Volume 47 | Number 3 | May–June 2019

Inglés Español

The Christian’s Strangeness in a Strange Land

By Dr. H. T. Spence

The great problem today in contemporary Christianity is the absence of a clear, defined change of life identified with becoming a Christian. There is no difference between the citizens of this strange land and contemporary Christianity; there is no difference between the institutional church and the world. The institutional church has redefined itself to accommodate the contemporary it loves. The professing Christian church on earth has not pressed for this radical change of life; consequently, it has radically changed the definition of a Christian.

As a result of this redefining, we dwell in another strange land—the land of contemporary Christianity. Contemporary Christianity has made captive true biblical Christianity. Like Israel of old, the End Time requires of the true child of God two exoduses. First, there must be the exodus from Egypt. God wants us totally out of one land and into another, the land of Canaan—the Christ life on earth. God does not want us even dwelling on the border of Canaan. Is our heart captive in Egypt? Is our heart lingering in the wilderness? Or, is our heart abounding in the land of Canaan? After Egypt, there remains a second exodus End-time Christians must make.

The Second Exodus

A thousand years later, there was for Israel a second and equally important exodus from a land, a strange land. Israel left the land called Babylon:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land? (Ps. 137:1–4).

After seventy years of this religious captivity, they finally departed from this second strange land. Unlike the captivity from sin (Egypt), this was an exodus from the captivity of religious apostasy (Babylon).

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah carefully present this second exodus. In each of the three returns (536 b.c., 458 b.c., and 444 b.c.), a remnant longed to get back to Jerusalem, to build a temple, to build the city, and to be restored to their God. They had gone into this captivity because of their rejection of the God whom they had served for hundreds of years. They knew that over a process of time, they had defected from Jehovah by turning to other gods.

This is where Christianity finds itself today. It is in another strange land—the land of apostasy, the land that destroys the true Christian faith and causes that faith to acclimate to the strangeness of the strange land, the world. Growing up in a preacher’s home (with the truth all around me), I was seventeen years old before I finally gave my heart and life to the Lord. I left Egypt and immediately was part of a church denomination that was (at that time) strong for the Lord, helping me in my walk with God. But over a process of time, these churches and denominations began to compromise, believing that change was the only way to survive. They believed that Christianity, or the denominations, must change with the times. This included a change in everything identified with their concept of Christianity—the music must change, the dress and the living standards must change, the concept of holiness must change.

We saw the “heart” of Christianity leave the churches, as the “form” of the Christian became contemporary. I remember a sermon preached by one of the ecclesiastical leaders just before my father and I left the denomination. It was entitled “Building the Church in Spite of the Saints.” The sermon was exhorting pastors to continue with the changes despite those who were fighting against the changes. It was the plea for everyone to “climb on board” or otherwise leave the church. This sermon was the final, bold word we heard before our exodus. The leadership believed that for the denomination to grow with the “rest of global Christianity,” it needed to change. Each day we felt like a stranger in a strange land. A land that was once a land where we walked with God, this land of our spiritual legacy, kept changing over a process of time until it became a “strange land.” Now, in this land we became a stranger as it became a new religiously formed land against the truth of God.

With these changes, there was no liberty to freely preach the truth, no liberty to seek God with the fullness of a heart sealed in God’s Word, and no liberty in pursuing the biblical holiness of God. Then questions came to us. People began to wonder why we were not getting in harmony with the changes. “Why do you look so burdened all the time? Can’t you enjoy the liberty that has come to us in these changes?” More and more our hearts were restricted in services as the churches fabricated a false form of worship. Far from the true biblical worship and a Christian walk with God, all was reinterpreted with a self-centered perspective. Our response to the questions became more and more pronounced: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Yes, dear reader, just as Egypt was a strange land after we became a Christian, the churches in which we grew up have become a strange land as well. Many of our home churches were no longer familiar, biblical land—Canaan land. Even the religious terminology was becoming a foreign tongue—a new language—with new concepts of God, of worship, of music, and of teaching. It was absolutely necessary to depart from this Christian apostate land; we had to find a land where we could worship and serve God according to the principles of His Word. How could we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Just as the world has become a strange land to us since our conversion, sad to say, modern Christianity has become a strange land religiously.

