“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (Jesus of Nazareth, The Gospel of John 17.15-19, TNIV)
“Beloved, I urge you, as aliens and exiles, to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they may malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.” (The Apostle Peter, 1 Peter 2.11-12, NRSV)
“For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe… They 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…” (The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, ca., 2nd century AD, trans., Roberts-Donaldson)
The first two quotes come from canonical scripture while the last comes from a post-apostolic writing. However, this post-apostolic writing gives us a glimpse of how a very distant generation of Christians understood the paradox of being sent but sanctified, being aliens living out good works among a pagan and hostile world.
I must admit, some of what I read in the “Mathetes to Diognetus” quotation is not new to me. For I have witnessed Christians in my life time who are striving to live a life of good-works (and praise God for that!). Yet the quotation seems very foreign to the North American Christianity I am part of in the twenty-first century. Why?
May the call of both Jesus and Peter along with the “Mathetus to Diognetus” quotation move us with an invigorated passion and imagination for how we can live as alien disciples sanctified and sent into a foreign land!