Where were you born? I’ve lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for most of my life, but I was born in Alexandria, Virginia. What that means is that I am a citizen of the United States of America. What country are you a citizen of?
I’m bringing this up because in our Identity sermon series, we’ve talked about how Christians are adopted children of God, with new life in Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit. But how do we live out this identity in the world?
The earliest Christians taught the principle that we live out our identity in the world as Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. In our church fellowship hall, we fly flags from various countries that we are associated with, but we hang the Christian flag in the center. We wanted the the Christian flag to be the focal point because while we represent earthly nations, we are truly citizens of God’s Kingdom, not of any one earthly country. As with any claim like that, we need to ask, “Does the Bible talk about this?”
Let’s examine what the biblical writers had to say, starting with what Paul taught in Philippians 3:18-21,
“For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
Paul taught something similar in Ephesians 2:11-22. I encourage you to read it, and because it is a longer passage, I will summarize it. Paul says that in God’s Kingdom we have a new identity, a new home, a new people, a new citizenship. We are no longer foreigners and aliens in the world, but we are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. So we belong somewhere. This is great news!
Keep your finger in Ephesians 2, and turn to 1 Peter 1:17. In 1 Peter 1:17, Peter teaches the Christians to, “live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” Then he repeats himself in 1 Peter 2:11 when he says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul.” Do you hear that? We Christians have a new identity. We see ourselves not as citizens of an earthly nation, but as aliens and strangers here, because we have a new citizenship in God’s Kingdom.
At first glance this could sound like a contradiction of what Paul said in Ephesians 2:19. Compare the two. In Ephesians 2:19, Paul says, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens,” and in 1 Peter 1 and 2 we just read Peter say that we should live as aliens and strangers. They’re talking about the same thing, but from different directions. We are not aliens because our true citizenship is in God’s Kingdom, and so therefore we should see not see our national birthplace as our true identity. When we make the choice to follow Jesus, we are granted citizenship in his kingdom, and that identity trumps all other citizenship.
Think about your various forms of ID. We get our first one when we are born: a birth certificate. As I said earlier, I was born in Virginia. Then we get our Social Security number. And eventually our driver’s license. And a voter card. And a passport. And maybe you have other ID too. Believe it or not, I have a pastor’s ID card. I also have a clergy ID from our local hospital. These IDs relate to our various associations, but only a couple of them relate to our citizenship. Our birth certificates and our passports. In my case, they are official forms of ID authenticating my citizenship in the United States of America. There’s been a lot of talk about the new REAL ID, which is basically a driver’s license with the yellow star symbol. But ironically, for Christians REAL ID is not our real ID.
Christians, we have a new identity. We are not only children of God, adopted into his family, alive in Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit, we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God, and that means we are strangers and aliens in this earthly realm.
My citizenship in God’s Kingdom, of course, does not eliminate my American citizenship. Christians are dual citizens. But our citizenship in God Kingdom is far superior to our earthly citizenship. In fact, what Peter is teaching is that our citizenship in God’s Kingdom is much more real and important, and that our earthly citizenship pales in comparison to the point where we see ourselves as strangers and aliens on earth. Our earthly nation is not our true home. Our citizenship to an earthly country is far inferior to our citizenship in God’s Kingdom. This has great ramifications for how we view the world and make decisions. We should filter everything through our citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
The writer of Hebrews suggested something similar in Hebrews 11:13, talking about some of the so-called heroes of faith. The writer says that those people, “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth,” and that “they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one.” Just a few chapters leater in Hebrews 13:14 he says, “For we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”
We know that one day in the future in heaven, as we read in Revelation 7:9, that all Christians from every tribe, tongue and nation will be together. There will no longer be earthly nations, but all will be together in God’s Kingdom.
What that means is that our earthly citizenship is temporary. You might have seen the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal. The official summary of the premise of the movie says, “When Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), an Eastern European tourist, arrives at JFK in New York, war breaks out in his country. Because of the war, the US Department of Homeland Security won’t let him enter or exit the United States. He’s trapped at JFK indefinitely.” Because of the war in his country, it wasn’t certain what his country was anymore. In effect he was a citizen of no earthly country. That could happen to anyone, right? I’m writing as an American citizen. Before 1776 the United States of America did not exist. There could be a time in the future when it will no longer exist. Furthermore, when we die, our earthly citizenship ceases to have any importance. But our citizenship in heaven is permanent, eternal.
Let us not make a mistake, though, of thinking that our citizenship in God’s Kingdom is only in the future. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God now.
What does that mean? How does our citizenship in God’s Kingdom matter now? In the next post, we’ll try to begin to answer that question.