The calling to be strangers in a strange land is not an easy one.
It is difficult because the calling which comes to us from Scripture is completely contrary to all our nature. It is a calling which we can fulfill only by grace. It is difficult because it requires a great deal of wisdom. It is not easy to discern what this calling is. Especially the nature of the times in which we live make wisdom essential to the fulfillment of this calling. It is difficult because it appears that the fulfillment of it requires some extremely radical changes in our lives. It remains a question whether we are prepared to effect such changes. It is much easier to listen to this speech and go our own way after all.
There is an urgency about the calling in spite of its difficulties. To cease to be strangers in a strange land is to become a citizen of this world being comfortably at home here. It is to become a part of the world of sin. To cease to be strangers is to forget that we are called to look for the return of Christ Jesus our Lord. This is a denial of all our faith.
The Principles Involved
The calling which comes to us rests upon the fact that we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven who are called to live for a time in the world. The whole idea has an earthly analogy. The analogy is not as forceful in our day when the world shrinks in size and when there is an increasing conformity of custom among all the people of the globe. But if we could, in our minds, transport ourselves back a century or so, we can gain some inkling of the force of this. If, a century ago, a citizen from the Netherlands travelled to this land and lived here for a short while, he would be, in the strictest sense of the word a stranger in a strange land. He would be forced to live among a people who were so different from him in every respect that any possibility of contact with them was impossible. He would live among a people who dressed differently from his manner of dress; who ate different foods which had no appeal to him; who spoke a different language completely unintelligible to him; who lived by customs and mores which were foreign to his way of thinking. These differences constituted an insurmountable barrier. He would be a stranger. The result would be that he would have to remain a pilgrim while he sojourned in this land; a pilgrim who looked forward eagerly to the day when he would return to his fatherland, the land of his birth and citizenship, the land of his own people where he could “be at home.”
Spiritually this is true of God’s people. It was not always so. God’s people too are born a part of this world and “feel at home” here in the world. But God has made them strangers. This is a work of divine grace. We have not chosen to be strangers. We have not joined voluntarily the company of those who are strangers. The reality is much more profound. God has created a new man when He has saved us. He has changed us completely and radically. He has overcome us by grace and made us, in actual fact, citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We have our home and citizenship in heaven, for we have been born again from heaven. We have the life of heaven within us. The whole pattern of our life is determined by the principles and truths of the home which is ours in heaven and which we shall, someday, enter. We have not seen this home; we have only the word of our Father that it is very beautiful and wonderful. But we have the assurance that it is indeed our, for our Father has given us Christ to secure that home for us.
While we remain in the world therefore, we are strangers. The barrier that divides us from the world is very real though spiritual. It is an insurmountable barrier for the world lives a life which is determined in the dark corridors of hell. We live a life governed by the principles of heaven.
We are however, called to be strangers while we are in this world. We might have the impression that because we are strangers in a strange land, and because we this world is the strange land, therefore our calling is to have as little to do with the world as possible. This has been tried from time to time in the Church. There have been monks who saw their calling to be limited to the dark and dam walls of a monastery’s cell. There have been those who have sought some kind of geographic isolation from the world where they could live alone.
This is not our calling. There are various reasons for this. One is that the escape from the world is not as simple as all that. One could almost wish that it were. How easy it would then be to be a stranger in the world. All one would have to do is to establish a community of like-minded people on some distant island or one some high mountain. But it can’t be done. And it can’t be done because the world from which we must be strangers is to be found inside us – in our flesh. And we take that flesh with us wherever we go.
Another reason is that we would, if we ran out of the world, be turning our backs on God’s world. God created this world. It still belongs to Him. We may not despise it. We may not sneer at that which God has made.
This world which God has made and which He still owns is first of all the creation itself with its trees and flowers and rocks. Secondly, this world which God has made includes the powers of the creation which are harnessed by men and which are used in man’s splendid inventions. Radios are God’s. So are automobiles. Thirdly, the institutions of life belong to God. The institution of marriage is God’s. So is the institution of government. So are the institutions of parenthood and labor. Fourthly, the arts, so-called, are also God’s gifts which He has given for the use of men. These creatures are all good. They are given by God. They must be used as gifts of God insofar as that is possible. They must be enjoyed. They must be used to glorify the God Who owns them.
But there are a couple of additional truths which need saying at this point. One of these is that we know from Scripture that all this creation is temporary. God’s intent is not that it should last forever. We are repeatedly reminded by Scripture that there shall come a time when all this creation and everything in it shall be utterly destroyed. God wants it that way. This profoundly influences our use of them. This has much to do with our calling.
A second truth is that we also know from Scripture that God does not intend that His people ever possess a great deal of these earthly possessions which belong to God’s world. Most of the creation belongs to the wicked. God wills this too. This is not a fact to be lamented. This is not something which arouses sadness in the soul of the Christina. He faces this as a fact of life. Almost all God’s world is in the hands of wicked men who dominate it and control it. And as time goes on and we neat the end, this shall become increasingly true. There will be presently no room at all in all the world for the people of God.
A third truth is that the wicked always corrupt all God’s gifts. There is no exception to this whatsoever. The wicked world is dedicated, in sin and spiritual darkness, to steal this world from God and to dethrone the God of heaven and earth and throw Christ out of the creation. This is their goal because they hate God and Christ with implacable hatred. This is rue because they have a desire to sin as much as they possibly can and escape the judgment which comes from an angry God.
And so they always do only one thing, they take God’s gifts and they make these gifts dirty and obscene. They can do nothing else. Always they make every gift of God serve their sinful purposes. They rape God’s world and destroy it. They make radio and television tools to propagate the lie and serve their own sinful pleasures. They destroy marriage, for it becomes a tool to satisfy the lusts of the flesh. They always corrupt and destroy.
