Greetings, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, I’d like us to ponder upon an age-old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Although an anachronism to cite in the context of the Early Church in Rome – it hadn’t been coined at that time – it effectively captures the intense social pressure faced by early Christians.
The Roman government, alongside the Christians’ own families and friends, beseeched them to fit in, to follow the crowd, to conform. And if they resisted, if they sought to live a Christ-centered life, it came with grave costs. As one historian describes, they faced social ostracism, verbal abuse, rejection, shame, and even economic persecution leading to the loss of property. That was the backdrop against which the Apostle Peter penned his first epistle.
Interestingly, Peter’s advice to the Roman Christians did not resemble the Roman adage in the slightest. Instead, he offered guidance that stands just as relevant to us today as it was two millennia ago. Yes, our culture might not be as openly hostile as that of Rome’s, but we are steadily inching towards it. The world may not verbalize the phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” constantly, but it certainly imposes its meaning onto us ceaselessly.
Like the early Christians in Rome, we, too, face societal pressure to conform, to live like the rest. But, as followers of Christ, we are called to a different path. So, what did Peter advise those Roman Christians? And how can we apply his wisdom to our lives today?
In 1 Peter 1:13-19, Peter provides three essential instructions for Christians – both for his contemporaries and for us. Let’s read the passage in its entirety:
“13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your days as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 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, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
Guided by the Holy Spirit, Peter gives the Christians in Rome – and us today – three commands. Each one can be summed up as, “When in Rome, do as Christians do.” Let’s unpack each of these three instructions:
1. When in Rome, Cultivate Hope in Christ’s Return: Peter exhorts his readers to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This speaks to the ultimate hope we have as Christians: the promise of Christ’s return and the unimaginable grace we will receive when that glorious day arrives. It’s a grace so profound that it transcends our comprehension, a grace that God will generously bestow upon us for all eternity through His Son, Jesus Christ.
2. When in Rome, Live Holy: As believers, we are called to resist conforming to the world’s ways and instead, live according to God’s holy standards. We are to be set apart, embodying Christ’s righteousness in all aspects of our conduct.
3. When in Rome, Embrace Reverent Fear: We are to walk each day on this earth with a healthy, reverent fear of God, fully aware of the price that Jesus paid for our redemption. We weren’t bought with perishable silver or gold, but with Christ’s precious, sacrificial blood.
As we strive to live out these instructions, let us remember to approach our heavenly Father in prayer. We must beseech Him to clear away distractions, grant us wisdom, and help us understand His word more deeply. By the grace of God, we can stand firm, just like our brothers and sisters in Rome did, and live not according to the world’s standards, but as the holy people that God has called us to be. Let’s be emboldened to live as Christians, no matter where we are or what pressures we face. May God guide us as we strive to follow His ways, not just “when in Rome,” but wherever we are and whatever circumstances we face.