Peter begins his letter in the typical Greco-Roman fashion. He introduces himself, addresses his letter’s recipients, gives the greeting (grace and peace) and then launches into a blessing. Peter refers to himself by his “Jesus given name” rather than the name his parents gave him, Simon. He then calls himself an apostle. The word literally means someone who was sent. Jesus designated Peter and the other 11 this during his ministry as he was sending them out on mission (Mark 3:13f). This is why Peter is an apostle of Jesus the Messiah (1:2) because it was Jesus who designated him as an apostle and who then sent him out on mission.
Peter addresses his letters to “God’s elect exiles scattered…” Elect is a word for someone who is chosen. Exiles is a word for a stranger in a foreign land. They are not just passing through. They recognize that they are going to be there for some time. These exiles are scattered. That is the Greek word diaspora and that was a word used for the exiles from Israel who never returned home in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. They remained in the lands where they settled as scattered exiles. It was during the apostolic missionary journeys that these Jewish outposts in various countries provided opportunities for the Gospel to flourish in synagogues all over Asia and beyond.
Verse 2 starts off a little awkwardly. Most translations supply the verb “chosen” from the idea of them being “God’s elect” back in verse 1. It literally says “To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” It doesn’t read smoothly until you carry over the idea that the thing that is according to God’s foreknowledge is their being chosen back in 1:1. Their being chosen by God is carried out “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” The word sanctify is the verb form of the word holy. The Spirit is holifying us (why can’t that be a word?). In order for us to be able to relate with God and be present with God we must be sanctified. Our sins must be washed away which is why Peter says what he says next, “to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.”
If you are a Christian, this is true for you. It is who you are. You are God’s elect. You are a sojourner…a foreigner in a strange land…a resident-alien. That term is an oxymoron. There is a great tension in that phrase that reflects the tension we, as Christians, face in this life. It is the recognition that we don’t completely belong here but realize we are still going to be here a while. So we have to figure out WHO we are and HOW we are going to live in this place. The only way to do that is to start with the idea that God has made you holy through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Without that this world becomes more and more like home to us because without the work of the Spirit we are just like everyone else in a world that is without hope and falling apart.
John tells us something similar in 1 John 2:15-17,
“15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.“
Last, we recognize the Spirit does this work in order to initiate within us the response of obedience due to the recognition of God’s work in our lives. We are not obedient to make ourselves holy. Only the Spirit can do that work. But the work of the Spirit in making us holy (sanctification) should result in our response of obedience. We want to do right because Jesus has done so much for us. When Jesus saves us it is only natural that we will want to obey him. When we do we are living our lives in line with the work of the Spirit who is in us.
In what areas do you struggle to be holy? How might the Spirit help you in those areas of difficulty?
How might our struggle with holiness go back to our recognition of ourselves as aliens and strangers in the world? In other words, is it possible that if we too strongly identify with the world that our holiness will be challenged?
Do you ever struggle with seeing yourself as chosen by God? Why or why not?
How might we be chosen by the foreknowledge of God and yet still have some say in the matter of our own salvation?
My prayer is that God will open our eyes to help us understand who we are and how we are to live in a world that is not kingdom oriented. May God help us to embrace our status as resident-aliens in order that we might reach into the world with the message of Jesus and the sanctifying power of the Spirit to reach the lost in more effective ways than we have in the past.