Pilgrims and Strangers

by Rick Shrader

As believers in a country that is fast becoming ungodly, we are at that point where we are wondering what freedom will actually look like in the near future.  It is difficult to follow all the details in the news about how the government works and what the issues are that affect us.  What seems to be obvious is that the leaders of government who are in control of things feel they can do whatever they want regardless of what the constitution says and that those who disagree cannot oppose them, even if they follow the constitution, without being unloving and uncaring.

Right now our governmental leaders are giving people whatever they want.  This is how they get elected and stay elected.  And right now people want the most selfish and immoral things they can get.  So if women (and men) want to be promiscuous, they need to be able to kill the babies they produce rather than quit being immoral or they insist it is their right to have society pay for their birth control.  If anyone disagrees he/she is un-American.  Why?  Because he/she would be denying someone what they want.  To be American today is to be free to do whatever one wants and have whatever one wants to have.  The constitution is irrelevant.  If a law exists that would limit this freedom, it must be opposed.  If someone objects, he must be opposed.

Liberal thinkers in government are spending so much it can only be considered dishonest if not immoral.  No honest individual could spend his own money in such a way.  If  the constitution says they should make a budget and live by it, it really doesn’t matter.  If the constitution says the debt must be paid before entitlements, it doesn’t matter.  It is more important to make sure people are getting things they want from government than to pay our debt.  If conservatives point out that the constitution demands the debt be paid first, even and especially if only one of the two can be paid, they are considered un-American.  Why?  Because they want to do something that limits someone’s freedom even though it is “constitutional.”

It is interesting how people see their own desires as trumping all other laws or morals.  The rule of law can only be the law of the land if people are humble and see their own fallibility and need of law.  In a country like ours (at least these days), people cannot tolerate the rule of law because that would put a limit on their desires.  Politicians who feed those desires in people become patriotic and those who oppose them become unpatriotic.  The constitution is irrelevant.

Benjamin Franklin is the one who protested that if people sacrificed liberty for freedom they deserved neither.  If that is true, then Americans do not deserve the freedom they insist upon nor the liberty that brings it to them.  It was Alexis de Tocqueville who said that America is great because America is good, and when America ceases to be good America will cease to be great.  At this point it seems that America is good only in theory because, as a democracy, it can vote to fund its most base desires.  A minority might object, for various reasons, but basically America is what the majority of people say it is.

The Christian response in such a time of national turmoil is varied.  There are the hawks and the doves.  There are those who name anyone a coward who doesn’t believe he should become more politically involved.  These usually believe that if the American ship of state goes down, our Christian compartment goes down with it.  Others are very aloof in their concern over America’s problems and don’t seem to care what happens.  I believe that there is some leeway for disagreement.  But I also believe that the Scripture is clear about how a Christian should be living and reacting in the secular culture in which we find ourselves.

We are to be strangers and pilgrims in the world.

The believer is a citizen of two worlds.  He has a foot in each one.  This is simply because, though a regenerated child of God, he must live out his time in the flesh as a pilgrim and stranger passing through a world that has now become a wilderness to him.  Yet at the same time, he is looking for a city that has permanent structure for him whose builder and maker is God.

This is a life-style change for the believer.  The change happened when we were converted.  Rather than being at home here, we’ve become foreigners.  Even Abraham, after God called him away from his earthly home, became a traveler until his death.  When Sarah died he had to beg for a burial plot.  “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you,” he said, “give me a possession of a burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight” (Gen. 23:4).

Peter “beseeched” his readers as “dearly beloved” to consider themselves as “strangers and pilgrims” even though they were also elect. (1 Pet. 2:11)  “Strangers” (paroikous) are people  “without a house,” the same word translated “sojourners” in 1:17.  “Pilgrims” (parepidemous)  are people  “without kin.”   Though conversion changes everything for the believer in wonderful ways on the inside, it is not always wonderful on the outside.  Depending on the country and people around us, we can either be accepted or rejected.  This does not change our pilgrim standing with God.

We are to obey laws and submit to authority.

In this journey, the new believer finds that he has become an adversary to his former friends rather than a partner, “Whereas they speak against you as evildoers” (1 Pet. 2:12).  “Evildoers” here means criminal.  The early Christians were considered enemies of the state and therefore potentially harmful to the peace of the country.  They were enemies politically because they spoke of another King, Jesus; they were enemies religiously because they could not participate in the ubiquitous idolatry; they were enemies ethically because they would not live the immoral lifestyle so common in a Greek/Roman world.

Peter again says, “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:  Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” (1 Pet. 4:3-4).  Again, they consider you to be an enemy of the state and of society.

Peter and Paul make it especially plain that such is our new lot in life and, rather than look at this new situation as a detriment, we should consider it an open door for witness.  “They may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12).  This conversion of the unbeliever will most likely happen through the believer’s willing submission to the very people who are hostile to him.  To the believer, there is no such thing as “civil disobedience.”  That is an oxymoron in Christian vernacular.  “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (Rom. 13:2).  To “riot” is never a Christian option.  Not to do so is to witness of the grace of God.

We are to be salt and light in a corrupt world.

The Lord’s admonition to be salt and light comes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:13-16) and is open to various applications.  No doubt Israel failed in their stewardship as a nation to have such effect on themselves and the nations around them.  Jerusalem was the city set on a hill, Zion, to which all nations will flow one day in the presence of their King.  Yet the Christian believer is also to let his “speech be always with grace seasoned with salt” that he may how he ought “to answer every man” (Col. 4:6).  The believer was also “sometimes darkness” but now is “light in the Lord” and he is (we are) to “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).

