Imagine you once lived in a place where you felt at home. You were comfortable, you conformed. You looked, acted, thought, and talked like those around you.
Now imagine you suddenly find yourself a stranger. You no longer identify by the same standards. Your speech is unintelligible. Your thoughts are incompatible. You no longer conformed, you are no longer comfortable.
That was reality for first century Christians. They came from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. They lived in Roman provinces. They became disciples of the Christ, and their home became heaven. They became sojourners through a land no longer their own.
This exile is not for them alone, but also for us. People of faith have always been called to be exiles (see Hebrews 11:13). Those to whom Peter wrote were Christian exiles (1 Peter 1:1). The life they lived was to be time spent in exile (1 Peter 1:17). What does all this mean? Who are pilgrims? How are they to live? Where are they going?
Who are pilgrims?
According to Peter, pilgrims are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9a). We are people gathered from all the earth to be one race and one nation. It matters not your place of birth, your skin color, or your economic standing. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). We should not be possessed by this world, but possessed by God. The world is full of darkness, and we were called out of that into light.
How are we to live?
We live as sojourners and exiles (1 Peter 2:11 a). A sojourner is one who lives in a place without the right of citizenship. They are resident aliens. An exile is one who comes from a foreign country into a city or land to reside there temporarily. As Abraham went to live in a foreign land (Hebrews 11:9), so Christians reside in a foreign land.
We live as ones engaged in a spiritual war (1 Peter 2:11b). “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We do not fight against people who think differently than us. We fight against sin which destroys our soul.
We live as salt and light (1 Peter 2:12). While we are not of this world we are still in this world. We cannot retreat. Rather we must live honorable lives, lives that stand in direct contrast to the lives of those around us (Matthew 5:13-16).
We live as in submission to authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17). We submit to every human institution. It is not the Christian’s right to rebel against political leaders. If we live such a life we can “put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15). Even wicked leaders should be honored (1 Peter 2:17). Honoring our leaders means more than just grudgingly obeying the laws, it means true respect.
Where are we going?
God asks us to give up something of temporary value (a home on this earth) for something of eternal value. While we are strangers, pilgrims, exiles, and sojourners on this earth, we are fellow citizens with the saints. “So then you are no longer strangers and exiles and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20-21). So we traverse our time here knowing that this is a temporary place with temporary trials and temporary pain. But we also traverse our time here knowing that something far greater awaits us. If we await something far greater, then how we live here takes on added significance. We ought to live lives of holiness and godliness (2 Peter 3:11). We must “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace (2 Peter 3:14).
The life of a pilgrim is one of great significance. For such a life shows to all the world that a temporary life lived for Jesus leads to an eternal life lived with Jesus.