Article by James W. Johnson
Over the years, many people have emigrated to the United States in search of a new life, a better life. Many of these have sought to become American citizens. It is not an easy task. There are many bureaucratic processes before they are finally invited to attend the swearing in ceremony.
Ten years ago they would have received a letter from the President. It read, “Dear Fellow American, I want to congratulate you on reaching the impressive milestone of becoming a citizen of our great nation. As you enjoy the benefits of American citizenship and assume the responsibilities that accompany it, you follow the many brave men and women who have sacrificed to establish and preserve our Democracy over the last two centuries. You now share in a great experiment: a nation dedicated to the ideal that all of us are created equal, a nation with profound respect for individual rights.
Sincerely, Bill Clinton”
A short but beautiful message. I can easily imagine that many immigrants would be very proud of this letter. They would frame it and place it in a prominent place in their home. It would be a talking point for visitors. According to the US. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, a foreign citizen does not lose his or her citizenship when becoming a US. citizen. However, although US law recognizes US dual citizenship, it does not encourage it as a matter of policy, due to the problems that arise from it. Being a citizen of two countries means that you need to obey the laws of both countries, including paying taxes and serving in the military if required. It is so easy to forget that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand.
Comparatively few people have dual citizenship in this secular world. But every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has dual citizenship. Philippians 3:20 in the King James Version reads, “For our citizenship is in heaven ...” Or as the Concordant Version has it, “For our realm is inherent in the heavens ...” Our citizenship is inherent. That means that it exists as an essential or permanent part.
What sort of people became new citizens of the USA? Perhaps they are best described in a famous poem written in 1883 by a young Jewish woman, Emma Lazarus. The first few lines are not as well known as the last few. The poem is entitled, ‘The New Colossus’:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand,
a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame,
is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome;
her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbour that twin cities frame.
‘Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she with silent lips.
‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’”
The poem, of course, is engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour. Paul knew only too well what backgrounds the new celestial citizens came from. “For you are observing your calling, brethren, that there are not many wise according to the flesh; not many powerful, not many noble, but the stupidity of the world God chooses, that He may be disgracing the wise, and the weakness of the world God chooses, that He may be disgracing the strong, and the ignoble and the contemptible things of the world God chooses, and that which is not, that He should be discarding that which is, ...” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).
Paul knew the reason for that, “so that no flesh at all should be boasting in God’s sight” (verse 29). However, you will notice there is no mention in the President’s letter of the immigrants’ past. Whether you were old or young, rich or poor, noble or commoner. No mention of your religion, race, skin colour, your intellectual capacity, or where you were born. Just what you are now, a “Fellow American”.
Paul had a similar message for the saints at Galatia. Galatians 3:25: “ ... for you are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. For whoever are baptized into Christ, put on Christ, in Whom there is no Jew nor Greek, there is no slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” All one in CHRIST JESUS, so there is no difference.
This is our position now as celestial citizens. However, our duty now as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ is described by Paul in Ephesians 5 & 6. “Let the wives be subject to their own husbands, as to the Lord, for the husband is head of the wife even as Christ is Head of the ecclesia and He is the Saviour of the body.” Husbands are to love their wives, children are to obey their parents in the Lord. Fathers are not to vex their children but to nurture them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. Slaves are to obey their masters. Masters are to be lax in threatening them.
That is now but this is what some of the saints in Corinth were then - Paramours, idolaters, adulterers, catamites, sodomites, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, extortionists. Or as the poem calls them: “The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” “But now they have been washed, they have been sanctified, they have been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
A few years later, Paul wrote a similar message, “And you being dead to your offences and sins, in which you once walked in accord with the eon of this world, in accord with the chief of the jurisdiction of the air ...” (Ephesians 2:1-2). Verses 4-6: “Yet God, being rich in mercy, because of His vast love with which He loves us, vivifies us together in Christ, and rouses us together and seats us among the celestials, in Christ Jesus ....”
So far, I have contrasted earthly citizenship with celestial citizenship. I have contrasted what we once were, and what we are now through God’s grace. If this were a fairy tale, I would end here with, “And the king and the people lived happily ever after."
But that is not the real world. Paul certainly wasn’t living in an ivory tower. He knew what problems the new citizens faced. He knew that disputes would come amongst fellow believers. He also knew that even though they were a new creation, had been cleansed and made holy, they came with a load of baggage from the past. The same sort of problems they faced then, are common today. Let’s see some of the problems and the answers Paul gave.
