From the very beginning of his letter to the Christians of Roman Asia, Peter has been telling them that they are the continuation of the Old Testament people of God, the ancient people of Israel.
And this was very important for these Christians to hear, because they had a unique problem.
See, the Roman empire was aggressively colonizing that part of the world, deleting old cultural and national identities, and rewriting them with a new, universal, Roman identity. The basic Roman rule was this: if you accept our identity, you will do well. If you resist, you will be crushed.
And most of the cultures and religions of the world at the time accepted their new Roman identity.
Or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that they had no choice. This is because the cultures and religions of the world were all national cultures and religions, each one connected to a national political system. Once Rome came in and took over those national political systems, there was no point in the national cultures or religions resisting anymore. Their kings had been conquered, the Roman emperor was in charge, and everyone had to just make the best of it.
In essence: politics and religion always rode together in the same cart. So defeating a nation’s king meant defeating that nation’s gods. Replacing a nation’s political identity meant — eventually — replacing that nation’s religious identity.
Besides, Roman colonization had come with a lot of benefits — new cities, new technologies, new opportunities, more prosperity, a better standard of living — so there were a lot of incentives for people to give up their old national cultures and religions and become thoroughly Roman.
Christianity was very different.
It was not a national religion. It was not connected to a national political system. It was not even tied to just one ethnic group or language. Christianity was an international religion — really, the first of its kind.
And this gave Christianity a huge advantage that no other religion had: it was decentralized, non-political, and therefore unbeatable. There was no Christian king to defeat; there was no Christian nation to conquer; there was no Christian political system to replace.
But this international quality also created a unique problem for the Christians of the Roman empire: a question of identity.
Every other religion in the empire had a national connection, a national identity. Sure, those national identities were quickly being woven into a larger Roman identity, ruled by a Roman emperor, but still there was a sense of cultural continuity for everyone else in the empire. People knew who they were, and they knew who their neighbors were. A Greek was someone who spoke the Greek language, lived according to Greek culture, and practiced Greek religion. A German was someone who spoke the German language, lived according to German culture, and practiced German religion. Now, Greeks and Germans in the Roman empire despised each other, but at least they had a stereotype to cling to. They could roll their eyes and say, “Yeah, well, that’s just how ‘those people’ are.”
Christians did not have a national identity that could be woven into the larger Roman identity. The churches of Roman Asia had Greeks and Germans and dozens of other nations worshiping together. This was confusing for people outside the Church — and it was confusing for people inside the Church.
The question was starting to be asked: how are we supposed to define ourselves? My parents spoke German and worshiped German gods, but now I speak German and Greek, I worship the Jewish God, but I pay taxes to Rome. So am I German? Greek? Jewish? Roman? Some combination of everything? And if the person beside me in worship is some other combination of backgrounds, then…what is our collective identity?
This is why Peter, from the very beginning of his letter, has been telling these Christians that they are God’s elect, God’s chosen people: they are the new nation of Israel.
But Peter has also been very careful to say that they are not a nation in the classic political, linguistic, and ethnic sense. They are the new nation of Israel, but they did not become this new nation by learning Jewish language, Jewish culture, or Jewish religion. They had become the new nation of Israel in the same way the original nation of Israel had become a nation: through baptism.
The original nation of Israel was baptised at the foot of Mount Sinai in Arabia, shortly after God had led them out of their slavery in Egypt. This is how it worked: Moses — their messiah — introduced God to them and asked them if they wanted to be God’s people. When they said yes, Moses sacrificed a bunch of bulls, collected their blood in bowls, and sprinkled the people with it, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.” And that ritual transformed them into God’s people, God’s nation.
Well, in the same way, Peter has made it clear that these Christians of Roman Asia were baptized at the foot of Mount Calvary in Jerusalem, the hill where Jesus was crucified. This is how it worked: the first Christian preachers came and introduced Jesus to them and asked them if they wanted to be Jesus’ people. When they said yes, the preachers sprinkled the people with clean water, which symbolized the reality that they had already been sprinkled with Jesus’ blood. And that ritual transformed them into God’s people.
Which is great!
But it leaves the larger question unanswered: how are these Christians of Roman Asia supposed to define themselves now? We understand this new nation of Israel is not supposed to be a nation in the classic political, linguistic, and ethnic sense. But what kind of nation is it supposed to be then? When people ask them who they are, and they say, “We are Christians,” what is that supposed to mean if it is not supposed to be defined by language, ethnicity, culture, or politics?
