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Cultural Identity

1 Peter 2:11-12
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (NIVUK)

It is not wrong to enjoy a cultural identity, as long as it is not our primary identity (John 18:36).  With the shrinkage of our world into a global village, aided by rapid travel, communications, migration and the growth of multinational business organisations, we humanly long to retreat into something special that reminds us of home and our 'roots'.  Food, dress, language, dialect and accent all help to shape our understanding of where we have come from.  But the Christian should be much more concerned about the culture of heaven - where we are going to (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).

Peter’s readers were displaced people.  They were refugees from persecution and no longer ‘at home’ in a strange culture with no personal roots (1 Peter 1:1).  But the same principle applies to us.  We are to live as foreigners in this sinful world, because our true home is with our Heavenly Father.  It is His values which should shape our lives as we await Jesus' return even though they are sometimes in radical conflict with the people among whom we live.  Their disdain may be obvious or hidden, but their view of us is that we are wrong and they are right.
Added to this cultural and spiritual confusion is the reality that we are all still sinners.  It is an ongoing battle far greater than any conflict we may find with our neighbours.  We know that no earthbound passion or sinful desire should have any place where Jesus reigns, but those impulses have too often become hardened into sinful habits (Ephesians 2:3).  So, Christians are to consider their sinful desires as foreign to them … and reject them (Romans 6:11-14).  They are to say 'No' to everything that is not of God and become self-controlled (Titus 2:11-14) as they wait for Jesus to come.  Such personal discipline is a real inner struggle for every believer, because it denies authority to our sinful nature, which is so easily inflamed by watching the worldliness around us. But the struggle against sin is essential (Galatians 5:13-24).
This inner war may be intensified where our colleagues or even family have very different values. They may see our sin and call us hypocrites; or describe our disciplined life as pompous or prudish, resenting the contrast between our lives and theirs. Our personal internal battle for holiness will even intensify with abuse, ridicule or worse.  Without the Lord’s help we cannot win, but in His strength we can (Romans 7:24).  So do not look for your comfort today; think ahead to the day when everybody, including your detractors at work, will bow to Jesus and admit that your holy lifestyle was right after all. By watching you, some will have been convicted of their need to submit to Jesus; and through your godly witness and gospel proclamation, they will learn to repent and receive Christ too.

Heavenly Father. Thank You that You are at work within me, enabling me to say ‘No’ to a lifestyle which displeases You. Please forgive me when I assume that my culture, education and family expectations, should shape my future. Help me to resist the daily temptations to fall back into worldly ways, and to be strong to say 'No' to wrong desires, even if my closest friends cannot understand why. May my new life of obedience and humility prove to be an effective witness to Your grace and power - so that others may also find peace with God, before Jesus Christ returns. In His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams