The Christian In the World, Part 1- “Foreigner”

Posted: November 25, 2012 in Living the Faith, The Christian In the World
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What’s it mean to be “foreign”?  If you’ve spent all of your life in the land of your birth, then it’s less likely to be about how you feel and more about how you view others.  Being “foreign” has to do with a country other than your own, a language other than your own, and a culture other than your own.

If you’ve spent any time travelling in a country other than your native land, you understand that it can be difficult to shake the sense of “foreignness”.  At every turn you’re reminded that you aren’t from the land of your travels, that you are something other than everyone else.  Even if your travels took you to countries of similar cultural background, you still felt that sense of strangeness.

“Strangeness, outsider, disconnectedness, adventure, exploration, educational, unintelligible, misunderstanding, culture shock, language barrier, customs & culture, just visiting, non-belonging, differentness, unsettled, anticipatory, going home.”   These are all ways that others have described the sense of foreignness they had when traveling in a strange land.

You  Are a Foreigner

This series of messages is drawn from the book of First Peter, and if you haven’t been reading it repeatedly to prepare for this series, then I certainly encourage you to.  But as you read it, realize that Peter was writing to persecuted believers who were scattered widely over a few Roman provinces.  Peter’s overall purpose in writing the letter seems to have been to help his Christian brothers and sisters deal with the pressures they were facing.

In the course of the letter he pointed out important truths that he wanted them to keep in mind as they dealt with the great divide that existed between the world they lived in and the faith they believed in.  One of those truths that he reminded them of…and it’s a truth we need to be reminded of today…was that Christians are foreigners.  The same essential distinctives that made people foreigners when traveling in a different country also applied to Christians in the world.

There are certain characteristics that declare foreignness.  Birthplace, citizenship, language, culture & customs, values & beliefs, worldview, even appearance…all of these contribute to a sense of foreignness.  So, it’s not hard to see why Peter would refer to Christians as foreigners.  In all of these ways Christians were different from the dominant culture.

And so are you.

This is a challenging time for Christians in North America, and it’s not so much because of the blatantly immoral and often anti-Christian environment that’s spreading like a virus all around us.  No.  That’s exactly the kind of environment the early church thrived in.  So, immorality, neo-paganism, militant atheism, and even an overt anti-Christian governmental bias are not, would not, and will not, be our real challenge.  What we’re finding most difficult to deal with here in North America is the fact that the dominant culture has rejected our values.

At one time it seemed that everyone’s views on truth, on morality, on responsibility, on the core values of life were essentially Christian.  Even if flouted, if unpracticed, they were still believed.  When someone came to Jesus, we didn’t realize that half our work had been done for us already!  They believed in absolutes, they believed in the same essential system of right and wrong, and they even professed to believe in the Bible.  So we celebrated like mad men when laid their smokes on the altar and testified how they’d poured out their liquor and destroyed their Conway Twitty albums.  Our entire culture was half-Christian already, and it was the deepest, most significant half…their minds were already convinced of the rightness of Christ and the wrongness of sin before they ever walked through the doors of a church.

We’re used to Judaeo-Christian ideals of morality, of rightness and wrongness, and of good and evil being the ideals that just about everyone in our society holds.  We’re used to our beliefs being considered the standard that the good life should be governed by.  We’re used to everyone being essentially like us…at least in public.  But that’s changing rapidly, and has been changing for a long, long time.  Now we Christians in North America are just beginning to get the slightest understanding of what being a Christian means in a non-Christian culture.  It means we are foreigners…and we’re finally going to start to feel like foreigners.

We’re foreigners because we’ve been born again as citizens of Christ’s New Kingdom, and that New Kingdom has New Laws and a New Culture.  Our language, our way of addressing each other and the world, is affected by that New Birth. We were born into a culture of love, kindness, & acceptance, and we were taught the custom of freely sharing with those who have need.  We are a people who value life, peace, and holiness.  We believe that there is One God manifested in the person of Jesus Christ, that Jesus is the only way to God, and that there is no other Name under heaven that brings salvation to humanity.  We view this world as created perfect by God, yet stained by sin, in need of a Redeemer.  To us, Christians should reflect that Redeemer in the world…in part by embracing lives of modesty and simplicity, both in appearance and conduct.

With those 150-something words I’ve summarized a large portion of the core of Christianity.  Does this summary sound anything like the world we live in?  Of course not.  If you are a Christian in the world, you are a foreigner.  And you need to come to grips with that reality.

Becoming Foreign

But birthplace, citizenship, language, culture & customs, values & beliefs, worldview, even appearance…these aren’t what make you foreign as a Christian.  These are only ways in which your foreignness presents itself.  What makes you a foreigner in the world is far more fundamental and begins by the action of Someone Other than you.  And that Someone did something that started the whole ball rolling toward you becoming a follower of Jesus Christ; He chose you.

God picked you.  He selected you.  The Greek word Peter used is eklektos; chosen, elect, select, picked out, and by implication, favorite.  The fundamental fact of your differentness, the base of your peculiarity, the core of your foreignness is this incredible bit of theology, this snippet of the great drama of the ages; He chose you!   He picked you!  The God of the Universe selected you!  And this “chosenness” is at the heart of all Christian distinctiveness in the world.

Peter presents this chosenness as consisting of different spiritual elements coming together to bring it into reality in your life.  Those elements are God’s foreknowledge, the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying you, and you entering covenant relationship with Jesus Christ.  These things together created in you the state of chosenness.  Think of it as two hydrogen molecules and an oxygen molecule forming water.  Just as those different elements together create another substance, so God’s foreknowledge, the Spirit’s work in your life, and your covenant with Jesus come together to make you chosen.

Let’s take a quick look at those elements…

Foreknowledge

You’ll recognize the Greek word for ‘foreknowledge’ immediately; prognosis.  Recognize that?  Sure!  Medical professionals use the word all the time.  Prognosis means you’re pretty sure, real sure, about what’s going to happen.  The doctor is experienced in dealing with a certain kind of sickness, and when he tells his patient his prognosis, he’s not simply making an educated guess.  All things considered, he’s got a good idea as to how the course of the sickness will run.

Well, that’s a great way to understand the foreknowledge of God as it relates to you being chosen. God saw you first.  Being God, He knew all about you before you ever knew anything about Him, and with all His knowledge of humanity in general and you in particular, His prognosis is that you would be saved.

However, having a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen isn’t the same as causing it to happen.  Don’t let some theologians or philosophers kid you…foreknowledge is not causation.  God knowing it doesn’t mean God caused it.  If Roxanne observes someone putting a slice of pepperoni & double cheese pizza down in front of me, her likely prognosis would be that I’d eat it…but that doesn’t mean she caused it.

Or, think of it as a college ball player being scouted for the majors.  The scout can form a prognosis of a player’s future, but that doesn’t mean he’s causing that future to come to pass.

God’s prognosis was that you’d be saved.

Sanctification

At some point the Holy Spirit began to work on your life through a process that’s called “sanctification”.  It essentially means that He began dealing with you, began leading you, in little ways over a period of time.  The idea of sanctification is linked arm and arm to holiness and separation.  So, Peter is telling us that God’s Spirit was actively working in your life, leading you in God’s direction.

You may not have always been conscious of the leading of God’s Spirit, but bit by bit you were led away from your old life to an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Covenant

Finally you were brought to the place of making a conscious choice.  Here your will was fully engaged; you had to make a decision.  Will I take up the cross and follow Jesus, or will I walk away?  Will I obey him and enter into His covenant?  Or will I turn my back and return to my old life?

Peter uses two terms to describe this covenant relationship you entered…he uses the terms obedience and sprinkling of blood.  Obedience is pretty clear; you started doing what Jesus said to do.  The phrase sprinkling of blood refers to the time the People of Israel publically ratified their covenant with God by offering a sacrifice.

Here’s how worked in your life; you repented…you changed your mind about your life…and you obeyed Jesus by being baptized.  You publically entered into covenant with Jesus.  When you did that, you were spiritually sprinkled with the blood of His sacrifice.

And there you have it…all the elements came together and you were one of the chosen.

 The Effect of Chosenness

This chosenness has a particular effect on us…it has the effect of setting us apart from the rest of the world.  We can’t help that; that’s just the result of being chosen.  In 1st Peter 2:9 we’re told just how different God has made us.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Special. Distinctive. God’s ministers in the world.  A people purified and set apart, claimed by God as His own inheritance.

Are Christians different?  You’d better believe they are!  So if at times you feel like you don’t fit in this world, it’s because you don’t.  If at times it seems the whole world is headed in a direction opposite you, it’s because it is.  If you feel strangeness, a sense of “out of place-edness”, that seems to indicate you don’t belong here, it’s because you are a foreigner here.

You are chosen.

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