Well, Peter says today, the first defining point of your new identity is this: you are God’s children. God is your Father. That is what happened when you were sprinkled with Jesus’ blood: you received God’s name, you received God’s Spirit, you began to share in God’s DNA.
“So now,” Peter goes on in verse 14, as obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
In other words: the first defining point of their new identity leads directly to the second defining point. Because these Christians now share in God’s spiritual DNA, that DNA must now begin to show up in their behaviour.
The basic principle is this: children resemble their parents from birth, and as they grow up they learn to resemble their parents’ behaviour. These people of Roman Asia used to be the children of other gods, and so their lives resembled the lives of those gods.
And if you know anything about the lives of the ancient gods, then you know that their lives were driven by evil desires. Egyptian gods, Greek and Roman gods, German gods, Babylonian gods were all the same: power-mad drunkards and gluttons, murderers and rapists, liars and back-biters and petty gossips. And so, quite naturally, the lives of those who worshiped those gods were driven by the same evil desires.
Peter is saying, “Look, friends, you have a new God and Father now, and as obedient children, your lives need to begin to resemble his:
 Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;  for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Okay. That sounds like a very high standard: be holy in all you do?
But, before we freak out, probably we should ask: what does Peter mean when he says, ”be holy”?
Well, Peter has just quoted, “Be holy, because I am holy,” which is something that God says to his people several times in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. So we had better look back at the Book of Leviticus and find out what “be holy” means there.
And when we read the Book of Leviticus, we discover that it is full of very detailed instructions about how to be holy.
And we actually read some of those detailed instructions together today in worship, during our Reading of the Law. And some of those instructions make sense: Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not go about spreading slander. But some of those instructions are very odd: Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it. Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head…
Is this really what Peter means when he says, “be holy”? Does he want Christians to follow all these detailed rules?
See, the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament is just one part of a much larger story. And so, really, if we want to understand what Peter is saying about Leviticus, we need to understand what Leviticus was saying. And to understand that we need to understand when Leviticus was written, and why.
So: Moses wrote the Book of Leviticus right after the people of Israel were baptised at the foot of Mount Sinai in Arabia. They had just been redeemed from slavery and transformed into God’s holy nation.
And so, of course, they needed a clear description of what it means to be a “holy nation”.
Now, God had already given them a clear description of what a holy nation looks like: ten simple rules that we now call the 10 Commandments. Essentially, the 10 Commandments contain the complete description of what God means when he tells people to “be holy.”
But God knew that his people — the ancient people of Israel — were still very young. They had just been redeemed from slavery to Egyptian gods and Egyptian patterns of behaviour. They had no practical experience to help them know how to apply these 10 simple Commandments to the situations of their everyday life as free people.
So God gave them some specific examples to help get them started. Many of those specific examples are found in the Book of Leviticus.
So, for instance, the 8th commandment says, “You shall not steal.” Simple enough. But, for the sake of clarity, a wise person might ask: what does God mean by the word “steal”?
Well, in Leviticus 19:13, God starts with the simple command: “Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.” Then he goes on to give a specific example: “Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.”
So: not paying a worker on time is a kind of stealing. That is a useful detail.
Or, for instance, the 5th commandment says, “Honour your father and your mother.” Again: simple enough. But we might want to ask: what does “honour” look like?
Well, in Leviticus 19:32, God tells the ancient people of Israel to “stand up in the presence of the aged.” In other words: don’t make them stand if you are sitting. Be considerate: give them your seat.
And there are hundreds more just like that in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Now, this is important for us to understand: when God had Moses write down all those hundreds of detailed applications of the 10 Commandments, he was not writing down hundreds of new commandments, he was giving his people hundreds of examples of how the 10 Commandments could be applied to hundreds of different circumstances. All those detailed examples were designed to be guidelines that would help the nation of Israel grow up and discover the underlying pattern: the fact that God’s Law is all about love from beginning to end.
And: it worked. The ancient people of Israel did discover the underlying pattern. They understood that the 10 Commandments contain the complete description of what God means when he tells people to “be holy,” and they understood that those 10 Commandments can actually be boiled down to two: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
In short: the Book of Leviticus was written to help the ancient people of Israel understand that, “Be holy because I am holy,” means “love the way God loves.”
But how does that explain those weird examples? What does love have to do with clothing woven of two kinds of material, or eating meat with the blood still in it? What does love have to do with hairstyle?
Well, Peter actually answers that question next:
 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.
These Christians of Roman Asia have been asking Peter how they are supposed to define their collective identity, since they come from so many different backgrounds. Peter started by reminding them that their baptism in Jesus’ blood gave them God’s DNA. Then he went on to outline the first implication of that: having God’s DNA means acting like God.
