I have often heard Christian people express sentiment that goes something like this: I am a stranger in this world and heaven is my home so I want nothing to do with this world. There is certainly truth in the statement that we are not at “home” in the world now. For Peter calls believers “aliens and exiles” (see 1 Peter 2:11; 1:17). But in the next sentence he exhorts them to live honorably before their unbelieving neighbors. It is certainly not possible to escape this world or the people in bondage to this world-system that is inherently hostile to the living God. This was the error of the Corinthians who misunderstood a portion of Paul’s instructions to them (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
That Christians who say this have faith I do not doubt. But what is the substance and quality of such faith? Is not this the escapism so often mocked by worldly people? Might this world-denying attitude actually be another form of worldliness disguised as faith in God?
Frequently those who decline to believe in the Gospel or who mock it outright charge that it is a “crutch” for weak people. They say that faith is not based on anything real; rather, at best it is a form of self-soothing to the person’s psyche or at worst a flight into sheer fantasy that does not correlate with the world as we know it. None of these claims are true of genuine faith. Indeed, in many ways I assert that the unbeliever and mocker are describing themselves.
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the means to embrace and understand reality—the fullness of reality. It is distinctly different from any other form of knowing available to us. The redeemed person, like his unbelieving neighbor, uses his natural senses to perceive, feel, experience and interpret the natural world. But he or she also has the advantage of a “new heart” (re-created spirit) by which to “see” and “perceive” reality by faith (see Ephesians 1:18-19). Paul makes reference to what I will call (for lack of a better phrase) “redeemed heart knowledge” in 1 Corinthians:
“Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are discerned spiritually. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16, NRSV)
This truth is at the core of all authentic knowledge of God. And it is what God stated, through his servant Paul, that distinguishes between those who are genuine followers of the Lord Jesus and those who merely think that they are. And what is the key difference? The person who sincerely believes from his or her heart and longs to live according to God’s truth is known by God and thus incompletely but actually knows God through Christ (see Galatians 4:9). And this knowledge given through the Holy Spirit includes the ability to discern the truth. Praise be to God that he is a generous giver of the Spirit!
To what end has God chosen to reveal the truth to us? Is it not to make us free from the power of sin? Is it not so we can be ourselves—the authentic selves God re-created us in the inner person to be? Is it not to discover in ourselves the divine calling and gifting specifically fitted to each one us? Open our hearts, holy Triune God, that we would not despise your gifts and not resist your grace; for your heart is tender towards us and your mercy beyond measuring. “Deal with Your servant according to Your lovingkindness and teach me Your statutes.” (Psalm 119:124, NASBU)