“Pilgrim’s Progress” (I Peter 1:1-2 sermon)

The Bible is the #1 best-selling, most-read book of all time. But right behind it, is The Pilgrim’s Progress, widely considered the second most-read book in history. It was written by Puritan John Bunyan, in the form of an allegory: a man, “Christian”, receives God’s word from a messenger named “Evangelist,” so he leaves “The City of Destruction” and heads towards “The Celestial City.” Of course it is all a parable, representing the story of every “Christian” on our journey through this world to heaven. There are a number of very clever characters in the story: “Mr. Worldly Wise Man,” “The Giant Despair,” and many others Pilgrim encounters which represent people and circumstances we all deal with in life. If you have never read this classic book, you really should. It is very insightful.

But the “big picture” you get out of this book is that for “Pilgrim,” the Christian, this world is not our home. We are just passing through, on a journey to heaven. And this is one of the most important attitudes that we as Christians need to adopt. We are just “pilgrims,” temporary travelers through this world. This world is not our home. If we “get” that; then we will be able to deal successfully with a lot of the things that face us in life. If we don’t “get” that, then we will FAIL in a lot of ways, because we’ll wonder why we have certain difficulties, or why people don’t “accept” us, because we haven’t realized that we are only temporary residents, “pilgrims” in this world.

This morning, we are beginning a journey as a church body through the Book of I Peter, and one of the themes of this book is that as Christians, we are “pilgrims” in this world like Bunyan talked about. We aren’t living for the pleasures and applause of this world, but we are just traveling through it, and we are living for the God who has called us to our ultimate home with Him in heaven. So let’s look together at what the first couple of verses of this insightful and challenging book have to tell us:

I. Pilgrims Are Followers Of The Triune God.

This is important. A lot of people in America talk about “God”, just a “generic” god, as if all gods are the same. But Christians don’t just believe in “any” God; we believe specifically in the God of the Bible. And the God of the Bible has revealed Himself in His word as an eternally TRIUNE God: one God, who exists eternally as three “persons”: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Now the word “trinity” itself does not appear in the Bible. But the TEACHING of the Trinity is all through scripture:
— Jesus Himself mentioned it in His Great Commission of Matt. 28:18-20, one of the most important passages in all the Bible, when He commanded His followers are to go and make disciples, and baptize them “in the Name (singular, One God) of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”: One God, yet three Persons. That’s the Trinity. That’s what Jesus said we are to be preaching and baptizing and teaching those we disciple the world. That Jesus mentions the Trinity in the Great Commission shows how important this teaching is.
— The Trinity is demonstrated in a very dramatic way in Matthew 3:16-17, when Jesus is baptized: it says Jesus is coming out of the water; and at the same time, the Holy Spirit is descending like a dove, and the voice of the Father resounds from heaven: “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” There in ONE place, at ONE time, we have all 3 Persons of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We’ll teach more about this in the days ahead, because the doctrine of the Trinity is a vital part of our faith. It is one of the signature teachings that separates Christianity from other world religions. A lot of religions teach about some kind of “god.” But we don’t believe in just “any” God. We believe that God is Triune: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” There are a lot of implications for that.

I remember when George W. Bush said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. I always try to respect the office of President, no matter who the President is. But the president is our Commander-in-chief, not our “theologian in chief.” Muslims do not believe in a Triune God. They believe in Allah, whom they say is monolithic, and cannot have a son, and does not have a Holy Spirit. That is not the God we worship. We worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who sends the Spirit of God into our hearts. That’s not the same. We believe in a Triune God.

There was an “Early Church Father”, a theologian, Gregory of Nazianzus, who said, “When I say ‘God,’ I mean Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” That needs to be our commitment. When we say “God,” we don’t mean just any, generic god that anybody worships. When we say “God,” we mean the God of the Bible. We mean: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And as we study through I Peter, we will see how “Trinitarian” this book is. In fact, even just in this first chapter, you can notice how all 3 Persons of the Trinity are mentioned throughout: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. So the Trinity is a first-rank, Biblical doctrine that we all need to be familiar with, and purposefully stand for.

But we also need to realize that the Trinity is not just some “dry doctrine” for us to believe. The Triune God is actually AT WORK in our lives as Christians. This verse says that the Triune God is ACTIVE in us:
— You are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father
— By the sanctifying work of the Spirit
— To obey Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with His blood.

It’s saying: God the Father has a plan for you; God the Son (Jesus) has washed you with His blood so that you can obey Him; and God the Holy Spirit is at work inside of you, helping your to become more holy day by day. See, the Trinity is not “just a doctrine;” it is the Living GOD who is actually working in your own life!