First, could a believer be loyal to his earthly citizenship and celestial citizenship? Paul was a citizen of Rome and a citizen of the heavens. (Note: Christ was not a citizen of Rome, He was a subject of Rome. This is yet another example of Christ’s voluntary submission and humility.)
Yet even though Paul’s greater citizenship was in the heavens, he advises those in Rome, “Let every soul be subject to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except under God” (Romans l3:1). The authorities are “God’s servants for your good.” Which leads him to say, in verse 6, “For therefore are you settling taxes, also, for they are God’s ministers, perpetuated for this self same thing. Render to all their dues, to whom tax, tax, to whom tribute, tribute, to whom fear, fear, to whom honour, honour.”
It is clear that he is talking about earthly authorities. He says this despite the fact that those authorities were far from perfect. But shouldn’t every citizen, believer and unbeliever alike, pay taxes and keep the law? Of course, but the believer has an important reason to do so. The believer should make the most exemplary citizen. We have a deeper motive and a more powerful impulse to obedience than the unbeliever, as we shall see.
No country has more than 300 ambassadors. But every believer is an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Being an ambassador for your country is a great privilege but also a frightening responsibility. Every tourist to a foreign country is, in effect, an ambassador of their country. The locals may judge the whole country by one person. Unbelievers may judge God and Christ on one of us.
There are some who say that this world’s system is so corrupt that we should have no part in it. Pay no taxes, do not vote, do not work in the armed forces, or the civil service, but live on a desert island and just worship God. Others say that we should infiltrate government and other influential organizations to effect change from within and produce a paradise on earth.
Both ideas have been tried and found wanting. Christ Himself said we should be in the world but not of the world. To try to bring Utopia now before Christ returns is doomed to failure. It is not the responsibility of the Body of Christ to bring worldwide spiritual and material blessing to mankind. This is the work of the restored House of Israel.
But does that mean we should do nothing? Rejoice when we see the world in a greater and greater mess? Perhaps even pray for the collapse of the whole world system, to hasten the return of Christ? No! We are to pray for the nations’ leaders. Why? 1 Timothy 2:2 gives the answer: “that we may be leading a mild and quiet life in all devoutness and gravity.” As ordinary citizens that is a good reason. But there is an even more important reason for celestial citizens. The very next verse reads, “for this is ideal and welcome in the sight of our Saviour, God, Who wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth.”
Paul told the Romans, (10:14): “How, then, should they be invoking One in Whom they do not believe? Yet how should they be believing One of whom they do not know? Yet how should they be hearing apart from our heralding? Yet how should they be heralding if ever they should not be commissioned?” So we, as citizens of the heavenlies and as ambassadors, have a duty to promote the evangel. Each individual believer is to do this by the grace given to them. Each one will do it differently.
Another cause of disputes was differences in life style. What food to eat. What day or days to recognize. Whether men should be circumcised. These weren’t important, even though some new believers thought so. Paul told them that these were childish things. Stop quarrelling and squabbling like children over their toys. GROW UP. “When I was a minor, I spoke as a minor, I was disposed as a minor, I took account of things as a minor. Yet when I became a man, I have discarded that which is a minor’s” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Paul tells us in Philippians 1:10 that he prays that they will be “testing what things are of consequence.” He also told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 14:20 not to become little children in disposition but to become mature. To help them make wise decisions, he gives them practical advice, by telling them that “everything that is not out of faith is sin.”
Another practical step to unity, is the admonition, “The strong should help the weak, and not be pleasing themselves.” He knew that some would be boasting that they were especially God’s people, because they were Jews and followed the law. If anyone had anything to boast about it was Paul. But he put them straight on that as well. No doubt today, there are people who look down on new Americans and boast that their ancestors came over on the Mayflower. Nevertheless, they and every member of the Body of Christ, are all citizens with equal rights and responsibilities.
There is one problem which nearly all governments have today, which Christ does not have. He has no illegal immigrants. There can be no forged celestial citizen documents. Christ knows those who are His.
Arguing over trifles, and going to court with fellow believers and behaving in such a way that even unbelievers knew was wrong, is only part of Paul’s admonitions to the celestial citizens. Paul was concerned that the teachers of God’s people should teach what was important. “For other foundation can no one lay beside that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone is building on this foundation gold and silver, precious stones, wood, grass, straw, each one’s work will become apparent, for the day will make it evident, for it is being revealed by fire” (1 Corinthians 2:11-13). Verse 15: “If anyone’s work shall be burned up, he will forfeit it, yet he shall be saved, yet thus, as through fire.”
