When someone becomes a Christian, there are many beautiful names they take on: born again Christian, follower of Christ, child of God, believer, brother/sister, to name a few. But, out of all the Biblical names a Christian takes on, few are more convicting to me than that of an exile for Christ. Foreigner. Sojourner. Alien.
The name somehow unsettles me, to be honest.
Perhaps the current social events surrounding the motif of immigrants and refugees awaken in me various emotional and personal feelings that color my interpretation of exile through the frame of political injustice and problem solving activism. The reality of immigrants and exiles exists outside of me and far from my own home-boundaries.
Am I supposed to pack up my kids and exit the city gates in order to be a Christian exile? Are we to wander the world, backpacks and bare necessities, as if we have no home and no country to belong to?
Or, perhaps I am unsettled because I can’t seem to quite connect with the term Christian exile in our post-modern, abundant, and prosperous 21st century American culture. Truth be told, my current home feels nothing like the foreign and antagonistic place an exile may be accustomed to. Though an immigrant from Eastern Europe, I’ve been enjoying the bliss and peace of the American home for years now. My children live and thrive in this world as well. Perhaps it is the reality that my very home holds emotional plaques of past and present endearing family memories I am not quite ready to depart with in the name of “sojourning”.
Are we to stop living abundantly, sell our homes, leave our jobs and stop enjoying life in order to mimic the Christian exiles of the Bible?
Exiled or Not, We All Need to Cultivate The Mindset of Exiles For Christ
The exiles Peter is talking to in his letters are a group of brothers and sisters banished from their homes, hunted and persecuted for following Christ. A people with no “lasting city here,” as the author puts it in Hebrews. Much like the Middle Eastern church these days. Much like many other current parts of the world, for that matter.
When Peter addresses the persecuted, poor, and displaced group of Jewish believers we’d expect him to cut them some slack and show them some sort of liberating compassion. Bring them over to Jerusalem. Be their voice to the rulers of the land. Lobby for new homes and protection. Sign petitions. Call for change!
And yet, Peter is doing something counter-cultural even among his contemporaries. He is urging these persecuted exiles to remember their very identity as exiles for Jesus, and live worthy of this calling. You see, the issue, as Peter notes it, is not their sociopolitical status of exiles with no land. Instead, the issue is the actual status of their very hearts. Even while wandering and running away in suffering, the hearts of the exiled believers were in danger of settling for some vain refuge of fleshly lusts. Peter highlights for them the actual Edenic long battle for the souls. The real assault is on their souls’ worship. Peter reminds them to keep their souls unattached to worldly treasures in such a way that they will point beyond this world, to a heavenly citizenship.
Peter’s words are just as poignant in our century, I feel. So, no, Peter is not calling me to pack my kids’ bags and exit the city’s gates, acting as if I have no land or home to live in. Instead, Peter is reminding me, a 21st century Christian mother, that to live as an exile I must watch carefully over my heart’s worship. In other words, his warning to me is to be careful what I let my heart fall in love with and settle on daily. Do I fit too well here that my heart only mirrors the world and its treasures? Or does my heart’s love point beyond this world well into God’s heaven?
Living As an Exile Means Living More Not Less Abundantly For Christ
Peter’s words are filled with encouragement and commands for the exiled church to live life. Not to run, hide, withdraw, isolate or give up. In fact, Peter’s letter is filled with such a gusto for life that it is contagious really. He uses verbs like live, submit, do good, love, show respect, honor, fear God, endure. In my mind, I find it hard to reconcile such zealous admonitions with the meager pictures I have of exiles in my own preconceived notions. And yet again, Peter speaks counter-culturally of how to live…even while dying! His message places the exile believers at the heart of the very community that persecutes them and chases them away. Right at the heart of communal relationships is where their status of exiles frees them to love, serve, honor, and do good to the neighbor and brother alike. The very hard status of exiles frees them to live fully, abundantly and on purpose. Why? Because they belong to God!
More than that, Peter is adamant about Christians living full lives because God’s glory is at stake. He reminds the church that their free, honorable and godly lives should be a testimony for God’s goodness to all people. Their lives should point to God’s glory. They should make such an impression in their community that people will honor God even to the last days. Peter charges the exiles not with a liberation manifest, but with the proclamation of the gospel. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…God’s people…that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of the darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, italics mine).
You see, I am convinced that Peter reminds us, too, of our identity as foreigners and exiles not to point out that we are misplaced, lacking or to demean us. He stresses our identity in order to remind us that, as Christians, we are made for more than our physical address and earthly citizenship, and for better dwellings—eternal heaven in the presence of our Lord. He encourages us to claim the gospel truth of Christ in us, a new creation. He connects in our hearts this heavenly heritage with our eternal promised land, the new heaven, not to forget that this temporary world of here and now will disappoint, hurt, and distract us. And while Peter is writing to a truly persecuted, poor and displaced, exiled group of brothers and sisters in Christ, his message, nowadays even, has less to do with earthly dwellings, holding a passport, or citizens’ rights, and everything to do with the great commission, pure hearts, missional living and God’s glory.
So, hold on to your homes and jobs. Some of us may need to take on more jobs, venturing out courageously as we seek to share the good news with people. Others may need to take our kids into circles beyond the just Christian ones in order to meet moms who haven’t heard about Christ. Some of us may need to stay longer at the park while we meet new friends and share Jesus. Others may need to open up our homes more for other neighbors to come over so they can see and hear about Jesus. We need to live more on purpose, not less. We need to live more fervently, abundantly, purposefully for Jesus. We need to live more on mission so that in our living Christ may be seen, God may be glorified, and the good news may be proclaimed. We need to live as if God’s honor is at stake as exiles in our North American homes!