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1 Peter: Living as an Alien, a Foreigner in this World (1:17-21)

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living as an alien

Have you ever wondered what an alien from another world might look like?  Oftentimes we might visualize ET or one of the critters from MIB.  But all you really have to do is look at a Christian, at least one who is truly a follower of Christ.  According to Peter, we are aliens, foreigners to this place, belonging to another world, citizens of the kingdom of God.

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For 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. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1:17-21 NIV

An Empty Way of Life

This passage talks about redemption, or being delivered from one way of life to another. The life we are delivered from is described as “the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors“, a life that we were born into, but also a life that is empty, without meaning.

What purpose did your life have prior to Christ?  It might have been to enjoy life; just to survive; to raise your children; to make the planet a better place for those who follow after you; and to grab all the gusto you can.  But eventually, you die and either cease to exist or continue on in some other form after death.  And what difference then will it make how much you enjoyed life, or how many toys you were able to accumulate? What difference will it make how many trees or salmon you saved? What difference to eternity will anything you do now make?

We are born into this life, live a relatively small number of years, and are gone.  And it is a rare person who is even remembered long after their death.  The life we were born into was empty, without purpose.  But God has redeemed us from that and into a life with purpose; a life that is just now beginning, and will stretch out into eternity.

Exiles and Aliens

This letter was addressed “to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout” what is today the country of Turkey.  But I think it is safe to say that it is also written to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the world today. We oftentimes identify ourselves as God’s elect.  But how often do you think of yourself as an exile, enduring a forced absence from your home?

In the passage shown above, Peter also gives us some instructions on how to spend our time as foreigners, or aliens, here.  This really carries the same idea as being an exile.  This world is not really where I belong.  It is where I find myself temporarily until I am able to go home, to be with Christ.

To Go or To Stay

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Philippians 1:21-24 NIV

Paul expresses the same sentiment in the passage above where he expresses his internal conflict between staying here in the flesh where he might be useful to other believers, and leaving this life to be joined with Christ; identifying the second option as preferable.  Paul was here on Temporary Assigned Duty (TDY) and looking forward to finishing his tour and going home.

As citizens of the kingdom of God, this world is really not our home.  We are here only for a short time, and yet what we do during that time is important.  This section of Peter’s letter is really about living as an alien during our sojourn here; making the most of the time we have.

Living In Fear

Verse 17 in the NIV tells us to live out our lives in reverent fear, but the word reverent is not a part of the original text.  We are called to live out our lives in fear (fear, dread, terror).  That, at least for me, is pretty hard to grasp because that kind of fear is foreign to me, nor is it something I am really interested in experiencing.  So why does he give me this instruction?

Because I call on a God who will impartially judge my works.  It is all too easy for us to just live life here as if it really didn’t matter; I am redeemed and all is good, regardless of what I do now.  But Romans 14:12 says “Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”  That should make clear to us that how we live now, even as believers, makes a difference, and we will be called to give an account to God when we stand before him.  Note also the Parable of the Talents and the accountability that is expected from the servants.

Now I do not believe that we should be paralyzed by fear, but we really should not take God, and his judgment, lightly.  Someday I will stand before him to give an account.  If I really believe that, it should make a difference in what I do today; just thinking about explaining some of my actions and attitudes to God makes me shudder.

Bought With a Price

Redemption has a different application today than it did in Peter’s time. We redeem coupons today. In the world of the Bible, redemption dealt with slavery. When a slave was redeemed, his freedom was being purchased. And the price of the redemption was generally set by the slave’s master.

Here Peter contrasts two prices that can be paid for redemption. The first was the tender used in the purchase of a slave. It took a specific amount of gold or silver coin to purchase a slave’s freedom. And the price would vary depending on the skills of the slave and their value to their master.

But silver and gold were inadequate for our redemption as slaves to sin. Instead, the price of redemption was the blood of Jesus. That price explains why we are expected to live here in reverent fear. God has made the supreme payment to redeem us. And, accordingly, he can rightly expect much from us.

There should be a certain amount of fear involved, realizing that he has invested a lot in me, and probably expects a lot out of me.  I should be driven to live my life here in a way that he would find pleasing, rather than in a way that I find comfortable.  I find it hard to believe that he would invest so much in me, for me to be no different than the people around me.  Am I living up to his expectations?

A Lamb Without Blemish or Defect

Jesus is identified as an unblemished lamb who redeemed us from the empty way of life we once had. I believe that this points back to the Exodus from Egypt. There the Jews were in slavery to the Egyptians. And God redeemed them from that life with a mighty hand (Deut. 7:8; 9:26). And a central part of that deliverance was the Passover lamb, a lamb without defect (Ex. 12:5). This lamb was killed, and its blood placed on the doorframe of the house, protecting the occupants from the death angel.

In 1st Corinthians 5:7 Jesus is identified as our Passover lamb. Rather than redeeming us from Egyptian bondage, we are being delivered from slavery to sin, the empty way of life passed down to us. And rather than a year-old lamb, it is Christ who is sacrificed for us. And instead of the lamb’s blood on the doorframe covering that household, we have Christ’s blood on the cross that covers us.

Chosen Before Creation

It seems common for Christians to believe that God created a perfect world, put perfect people into it, and expected perfection to continue throughout the earth’s history.  And then Adam bit into the apple that Eve offered, the world fell into sin, and God’s plan was frustrated.  As a result, he had to develop a fallback plan, a way to bring us back into the relationship with himself that he desired.  While you may not believe all of that, it is likely that, assuming you are a Christian, you believe, somewhere in the back of your mind, that we messed up God’s original plan and forced him to do something different.

Yet Peter says that before Eve gave Adam the fruit to bite, before this earth was formed, before the Big Bang; Jesus was chosen to be our redeemer.  Do you catch the implication of that?  We did not mess up God’s plan in the garden; Jesus’ death was not something that had to be done to get things back on track; it was the original plan.

But his plan was not made known until the cross. Peter has already expressed (1 Pet. 1:10-12) that the Old Testament prophets and the angels did not understand the prophecies about our salvation. Nor did the rulers of this age understand it (1 Cor. 2:8). But God, in his own perfect time (Gal. 4:4), revealed his plan for our redemption, and gave his Son as a sacrifice for sinful man.

Through Him, You Believe

Through him, you believe in God. It is only through Christ that I can believe in God. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), no one comes to the Father apart from him. Many would claim to believe in God apart from Christ. But they really believe in some other god. It is by believing in Christ that I can really believe in God.

Faith and Hope in God

God raised Jesus from death and seated him in a place of honor.  By believing in Jesus, and what he did, I escaped from the empty way of life handed down from my ancestors and became a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  As a citizen of God’s kingdom, I live here now as an alien in this world. And I am waiting for the time to come when I will enter into his presence.  While I am here, I should live in reverent fear, as one who does not belong to this world, knowing that I will give an answer to my King for my actions here, and knowing the price he paid for me.

My faith should be in God. Not in my own personal strength, my investments, the economy, science, or the nation’s military.  And my hope should be in God. In what he has prepared for me, rather than in the temporary things of this life.

A Call to Action

As a believer in the Lord Jesus, how should I be living my life? Peter reminds us that our citizenship is now in heaven and we are only here on a temporary basis. So we should live under the authority of God, seeking to honor him with all that we are. We should never lose sight of the cost that was paid to bring about our redemption. It was nothing less than the blood of Jesus. So we need to be careful not to take too lightly whose we are and to be faithful to him.


  • Why does Peter call us foreigners? And how should that impact our lives?
  • In what ways does the Passover / Exodus model the redemptive work of Christ?
  • God created this world knowing that we would fall and had prepared Christ as a redeeming sacrifice for us. Why did he not create a world that would not require the sacrifice of Jesus?

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Ed Jarrett

Just an old clay jar that God continues to see fit to use in his kingdom's work. I am retired, married with 2 children, and 4 grandchildren. I have followed Jesus for many years. And I love to share what He has given me from His word.

A Note to Readers

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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