Now, he has outlined the second implication: having God’s DNA also means not acting like anyone else. That is what he means when he says live out your time as foreigners here.
And once we think about it, that makes perfect sense: the God of ancient Israel is absolutely unique in comparison to all the other gods. Therefore, we should expect God’s nation to be absolutely unique in comparison to all the other nations.
In other words, back in the Book of Leviticus, when God first told his people, “Be holy because I am holy,” he was not just saying, “Be like me,” he was also saying, “Do not be like the other nations.”
And this helps explain all those weird instructions about clothing, and food, and hairstyle.
So, for instance: the other nations in the area at that time used to weave two kinds of material into their clothing. This was a very expensive process. So in those cultures, wearing a robe with two kinds of material was like driving around in a Ferrari today: it was a way of publically boasting about your wealth and status.
God was telling his people: don’t be like that. You are all my children, so you are all equally valuable in my sight. So, even if some you are rich, wear ordinary clothing as a way of demonstrating that you are all equal — and this diffference will be a testimony to all the other nations that you are a different kind of people who worship a different kind of God.
In the same way, eating meat with the blood in it was something the other nations in the area at that time used to do, and like many superstitious people they probably believed that by drinking the animal’s blood they were drinking the animal’s spirit and making themselves stronger.
God was telling his people: don’t do like that. My Spirit is the source of your strength, not animal spirits. So do not drink the blood of animals — and this difference will be a testimony to all the other nations that you are a different kind of people who worship a different kind of God.
So also, the pagan priests of the other nations in the area at that time probably shaved their heads in various patterns as a sign that they were dedicated to various gods. And this was a way of boasting about their spiritual wealth and status.
God was telling his people: don’t do that. You are all equally dedicated to me. So please do not invent special “religious” hairstyles! And the fact that you do not have “religious” hairstyles will be a testimony to all the other nations that you are a different kind of people who worship a different kind of God — a God who cares about hearts, not haircuts.
And these are just a few examples.
If we went line by line through Leviticus, looking at the cultural background behind all the weirdest instructions, we would find that they made sense at the time, because they were specific examples of how not to be like the nations next door.
So what we are finding here is that, when Peter quotes from Leviticus, “Be holy, because I am holy,” he is not telling the Christians of Roman Asia to live according to all the detailed rules of Leviticus. All those detailed rules were specific applications for the ancient people of Israel in particular. All those detailed rules were designed to teach them either: what love should look like in their particular context, or: what love should not look like in their particular context. All those detailed rules were designed to teach them either: how to be like God, or: how not to be like the nations next door.
Peter is not telling the Christians of Roman Asia to live according to all the detailed rules of Leviticus, he is telling them to live according to the underlying principles of Leviticus. And the underlying principles of Leviticus are these: holiness means loving like God loves, and not loving the way other nations love. Holiness means being like God, and not being like everyone else.
Here is another way to think about the relationship between God’s Old Testament Law and God’s New Testament principles:
The Book of Leviticus was written when Israel was still a new-born nation. Like very young children, they needed very detailed guidance to help them grow up the way they should.
But the Christians of Roman Asia have been grafted into a grown-up nation of Israel. Like mature adults, they are supposed to be ruled by principles — not by the hundreds of niggling rules their Father used to keep them out of trouble when they were little.
For instance, when I was small my mom told me to never, never touch the stove. Now that I am grown up, I am not ashamed to say that — sometimes — I actually touch the stove. And, what is more: I do not feel guilty about that! I do not call my mom and confess that I have disobeyed her — but that’s because I understand now that when my mom said, “Don’t touch the stove,” what she meant was, “I don’t want you to burn yourself!” I do not need to feel guilty when I touch the stove now, because every time I touch the stove without burning myself I am actually obeying my mom’s law.
In the same way, Peter is expecting the Christians of Roman Asia to read God’s Old Testament Law and understand — as adults — how to obey the underlying purposes of that Law. Some parts of God’s Old Testament Law are universal rules for all people at all times; some parts were specific examples of how those universal rules could be applied. Peter is expecting these Christians to know the difference between universal rules and specific applications. And he is expecting them to figure out how to apply those principles to their particular situation in the Roman empire.
But no matter what — no matter how those details work out — Peter is saying that a proper application of God’s principles must result in these Christians living out their time as foreigners in the Roman empire.
If they end up living as natives of the empire, looking and acting just like their neighbors, then — Peter is saying — they are doing something wrong. And God will judge them for it.
