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Strangers and Pilgrims

By David A. DePra

Hebrews 11 contains a catalog of some of the heroes of faith, taken from the Old Testament. These heroes of faith are important to us, because chapter 12 begins with this profound statement:


Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author (pioneer) and finisher of our faith. (Heb 12:1-2)

Those listed in Hebrews 11 are, it says, "WITNESSES," unto us. And because they lived the way they lived, and thus, provided that witness, the writer then says, "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin….and let us run…the race….looking unto Jesus" – who, above all the others, is the pioneer and maturer of our faith.


Those listed in chapter 11 – more specifically, their FAITH – are witnesses unto us. Their faith is supposed to motivate US to live by faith. We are, "compassed about," with a great cloud of witnesses. Therefore, "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author (pioneer) and finisher of our faith."


The theme of chapter 11, and then of chapter 12, is FAITH. Not only does chapter 11 begin with the theme of faith, but again and again throughout the chapter, at least twenty times, it says, "by faith," or, "through faith."


Central to the theme of faith in chapter 11 is the idea that those who lived BY FAITH were as, "strangers and pilgrims" on this earth. It is to this lesson that we now turn. What does that mean? What is the teaching God has for us along this line in this section of His written Word?


Who We Live For


A person who is a stranger or a pilgrim is one who is away from home. He is in, what to him, is a foreign country. Consequently, he is NOT a citizen of the foreign country in which he is presently living. He has NO citizenship rights. A stranger or a pilgrim is like someone who is merely visiting, or passing through – no matter how long that journey takes. He does not belong to this country, and this country does not belong to him. He is as a STRANGER to it.


The concept of BELONGING is especially important here, because it pertains to the spiritual lesson in Hebrews. To BELONG somewhere means that you FIT IN quite well with it. It means that you are comfortable there, and it is comfortable with you. There is a natural compatibility in thought, intentions, and living. To say that I belong to this world means that there is much of the world in me, and much of me in the world. And the same can be said if I belong to the kingdom of God – I have the mind of Christ, and Christ has me.


Christians are to be IN the world, but not OF the world. But this has more to do with life than just appearances, or what we do. It has to do with the, "engine," running our lives – our motivation, perspective, and OVERALL GOAL. If we are citizens of the kingdom of God, we will continue living in this world – but will treat it like a country through which we are passing. We will live here, but we won’t BELONG here. We will belong to, "a better country," our true home. And we will live like it.


If you want to know how serious this issue is, we need only turn to the first epistle of John. There, John writes:


Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abides for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)


Many Christians think that, "to love the world," means to love the sin in the world. Nope. John gives us three components of the love of the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. "Lust," in scripture, is not limited to sensuality. It really means, "to control." In other words, the love of the world is characterized by my wanting to do as I please with my flesh and with my eyes. Why? Because I like all that this holds. To love the world is therefore to belong to the world, and to look to it as the source of my life.


Those who belong to this world are controlled by self-rule. They live for this life, and act as if they are going to spend forever, right here. But those who are born again have the rule of God in them. Yes, they live IN this world, but they really live for the next life. They live for HIS LIFE in them.


Obviously, these are nice words. But the question is, who do we actually live for? Are we growing to live for God – for the next age? Or do we call ourselves by the name of Christ, only to live for this life? There are choices before us every day. Hebrews 11 is a chapter filled with examples for us of people who lived BY FAITH – lived as strangers and pilgrims on this earth – because they sought a heavenly country.




Hebrews says, of these heroes of faith:


These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Heb 11:13-16)


We see here a description of people who have been DEPORTED from this age – from this earthly life – they have been deported from this realm into another realm. They were physically still here, mind you, but they weren’t – as far as their reason for living. Something had happened to them – something which had completely changed their motivation for living. Instead of living for this life, they were living for the next life – living for a, "better country." Instead of looking back to what they had left for the sake of God, they were looking forward to a, "heavenly" future.