 G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The saint is a medicine because he is an antidote.  Indeed, that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. . . . Salt seasons and preserves beef not because it is like beef; but because it is very unlike it.”1  Separatists have often been accused of retreating into a monastic type of life rather than affecting the culture as they should.  But this is not verified by history.  Separatists have always known they cannot escape the world but must be in it and walk through it.  Paul admonished the Corinthians, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to keep company with fornicators.  Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go of the world.  But now I have written unto you not to keep company . . . “ (1 Cor. 5:9-11).  The problem is not when the ship is in the sea, but when the sea is in the ship.  Then the salt no longer seasons but is mere sand that must be thrown out and walked upon.

In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian travels through the town of Vanity which is having a Fair.  The people at the Fair look with disgust at Christian and bid him to leave for two reasons:  his speech and his clothes, neither of which fit in with the others at Vanity’s Fair.  Bunyan, writing from prison himself, would not have considered having his pilgrim change his clothes and speech in order to appease the crowd.  Rather Christian kept pressing toward the Celestial City.

We are to be worshipers in a heavenly tabernacle.

With all the talk about worship today, it is a wonder that this perspective could be missed.  Some have proposed that God acts as the audience while He watches us perform worship; that our artistic abilities open the door to God’s throne and bring His smile upon us.  But the whole point of the book of Hebrews is that our Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous, ever lives to make intercession for us (7:25).  By His own blood He is before the throne of God forever so that we may have eternal redemption (9:12).  This is why Paul emphasized to the Ephesians that we are a heavenly people, “seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).  Charles Wesley expressed it this way,

Five bleeding wounds He bears, Received on Calvary.

They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me.

“Forgive him, O, forgive,” they cry.  “Forgive him, O, forgive,” they cry,

“Nor let that ransomed sinner die.”

The Father hears Him pray, His dear Anointed One;

He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son.

His Spirit answers to the blood, His Spirit answers to the blood,

And tells me I am born of God.2

 I have often said to my folks, “We do not come together to worship, we are worshipers who come together.”  We must remember that Jesus is continually performing the true worship within the true tabernacle, and we are observers of that in our daily lives.  Corporate worship is not our performance but His.  For us, when we come together, it is a recognition in Spirit and Truth of what we know to be the case through Jesus Christ.

We are to be church members in our locality.

We recognized, as noted above, that the whole Church of Jesus Christ is constantly dependent on the atonement made by Him, and that we will all make up the Bride of Christ in the rapture and at the bema seat.  Yet, the New Testament speaks more about the gathering of ourselves together with other believers of like faith in the place where we live.  The word for “church,” ekklesia, appears 115 times in the New Testament and well over 100 times it refers to the local church.

Hebrews 10:25 commands us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together even though that is the manner of some, even some who may name the name of Christ.  One such command is all we need, if we understand it in its proper context.  The purpose of such gathering is the subject of most of the New Testament written to the local churches.  In Hebrew 10:21-25, it is for drawing near to God in assurance with a clean conscience; for holding forth the profession of our faith; and for provoking one another to love and good works.

In this “brotherhood” of believers, we are to do what believers do.  We invite any who would come to stand beside us and try to understand what it all means, but we do not do it for them.  We often make the mistake of thinking that we will lose the person if they are not happy, or entertained, or comfortable.  In actuality, that would be a detriment rather than an asset.  If it dawns on the lost man what we are doing, he will, by Holy Spirit conviction, be the most uncomfortable man in the room.  Our nervousness about that shows our lack of trust in the Spirit’s work.

We are to be heavenly minded if we would be any earthly good.

We would not be good pilgrims if we did not have more thought of our destination than of our present circumstances.  “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.  And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned” (Heb. 11:14-15).  It is not possible to be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.  Jonathan Edwards said,

We ought to be continually growing in holiness; and in that respect coming nearer and nearer to heaven.  We should be endeavoring to come nearer to heaven, in being more heavenly; becoming more and more like the inhabitants of heaven, in respect of holiness and conformity to God; the knowledge of God and Christ; in clear views of the glory of God, the beauty of Christ, and the excellency of divine things, as we come nearer to the beatific vision.3

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Those who want Heaven most have served Earth best.  Those who love Man less than God do most for Man.”4  We are to be looking unto Jesus because He is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).  In a race, the starting line is often also the finishing line.  We start out at that point with energy, but we approach it at the end almost spent.  But if we will look at Jesus, Who endured His cross, we will finish our pilgrimage well.

We are to be holy as He is holy.

The premise for Peter’s first epistle is built on this proposition, “[Live] as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:14-16).  In some cases we have the English word “conversation” as our politics (Phil. 1:27, 3:20).  Here, however, the word means our citizenship or deportment (anastrephō, to turn back, to settle).  While we are on this earth, we must be as He was when He was on this earth.  As short as we may come of that objective, it is the only worthwhile and justifiable goal.

There are those who cringe at the word holiness.  For them, it is too often used as a hammer to punish people who lack expectations.  But if we see our own unworthiness, and we realize the depth of our own sin, and how utterly hopeless we would be in our own effort, how wonderful the holiness of Jesus Christ becomes!  He is our righteousness.  He is our standing before a holy God, and not we ourselves.  We are pilgrims to that end.

1. G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas (New York:  Image Books, 1956) 23.
2. Charles Wesley, “Arise My Soul Arise.”
3. Randall Pederson, Day by Day with Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005) 348.
4. C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns (New York: HBJ, 1986) 80.