Because, Peter says,  you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,  but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
Basically, this is what Peter is saying: before the creation of the world, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit put together their plan of redemption, and they decided that it would be the Son who would go, and be born as a man, and shed his blood as a sacrifice lamb without blemish or defect. That shed blood obviously contains God’s DNA. When a person is sprinkled with Jesus’ blood, they receive God’s DNA, God’s identity, God’s holiness. They become God’s child, and they automatically become a foreigner.
But it is not enough for someone to be baptized and then simply call themselves God’s child — they must also begin to act as God’s child, they must also begin to act like a foreigner. If they do not begin to live out their time as a foreigner, if they do not begin to live out their time as God’s child, if they continue to put their faith in perishable things such as silver and gold, then they they are turning their own baptism into a lie.
And the person who turns their baptism into a lie is going to be judged by God. Because their baptism was paid for by the precious blood of God’s Son. And if anyone treats the blood of God’s Son with contempt, then the Father will definitely treat them with contempt!
And that, friends, is a sobering thought, isn’t it!
That is the sort of thing that makes us pause and wonder, “What about us? Are we, as a church community, living out our time as foreigners here in KL? If we are living as foreigners, are we being foreign enough? For that matter: how much is foreign enough?”
And those are exactly the sorts of questions we should be asking of ourselves and one another. In fact, asking those questions is exactly what Peter means when he commands us to live out our time as foreigners here. We should always be looking at God’s Law, looking at our lives, and looking at the nations, trying to figure out if we are living as foreigners here in any fundamental way.
And if the answer is, ”no, we are the same as everyone else,” then we should take warning. Because, from beginning to end here today, Peter has been saying that if we actually share in God’s DNA, then we are going to start acting like God, and we are going to stop acting like everyone else. Therefore, if we find ourselves living and acting like everyone else in our world, then this could be a sign that we do not actually share in God’s DNA, and we had better be preparing ourselves for Judgement Day.
…now: that feeling, right there, that we all just shared?
That is what reverent fear feels like.
Reverent fear is the chill that comes when we wonder whether we are truly living as God’s children. Reverent fear is that feeling we get when we think about what it will be like to stand before God on Judgement Day.
Reverent fear is not a pleasant experience.
But Peter is telling us that reverent fear is a necessary part of the Christian life. Because reverent fear is what keeps us from becoming complacent, it is what keeps us asking those hard questions about our lives.
And then, when we have asked those hard questions, it is reverent fear that turns us trembling back to seek the source of our salvation: Jesus Christ himself.
And that is exactly what Peter does next.
He started today by telling his readers that they are now God’s children, paid for by the precious blood of God’s Son. Then he told them what behaviour their Father expects of them. He let them experience the chill of fear that comes from realizing that they are not measuring up to their Father’s expectations, that they are not worthy of the high price that was paid for them. And now Peter turns their eyes back to Christ:
 Through him — through Jesus — you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
Reverent fear asks the question: are we measuring up to our Father’s expectations? Are we worthy of the price that was paid for us?
And the Gospel answers: no! But: yes. By our Father’s grace: yes.
We fail to be holy in all we do. We fail to love as deeply as God loves. We fail to live as complete foreigners among the nations of the world.
But the blood of Christ does not fail. And it was the sprinkled blood of Christ that baptized us and transformed us and redeemed us from the empty way of life handed down to us from our ancestors. It was the sprinkled blood of Christ that raised us from the dead, and gave us God’s DNA, and set us apart for his glory. And so our faith and hope are in God.
So: the Christians of Roman Asia had a problem. They were too diverse! They had no single national identity. The Roman empire was encouraging them — and everyone else — to resolve this by accepting Roman rule and a Roman identity. But the Christians of Roman Asia knew they could not accept Roman identity or rule because they were already ruled by someone else: Jesus Christ.
So they needed to know: how are we supposed to define our collective identity when we do not have a national king or a national homeland or even a national language?
Peter’s answer was quite simple: Christians are defined by their baptism, and then by their behaviour, which is supposed to be different…as different as the God they worship. In other words: Christians are made holy by their baptism when the sprinkled blood of Jesus removes their sins. Then their behaviour begins to prove that they have been made holy by the sprinkled blood of Jesus.
And Peter went back to the Old Testament to show that, really, it has always been this way for God’s people. The original people of Israel were also defined first by their baptism — made holy by their baptism — and then defined by their obedience to God’s Law: it was expected that they would live holy lives as an earthly reflection of their God’s holy character.
Well, even today, nothing has changed. Christianity was the first truly international religion in the world, and it still is the only truly international religion in the world. We have no earthly center, we are not connected to any national political system, we are not even tied to just one ethnic group or language.
