The day Saul of Tarsus became a Christian he became a homeless man.
Up till then he had enjoyed a privileged cultural status. A “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5) whose star was rising in the Pharisee party, Saul lived at the center of Jewish religious and political life in the holiest city on earth. His future looked bright.
Then Jesus blinded him with a brighter light and all that privilege got dumped on the side of the Damascus road.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7–8)
Saul knew immediately what gaining Christ would cost him in Jewish Palestine. He had exacted that price from other Christians. He also knew that pagan Rome, which had recently killed his new Lord, would certainly not be more accommodating. The day Saul became a citizen in heaven (Philippians 3:20) he became homeless on earth. And Saul’s homelessness has proven to be one of the greatest gifts the world has received.
Becoming Homeless in America
Every true Christian is homeless on earth. All the New Testament writers make this clear. But many Christians living in America have found this reality hard to comprehend. America has essentially considered itself Christian, so Christians have felt at home here.
Of course, America was never officially Christian. What’s made America Christian is that Christian assumptions and values have dominated the culture simply due to broad religious consensus.
With most Americans calling themselves Christian for most of American history, the Christian worldview naturally shaped American culture. Americans have vigorously, and sometimes violently, disputed over politics, ethics, and, yes, religion. But they’ve done so largely within a Christian worldview.
This has made America seem Christian. So it’s easy to understand how civic duty and religious faith have intertwined in many American Christian minds. Loyalty to America has often felt like loyalty to God’s kingdom, something Saul of Tarsus never experienced.
But this is changing in America. Slowly, over decades, Christian assumptions and values have been replaced by different assumptions and values. We’re now reaching a cultural tipping point and everyone feels the change accelerating. America is rapidly ceasing to be Christian.
This leaves many American Christians feeling like they’re losing their country. But they’re not. Not at all. The Christian homeland stands eternally, unchangeably firm. It’s simply becoming clearer that America is not that homeland.
Desiring a Better Country
The changes occurring in America may not be good for America; they may in fact be disastrous. But the separation of church and state in the minds of American Christians is a very good thing.
The place we consider home profoundly shapes how we live. Our true home is the place we feel most “at home,” the place we really belong. Our true home provides our deepest sense of identity. Home is where we want to sink our roots. Home is where we invest our greatest treasure, therefore home always owns our hearts (Matthew 6:21). Home is the place we long for when we’re not there. And like Dorothy discovered in Oz, absence from home is often the best way to learn that there’s no place like home.
And for Christians, there’s no place like home on earth. Saul of Tarsus, our great apostolic homeless friend and mentor, put it like this:
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:6–9)
Our home as Christians is where the Lord is. We long to be with him and he longs for this too (John 17:24). By the immeasurably merciful gift of the Holy Spirit, we carry a measure of home with us now: the indwelling presence of the Father and the Son (John 14:23). But as long as we live “in the body” we will, we must, be homesick. For we are “away from the Lord” in his full satisfying glory. We’re “strangers and exiles” here, even in America (Hebrews 11:13). We “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).
The Home of the Brave
One of the greatest gifts the world has ever received is the Christian homelessness of Saul of Tarsus. Once liberated from his earthly home, he was free to do a world of eternal good. For him, life became fruitful labor for the eternal glory of Christ and the eternal good of souls. And death became the gain of his heart’s desire: finally going home (Philippians 1:21–26). Either way he could not lose. He lived homeless and free, and so changed the course of history and helped save billions of souls.
Only strangers and exiles sojourning to heaven are free enough from the conflict of earthly interest to seek the highest good of human souls. That’s why we will not love America as we ought until we lose America as our home. But if the changes occurring in America result in more American Christians becoming homeless like Saul, imagine the eternal good that might flood not only America but the world.
You see, America isn’t the true home of the brave; heaven is. It is citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) who count earthly gain as loss (Philippians 3:8) that are free to live “outside the camp” as homeless exiles on earth, bearing Jesus’s reproach (Hebrews 13:13). These are the people “of good courage” who, whether at home or away, make their life’s aim to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8–9).