Exiles Practicing Incarnation
In two weeks, Northern Seminary will be hosting the inaugural Theology and Mission Lectureship. Michael Frost will be casting a vision for the church as an “exile people practicing incarnation.” (You can register here.)
The book of 1 Peter also uses the image of the church as scattered exiles. The apostle describes the life of the follower of Jesus as if we’ve been scattered as missionaries across the world. We bear witness to the risen Christ through our words, worship, actions, and service. We live as if we are missionaries in a new land, learning the language and customs of the people and embodying the message of the risen Christ.
Missionaries know that every time they move, they spend a good portion of time trying to decide what to keep and what to discard. The same is true for believers. As exiled missionaries, one of the most important changes that Christ makes in us is what we continually throw away.
In 1 Peter 2, the apostle calls us to “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.” We discard the bad habits to make room for the new work that Christ is doing.
We’ve just finished moving into our new house. In order to prepare for the move, Kelly held two garage sales and gave away 1/3 of what we owned. We didn’t need all that stuff in Illinois, and the boys had outgrown most of the clothes and toys we had accumulated. We didn’t want to waste space in the new house, nor did we want the burden of hauling these things across the country.
Followers of Jesus learn to recognize how easily the old habits of the pre-Christian life tend to pile on top of Christians. We need a regular spiritual clean out. Peter says we must discard the old to make room for the new work that Christ is accomplishing. In so doing, a believer becomes like a newborn infant again.
1 Peter 2:2 continues, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
While unpacking boxes last weekend, I unwrapped one box that has stayed with us through three moves: Parker’s baby clothes. We can’t part with these precious items. They take me to a special time when we were learning what it means to parent, and Parker was just beginning life. These clothes also remind me of the posture that all of us take as missionaries for Jesus. We become beginners again—not experts. We are learning, growing, believers—like new residents in a foreign land.
This Saturday, Northern Seminary will graduate 43 persons who are beginning again. We will hold our 101st “commencement,” marking a new start for these missionary pastors, staff members, chaplains, and followers of Jesus. They will be sent out as missionaries, returning to their churches or going to new places. This time, with diploma in hand, they will wear the clothes of Christ with a childlike faith. Like newborn babes, they will long for pure spiritual work. They have “offered their bodies as a living sacrifice” and have “renewed their minds” in Christ (Romans 12:1-2). They have discarded old ways. Through education, formation, and love, our faculty have trained them to show the difference that Christ makes wherever they live. They are ready for exile, to be scattered across the world and to embody the life of Christ to their communities.