“This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” I’ve sung these words my entire life. There is certainly biblical truth to the idea that Christians should not feel at home in the world. But I’m afraid we have greatly misunderstood what Scripture means in this regard. What should we mean when we say the world is not our home?
This World Is Not My Home
The word “world” does not always mean the same thing every time it appears in Scripture. Sometimes it means planet Earth (1 Peter 1:20). At other times, it means all the individual people on Earth (John 3:16). And finally, it can mean the sum total of all the earthly kingdoms, and the wickedness of their ways (1 John 2:15).
This is why John wrote that God loves the world (John 3:16), but also wrote that we should NOT love the world (1 John 2:15). He was using “world” in two different ways. Like God, we should love the individual people of the world (even those who hate and persecute us). However, we should not love the way earthly kingdoms have perpetuated wickedness and injustice. So, when we say, “This world is not my home,” it is this latter sense we should have in mind.
The world, in this sense, is a realm in rebellion to God’s rule. And God will destroy this “world” on the Day of Judgement (see 2 Peter 3:1-13). Peter does not seem to mean that God will destroy the material planet, but that he will destroy the wickedness on Earth. In other words, as Paul wrote, “The present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). That is why we can’t get too attached or feel at home in this world. It will not always be like it is now.
This Nation is Not My Home
We need to get a little more specific. Christians in every nation, in every era, must recognize that their earthly nation is part of “the world.” Which means, Christians should never feel at home in their nation. Earthly nations have misorganized (yes, that’s a word) their administration of power. They have enslaved, oppressed, perverted justice, and normalized wickedness. Some nations have obviously done this worse than others, but all are guilty and all will be held accountable by God.
Unfortunately, there is pressure on every citizen to swear allegiance to their earthly nation. After all, the nation offers military protection, a sense of belonging, goods, and services. The nation expects citizens to give their faith and loyalty in exchange for these benefits. Make no mistake, Christians must be obedient, submissive, and even cooperative (so far as doing so doesn’t cause us to sin), but we must be careful not not to make any earthly nation our home.
Some early Christians seem to have been tempted to continue giving allegiance to Rome, even after they became followers of King Jesus. But they were admonished to resist this temptation. Philippi, for instance, was a proud Roman colony. It was heavily populated by military veterans. The people of Philippi prized their Roman citizenship. But Paul directly confronted this impulse when he wrote, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
The “world,” in the sense of a realm in rebellion to God’s rule, is made up of earthly kingdoms and nations. So, if this world is not our home, then earthly nations should not be our home either.
This City is Not My Home
In the ancient world, certain cities commanded respect. People likely felt intense loyalty to cities like Rome, Athens, or Jerusalem. Early Christians had to resist the gravitational pull of these glorious cities. Following Jesus meant orienting their lives around a different city, the heavenly city.
One of the themes of the book of Hebrews is the idea that earthly Jerusalem is not the true city of God. Earthly Jerusalem was corrupt and worldly. But there is another Jerusalem, that is currently in heaven, waiting to be revealed on the Last Day. The Hebrew writer commends Abraham, “He was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (11:10). The writer encourages every Christian to “seek the city that is to come” (13:14).
The apostle Paul also contrasts “the present Jerusalem,” which he says is in slavery, with “the Jerusalem above” (Galatians 4:25-26). The Jerusalem above is the city John saw coming down from heaven on the Day of Judgement (Revelation 20-21). This is the city to which Christians were told to give their loyalty and allegiance. Even though it is currently unseen, it will be revealed and will be the center of the New Heavens and New Earth.
Every earthly kingdom has cities that try to capture our heart, imagination, and loyalty. Jesus expects us to not feel at home in any of these cities. Instead, we are to wait with eager anticipation for the revealing of the New Jerusalem.
This does not mean we should be apathetic about the plight of our neighbors. It does not mean we should turn a blind eye to wickedness in the world. We should absolutely work to make the world a better place (see Jeremiah 29:4-7). In fact, it is when we live as outsiders, rather than insiders, that we are really positioned to make a difference in the world.
The letter of 1 Peter is all about making a difference in the world as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). Feeling at home in the world, in any city or nation, was not an option for followers of Jesus. Even in their own hometowns, they were now aliens and strangers. But Peter did not tell his readers to find or build a nation where they could feel at home. He told them to make a difference from the posture of sojourners, exiles, strangers, and aliens.
We must never lose this sense of being aliens. James warned his readers, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). The idea of “friendship” in the ancient world was one of partnership and loyalty. James seems to be telling them not to ally themselves with worldly power, wealth, and authority in order to secure more comfortable lives for themselves.
Planet Earth will one day be “set free from its bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:21). When that happens, the “present form of this world” (1 Corinthians 7:31) will completely pass away. And those of us who refused to be at home in the present form of this world (in these nations or cities) will receive the city where our citizenship lies. That is our hope and promise from King Jesus.
I love you and God loves you,
P.S. Please consider these relevant words from an anonymous Second-Century Christian to a pagan named Diognetus, explaining what sort of people Christians strive to be (emphasis mine):
For the Christians…dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 5