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From the time of Abraham, the covenant people of God have been called strangers and pilgrims. Even when the people were settled in the Promised Land, there was a recognition that the status of the people had not changed. Solomon expressed this in the dedication of the temple when he prayed, "For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding." (1Ch 29:15) And just like all immigrants, Christians must make a conscious decision whether or not to assimilate with the native population. In this text, the Apostle Peter instructs us about what that decision should be.
But first, in verse 10, the apostle reminds us of what our status is and he does so in an unexpected way: he draws our attention to the prophesy of Hosea. Hosea's children were an object lesson of God's intentions to the nation of Israel. God's intention was to no longer show His people mercy and to divorce them as His people. And yet, even in the midst of such a stinging condemnation, God promises that He will have a people and they would be the object of His mercy. That is, all those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the promised deliverer, whether Jew or Gentile, would be His people of mercy and would be the true descendants of the sojourning Abraham. So, all Christians are legal, resident aliens in a fallen world.
In verse 11, Peter uses two words to describe God's people: strangers and pilgrims. As those who live in a foreign land and have their citizenship elsewhere (as these words indicate), the apostle tells us in no uncertain terms that we are to avoid assimilation by telling us to abstain from fleshly lusts. But be careful that you do not limit this command to only one class of sins. The admonition is broad and includes all those things that we might long for that are governed by, and directed toward, our fallen nature and not by the Spirit of God. The pursuits of these things not only give a bad outward impression, they "war against the soul." That is, they sap spiritual life and create spiritual weakness. As spiritual immigrants, we must be on guard for this kind of assimilation.
Not all of the apostle's instruction is negative. In verse 12, he tells us to have an "honest" lifestyle among the "Gentiles." The word "honest", beyond the ordinary meaning, it also means good, beautiful, commendable, admirable and praiseworthy. In sum, Peter is telling us to have a lifestyle and works that show a Christ-like love of truth mingled with an attitude of servanthood as we walk in the midst of those who have no idea what we are all about. But he also tells us that this Christ-like behavior will often be slandered and blasphemed by the native population. So why would we do these things? Among other reasons, we do these things in the hope and confidence that by our testimony there will be some who will glorify God and are drawn to the gospel by our testimony.
There is much talk in the news about immigration reform, but for us, the question is immigrant reform. Should we reform by conforming to the native population? Without qualification the answer is no. Should we, as immigrants in this fallen and rebellious world, conform to the precepts of Scripture and refuse to assimilate? Without qualification, the answer is yes!