We must carefully reflect upon what happens when an individual becomes a born-again Christian, when one accepts Christ as Saviour and enters the Kingdom of Heaven. This conversion to God involves an inward and an outward change. It is supernaturally wrought by God; it is literally being born from above through the power of the Holy Spirit. A believer in Christ is brought from death unto life, from sin into the holiness of God; he leaves the world and becomes a pilgrim and stranger in the earth. When born again, one receives a new nature with new desires and ambitions for life. The whole behavior is changed from that of a selfish worldling to a devoted life transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Because of this radical change of being plucked from the powers of the world (which was once the great influence upon our lives), God now gives us the church to take the place of the world in our fellowship and in our living. The church becomes a place where all should live the same way in principles and standards, encouraging one another to live according to the precepts of Christ. Therefore, it is a grief when this gift of a church (for fellowship and strengthening in the things of the Lord) now changes and becomes worldly under the guise of Christ. The true Christian now becomes strange to the church. The land that once fed the Truth and encouraged the life in grace now has restructured itself to the world—essentially, there is now no difference between the world and the contemporary church. The child of God is a stranger to both worlds; he is denied the opportunity to live according to the Word of God in both worlds, in both lands. As the sinning world (under the god of this world Satan) increasingly hates God’s saints, the saints are counted as not worthy to live in the world (which the world believes belongs to them). Likewise, the church today believes the saints are not worthy to live among the professing people of God, the church’s fellowship. God’s saints today are living amidst both lands that are strange to them, and God’s saints have become strange to the two worlds, the two lands.

The Cross: Hated by the World and the Church

The First Epistle of Peter carefully presents the sufferings and persecutions that come to God’s people because of their living for Christ. Within this epistle we are drawn to the verses found in the fourth chapter. This chapter begins with a unique stigma (the emblem, the critical root) of the Christian life that is the reason for a Christian’s strangeness to both the world and the contemporary church. It is the stigma of the Cross! But certain aspects of the cross the world has little problem with. Most are not offended by the truth that Christ died on the cross for our sins and that our sins can be forgiven. The offense comes in how the cross must be identified with the Christian life! The Christian must remember that the cross is not only the place where our sins were borne by Christ, but it is also the place where we read, “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” The cross likewise becomes the place “by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 5:24; 6:14). It is in this First Epistle of Peter that we read of the sufferings of Christians in a variety of ways. It is the sufferings of the cross-life that contemporary Christianity despises.

In 1 Peter 4:1 the apostle declares, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh . . .” This is the declaration that Christ suffered on the cross in that His flesh was nailed and put to death. Peter then proceeds to declare to us, “arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.” The “mind” here is a thought that controls both the mind and the life. Therefore, “arm yourselves with the same thought.” Philippians 2:5 states, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” This mind was the thought of humility and submission in obedience to the Father, even the obedience to the death of the cross.

But Peter reveals in chapter 4 the thought of the work of the cross in the suffering, or the crucifixion of the flesh (as Christ’s flesh was crucified). Our flesh must be crucified! Crucifixion frees us from the power and dominion of sin; this is when the flesh and the appetite for the flesh are crucified. But this crucifixion also will bring about a willful rejection of Egypt, the desire for the world and for sin; this will take place in the heart. The cross is the unique work to put to death that which is an ally with the world and the world system—that which is controlled by the power of the flesh. When Satan and the world attack us with temptation, the carnal Christian has an ally called the old man, the Adamic nature, the sin principle, or the flesh. In this passage, this call by Peter is for us to know this suffering in the flesh in order to cease from the desire and heart for sinning. “For he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” This “suffering” does not speak of Christ, for He never sinned nor had any sins to cease from. This suffering refers to the Christian’s crucifixion in Christ. This believer has taken hold of the cross (to put the sin principle to death in Christ) in order to cease from willful sinning and its desire.

