(1 Pet. 2:9-12) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 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.
Peter argues that Christians should see themselves as citizens of a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly kingdom. We are “aliens and strangers” in this world and should think of ourselves this way. We are, in fact, a nation unto ourselves.
We must not confuse patriotism with Christianity. Saluting the flag is not a Christian act–and can even become idolatrous when we prefer American values to Christian values.
We love our country, but only because we love all people. We don’t love the people of our country more than the people of other countries. Our model is Jesus’ treatment of the Samaritan woman. If we think of ourselves as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, then we’ll see believers in other nations as fellow citizens, not as foreigners.
However, we do have a special obligation to the country in which we live. Peter urges us to “Live such good lives among the pagans that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” The “pagans” are those outside the Kingdom of Heaven. Our duty to them is to do good deeds that show forth the glory of God.
As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, we must become salt and light–so that “they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16b). See http://jayguin.files.wordpress.com/2007/01/an-unconventional-approach-to-mission-111106.pdf for a more detailed discussion.
Now there’s more than one way to do a good deed. Like William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King, Jr. we can fight laws that oppress the helpless. Or like Bono we can lobby for debt relief for those nations too poor to pay (following the Jubilee principle). Or we can adopt a child who is unadoptable. Or we can be foster parents. Or oppose those who rape the environment. Or heal the sick. Or feed the poor. All good deeds bring glory to God when done in the name of God.
In short, the church is a powerful political force, but it’s power comes from God. By, like Jesus, taking the form of a servant and working to make the world better, the church becomes a vehicle for God’s love to touch those who need him most. And with the credibility that comes from actually helping people, the church will be in a position to effectively confront evil in the legislatures and the courts–and to bring people to Jesus.
If the American church were to unite to confront evil in society, the world would be dramatically changed. Imagine if the entire American church were to rise up in opposition to abortion, or anti-family governmental policies, or predatory lending practices, or school funding policies that favor the wealthy … how could the government say no?
In fact, the only things that stands in the way of a vastly more just society and vastly more attractive church are (i) the divisiveness of the church and (ii) the church’s absorption of a worldly culture. We are our own worst enemy.