Why Should Christians be Separate From the World? What Does This Mean!? (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Separation
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If you read the New Testament, you’ve read that Christians are supposed to be different from the world around us. Why does Peter tell us to be separate from the world? What’s the point? Are Christians somehow “better” than everyone else? Are unbelievers somehow inferior people, folks not worthy to be around? Is that what Peter is talking about? Not at all, that is silly and ridiculous reasoning. I hope you don’t believe that. Peter certainly didn’t!

Today, we’ll take a very honest and important look at why Christians are supposed to be separate from the world.

WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE SEPARATE FROM THE WORLD (v.11):

 

11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;

 

Peter starts out on a sympathetic, friendly note. He writes, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you . . .” I want to point out how Peter is motivating his readers to live Christian lives. He doesn’t just issue commands, like some kind of dictator. He could have done that, but he didn’t. He just appeals to his readers, and us, to do what we already know is right.[1] As Christians, let’s be very honest – we already know we’re obligated to live holy lives as best we can. We just don’t do it. Peter is telling them to remember who they are, so that they’ll be stirred up to actually live like it. So, what are we as believers? 

Peter says that all believer are “as strangers and pilgrims . . .” We don’t have citizenship in this world; if we’re children of God we have heavenly citizenship. That’s why God’s people have always considered themselves different from the world around them. God’s people have always failed when they allowed the influences of this world (which Scripture says is energized and influenced by Satan [Ephesians 2:1-3]) to direct their thoughts, attitudes and actions. We see this after the Fall, when the descendants of Seth intermingled with the Cainite apostates are corrupted the entire earth (Gen 6:1-5). King David also understood this. Read his words here: 

“Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were,” (Psalm 39:12).

David confessed that he was stranger on the earth, a wanderer who was passing through this world! The writer of Hebrews says that all the Old Testament saints had this mindset: 

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city,” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Think about how zealous we are about being patriotic Americans in this country. However, we ought to be even more patriotic and zealous about our real citizenship in God’s kingdom. Are we? How do we show our Godly patriotism? Peter begs us that, because we are strangers and pilgrims here in this sin-cursed world, we must “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.

I want to re-read something I just quoted about the Old Testament believers from the Book of Hebrews: 

“But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city,” (Hebrews 11:16).

Do you see that because these folks lived as though they were citizens of God’s kingdom (rather than the world) . . . God wasn’t ashamed of them? Do we realize that God is ashamed of us when we don’t act like His children? We show our patriotism for our real country (the heavenly country we’re citizens of) when we don’t act like the world. Think about it – how do you know a foreigner when you’ve seen one? Because they look different! They look different. They talk different. They dress different. They think different. Everything about them is different!

What happens to a foreigner who lives in this country (or anywhere) for long enough? They assimilate. They “go native.” They lose their rough edges and start to fit in and adapt to their new culture and surroundings. Eventually, you won’t be able to tell they’re foreigners at all.

They may still have accents and be a little bit different, but they adapt to their culture. You definitely won’t be able to tell their kids are foreigners! For all intents and purposes, they’ll be Americans.

Peter says we’re foreigners in this world and we ought to act like it. Peter says that God doesn’t want us to assimilate. He doesn’t want us to “go native.” We live here, love here and die here – but we don’t belong here. We don’t bleed red, white and blue – we bleed Christ. God wants us to keep the distinctive speech, attitudes, actions and demeanor that comes with being a Christian and a citizen of God’s Kingdom. We can’t lose any of that; no, Peter says we have to retain that identity as we live in this fallen world.

We’re commanded to not partake of, stay away from and abstain from “fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” The danger is from within ourselves. It’s our sin that wants to burst out and take control of our lives. Peter says that these desires war against our soul! There is a civil war going on inside our hearts, and Peter says we have the ability to overcome our sin. The Devil doesn’t make a believer do anything. He tempts us and we make a decision to act wrongly

Peter says we’re supposed to act like citizens of God, not citizens of this world.[2] We get upset when people disrespect military members (e.g. elitists who have never served), our national heritage or our country in general. Why do we get upset? Because it’s unpatriotic. It’s “un-American.” It’s arrogant! God gets upset when we have the same attitude about our citizenship in His heavenly country!

HERE’S WHY (v.12):

Here’s why we have to act like citizens of God’s kingdom:

 

12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.

 

Peter says (1) we live holy and honest, Christ-like lives, so that (2) even though unbelievers might slander and speak evil of us, (3) they see our witness and testimony, and (4) that can be a major factor in that person getting saved! God can, and does, use our testimony to lead somebody to the Lord. We’re supposed to be separate from the world (live, think and act differently) so that we’re a testimony for God – more than that, so that we prove all the lies spread about Jesus Christ and Christianity wrong!

