“Thus, we are no longer aliens and outsiders but we are fellow citizens with the saints and the family of God,”
Anyone who has traveled abroad and finds themselves alone in a country or land where the culture and customs are very different from his own understands how disconcerting it can be. My first time traveling to Ukraine found me navigating my way through airports in languages that I did not know and amongst a people who were not overly friendly toward Americans that did not know their way. Even though I did not look that different than most of the people around me, the fact that I was an alien stood out like a red flag. It was awkward and uncomfortable and I am grateful for the little graces that allowed me to navigate successfully.
As Christians, that is how we should feel in this world. We are outsiders and have a custom that is not common in the land in which we live. What Paul is stating is that in Christ, we have been made fellow citizens and part of a family — that family and citizenry is expressed in the context of the church. And, as we reach out to one another, as we cling to one another for safety and sanity, we find ourselves making our way through this world toward our eternal home.
What is sad is that oftentimes, the professing church has become at home in the world. They have adapted their ways and synchronized their habits in such a way that they don’t stand out quite so much. For instance, they may attend church in the morning but the whole day is not set apart for rest and worship. They may have mastered their tongue at home and amongst other Christians but not in the workplace. They may live in accordance to the Law of God when convenient, but when it is inconvenient, it is put to the side.
No, beloved, the world should not feel comfortable with us any more than we feel comfortable with the world. In fact, a sign that we are doing the right thing is that the world will hate us, not love us. A mark of Biblical fidelity is oftentimes persecution not only in the world, but also in the secular church. Yet, we rally together with the True Church as we make our way through this world, seeking to take dominion over it through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do this together, as fellow citizens and as part of the family of God (and note that all humans are not God’s children — that is a lie and it comes from the fires of hell — consult 1 John 3:4-10 for clarification on this notion).
“giving light to the eyes of your heart to know the hope of his calling, which is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and which is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us, those who believe, according to the outworking of his power and might.”
Okay, time to make some people grumpy. What a way to start off. Here’s the problem, people in the west have bought into the idea that human beings are all part of a “brotherhood of man” and that as such, we are all children of God. And in that myth, our problem lies. While there is but one race (the human race), which makes the prejudices that we might have a foolish proposition, within that one race, there are two lines of people. There are some who are children of God and others who are children of the devil (1 John 3:9-10). What distinguishes between the two lines? God’s seed abides in his children and the seed of the devil abides in his.
This, beloved, is what we call election, plain and simple. God has chosen some as his own and places his seed in them. We do not deserve this privilege nor did we earn it or choose it (Romans 9:16). It is a work of God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). And why might such an idea make people mad? It is plainly taught in the Scripture? It makes people mad because they have bought into a wrong side — a wrong paradigm that makes God responsive to the desires of man — and changing paradigms is often a difficult process. In addition, this very principle means that the blessings of God of which Paul is speaking in this text, only belong to the believer. They do not belong to those outside of the faith.
And thus, Paul writes, that all of these things which we have been speaking, through the power of God, have been “toward us, those who believe.” The unbeliever is not adopted into God’s household and thus cannot address God as “Father.” The children of the devil can have no assurance of glory and eternal life in heaven. The reprobate do not have light for their eyes that would give them spiritual sight — they are left blind so that they will not turn from their wicked ways and repent (remember Isaiah’s language that we cited above). And yes, people often get testy when confronted with ideas such as these.
Yet, if you are a believer, then these promises do belong to you. What makes one a believer? We talked a little about assurance above, but it is worth going back to Paul’s language of Romans 10:9-13. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Indeed, there is much that can be said as we unpackaged these verses, but on the most basic level, there must be faith in the historical bodily resurrection of Christ. That does not mean you believe that he spiritually rose and “lives in your heart,” but that he physically rose and ascended into heaven where now he sits at the right hand of God as King over his Church and over his creation.
Yet salvation is not just a matter of belief; it is a matter of confession that Jesus is Lord. That is simply another way of saying that Jesus is not just a King, but that he is your King and that you live your life in submission to him. That, of course, sends us back to John’s language which speaks of practicing righteousness or practicing sin. You cannot confess Jesus as Lord with any sense of integrity or meaning if you do not seek to live in obedience to His Law. No, we are not saved by our obedience; our obedience is the testimony that we are saved. If someone seeks to live life however they wish and cares not for what the Word of God commands of him, that person cannot be said to be a Christian and thus these promises do not belong to him. Sobering, isn’t it?
Being one of “those who believe” is not something that only requires church attendance from you — a couple hours on Sunday mornings. No, being “those who believe” is something that demands a lifestyle from you — one that is in submission to the Word of God in every way possible. No, we won’t get it right all of the time, but that is not the call. Our call is to strive in that direction so that our King is honored by the actions of those who profess Him.
“in order that you may be without blame and pure, children of God, without blemish in a generation that is bent and perverted, in which you might shine as lights in the world,”
What does it mean to be without blame and pure? Certainly, as fallen people, we cannot achieve this state here on earth on this side of the eternal veil, can we? Could Paul be speaking of the imputed righteousness of Christ here — that righteousness given to us in our salvation by Christ who paid the penalty for our sins? First of all, we will never realize full sanctification here on earth on this side of heaven unless Jesus happens to return swiftly. We will struggle against sin for all of our days; such is the lot for the believer in this world and such is the way that God purifies us for heaven…it was good enough for Jesus to enter heaven through the road of the cross, why do we balk at our own suffering so?
At the same time, in context, this does not seem that Paul is speaking of the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to the believer. Why? Because that righteousness is a one-time measure that permits us to stand blameless before the presence of God in judgment and Paul is speaking of the importance of striving and laboring toward this on earth.
Thus what we are seeing, in context, is the goal to which believers are to strive. It is indeed a lofty goal, but it is toward that goal that marks us as children of God. People often comment to me, “Isn’t every human being God’s child?” While such is commonly taught in the society, it is not taught in the Bible. A mark of being God’s child is that it is toward blamelessness and purity that we are to strive. If we are not interested in striving toward such things or if we pursue that which is sin, that is a sign that we are children of the Devil (see 1 John 3:4-10 with emphasis on verse 10). There are two races of people throughout history…the children of God and the children of the Devil…a designation that goes all of the way back to Genesis 3:15 but that Jesus also echoes in his Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30).
Our job, then, as believers, is to strive to live in such a way that our lives are unblemished and given entirely to Christ. Does this mean that we will never fall into sin? Of course not. There was a movement in Wesleyanism that was called the “Holiness” movement which argued that with a sort of second conversion experience, you could complete your sanctification on earth and never sin again. Apart from causing many to shipwreck their faith over doubts and a lack of security, it also caused many to shipwreck their faith in pride and arrogance arguing that they had not sinned in “x” number of years (see 1 John 1:8 and 10 for an Apostolic comment on this idea). Thus as believers, we will sin, but when we do (this is 1 John 1:9), and we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Therefore, as forgiven Children of God, we are to live as those who are unblemished by this twisted world — like living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) — like unblemished Passover Lambs just as our Master and Lord was the unblemished Passover Lamb.
Why? So we might shine as lights in the world around us. The language that Paul employs is a word picture of the stars in the night sky. Have you ever been out on a very dark night, but the heavens are filled with the light of the stars? That is the idea. We cannot shine like the Sun…that is Jesus’ place and he does through his Word. But as we take that Word of God and apply it to all areas of life, we also shine that light in the darkness…and if the light of the stars is bright enough, you can see a great deal in this world. May we intentionally be such lights.