One of the major themes in the letter of 1 Peter is that Christians are exiles. Exile isn’t an optional elective for serious Christians. Exile is not one way to live the Christian life, it is the Christian life. This imagery of exile is scattered throughout Peter's letter:
One Bible teacher summarizes Peter's allusions to exile this way: “Peter wants believers to realize that we never fully belong in this world. Strangers have no permanent residence. Aliens cannot hold positions of power and rarely enjoy full privileges. This is essential to a Christian’s identity. . . . Every disciple of Jesus will, in part at least, be an outsider, stranger, and exile in the wider world.”[i]
If you’re a follower of Jesus, the only way you’ll fit in here is by masking or minimizing what makes you different. One arena where this plays out is in the world of politics. Tim Keller argues that Christians ought to care deeply about four issues.[ii]
(1) We’re called to care deeply about the sanctity of human life. All human life, regardless of size, sex, or skin color.
(2) We’re called to care deeply about justice for all people, regardless of race or ethnicity. We might disagree on how justice should be pursued or achieved, but racial justice is an implication of the Gospel because we believe that all tribes and tongues are equally made in the image of God.
(3) We’re called to care deeply about marriage, and to believe that sexual activity should be limited to one man and one woman in the covenant of marriage.
(4) We’re called to care deeply about the poor and the marginalized.
These four issues are highlighted all over the New Testament, and they were major concerns throughout the history of the early church.
Now here’s the problem: two of those issues look very conservative, two of them look very liberal. In American politics, you’ll rarely if ever see all four of those issues connected. If you lean conservative, you’ll face enormous pressure to highlight the sanctity of human life and purity of marriage and minimize issues like caring for the poor and racial justice. The opposite is true for those who lean liberal.
A church in the Northeast that talks about racial justice and caring for the poor but ignores the Bible’s teaching on sex or the sanctity of human life isn’t being biblical, it’s just echoing its surrounding culture. And the same is true for a church in the south that gets a lot of “amens” when the pastor preaches against homosexuality and abortion but hears nothing but crickets when he preaches against racism or the mistreatment of the poor.
As our culture continues to secularize, Christians in exile will find themselves increasingly alienated by both political parties. That may be bad news for America, but it’s good news for the church. It is good for us to feel uncomfortable in this world because it is not our home. We are exiles, and exile is not optional.
[i] Daniel M. Doriani, 1 Peter, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2014), 6–7. Emphasis added.
[ii] Tim Keller on How to Bring the Gospel to Post-Christian America, accessed July 21, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNve3Hexh28&t=1693s.