For You Were

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Exodus 22:21


This verse got me to thinking. Actually, the whole 22nd chapter of Exodus had me repeatedly saying, “Huh….” But this verse seems to have an applicable principle that I wanted to draw out.

God here tells Israel not to oppress or wrong a group because they were that group at one time. If that principle can be applied to the Christian—that we were something and are something else and should therefore not oppress or wrong those who are what we were—then there should be something somewhat parallel to this thought in the gospels or epistles. As it turns out, there are places in the epistles where Christians are told that we were something. 1 Corinthians 6 includes a list of habitual transgressions that will keep a person from being able to come to God to be saved and therefore prevent them from entering Heaven. The list concludes with the statement that “such were some of you” (emphasis added). 2 Corinthians 5 tells us that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; that old things are gone; that everything is new. Peter, in one of his letters, says that there was time enough for living in our sins before we came to salvation, implying that salvation changes us. Couple these assertions that we are no longer what we were with Jesus’ commands that we love our neighbor and that we pray for those who hurt us, bless those who curse us, and generally turn the other cheek and we have something very similar to what God commands the Israelites in Exodus.

Where am I going with this? I think that, as a Christian, it is easy to forget that we are only different from other people insofar as we have accepted God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. That’s it. If those folks who are not Christians decided to place their faith in Jesus at lunch, then they would be precisely the same as us: a sinner saved by grace. If we’ve been treating them like some kind of pariah the whole time they weren’t a believer, then they’re not likely to want anything to do with us if they do accept Christ. Unless they’re the type of person who gets a kick out of the whole “exclusive club” vibe, in which case they might love it.

Paul asks a valid series of questions in Romans, but one of them stands out this morning in the context of this thought process: How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14b) If I’m busy alienating people who don’t believe, then why would they listen to me? If, on the other hand, I treat them as a a person who has been cured of a terrible disease treats another person who has the same disease—telling them how I was healed; what it entails; Who the doctor was that cured me; the cost of the procedures; and so forth—then there is the distinct possibility of them listening to what I have to say. They may not believe it, but they are far more likely to give me a chance to have my say.

The sad truth is this: American Christians (I include myself here) are too often behaving like an exclusive social club instead of like a group of cancer survivors who are currently in remission. That problem with perception has made us cold and allowed us to wrong the non-believer in our lives. God saves us from sin and Hell and we turn around and behave as if we had never had to be saved from anything. This behavior flies in the face of what God wants and it needs to stop.

This morning, I am resolving to do two things. One, I resolve to remind myself of the fact that my sin is in remission and I can, without warning, find myself just as caught up in the things God commands me not to do as the non-believer. I can still ask forgiveness; still repent and come back to this place of remission, but sin is crouching at the door and its desire is for me, and I must be master over it. Two, I resolve to keep the awareness of resolution one present in my mind. When I am tempted to look at the sins of another person and wonder, “How could they do that?”, I need only be reminded that they might ask the same question about the things that I’ve done wrong.

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