October 11, 2014

Living as an alien

We went to Kunming, China a few years ago. My husband walked from where we were staying to meet our friend who was working in another part of the city. He describes how he felt as he realized he was the tallest person on the busy sidewalk, the only Caucasian, and very likely the only one who could speak English. He felt alone, even a little nervous as a stranger in an alien place.

All Christians are strangers in an alien place. This world is not our home and we feel it. Some of us try to fit in and sometimes appear as if we do, but practicing the ways of this world is much easier than growing a few inches or learning another language. However, the Bible warns us about the spiritual danger of trying to fit in, or of letting fear determine how we relate to others.

The New Testament says this is a real danger. Paul wrote, “In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

“The last days” also known as the “end times” began at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down. We are living in those days and Christians are strangers in this alien place. Like my husband walking in a foreign city, I often feel that alienation combined with a tingle of fear. How do I behave in this place? How do I relate to those who cannot understand me?

This part of Scripture goes on to say that I must not live the same way they do, or even think the same way. It also says some of them will “appear godly” but have actually denied Christ and His power. Paul offers two solutions with each one depending on the other.

First, he writes, “Avoid such people” meaning those who are faking it. He then describes their subversive activities, such as deceiving weak people who are looking for answers to life. I’m not to prey on others as those “religious” people might do. This is related to the second great commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Those who take advantage of weak people will “not get very far” and eventually be exposed as frauds.

Second, he commends Timothy. His commendation is advice on how I also should live as an alien: “You . . . have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings . . .  which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.”

The implications are plain: live as a godly person and accept the consequences. He says it like this, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Paul followed Christ with all his heart. He escaped the spiritual dangers of going along with the lifestyle of those who opposed Christ, but then wound up being persecuted by them. This persecution was far more severe than letters to the editor, rebukes for politically incorrect language, and sneering laughter at what he proclaimed. Those frauds continually tried to kill him.

For all of this, he told Timothy (and he tells me) that we aliens need for the Word of God: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (all of the above is from 2 Timothy 3:1–17)

I cannot live here as an alien and love people who hate me — without the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. I cannot love of God when He allows me to suffer persecution and other severe challenges — without the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. His Word is my source of faith —and the Holy Spirit is the One who enables me to exercise it.

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