The Christian Life as an Exile: Called to a Life of Sacrifice in God’s Holy Nation

If you are a Christian feeling more uneasy the closer we get to the presidential election in America, you can rest easy. That uneasy feeling is the Spirit trying to tell you that you are not really a citizen of this world but an alien in exile. He’s trying to tell you that you are a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20) in God’s Holy Nation (1 Peter 2:9), with God’s only Son Jesus as its King. As unsettled as we might feel about America these days, we can rest easy knowing God is building his Church, and us who are in it, through these unsettling events. He’s doing this in two ways.

 

God is Revealing America’s True Nature

First, the downside to this election is the anxiety we all feel about it. This anxiety is due to the nature of being forced to choose between two kinds of evil. Even worse, this choice is causing us to realize just how much we have been duped into believing the allusion that any nation of this world is as holy, lasting, or important as God’s Nation, the Church. We recoil in horror when we peek into God’s truth that the world’s governments are only a temporary mask to cover up or (at best) help order people who are not “a people” after all (1 Peter 2:10). We’ve even believed in the past (or more today?) that America is the hope for the nations, if only they would order themselves on the principle we do, personal autonomy. Of course, as Christians, we know this is only an illusion wearing a mask.

Slowly, God is taking off the mask that has always covered what our nation is at heart, and we (by the Spirit’s vision) are repulsed by what we see. It’s always been there, we just refused to take off our own blinders due to our desire to keep even a little of the world’s power for ourselves. We are just like Jesus’ disciples when they asked him when he would restore the kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:6). Jesus tells us what he told them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

Jesus plainly reveals the diametrically opposed natures of the world’s nations and of his Holy Nation, the Church. On the day of Pentecost, the Church began by receiving the Holy Spirit from the ascended Jesus (Acts 2). Being constituted by the Spirit, the Church would advance by the Spirit whereas the nations, constituted by human sin, would advance by the sword. Nations are based on the need to manage the human desire for doing one’s own will, sin. On the other hand, Jesus established and builds his Church by the Spirit’s work of faith that reverses the human desire for doing one’s own will. The world can only manage sin but Jesus came to conquer, reverse, and ultimately destroy it. Thus, no Christian should be surprised to see these two realities clashing in a world that rejects Jesus, “as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:8).

Our problem is that we often confuse the separation between two sides of the great divide between being in the world but not of it. On one hand, we live in the temporal world that is passing away due to God’s curse of death on it but, on the other hand, we are of the eternal world by being made sons of the Father in the Spirit. Sadly, we Christians help propagate this confusion by our desire to be of the world as well as in it, even if only a little. What God is teaching us through our uneasy feelings, is that we need to be less of this world by God killing any desire for it that remains (that is, our “flesh”) and replacing it with a desire to be like Jesus by his Spirit’s presence, which is how Paul describes baptism (Romans 6:1-11). This leads us to the second aspect of the problem.

 

God is Making Christians Less Like Americans

Second, the upside to this year’s election is the anxiety we all feel about it. (Yes, we should also thank God for it). The reason for this anxiety is also the Spirit of God working in us to create a holy nation for himself out of people totally undeserving of his mercy and grace—you and me. Sadly, we are often as reluctant to live out God’s grace as we were undeserving of receiving it in the first place. This is why the Spirit often has to do some unsettling or even painful things in our lives to get us to change our deeply entrenched views from being of this world.

This election year is one of those painful experiences, at least to those still holding on to the illusion that we Christians should hold on tight to the little bit of worldly power we think we still have. Let us not fool ourselves, God is the one in control of this thing called nation building and nation tearing down, not us. We should, rather, be thankful that God is loosening our grip on this process by showing us that our witness to Jesus’ lordship is our first calling in Christ and that prayer for others to make Jesus their Lord is our primary political task. After all, the spotless bride that Jesus is coming back for at any time now is his Church, God’s Holy Nation of blood-bought saints, and not any nation of this world, not even America.

 

Conclusion: The Life of an Alien in Exile

Let me end this by repeating what Peter has to say about the situation we find ourselves in during this election year,

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . 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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:4, 9–12).

Christian, are you being faithful to your Lord, King Jesus, who reigns forever over The Nation? If so, be thankful for that “peaceful uneasy feeling.” It’s what to be expected as an alien living in exile.

Andréa Snavely

Dr. Andréa Snavely is Professor of Theology at Global University. His dissertation, entitled Life in the Spirit: A Post-Constantinian and Trinitarian Account of the Christian Life, is currently being published by Wipf and Stock. In this work, Dr. Snavely presents a Spirit Christology dealing with how Christians can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the kind of life Jesus lived.

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