#2 STRANGERS IN THE WORLD

There is something about Christians that, to use an English idiom, makes us ‘stick out like a sore toe’.

This difference, this distinctiveness, is not essentially a moral difference, although Christians are commanded to live exemplary moral lives. The essential difference, the sticking point, is that Christians, although still living in this world, no longer belong to this world. Christians belong to Christ. Christians belong to Christ’s kingdom. Our allegiance is to Christ and his kingdom. Our purpose in life, our goal, our vision, is to honour him and live for his kingdom.

This concept – that we as followers of Jesus are in the world, but no longer of the world – is present throughout the New Testament. For example -

When Jesus prayed to his Father not long before his arrest he said that those who believe in him ‘are not of the world any more than I am of the world’ [John 17:14]. Almost immediately he repeated this ‘They are not of the world, even as I am not of it’ [v 16]. He referred to believers as those the Father had given him ‘out of the world’ [v 6].

The writer to the Hebrews includes Old Testament people of faith: ‘All these people ...’ he wrote, ‘... admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth ... longing for a better country - a heavenly one ...’ [Hebrews 11:13,16].

In Romans Paul spent eleven chapters explaining the Gospel of Christ; he then exhorts us ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ [Romans 12:2].

Peter, in his first letter, addresses his readers as ‘strangers in the world’ [1:1] and commands us to ‘live your lives as strangers here’ [1:17]. He calls us ‘aliens and strangers in the world’ [2:11].

This means that as we live in this world -

Our values collide head on with the values of the world.
Our expectations collide with the expectations of the world.
Our perception of reality collides with the world’s perception of reality.
Our mindset or worldview collides with the mindset or worldview of the world.
Our theology collides with the theology of the world.

Our world simply does not think the way the Bible teaches us to think:

For the most part our world denies that God, as the Bible defines God, exists. It understands ‘god’ to be nothing more than a relativistic, fluid, human idea. The Bible teaches us that there actually is a real God: one God, who alone is God, the Creator of all, to whom all people at all times and in all places are accountable.

For the most part our world sees moral terms like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as also being relative and fluid, changing with the changing perceptions of society. For our world, ‘sin’ is a meaningless term. The Bible affirms the existence of absolute moral standards that are true for all people in all places at all times, and that every departure from those standards is an expression of sin.

For the most part, our world accepts the scientific theories of our origins proposed by fallible humans, and vehemently rejects the word of the Creator God who was there at the beginning. As Peter tells us ‘they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed ...’ [2Peter 3:5].

We who believe in Christ are, Peter says, ‘strangers’ – aliens, foreigners, pilgrims, mere sojourners – in the world. We belong to Jesus. We do not belong to the world. And the more we get to know Christ, the more distinct we will be from the world, the more our thought patterns will be out of sync with the way the world thinks.

Given this tension, Peter says ‘Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you’ [1Peter 4:12]. If we are faithful followers of Jesus the tension will always be there. Because we belong to Christ, not to the world, the light of Christ that is in us will always be poking holes in the darkness of our world, and our world does not like it. In fact, the darkness hates the light [John 3:19,20].

As Jesus put it: ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you’ [John 15:18,19].

In this tension between our identity in Christ and our earthly culture, Peter’s encouragement to us is ‘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’ [1Peter 2:12].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017