We Ought to be a Cross-shaped People
What is the self-identity of the Christian? How is the believer to view himself in his horizontal relationships to the material world and in his vertical relationship to God? Who does he see him/herself to be? A better way to phrase the question would be, “How am I, a believer in Jesus Christ, supposed to view myself? What relationship do I have to the world? Are there metaphors or concepts in the Scripture that picture or encapsulate and sum up the Bible’s teaching about the self-identity of the believer?” I think there are.
- We are a “cross-bought and cross-shaped people”, and therefore …
- We are a “sojourning, rather than settled” people”.
Let’s examine the second category first, since it flows to us out of the heritage of the people of Israel. It also flows into the New Testament understanding of our citizenship in heaven—that we are a sojourning rather than a settled people.
Thesis 1: We are a “sojourning, rather than settled” people.
Let me start by citing a number of Scriptures. In each, God is training His people to treasure Him more than anything else they can see or touch or possess. They are journeying to the Promised Land and God wants them to know what to value. He wants to be the abiding possession of those who belong to Him.
Leviticus 25:23 (God speaking to Moses and the nation)
23 ‘The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.’
God reminds the nation that they are sojourners with Him and companions with Him in His land. They are aliens, traveling through a land that He temporarily supplies them and in which He will guide and care for them as a part of His covenant promise to them. The people of Israel are called “aliens” (Heb. ger).
“The root means to live among people who are not blood relatives; thus, rather than enjoying native civil rights, the gēr was dependent on the hospitality that played an important role in the ancient near east. When the people of Israel lived with their neighbors they were usually treated as protected citizens. …
In the case of the Patriarchs, however, they became “protected” citizens in the promised land through the call of God (Gen. 17:8; 20:1; 23:4). Hebrews 11:9,13 describes them as pilgrims and strangers, …”1
The land, even the Promised Land, is God’s (Heb, “YHWH”), and in His gracious hospitality, He protects Israel and is Israel’s companion as she sojourns in the land.
The word “sojourner” (Heb. tosab) refers to the temporary, landless wage earner.2 That is Israel’s identity. She “has” a land. She dwells in the Land of Promise but she is never to forget that her real treasure is the Lord Himself. The psalmist echoes the perspective in Psalm 73:25,
“Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You,
I desire nothing on earth.”3
David picks up the same theme in Psalm 39:12 (Emphasis added):
“Hear my prayer, O Lord,
and give ear to my cry;
Do not be silent at my tears;
For I am a stranger with You,
A sojourner like all my fathers.”
Here, David acknowledges that the identity or status of all the faithful before him is that they were “strangers” and “sojourners” in the land. He also states that he, the only man in all of Scripture called, “a man after God’s own heart” sees himself in the same category. David picks up the same theme in his final prayer before passing on the crown to Solomon.
1 Chronicles 29:15
“For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were;”
Again, the identity of the faithful under the Covenant, was that of sojourners in the land—sojourners with God in His land, His special possession. This is also the New Testament declaration:
Hebrews 11:13 (Speaking of all the OT saints of God)
“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
1 Peter 1:17 (Peter, speaking of how we are to view ourselves)
“If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;”
1 Peter 2:11
“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.”
Ephesians 2:19 (Paul, exhorting New Testament believers on why they are to be sojourners on the earth—they are citizens of heaven—says this:)
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,”
In this last text, the addressees are Gentiles who were strangers and aliens to the promises of God, but now through Christ, have been made fellow citizens in God’s household. The idea is that since their citizenship is in heaven, they live for an entirely different reality. Before, they were strangers and aliens to the promises. Now they are strangers and aliens to priorities that are not centered in heaven.
A large part of our dual problems of living holy lives worthy of the God we serve and of reaching the masses of people at our doorsteps is that we have forgotten that the people of God are to be sojourners on the earth and not settlers.
We are a cross bought people and our mission to the world must be cross-shaped if it is to have gospel power. More tomorrow on the identity of a Christian and its impact in the world.
1. Harris, R.L., Archer, G.L., & Waltke, B.K. 1999, c1980. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Chicago: Moody Press)
© 2010 Marty Schoenleber, Jr.