In the book of 1 Peter, Peter the Apostle is writing to the “elect exiles of the dispersion” according to verse 1. This means that Peter is writing to Jewish believers who had been driven out of Jerusalem by the religious system. Living in Jerusalem as a first century believer was very difficult and often led to loss of friends, and livelihood. Greek culture was much more open and most Greek cities had established synagogues. As the Jewish believers moved into foreign Greek lands, they were seen as outsiders and brought natural suspicions as any ethnic group might coming in large numbers to a new land.
Peter is writing to these Jewish believers because of they have become strangers in a strange land. Peter does not want them to lose heart and assimilate into the culture, but to remember who they are in Christ and to be proud of their Jewish heritage.
For us, I believe we can find much similarity with these Jewish converts as we are living in a culture that is largely in outright rebellion against God
In chapter 2:9 - But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Peter is reminding them that they are a chosen race – descendants of Abraham. A royal priesthood, and most importantly a people for His own possession. The question we have to ask is how do we, as Gentile believers, relate to this pep talk Peter is giving to these Jewish believers? The Apostle Paul answers this question for us in Romans 11 when he tells us that we are grafted into the vine of Israel.
Romans 11:13-20 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.
For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in."
That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.
By the virtue of the fact that we are spiritually counted as believing Israel, we can claim these titles as well.
Looking back at 1 Peter 2:9, notice our purpose – to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness.
I feel that the church has lost it's holiness in it's quest to assimilate and seem “relevant” to society at large. Instead of being encouraged with words such as these spoken by Peter, it seems we are either terribly uptight and come off prudish, or at the other extreme, tolerant of sin to the point of losing our ability to affect change. Peter wants these believers to be excited about their heritage and their purpose and to live in such a way as to draw positive attention to the Gospel.
In verse 10 of 1 Peter 2, we see Peter expound on the idea that Israel is exclusively God's. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Historically, the nation of Israel did not exist until God created it through the calling of Abraham. Israel received mercy from God. Israel did not seek out God, or just one day decide to follow; God created them as a nation and then provided them with a system of worship that allowed them to be in fellowship with Him.
As we are born into Adam, we are without mercy, until we respond to the Gospel and receive God's mercy.
In verse 11, Peter, again, reminds the exiles that they are not citizens of the culture of which they live. 1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
They lived in a very indulgent society that was filled with sexual perversion and promiscuity, and pagan revelry. It was very tempting for them to indulge in sin as it was so acceptable in their new culture. Also, wanting to fit in, I am sure there was incredible peer pressure to participate in cultural practices that would displease God. Peter does not say this flippantly – notice how he not only calls them to holiness, he also acknowledges how difficult it is to live in holiness in such an environment – passions of the flesh war against the soul.
Theses believers left a society that encouraged holy living and punished indulgence, now they are in a seemingly bizarro world where denying the passions of the flesh is considered odd.
We, as modern day believers, also live in a society that shows little restraint in the area of pleasure. We are considered odd and backward by not participating in the sinful behavior or enjoying entertainment that dishonors God. Yes, our desire to indulge can often war against our very soul.
This is why it is so important that we remember the exhortations of vv 9 and 10. We are special, we are different, we are called, we are holy, we are God's possession, set apart to glorify Him.
Sometimes we forget why we are to battle our flesh and once we forget who we are, it is very easy to begin to assimilate into our sinful surroundings.
1 Peter 2:12 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.
It would appear that Peter is expecting some of his audience to see the return of Christ. He wants them to behave in such a way that the people around them will understand when Christ returns, why they did what they did. Peter calls us to behave in front of unbelievers so that if Christ returned right now, they would realize what our lives were all about and acknowledge His Lordship.
Also, Peter is not calling us to holiness for the sake of holiness, he is calling us to fill our time and expend our energies on doing good. The danger we often face in the pursuit of holiness is walling ourselves off from the world and in so doing, make it impossible to minister to those in need outside the church. I perceive that we have two major camps in American Christendom, one is very busy with social issues but not overly concerned with orthodoxy or holiness, while the other camp is busy trying to legislate morality and attack sin outside the church but not real proactive in showing love or actually serving others.
If we can find the place where we recognize who we are in Christ, have concern for the needs of those around us and strive toward personal holiness and proper behavior, I believe that would be a combination that would create that saltiness that Jesus told us to have.
Peter gives us a good deal to think about. How do we balance our abstinence from sinful indulgences and still serve those around us in an effectual manner? By remembering that we are called to be a holy, royal nation of priests, set apart by God to bring glory to His name. The key is knowing who we are in Christ and remembering that our citizenship is not of this earth, but of a heavenly city in the presence of God.