Exiles, Culture, and Conflict
Increasingly I find myself in conflict with our culture. And that struggle seems to intensify each day.
As a follower of Jesus, I’m obliged to be obedient to his teachings. Although I fail at times and certainly have not obtained perfection, my imperfection does not release me from my obligation.
So, when I fail, I ask forgiveness, pray for strength, and rise — one more time — to continue to follow Christ.
But what am I to do when our culture opposes Christ’s instructions? How is it possible to cope when societal demands conflict with Jesus’ teachings? How do we “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s?” - Mark 12:17
Cultural tension with Christianity isn’t new. Previous generations of Christians have experienced harsh treatment when societies oppose those who are loyal to God.
Our liberties as Christians are increasingly challenged — and threatened. It’s not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last. How we handle cultural conflict is critical.
Peter writes instructions to believers experiencing growing resistance to their faith. Roger Raymer identifies that Peter’s teachings are like a handbook written for ambassadors to a hostile foreign land:
The author, knowing persecution would arise, carefully prescribed conduct designed to bring honor to the One they represented.
Perhaps it’s time that followers of Jesus recognize: Christian morals are no longer commonly shared values in our culture.
Daily there is increased pressure on Christians to conform their beliefs to cultural preference. This pressure isn’t anything new. It’s been happening slowly and subtly for years. Now, the pressure is increasing, creating a growing chasm.
At what point will societal pressure for Christians to conform become overt persecution?
It’s not surprising that those of us who choose to follow Jesus feel as if we are out of step with the world. The reason is, we are. Paul the Apostle reminds us, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” - Philippians 3:20.
Although I’m a proud American citizen, I recognize this is not my permanent dwelling place. It’s easy to forget this reality. When I become consumed with “this world,” I lose focus on my permanent, eternal residence.
In his letter to Christians in the First Century, Peter identifies his fellow sisters and brothers as “exiles and sojourners” (displaced persons; travelers passing through). He cautions them to guard against their passions:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. — 1 Peter 2:11 (ESV)
The demands of their culture to deny their beliefs and surrender their allegiance to Christ were enormous. Peter reminds them: As followers of Christ, they are aliens — living as strangers in the world.
He also cautions them to make sure their conduct is honorable:
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. — 1 Peter 2:12 (ESV)
Peter’s words are a timely reminder for each of us who faces the pressure of a culture that encourages us to surrender our allegiance to God.
Like an ambassador living in a hostile foreign land, we must remember:
Our local residence must never overshadow our citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
We have a responsibility to conduct ourselves in a manner, which appropriately reflects the One we represent — Jesus Christ, our Lord, and Savior.
As societal pressures increase, it becomes imperative that we remember we are Ambassadors of Christ. We are citizens of God’s Kingdom, first, and our conduct is to glorify God, not our culture.
When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies be at peace with him. — Proverbs 16:7 (ESV)
 Roger M. Raymer, “1 Peter,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 838.
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