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Our Distinctive Citizenship

November 3, 2020 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Philippians 3:18-21 (NRSV)

For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Focus

On this election day in the United States, millions of Americans will exercise their citizenship by voting. As we do this, let us remember that we are not just citizens of a country. If we are Christians, then we have a citizenship in heaven. We owe our foremost allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, who has the power to make all things subject to himself. Thus, our earthly citizenship – including how we vote – is shaped and guided by our heavenly citizenship. May our ballots do more than express our opinions. May they most of all honor our Lord.

Devotion

Today is Election Day in the United States. In light of this fact, I thought it might be helpful to share a few thoughts on “our citizenship.” Obviously, I’m speaking to Life for Leaders readers in the U.S. But what I want to say will be relevant to our readers from other countries as well.

One of the most important things we Americans do as citizens of our country is to vote. The privilege of voting is a costly one. The right to vote was earned and has been defended by men and women who risked – and in many cases sacrificed – their lives. Our freedom to vote today may not have cost us very much personally, but it has been most expensive to many others. (I recognize that in this pandemic year, millions will have voted before today.)

I’ll never forget the first time I voted. The year was 1982. I voted in the main post office of Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I lived while in graduate school. After I signed in and proved my identity, I was given a giant paper ballot and a golf pencil. I went into a canvas-walled booth and carefully filled in all of the appropriate boxes on my ballot. Once I was done, I turned in my ballot and left the post office. While walking back to my apartment, I felt a deep sense of pride, not in myself, but in my country. I thought of how many people had given so much so that I could do what I had just done, voting freely, without fear or coercion. I was grateful to be a citizen of my country.

I still am grateful. I am blessed to be a citizen of the U.S., though I am more aware today than I was in 1982 of ways my country needs to change in order to embody the justice and righteousness of God. We’ve come a long way as a nation, but we still have a long way to go.

Also, I think differently about my citizenship than I did in 1982. Yes, I still am thankful to be a citizen of the U.S., but now I understand my citizenship from the perspective of Scripture. Though a lifelong resident of the United States, I recognize that I have a dual citizenship. As a Christian, I have a “citizenship in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

It’s no coincidence that this language appears in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, because dual citizenship was a key facet of the Philippian identity. That ancient city had a special relationship with Rome, such that many citizens of Philippi (a city in Macedonia) were also citizens of Rome (the imperial city in Italy). The Philippians lived out their local citizenship as an expression of their ultimate allegiance to Rome. Similarly, they lived out their life on earth as an expression of their citizenship in heaven. Though they acknowledged the earthly authority of Rome, they were subject, most of all, to “a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

For Paul and the Philippian Christians, the lordship of Christ was superior to every other authority, including that of Caesar. Our passage ends with Paul referring to “the power that enables [Christ] to make all things subject to himself” (Philippians 3:21). Notice that all things are ultimately subject to Christ and Christ alone. He is not one lord among many equal competitors, but the Lord of heaven and earth. Every human lord will ultimately bow before the matchless sovereignty of Christ (see Philippians 2:9-11).

This means that my talk of dual citizenship needs to be qualified. Yes, I am a citizen of the United States and a citizen of heaven. But these citizenships are not equal in their claim upon my life. I am first and foremost a citizen of heaven. I am subject first and foremost to the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything I do as a citizen of my country should be an expression of my primary, heavenly citizenship. This means that when I vote, I am seeking to honor my Lord, to uphold his justice and righteousness.

I’m not suggesting this is necessarily easy to do. Faithful Christians are deeply divided about many political issues and we support a wide diversity of candidates and positions. Sometimes, as in California where I live, we have to vote on propositions that seem almost impossible to understand. So it can be hard to know how to honor the Lord when we vote on such measures.

Although Christians don’t necessarily agree on how we should live out our heavenly citizenship in matters of voting, there is one thing I believe all Christians should agree on: namely, that we are first and foremost citizens of heaven, and that this citizenship should always guide our expression of our earthly citizenship. Yes, we will often disagree about what this means in practice. But we who are subject to the Lord Jesus Christ should always “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

So, if you’re voting today, I urge you to do so as a citizen of the United States, but most of all as a citizen of heaven. Let your ballot honor Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords. And if, like me, you’ve already voted, let me encourage you to offer prayer for our country, that our laws and our leaders might reflect the truth, justice, righteousness, and grace of God.

Reflect

What do you remember about your first voting experience? What was it like for you? How did you feel?

To what extent do you think of yourself as a citizen of heaven? What does this mean for you?

Have you ever found yourself divided between your political commitments and your commitment to the Lord? If so, when and why?

In what ways does your heavenly citizenship challenge you when it comes to your earthly citizenship?

Act

Sometime in the next week, talk with your small group or with a wise friend about what it means to be a citizen of heaven. Share what difference this makes in the way you understand and express your citizenship of a country.

Pray

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Lord of heaven and earth. You are King of kings and Lord of Lords. One day, before you every knee will bow on heaven and on earth and under the earth.

You are not just the Lord of all, but my Lord. In response to your grace, I have chosen to submit my life to you, to follow your ways, to honor your lordship in every part of life.

Because you are my Lord, I am a citizen of heaven, first and foremost. Yet I am also a citizen of my country and I seek to be faithful in both of my citizenships. As I exercise my earthly citizenship, may I do so as a citizen of heaven. May I remember your truth, seek your justice, and pursue your peace. May my values and my voting reflect my fundamental allegiance to you, my Lord.

Bless my country today, I pray, as millions will be voting and millions of early ballots are tabulated. As we vote, may we strive first for your kingdom and righteousness. To you be all the honor and glory. Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Live and Work as a Citizen of Heaven


2 thoughts on “Our Distinctive Citizenship

  1. Guy Troup says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Mark. I am praying for America from the other side of the pond (England)!

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