Some of our favorite times for Cheryl & I were when our sons were playing high school football. Our oldest son, Paul (who visited here with his little family when we came in view of a call) was a kicker in high school. So while he was doing that, we signed him up for a kicking camp, featuring former Dallas Cowboys kicker, Chris Boniol. It turned out that Paul did very well at the camp, and later he actually had a series of private lessons with Chris Boniol. (Funny story about that: one day we met at a football field where Paul could kick and Chris could instruct him. I was down by the goal post retrieving the footballs that Paul kicked, and I would kind of “punt” them back. It wasn’t very accurate of course, but I have never been able to throw very far, so I knew that my punting was much better than my throwing! But Paul later told me that at one point, Chris Boniol turned to him and asked, “Should we just ask your dad to throw those balls back; wouldn’t that be better?” Paul said he just shook his head and said; “No; no it wouldn’t!” I think at one point I did try to toss one back and Chris said, “Yeah; I see what you mean!”) But of course, it was fun to have a real “Dallas Cowboy” working with my son. We actually knew this professional football player; we talked with him; he personally guided my son. Chris Boniol wasn’t just “some guy on tv;” he was someone we personally knew, and who was actively working in my son’s life!

Well the Bible says that is the way it is for Christians with the Triune God. The Trinity is not just some “theoretical doctrine” for us. The Trinity is GOD HIMSELF, working in our life: The Father has a plan for us; The Son washes us from sin with His blood; the Spirit works with us daily to make us holy. The Trinity is not just a “doctrine;” we KNOW HIM personally, and He is actively at work in us!

And the way we BECOME a pilgrim in the first place is by giving our life to this Living, Triune God. Some of us need to do that today: realize that God the Father has a plan for you; but that you have walked away from Him in your sin, and your sin has separated you from fellowship with him. But God the Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross, and paid for your sins with His blood. If you will repent of your sins, and surrender your life to Him, God the Holy Spirit will come into your life, and “sanctify” you — set you apart as belonging to God — and then He will then begin the life-long process of gradually making you more holy until God calls you home with Him in heaven.

That’s how you BECOME a “pilgrim”: the Triune God works in your life, and you surrender control of your life to Him, and you become a “pilgrim.”

II. Pilgrims Do Not Belong To This World.

When you surrender your life to the Triune God, then God becomes your Heavenly Father, and your ultimate home is now in heaven. Followers of Jesus are pilgrims, who do not belong to this world.

We see this here at the beginning of this book, where Peter called the people to whom he was writing: “ALIENS, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia …”. This word “aliens” (or some translations read, “strangers” or “pilgrims”) means people whose citizenship is in one country, but who are currently living alongside others, in a different country. There are many people who are “aliens” or “pilgrims” for all kinds of reasons today:
— Some people live temporarily in another country because of their work
— Or they are forced to move to another country because of persecution in their home country.
— Maybe they have gone to another country as tourists, to see the sights.
But for whatever reason, “aliens” or “pilgrims” are people who are living temporarily in one country, but their actual home is in another.

I am currently reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt’s early years, called Mornings on Horseback. In it, author David McCullough tells how in 1873, Roosevelt’s father (Theodore Sr.) was traveling in Europe, but the United States needed a commissioner in Vienna, Austria, so Roosevelt was “pressed into service” while he was there, as a temporary kind of ambassador for our country.
But of course, Austria was not Mr. Roosevelt’s home. He was just passing through, first as a tourist, and then as a temporary ambassador. Austria wasn’t his home. His home was in New York. His family was in New York. In fact, he had a MANSION back in New York. THAT is where his home really was. He was just in Europe for a brief time.

And that is just how God says it is with us. If you are His child, then you are just a “pilgrim” here in this world. This is not your ultimate home.

— Hebrews 11:13 says that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Verse 16 says: “They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” The Bible says our Triune God has made a city for us with Him! THAT is where our home is as Christians!

— Peter goes on to say in 2:11 “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” Again, he reminds us as God’s people that we are “aliens” or “pilgrims” here on earth. The people of this world are going to live a certain way; for whatever appeals to them or makes them feel good. But he says YOU ARE NOT OF THIS WORLD. You are not going to live for the same things that they do. We are “pilgrims,” and our ultimate home is not in this world.

If you are a Christian, you are just “passing” through this world — NOT just as a tourist, but more like Mr. Roosevelt was — as an ambassador!
II Corinthians 5:20 says “we are ambassadors for Christ.” As we will see in just a minute, God has placed us here for a reason, and there are things He wants you to do while you are here — but don’t get too comfortable here! Like Mr. Roosevelt in Austria, THIS IS NOT YOUR HOME!
— Your Father is in heaven
— Many of your family and friends are in heaven
— Your riches and reward are in heaven
— and like Mr. Roosevelt, you have a MANSION, but it’s not here — it’s in HEAVEN!

There are so many ways that this truth should impact our lives if we are Christians. And we’ll look at some of them more specifically as we walk through this book together in the coming weeks: But perhaps more than anything, we just need to keep this heart attitude: that we are aliens, sojourners, “pilgrims” in this world. And this world is not our home.

III. Pilgrims Are Strategically Planted By God.

The fact that this world is just our temporary home doesn’t mean that what we do here isn’t important. It is. God has a purpose for us being here — in fact, He has a specific purpose for us being RIGHT here, where we are. Peter says you are “aliens” (as we have seen), but then says, “SCATTERED throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.” Those were 5 regions in what is now the country of Turkey, where the Apostle Paul had evangelized, and there were a lot of churches and Christians.

