The Blessings of Citizenship
Last week I spent a good part of one day sitting in a courtroom, having been assigned jury duty for our county. When the judge entered the room, he stopped in front of the juror pool, bid us good morning, and thanked us for participating. “One of the great privileges we enjoy as United States citizens,” he noted, “is the right to a trial by jury. By your presence today, you are insuring that the parties involved can exercise that right. You are playing an important role in our society.” I suspect that most of the folks there had other places to be and were hoping to be excused from service for one reason or another. Jury duty is generally considered an unavoidable burden. But I appreciated the judge’s comments and have reflected upon them repeatedly. We take for granted so many of our rights and blessings as citizens of this nation, and the experience was a good reminder for me.
Depending upon the nation and government involved, citizenship can afford many privileges. In Acts 22.25 and again in Acts 25.10, Paul exercised his rights as a Roman citizen, and such decisions not only preserved his life, but extended his work in the Lord’s kingdom. There is no little irony, it seems to me, that Paul’s citizenship in the Roman government afforded him such blessings as to be able to pursue and promote citizenship in the government of Christ. In fact, the apostle employed the concept of citizenship to underscore the blessings and hope we enjoy under the Lord’s reign. In Eph.2.19f he reminds the Ephesian Christians of their status as “fellow citizens with the saints”. And to the Christians in Philippi (a Roman colony where residents enjoyed citizenship status) he promoted the hope which results from our “citizenship in heaven” (Phil.3.20f). Clearly, Paul understood that being a disciple of Jesus resulted in the blessings and privileges of citizenship in His kingdom.
Yet for many of us, we may fail to view ourselves as citizens in the kingdom of Christ. While we are often attuned to our rights and privileges as citizens in our respective earthly countries, we rarely think of our relationship to Christ in terms of government. But if the Lord came to establish a kingdom (which He did – Mt.4.17; 12.25-28) and if His work resulted in His enthronement as King (which it did – Jn.18.33-37; Mt.28.18f), then those of us who are “in Christ” are thus citizens of that kingdom. In very real, concrete terms we have become subjects of a new government, as referenced above in Eph.2.19f and Phil.3.20. As such, we are now to see ourselves differently. We no longer belong here, though we all hold citizenship in some earthly realm. But rather than considering ourselves “dual-citizens,” retaining for instance citizenship both in the United States of America and in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, we are to think of ourselves as resident aliens (1 Pet.2.11 “sojourners and pilgrims”). That is not to argue that we must renounce our relationships to earthly government, but it does underscore that we should now think of ourselves first and foremost as subjects of the government of the Lord. And thinking of ourselves in such terms – as citizens under the Heavenly King – can greatly amplify our appreciation of the blessings that are ours.
As citizens of the kingdom of God, we have a new homeland – a place to which we belong and to which we will return after we have traveled through this foreign land. Such is the point of Phil.3.20, and it is the concept behind such passages as Heb.11.13-16 (where the patriarchs are considered “strangers and pilgrims on the earth”), Heb.12.22-23 (those “registered in heaven”), and 1 Pet.1.17; 2.11 (where we are portrayed as “sojourners and pilgrims”). Heaven is home. It is to be the end of our journey, the subject of our nationalistic fervor, the object of our longing. We should be keenly aware of the fact that we do not belong here on the earth. We belong there. Given the present political furor over immigration, such a concept should be poignant to Christians. We are the true political aliens. But rather than escaping our homeland to find blessings elsewhere, we are passing through this earthly life on our way back to our true home – the place where our King resides.
As citizens of the kingdom of God, we have access to the King Himself. Heb.4.16 urges us to “come boldly to the throne of grace” – a privilege that the Jews of Israel did not have in regard to the true Divine King. Though the mercy seat upon the ark represented the throne of God, the citizens of that earthly kingdom could not enter into the presence of the King and speak to Him. Even in our great nation with all of its liberties, we do not have open access to the highest officer in the government. But as a citizen of heaven, I can have an audience with the King whenever I desire. In fact, the King that I serve not only rules, but He intercedes for Me constantly (Heb.7.24-25) as I approach My Father and His. Moreover, that blessing of access and intercession is not limited to mere communication, but extends to the concept of my spiritual standing before God, for the King’s intervention is what secures my forgiveness and thus my justification (Rom.8.33-34). And, were such grand privileges not enough, we enjoy the status of both citizen and kindred, given that our faith in Christ makes us children of God, brethren of the King Himself, and members of the royal household (Eph.2.19f; 1 Pet.2.9).
As citizens of the kingdom of God, we enjoy the protection of our King. His promises of oversight and safety far exceed any physical security that we might enjoy in our temporal nation. Our King offers escape from temptation (1 Cor.10.13), with the assurance that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our limit of endurance. He has already defeated our enemy, negating any power Satan might have over us. He has ensured our victory over sin and death. He ever watches His people (1 Pet.3.12). He is ever present as we trek toward our homeland (Heb.13.5-6). He provides the armament necessary to our protection (Eph.6.10f), ensuring that we never face our enemies unprepared.
As citizens of the kingdom of God, we enjoy the provision of our King. One of the enduring messages of our Lord involves the promise of supply – “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt.6.33). While the King doesn’t promise health and wealth, He does promise to provide for our sustenance in this life (Mt.6.19f). And though such a promise is difficult to appreciate (“Just how is He going to provide for my needs?”) and subject to great perversion by religious charlatans, it is a promise nonetheless. As a participant in the kingdom of God, I can expect His provision. While I have my obligations as a disciple, which involve such principles as work, honesty, integrity, stewardship, and benevolence, the promise that my King will provide for me is to alleviate any worry that I might entertain upon my pilgrimage. What a privilege.
As citizens of the kingdom of God, we have become a part of a community. Humans are social creatures, and even the most independent of men treasure some relationship with others. Yet as disciples of Jesus, our social, fraternal, and emotional connections with the world around us have changed. We are to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph.5.11) and to “not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor.6.14). Though we live in the world, we are not to be “of the world” (Jn.17.14f), and therefore we may find ourselves somewhat isolated and ostracized. Nonetheless, as citizens under the rule of Christ, we now share a new identity with others who have submitted to the King. We are members of a new community – a community charged with caring for each other, watching for each other, providing for each other (Phil.2.1-4; Gal.5.13f; 1 Cor.12-14). Our local assemblies are intended not only as occasions of worship, but as town hall meetings where we encourage and edify our fellow citizens in our sojourn (Heb.10.24f; 1 Cor.13.1-14.31). In fact, this new community is not merely intended to fill the void of social or even national isolation, it is intended by God to become my new family. I may have left father and mother, spouse and children, friends and nation in order to serve the King (Mt.10.32f), but He has adopted us all into His family so that we not only become participants in His government, we become His very family (Mt.18.29; Eph.2.13-22; 1 Pet.2.9f). As royal children, we thus are to give ourselves to the development of each family member – each citizen – into “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph.4.11f). Such is the nature of “local church work” and it is a privilege that citizens should prize highly and take seriously.
Many are the privileges found in the reign of the King of Kings. Were His government temporal in nature, we would likely be more aware of them in practical terms. May we give ourselves to a new consideration of our standing in the kingdom. Perhaps such would inspire us in our sojourn.