Journeying Through the City of Man to the City of God
Our world is changing.
Thinking about God, the world, and the country, the secular West is increasingly hostile to the gospel. This is true not only of our universities and workplaces, but also of our churches. Even in Christian churches there is tension because of our journey through the city of man to the city of God, a tension that we need to address and understand.
Looking Ahead to Our Inheritance
Hebrews 11:8–16 frames the narrative of tension for us. This famous passage tells us of Abraham’s sojourn, his search for a city with foundations (v. 10). He lived in the land God had promised Him, but He looked ahead to better things, to heavenly things.
This passage reminds us that we need to see God both in the present and in the future. We are going someplace; we are on a journey. This is not simply a metaphor—we are actually on a journey from the city of man to the city of God, one that is fraught with dangers, and at the end of which we will receive an inheritance.
The Christian life is difficult, but it is worthwhile. Unfortunately, especially in the secular West and in the United States, we do not like the difficulty. We don’t like the either/or that Jesus presents us with: either we follow Him, or we follow the world (Matthew 7:13–14). We like our Christianity “lite”—easy, a little bit of sugar, or perhaps no sugar at all, with no real cost to us. We like convenience and comfort. We hang over our lives a “do not disturb sign,” avoiding challenges. But God will challenge us.
Challenges of the Christian Life
Being a Christian takes energy and commitment. The world wants to push you in the opposite direction, away from Jesus. To be a Christian is to enter into a very different lifestyle, one totally opposed to the ease of the world.
The problem is, the world tries to convince us that self-control, self-definition, and man-made success should be the driving force of our life. This is not a new problem. We only have to look at the building of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9) to see the same issue. In this story, the people sought to make a name for themselves and not disperse around the world as God had commanded. They wanted security and their own happiness apart from God.
Living with faith counteracts the lies of the world. But living with faith is a challenge as we journey through the city of man to the city of God.
We see the challenges of faith even in the life of Abraham, who recognized that he was a sojourner on earth. The Bible does not hide the fact that Abraham yielded to temptations throughout his life, doubting the goodness of God. But God rescued him anyway, just as He rescues us.
There are two main challenges we experience in the Christian life. The first is the pressure of conformity—the desire to fit in. The second is seduction from the desires of our heart.
The Pressure of Conformity
No matter the culture, there is pressure to conform, because secular culture demands total allegiance. And that pressure includes the church. Even in Nazi Germany, there was no problem with someone being a “Christian.” However, that “Christian” had to conform to the dominant pressure of culture.
The tale of two cities is no new story. The journey from the city of man to the city of God has always been difficult and costly. It has always required standing out from culture, not yielding to the pressure to conform. You and I may not be in Nazi Germany or behind communist lines, but the pressure of culture is still real. Our own culture in the United States tells us to conform and ridicules us when we do not. But as Christians, we must not love the world, but instead do the will of God (1 John 2:15–17).
The Seduction of the Heart
A second challenge we encounter is the problem of the self. We focus on “me”—even in our churches. We seek to be pleased, focusing only on our feelings and what is emotionally satisfying. But our journey from the city of man to the city of God requires us to deny ourselves (Matthew 16:24).
What Do We Do?
The key to overcoming the challenges of our journey from the city of man to the city of God is living in the power of Christ. This is what Paul urges in Colossians 2:6, “Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”
We need to make space for our King, removing the influence of the world by resting in Christ and seeking after Him.
For more on spending time with Christ, read Ken Boa’s article Using Your Time Wisely.