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Resident Aliens

Resident Aliens 

Lately I have been pondering a thought expressed in 1 Peter 1:1. It is translated various ways. To God’s elect, strangers in the world (NIV). To those who are elect exiles (ESV). To the elect who are sojourners (ASV). The word rendered “strangers”, “exiles”, and “sojourners” is what keeps surfacing in my thoughts.

The three different words used above are, in fact, all good ways to translate the Greek word used into the English language. Another English phrase gets at the root meaning of the word used here: resident alien. This is a person who resides for a while in a strange place or a foreign country.

Thinking about that brought to mind a phrase from a gospel song popular in Northwestern Pennsylvania where I was raised: This world is not my home, I’m just passing through. Recently I read an article where the writer was speaking against the thought of this particular gospel song and others like it. He said it was based on weak or shallow theology. He grounded his conclusions primarily in Genesis 1 & 2. Here God calls men and women to be stewards of his creation. Note in particular Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ ” In Genesis 2:15 we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Was the writer of this article correct, I wondered? Then I came across Alan Stibbs who spoke of the word used here in 1 Peter in these terms, It is used to describe Christians, and to suggest that in this world they are . . . away from their true homeland or metropolis in heaven. Such dwelling in this world is, therefore, only a ‘sojourning’ in a place to which they do not belong. . . Christians are thus challenged by Peter’s opening address to think of themselves as citizens of heaven, and only ‘strangers and pilgrims’ here.

Peter makes a similar statement in 2:11, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in this world.” Living as a resident alien is based on sound theology. It doesn’t mean we forget about God’s command to be faithful stewards of his creation. It addresses our attitude as we approach this life and live in the here and now.

For biblical examples of how such an approach looks read Hebrews 11. Note in particular these verses. “For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”(10). “They admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.”(13-16). “(Moses) regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward”(26).

The key is our focus. The examples in Hebrews focused on 1) the heavenly city, 2) the heavenly country and 3) the future reward. So living as a resident alien means I realize my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. . . and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. These are easy words to sing but hard to live out.

It’s what Kendall Easley calls “living with the end in sight.” The future determines what we do in the here and now. Is this how you approach life? Do you constantly evaluate everything in the light of the future? Do you approach the decisions and transitions of life from the perspective of the coming kingdom of God?

I received the newsletter of some people who give us a living example of taking such an approach to life. You may have received the same letter. It was from Steve and Marlayna Pence. Here is the last paragraph of their note to us, Wow! This will be a busy month. Please be praying this month for this transition, all the details and loose ends to be tied together, health and safety as we travel, and that our focus will not be on this world but God’s work as we say our goodbyes. Also, please pray that we lean on God for strength and not our own strength, after all, it is in our weakness that He makes us strong. Praise God!

Note in particular the sentence I have underlined. Even in saying “goodbyes” we can focus on the future. At such times it’s easy to get all tangled up in the here and now. Some people even come to a grinding halt when confronted with such events. They just can’t move ahead. Again, these are easy words to say but when the real life moment hits us it’s often difficult to keep our focus where it should be. Maybe we can pray that we as a church will experience a revival of our understanding of and practice of our heavenly citizenship in the month of July.

Yes, Steve and Marlayna, “Praise God!” Praise him that, as the gospel song sings, some day yonder we will never more wander but walk the streets made of purest gold.

To God Be the Glory!

Elder Jim Gordon