they can convince themselves that Christians are evildoers they feel better about themselves.

Think of Daniel in exile in Babylon.

Daniel 6:4 “…the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.”

Jesus said to his disciples,

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.  The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.  ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. (NLT Jn. 15:18-20)

Scripture says of Jesus himself, in the last week of his life: “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death.” (Matthew 26:59)

And sure enough, after Jesus’ resurrection his disciples were accused of:

  • Disloyal to the emperor – Joh 919.12
  • Propagating unlawful customs – act 16.16-21
  • Defaming the gods – act 19.23-27
  • Defying authority – act 17.7

 Neither are we greater than the master. We will be accused of similar things. How many of you have already found yourself in that position?

Second, we should live exemplary lives in spite of their persecution. This is telling us that our behavior should be so outstanding that even unbelievers who hate us will take notice of it. These are virtues that even the worldly culture would approve.

In Jeremiah 29 the people of Israel asked how they should live while exiled in Babylon. The prophet replied, “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem:  “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.  Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away!  And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare….” (NLT Jer. 29:4-11)

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” If they take your shirt give them your coat. If they demand that you walk with them a mile, walk with them two miles.”

Unbelievers do good deeds too, don’t they, but not in the sense that they are acceptable to God, but deeds that others in the culture recognize as good. That’s what Peter is referring to here, deeds that the culture recognize as good.

It’s popular to do good deeds these days, even among unbelievers including a growing number of celebrities They participate in AIDS relief, hurricane relief, earthquake relief, famine relief, drought relief, and farm relief. They adopt children from third world countries, they dig wells in the desert and on and on. I saw an article in this week’s Parade Magazine with a picture of George Clooney on his fourth visit to the Sudan on some kind of relief mission.

I don’t know which of these are Xians or not. The point is that good deeds are popular even among people in the world. I found a website the other night devoted to promoting Good Deeds in general in the culture.

So as foreigners and temporary residents, if we want them to notice – and we’ll see why in a moment. We may have to step it up. Scripture says, “We are his workmanship created for good works which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) This is what we are created to do. We can’t sit around on our blessed assurances. We’re not doing such good works to earn God’s favor, we already have that if we are in Christ, but rather to fulfill our purpose as aliens and sojourners in the world.

And that’s the fourth point. Let’s look finally at

What our purpose is in the world – it’s So that they will see your good works and glorify God

 …that they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Jesus said something similar: Mat 5:16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

How does this work? Piper has the following thought based on 1Pe 3:16 “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence

He says people in the world can only see the outside of you – your behavior. “When they see that in fact you have tamed your desires and have such confident hope in X that you exhibit:

  • Humility – no longer trying to prove you’re somebody because you’re beloved of the Father, chosen, royal, holy in Christ
  • Courage – no longer afraid bc God has your back, could die today so willing to take risks
  • Self-denying generosity – no longer trusting only in your own resources, trusting God’s unseen sources to provide so you can give generously to needs you’re aware of
  • Joyful simplicity – no longer need to build bigger barns, heap up stuff because this earth is not your home and you can’t take it with you
  • Peaceful suffering – no longer complaining bc you know that suffering produces patient endurance, is part of God’s plan”

They may be moved to ask about the hope that is in you and may eventually be led to Christ and glorify God.

Redeemer Presbyterian church (PCA) in NYC says it this way on their website: “We serve our cities with good works so the Father will be glorified and those who don’t love Jesus may learn to worship God. We do whatever we can for whomever we meet with whatever we have because Jesus has given us everything we need. We Do Something (Matthew 20.28; Matthew 25.31-46; Colossians 3.17; Isaiah 61.1-4; James 2.14-17; Matthew 5.13-16; 1 Peter 2.11-12;

Westminster Confession of Faith (16.2); These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith:  and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus…

Did I mention that the caption below the picture of George Clooney in the Sudan said, “the world is watching.”  They’re watching him and they’re watching us.

Martin’s story of international students…

Very briefly, what is the day of visitation?

This is the answer to when unbelievers will honor God in response to seeing our good works. There are different opinions on this. Most agree that the day of visitation is God’s drawing near either for judgment or mercy. So either they will glorify God when he draws near in mercy in this life and they confess their faith in him. Or when he draws near in the final judgment when all men confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father. Both are true, but I suspect the former is the emphasis here since Peter is trying to motivate his readers to good works. If unbelievers never came to Christ because of our good works then there would not be much motivation to continue to do them.

Who are we? We are temporary residents and foreigners in the world

How should we think? We should take our cues from God and his word, not the world.

How should we behave? In such an exemplary way that even unbelievers will take notice

What is our purpose? That unbelievers might glorify God on the day of visitation

Click here for the series of twenty-three sermons on the entire book of 1 Peter.

Categories: 1 Peter, 1st Peter: The Church in the World, 2011, Sermons


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: