As author and theologian N.T. Wright points out, the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis is a parable of Israel’s continual rise and fall: They start off in the seat of God’s favor, they rebel and fall away, the result is to become exiled in a foreign land, and the process repeats over and over again throughout their history.
To be told “Your sins are forgiven,” therefore is to say “Your exile is over. It’s time to return home.”
This concept of exile as a result of falling away from God is firmly established throughout most of the Scriptures. However, in the New Testament, we start to see how Jesus totally inverts the concept and reestablishes the notion of exile as a blessing and not a curse.
For example, in 1 Peter 2:11 it says: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”
Here the idea of exile is framed as a new identity for those who follow Christ. We are strangers here, not at home in this world but living as citizens of another Kingdom.
The author of Hebrews also echoes this notion in Chapter 11, starting in verse 13, where he suggests that those who follow Christ are not at home in this world but are looking for a better kingdom – a heavenly one – that God has prepared for them to inhabit beyond this place.
So, whenever we live as if this world is our home, we deny our identity as strangers and aliens here. When we are more passionate for the kingdoms of this world – who rules, who governs, who sits in office – we betray our true citizenship in God’s Kingdom to come.
In those moments, we re-invert Christ’s inversion of the term exile and we become exiled from Christ’s Kingdom here in this place; we become strangers and aliens to the rule and reign of Christ and make ourselves at home in the world we were meant to remain exiled in.
Christ has redefined exile to become a blessing for us. Why on earth would we want to reverse this blessing and become strangers and aliens to Christ’s Kingdom?
The reality is this: You cannot convert a system, or a nation, if that system or nation has already converted you.
In the words of the angel in Revelation 18:4, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive any of her plagues.”
This is not a warning of doom or of punishment. It’s a simple statement of sowing and reaping; cause and effect. If we are wrapped in the flag of another nation, we will suffer the emptiness and darkness that comes from being a citizen of anything other than the Kingdom of Light which is the rule and reign of Christ.
What does it mean to live as an exile on earth? What does it look like to become a true stranger and alien in this world? Searching out the answers to those questions might lead us into a better path than the one we’re on right now.
Otherwise, we will continue to take sides, draw dividing lines of tribalistic aggression and see ourselves as an “us” that must forever oppose “them.”
This is not Christ’s Kingdom. His platform is one of radical inclusion. His foreign policy is that there is no one who is foreign. All are welcome. All are loved.
We are ambassadors of Christ’s Kingdom, if we truly pledge allegiance to the Lamb. But we cannot serve two masters.
The ministry of reconciliation we have been handed will not work as long as we wave a flag shouting “America First!”
Are we really committed to this task? Are we truly ready to become exiles in this world to embrace our citizenship in a heavenly kingdom not made by human hands?
What we do next will answer that question.
WARNING: Embezzlement: The Corporate Sin Of American Christianity by Ray Mayhew is only a few pages long, but this article on the early Christian church changed my life. After reading this, my wife and I left the institutional church to start a house church where 100% of the offering was given away to help the poor in our community and nothing was ever the same again. Download a FREE PDF copy of this article HERE. [But don’t say I didn’t warn you].
Keith Giles and his wife, Wendy, work with Peace Catalyst International to help build relationships between Christians and Muslims in El Paso, TX. Keith was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church over a decade ago to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today he is the author of the best-selling “Jesus Un” series of books, including “Jesus Unexpected: Ending The End Times To Become The Second Coming” which is available now on Amazon.