“These all died in faith… having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
(Hebrews 11:13 ESV)
As Alistair Begg asks in his recent book Brave by Faith: God-Sized Confidence in a Post-Christian World, “What does it look like to live as a Christian in a society that does not like what Christians believe, what we say, and how we live? How are you going to live in this new normal?” As I noted the last time, this is a great question, one that the Bible has an answer. Over the few months I’ll be providing the answers both from Begg’s study of Daniel and gleanings from my own study of 1 Peter.
The first thing for us to remember is that no matter how good the “good old days” were, America has never been a “city on the hill” where we as a nation at one time enjoyed a special status before God as did Israel. Contrary to “pop theology,” unlike with the ancient nation of Israel, Yahweh never made a covenant with the USA. The unique blessings God covenanted with the ancient theocratic nation of Israel are not translated or transposed in the current experience of our national identity as Americans. Unlike Daniel, we never grew up in Jerusalem. America was never Jerusalem. The UK was never Jerusalem. Where is Jerusalem? Theologically speaking, Jerusalem is in heaven. If Jerusalem is in heaven, then where are we? Theologically speaking, all Christians are living in Babylon. Like Daniel, all Christians are in exile, exiled from our home which is actually the kingdom of heaven! This is what we have mostly in common with Daniel. Like Daniel (and all Old Testament saints according to Hebrews 11:13), we are resident aliens living as strangers and exiles on earth from our true home, i.e., the kingdom of heaven. The apostle Peter says it this way:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you (1 Peter: 1:1-2)
So even in the best of times, we Christians have never been and should never feel like we are at home. In the best of times, America was a God-fearing nation. In the best of times, our society, leaders, institutions reflected the ethos of a Christian world-view. However, Christianity is no longer dominant. As our culture and society and institutions (including Western civilization) are experiencing further spiritual and moral declension, the greater our sense of exile will be.
However, this awakening isn’t bad. It reminds us of the reality that all along America has never been Jerusalem, but Babylon. And second, this awakening isn’t bad because it forces us to long for heaven, especially for the creation of the new heavens and earth when Christ returns to bring heaven to earth after He has destroyed every kingdom of man. As D. L. Moody noted in the late 18th century this world is ship wrecked. The only hope for survival is to get into the lifeboat. The lifeboat is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the only hope for safe passage is Jesus! Next time when I come back to this subject, we’ll talk about how and where we must “draw the line” as we engage our society and culture. God does not want us to disengage from our society and culture, and be cloistered in our “holy huddles.” He wants us to engage the culture, and at the same time know where to draw the line. I hope this short message has encouraged you and has set your mind straight and at ease.