What is interesting is that the word “scattered” here is a Greek Bible word that means “to sow,” like you sow seed. A farmer will sow seed where he wants it to be planted, to grow and bear fruit.

A wise gardener does not just randomly put plants anywhere in their yard, do they? They purposefully plant them in strategic places, for a reason:
— They’ll plant a tree in just the right place, to provide shade for the house during the heat of the day.
— They’ll plant herbs so that they can be easily picked and used in the kitchen.
— They’ll plant a bush in just the right spot, so the neighbors can’t look in their window!
They don’t place them there randomly, but just where the Master Gardener wants them to be, for His purposes.

And Peter says here, this is what GOD has done with you & me. God is the “Master Gardener,” and He has “sown” us like “seed.” And there is nothing “accidental” about where He has placed us. We are “pilgrims” here on earth, but God has strategically planted each one of us exactly where He wants us to be for His Kingdom purposes.

Our challenge is to keep this dual emphasis: that we are only here temporarily — and yet as long as we are here, it is according to God’s strategic purpose — and we need to realize where He has us, and be busy doing what He has planted us here for.

So think about these two questions in your own life:
1)“Where has God ‘planted’ my life?
Where has He placed you: the town you live in, the family you have; the job He’s given you; the school you attend; the neighborhood you live in — NONE of these things are accidental. God has PLANTED you just where you are, and you need to realize that.

2) WHY has He planted me there?”
If God has placed you in your family, and your school, and your job and your neighborhood — and He HAS — then WHY does He have you there?
Well, we KNOW the “why”, don’t we? God has you there as an ambassador. Just like Theodore Roosevelt didn’t live permanently in Austria, but was a temporary ambassador there, so you are not in any of those places permanently. You are there, temporarily, as an ambassador, representing Jesus Christ and the Triune God in that place.

Are you seeing it like that?
Maybe you have grown up here in Angleton, or lived here most of your life. But maybe you’ve never really thought about WHY you’re here; this is just where you live. But you need to see that you are not here by “accident.” GOD planted you here, to represent Him.

Others of us have moved more recently to Angleton, and we may have certain outward reasons why we are here: maybe some would say I’m here because of work, or because it is a great place to raise a family, or because of Whataburger, or whatever!

But whatever reasons we may or may not have for being here, we all need to ask ourselves today, Why does GOD have me here in Angleton? Because I can promise you, you are not here by accident. You are here by the express purpose and plan of God! (Remember, it says are “chosen by the foreknowledge of God the Father”!) God has a plan for you. GOD has “sown” you right here, to be His ambassador.

God has given us as the “First Baptist Church” of Angleton a place of great privilege, and also of great responsibility. As many of you know, the “Master Gardener” is “planting” us in a new location out at 288 and Anchor Road, in a strategic spot that HE has picked out for us. This is not an accident. GOD is planting us there; He has great purposes for us in the days ahead! We need to be praying; we need to be giving; but most importantly, we need to be preparing our LIVES to BE the ambassadors that God has chosen to plant at that strategic location.

We need to have this outlook: GOD has planted us where we are, temporarily, as His ambassadors, to “reach and teach and care” for the people around us. We are not where we are by accident; we are where we are by the plan of God. YOU are not where you are by accident. You are where GOD has planted you, to impact people around you for His kingdom.

There was a woman in our church in North Carolina, who worked in a local school there. She began to read her Bible daily — like many of you are. She posted some of the verses that had impacted her on her desk, to be a reminder to us — and some people asked where they came from — and it gave her an opportunity to talk about her Bible reading, and her walk with God. So she shared our Bible reading plan with some of them, and they began reading too. She posted the Bible reading plan on Facebook. And soon more teachers and workers at her school began doing the Bible readings too. And they would talk about what they had read, and what God was doing in their lives. And I know of at least TWO different families that came to our church as a result of what God was doing through her. See, this woman didn’t see herself as just having a “job” at a school — but that GOD had planted her there, for His purposes, to be an ambassador for Him to the people around her.

Every one of us needs to see ourselves the same way:
— Why are you at your job?
— Why are you at your school?
— Why are you in your neighborhood?
Why are you where you are? It is not by “accident;” God has strategically planted YOU where you are, to be an ambassador for Him.

The Triune God: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, is working in your life. He is calling you to follow Him today if you never have before. And if you have followed Him, He wants you to realize that this world is not your home; that your ultimate home is in with Him in glory. But as long as He gives you life, you are where you are by HIS plan and purpose: you are a pilgrim, His ambassador, to “reach and teach and care” for people wherever He has strategically planted you here on earth.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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3 Responses to “Pilgrim’s Progress” (I Peter 1:1-2 sermon)

  1. MOM says:

    Son “O,
    wow, this just blew me away. Love, MOM

  2. Greta says:

    What I needed to hear. Thank you!

  3. Kenneth L. Carrico, Ph.D. says:

    Missing you pastor. Excellent exposition of our Triune God, our status as “pilgrims”, citizenship in Heaven, planting and implied purpose in this life. i look forward to sharing more.

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