When I arrived in Southern California from India nearly thirteen years ago, I realized almost immediately that I stood out. Among a sea of white faces, I was the only brown one for miles. My looks and accent gave me away as a stranger.
The American way of life, initially, was foreign to me. I stared at the innumerable varieties of cereal and baby food in massive grocery stores that looked like warehouses. People drove on the right side of the street and not on the left, like they did in India. Strangers smiled at me and some even chatted with me!
My experience of relocating to a another country gave me the opportunity to evaluate my foreignness on a spiritual level and taught me valuable lessons about my Christian identity and purpose.
As followers of Jesus, we are resident aliens on earth, regardless of our nationality or place of residence. Our salvation sets us apart for God in a manner that sets us apart from the rest of the world.
There is a clear and final adjustment in our spiritual identity when we are saved. We are no longer slaves to sin and enemies of God but beloved children of God granted citizenship in His kingdom. Our adoption into God’s family makes us a distinct people.
What also makes us a peculiar bunch is the way we conduct ourselves, our way of life. In 1 Peter 2:11, the apostle Peter emphasizes the otherworldly nature of our identity and culture,
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”
The Holy Spirit transforms us so that our hearts become more and more inclined to obey and please God. He motivates us to surrender our whole lives to God, pursuing His will and plans for our lives.
This way of living is countercultural because secular culture urges us to live for ourselves, be in control of our plans, and make ourselves happy.
Jesus’ topsy-turvy teachings command us to forgive and love our enemies, be meek and humble, serve those who are regarded as lowly, invest in treasures in heaven, depend on Him for our needs, and pursue righteousness. He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and devote ourselves to following Him.
The more we follow Jesus and become like Him, the more foreign this world feels to us.
Over the years, I have made several changes to my lifestyle in order to adapt to my new homeland. I’ve changed the way I dress and do my hair. I use pounds and miles instead of the metric system to measure weights and distances. Thanksgiving, an American holiday, has become a part of our family tradition.
But as a citizen of heaven, I must do the opposite.
My goal is not to conform to worldly culture. I must resist the temptation to blend in and be like everyone around me. The challenge is to not give in to a worldview that exalts the self above God.
Our identity as foreigners on earth compels us to live by a different standard so that we stand out. Not in a way that is insensitive or arrogant, but in a way that’s so radically loving that people are attracted to us and the God we serve.
And that’s the privilege of our immigrant identity. God uses mere mortals like us to point others to Him and to further His grand plans.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
So, let’s wear our foreignness as a badge of honor and boldly live out our identity as strangers on earth and citizens of heaven.