Just in case his people thought this was just his opinion, Paul tells them that this wisdom is not the wisdom of this eon, but God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6). He repeats the necessity of growing in wisdom, God’s wisdom, in Ephesians 4:11-14, when he explains why God gives apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers. They are “for the work of dispensing, for the up-building of the body of Christ, unto the end that we should all attain to the unity of the faith and of the realization of the son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the complement of the Christ, that we may by no means still be minors, surging hither and thither and being carried about by every wind of teaching, by human caprice, by craftiness with a view to the systematizing of the deception.” And all this is, “for the up-building of the body in love.” Faith and expectation will cease, but love will remain forever. Love is needed now as celestial citizens, and also in the future as celestial citizens.
President Clinton tells his “Fellow Americans” that many men and women have made sacrifices to establish democracy. In 1620, when the first English settlers landed in the New World, they faced many hardships, pain and suffering. Years later they were thankful they had survived the perilous journey across the Atlantic and the hunger, disease and other privations which followed. Somehow they had JOY amidst trials.
Each year they celebrated a day of Thanksgiving. But it was not until the time of America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, that it was established as a national holiday. In a proclamation for a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer on the 30th April 1864, he wrote something reminiscent of what Moses warned the House of Israel when they went into the Promised Land: “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has grown. But we have forgotten GOD. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.” If that was true in 1864, how much more true is it today! Citizens of countries in the Western World can take so many of our blessings for granted. Those who are also celestial citizens are not immune. Yet we have the most incredible blessing of all.
Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ, according as He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world.” Every spiritual blessing, not some and not necessarily every physical blessing.
And yet with these amazing blessings, we have the privilege of suffering for His sake (Philippians 1:29). The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:1: “I am entreating you, then, brethren by the pities of God, to present your bodies a sacrifice, living, holy, well pleasing to God, your logical divine service.”
A sacrifice often involves pain. It always involves giving something up. But this living sacrifice does not require an altar or a temple. So what is that sacrifice? It would be easy for us to ‘go with the flow’ of this world, but Paul tells us in the next verse, (Romans 12:2), “[Do not be] configured to this eon, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for you to be testing what is the will of God, good and well pleasing and perfect.” He then goes on to explain that as members of the one body in Christ, we are also individual members of one another. We are left in no doubt as to what to do. “Let love be unfeigned. Abhorring that which is wicked, clinging to good, let us have fond affection for one another with brotherly fondness, in honour deeming one another first, in diligence not slothful, fervent in spirit, slaving for the Lord, rejoicing in expectation, enduring affliction, persevering in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, pursuing hospitality” (Romans l2:9-l3).
The next chapter, chapter l3, I have already quoted about being subject to the superior authorities. That chapter ends with these words, “We, then, should be putting off the acts of darkness, yet should be putting on the implements of light. As in the day, respectably, should we be walking, not in revelries and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be making no provision for the lusts of the flesh.”
Paul did not hide from them that life would be hard for them as followers of their Saviour. He warned them that worldly people would persecute them. They would be attacked by fellow believers. But perhaps not so obviously, that they wrestled with sovereignties, authorities with the world-mights of this darkness, with the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials.
Perhaps worst of all is when they thought that God was not hearing their prayers when they needed Him most. When innocent people suffer in a natural disaster, for example. God provides the answers on all counts. God has provided the armour to fight His battles. He has given us His spirit and His Word to help guide us. We need to understand the reality of our celestial citizenship. It will give us joy amidst trials. But is all this pain and suffering worth it?
Paul went through more than most of us will ever experience. He was able to tell the Corinthians, “Wherefore we are not despondent, but even if our outward man is decaying, nevertheless that within us is being renewed day by day. For the momentary lightness of our affliction is producing for us a transcendently transcendent eonian burden of glory, at our not noting what is being observed, but what is not being observed, for what is not being observed is temporary, yet what is being observed is eonian” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
So far, I have spoken a little about American history. To balance that then, a little English history. I have been told that there are only three important dates in English history. They are easy to remember. They all end with ’66’
1066. The Battle of Hastings, when William the Conqueror became the first Norman king.
1666. The Great Fire of London, when England’s capital was destroyed.
1966. At Wembley Stadium, when England won the World Cup against Germany.
But when the date of the next important event in celestial history will take place, I do not know. Nor does any other human being or angel.
I refer to the parousia or presence of our Saviour. What I do know is that you will not need to take your passport, whether American or British, with you! Your entry visa was made out before the disruption of the world!! Will all the pain and suffering and sacrifices of the saints over the centuries be worth it?
Ask me again when you see me in the clouds!!!