Adjusting Our Identity

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” – 1 Peter 2:11

I woke up this morning wanting to write a blog as I usually do on Monday but came up blank on a subject. My response was to ask God, “Surprise me.” Indeed He did; the result was an article by John Piper entitled Black History in the Making: What ‘White Evangelicals’ Can Learn, and can be seen here.

Participation in mission efforts in Europe, South America, and the Caribbean have impacted my thoughts about the relationship of a Christian to his or her nation and culture. I’ve met fellow Christians in other countries that are every bit as dear to me as my Christian brothers and sisters in the United States. This article resonated with me, because it reflected thoughts I’ve had for a number of years. How do you reconcile heavenly and earthly citizenships? And who are your real fellow citizens?

I appreciate my time at Harding College; it was there I met my wife and got an education. But I always felt a bit uncomfortable with the unspoken connection made between Christian faith, American patriotism, and conservative Republican politics, as if one couldn’t be of the ‘true faith’ without fully embracing all three. It’s particularly difficult to reconcile when considering verses such 1 Peter 2:11.

Piper speaks of two principles which describe a Christian’s identity within his/her own culture: indigenizing and pilgrim. The indigenizing principle ‘makes … faith a place to feel at home’. The pilgrim principle ‘whispers to [the Christian] that he has no abiding city and warns him that to be faithful to Christ will put him out of step with his society for that society never existed, in East or West, ancient time or modern, which could absorb the word of Christ painlessly into its system ‘.

This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through…

In the United States we have absorbed the indigenizing principle of faith, but not the pilgrim principle. We came to believe that America is a Christian nation, chosen by God to be a shining beacon to the world. Generic Christianity was as much a civil religion as a personal statement of faith. But as the culture changed and became more openly hostile to Christianity, we’ve been forced to re-evaluate the nature of American Christianity. We need to move toward a pilgrim mindset about who we are.

When we submit ourselves to Christ we surrender our sovereignty to him. Paul speaks rather extensively of our “old man” being put to death (Colossian 3:9,10; Ephesians 2:1-6; Romans 6:1:4). As a new creation, we are ‘in Christ’. We need to understand we are citizens of His kingdom and our primary allegiance is now to Him, but we have not yet reached our home country.  Thus we are sojourners, travelers in a world where we no longer belong. We are still subject to the leaders and laws, just as we would be if we were to visit a foreign country. But we are here on a visitor’s visa, and it reminds us we may “be” here but we don’t “live” here.

So we need to remember a few things. We are pilgrims, on a journey to our true country.  Our obedience is to Jesus Christ first and foremost, and as such we are to live in a way that reflects Him. We can’t get so entangled in this life it distracts us from our journey. We have more in common with believers in Russia, China, and throughout the world than with unbelievers in the United States. And finally, we have a task as we travel. We are to spread the message of Jesus Christ, invite others to join us on the journey, and show them the way home.