“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”
I have spent over three decades of my not yet three and a half decades’ life in my country. I only got an opportunity to stay in a foreign country for a year or more when I have been fully acclimatized to my own country. I am so much bonded to my country that I always long to be in my country even though living in a “first world” is like a heaven for many from the “third world.” I have always had a sense of living my entire life in my own country than any other. To keep me reminded of my geopolitical belonging, I have my country’s flag with the beautiful crested crane on it on my working table in my room. Every time I look at the this flag, I desire my country, I am reminded of where I belong. In other words, I am in this country, but not of it.
Jesus, in his words to his disciples points them to a fact as this, that even though they are in this world, yet they do not belong to it. That even though they have been chosen from this world, yet they are not of it. That even though their life and ministry will be bound to this world until they are called to where they belong, they should always be focused on the fact that they do not belong to where they currently are.
A disciple of Christ is one who is not of this world because such has been “bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20), the price being the redeeming love of God realized in the sacrificial and atoning death of Christ on the cross. This gives a disciple of Christ, who before his redemption is of the world a new status, a new citizenship – a heavenly citizenry. Apostle Paul was well persuaded of this, he contrasted the believer and the non-believer in his epistle to the Philippians in these words;
“Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Phil 3:19-21).
It is very important that believers in Christ – so to say Christians take this new identity and destiny seriously and be devoted to Him [Christ] in whom their identity is found and the destiny lies. Everyone has equal chances to receiving this new identity and sharing in the heavenly destiny. No one has worked for and no one will ever work for it save the saving works of Christ on the cross. What makes a believer distinct is because he has believed, he has not downtrodden the message of salvation. The believer has responded to the universal invitation “whoever believes” in John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The “whoever believes” is an open invitation that whoever responds to it will have a new identity and a redirected destiny. Believers are those who have believed and as such they have become the “children of God” (John 1:12) and hence are heaven bound.
There is a challenge though to those who have believed—call it the believers, a challenge for them to live a life in a world to which they do not belong. This is a difficult challenge because;
It is a hostile environment to the believer’s faith. Jesus saw this afar off and had to bring it to the attention of his immediate followers. That the world will not love them, that the world will hate them, that the world will do to them what has been done to Him. He was mocked, believers will be mocked too. He was stricken of his robes and flogged, believers will be flogged too. He was spat on, accused falsely and crucified for what he did not do, believers will carry the cross too.
The experience followers of Christ have today is no different from the immediate followers’ experience save for few isolated cases. Many believers are being forced to practice their faith in close doors of their homes and have to operate underground churches simply because someone is persecuting them. Elsewhere, where there is supposedly freedom of worship, believers are mocked and made to look as though they are living a thousand years backward. Believers are being dictated upon through well-structured legal systems and other parameters of what they are to practice, detaching them from their traditions. Believers are being forced to interpret their traditional scripture considering modern and postmodern human philosophies. Amidst all these, the believer must live as one in this world but not of the it. In such a case, I find the this scripture very encouraging and soul lifting;
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to know test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2).
Christ is committed to keeping us. He in fact prayed for us before his crucifixion: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). This prayer reveals clearly that a believer will not on spot be taken away to heaven on believing. As much as God and Christ desires, the believer will have to live and practice his faith right here – in this world to which he doesn’t belong. The believer is therefore not called to an ascetic life, but to live as light and salt (Matt 5:16) in his community. Live in the world. Light the world. Give a different and Christly taste to the world. A taste of love as opposed to hate. A taste of kindness and goodness as opposed to neglect and cruelty. A taste of reconciliation—reconciling mankind to mankind and mankind to God as opposed to tearing relationships and breeding conflicts.
Believers as called to do good to humankind. Matthew Henry puts it in these wise words:
“The people of God, though they are taught to hate the sin of sinners, yet not their persons, but to love and do good to all men. A malicious, spiteful, envious spirit, is not the spirit of Christ, but of the world.”
In Christ, we are called to live in this world yet having all our conscience awake that we do not belong to it. We are called to love and do good to the world, even if it doesn’t do good to us. May we live to this calling until he calls us home. May we stand untainted as we live in this hostile world, which governed by the god of this world will do everything possible to make us loose our identity and destiny in Christ. May we live non-conformingly to the glory of our lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who anytime comes to take us to where our citizenship is, a place of our eternal abode, paradise where we shall live with him eternally. Where Christ will be in all and all in all.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version (NIV).
Rev. Julius Izza Tabi is a pastor in the Anglican Church of Uganda, Ma’di & West Nile Diocese. Julius served as an assistant Chaplain and lecturer at the Arua Campus of the Uganda Christin University. He is currently a candidate of Master of Philosophy in Religion, Society and Global Issues at Det Teologiske Menighetsfakultet alias the Norwegian School of Theology, in Oslo, Norway. For pastoral assistance you can email him or check how you can reach him here.