Yet they make a world which is glittering and attractive form the viewpoint of sin. They create a structure which is alluring and enticing and which plucks at the flesh almost irresistibly. They present the world of sin as the only intelligent way to live.
It is in the light of these principles that our calling must be defined.
A Definition of the Calling
There is a negative aspect to the calling to be Strangers in a Strange Land. This is not surprising. Our calling is antithetical. And an antithetical calling always has a negative aspect.
To understand this we must understand that Scripture defines this “way of life” which the world lives as a certain kind of pattern for our lives. In the totality of our lives we must be different form this spiritual appoint of view. Their whole life, in all its parts, is dedicated to sin. If we are truly strangers, this is a way of life foreign to us. Form a spiritual point of view we cannot live like they do.
This can be demonstrated in almost every area of life. The wicked world has a certain way of life when it comes to dress. Especially is this true in our day. There is an unholy emphasis upon the importance of beautiful clothes not only, but there is a prevailing immodesty of dress which is a way of life foreign to the Christian. The practices of courtship and dating in the world are geared to their understanding of marriage. These practices are unacceptable to us. Their language is blasphemous and obscene, a perpetual recitation of the lie. Their use of radio and television is thoroughly corrupt and by it they despoil a gift of God. The Christian rejects all this.
There are two areas which I want to discuss with you particularly. The one is music, Music is a most wonderful gift of God. It is eminently suited to glorify God. It is a powerful vehicle for telling of God’s works, reciting His glory, praying in confession of sin or in bringing our needs. It is a powerful instrument to move, excite, bring peace and joy, communicate God’s beauty in a unique way. The gift is corrupted by the world. The world creates a music which, in its words, not only, but also in its tunes, beat, tempo, rhythm, harmony, etc., arouses passions, sinful lusts and moves one in ways of wicked thoughts and desire. It speaks in an emotional way that sex is the main thing in life, that pleasure is the chief end of man, that love is mere physical attraction. It conveys a whole philosophy of life utterly godless and is a part of a way of life born in hell. How sad it is that young people of God’s covenant are more attracted to this music than to the music of the Church. It is a question of being strangers in a strange land.
Another is the whole area of the stewardship of our possessions. This is a broad issue involving the whole question of the pursuit of entertainment, the spending of leisure time, the accumulation of this world’s goods. It involves the whole question of a system of values – weighing in the scales of God what is important in life and what is not. It is true indeed that life is not drab and colorless, without any fun. But it is also true that fun in life is not to be found in draining the cup of earthly pleasure. Happiness is to be found in the service of the Lord God. Nor is a valid protest against the materialism of the age to be found in the hippie and drug culture among societies’ dropouts. It is to be found in a life that has a pattern other than that of a wicked world in which we must spend the years of our sojourn.
But our calling is a positive one.
Our life is not a series of “don’ts.” We would be sadly wrong and grossly misleading if we took this position. Perhaps we older ones have sometimes left you with that impression. We ought not to do this. We have a positive calling and we are unfaithful to God if we ignore it.
This calling is, quite naturally, to use God’s world in such a way that we are spiritually different from the world of wickedness. It is to use God’s world according to a “pattern of life” laid down in Scripture. It is to use God’s world according to principles and laws which belong to the kingdom of heaven.
All this takes into account the fact that this world is passing. It takes into account that we shall possess less and less of it as time moves on. It takes into account the fact that we week a heavenly city which is built by God and which is our eternal destination.
Taking these things into account our calling consists in using the world of God to seek the cause of the kingdom of Jesus Christ as that cause if manifested in the world. And that cause of Jesus Christ manifested in the world is not a cause which embraces the whole world and which results in social renewal of all life’s institutions. It is the cause of the Church of Christ, of the preaching of the gospel, of the work of missions of the education of the children of the covenant in Christian schools; in short, of all that belongs to the salvation of the people of God. Every gift of God must be used to further that cause. To use it differently is to sin. We are strangers in a strange land when we seek the city which hath foundations with the gifts God has given us. We have not two callings: one to seek heaven and another to enjoy the earth. We have one calling: to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness; to seek the things which are above; to seek them with all that we are and possess.
There are several concrete suggestions with which we conclude.
We must, as young people, encourage the development of creative writing, painting, music, etc. in our circles. There was a time when Beacon Lights did some of this. We should do it again. The young people must, with proper spiritual guidance from their parents, pastors and youth advisors, speak out on the issues of the day which particularly concern them. And Beacon Lights is a proper organ for just this. These issues would be drug abuse, music, dating and courtship, conscientious objection of war, etc. There must be more involvement of our young people in the activities of the church. Again, perhaps we older ones may be somewhat at fault. We have feared that young people would assume work not rightly theirs. But there is much to be done and few to do it. There is room for the energy of our covenant youth in the work of the Church.
It all comes down to one essential principle. We must learn to be different; learn to be strangers in the truest sense of the word; dare, with the courage of faith in Christ, to be different. And all this begins with the Word of God and prayer. If this speech serves no other purpose, let it serve this purpose at least – that it urge you to live close to the Word of God in Scripture study and prayer. The rest is all vain ultimately unless we begin here. Each of us must find time in our lives for our own devotions. Without such time our best efforts are fruitless. We must find time to seek the strength, the wisdom, the courage, the understanding we need from Scripture and from God Who has called us. There is the pattern for our lives. There is the fountain of grace by which alone we can fulfill our calling.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No. 6 October 1970