Christians: Strangers and Pilgrims on the Earth?

The Bible calls Christians strangers and pilgrims. How is the modern Christian life like a sojourner on a journey? What does the Bible say on this subject?

The Bible is the story of those called by God to be strangers and pilgrims. Christians today live in a world “under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). But they are spiritually citizens of the Kingdom of God, and they are pilgrims on a journey toward that Kingdom.

Why does God want His people to be spiritual strangers and pilgrims now?

Under inspiration, the apostle Paul wrote: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The Bible is full of descriptions of the abundant eternal life to be enjoyed in the Kingdom that God has prepared for those who follow Him. The profound truth that few understand is that this life is the training ground for a wonderful future God has planned for each of us.

This world is our temporary home on the way to eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

What should we do as strangers and pilgrims? Consider first a lesson from the man Paul called the father of the faithful (Romans 4:16).

A lesson from the sojourn of the patriarch Abraham

There is a vital lesson Christian pilgrims can learn from the life of faithful Abraham. We read about his attitude of mind in Hebrews 11:8-13. His approach is one that we should be careful to follow.

Notice the following points:

  • Abraham obeyed when he was called to depart to an unfamiliar location (verse 8).
  • He dwelt in tents (indicating a temporary existence) as “in a foreign country” (verse 9).
  • “He waited for the city which has foundations [not a tent!], whose builder and maker is God” (verse 10).

He, with the other faithful individuals listed in Hebrews 11, “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (verse 13, emphasis added throughout).

Abraham continually kept his whole life focused on the permanent future city whose builder was God (see Revelation 21:2-3, 10), while considering himself to be a stranger and a pilgrim on this earth.

Strangers and pilgrims vs. the desire to be rich

Abraham did not even allow his great riches (Genesis 13:2) to hinder or obstruct his forward march to the future Kingdom God had promised. Nothing would get in the way of his achieving this ultimate goal.

The Bible warns that the desire to be rich can become a snare (1 Timothy 6:9). Being driven to accumulate money by any means can lead to various problems, including being “pierced … through with many sorrows” (verse 10).

Note that Paul is not condemning our efforts to excel in life. But while such endeavors may bring an increase in riches, our primary aim must be spiritual character development, which he explains in verses 11-12.

Jesus Christ encouraged true Christians—the sojourners and pilgrims on the earth—to practice the give way.An integral component of our Christian character must involve an attitude and desire to serve others rather than just satisfy ourselves. God’s way is a give way of life, rather than a selfish get way.

Jesus Christ encouraged true Christians—the sojourners and pilgrims on the earth—to practice the give way (Luke 6:38; Acts 20:35). He loves a “cheerful giver” rather than one who gives “grudgingly” or reluctantly (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

Following the example of Moses, a stranger in a strange land

Moses is another example of an individual who looked to his future reward while being a stranger in this world. Though he said, “I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22, King James Version), he firmly believed in God’s promises that those who would prove faithful to Him would be richly rewarded—in this life and in the one to come.

God was very real to him: “For he endured as seeing Him who is invisible (Hebrews 11:27). He feared God more than the king of Egypt. There was nothing more important for him than gaining the reward God offered, and he rejected “the passing [short-lived] pleasures of sin” and “the treasures in Egypt” (verses 24-26).

What an incredible example!

Moses and Abraham realized, as we can, that physical wealth is temporary and fleeting (Matthew 6:19-21). But the promises for which God is preparing us for are spiritual and eternal (Matthew 6:33; Titus 1:2).

Peter’s instructions for Christian pilgrims

The apostle Peter provides additional instruction about this theme. He refers to true Christians as “the people of God” and “beloved” of Him. “Beloved, I beg [urge, exhort and plead with] you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts [human nature apart from God—living without the influence and direction of Christ] which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:10-11).

If that war overcomes us, it may prevent us from reaching our God-given potential. Unless, of course, we display the same dogged determination and perseverance that faithful Abraham, Moses and other examples of unwavering faith demonstrated!

Barclay’s Daily Study Bible says the following about the words “strangers and pilgrims” in this passage: “They describe someone who is only temporarily resident in a place and whose home is somewhere else. …

“The Christian is a citizen of the Kingdom of God and it is by the laws of that Kingdom that he must direct his life.”

Furthermore, Peter says if you call upon your Heavenly Father, you should “conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17).

Consider two aspects of this verse that teach spiritual principles:

  • “Stay” (King James Version, “sojourning”) refers to a person living in a foreign land. “The Christian is a sojourner in this world. Life for him is lived in the shadow of eternity; he thinks all the time, not only of where he is but also of where he is going” (Barclay).
  • “Fear” (reverence): “The Christ-filled life is the life of reverence (1 Peter 1:17-21). Reverence is the attitude of mind of the man who is always aware that he is in the presence of God” (Barclay). As we conduct our lives as pilgrims and sojourners we learn to worship God in awe, admiration, love and respect anticipating the ultimate promises He has set before us. (See more about the biblical meaning in our article “What Does the Fear of the Lord Mean?”)

God is, after all, our Heavenly Father!

What rewards should strangers and pilgrims desire?

Can we possibly expect greater and longer lasting rewards in this present world than those promised by God?Can we possibly expect greater and longer lasting rewards in this present world than those promised by God?

One of the many scriptures that give us as an assurance of future rewards of joy and abundant living is 1 Corinthians 2:9-10: “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.”

The Bible reveals that the faithful patriarchs refused to “return” to the “country from which they had come out,” even though they had opportunity to do so. Instead their minds were steadfastly fixed on the city God had prepared for them (Hebrews 11:15-16).

True Christians are temporary dwellers, strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

May God give us the wisdom and deep-seated desire to reach for the awesome and incredible rewards He has planned for us!

About the Author

André van Belkum

Andre van Belkum

Andre van Belkum currently serves as the pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Previously he pastored congregations in southern Africa, including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

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