Did you know that in the early years of Christianity, there were a whole lot of misconceptions, lies and gossip spread about Christianity that weren’t true? For example;

  1. There were wild accusations that Christians engaged in sexual orgies and incest when they met for worship![3] They based this on the fact that believers called one another “brother” and “sister.” They also misinterpreted the command to love one another as Christ loved them (Jn 13:34-35). This was what unbelievers thought went on at their church meetings. Large doses of lies, gossip, innuendo and hearsay helped these ridiculous charges spread rapidly.
  2. There were rumors that Christians were cannibals! This misunderstanding was based on Jesus’ words, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you,” (John 6:53). There were even scandalous rumors that Christians sacrificed small children during the Lord’s Supper, and drank their blood and ate their flesh![4]
  3. Some unbelievers also believed that Christians were atheists! In a world that only worshipped physical, visible gods, Christians were seen as bizarre because they worshipped an invisible God![5] Unbelievers though to themselves, “at least the Jews worshipped at a temple – you guys don’t even do that!”[6]

Now, all of these are silly, slanderous lies that can easily be proven wrong! Peter says one of the reasons we have to act like Godly people is so that we do prove lies about our Savior wrong. People see us on the one hand, and the accusation on the other, and say to themselves, “no, that can’t be true. So and so would never do that!”

This means that God calls us to be separate from the world, not isolated from the world. We aren’t supposed to go up into the mountains, build communes, bake bread together and build tall, thick walls to keep the world out like modern-day monks. We know that’s wrong because Peter said that the unbelieving world will see how we act and how we live.

CONCLUSION:

God doesn’t want us to be separate from the world because we’re better than everyone else (e.g. “holier than thou,” etc.). He wants us to live like Christians in an unbelieving world so that, by our own example, we can be a light for Christ. It actually would have been easier if God did want us to be monks who isolated ourselves from everybody else! No – what God wants us to do is much harder. He wants us to live each and every day in the world, surrounded by sin and temptation – and to rise above it all and be holy. That’s a lot harder.

God didn’t give us this responsibility to be in the world, but not of the world, to torture us. He’s given us the wonderful responsibility to be a part of His plan of salvation!

—————————————————————–

Footnotes:

[1] “Peter did not command his readers; he appealed to their own sense of what is right. As those who have been born again, he knows that they are able to do what he asks. True holiness is not procured by the application of a compelling external authority, but by awakening and strengthening the personal desire and will of those appealed to,” (D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter, revised ed. [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1992; reprint, Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 2008], 154).

[2] “Called as children of the light, Christians are free. Their freedom, however, binds them to their calling. They are free in bondage to God,” (Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter, The Bible Speaks Today [Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1988; reprint, Kindle edition, 2014], Kindle Location 1394).

[3] For example, in the writings of Minucius Felix from approximately 201 A.D., he relates the charge of a non-Christian who claimed:

“Everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous: it is thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes . . .  On a solemn day they assemble at the feast, with all their children, sisters, mothers, people of every sex and of every age. There, after much feasting, when the fellowship has grown warm, and the fervour of incestuous lust has grown hot with drunkenness, a dog that has been tied to the chandelier is provoked, by throwing a small piece of offal beyond the length of a line by which he is bound, to rush and spring; and thus the conscious light being overturned and extinguished in the shameless darkness, the connections of abominable lust involve them in the uncertainty of fate. Although not all in fact, yet in consciousness all are alike incestuous, since by the desire of all of them everything is sought for which can happen in the act of each individual,” (“The Octavius of Minucius Felix,” Chapter 9, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols., ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885], 4:177, 178).

[4] Felix once again records the same accuser:

“An infant covered over with meal, that it may deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites: this infant is slain by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if to harmless blows on the surface of the meal, with dark and secret wounds. Thirstily—O horror!—they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its limbs. By this victim they are pledged together; with this consciousness of wickedness they are covenanted to mutual silence. Such sacred rites as these are more foul than any sacrileges,” (“Minucius Felix,” Chapter 9, ANF 4:177, 178).

[5] “For why do they endeavour with such pains to conceal and to cloak whatever they worship, since honourable things always rejoice in publicity, while crimes are kept secret? Why have they no altars, no temples, no acknowledged images?” (“Minucius Felix,” Chapter 10, ANF 4:178).

[6] “The lonely and miserable nationality of the Jews worshipped one God, and one peculiar to itself; but they worshipped him openly, with temples, with altars, with victims, and with ceremonies; and he has so little force or power, that he is enslaved, with his own special nation, to the Roman deities. But the Christians, moreover, what wonders, what monstrosities do they feign!—that he who is their God, whom they can neither show nor behold, inquires diligently into the character of all, the acts of all, and, in fine, into their words and secret thoughts; that he runs about everywhere, and is everywhere present,” (“Minucius Felix,” Chapter 10, ANF 4:178).

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