We have been here for almost three years and yet each day there are constant reminders that we don’t belong.
The food we eat, the accents we have, the colour of our eyes and our general mannerisms all scream out loud that we are foreigners. Much of the time, it doesn’t bother us, but whenever we have to do something official – like enrolling the children in school, extending our temporary residency, sorting out our utilities, going for medical treatment or paying our taxes – we find it rather frustrating. Whereas the Portuguese all have an identity card which contains a chip with all their information, we have to carry around every possible document if we want to do anything. So for even relatively simple tasks, we need to have our residency certificate, our tax certificate, our employment contract, our health certificate, our passport, our birth certificate and our payslips. And the thing is, everything takes at least twice the amount of time than it should. Literally.
Yet imagine if we applied for Portuguese nationality (something we aren’t doing!). Imagine that we were accepted. Imagine that we were given citizenship. Then it wouldn’t matter what people thought about us because we would be able to hand over our identity cards and say, “We’re one of you. We have the same rights, same privileges and are fellow citizens with you.” Well that is what Paul is writing about in Ephesians 2 as he talks about how Jesus destroyed the barrier separating Jews and Gentiles through his atoning death on the cross.
"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household..." (Ephesians 2:19)
There are no more divisions between these two people groups. The Gentiles are no longer foreigners or outsiders. By trusting in the gospel of Jesus Christ, they are citizens of the same kingdom and members of the same heavenly household.
It is a truth which we have been gradually learning and delighting in. When we are feeling alone, it is such an encouragement to look around at our brothers and sisters in Christ and remember that we are fellow citizens with them. When we are feeling like outsiders, what a joy it is to remember that our identity is in Christ and that we belong because of him. And when we are weary, overwhelmed by the depths of our sin and conscious of our weakness and frailty, what a joy – oh what a joy – it is to remember that God is at work in us building us into a dwelling in which he lives. The work, as always, is his and not ours, and as such we can rest in him, trusting and rejoicing in his goodness, sovereignty, mercy and love, whatever our situation may be.
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Joe and Rachel Clarke work with the Grupo Bíblico Universitário (GBU) – the Portuguese student Christian movement. They seek to evangelise and disciple university students and equip them for future Christian ministry.
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