Throughout the Bible, there are numerous names given to followers of Jesus.
We are God’s children. We are brothers and sisters. We are bond-servants and co-heirs. We are His priests. We are a peculiar people and vessels. We are witnesses and temples. All of those titles provide us with encouragement as, over and over, the Bible reassures us that our identity as God’s people is a position of stability and peace. We are sons and daughters of the King of all things, and that is a place of honor. But there is another word to describe Christians that the narrative of the Bible infers — a different side of the coin. And given current world events, that word is becoming increasingly more relevant and meaningful.
That word is “refugee.”
Webster’s Dictionary defines a “refugee” as a person who flees his or her home to avoid and to escape persecution or danger. In my lifetime, there hasn’t been such a clearly demonstrated illustration of this word as there is right now. The millions of Syrian citizens who are quite literally running for their lives has been called the biggest mass exodus of refugee people since the Holocaust. Similarly, the Syrian exodus is a stark reminder of the darkness in man’s heart.
And as we watch our news stations and keep up with the headlines, we see more and more visual proof that the life of a refugee isn’t an easy one. Yet, while this label in reference to Christ-followers is more implied than directly stated in Scripture, natural theology leads us towards a clear understanding that God, in all of His abundant understanding and knowledge, says that is exactly what we as Christians are. And while it’s hard for most of us to relate to it, there is a reason why God chose to attach that particular characteristic to us.
I have never been in a position where I have had to cross country lines and rely on the hospitality of others in order to survive. I have never had to run to escape persecution or death. But I do know what it’s like to be on the outside. I do know what it’s like to feel other and strange and looked down on.
Now, please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I am in no way suggesting that my experiences of being excluded on account of my religious beliefs are in any way similar to what millions of displaced Syrians are experiencing at the moment. I am not naïve enough to suggest that. But according to the Bible, we are sojourners. We are exiles. We are refugees. So there must be something to that idea.
There must be a reason that God chose to describe us that way. And I believe the reason is that being a refugee, a noncitizen, a sojourner, and an outsider is as much a part of our identity as Christians as being children and priests and co-heirs are. When we accept God’s call on our lives, when we exchange our will for His grace, we become all of those wonderful things. We become God’s children.
We become heirs of His inheritance. We become the righteousness of God. But as we draw nearer to Him, all of those things pull us further and further away from our own sinful nature. As we become more like Christ, we become less like the world. And the less we look like the world, the more we will be hated by it. The plain and simple truth is that we are refugees.
We are foreigners and aliens. And we have a responsibility to recognize our citizenship and to remember that where we were is no longer who we are. I am God’s. You are His. He is ours. And this world is not our home.
Hebrews 13:14 says, “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”
So, in that regard, while I have been fortunate enough to never have had to suffer the hardships of a physical refugee, the Bible is clear in that I do have to live the life of a spiritual one. And just like the Syrians are having to flee their homeland and are having to make do in a land that isn’t theirs, we have had to adjust to life in a broken world — a world that is not for us. Our citizenship is somewhere else. We will never fully fit in. The day that we do fit in is the day that we have lost our sense of identity and purpose.
The word “refugee” isn’t a positive one. However, it wasn’t meant as a death sentence when God inspired Bible authors to write it about Christians in general. Yes, we are outsiders, but we are not without hope. Unlike the Syrian refugees, the life that God offers us shouldn’t look like displacement. It shouldn’t feel like running and hiding. We shouldn’t come across as a people with nowhere to call home. Just because our home isn’t in this world doesn’t make it any less real. And that is the light that we have to extend to this world.
This world is full of people without a home because without Jesus, that is what we are — homeless. God is our place of safety. And that is the truth that we ourselves must be convinced of. Because our hearts belong to Him, while we are exiles in a foreign land and strangers in a world that isn’t ours and foreigners who will never truly belong, we are not without a safe place. The Bible may say that we are refugees, but it also calls God our refuge. And there is no way to separate those two words.
“LORD, you are my fortress, my refuge in the day of trouble” (Jeremiah 16:19).
“This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety” (Psalm 91:2).
“Those who fear the LORD are secure; He will be a refuge for their children” (Proverbs 14:26).
“But you are a tower of refuge to the poor, O LORD, a tower of refuge to the needy in distress. You are a refuge from the storm and a shelter from the heat” (Isaiah 25:4).
Over and over, God assures us that He is our safe place, our hiding place. Whatever you are going through, wherever you are, however hard life is raging against you, God is your shelter from the storm. You may be a refugee in this world because of your faith in the Lord. You may be an outsider and foreigner. You may be hated because of who you are. But you are not hopeless. You are not at the mercy of this world. You are not storm tossed like the millions of Syrian refugees currently without a home. You have a refuge. His name is Jesus.
In Him, we have hope. If the life of Jesus taught us anything, it is that a life consecrated to God isn’t one that follows worldly convention. It isn’t one that is accepted by man. It isn’t one that is rewarded in the typical sense. In fact, a consecrated life is increasingly looked down on and hated. And in so many countries, a consecrated life even leads to harsh persecution and death.
But Jesus was hated. He was rejected. He was even put to death.
So we are in the very best of company. A Christian life is a contradiction. We are refugees with a home. We are simultaneously rejected and accepted. We are hated by the world, but we are also envied by angels. That is the price we must pay to be His children. Actually, I take that back. That is the price that we are blessed to even have the chance to pay.
If you aren’t praying for the Syrian refugees, I encourage you to do so. The majority of them are Muslims which means that they don’t know the grace of God. They have been deceived. But He loves them. Salvation is for them as much as it was for us.
Whatever you think about the current situation, they need Jesus. On that, we should all agree. They are in a desperate situation, and I pray that God intercepts them as they wander. And I encourage you to relate to them in their wandering. They are refugees. And so are we. We are outcasts, foreigners who don’t belong. But, we can remember, every day, every breath, every beat of our hearts brings us closer and closer to home.