By Roland W. Keith
This study’s title is significant in that it describes three extremely different categories of people. A citizen is a person entitled to their country’s protection by birth or naturalization. In turn they owe the country their allegiance and loyalty for what it provides. Instead of being a mutually exclusive relationship it is mutually inclusive. What is good for one is good for the other, and what is bad for one is bad for the other. And, what is good for both is deemed good for all and worthy of sharing and protecting. A stranger on the other hand is an outsider, who is neither a friend nor acquaintance. They are unaccustomed to or unacquainted with the country’s customs and laws; moreover, their loyalty may lie elsewhere, and all entitlements and protections due them are minimal at best. Such a one may forever remain a stranger or they may seek to become assimilated to the country and become a naturalized citizen. A Pilgrim on the other hand is someone who travels to a foreign land or place for a specific reason. They seek a place or experience that holds great personal importance to them. Their allegiance is to the specific place or experience and what it means to them, not so much to the land itself.
As a Christian I am not called upon to put much store in religious artifacts, but I still have an interest in archeological discoveries related to the Bible. I would like to visit the holy land and ponder the events that occurred there. A trip like that could be called a pilgrimage. As such my residence in the holy land would be of a temporary nature. I’d just be passing through. Such a traveler as I could also be described as a sojourner, that is one who has no binding connection to the country in which he temporarily resides. As Christians the Bible outlines our responsibilities as citizens of our countries (Romans 13:1-7); to those around us, including strangers (Luke 10:25-37; and, as sojourners just passing through this life (I Peter 2:10-12; Hebrews 11:13; Philippians 3:20). Each of these things are important but perhaps the most important for us to realize is the fact that we are all, ultimately, only sojourners in this life. No matter how many years we pass upon this earth we are still just passing through on our way to someplace else.
Keeping that in mind how should we view our own actions in this life? Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). In a very direct way, the Lord is telling us to get our priorities straight. Know what’s important and focus on those things. From a material aspect we gain nothing on this earth that we can take with us. That’s not to say we shouldn’t enjoy life’s bounty— but we should distinguish between the things that have only finite value and that which has eternal worth. Paul encouraged the Colossians to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is… Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-4). In the same light he told the Philippians, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus… our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:14, 20-21).
The Bible tells us that after defeating death Jesus ascended to heaven where He is now seated at the right hand of His Father (Hebrews 1:13; 12:2). However, He did not depart without leaving us certain promises and assurances. He told us we can find the Father (and the truth and thereby salvation through Him; John 14:6; Acts 14:12). He promised that He was going to prepare a place for those who would follow Him (John 14:1-3). He informed us that through Him His Father has qualified us for an inheritance that has delivered us “from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-14). He also promised that one day we would be transformed and granted an eternal body like His and be called the children of God (I John 3:1-2; I Corinthians 15:51-52). As His children we are to emulate His Only Begotten Son, Who humbled Himself in obedience to His Father even to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).
Physically we came from the earth and to the earth we shall return (Genesis 3:19). Our hope does not lie in this world, but the one to come. Nonetheless, while we are here in this body, while we sojourn through this life, we are to respect it, with an eye toward the heavenly kingdom. To the Romans Paul wrote, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect… Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (Romans 12:1-2; 12-13).
Our lives have been sown with a perishable seed, a natural body, but there is also a spiritual body that will survive it. Will it remain corrupted in the eternal fires of hell, or be raised in power and glory incorruptible in heaven (I Corinthians 15:42-44)? One day every knee shall bow before the Lord and confess His name (Philippians 2:9-11). Death will be destroyed (I Corinthians 15:26). On that day the lawless one will be revealed (II Thessalonians 2:8), and subjected to the second death along with the beast and the false prophet, Death and Hades, and the disobedient (Revelation 20:10, 12-14; 21:8); the second death being the lake of fire into which they are cast. On the day of judgment each of us will experience either the resurrection of life or the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29). The choice is ours. We can be citizens of the earth, seeking only the things of this world, or we can choose to be sojourners here passing through on our way to our true country, prepared for us by our God (Hebrews 11:16).
How we live our lives reflects who we truly are. Sometimes we are able to keep the real us hidden from the world, but we cannot hide away from God (Hebrews 4:13). He knows the path that we are on. There is someone else we cannot actually hide from, either. Ourselves. No matter how practiced at deception we are, even self-deception, deep down we know who we are. We know where our loyalties lie. WE just need to examine ourselves and answer this question: what country do I want to be a citizen of? To whose rule do I want to submit? Paul wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ Who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
Peter urged his readers to diligently confirm their election to the kingdom (II Peter 1:10-11). Paul reminded the Colossians to set their minds on the things above. And, Jesus distinguished between the heart of one who is far from the kingdom (Matthew 15:8), and the one who is a true citizen (Matthew 6:19-21). The question we have to answer then is “where is my heart”? If it is not where we want it to be we need to change the road we’re on, and pass through all other lands until we are at home in the kingdom.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.