Verse 2 continues, “That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” From the time that a Christian has known that deathblow in a crisis, he should not live the rest of his time in his fleshly body to the lusts of that flesh (which is the controlling principle of the world) and to the way the men of the world live (their lusts, the burnings of the strange land of the world). Therefore, this is God’s will, even our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3), which is most important while living in this strange land. Sanctification becomes the breaking of the world within us, which is part of the world without. Note Christ’s prayer in John 17:15–17:

I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

Because of this work of Christ within the heart, we come to this principle of living in the world; but we do not live as the world does by its lust of the flesh.

The Will of the Gentiles versus the Will of God

In our unbelieving days before our conversion, we did the “will of the Gentiles”; our living was in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and the abominations connected with idolatry (1 Pet. 4:3). At one time our living, thinking, motivation, and words were as the world; we lived the norm of the world for we were of the spirit and heart of the world. But now, since this deathblow has been given to the flesh principle (the principle of the world), we are no longer to live to the will of the Gentiles in sin. The believer must forsake the world, the flesh, and the things of the Devil. The believer must forsake his old companions who do the will of the Gentiles in the world and in sin. A true Christian who has come to know the forgiveness of sins must also come to know the power of sin broken in his life. He is now to live in direct contrast to the will of this world.

In 1 Peter 4:2 and 3, two wills are mentioned. In verse 3 there is the “will of the Gentiles.” In the Greek this word is thelema or “the wish, heart will, and desires of the world system.” The Gentiles created the world system of which we were a part before we became a Christian. This world is according to the wish-will and desire of the Gentiles against God. They have created this world system, its lust and desires, its purpose, its philosophy, its morals, its music, its speech, how one is to live within its government, etc. This world is controlled by the Gentiles’ will. If we live worldly, we will live by the will of the Gentiles.

But in verse 2, having been delivered from the lusts, the flesh of this world system, we now live by the “will of God.” God’s will is contrary to the will of this world. Everything is totally different. God’s will, by which we live, is based on His Word, His principles, His absolutes, His morals, and His way. The way we live as a Christian is radically different; in reality, the will of the Gentiles and the will of the Christian are enemies of one another.

Because of these opposing wills, the Gentile world thinks us “strange”; our manner of living is strange, and everything about our life is strange to them. “Wherein they think it strange” (4:4). This “wherein” is referring to our manner of living, or their observation and hearing of it. It is foreign to them, it is alien, and brings forth anger. One time we ran with them, we lived the life with them. But now we have so radically and wholly changed that we do not run with them “to the same excess of riot.” We do not have the same passions, the same burning desires that we once had. We do not dress the way they do; our children do not dress the way their children do; we do not enjoy the same pleasures; our families are different; the very contrasts become a condemnation in their thinking. “To the same excess of riot” declares that lost state in which a man is given to self-indulgence and saves neither reputation, earthly position, nor his immortal soul. And this is what they do: “Speaking evil of you,” literally “blaspheming them [the true Christians], cursing them.” This is the way the world system through its talk, its news media, and its actions will treat God’s people.

What is this strangeness that they see in us? Part of it is to be found in 1 Peter 4:7–11. “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer.” The true Christian is ever to keep the end in view. He does not live for the passing existential moment; he lives as one who knows the end of all things. He lives for the culmination of life in Christ. This ushering in of all things is to be at the Lord’s return; therefore, the importance of sobriety and watchfulness unto prayer must be a part of the daily Christian life.

“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (v. 8). This verse speaks of the importance of fervent love among those who are of the pilgrim company: “among yourselves.” This is a noble rule in Christianity! Mutual affection must be fervent, not cold; this affection must be sincere, strong, and lasting. The world hates God’s people, and this is why Christians should cling to one another. Even though they cannot be blind to the faults of others, yet love covers the multitude of sins. We must not take this verse to mean that true Christians are indifferent to evil. “To cover a multitude of sins” is to forgive and forget offenses against one another; to cover and conceal the sins of others rather than aggravate them and spread them in gossip. For those who are weak, who have been guilty of many evil things before their conversion, these we forgive and love.

