While in prison, John Bunyan, an English Baptist, wrote one of the most-loved Christian books of all time: Pilgrim’s Progress, which appeared in two parts in 1678 and 1684. Bunyan’s allegorical novel, which has been translated into numerous languages, traces Christian’s journey from the “City of Destruction” to the “CelestialCity.” Yet the idea of Christians being pilgrims in this world is certainly not original with Bunyan. In fact, it is already found in the pages of the NT, especially in the Book of Hebrews and also in Peter’s first epistle.
Peter addresses his epistle specifically and at the very outset to believers as “resident aliens” in this world (1 Pet 1:1). He calls on his readers to conduct themselves in reverence “during this time of temporary residence” (1 Pet 1:17) and urges them “as aliens and temporary residents” to abstain from fleshly desires that wage war against them (2 Pet 2:11). This “resident alien” motif thus lies at the very foundation of how Peter conceives of believers’ identity in this world: this world is not their home; they are pilgrims, strangers, resident aliens in this world.
As one who has been a “resident alien” in the United States for many years before becoming an American citizen, I can certainly appreciate Peter’s potent metaphor. As a “resident alien,” I lacked certain basic rights and privileges that regular citizens take for granted, such as the ability to vote. I was a temporary resident who could not take down deep roots. In God’s providence, this prepared me to regard my Christian existence in this world as temporary also: for as Scripture tells us, heaven is our home, because that is where God lives.
Does our lifestyle reflect this reality? As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, do we amass treasures on earth or in heaven? Materialism is rampant in our culture, especially among many young people. It appears often their very lives depend on whether they are able to get the latest gadget the moment it is released on the market. To make matters worse, this materialism has crept in from the general culture into the church. It is time believers remember that, according to God’s Word, they are mere pilgrims and resident aliens in this world.