Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Strangers & Sojourners


traveler

by Dennis Pollock

How we see ourselves is of tremendous importance. The world agrees with this and suggests that the higher we can raise our self-esteem, the better off we will be. But because God is the God of truth, He has no interest in attempting to give us a view of ourselves that is highly inflated or even slightly inaccurate. He wants us to see ourselves as we truly are. And one aspect of our self-image that the Scriptures emphasize again and again is the idea of being a stranger in this earth – or sometimes we are called aliens, pilgrims, or sojourners. All these terms mean pretty much the same thing: we are a people who don't really belong or fit into the prevailing world culture – and won't be around very long. An example of this is found in David's prayer: "For we are all aliens and pilgrims before You, as were all our fathers. Our days on earth are as a shadow…" (1 Chronicles 29:15).

In the United States there is a title that is given to immigrants who are allowed to live in the country legally, even though not citizens: "Permanent Resident." This legal status, and the famous "green card" that accompanies it are highly prized by non-citizens. Once obtained they are no longer just visitors with a two or three week visa; they are "permanent residents." But in truth we are all merely temporary residents of this earth. Our days are as a shadow, the years of our lives quickly pass and we are soon gone. Now this is not exactly earth-shattering news, but this concept so thoroughly saturates the Scriptures it is clear the Lord must want us to think long and hard about this, and live as though we believed it.

"Confessed They Were Strangers"

Perhaps the strongest Scriptural passage that deals with this concept is found in Hebrews 11, the chapter which lists the great heroes of faith. We are told that these men of God "died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Hebrews 11:3). These men stood fast for the promises of God, and they all recognized the same thing – they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. A stranger is someone who doesn't belong. If the average American were suddenly picked up and taken to interior Africa, and left with a group of Maasai tribesmen, most would feel pretty strange. They wouldn't know the language nor the culture. The habits, food, dress, and almost everything about the Maasai lifestyle would be so foreign to them that it would make them more than a little uncomfortable. However, if the American knew that he would only be there for a week and then be taken back home, it would make things a little more bearable.

This is precisely the situation that God declares is the condition of His people in this ungodly world. We are a people that just don't quite fit in with the godless culture of our world. Our habits, our language, and especially our values are radically different. But the knowledge that our time here is relatively short gives us a reason to happily endure, and also a reason not to invest our lives, time, and money in this present world. We are of a different kingdom. Paul writes, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."

The Hebrews passage about the heroes of faith tells us further that those who say such things (that they are pilgrims and strangers) "declare plainly that they seek a homeland… a better, that is a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." This is not just figurative language. John saw this amazing city, and describes it in the book of Revelation. It dazzles with beauty, and is filled with gold and precious jewels. There is no need for any electric lighting, for the glory of the Lord Jesus thoroughly lights up the entire city – all 1,500 square miles of it! Its name is New Jerusalem, and it is the homeland reserved for those who considered themselves foreigners in this world – those of whom the Heavenly Father is not ashamed to be known as their God. In their refusal to be caught up with the lusts and wicked pleasures of this present world, they make it clear that they think like their Father does: "like Father, like son – or daughter as the case may be."

Not of this world

There are two reasons God desires this mentality in His people. First, it happens to be true. Because of the indwelling Christ, we really are "not of this world." Our world culture, with its obsession with sex, fashion, power, and wealth will be utterly foreign to those who abide in Jesus and live entirely for the will of the Father. The sexually suggestive sit-coms, the romantic comedies that invariably result in the two main characters in bed with each other, the erotic dances and the pop songs with their sizzling lyrics all make up a part of what the apostle John called "the world." His instructions to us were simple but strict: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." This world John speaks of is like a river with a powerful current, dragging naïve and spiritually gullible people by the millions along its paths that lead ever and ever closer to a deadly waterfall from which there will be no survivors. Only Jesus Christ can give us the power we need to turn around and successfully swim against this strong and deadly current.

hotel roomA second reason we must see ourselves as strangers and sojourners is that it creates in us both godly attitudes and behavior. A visitor to a town does not act the same way as its residents. As a Bible teacher I have stayed in hotels in many different cities. I am human enough to appreciate a nice hotel room. Like anyone else I prefer clean over dirty, and pretty over drab. And I usually take along several items to make my stay a little more convenient. I bring my IPOD and my external speakers so I can listen to my favorite music and praise songs. I bring a heating coil so I can make myself some instant coffee or tea whenever I want. But there are limits as to how far I will go to make my room suit my tastes. You will not find me going out and buying paintings to hang in my room, just because I don't like the painting of the bowl of fruit hanging above my bed. I don't call in a carpet man to replace the dull brown carpet with navy blue. I know full well that my stay is temporary. In a few days I will be gone, probably never to see that hotel room again. It would be silly for me to waste too much time or money trying to fix up a hotel room that I will only be in for a short time. Before the week is out I will be at home, where the paintings on the walls are of my own choosing, and I have all sorts of conveniences and items exactly suited to my preferences.

Peter's Plea

The apostle Peter writes, "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul…" We are told here what we must do (abstain from fleshly lusts) and why we must do it (because we are sojourners and pilgrims). To abstain means to refuse to do something that is commonly practiced. We would not say, "Next month I'm going to abstain from eating rocks." Nobody eats rocks anyway, so the idea of abstaining from eating rocks makes little sense. To abstain from something means to deliberately choose to refuse a practice that many others are indulging in. In this case Peter is telling Christians that they must abstain from fleshly lusts. Paul writes, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality." Those who belong to Christ are to be a different people – abstaining when most are indulging, and practicing things (like prayer and fasting) which the majority rarely or never do. Truly this makes us a bit of an odd people – almost like strangers in a strange land – which is exactly the concept God hammers home in the Scriptures.

To the Colossians Paul writes, "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:1-3). It is vital that we see that this is not some special command for "super-Christians" and full-time ministers. This is to be the perspective of every man and woman who names the name of Christ. We must take on the attitude of Moses, who "when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward." Moses estimated the reproach of Christ far greater than the treasures of the richest nation on earth. He looked for an eternal reward and despised the baubles and trinkets that make up the best this world can offer. Moses got it right!

The Wisdom to Wait

Suppose you discover you have just inherited a mansion worth millions of dollars from a distant relative. It is one of the most beautifully designed buildings in the state, decorated with the finest paintings and furnished with the most expensive furniture obtainable. The doors are oak, the counters are marble, and every door knob is made of pure gold. It comes with its own crew of maids, butlers, and gardeners to make sure you have every comfort. But because of legal issues the mansion will not be available for you to take possession for about a year. Meanwhile a real estate agent comes to you with a suitcase of money. He opens the suitcase, shows you $20,000 in cash, and offers it to you if you will only sign over the title deed to him. When you protest that the house is worth far more than that, he replies that, yes, he knows that, but this is cash you can start spending immediately. There is no need to wait. You can go out tonight and throw a great party; you can go out tomorrow and go on a wild spending spree. Why wait when you can have such riches right away?

Anyone would have to be spectacularly stupid to go for such a deal. A house worth millions is well worth a year's wait. Likewise the heavenly inheritance our Father has provided us through the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus is well worth the wait. We can and must "abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul," and gladly embrace our designation as strangers and sojourners in a foreign land. Imagine if you could somehow go to Heaven and have a conversation with the apostle Paul. Suppose you said to him, "You poor man. You suffered so much while you were on earth. You were beaten and stoned; you sometimes had to do with little food and shabby clothes. With your intelligence and drive, you could have been one of the wealthiest and most powerful men of your generation. Have you complained to the Lord about all this?" The great apostle would no doubt look at you like you were crazy. His reply might go something like this: "It was the greatest of all honors to be able to suffer for the sake of the Lord Jesus, and to live as His bondservant. I have been enjoying His rewards for my service for 2,000 years, and eternity is just getting started. I wouldn't change a thing, except I wish I could have done more for Him."

In Christ we have a homeland in heaven. It is not necessary for us to try to "grab for all the gusto" we can get from this earthly existence. Our day is coming. We can wait.

For a full listing of all devos (written and audio) go to our Devos Catalog Page.

     

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