The Pilgrim/Foreigner Mindset
Believer, you need to come to grips with the fact that you are a foreigner! One may protest, “Wait, I was born and raised in this country. It's my home!” As one who has lived even in the same city my whole life, I can certainly understand that sentiment of feeling at home and familiar with one's surroundings. But the book of 1 Peter teaches us that if we are believers in Christ, we really are not at home in this world.
In chapter 1, Peter tantalizes us with the thought that a rich, incorruptible inheritance is being guarded for us (1:4,5). The first imperative of the epistle is “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13). He also speaks of the Christian life as one of “sojourning” (1:17). That is to say, we as pilgrims are traveling through this life but are not yet truly at home. Our true home is future glory as we partake of God's gracious inheritance.
In chapter 2, Peter explicitly calls his readers “strangers (foreigners) and pilgrims” (2:11). In chapter 3, he references the hope (or confident expectation of future glory) believers possess (3:15). Chapter 4 looks ahead to a time when Christ's glory shall be revealed (4:13). In the final chapter he speaks again of a future glory (5:1), the appearance of the chief Shepherd (5:4), and God's calling us to eternal glory (5:10).
Clearly, we as the redeemed people of God are to live with an awareness of future glory. Our minds must not be stuck in mud of this world. There is great purpose in our lives here on earth, but living out this purpose can only be done well through a pilgrim and foreigner mindset. As pilgrims, we recognize that we will not be here forever. We are called to live with a joyful anticipation of finally arriving at our eternal destination. Though we, like Peter's immediate audience, have never seen Christ with our eyes (1:8), we have the sure promise that we will behold Him soon in His majestic glory. Here on earth, we see much that is inglorious, especially the curse and stain of sin and lawlessness. Sin brings death, pain, loss, mourning and numerous other wretched fruits. But, as pilgrims we have sure hope for an inheritance that includes none of those wretched fruits.
Notice some ways this mindset practically helps Christians live out our purpose here on earth:
Endurance and Comfort in Trials
This mindset helps us to endure suffering and trials. Peter was writing to a suffering group of Christians. Some were being mistreated severely by their masters. Some who had been converted to Christ had unbelieving spouses. Some were being maligned in their community for their faith in Christ. And it seems that Peter anticipated more persecution on the horizon for them. Part of the medicine prescribed by the Holy Spirit for these suffering saints was the pilgrim/foreigner mindset. Notice these two passages:
“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1:7)
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (4:12,13)
Don't lose heart. God will test your faith so that at the final appearing of Jesus, there will be praise, honor and glory. Don't panic. As Christ suffered, you also will suffer. But as you share in suffering for His sake, you also will share with Him in glory, and this will bring you exceeding joy! This is the mindset of a Christian pilgrim, a foreigner in this world.
The eternal perspective of the Christian faith is not designed for mere fairy-tale speculation. It has sanctifying implications for daily life. When counseling Christian wives who had unbelieving husbands (3:1-6), Peter exhorted them to let their main focus not be on their physical appearance, but on their internal character 'which is not corruptible.' Christians have been born again. In this Divine work, a new, undying nature of spiritual creation has been planted within them. He calls it 'the hidden man of the heart' in verse 4. Outward, physical beauty, though a gift of God's creation, is a corruptible gift. That is, it will not last forever. Living in bodies still under sin's curse means that physical beauty in this life is limited and fading away. But the hidden person of the heart, the spiritual creation will live on and one day be united with a glorified body. Therefore, the Christian woman is exhorted to put greater emphasis on the development of her beautiful Christ-like character. In doing so, she is saying, “I am a pilgrim. I am not at home in this world. Christ is my ultimate prize and treasure, who has given me a true beauty that will never wrinkle up!”
In a loving and bold exhortation, Peter said in 2:11, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against your soul.” Peter didn't just give a bold exhortation by itself. The exhortation was grounded in an appeal to their spiritual identity. “I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims...” Christians have sinful desires of the flesh just as non-Christians do. We experience temptations and strong urges to satisfy forbidden or illegitimate cravings. Part of the power to help us resist those desires, a spiritual attack on our souls, is remembering that we are pilgrims and foreigners in this world. By faith in the hope of coming glory, we resist. In doing so, we are declaring, “I do not simply live for the fleeting pleasures of sin. I have an eternal inheritance that will fill my soul with indescribable joy and bliss. Earth's pleasures can only last so long. The joys of glory will never cease and never grow old.”
Faithfulness in Ministry
In chapter 5, Peter addressed the elders of the churches. Their high calling is to tend and care for God's flock. They are to willingly take the oversight, with pure motives and living as godly examples. Sadly, even faithful ministers can struggle with the world's ideas of success. Polished image, outward success and popular opinion can cloud the vision of God-called elders. But, the pilgrim mindset comes through yet again even when Peter was addressing the elders. They are to execute their callings with a view to this reality, “When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (5:4). Popular opinion and a polished image will most definitely fade. Therefore, instead of pursuing their own glory in ministry, elders are called to labor with the image of the Chief Shepherd's appearance prominently in their minds. With this mindset, elders will achieve true success in ministry: faithfulness to Christ.
Christian, joyfully own the Pilgrim-Foreigner identity. Seek to be increasingly shaped by it. Hope fully for the glorious appearing of Christ, and know that only then will you be truly at home.