Are You an Immigrant, Tourist, or Exile?
Peter wrote his first letter to a church whose world had been turned upside down like ours has. In the opening greeting, he says he is writing to “those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1 CSB). This was a group of believers who had been scattered all over the world through political and religious persecution. Everything in their lives was uncertain; their communities had been shattered; their worlds were totally rocked.
While most of us haven’t gone through persecution like that, many of us are living through a period of isolation and uncertainty unlike anything we’ve experienced before. We may not literally be exiles, but on some level, we can relate.
When you’re living in a country that isn’t your original home, you have three basic dispositions (I first heard this from the inimitable Tim Keller):
An immigrant is someone who seeks to make their new country their permanent home. That’s a great idea for earthly citizens, but it’s disastrous when we apply that posture spiritually. Sadly, a lot of Christians do with this world. They might know that they are citizens of heaven, but they treat the world as if this is where they really want to live.
They leverage most of their resources to make a comfortable life here.
They obsess about their reputation here.
They stress about what they do and don’t have here.
They wonder, Is my ship ever going to come in? Am I ever going to get married?, or Will I ever have a life like my neighbors?
In short, they act like this world is all there is.
A tourist is, in many ways, the opposite of an immigrant. Tourists might love the country they’re in, but they don’t plan to live there. They’re just visiting, so they never put down any roots. They don’t form any real connections to the place or the people; they stay huddled in their own little groups.
While they’re visiting, they speak their own language; they stay in Western hotels; they complain when they can’t find a Starbucks. They might eat some of the local cuisine (complete with an Insta post), but that’s about as engaged as they’ll get.
Tourists stand detached from the society around them. So when problems arise—political unrest, for instance—tourists don’t respond by getting involved. They respond by leaving.
This is the attitude some Christians have toward the world. They stay separated, never get involved, feel no connection to the community, and certainly don’t engage in addressing societal problems.
An exile is someone whose home is somewhere else, but for an undefined amount of time, they have to make their home in a new place. So they invest in this new community, form relationships, and learn the culture. However, even as they put down roots and work for the good of their country, they always long for the day when they can go back home. They are, in a sense, dual citizens—devoted to the good of their earthly country, but always headed for their heavenly home.
Exiles are, in a sense, dual citizens—devoted to the good of their earthly country, but always headed for their heavenly home.
One of the key ways this exile mentality plays out is in our approach to possessions. Christians who live as exiles are not focused on gathering as much as they can; instead, they are satisfied with just enough to get by because their real treasure is somewhere else.
It’s like being in an airport terminal, with little shops that will sell you necessities (at ridiculously high prices) so that your layover is comfortable. I love those little shops. But you know what you never see in those shops?
Why? Because you don’t go to an airport to load up on supplies. You buy enough just to get by because the airport is a stop en route to your real home.
Peter uses the idea of exiles as a metaphor for all Christians everywhere. We belong to God, and he is our true home. Christians are essentially exiles in this world, temporarily isolated from their true country and taking up residence in another.
Peter wants us to change our mentality toward the world around us. This world is not our true home, so we shouldn’t be obsessed with our experiences here, what we do, or don’t, have. And we shouldn’t be too surprised when we feel exiled.
Do you feel exiled? These days, many of us do. For believers, we need to lean into that feeling, because we belong to a different kingdom, we follow a different authority, and we have a different set of values.