Strangers and Pilgrims
By Eric Barton
In 1 Peter 2:11, the apostle earnestly pleads with the Jewish believers of that day to “abstain from fleshly lusts.” In this case, Peter does not limit his exhortation to just one area of their lives but applies it to every craving that is rooted in the flesh, is contrary to heaven, and ultimately robs God of glory. Interestingly, the reason is linked to their status as sojourners and pilgrims on the earth. In Peter’s estimation, their citizenship should have a profound, lasting effect on every aspect of their lives—every desire, every decision, and every action.
The Lord’s desire for His followers remains the same today: He wants us to be a people with hearts set on pilgrimage. Like the patriarchs of old, we should confess we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” and run our race aligned with that truth. We should remember our days on earth are like a shadow—here one minute and gone the next—and exert ourselves with focus and purpose. Our manner of life should glorify God and reflect His righteousness and holiness. Earthly pursuits should be secondary to heavenly ones, and our minds should be oriented toward heaven. By faith, we should lay up treasure in heaven rather than on earth, knowing that our hearts follow accordingly.
Sadly, the Christians in the modern-day North American church seem more and more like settlers than sojourners. To the unbeliever, our lives are virtually indistinguishable from their own; we’re just busy on Sundays. We have lost the appetite to be strange—not in an awkward, rude, or self-righteous way that draws undue attention to ourselves but in a way that promotes curiosity in others and leads them to Jesus. We have forgotten the terms of discipleship the Lord Jesus laid out and lost sight of who we are in Christ. We allow our culture and social media to inform our children’s worldview rather than the implanted Word, which can save their souls. And, to an outside world looking in, they see a church that seems more interested in enriching itself than serving others and being “rich toward God.”
Fortunately, we need not despair in the face of such troubling times. We belong to the One who has overcome the world.⁹ The Lord Jesus is still building His church, and no obstacle can hinder that work—not even the gates of hell. Where there is decay, He restores the years the locusts have eaten. His Word remains a lamp to our feet and light to our path. When needed, He forgives 70 times seven and restores us to useful service. And He continues to be true to His word by blessing those who choose to find their strength in Him and set their hearts on pilgrimage.
My friends, God’s task of seeking and saving the lost remains unfinished. With a world population exceeding eight billion, the harvest is great, and the laborers are few. Amazingly, the Lord has appointed us as His ambassadors and delegated to us the task of making disciples. Personally, I feel the weight of Paul’s exhortation in Romans 13:11–14 when I consider this responsibility: The time is short, and there is work to be done. As such, it’s time for us to wake up, cast off the works of darkness, put on the armor of light, walk worthy of His name, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh as we journey through this world. Thankfully, we are not alone and without help in this great task; we are strangers and pilgrims with the Lord Himself. This wonderful truth gives us confidence, and we count it a privilege to invite others to join us on our way to our destination, “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
Eric Barton is a CMML director.
Originally published in Missions magazine, March 2023. For more content, sign up for a free subscription (US) to Missions at CMML.us/magazine/subscribe.