But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. (Philippians 3:20 NLT)
In the investigative aftermath of the terrorist bombings in London, the major news services shared an interesting discovery that caused alarm in the British government. In their interviews of adherents to Islam, they found that the vast majority of them felt a greater sense of identity with other Muslims than they did with other Britons. This was true no matter the ethnicity, race, or citizenship of the people they interviewed — including native Britons!
What I found odd was that this finding shocked them. What amazed me — and to be honest, what chilled my soul — was that most Christians in the U.S. with whom I visited shared this same surprise.
"Don't you feel closer to Christians, no matter their race or country of origin, than you do to other Americans?" I asked several. Having visited Christians in several continents, I have personally experienced the bond of Christian fellowship that transcends so many of our human barriers!
Some had a sudden wave of recognition. Others were puzzled by the question. Still others were convicted that they had not even thought of the issue of their Christian citizenship before they had spoken about the matter.
The people of Philippi in the apostle Paul's day were certainly pleased to be a part of Rome. They were a Roman colony — a little Rome with most of the same privileges of those who lived in Rome. Native Philippians were considered Roman citizens. Many in the Roman army retired to Philippi. They took great pride in their status. That is why Paul's statement from his letter to the Philippians — quoted above — is so powerful. Paul was emphatic: no earthly citizenship could compare with a Christian's heavenly citizenship. No other citizenship guarantees the future, makes radically different people all part of the same family, and promises believers that we are heirs to all the blessings of royalty in our Father's house.
Far from being unpatriotic, this understanding gives us a sense of our identity within our national culture. Honoring what is good in our nation's heritage is demanded. (See Romans 13, for example.) Paying taxes, exercising our right to vote, and influencing our culture are all part of being light in the world's darkness and salt in the world's decay. These roles in our national culture are not optional; they are required. However, when we read the Old Testament promises about the people of God and re-interpret the Scriptures to make our nation the target of those promises — rather than the Kingdom of God — then we risk losing ourselves in self-serving nationalism rather than following Christ and his call for us to be radically his and citizens of his Kingdom.
What the world needs most right now is NOT a political entity that sees itself as a Christian nation. Instead, our world needs Christians of every nation, language, tribe, and culture to pray for peace and to work together to glorify God. (Revelation 7:9) Our world needs God's people to show that barriers that normally separate peoples and incite war between nations can vanish when the Kingdom of God is our primary citizenship and the salvation of all peoples is our hearts' deepest desire.(Matthew 28:18-20) One day, as John saw in God's great revelation, the following promise will be true: "The whole world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever." (Revelation 11:15) Until that day, let's be good citizens where God has placed us while we passionately remember that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven!