The Responsibilities of Citizenship
At the end of the Vietnam conflict, the United States government officially concluded military conscription, or “the draft” as it was more popularly known. The standing military force of our country became a solely volunteer group. However, in 1980 President Jimmy Carter reinstated the Selective Service System in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. All males born in 1960 or later were required to register for the possibility of military conscription if the need arose. That proclamation was signed in July. I turned eighteen in August, and was among the first group to have to register. I was old enough to remember the horrors of Vietnam as reported on television and as recounted by those who fought there. I really didn’t want to go to war against the Soviets. But I went to the post office and filled out the forms because I am a citizen of the government of the United States of America and it was my obligation.
It is not my purpose to debate the question of warfare and whether or not a Christian can or should participate. It is my purpose to illustrate that citizenship carries with it responsibilities. It seems to be the case that most Americans love the privileges of citizenship, but the obligations that ensue are often met with less enthusiasm. Yet they are no less important, as our government to some degree relies upon its citizens participating and upholding their duties. In actually, there are few mandatory obligations required of US citizens: obedience to the law; paying taxes; serving on a jury; registering with Selective Service. Most others, as listed by the US Government Citizenship and Immigration Services, are voluntary – things like voting, community involvement, and tolerance of others. As citizens of this country who enjoy the privileges of such, it is equally important that we assume our duties as well. And as Christians, God expects from us such respect for temporal authority (Rom.13.1f; 1 Pet.2.11f).
It has been our design in the preceding articles to underscore that Christians are a part of yet another government – the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In fact, that is the realm to which we are to give our primary attention and service (Matt.6.33). It is the government which the apostles promoted and with which we should identify (Eph.2.19; Phil.3.20). And while we enjoy wonderful privileges as citizens of that kingdom (refer to Focus, July 31, 2017), we also should embrace the grave obligations that face us. Moreover, while we note our regular obligations to the King Jesus Christ, we should also appreciate that we are a part of a kingdom at war, and the earthly representatives of God’s rule. Thus we are those who serve both as the objects of the war and the participants in such. With such thoughts in mind, please consider just a couple of these obligations that we have toward our King.
We are to act like we belong to Jesus Christ, our King. Peter advances this thought in 1 Pet.2.9f where he describes us as “sojourners and pilgrims” who are to “abstain from fleshly lusts…having your conduct honorable” so that God may be glorified when the King returns. Our adoption of the character of Christ is not intended merely to illustrate our faith and gratitude for the King’s sacrifice. A holy life and a godly persona is also intended to advance the King and His kingdom – to show the world what the eternal rule of God is all about. Such is the intent of our Lord when He refers to His people as light and salt (Matt.5.13f). Our influence promotes our homeland, and that influence begins with our personal sanctification. We are living sacrifices to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom.12.1-2). Given the hatred, turmoil, selfishness, fear, uncertainty, and injustice of our present day, a kingdom wherein citizens are good, kind, benevolent, righteous, patient, self-controlled, selfless, and loving has a powerful appeal and can be a powerful force. As citizens, such qualities are ours to promote.
We are to promote our King and His rule. It seems to be the case that we often approach the task of evangelism or bible study or doctrinal determinations from the perspective of “religion.” That idea in and of itself is fraught with difficulties in our day. While Americans in particular still consider themselves religious, the ideas and teachings and institutions associated with “organized religion” have become the target of great suspicion, disdain, and dismissal. There is no question that we are advancing the religion of pure Christianity, but at the same time ours is a political movement. I realize that politics is yet another conceptual and ideological minefield, but it is also one that many people are willing to discuss or debate. We are citizens of a spiritual kingdom who are traversing a temporal world and living under a material government. And we are trying to advance our King and His kingdom. His rule is eternal. His power is unlimited and invincible. His victory over all enemies – temporal and spiritual – is certain. His reign is benevolent. His scepter is one of righteousness (Ps.45.6). He offers peace, joy, harmony, satisfaction, life, eternity. His rule addresses the most fundamental needs and desires of humanity. Yes He has laws. Yes He makes demands of His people. Yes there are sacrifices and difficulties. But such things are true of every government, even those that promise but cannot guarantee life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. His kingdom is better. His constitution benefits His people. His wisdom and power will ever bless his people. Why do we not offer the gospel in those terms? They are accurate. They are biblical. They speak to our present conflicts and concerns. The apostles and brethren in the first century often found themselves at odds with those around them because they were promoting a different King than Caesar, a different government than Rome, a different power than the Roman legions. There is great appeal right now in a Ruler and kingdom that are righteous, invincible, benevolent, and consistent. As citizens of the kingdom of heaven residing under whatever temporal government we find ourselves, it is our obligation to advance our King and His rule. We are a part of the greatest political uprising in the history of mankind. Our task is to continue and advance it.
We are to fight for our King. The battle described throughout the Bible is one of good vs. evil; light vs. dark; God vs. Satan. Yet it is a war that we often contemplate only in personal terms. We recognize the need to put on our spiritual armor (Eph.6.10f) and “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim.6.12), so that we can each stand faithful to God in the face of Satan’s efforts to destroy our trust. Yet we also should see ourselves in the bigger picture. We are God’s temporal force – an army of faithful citizens who are to be standing for right, for goodness, for God’s ways, for the kingdom of Christ. Paul described the work of the apostles in such terms in 2 Cor.10.1-6. Satan is using culture, government, ideology, immorality, academia, and a host of other forces to try and undermine the truth of Christ’s rule and dissuade men from submission to the true King. We need to see ourselves as not only the objects of this war (note that we are the “spoil” in Isa.53.12), but as the participants in it – the temporal soldiers of the King. Every time we stand up for what is right; every time we defy the ungodliness around us; every time we softly answer wrath; every time we adorn ourselves modestly; every time we do good; every time we quote the Word; every time we defend the King and His people – every time we are winning a little battle in a much bigger war. We must see beyond our own battles and appreciate that we are helping the King to conquer Satan. Standing up and fighting is imperative for citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
We are to help our fellow-citizens. Almost every letter written to Christians in the New Testament echoes, in some fashion or another, the words of our King: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13.34-35). Over and again we are admonished to watch for each other, to care for each other, to edify each other, to warn each other, to restore each other, to serve each other, to use our talents to help each other come to the “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph.4.13). In Christ’s kingdom, the citizens help each other. I recognize that this can be demanding. I know we have our doctrinal discussions and our distinctions in maturity. Even a casual reading of the epistles in the NT makes such challenges clear. No doubt individuals and local churches must make judgments about fellowship in this “anything goes” age of religious ecumenicalism. The King is not suggesting that His authority be dismissed, disregarded, or diminished. But we must recognize our obligations as citizens. We are to help each other to imitate the King. We are to meet together for worship so that we can “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works (Heb.10.24). Our job is not to weed out the weak and euthanize the wounded. Our job is to lock arms with our fellow soldiers and fight the good fight of faith together, advancing the cause of our King. We are quick in our temporal world to come to the aid of fellow Americans who are in need. How wonderful would it be if we woke up to the need for some old-fashioned nationalism among the citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address, offered an historic challenge to Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” How fitting a challenge to those who are citizens of the kingdom of Christ. We savor the privileges. We must equally, and with passion, pursue the obligations.