From Exile to Christlikeness
Regardless of how we have strayed, each of us is invited to return from a state of exile to our true home in God.
In exile, people are forced out of their native land—often for political or economic reasons. “Returning from exile” means coming home again to where you belong.
Seen through a spiritual paradigm, return from exile is something more—it’s a move from sinful self-destruction to coming home to God, to spiritual formation into Christlikeness. Maybe we have migrated away from God and his purposes. Maybe we’ve aligned ourselves with cultural norms or a national identity. Maybe we have drifted from the goals and priorities of the Kingdom of God and begun desiring what the world says is most important. Regardless of how we have strayed, each of us is invited to return from a state of exile to our true home in God.
Returning from exile, of course, is easier said than done. It means we must abandon prior commitments, worldviews, and the habits of the heart created by them. And sometimes we have gotten pretty comfortable with our exiled lives.
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In Mark 7:9, Jesus said to the religious leaders: You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! In this passage and many others, Jesus called Israel to notice how it had drifted from its vocation to be the people of God and become misaligned from the purposes of God in Christ.
Many Israelites heard Jesus’ words but did not want their way of life to be messed with, to be challenged. They were comfortable in their exile, free from God and any claims or expectations he might put on their life. They wanted to fit Jesus into their present vision for “the good life” and the heart-habits and practices that flowed from it.
Today, do you find yourself in a similar predicament? Given the real desires of your heart, do you find your spiritual ears plugged? If you’re like me, you sometimes get stuck, unable to align the aims of your life to the aims of Jesus. So let’s talk about what return from exile means in the 21st century. How can we return from our present-day exile to be spiritually formed in Christlikeness?
In God’s purposes for humanity, return from exile includes four things: reconciliation, regeneration, justification and sanctification. These are big, complicated-sounding words, but let’s unpack what they mean and how you can participate in each of them.
Reconciliation refers to healing a previously estranged relationship. The parable of the Prodigal Son is the classic picture of reconciliation. Think of a patiently waiting father who reconciles with his sinful son in celebration and warm fellowship. That’s the God who is waiting for you with open arms.
When we experience reconciliation with God, we have both peace with him and peace within our lives because we’re no longer striving against him and his purposes. Instead, we live in alignment with his will. We also drop things like hostility, rebellion or suspicion in favor of confidence in his love, power and purposes. As his now-reconciled friends, we gladly follow and obey him. We shape our daily lives after Jesus as we consciously seek to do his will.
Action Step: Just say “I’m sorry” to God. Tell him you want “to come home” to full fellowship with him.
In Ezekial 36:25,26, we find a classic Old Testament picture of regeneration—the remaking of humanity into the image and purposes of God.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
As we give ourselves to Jesus and his aims and are born again of the Spirit (John 3:3-8; 20:20,21), we step out of slavery and exile and into the new kingdom-family of God.
Having been born again, we naturally live into the picture Paul paints:
You were dead in your transgressions and sins…gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts…but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved…[and] we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (See all of Ephesians 2:1-10.)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).
Action Step: Put yourself under the spigot where the water of eternal life comes out. Read the Bible—it is living and active. Sit in silence and wait on God. Have an honest conversation with someone you trust to have spiritual wisdom.
Justification comes by grace, through faith, which is a gift from God. It means that through the cross, condemnation is gone. When we are justified, we receive pardon for our sins and are put in the right: right before God and thereby adopted as his daughters and sons. We are also in the right place—the community of the renewed-covenant family. And we’re doing the right things—the will of the Father.
Action Step: Offer a prayer of thanks for God’s initiation and long-suffering patience in your life, and for the forgiveness that flows from it.
Sanctification refers to an ongoing process where our whole being—body, soul, spirit, heart, mind, will, thoughts, emotions and social self—is enabled, by the grace of God, to die to sin. By the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, we begin to live in ever-increasing faithfulness and devotion to God and his kingdom.
Action Step: Memorize 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” As you hold this verse in your heart, ask God to make it ever more real for you, day by day.
These four rich experiences—reconciliation, regeneration, justification and sanctification—portray what God was doing in and through Jesus to deliver the people of God from their exile. Through his act of deliverance, he was making one new people of Jews and Gentiles alike.
The story of returning from exile contains an invitation for you and me: Jesus’ Come follow me. I personally want to come closer to my home in God every day. I have found only one sure way to do so—to say yes to Jesus. Join me today in saying to him, I will follow you as you lead me home to the Father.