Living as Aliens – Aliens from What?
In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter speaks of his audience “as aliens and exiles.” This language has often been used to foster a dualistic approach to Christianity that sees believers as exiles on earth from their heavenly home. The idea is summed up in the old gospel tune, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” The problem arises when an escapist theology develops in which believers are simply biding their time until they are whisked off to heaven and away from this earth. In such a framework, there is little to no thought given to the bodily resurrection or the new creation. This perspective is radically dualistic and deeply unbiblical. So, from what are Christians alien and exiled? Peter gives three indications as to what he means, none of which have anything to do with our residence on the planet Earth.
First, as aliens and exiles Peter encourages his hearers to “abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul” (11). For Peter, this alienation and exile is to be understood in terms of the flesh or the life lived apart from the Spirit of God. Unbelievers live in one way and nurture certain desires. Believers are to live another way resisting ungodly desires which destroy their lives. So, this exile is couched not in terms of where we live but of how we live, whether we live lives of godly character and holiness. Christians are exiles because we are not at home with the values and desires of unbelievers.
Second, Peter instructs the aliens and exiles to live “honorably among the Gentiles (or nations)” (12). Once again, the issue here is character. Peter’s hearers are interspersed among the nations and he expects them to live a certain way. Specifically, he expects them to live lives that glorify God. The reference to the nations does not indicate that they are not at home on the planet. It indicates that their honorable living sets them apart from those unbelievers amonst whom they live. Once again, the matter of distinction and alienation is a matter of character, not location. We are aliens becuase our living is distinguishable from the unbelievers all around.
Third, Peter exhorts his hearers to live honorably so that their deeds will glorify God when he comes (12). The perspective here is not one of escapism. Rather, Peter, with the rest of scripture, looks forward to the day when God’s glorious presence will be manifest on earth to reign and judge without hindrance or opposition. If God is coming to earth, one should not be hoping to escape it. If God is coming to the world, then it will be both his home and the home of his people.
Christians are not exiled from heaven on earth. For Peter, Christians are exiles with regard to the values, desires, and character of those who do not belong to Christ. We need to recover the concept that God made this world, declared it good, and is committed to its redemption. He is working to restore it. He has no plans to destroy it. We are going to be here for a very long time, forever in fact, as will our Triune God who made us for fellowship with himself on this planet. This earth is definitely our home.