If you’ve ever traveled crossculturally, you likely know what it’s like to feel displaced—to not speak the language, to be confused by the cultural norms. You likely know what it’s like to sink into that lonely and lost outsider feeling and to long once again for home.

Witold Rybczysnki, in his fascinating little book Home: A Short History of an Idea, says that home is that “settled sense of satisfaction that overcomes us when circumstances come together for our ease, comfort, and well-being.” When we hear that, it’s likely that some image of “home” arises in our mind—a place where our body and soul can be at ease and for a moment sense that all is right with the world.

The famous Austrian architect Christopher Alexander often encouraged his clients to “dream their way to design.” He would say:

Imagine yourself on a winter afternoon with a pot of tea, a book, a reading light, your favorite chair and two or three huge pillows to lean back against. You put the tea right where you can reach it, but not where you can knock it over. You pull the light down, to shine on the book, but not too brightly, so you can see the naked bulb. You take it in and make yourself comfortable. You sip, you read, and dream.1

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

The problem is that we can be in the kind of place Christopher Alexander just described and still feel terribly out of place. Amazingly, we can be in the most perfectly homey environs and yet feel like strangers in our own skin.

In Ephesians, Paul is writing to a largely gentile audience—to a people living in the place they grew up, surrounded by people they know and love, and inhabiting a culture they know like the back of their hand. They are anything but outsiders. And yet, Paul says to them, you were once “strangers” and “aliens” (Eph. 2:12). In saying that, Paul is not speaking in the usual way we understand those terms. His focus is not on national, familial, or cultural ties. Paul is speaking spiritually. He is referring to the well-documented fact that gentiles (i.e., non-Jews) were in times past “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Said differently, even though the Ephesians are right at home in the beautiful ancient city of Ephesus, they are radically displaced spiritually. And that deep soulish sense of lostness that every one of us experiences is not something we’re supposed to stuff down deep and pretend is not there; nor are we to try to overcome it by glutting ourselves with the creature comforts of the world. Rather, our profound sense of out-of-place is a clue that’s intended to lead us to a most important discovery.

As Paul writes to the church at Ephesus, he calls them to remember their spiritual displacement and to enter the new home God has made for them. A home they are welcomed into through the blood of Jesus Christ. A home that goes by the name church.

According to Paul, the church is the beginning of our future home now.

These once strangers and aliens are now “fellow citizens . . . and members of the household of God.” The language of “fellow citizens” and “household of God” describes a radical reversal. No longer are we strangers and aliens. Through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, we have been welcomed into a community, a family, and a home—the church.

The church is the beginning of our future home now.

But know this: whenever former strangers and aliens come home with all their vagabond baggage and plop down to “do life” together, it’s not always going to be pretty. It’s going to look like normal home life.

Home is, after all, the place where you are to be truly known and truly loved. In our heart of hearts, this is what we all want. But to know that reality truly, we have to take a risk, the risk of being known. For many of us, the risk is too great. We are afraid of rejection, so we act like or pretend to be someone we’re not—someone we think that will be acceptable—in order to be loved (or at least liked).

In other words, our fear leads us to act fake. And whenever we do that, the old lost and lonely feelings of stranger and alien come rushing back. The old realities of isolation and estrangement show up again because we’re acting again like aliens and strangers within the body of Christ, among the people whom God calls our family.

When we let our union with Jesus Christ drive our communion with one another, something supernatural happens. We begin to find our place among the household of God. Our church experience becomes increasingly homelike. In Paul’s words, we are “built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).

Did you catch that? You and me—we are a “dwelling place for God.” God makes His home among us. When you hear that, do you think of the temple in the Old Testament? That’s exactly what Paul wants you to think of. But more than pointing to the grand edifice that Solomon built, Paul is showing us an even more beautiful home, one that is built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus the cornerstone. We are the living stones growing together into a home for God (Eph. 2:20–22; 1 Peter 2:4–8).

That’s exactly what happened in the Old Testament. After Solomon built the temple, we’re told, “a cloud filled the house of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10). God came to live among His people. In a more profound way, God made His home among us through the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Not a physical house of bricks and mortar, but in us and with us, the people of God.

And in the church’s assemblies, God meets with us. As He did in Acts 2, when the old pillar of fire by night and pillar of cloud by day showed up in a fresh but familiar way atop the heads of the disciples. And the disciples spoke in foreign tongues, so men and women from different cultural, national, ethnic, and religious backgrounds—strangers and aliens—could in the gospel of Jesus Christ be made fellow citizens and members of the household of God.

Do you want to draw closer to God? Then draw close to His church. Attend worship weekly. Gather regularly for fellowship. Serve faithfully the needs of Christ’s body. Commit your life to God’s people. For among His people, God is pleased to dwell.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 25, 2020.

  1. Quoted in Craig G. Bartholomew, Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place.Craig G. Bartholomew ↩︎

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