Living as Citizens of Heaven
|Jubilate Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| April 17, 2016| 1 Peter 2:11-20|
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 1 Peter 2:11-20
The Communists called it the opiate of the masses. Preachers of the social gospel called it the pie in the sky, by and by, when you die. Comedians told jokes about it. Secularists derided it. But Christians took it to heart, embraced it in faith, and, trusting in its truth, lived free and confident lives. I am talking about the promise of eternal life in heaven – the one hope to which all Christians are called.
St. Peter says we are sojourners and pilgrims. We are foreigners. Our home is heaven. It is the place that Jesus promised to prepare for us. It is the place he purchased by his blood. It is where we belong. We don’t belong here. This is not our home. We belong there. But we are here. So we live lives that show humility and respect toward those whose home this is.
During the 1963-64 schoolyear my father studied in Oslo, Norway and the family lived on an island on the Oslo Fjord called Nesøya near a little town called Sandvika where our family attended the Norwegian public schools. A few years later, during the 1968-69 schoolyear, my father studied in Strasbourg, France, where the family attended the French public schools. I learned something about being an American while I was living as a foreigner in Norway and France. Some people are curious about you. Some people are interested in you. And some people judge you. When they judge you, they aren’t just judging you, they are judging America. You are the American. That’s the way it is.
Christians do not live under God’s judgment. We are free from that. That’s what it means to be redeemed. God’s law cannot convict us because Christ has met its demands and borne sin’s wages. We live as free citizens of heaven. But we do live under judgment – not God’s, but the world’s. They are watching. They are judging. They are putting Christ and his church on trial, looking to what we say and do as evidence. So St Peter writes,
Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
And again, he writes,
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
We Christians claim citizenship in another country. Here is what St. Peter writes in the two verses before our text:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
God’s nation is holy. It lasts forever. We confess in the Creed, “Whose kingdom shall have no end.” As Gabriel said to Mary,
And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.
Christians belong to that kingdom. It is here on earth. Christ is present with his church. “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It is there in heaven, as St. Paul writes to the Colossians:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
We are here and we are there at the same time. Our true home is where Christ is. He is the head of the body. Since he is at the right hand of God the Father, we are there with him. That’s our home.
But here we are. We are righteous, clothed with the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. But we live in bodies that want the opposite of what God wants. Peter calls this “fleshly lusts.” He’s not talking about wanting food and drink, clothing, shelter, and the various needs of the body for which we pray when we ask God for our daily bread. He’s not talking about the joys of life that God gives us in this world: having a good job that gives you valuable things to do; having a faithful husband or wife who loves you; having children who respect and honor you; having a safe place to live. He’s talking about sins that war against the soul. “Fleshly lusts” refers to the desire to put yourself above everyone else and to think that the world revolves around you.
The ancient Greeks told a story about a fellow name Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. People who are in love with themselves and regard everyone else as of little importance are known as narcissists. Psychiatrists and psychologists put narcissism into a psychological category with a technical definition, but the Bible addressed this long before social scientists came along. People permit their own fleshly lusts to rule their souls. They put themselves above all human law, refusing to be bound by the will of others. They think they are the center of the universe. They defy the rules and laws that govern us all because they are special. They don’t need rules.
This selfish, self-centered, self-love lies within us all. It wars against our souls because it wars against the Holy Spirit and faith. Faith isn’t our ascent into heaven. It is our receiving here on earth the treasures of heaven and finding in the gospel of Christ our true dignity, worth, and value. This isn’t a spiritual virtue. It is trust. It believes God when he says, “I forgive you for Christ’s sake. You are free.” Faith receives forgiveness. It doesn’t earn it. It doesn’t produce it. It doesn’t establish it. It receives it and nothing more.
The same Holy Spirit who produces the faith in our hearts that receives the forgiveness of sins also changes us on the inside so that we want to please God. He forgives and he puts to death our sinful passion. These go together. This is true freedom. When God forgives us he frees us from his judgment. When God forgives us he frees us from the domination of our own sinful flesh. The flesh is still there, but he cannot rule over us. The Spirit who forgives us transforms us, renews us, and convinces us that we have nothing we need to grasp, nothing we need to prove, and no carnal battle we need to fight.
We can submit to rules, even stupid rules, not for the sake of the rules, not even for the sake of those who require that we obey them, but for the Lord’s sake. We submit to the rules for the sake of Jesus, who has set us free from divine judgment by bearing that judgment in his own body.
We can submit to unfair treatment. We don’t need to do battle against those who offend our pride, show us disrespect, or stand in unfair and unkind judgment against us. St. Paul addresses this spiritual freedom we enjoy where he writes:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (Romans 8:31-34)
When Christ fights for you, you don’t have to fight for yourself. St. Peter writes that we are free, but that we shouldn’t use our freedom as a cloak for vice. That’s how to lose it. Forgiveness of sin frees us from the sin that lies within. If we could learn that the sin within our own hearts hurts us more than the sin others do against us we would gain true wisdom. Putting up with unfair, arbitrary, incompetent bullies may seem like a terrible burden to bear. But consider. When you tolerate the daily garbage that sinners in a sinful world throw on you your clothes remain clean and shining white. For you didn’t wash them. Jesus did. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. That’s freedom. It’s freedom from your own passions. It’s freedom from the resentment that grabs hold of you when you feel the compulsion to fight the fellow who took advantage of you. Before God you have no debt to pay. To your neighbor, do what love requires.
If your life were to flash before your eyes and you could see it vividly in its totality do you think you would regret those times that you patiently put up with what was unfair? Would you, with heaven as your goal, want another opportunity to stick it to the guy who stuck it to you?
No, our lives here on earth are hidden in Christ. He is our life. He is the manifestation of divine love. And while his love is not perfected in us as long as we live in these dying bodies, in heaven it will be. There God’s children who knew Christ by faith here on earth will be conformed perfectly to his image in glory. No sin enters there. No death, no curse, no fear, no sorrow, no regret, and no judgment will mar the perfect joy of that place. That’s our home. This is no pie in the sky, by and by, when we die. This defines our live here and now. We are Christians. When this world scorns our most sacred hope, Christ is not ashamed to claim us as his own.