Strangers And Pilgrims On The Earth
We read about faith in Hebrews 11. “Faith,” we are taught, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1). Those who have lived before us “obtained a good testimony” by their faith, and by it “we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (11:2-3). We read of the great things that have been accomplished by faith.
Hebrews 11:4-11 provides some details about those great works of faith. “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” “By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found, because God had taken him.’” “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.”
Indeed, Hebrews 11:6 teaches, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” No doubt, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah were people of enduring faith. However, the writer of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 11:13: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Strangers and pilgrims on the earth. They lived as foreigners or as sojourners residing as aliens and strangers on a pilgrimage traveling through life looking or an eternal home. We need to learn from their examples. We tend to like life on earth; we may tend to like life under the sun, as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes calls it, too much. We can easily begin to live as if this world is our home rather than confessing that we too are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” The apostle Peter entreated Christians to live with an understanding that this earth is not our home.
1 Peter 2:11-12: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” There is great danger in surrendering our minds to the appeal of worldly things. The problems that gain our attention from day to day are not always really that important. Our aspirations are often lower than they ought to be, and the goals we set, if we set goals for ourselves at all, are often of no real substance.
It is so easy to become busy, too busy in fact, with the mundane affairs of life on earth. We can begin to live as if there is no resurrection, no judgment. For example, how often do we offer God worship away from our weekly assemblies? How often do we set aside time to read the Bible and meditate on God’s word and His wisdom in for our lives here? Paul posed a challenge for us in Colossians 3:1-3: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Do we live as sojourners here? Can we truly say that this world is not our home? Do we have a faith that pleases God, believing that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him? Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20-21: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” We must live our lives as those who believe and understand that our citizenship is in heaven, and we are strangers and pilgrims here on earth.
There are two sides to our pilgrimage. One is separation, and the other is higher values. First, separation: we live in the world, but we are not of the world. Paul reminded the saints in Corinth of this in 2 Corinthians 6:17 as he recalled Isaiah’s prophecy regarding Israel’s exit from Babylonian captivity, writing, “Therefore, ‘Come out from among them and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you’” (cp. Isa. 52:11). As Christians, we must live differently from the world around us. And we must do it without complaining but rather as lights that reflect God’s glory.
Philippians 2:14-15: “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world...” Let us remember what Paul wrote while discussing helping a brother avoid stumbling in Romans 14:16: “Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil...” He was teaching us about dealing with a brother who thought something was wrong when it was not wrong, namely what another brother was eating, and he encouraged every effort to help that brother avoid sin even if it meant not eating something that might lead another to sin.
We must live with higher values than those who do not follow Christ. Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed, that those who are reviled and persecuted and have all sorts of evil things said about them for His sake are blessed, and that we should rejoice knowing our reward in heaven is great (Matt. 5:10-12).
So, let us look back to those who lived by faith, to those who lived as sojourners and pilgrims, to those who looked to their eternal reward, and let us imitate their faith. Paul gave us a pattern, if you will, a pattern for living our lives in Christ. He wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Let this be our guide; indeed, let us follow the whole of God’s counsel as we walk through this life with our eyes fixed firmly on our destination. We look for a city not made with hands, new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. The clearer our perception of our journey’s end, the braver we will walk toward it.
Speaking of Abraham, the writer of Hebrews wrote: “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). Let us also wait for that city of God, “the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2).