Another important truth is “use hospitality one to another without grudging” (v. 9). How are we toward one another? Are we without murmuring and complaining? This is what the world is given to. But we are to give such hospitality, no matter the cost of the inconvenience. Murmuring takes from hospitality all its beauty; hospitality should be given as a gift.

“As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (v. 10). Whatever we can do for God’s people, let us remember it first is a gift from God that should not be hidden in a napkin. We should do service with these talents one unto another. They are entrusted to us by God for others.

If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen (v. 11).

The true Christian is always speaking God’s Word. What Christians do in private, or what they minister in public, or whatever they teach and preach must be the pure Word and oracles of God. They are not to mix psychology or philosophy or the ways of the world with this pure Word of God. They must not mix anything with the Bible except faith! As regarding our manner of speaking, it must be with the seriousness, reverence, and solemnity that befit those holy and divine oracles of God. How Christians treat the Bible with respect and as the infallible Word and absoluteness of God also causes the secular world and the religious world to hate them! The cross brings Christians into humility and their living is by the absolutes of God. These imperatives of life the world hates with great intensity.


We are in a day now that both the world and the church think us strange, and we must learn through God’s Word and the Holy Spirit how we are to live with this. We must pray that God will give us grace to not be shamed or intimidated by the world. We must not let its bold rebuke and name-calling offend us. We as parents will also have to make this clear to our children; they must not be conformed to this world system. It does not mean they always have to dress up when going downtown, but God forbid we wear the clothing of the world simply to blend in with the world or wear clothes that become walking billboards for the secular world. Let us dress nicely; let us act nicely. The casual dress is destroying the church. I am appalled with the casual dress of ministers publicly, in their travels to preaching engagements and church functions. We have let the world dictate our standards and intimidate us to become “one of them.” If the world is against the biblical Christian manner, then so be it. We have already been warned by the Bible that “wherein,” the way you live, the world will think you strange. We are not of the world anymore; we are not to be conformed to its dress, its music, its entertainment, its amusements, its perspective of life.

May God enable us to live in these two worlds that have become strange to us, as they look upon us as being strange with the intent to blaspheme us. The day is coming, and may already have arrived, when martyrdom will become common. As Jesus said in Matthew 24:9, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” In Mark 13:13 we read, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” It is not that they simply will not like us. They will hate us!

In these days when the churches are redefining Christianity to accommodate the world, may both our lives and words ever be clear with others concerning the distinction of the world from biblical Christianity. Although our lives have known the exodus from Egypt (the land of the world), may we also come to know an exodus from Babylon (the apostate system of contemporary Christianity). May we keep our hearts and minds from promoting the language and the clichés of the contemporary Christianity in our conversations. May God not only deliver our hearts from the contemporary music of the strange land of Egypt but also deliver us from the contemporary music flourishing in the churches today. May our hearts be delivered from the contemporary dominant rhythm, its shallowness of message, its sensual appeal to the ear and the flesh, and its carnal approach to God.

We must ever remember that Christ birthed the Church to take the place of the world for our fellowship, and may we stand firm in keeping our own lives pure in Christ and in seeing the need of a spiritual Bible church for our souls and for our families. May God help us to be a spiritual Christian, contributing spirituality to our local church, rather than contributing carnality and indifference to the flock. May we know the dominion and the power of the flesh crucified in and through the cross of Christ, as He enables us always to do the will of the Father rather than the will of this world and the Devil. We must ever be conscious that the world loves its own, and anything contrary will be hated and despised.

Although the world naturally hates the Christian, a greater sadness is that the professing church hates the Christian as well. May God enable us to live in these two worlds that have become strange to us.