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My friend Biff moved to America a few years ago. Being a young adult, America was full of adventure, excitement, and opportunity for my new foreign friend. One of the things I was curious about was how long it would take Biff to become Americanized. I’m not using that term in a positive sense. I’m thinking more about American spoilage—how the land of plenty can have a detrimental impact on a person’s soul.
It happens to all of us, though most of us do not realize it since we were born here. If you were born in America, it’s like the frog in lukewarm water that you incrementally heat. The “born in America frog” never realizes how he’s boiling to death. Many of us do not realize the adverse effects of the land of plenty—until it’s too late.
Biff, on the other hand, lived in a land of deprivation and situational challenges. He does not know what it’s like to be free—to be here. After he stepped off the plane, his eyes bulged as he considered life with rights and unending privileges. I began to wonder how long it would take for my friend to become spoiled like the rest of us.
After about a year of living in America, I asked him if he was losing his spiritual edge. He looked at me and smiled in affirmation. That was a “Yes,” if you were wondering. Biff was becoming like me. He was becoming Americanized. He was no longer an alien from another land where that place shaped his perspective. Though he looks like a man from another land, he has transformed into someone who loves Americanism.
His past was fading into the background as the land of plenty was his new influencer. Biff’s story is analogous to yours and mine, though it is a different kind of challenge for us, and the stakes are higher. We did not come from another country; we were born here. Then we were reborn (John 3:7) and asked to live in America but as foreigners.
God has changed our citizenship from America to another country, a place we have not been but think about daily. We are foreigners by faith, not by sight. Biff knows what it’s like to be an alien in a new land. We are learning what he is experiencing. Do you think like a foreigner? How does being an alien affect how you live here practically?
One of two identities will manage your thoughts. Being a citizen of heaven will comfort you as you defer your hope for that blessed day when you will enter that country. Or your Americanism will control your thoughts. Depending on how things are going for you today will determine your hope and peace.
Though most Christians would affirm that their citizenship is in heaven, my intent here is a functional one, not our theological affirmations. How does being an alien on earth shape your worldview and practice for living here? When Peter thought about these things, he was fully aware of how the dichotomy of here and there would create warfare in our souls.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11).
Peter considered himself to be passing through this land of plenty on the way to his real home. He was aware of the temptation to plant deep roots in a country that was not his home. You have roots here, too. The question you must wrestle with is how rooted are you? When the winds of adversity blow against your temporary life in this temporary land, how stable are you?
In Hebrews 11, we read the staggering testimony of men and women who were unflinching in their understanding and practice of the Christian life as it pertained to where their citizenship belonged. They endured crisis after crisis but seemed to expect nothing less because they knew who they were, to whom they expressed allegiance, and where they were going. They died with the awareness (faith) that they were going to their real home.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Perhaps it would serve your soul well to reflect on this passage. You are living a version of what this text is teaching. It would be best if you stayed in these verses until the attitude of these sojourners is yours. Ask the Father to give you the faith of these brothers and sisters so you can live in confidence that He will take care of you no matter what happens to your temporary life on earth.
The residence that influences your thinking the most provides the worldview and perspectives you use to shape others. When Biff arrived from another country, his former citizenship formed an interpretive grid for how he saw and processed life in America. After a while, his presuppositional filter became Americanized. He was not thinking like a person from another place. America was his home, and he thought like an American.
We are like Biff: we must resist the shaping influences of our culture while putting on the alien righteousness that equips us to live as aliens in this foreign land. Christ lived the right way on earth. He knew where He belonged, and though He benefited from the culture’s benefits, He lived with an alien hermeneutic.
There are three common Christian alien types in our culture today. I will list them here and then provide a brief explanation afterward. As you reflect on these “alien types,” which one best describes you?
Those Who Capitulate to the Culture—These Christian aliens have given in to the cares of this life. The lusts and passions of this world are too appealing to them. Though they know that God wants them to influence the culture, they have capitulated by becoming like the people they should be affecting. They hear the Word, but the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things have entered and choked the Word, which leads to unfruitful living (Mark 4:18-19).
Those Who Separate from the Culture—These Christian aliens don’t want to be like the capitulators, so they separate from the world. Many of them misunderstand the problem of alienship. They see the world as evil and separate from it. They have yet to understand how worldliness is in them, not out there. Being worldly is a matter of the heart, not so much in the culture. The world would have no appeal if the Christian did not crave it (James 1:14-15; 1 John 2:15-16).
Those Who Penetrate the Culture—These Christian aliens know that hiding behind a wall of separation will not keep them from sinning. The power of the gospel will enable them to abstain from lustful cravings. They understand the battle (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). They know this land is not their land, and they have a singular mission—penetrate to destroy the works of the devil. They have intuited that they are on the enemy’s turf. They desire to emulate their King, who also lived as an alien visitor (1 John 3:8).
To have your best alien life now, you may have to make a few heart adjustments, particularly if you’re a capitulator or a separator. The most significant adjustment will be your understanding of the doctrine of suffering. To suffer is the expected everyday life for Christians living as aliens. It cannot be otherwise. Christ knew this when He came. He expected nothing less because of His mission. He also expects you to have this mind on this matter (Philippians 2:5-7).
It’s not as though the good Lord does not understand the problem. He has given you all you need to live a life of godliness in a foreign land (2 Peter 1:3). God has not left you alone. Even the Spirit is your heavenly Comforter who guides you in imitating Christ (John 16:13). The more you learn to keep in step with Him, the more effective your alien witness will be. He knew He could not leave you alone. You have Trinitarian alien power to persevere on earth. When Jesus recruited you for this mission, he was clear about the call.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
The Lord never intended for you to live outside the alien community. Aliens need each other to spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). Your spiritual life is dependent on the interconnectivity of other people. One of the most common spiritual fatalities is a Christian alien attempting to fight the fight of faith without others.
Most of the folks who I have ever counseled struggled with loneliness in their battles. They continued to lose ground until they finally reached out to a counselor. Waiting until you’re desperate enough to reach out for a community is not an effective war strategy. There is a fourth type of Christian alien, and it’s the isolator.
Do you isolate? I’m sure you have reasons for being alone. Perhaps someone hurt you, or the church failed you. There are many possibilities for a person who fights alone. My appeal to you is to change your mind about the choices that disconnect you from the community of faith. If you don’t have anyone at this point to speak to, you’re welcome to come to our private community. Regardless of what you do, I plead with you not to do it alone. Living as an alien in a world that seeks to devour you requires you to find a community (1 Peter 5:8).
I’m not writing to you as though I’m not writing to myself. I’m aware of what’s happening in our world. I can see how the forces of evil are trying to overthrow the good that God has given to us. I do not know all the reasons why these things are happening, but I do know where I must focus. I’m an alien. I must do as you must do.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).