Throughout the Bible and the history of Christianity, Christians have gone by a lot of names. One of my favorites is aliens. In 1 Peter 2, Peter admonishes the Christians to live their lives in light of their new identity. They are a chosen people called out to be holy people. Holiness means set apart, and being set apart means not becoming inundated and swept away with the culture of the world that can war against your soul.
Why call Christians aliens? What is it about Christians that would make that designation accurate or reasonable. What does it mean to be an alien? For one, it means that you are far from home. It means that the place that you dwell is a foreign land. You get homesick and long for your homeland. I think that most thoughtful Christians would tell you that they don’t feel at ease with the world around them. You can’t really blame them. There is a lot of bad stuff going on in this world. Isn’t it somewhat of a relief to know that the world that you belong to is not the one that you see on the news? The place where you dwell is full of anger, sin, and pain. The place that you belong is a place of joy, peace, and infinite joy. Every now and then I see a Wilson County, TN, license plate, and I get a little homesick for good ole Mt. Juliet. The same goes for my heavenly home. Every now and then I see little glimpses of heaven, and I say to myself, “self, wouldn’t it be nice for this to be the norm?” But, it is not the norm. The norm is struggle and suffering. But this too will pass away.
Another thing that being an alien means is that the customs of the people around you are not your own. The story of the Israelites has a lot to do with this point. The reason the people were told to destroy all of the other people in the promised land is that if they did not, they would be tempted to mix their beliefs with the neighboring nations. And what happened–they mixed with the other nations, turned to other gods, and committed grievous sins. This is similar to the story of the New Testament church. Take the Corinthian church. They suddenly find themselves having to live lives that glorify God in the midst of a culture that is essentially abhorrent to God. They still want to go to the pagan temples and eat, but they promise not to do anything bad while they are there. Christianity is countercultural and that is not always an easy thing.
What we learn from the Corinthians is that how Christians are supposed to engage culture has been a question asked since the time of Paul. I don’t really know the answer either. Some people storm right into culture going to bars and witnessing while they have a drink. Others people live ten miles away from the nearest sign of civilization so as not to be corrupted. Still others need grocery stores and gas stations so they live in the city, but use the sensory deprivator 2000 in order to avoid catching a glimpse of anything worldly. And here is the thing, I can’t really say that any of these options are wrong because the factors are so complex. But, like most things, I am guessing that a middle way is probably more reasonable–one where Christians engage culture and even impact culture. Here is what this does not mean: you can’t live as the rest of the world and think that because you are Christian your higher enlightenment makes everything you do okay. That is called antinomianism. It is also called heresy and a lack of sanctification.
This raises very practical questions. Is it okay for my kid to listen to rap? Probably not. What about Christian rap? I guess, but what culture is that Christian rap glorifying, and how does your kid interpret its message? Here is another one: What is the Christian’s relationship to material possessions? Does being a Christian preclude one from buying an expensive car or eating expensive dinners? I don’t know, but I think it goes back to what we value and how we live those values.
So here is the deal, there are parts of the outside culture that we should have no part in. But, we exist in this culture and are here for a reason. Just because music is not by a Christian artist does not mean that it is inherently evil. Just because a book is not written by a Christian author does not make it dangerous for our faith. If we approach life like that not only will we become irrelevant to those whom we minister to, but it would also demonstrate a contempt for common grace. Perhaps we can utilize the wisdom of Jeremiah when he called on the Israelites in captivity to seek the welfare of the city (Jer. 29:7). Maybe we too should seek the welfare of those around us by exhibiting generosity, love, and understanding.
The third thing that being an alien means is that we will not necessarily speak the language. When I moved to Tennessee from Illinois, I started the fourth grade. My teacher had a fairly heavy Southern accent and used a lot of terms that were new to me. One day when we were doing a math assignment, she asked who had not yet finished all of the math problems and I raised my hand. She asked me how much I lacked, but as you may know the words actually sound like “how much do you like. I said that I don’t really like any of it because I don’t like math very much. Whereas I thought we were making conversation, she thought I was being smart aleck and I got sent to the hall for the first time. When we were out in the hall, we realized that we were not speaking the same language, and from then on we got along well.
What is the language of the world? At times it is a language of deceit or falsehood. At times it is a language of disbelief in anything bigger that oneself. It is a language of pride and envy. Christians should not sound like everyone else. Our lives have encountered something tremendous and that should impact the way we communicate with others.
We also should keep in mind that we don’t always speak a language that others can understand. In seminary I was asked by a young evangelist if I had been washed in the holy, sanctified blood of the lamb of Jesus Christ that can make me a white linen. All I could think of was just how bizarre this question would be for someone who had never heard of Jesus or God. We have to make sure that we can translate our story to those who need to hear it and understand it.
The fourth thing that being an alien is that you stand out. Jenn and I definitely stood out when we were traveling in Europe. In France, people there only wear black and grey, especially in the winter. Jenn had a bright green coat on which simply screamed, “I am an American!” I suspect that there are times in your lives when you have stuck out because you are behaving as a Christian. Even in the church enriched South, true Christianity stands out as countercultural. When you don’t drink around everyone else or when you spend time working at the church, people may not get it. But you should. When your values and your purpose are different from everyone else, you are supposed to look different.
I like being an alien. Over the years I have grown comfortable in my alien skin. My differences open an avenue to talk about why I have an undeniable hope and a sense of worth. By standing out, I draw attention to Godly values and practices. My biggest fear should be that I start to blend in.