Christians as People in a Foreign Land
Pr. P. T. Thomas
The Holy Spirit has used many epithets in the Scripture to designate the believers. Perhaps the most pertinent one among them is ‘strangers’ and “exiles’ (Heb.11:13, I Pet.1:2). In his high priestly prayer Jesus described His disciples as people who are ‘not of the world’ (John 17:14, 16). The world hates them simply because they are not of this world. The people around us do not understand us and they refuse to sympathize with us. We should not be surprised if we are ostracized and treated as aliens. On the other hand if the worldly people around us are very friendly with us and we are quite at home among them, then we should feel scared and take time for introspection and self evaluation. There are many factors which make us aliens and strangers in this world.
1. The whole world remains under the evil one ( 1 John 5:19)
Satan is described as the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan is a spirit with legions of evil spirits under his command. And he wields spiritual authority over the worldly people. He exploits the spiritual instincts of worship inherent in man and has cast out a universal mantle of pseudo – spirituality. Millions of innocent people in the world worship him misconceiving him for God. He keeps them under his spell by providing material benefits in answer to their prayers or in response to their pious observance of rituals. He gives it to anyone who pleases him (Luke 4:6). When we refuse to comply with such religious rites, we are alienated and even hated.
Again, he is pictured in the Scripture as Prince of this world or the ruler of this world (John14:30). This points to his temporal influence in the world. He exercises his evil influence over the rulers of the worldly Kingdoms. This influence goes even to the extent of making the men in authority to legislate unjust laws that puts a control on practicing our faith freely. Such laws are in force in many countries of the world today. This makes faithful believers not only aliens here, but out- laws and offenders even. It is apt to write terrible hardships in the life of believers. Sometimes they may be forced to choose between their very lives or their uncompromising spiritual stand. Praise God that the Holy Spirit has enabled thousands over the centuries to lay down their lives and remain true to their faith. Such martyrs are the pride of the church and the glory of the Lord. The lord of the world has blinded the eyes of the people so much so that whoever kills the children of God thinks that he is offering service to God ( John 16:2). This explains the extent of alienation we face in the world we live in.
When the world remains under the powerful enemy of God’s people, how can they be anyone other than abject aliens and strangers here? We are under the righteous King and belong to another Master. But a day comes when this unlawful usurper of the throne of this world will be cast out and the world will be liberated and renewed. It will be our eternal inheritance. When we are subjected to injustice, intolerance, and injury, let us rejoice in this blessed hope to come.
2. We do not conform to this world ( Rom. 12:2)
Re-birth makes the beginning of a true Christian life. Just as the birth of a healthy child is followed by its growth , a re-born believer grows spiritually. ‘As is the father so is the child’. In re-birth, one starts growing to the stature of his heavenly Father (Matt.5:48). This growth implies selections and rejections, choices and decisions. In our choices, the way of the world should not influence us. People have a natural tendency to swim with the tide. They want to be ‘up-to-date’ in all aspects, lest they be branded odd and obsolete. They are very concerned about what others think of them. But a born- again believer is concerned about what his heavenly Father thinks of him. He is adopted into the heavenly family of ‘kings and priests.’ He should be eager to stand up to this new status graciously bestowed upon him. Ignoring the standards of the world, he chooses to conform to the nature of his heavenly Father.
As a re-born child of God refuses to get conformed to the world around him, the worldly ones hate him and ostracize him. He naturally gets alienated by the world. It truly is hard to be different from the people around us. It makes one feel out of place and odd. If a dove accidently gets among a flock of crows, the crows will jeer at it and even attack it. Quite often believers feel the same in the world. When such situations come about, we should rather feel proud and joyful that we do not belong to this sinful world. If we feel at home here, there is something wrong with our spiritual life. Hold your post; guard your stand. It is a privilege to have a share in Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter. 4: 13). However hard the temptation, never give in to conform to the way of the world.
3. We do not love the world (1 John 2: 15)
No one can love the world and the heavenly Father simultaneously. We should not misunderstand this teaching of the Scriptures. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us to love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44). But here we are asked not to love the world. Do these two teachings contradict each other? No, never would scriptural teachings contradict one another. ‘Do not love the world’ does not mean that we should not love the worldly people around us. We love the people of the world; but we do not love their ways. We love them, care for them and pray for them. But we do not appreciate their worldly ways and conform to them. True love is rare among worldly people. For their own advantage they mingle with the people around them and develop friendship with them. They are friendly to others, so that others will be friendly with them too: a give-and-take policy. But true love is unselfish and does not expect anything in return. We should have this unselfish love for the people around us. But we do not let ourselves be drawn into their way of life. Their possessions and positions do not attract us.
During the temptation in the wilderness, Satan showed to Jesus the kingdoms of this world with all their glory and authority. He offered to give all that to Jesus, if He would bow down before him (Luke. 4: 5-8). That which Satan showed to Jesus is what the world is. Notice that Satan did not show to Jesus the people nor their miseries. But Jesus sees the people as they are. We too should see people, love them and care for them in their needs and miseries. But the pomp, pleasures, power and glory of the world should not attract us. All that the world can offer is its temporary power and fading glory. A believer does not care for them. So he sees nothing attractive and worth living for in this world. He cannot love the world or the things of the world. But he loves the people, in spite of their prejudices. He is a sojourner and a stranger here.
A true believer has his citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20). His name is written in heaven. He has his treasures stored up in heaven. He has no lasting city here; he seeks his permanent city to come (Hebrews. 13: 14). We all are just pilgrims passing through the vanity fair of this world. We should not be surprised if the world hates us. It is the sure mark of our son-ship to our heavenly Father.