“They are not from the world just as I am not from the world.”
St. Augustine wrote his classic work, The City of God, originally to refute the idea that the Christians were responsible for the barbarian invasion and sacking of Rome, though the work grew into something much larger and fuller. In his work, he compared two cities, the city of God and the city of men, and ultimately that which marked your membership in each was which you loved more, God or self. C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Problem of Pain, similarly argues that the most important decision any human can make is whether or not you will love God more than you love self.
We have already discussed how God’s word marks believers as having a citizenship in heaven and not on the earth—again, the Christian does not belong to the world, but belongs to God. Thus, just as Jesus’ kingdom is not an earthly kingdom, neither is ours and our primary patriotic allegiance is a heavenly allegiance, not an earthly one. Does that mean we should forsake our nations? No, as believers, we have been called to be a blessing to the nations in which we live (Genesis 12:3, 1 Peter 3:9).
So what does it mean for us to not be from this world? The first thing is that should mark us as somewhat different and recognizable. For example, at this point in my life, I have made several trips into eastern Europe to teach, primarily in the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. At this point, I can get my way around the grocery store and the downtown area so that I can find some of the things I need while I am there. At the same time, I am obviously American. Even apart from the language barrier, the way I dress, the way I look, and the way I carry myself all proclaims that I am not from there—people know that I am different. Such should be the same with our Christian identity. People should not have to interact with you for very long before they realize that there is something different about you—and that something should be winsome; it should attract folks not so much to you but to the God who has made you different.
This does not mean that Christians have to go out to the local Christian book store and buy the t-shirt, the cross necklace, and the WWJD bumper sticker all of a sudden; it means that in your quiet demeanor, you are different. It should be visible not only in the things you abstain from, but your faith ought to be visible in the way you do the things you do. For example, for what purpose are you going to church? For too many Christians, church tends to be more about going through the motions and not about coming into the presence of Christ in the company of other Christian believers. Often our worship seems more like ritual entertainment than a sacrifice of praise. Similarly, how is it that we spend our money. Often it seems much easier to spend $50 going out for a meal than to put an additional $50 to support the ministry of the church. How much time each week do we spend watching television and then claim that we are too busy to spend an hour at a prayer meeting, Sunday School, or in Bible study? My goal is not to lay a guilt trip on you, but to raise the question about how Christianity marks your life and then allow the Holy Spirit to do the rest.
So, your life should look different and your primary allegiance should look different and frankly your thinking should be a little different (as you should be setting all things up against the plumb-line of the Bible), but what else should mark you as being different? There is one more thing that I think that we need to put on the table—that is that not only should your life be different, but your death should be different as well. Christians can have confidence and even peace in the midst of great trial and suffering, all the while, never lose hope because of who they belong to. Christ has bought us as his own and has promised never to let us out of his hand. We need not fear the grave for our Lord has already been there and has already sanctified it before us. And he rose! As a young man in my teens, my grandmother moved in with us due to health issues; in my early twenties she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and would die about 11 months later. During that year, I had the benefit of watching her through the good days and the bad days (at least humanly speaking) and I never saw her faith waiver. I have said many times before that I learned more about living as a Christian by watching her die as a Christian than I ever did watching the saints in church around me. Beloved, what a wonderful ministry opportunity we have as we get older and go toward the end of our earthly lives—hospitals and nursing homes should not be seen as places to be feared, but as another form of mission field! How many doctors and nurses and other patients might be longing for what we have?
Beloved, we do not belong to this world—such is our Lord’s prayer even. Just as he is not of this world, but has his citizenship in heaven, so too, we should intentionally think, live, and die with this in mind. Thus, the question remains, what needs to change in your life so that your life honestly proclaims that you have a citizenship that lies in an eternal kingdom of grace and not in these temporary nations that so quickly rise and fall in history?