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Strangers and Pilgrims

A fundamental question that every person on this earth is seeking an answer to this: Where do I belong? Where is my home? Where do I fit in? This is one reason why the LGBT movement gained so much popularity in such a short amount of time; it provided a “home” to multitudes of young people who, in their rebellion, were and are seeking out ways to “fit in” with their sinful desires. This is one reason why racism exists: groups such as the KKK and BLM provide a “home” for those who are seeking to “fit in” somewhere; and because of our sinful nature, hating a common foe typically draws men together. Yet Christians are not immune to this wondering, are we? All you have to do is search the phrase “the earth is not our home” and you will see tons of results of differing viewpoints on the matter. This question is not merely an exercise in academics; it has real, practical implications for us as we live out our lives. So, the question which I would like to pursue in this little article is, Where do we belong as Christians?

The only way for us to answer this question is by turning to Scripture. And when we do so, we must leave behind the preconceived notions that we have. A big mistake that far too many people make is approaching the Bible to justify an opinion that they already have; what we should do instead is read the Scripture for what it says, and allow the Word of God to shape and mold and change us. The heart of the question before us really gets into the meaning of the new creation. What is our nature after conversion? What is the nature of the glorified body? The apostle Paul gives us a very interesting insight into this topic in 1 Cor. 15. In verse 47 he wrote, “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.” So there is this contrast between Adam and our Lord Jesus Christ: Adam was earthy, the Lord Jesus is from heaven. In verse 48 he continues, “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” This is a fascinating verse, because it shows us that one day we shall be as our Lord Jesus Christ: heavenly. Just as we partook of the image of Adam, so in the glorified state shall we be transformed into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the change that he goes on to describe in verses 51-57. Thus, in the glorified state, the final state in which we live the eternal life, we will not be earthy, but heavenly.

What does Paul mean here when he says that Adam was “earthy?” The answer to that question is all the way back in Genesis. In verse 23 of chapter 3, we read these interesting words, “Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.” Did you notice the fact that Adam was not made in the garden of Eden? In verse 8 of chapter 2 we read, “And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.” What is the garden of Eden? What makes it so special? It was the place where the LORD God walked in the cool of the day: “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). So, we find that Adam was not made in the place where God dwelt, but he was put there after his creation; one of the curses of the fall was being cast out of the presence of God and sent back to the ground from which he was taken. We contrast this with what we find of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom Paul calls “the Lord from heaven.” In John 1:1, the apostle writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We know that this Word, the Logos of God, was made flesh and dwelt among us (verse 14), and that this Word of God is the Lord Jesus Christ (verses 15-18). So, what we see is the Lord Jesus coming from his place, the presence of God, to the earth; in other words, it is the opposite of what we find of Adam. Adam was from earth and put into the presence of God; the Lord Jesus is from the presence of God and came to tabernacle among us.

So what does all of this mean for us? If we are going to be fully conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord from heaven, then that means in our glorified state we will not be earthy, but heavenly. This is an amazing reality. It means that we have to look forward to more than this physical reality, more than the temporal realities, more than the things of this earth that are passing away. It means we look forward to an eternal communion with the Triune God directly in his presence without any hindrance or separation or distance. This is why Peter describes us as “strangers and pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11). This is why considering ourselves as “strangers and pilgrims” on this earth is a mark of faith: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). Nor is this some mystical way of interpreting New Testament Scripture; we find this truth even in the Old Testament: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me” (Ps. 119:18-19; see also Gen. 23:4; 1 Chron. 29:15; and Ex. 22:21).

There are many who would attack this truth with vitriolic language and pithy tweets; one of the most common replies to this position is something like, “I guess that means we do not care about what is going on in the culture.” Of course, that is what we call a straw man argument. Just because we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth does not mean that we stick our heads in the sand; it means that our hope is not bound up on this earth. In fact, as strangers and pilgrims, we are to pray for and seek out the peace of the place wherein we dwell as strangers; such was the Lord's instruction to Israel during the Babylonian Captivity: “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace” (Jer. 29:7). Yet even as we do so, we know that our hope is not in some future transformation of this present world. This present world will come to an end, and a new one will be made: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Rev. 21:1). One day, there will be a new heaven and new earth, and this is what we mean by our future hope. Heaven is not some mystical floating cloud city; heaven is shorthand for the presence of God. In this present evil age, though the believer has communion with the Triune God, that communion is like looking through a foggy mirror. It is not always clear and sharp and defined. We get moments and glimpses of that communion, but the fullness of it comes in the glorified state, in the new heavens and the new earth.

So how then should we live? What bearing does this have on us here in time and space? One of the more obvious answers, I think, is that we need to be faithfully warning the lost about the future state. The new heavens and the new earth will be a place wherein only righteousness dwells. The unrighteous, those who have not repented of their sin and placed their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, will not dwell in the presence of God. They will be cast out into the outer darkness, the lake of fire, the place of God's everlasting judgment. If we are to live out the command to seek the peace of the city wherein we dwell now, we must warn men to repent and believe before they face the judgment of God. Another answer is that we need to stop worrying. Of course, that is easier said than done, is it not? But if this present world is not going to last, if we are looking forward to that land of perfection across the Jordan of death, then why would we have anxiety about this present world? The Lord God is working all things to his end, his purpose; let us trust in his wisdom and his omnipotence and his goodness. And the last answer that I will give here is that we need to be an obedient people. We have been given commands concerning how we are to live in this present world as strangers and pilgrims, and they are summed up as loving the Lord our God with our totality and loving our neighbor as ourselves. This is our command, this is our commission, this is our task as new creations awaiting the consummation of all things. So, as we look forward to our future hope, let us live today in the light of that future hope by pursuing lives of holiness and righteousness, following after the model of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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