A Stranger in a Strange Land

by Pastor James T. Penney, Jr.

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In 1961, Robert A. Heinlein published his best selling science fiction novel, STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.1 The premise of this fictional and highly allegorical work is this: A young man, born on Mars and raised by Martians, suddenly is thrust into a society that is foreign. Heinlein paints a picture of someone struggling to find himself among a race of people with whom he shares little except a physical resemblance.

As believers, we may rightly dismiss the flights of fancy of science fiction writers; however, there are times in every believer’s life when he or she is overwhelmed by the world in which they live. We truly are strangers in a strange land. Our values, ethics, concerns, and general worldview are inimical to that of the world. This was recently brought to prominence by the shocking, in your face half time show during the Super Bowl. What was once a family activity—watching the culmination of the football season on television—has turned into an opportunity for purveyors of pollution to contaminate the airwaves.

This perverted media deluge is not limited to broadcast media, although it is the most pervasive. Time Magazine’s2 recent sensationalist reporting on the so-called Lost Gospels attempts to cast doubts on the Bible that we hold so dear. Many a parent has found himself in the uncomfortable position of explaining a suggestive billboard to a child because of the intrusive nature of the medium.

This raises the question: What is a believer to do? What is a proper Grace response in the face of this cultural onslaught?

Historically, evangelicals in general and dispensationalists in particular have taken a “head in the sand” separatist attitude. This may have worked during a previous generation, but in the culture in which we live, isolationism is practically impossible, unless you choose to withdraw completely from society, vis-à-vis the Amish.

Dispensational eschatology expects that a society composed of fallen men and women will continue in moral decay until God intervenes after removing the Church. The fact that sinners behave as heathens should come as no surprise: It has been so since the Fall. What has changed in recent history is the open aggression demonstrated by neo-paganism against the Body of Christ. It is one thing when men and women live in sin among their fellow sinners, sad as that may be. It is quite another when they want to soil us with their muck by forcing it upon us.

Witness the recent decision by activist judges in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Unelected officials decided that they know what is best over the will of the elected legislators. The residents of these states are now forced to deal with the prospect of same gender marriage.

Lest we think this is simply the agenda of a small left wing group, remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). There is method to the madness behind this spiritual attack.

Thus we see that withdrawing from the world, as desirable as that may be, is not a viable option. We must also consider our responsibility as members of the Body of Christ. Again, Paul puts it well: “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:20). An ambassador is a representative from one country to another. As ambassadors of Christ, we are His representatives to a fallen world, a position that requires that we live among strangers.

We are then left with the unanswered question: How shall we respond in the face of such overwhelming evil in our society? If isolation is not an option, nor is it a proper response for ambassadors, how shall we then live?3

As in all things moral, the Bible has much to say about the believer’s response and responsibility to a lost world. In the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke affords us ample opportunity to study Paul’s response to the evil world to which he was sent. Acts 13:4-11 records an event that occurred at the very beginning of Paul’s ministry. When confronted by the evil sorcerer Elymas, who was “seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith” (13:8), Paul did not shy away, nor did he try to compromise with this evil. The stakes were eternal and Paul did not suffer fools lightly. He did not mince words: “O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10). Verse 11 records that Paul struck Elymas blind. Granted, we should not expect to likewise experience such a charismatic display; we do not hold the office of apostle. The point is that Paul was confronted by evil at the onset of his ministry and he did not shy from the confrontation.

Notice next the effect this display had upon the unbeliever: “Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 13:12). May I suggest that if we take a page from Paul’s book and resist the evil in our society, we too will have an impact on the life of the unbeliever who is among us?

Acts 15, along with the book of Galatians, records Paul’s response to the efforts of the Jews to force the Gentiles to submit to the Mosaic Law. Some of the harshest language used by Paul is found in Galatians 5:12: “I would they were even cut off which trouble you.” The force of this statement is greatly softened by the King James translators. In the Greek, Paul’s anger is apparent: He is suggesting that these Jews perform a bit of surgery on themselves. Thus, we again see that Paul is not afraid to engage the society in which he lives. Brethren who were trying to add to the Gospel of Grace were leading believers astray, in this case by requiring circumcision. Imagine his response to the siren’s song of secularism seducing our young people today?

Another example from the Book of Acts is found in 17:22. Paul finds himself on Mars’ Hill surrounded by the leading philosophers of the day. He was certainly troubled by the rampant idol worship that he observed. Perhaps one could excuse him if he turned tail and fled, not only from the pagan worship, but also from the challenge of confronting the intellectual giants who daily gathered to debate. Far from fleeing, Paul engages these pagans. Luke has preserved the confrontation in Acts 17:22-32. Paul confronts the evil of idolatry, in this case in a more subtle way than that which he demonstrated toward the Galatians. He even quotes from their own philosophers in 17:28.

Further examples may be found in the epistles. Paul advises the believers at Rome to “be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). The Greek word translated overcome twice in this verse is nikao.4 It means to conquer. Both are in the imperative or command mood. The first is in the passive voice and the second in the active. Paul is saying, “Do not be conquered by evil, instead, conquer evil with good.” The word “good” in the Greek is an adjective used as a noun in the instrumental case. The instrument for overcoming evil is the good. The word refers to that which is morally right, that which edifies. Paul uses a martial term to describe his reaction to evil: conquer evil with the antithesis of evil—moral goodness.

