If you identify as a Christian, do you consider yourself an exile in today’s world? I’d suggest that many Christians don’t see themselves this way, and sadly, our status as exiles isn’t often preached in our churches because it’s an unpopular message that demands something of us. Nevertheless, Jesus called us exiles in the world [John 15:19]. Peter referred to the initial recipients of his first letter as exiles [1 Peter 1:1]. James, more bluntly, says that if we’re in league with the world, then we’re at enmity with God [James 4:4]. Even the Greek word for “Church” Ekklesia means “The called out ones”. That’s a theme echoed by the story of the Exodus and in the oft-used term, “Remnant”. Simply put, God’s people are to be exiles in an anti-God society, an outpost of the kingdom of God in that culture.
In the Old Testament, we read that God called one man out of his clan and promised to make him into a nation [Genesis 12:1-2]. Then centuries later, God brought that nation out of a pagan land and gave them a land of their own to live godly lives in obedience to Him as examples to the surrounding nations [Deuteronomy 7:6]. It’s a theme also echoed in the New Testament about believers by the word “sanctified”, which essentially means “to be set apart”. It’s a word that implies that we’re different because we subscribe to Heaven’s ideologies, not the world’s. Consequently, if we’re truly following Jesus, our lives will reflect His ideologies, setting us apart from our host culture.
Hopefully, these ideas aren’t entirely unfamiliar. Assuming they aren’t, it’s worth asking yourself if you’re living as an exile. Jesus didn’t leave us to determine how we live as exiles. He provided clear guidelines. The best known of these teachings is captured in Matthew 5-7, popularly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve heard people dismiss the Sermon on the Mount as idealistic and inapplicable to us, almost as though Jesus didn’t mean for us to live it out. That He lived out these principles and then commanded us to “follow Him” renders that argument void. So, if we want to examine how well we’re following Jesus, the ultimate exile who wasn’t of this world, then there’s no better place to start.
If I’m serious about following Jesus, the people around me should be able to tell by my conduct. It should be evident by how I treat my wife and kids that I subscribe to a different ideology. My co-workers, neighbours and even the parents and teachers at my kids’ school should offer the same testimony as they observe my life. My public and private habits and behaviours should be consistent too. Additionally, my life should showcase what I claim about God. Christians often make grandiose claims about God that their lives don’t substantiate. As such, the world often doesn’t take us seriously. Jesus, on the other hand, demonstrated what He said about the kingdom of God, substantiating His claims. We ought to do the same. If we claim to be in league with the supernatural, the results of that association should be evident to others.
It’s worth stressing that living as an exile in this world is impossible without God’s help. That may sound intuitive, but it’s a fact that is frequently neglected or misunderstood by many. I was in the latter camp for most of my life. I’d tried to follow God in my strength and failed woefully. So, while I knew my efforts were futile, I didn’t know what else to do. When Jesus said that knowledge of the truth would set us free [John 8:32], I now understand that He was making a statement, not giving a command. Unless we learn God’s principles and seek His help to live godly lives, we’ll continue to wallow in the futility of our efforts which invariably leads to the erroneous conclusion that it’s impossible to thrive living righteously.
We must trust that God wouldn’t con us by telling us to do something impossible. It’s at odds with His character. Paul tells us that the way to avoid conforming with the world is to transform our minds. In simple terms, stop thinking the way society thinks and start thinking God’s way. That level of mental transformation takes effort, and it’s a responsibility that lies solely in our court. God won’t change us against our will, but when our minds are sufficiently transformed, we’ll be able to discern His will as we navigate life and then, He will give us the power to become His witnesses in our spheres of influence [Acts 1:8]. That implies that a genuine decision to follow Jesus must include mental transformation to enable us to live in a way that glorifies God.
There’s a deceitful idea among many that suggest we must embrace the world’s ways to be successful. The Bible offers the life of Daniel as a corrective to that false ideology. Forcefully taken from Judah to Babylon as an exile in 605BC, Daniel served under three pagan kings in an anti-God culture. He was known for his integrity and uncompromising character by all and sundry, even in the face of death. His enemies famously tried to find dirt on him and came up with nothing [Daniel 6:4]. Through his conduct, Daniel bore faithful witness to God among nobles and kings, proving that it’s possible to succeed and be relevant in a pagan society without compromising godliness [Daniel 11:32].
Would you like to emulate Daniel, even if it means walking alone in obedience to God? If your answer is yes, how intentional are you about rejecting the world’s ideologies and embracing Heaven’s? Are you willing to learn and apply God’s principles without compromise? If you are, amongst other things, your life will glorify God [Matthew 5:13-16].