Now, don’t think of this in terms of merely getting saved and knowing that you are someday going to go to heaven. No. That’s included, but there is much more going on inside of these people than that. Their approach and their choices and their attitude toward THIS LIFE is one which is governed by the NEXT LIFE. They live physically in this realm, but are governed by the kingdom of God.


This is not something that happens to people because they memorize doctrines. It is not the result of learning theology. Rather, it is the result of being born again, and coming OUT of where you are, in your living, to where Jesus Christ wants you.


Herein we find a great paradox. Born again Christians, while living DETACHED from this world, are supposed to live to the glory of God IN this world. Yet, isn’t that really a description of FREEDOM? Sure. To be possessed by nothing here. Yet to possess all things in Christ. To be free to obey God, knowing that if we do, He will take care of the consequences. To need to protect nothing, yet to be protected from everything that does fit into His plan for us. To have absolutely NO citizenship rights – to NOT have the final say-so for my life – yet to be firmly in the hands of the One who is able to give to me, or take from me, as He deems best, without anyone or anything being able to stop Him.


The surrendered Christian MUST come to terms with the fact that they CANNOT have the final say-so for their lives – and continue in faith. They cannot. They are as a stranger or pilgrim on this earth. God has the say-so.


Now, of course, the easy part is to simply assent to this, because we know that God is faithful. But then there comes the hard part: Actually FORSAKING myself in this world, and launching out AS a pilgrim. This is what Abraham did:


By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Heb 11:8-10)


As was Abraham, we are being called out, but we have no clue where we are going. None. We know only the One calling us out. We are being told to enter into a new realm – one about which we know almost nothing. We are being asked to walk with Christ through this realm, and to discover it. Indeed, we are being asked to LIVE FOR this new realm, and merely allow God to use the physical realm unto that eternal end. Abraham left everything behind in his old life – and entered into a land about which he knew nothing. But he did it because he was looking for, "the city which has foundations." He wanted what God had for him.


Here are the vital questions: Are we willing to receive from God what God is willing to give? – nothing more and nothing less? Or do we insist on having some say-so or citizenship rights in this? Are we willing to forsake everything this world has to offer us, and to fall into the hands of God? – no strings attached? Are we willing to allow God to so adjust us – I don’t mean so much in our outward living, as I do in our inward motivation – so that we will live for the next age, rather than for this age? Such a dealing of God will not be easy. But it is what a life of faith is all about.


Of course, we usually think that this means God will come in and wreck our lives. But if what we mean by that is that God may do some things we won’t like, then I guess He will wreck them. But God always heals and restores, and He always fixes families and relationships – He never breaks them. Don’t we think that God knows what He is doing, and is very good at doing them? The point is, once we allow God to adjust us on the right basis, things get better, not worse. For we are now in contact, and operating upon, the basis of the things of the Spirit.


Jesus said, "Seek you first His kingdom, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added." In other words, forsake your citizenship in this world – your ties to this world. Give them all to God. And seek the heavenly citizenship. If you do, you will end up with everything you need HERE – because then you can be trusted with it. It won’t become something that will tie you to this world any longer.


Often God cannot bless us because the thing in question is something that we are not spiritually adjusted in – it would become something we would rest in, settle in, and which would harm us spiritually. God is waiting for the kingdom of God to come to reign and rule over that part of us. THEN, we can be trusted with that thing because it cannot rule over us. So again – forsake this earthly country, and launch out. Trust God unconditionally. He knows what He is doing.


Christians by the thousands live, as saved people, as if they belong to this world. But God has better things for us – a heavenly country. We are to be citizens of heaven – living in this world, but not of it. Living as if we belong to HIM – to that, "better country." God has always intended His people to live under the new dynamic of the heavenlies; the kingdom of God.


Have you and I, "confessed that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth?" If we confess that, we are handing our lives over to God, and surrendering our right to have the final say-so about ourselves. We are giving away our citizenship rights for this life. For we cannot be citizens of both earth and the kingdom of God. God is calling us to a better country, a heavenly one, wherein we are to spend eternity with Him. He is calling us there NOW. *

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