One of the most important themes in the New Testament for me over the past few years has been the idea that our identity, if we profess to follow Christ, is that of “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). While much of my life and work has been focused on how churches and our society at large might respond to immigrants in the United States, Scripture tells me that I am really an immigrant here. My citizenship, I read, is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
Almost any Christian will affirm this on a cursory level, but it’s really a challenging teaching when you press into it—especially, I believe, for American evangelicals who are so proud of and benefit so greatly from our citizenship in the United States. After all, we’re comfortable here: in so many ways, it’s a wonderful country, with more prosperity, more freedom, and more opportunities than perhaps any other country on earth. I’m grateful to have been born into this situation.
Beyond grateful, though, I’m also apt to want to hold onto it, making sure that no one else cuts into my share of the pie. I’m apt to praise it and find my identity in it. Indeed, I’ve found American evangelicals (like me) to be amongst the most patriotic Americans I know. Christianity Today ran an analysis recently that suggests that evangelicals—particularly white evangelicals—are significantly more likely than any other group of Americans to display the American flag. We’re proud to be Americans.
Except, biblically, we’re not Americans—at least not primarily. We’re just sojourners here; we don’t quite fit in, and we’re never supposed to. Our first allegiance, according to Scripture, is to God’s Kingdom, not to any nation-state, even a great one like the U.S.A.—perhaps especially to a great one like the U.S.A., precisely because such a pleasant, affluent country demands our first loyalties more seductively than a dictatorial regime or a country mired in poverty.
This world is not my home, and this country is not my home. Like the saints of old, I am to be looking for a better country (Hebrews 11:13-16). America is a wonderful country in many ways, but it is not the Kingdom of God. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus tells us. “My kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).
As A.W. Tozer says, “The true Christian will be loyal to his country and obedient to those in authority, but he will never fall into the error of confusing his own national culture with Christianity. Christianity is bigger than any country, loftier than any civilization, broader than any human ideology.” We can keep our U.S. passports and be grateful for this country, but we cannot worship it. Our allegiance is pledged elsewhere.
That posture might change the way we view the immigrants coming from other countries to the U.S. We might find new ways that we identify with them—we’re strangers here ourselves—and we might also find ourselves less fearful that we might lose something of this country (our wealth, our culture, our language, our way of life) and more hopeful that we might help some of these immigrants, and they might help some of us, find the Way to that better country, a kingdom without borders.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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