That there was considerable evil to be resisted is beyond a doubt. Paul’s description of the evil state of man up to his day is graphically portrayed in Romans 1:18-32. Anyone who tours the ruins of Pompeii will be confronted by a plethora of pornographic paintings, depicting such debauchery as to make a harlot blush. Romans 1:32 could easily be a description of our society: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” The Greek word behind the translation “have pleasure” is suneudokeo. It means to agree with, to approve, or consent to something. Picture the man trapped in sin, observing the sinful behavior of others, and not only agreeing with the behavior, but giving active consent or approval. Misery loves company, does it not?

Conquering evil requires a conscious effort to confront those who practice evil. This may seem like simple advice, but recall the moral atmosphere of Rome. The capital of the Empire was also the capital of debauchery and confronting those who practiced evil, many of whom were those in power, was risky business. John the baptizer comes to mind. Paul also counsels the saints in Corinth to deal with immorality in the church by delivering “such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (I Cor. 5:5). It is safe to say that Paul did not tolerate immorality in the church; I seriously doubt that he would have tolerated evil doers who were attacking the local body, knocking on the very doors of the church.

From the few examples above, the case may be made that if Paul were ministering today, he would not shy away from the evil in society. The apostle of Grace was well equipped to engage the battle for men’s souls; and from that battle, he did not shrink. Is it much of a stretch to say that we too have a responsibility to fight for the souls of men today?

The stakes in this battle are far greater than the souls of strangers, as precious as they are; the souls of our children are at stake. Few families today can afford private school, even if they may find one to whom they may entrust their children. Far fewer can or are able to home school. The only choice for the majority of families is public school. Need I go into detail about the corruption in public education today?

What then are our options as we seek to protect our children, be faithful ambassadors, and try to function in a dysfunctional world? May I suggest the following options?

1. Be aware: Many Christians, in an effort to protect themselves from the onslaught of worldly influences, have become isolationists. The world has fallen apart around them and they are oblivious to the effect that this is having on them and their children; they fiddle while Rome burns.

While standing before Agrippa, Paul recounts the events that have led to his imprisonment. When he relates the story of his conversion, Paul repeats what he has heard directly from the Lord concerning his mission: “Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:17,18). Evil cannot stand before the Light of the Gospel. The best way to expose the false promises of the evil in our society is by shining the light of the truth upon them. Overcome evil with good, not force. You do not need to study evil to identify it, becoming well grounded in Biblical truth will suffice.

2. Be Proactive: Few of us would wait until we were robbed to consider locking our doors at night. We proactively take measures to protect our property. If we take such pains to keep our material goods safe, is it wrong to be proactive in protecting our children?

Many a pastor has had the experience of a parent seeking help with a youngster who is out of control. In a short time, he can determine that the parent is reacting to a problem that was long in the making. Instead of wringing our hands after the fact and wondering where we have gone wrong, we need to protect our children before trouble surfaces. Few parents would leave their children with a stranger of dubious character; fewer still would think twice about leaving their children unsupervised while watching television.

When I was a child, we had an old black and white television. The most exciting program was Bonanza. I remember, while watching this program with my parents, a short public service message that scrolled on the bottom of the screen: It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your children are? The hour of history is late. Do you know where your children are spiritually? Do not wait until they are in trouble to discover that they are involved with the things of the world. If you have a child who is old enough to understand salvation, and you do not know where they stand regarding salvation, you are guilty of spiritual child neglect.

3. Be Engaged: We in the United States are blessed to live in a country that continues to value liberty. We are enfranchised and empowered to decide who our leaders are going to be. Engage the society in which you live by knowing the candidates and the issues and then vote according to your values. You may be assured that the undesirable elements in our society will be at the polls. If you fail to have a voice in the society in which you live, you must live in that society without a voice against evil and injustice.

4. Be an Evangelist: Remember that our first responsibility to society is to be ambassadors for Christ. Even a morally repugnant and corrupt person needs a Savior. Jesus observed, “But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matt. 9:12). A gardener gets soil on his hands when he plants and reaps. An evangelist or ambassador may have to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty to minister to the lost. In doing so he must be cautious to prevent soiling his own heart.

Evangelizing the lost has the added benefit of a positive influence on the society in which we live. To be sure, not everyone will receive the Gospel, but for those who do, the Grace of God through the ministry of the Spirit can work wonders on the heart. People who were once devoted to debauchery may become servants to Christ and seek practical sanctification.

Conclusion: If the above sounds a bit radical and reactionary, perhaps it is. Drastic times call for drastic measures. We are engaged in a cultural battle for the minds and hearts of our children, families and society at large. We are fully aware that only Divine intervention will win the day. Until then, we must be willing to contest each and every soul that the enemy seeks.

Members of the Body of Christ may find themselves in strange territory when deciding to confront the issues and engage the evil in our society. Being an ambassador in wartime is not for the squeamish, but confront we must. Otherwise, we concede what is left of civility in our society and, like the survivors of the Titanic disaster, leave men to drown in their sins with our lifeboat half full.


  1. Stranger in a Strange Land. Robert A. Heinlein, Ace Books, August 1995. Originally published 1961.
  2. Time Magazine, December 22, 2003, Time Inc. New York, New York, p54. The Lost Gospels.
  3. I refer the reader to a book that asks the same question. THE COMPLETE WORKS OF FRANCIS A. SCHAEFFER, A Christian Worldview. Volume 5 A Christian View of the West Book Two. HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE (Westchester, Il) Crossway Books 1982.
  4. All Greek references from A Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, F. Wilbur Gingrich, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, and London. 1957.