This past Sunday I began preaching through 1 Peter, and as I spent time with the opening of the letter, there was a phrase that captured my attention and hasn’t let go.
Peter addresses the letter “To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…” (1:1 ESV)
Maybe you’ve had a job interview where you’ve been asked to describe yourself in two or three words (which is a ridiculous question actually), but what if you were asked to describe your identity as a Christian in two or three words? Could you do it?
I think the phrase “elect exile” is about as complete and faithful of an answer that we could give to something like that. It’s a loaded phrase, but an important one.
We are elect, chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), or, as Peter puts it, “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood” (1:2 NIV).
Aside from being one of the most important verses in Scripture for Trinitarian theology, it reveals the beautiful truth that we are chosen by the Father, cleansed by the Son, and sealed and remade by the Spirit. This is what it means to be elect.
But we are also exiles. Peter was writing to believers scattered throughout Asia Minor, but the truth remains the same for us today. We wander through an unbelieving world that is blind to the things of God, hostile to the Gospel, and exists in a state of open rebellion against its Creator. It is only because we have been called out of that fallen world that we can now think of ourselves as exiles, sojourners, aliens, or strangers here.
We are elect exiles, and I think that is an identity that Christians need to reclaim and embrace. Here’s why:
- If you are not chosen, called, and cleansed by God, then it means it’s all up to you and all bets are off. It means your identity rests on “how serious you were” when “you chose God”. That’s a dangerous game to play. It only leads to doubt and the idea that “this time I really mean it”–and not only is that a dead-end road, but it’s also unbiblical. Your relationship with God is sure and unshakable because you didn’t create it or initiate it. Grace has been given us in abundance (v. 2). Cling to this precious truth.
- If we are not exiles, then this world is as good as it gets and eternity holds no real hope. It should be clear that we are sojourners and strangers in a world that is increasingly hostile to the Gospel. Intolerance and persecution will undoubtedly increase in coming years. This isn’t to depress you, but to remind you that when we feel ostracized or marginalized—or just plain lost—within our culture, we must remember that this world is not our home, that we are refugees and exiles in an unbelieving world that is antagonistic to God and his Christ. This can be unsettling, which is why Peter also says that we have been given peace in abundance (v. 2).
Throughout Scripture, God often calls people to himself and then sets them to wandering (think Abraham, Moses, etc). Yet never—then or now—are God’s people called to just close their eyes to what is going on in the world around them, tap their ruby slippers together and say, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” Nor are we called to be openly hostile to the world. Instead, we are called to patiently endure, to love and serve others (Jesus said, “even those who persecute you”), and to remember who we are.
If you are clinging to Jesus Christ in faith and pursuing him as his disciple, then you are an elect exile.
But you are not lost.