These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16
To properly understand the freedom that these men of the Old Testament experienced we must first understand their Biblical orientation. This orientation is what gives substance and definition to their freedom. What I am describing here is the condition necessary to engage with the world in a physical way and not with some packaged and programmed presentation which is the opposite of real freedom.
These men recognized that they were “strangers and pilgrims.” This is not just a description of the men of this time but rather a definition of what Christians can and should be in all times. Those who have been born into the Kingdom, whether we acknowledge it or not, are strangers to what is around us. This feeling of estrangement, in these last days of increasing difficulties, is a shared phenomenon in the Body of Christ.
If we recall for a moment Israel’s wilderness journey we will see that it was both an illustration and a lesson (Exodus 14:10-14). Their choices here were fundamental. They had to choose between either a life in bondage which had the perceived benefits of security, comfort, and purpose, or liberation in the wilderness, a place chosen to learn real freedom. This fact needs to be taken more seriously. Real freedom exists in the realm where all guarantees, assurances, protections, and obligations are set aside. The freedom of God places us in a wilderness of complete trust and reliance, a place where we are to dwell and saturate and make our presence known. If we are called to be free, then we must break with those things we have taken for granted. If we accept this calling it will mean accepting life in a forsaken place where there is no security and renouncing society’s offer of affiliation and membership. It is not possible to consider yourself free in Christ while in the framework of the world’s matrix with its assurances, provisions, affluence, peace, and the desire for comfort and happiness. The Bible shows perfectly that this incompatibility is both radical and final. But, there is something that can prevent us from following through; the weakness of our character and lukewarmness of our attitude will attempt a reconciliation with the old life.
The impulse of the flesh is to try and escape this situation of freedom. We don’t want to be strangers and pilgrims. We want to take something of the old life along with us; we want to keep something for the sake of comfort and reminiscence. Our natural instinct is to rationalize and compromise with the situation, to give it fertile soil for thirsty roots.
Crucial to this pilgrimage, however, is to adopt a different attitude. Christians know the situation and condition of their carnal nature and the world; knowing it they intentionally accept the uprooting of their lives. The call of God is explicit, there must be a clean break, a parting of the ways. Like Abraham, they have seen the promises from afar and deliberately moved toward them. These Christians have grasped the plan that is evident in history, they have personally experienced the expanding of their spirit through grace, they have with open hearts come to realize that GOD is the One that came and will come, and they have comprehended the immense love of God in His Son Jesus Christ, and because they have believed these things they accept and become strangers.
The world is where Christians must live and spend their days but they are not of the world, they are foreigners, outsiders, and strangers. They have surveyed the world through life situations and experiences. They have seen to what extent it is not theirs even though they cannot leave or avoid living in it. They have made the conscious declaration to live as strangers and know that they cannot change the world or recover it. Their focus is on the individual, and not the world, as something worth saving.
“Forgetting what is behind and pressing on to what lays ahead” they envision what is over the horizon and are compelled to action. Their wandering is not like Cain’s desperate search for meaning; they know where they are going and that their pathway is true and full of purpose. Their wandering has often been mistaken for rebelliousness like Cain, but in essence, it is the exact opposite, a complete reversal. Abraham looked for a city whose builder and maker is God. Cain looked to build a city of his own, in his own image. Christians look for completeness; men’s projects are forever incomplete, lacking, and suffering decay. The freedom of Cain – the liberty the world offers – is a strong delusion and enslavement to a lie. This has all changed for the pilgrim. They have a true history of sold-out men and in their wake, they produce their own history. With his advance, he leaves a trail in the desert that leads to life; they are, everyone, men of renown.
Emancipation, freedom, and liberty are real and complete. Normality, what is that to the Christian? Normal is a scale used by the world to measure its accepted level of insanity. The Christian has severed the cord that linked it with normality. Jesus teaches, “Sell all that you have and come and follow Me.” “Whoever puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” “He that leaves his father, mother, and brothers for My sake . . . .” “Let the dead bury the dead.” How normal is this? Here is the break! Here is the pathway to freedom! All that once was so dear to carnal life on planet Earth we intentionally place on the altar along with our very life as a living sacrifice which God accepts.
If this is true then how much more is the break when it includes country, nation, political allegiance, elections, social class, profession, union, and economics? These things are no longer our business; this is the business of the world. These things are only our business with respect to our infiltration of the systems of this world to perform our mission. They are our business only to the degree that we can involve those who we come in contact with to follow us. This is what Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did; they carried the message of freedom to their surrounding world. They preached a radical break from the illusion of worldly freedom to pursue a wilderness path of truth, trust, and hope of a real future based on faith in the living God of all creation. The Christian summons the whole world to join this pilgrim march toward the eternally rising sun of real freedom and liberty in Christ Jesus.
If the Christian gives a second thought and grants any significance to this world then he yet has roots in this world. Our condition then is pathetic even if we have Jesus on our lips; this is the “way of Cain” who was a worshiper of the Most High God only with an eye for novelty and innovation. This Christian is a blind man leading the blind, thus leading men into the ditch of human originality and death.
We are free and uprooted, and march forward, but toward what? Towards our home our true country, the place where our family resides, a place where we are no longer wanderers and strangers and aliens, a place of the presence of God our Father. There we find the end of the journey, the eternal seventh day of rest. “They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.”
The value of these promises devalues everything else, and some will say that this is mystical and anti-social, but the real question is is it Biblical? Yes, we find this teaching throughout the Bible.
As I see it the freshness of this view is that of realizing that it is not negative against the people of the world but that it contributes an element to society that is missing and needed. Being a pilgrim and living in society we do not reject it, we are disassociating ourselves from it, we are still members of society. We have something for society; we want to give it real truth and meaning. We can unravel its soiled history, but we can only do this if we have a fixed vision of a true past, a fixed gaze on the future, and legs that march toward it.
In conclusion; it is astonishing that these things need repeating, things that are so obvious. Look at the instruction Jesus gave to His disciples when He sent them into the neighborhoods of Israel. But they bear repeating since we hear just the opposite today. We are taught that we need to adopt similar lifestyles, vernaculars, and interests. We must act like them in their mannerisms and dress and have the same commitments and passion, and we have to join in their jokes, parties, and meaningless chatter. This is either a weakness of the flesh or a misunderstanding of Scripture. The pathway to freedom has been blocked, not by the enemy, but by Christians, and effective witnessing is short-circuited. If our word has no force it is not because we are too aloft from the world; it is because we are far too much in it. As Christians, we have no place in the world at all, not in work, not in politics, not in economics, and not in its philosophy and thought. Our witness has no effect if we are conformed to the world.
When God makes us witnesses, when He is not ashamed to be called our God, then witness exists. But, this comes about when we ourselves receive the freedom which He gives and recognizes that on earth, in society, we are strangers and pilgrims. When we participate with the world in its mischievousness we will have a presence but we become sterile.
The Christian pathway to freedom brings about separation. Just as Abraham was separated as our example, we cannot be free for God unless we are completely separated in our hearts and souls from all that constitutes the world. The pathway to freedom is along the road of change. The slave has become a free man in Jesus. His position in relation to God has been changed, as a result, now he must transform his position from the inside by the power given to him by the Holy Spirit. Once his will becomes the will of the Father then he will know and act accordingly.