There is a lot of talk about citizenship these days. We tend to focus on political citizenship, and it’s certainly a hot topic, but there is another kind of citizenship that has no barriers and doesn’t require any walls: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20, NKJV) Even though we live on this earth, we are just passing through. Paul reminds us that the physical world, and even our physical bodies, are temporary dwelling places. As a Roman, Paul placed great importance on his citizenship.
He boldly claimed rights as a Roman citizen when he was involved in conflicts, and he was well-versed in what protection he had under Roman law. In the polyglot world of different cultures and religions, Roman citizenship was the gold standard of political protection. He often used his standing in the Empire to his legal or practical advantage, and people reacted with respect when he invoked the name of Rome. In Philippi he demanded that the magistrates come to validate his release from jail; in Ephesus, the city clerk quelled a riot that threatened violence; and in Jerusalem his status as a Roman once again saved him from an angry mob. Yet as much as he valued being Roman, his political status in the Roman world meant nothing compared to his true citizenship in heaven. (If people took American citizenship as seriously as Paul took being a Roman, we would all we would all be far more thankful about enjoying the rights we have in the United States!)
What does Citizenship Involve in the Long Run?
But the Bible takes a longer view of citizenship. Peter says that we are merely “sojourners and pilgrims” here (1 Peter 2:11). James is more to the point: “Why, you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14, NIV) Comparing our short number of years here on earth to the reality of the years we will spend in eternity is an intimidating exercise.
Perhaps you have seen Francis Chan’s very powerful illustration of our life’s timeline as a long, long piece of rope, where our earthly sojourn is shown as some tape wrapped a mere couple of inches around the end he holds, and our eternal life is represented by the rest of the rope. It stretches on and on, off the stage and out the door. It’s a very visible object lesson our an earthly life span compared to an eternal one.
We are not here on earth very long. Stop to imagine for a moment how long eternity is, and picture yourself in it. Think of the possibilities of growth and learning, about the opportunity to build everlasting relationships that grow in every way but never grow stale. Think about being part of a kingdom where the King is amazingly loving and incredibly wise, and where you are not only His subject but his heir, with rights and privileges you never dreamed of. While our flesh is corruptible, and our bodies live in a carnal world where everything dies, our spirit is already residing in heaven, taking baby steps into immortality.
Do you really live as if your citizenship is in heaven? As a citizen of heaven, what are your rights? What are your obligations? Where is your allegiance? These are questions that all good citizens should be asking. If you don’t know the answers, maybe it’s time to spend a little more time on your heavenly social studies.
What if you had rights and privileges that you could use,
And permanent legal standing that no judge could dare refuse?
What if you had citizenship with all the perks it brings,
And got to be a subject for a wise and gracious king?
Would you exercise the right to live in such a place?
Would you be obedient to the lenient law of grace?
You should. And furthermore, I’d go tell all my friends and buddies
That there’s still time to brush up on their heavenly social studies.
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