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. – Philippians 3:20-21
As I read angry blog posts or listen to infuriated rants by Christian friends and family, I wonder at times if God’s people haven’t lost a sense of their true identity. Why else would we be so shocked by unbelievers acting … well, like unbelievers? Why else does our blood start to boil when our culture accepts and supports so many disgusting things with their praise and acclaim? Why else would so many of us launch into such impassioned and frequent tirades about this presidential candidate or that presidential candidate? I said it before, and I’ll say it again: God’s people, Christian men and women, appear to have lost a sense of their true identity.
I’m proud to be an American. This is a country of freedom to pursue one’s passions in life. This is a country with stunning geographic diversity and beauty in its mountains, plains, forests, and deserts. This is a country filled with souls that Jesus died to save.
I’m proud to be an American. I’m glad to live in America.
But I have a deeper identity. I have a far stronger allegiance to another country. I just forget that sometimes.
When the unbelieving world parades its wanton sin and disregard for morality in just about every way possible, that tends to shock me, too. The temperature of my blood starts to climb. The passion fills my voice when I air my opinions about how this or that politician seems devoid of common sense and decency.
If I feel this strongly about my very temporary country, imagine what levels of passion and joy should fill my heart and my voice when I’m thinking or speaking about my eternal country!
Here’s the operative word in that previous sentence: should. That should be how it is. The reality, I’m afraid, is admittedly quite the opposite.
As I said, many Christians along with me have lost a sense of their true identity. We think, speak, and act often as though our existences revolve around this country, as though our allegiance is inseparably tied to this flag, as though our fate is cast by this nation’s rulers and authorities. Consider how much time you have spent in the past week discussing social issues in America compared to how much you spent discussing the affairs of your real country.
I love this country.
But I do not need this country.
Paul wrote those previous words of Scripture to the Christians in the Roman colony of Philippi. The regular citizenry around them despised the cross of Christ. Like today’s American culture, they lived to indulge in earthly pleasures. For the Philippians to be so constantly surrounded by this sort of society was both saddening and maddening. Surely they wanted it to change, for the people to know Christ and to know what life in Christ looks like.
Do you think that the Philippians got what they wanted? Not even a little bit. Philippi remained a godless city for a long time, just like the rest of the Roman Empire.
Paul never told them to raise an outcry against the lives that the unbelievers were living. In fact, he never advises any Christians to do this. Paul instead reminded them to press onward, living among the citizens of Philippi, but not as those citizens of Philippi. Among the degradation of their city, Paul told them to be “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation” and to “shine like stars in the universe as [they] hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16). They could not expect the worldly people around them to change, nor should they have expected such a fanciful reversal.
Against that dark backdrop of sin, though, they as God’s people were to shine like stars.
Certainly that black curtain of sin and evil exists today, just as it always has and always will on this earth. A lot of the time, it seems like it would be easier just to give in—if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?
But that’s no solution. It only adds us to the problem. Rather, like stars against the darkness of the night sky, we shine in contrast to this dark world.
We don’t do it because we hope to gain something from this earth and its people. We shine like stars because we know that this is not our true home. America is not my real country.
“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.”
Remember Abraham? At God’s calling he uprooted his entire life. He gave up permanent structures to wander the world in tents. He didn’t know where God was leading him, only that God was. His son and his grandson lived the same way. Why? Why would he not take his wealth, build his own town, and live out his days comfortably wherever he pleased? Because God had made Abraham a promise—the promise of a future far better than anything that Abraham could build for himself. The author of Hebrews explains it this way: “[Abraham] was looking forward to the city without foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Abraham walked away from his birth-country at God’s calling. Why? Because he was “longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).
Will Jesus, who has everything in the entire universe under his jurisdiction, not do for us what he has promised? Will your Savior, who was willing to die and to suffer all hell because he loves you so much, not now continue to care for you? Will Christ, who showed his power over death by undoing it at his resurrection, not also change your lowly body into a glorious body? Will your Lord, who rose into heaven to prepare your mansion, not also come back to bring you with him?
Of course he will!
C.S. Lewis wrote his children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia to serve as an allegory or picture of many of the Bible’s central truths. The series revolves around adventures that take place in the fictional country called Narnia. At the end of the final book—spoiler alert—the characters finally arrive in Aslan’s country. (The lion Aslan is the series’ parallel to Jesus.) As the many people and animals of Narnia are gawking at Aslan’s country—heaven—the first character to realize what has happened suddenly gets excited and cries out, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life.”
People of God, you may not yet live in your real country. You may find it so distant at times that it hardly seems like a reality. But by his blood poured out for you on the cross, Jesus has given you citizenship there. You are citizens of America for a moment, but your citizenship in Jesus’ country is forever! And so our language should not be flavored with the bitterness we find in the myriad problems around us in this country. Rather, our language is salted and peppered and seasoned with the unspeakable joy that Christ has given by making us citizens of his kingdom!
For now the way is littered with hardships. Our fellow citizens in this country may despise us, forsake us, mistreat us, and even wish us dead. Some days—maybe even weeks, months, and years—our labor here seems brutal and unending. Honestly, that’s just how life is for God’s people in this country and in our world.
But your rest is coming. You will be delivered from this great tribulation. God promised that to Abraham and to the Philippians, and he promises this to all his children. “He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17).
America—our present country—is not always faithful. But your God is. He will, in his good time, deliver you to your permanent, perfect, real country.
As you wait patiently here in America, may God give you his eternal perspective, and with it peace and joy, so that you can shine like stars in this world of sin.