Strangers and Pilgrims

My last paper article addressed the subject of immigration and the right of a nation under its God-ordained laws (Romans 13) to control who enters its country. This article addresses spiritual citizenship and the nature of the Christian’s life upon the earth and his relationship to it.

The apostle Peter wrote, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). A “stranger” (“sojourner” or “alien” in some versions) is one who lives in a place without citizenship. The Greek word for “pilgrim” also speaks to the fact of one’s being away from his own land, but it adds the notion of his being alongside other people. This describes the Christian’s status upon the earth. Though he often lives among people with different beliefs and values, his true citizenship is in heaven. Paul told the Philippians: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). The Christian’s hope is set upon heaven. He sees his earthly (physical) life as a means to an end. The faithfuls of old set a noble example of this attitude. Referring to Abel, Noah, Abraham and others, the Hebrew writer said, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).

Atheists and modernists make fun of this notion of setting one’s hopes on spiritual (things that are beyond this material world). They might deny the existence of God and of the spiritual world, but they cannot deny the fact of man’s mortality. We are indeed “sojourners” in this world. Even Bible deniers cannot deny the fact of death as stated in Hebrews 9:27 — “And just as it is appointed for man to die once (…and after that comes judgment…” Whether one likes it, accepts it or not, death is certain, and the average personal lifespan is extremely short compared to the overall span of time, and especially short when compared to eternity!

It should be noted that 1 Peter 2:11 was not Peter’s first time to use the word “pilgrim” or “sojourner.” He used this term in his opening sentence to describe the “elect” of God (Christians, 1 Peter 1:1). The next verse explains how these people acquired their heavenly citizenship. They became a part of God’s elect through their “obedience” to the gospel. Christ’s blood was sprinkled upon their consciences (cp. Hebrews 9:14). Peter again mentions this obedience in 1:22, where he said that it “purified” their “souls.” He refers to this process as “being born again” (1:23; see also John 3:3-5). Then, in 1 Peter 3:21 he says that water baptism is what produces the clean conscience of salvation. The obedient believer is a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). He now has the motivation to “abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11b). He is now a stranger and pilgrim in relation to the world — his true citizenship is in heaven. Contact us if you have any questions.

—Tim Haile

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