So how are we supposed to define our collective identity? How are we supposed to recognize one another? And how are people outside our nation supposed to recognize us?
We are supposed to recognize one another through our baptism and our behaviour, and people from other nations, other religions, are supposed to recognize us the same way.
If someone asks, “Who are you?” our first answer should be, “We are Christians.”
And then, when they ask, “What is a Christian?” we should say: “A Christian is a person who has been baptized into Jesus Christ, and who no longer conforms to the evil desires they had when they lived in ignorance. A Christian is a person who has been made holy on the inside, and who then lives that holiness on the outside.”
The next question, of course, is going to be: “What is holiness for a Christian?” And this is an important question for us to answer clearly. Because for most people in the world, the word “holiness” is a religious word. For most people, holiness means acting out certain religious rituals, or wearing certain religious clothing, having a certain religious haircut, eating certain religious foods, or even speaking a certain religious language. Even non-religious people have these ideas, and even non-religious people have their own definitions of holiness: it might be a certain political ideology that makes a person “holy”, or certain views on justice or gender…just like in the Roman empire 2000 years ago, politics and religion always ride together in the same cart.
So when someone asks us, “What is holiness for a Christian? Is it a special ritual you do? Does it come from a special haircut? Do you become holy when you vote for the right things?” then we need to answer clearly and say, “No! Nothing like that! Christian holiness happens in everyday life, and it is defined by love. When we love our God, we are being holy. When we love our neighbors, we are being holy. It is as simple as that.”
But then our friends are going to want to know, “How do you define love?”
…and that is the question Peter is going to be answering for the rest of his letter. So if you are interested in that answer you will need to come back next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, for a while. Because Peter is going to go into quite a bit of detail as he outlines the principles of Christian love.
So do make sure to come back for that.
In the meantime, however, let’s finish with the question we always ask: what is our application? What are we supposed to do with this information? How does this change our lives?
Well, Peter began his letter by calling us “God’s elect exiles.” From the start, he has been telling us that we are foreigners, that we have been foreigners from the moment we were baptized in Jesus’ blood.
Today, Peter told us to purposely start living as foreigners. Our foreignness, our refugee status, is not something we should resist, or work against — we are supposed to embrace it. We are supposed to be different from all the other nations in the world, because the God we worship is different from the gods worshiped by all the other nations in the world. “We are holy already,” Peter is saying, “so be holy!”
But understand that our holiness, our foreignness, has nothing to do with clothing or haircuts or language or ethnicity. Christians are not supposed to look different from everyone else, we are supposed to be different, we are supposed to act different, we are supposed to be motivated at a fundamental level by a completely different set of values.
And this command to live as foreigners here is really important, Peter says, because our Father will judge our works based on our obedience in this matter. Why? Because he spend the precious blood of his Son to redeem us from the empty way of life handed down to us by our ancestors. If we treat that gift scornfully, and keep on trying to save ourselves by adopting the values and identities of the nations all around us —
Well, then: we are basically proving that we never did have God’s DNA. In which case, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
…but now, after the reverent fear of that moment, we are going to close as Peter did: with the Good News. We are commanded to live as foreigners in this world because we are foreigners in this world. But because we are foreigners in this world…we are going to end up living as foreigners, we are going to be redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to us by our ancestors. That is our guarantee: that is our Gospel.
But how do we know? How does that work?
Like this: through our baptism in the sprinkled blood of Jesus, we have become obedient children who call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially. In other words: God has called us to be holy — but as obedient children we just call right back.
Calling out to God as our Father is the foundational behaviour that makes us foreigners in the first place. Every other nation in the world calls out to some other god, they call out to one another for salvation, they call out to themselves. But we are different because our faith and hope are in God alone.
So, very practically speaking, this is our application, this is what we are going to do: we are going to be holy, we are going to commit ourselves to the process of figuring out what it looks like to live as foreigners here in Kuala Lumper.
Then, we are going to experience reverent fear every time we realize that we are not holy enough, not foreign enough. We are going to wonder if, perhaps, this is a sign that we do not actually share in God’s DNA.
And then we are going to remind one another that our faith and hope are in God, not in ourselves, not in our national or cultural identities, not in our religious performance, not in our silver or gold or anything else.
And then, as obedient children, we are going to repent, and call again upon the Father who called us to be holy, and we are going to call upon him to keep on making us holy, we are going to ask him to finish the work he started on the day he baptized us.
And then we are going to rest in his promise that he will do so.