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Where the Christian Lives

August 7, 2009

In his first letter, Peter draws upon much OT imagery, words, verses, and allusions as he speaks to his fellow believers who are under much pressure and suffering.  Two verses in particular are interesting  to me:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, strangers in the world (1:1)

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul (2:11).

Aliens and strangers.  Strange words to describe a person indeed.  This is reflected partly by the multiple ways in which the English translations render the term strangers (which is the only one of the two terms I will explore here): exiles, ESV, RSV, NRSV;  foreigners, NLT, CEV; aliens, NASB; pilgrims, NKJV;  sojourners, ASV, NAB.

The last of these, sojourners, is actually a very good translation as it does capture the meaning of the Greek: “to live somewhere temporarily, as on a visit; stay for a while; a brief or temporary stay.”  The only problem with the word is that we don’t use it much in today’s English.  But we need to focus in on this key aspect of Peter’s thought:  we are only temporary residents in a foreign place.  Thus, a one of the newer translations, the Holman Christian Standard Bible has it “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ:  To the temporary residents of the Dispersion” and “Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you” (1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11).

The commentator J. N. D. Kelly writes, “The point [Peter] wishes to emphasize . . . is that as Christians they have no abiding home on earth. . . . This term connotes one who is merely passing through a territory, with no intention of permanent residence. . . . Christians are bound, wherever they are, to be transitory sojourners yearning for home.  The difference is that for them ‘home’ cannot be identified with any place on earth, but only with the new order which God is bringing in.”

We must come to see ourselves as pilgrim-travelers while on this earth.  It is only our temporary residence.  We are to be “longing for a better country–a heavenly one” says the writer to the Hebrews (11:16).  “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14).

Or as Paul puts it, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21).

Come, Lord Jesus!

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