Here’s some potentially shocking news: you don’t.
You and I are strangers in a strange land. We live in enemy-occupied territory. It won’t always be that way—the rightful leader will be back one day. But what are we supposed to do in the meantime?
Christians seem pretty divided on that question. At the risk of over-generalizing, I perceive perhaps three main approaches.
Some folks seem to think we should circle the wagons and wait. Do our best to keep out the riff-raff, isolate ourselves, and just hang on until Jesus comes back for us.
For these people, the world is hopelessly lost. Those who accept Jesus will eventually be saved, the rest are doomed, and there’s nothing we can do about it except to lock the windows and hide.
Some folks want to fight the battle. We’re soldiers in a holy war, and it’s our job to win at nearly any cost.
For these folks, life is all about us against them. It’s really important to identify and marginalize “them.” If they’re not for us, they’re the enemy and must be defeated.
In this sacred battle, victory is imperative. We may not advocate actual physical violence, but pretty much any other tactics are fair game. We attack “them” personally and politically. If necessary, we’ll even spin the facts to achieve our God-mandated objectives.
It’s probably pretty obvious that neither of these mindsets works for me.
I think God wants me to adopt the status of a resident alien.
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” [Jeremiah 29:4-7]
Resident aliens don’t become citizens. They don’t assimilate or go along with customs that violate their core principles. They don’t seek to “fit in” at any cost, but rather to live within their adopted culture without rejecting their own.
But they also don’t expect their new home to adapt to them. They don’t rebel against things that are simply different from their homeland. They seek the well-being of their temporary home.
Resident aliens don’t battle with their surroundings. They seek peace and harmony. They don’t approach their hosts as enemies.
That’s how Jesus operated. He lived in the Jewish culture. He interacted with people, met them where they lived. He taught in synagogues and refused to endorse revolution against Rome’s tyranny. He was in the world, while certainly not being of the world.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. [John 3:16-17]
God loved this world so much that He sent Jesus to save it.
If I’m going to follow Jesus, I cannot withdraw from this alien culture. I can’t treat my life as something to simply be endured before I get to the good part.
I also cannot turn life into an endless battle in which everyone who thinks differently is perceived as an enemy to be vanquished. I can’t justify political attacks or personal demonization, even against those who oppose God and His ways. There’s that whole thing about loving everyone, even those who persecute me.
Let’s remember: this IS enemy-occupied territory, but the enemy isn’t the opposing political party or the atheists or the terrorists. The enemy isn’t those who disagree about government policy or taxes or national sovereignty.
The true enemy is much more evil and dangerous than any of these, and he wants us to forget about him and become preoccupied with worldly squabbles. He desperately hopes we’ll focus so intently on culture conflicts that we ignore the real spiritual war that seeks to destroy souls.
So what are we supposed to do?
Jesus invites us to embrace our status as resident aliens. He asks us to bring the very best of the culture from our true home—things like love, peace, kindness, and patience. He instructs us to imitate His radical policy of self-sacrifice out of love for a world that tortured and murdered Him.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]
Jesus’ parting words tell me His intent for my life. Whenever I’m unsure, I need to ask a simple question: Which choice will bring others closer to Jesus?
Nothing—not my rights or freedoms, not personal safety, not even love of country, can supersede His purpose. I’m called to make disciples, to demonstrate His love and grace—right here in this alien land.
Sounds simple enough, right?
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Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com