Summary: In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: “But our citizenship is in heaven." This sermon explores that idea.
When I was in college, one of my friends, who immigrated to this country from South Korea with his family when he was 14, became a citizen of the U.S. First he lived in this country for some time, learning the language and gaining familiarity with its customs. Then he went through a period of formal instruction, learning some of the basics that every citizen of the U.S. is expected to know. Then he was examined, and his readiness to gain citizenship was evaluated. Then the big day finally came, and he stood before a judge, took an oath of allegiance, and was declared a citizen of the United States of America.
He will always remember that day—his citizenship day. On that day, his identity changed; his name remained the same, but a new people claimed him as one of its own. On that day, his place of belonging changed.
For Christians, there is an even more important citizenship day—not the day we became citizens of the U.S. or whatever other country we call home, but the day we were granted citizenship in heaven—our baptism day.
Today is Tony T.’s baptism day. On this day, he will be granted citizenship in heaven. On this day, his place of belonging will change. On this day, a new people will claim him as one of its own. On this day, his identity will change.
He has lived among this new people for some time, learning the language of faith and gaining familiarity with the customs of the church. He has gone through a period of formal instruction, learning some of the basics that every citizen of heaven is expected to know. He has been examined, and his readiness to gain citizenship has been evaluated. (This, by the way, is one of the tasks of session.) Finally, his big day has come. He will stand before God, take an oath of allegiance, and be declared a citizen of heaven.
And all the baptized will celebrate with him, for our citizenship is in heaven also.
That’s what the Bible says—we are citizens of heaven, resident aliens here on earth.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: “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).
Peter says the same thing slightly differently in his first letter: “Dear friends, I urge you, aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from the sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
As long as we are on this earth, we are not in our homeland. We are citizens of heaven, still physically residing in the kingdom of darkness (the land of our birth). Whether we were born in the U.S. or Japan or Nigeria or France, the land of our birth is this fallen world.
Paul writes that, “he saved us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13). Before we belonged to the kingdom of God’s Son, we belonged to the power of darkness. Paul emphasizes the same idea in Ephesians: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
It’s not the type of thing most of us like to think about. I mean, weren’t we basically good people even before we were baptized? Were we really dead in our trespasses and sins?
It may not be pleasant to think about, but that’s what the Bible says. The Bible does not say that we were bad people who suddenly became good people when we were baptized. The Bible says that ultimately there are only two kingdoms in creation, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. We are all born with citizenship in the kingdom of darkness. That is our heritage from Adam and Eve. By God’s grace, through baptism, our citizenship is transferred, and we become citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Just like accents and customs linger in those who change their earthly citizenship, the accent and custom of sin clings to us, but our passport has changed. Through baptism, we get a passport from heaven, and we walk the rest of our days on this earth as resident aliens.
About 100 years before Jesus was born, a group of people who lived near the Dead Sea had in their library a scroll called the “Angelic Liturgy.” We now call these scrolls the Dead Sea Scrolls. This scroll contains an order of worship for the angels in heaven. Now why would people on earth have such a book? Most scholars now think that the people who lived at Qumran believed that when they were gathered in worship, they were participating in the very worship of the angels in heaven. They needed to know how the angels worshiped, so they could join in without disrupting the angels. What the people of Qumran correctly understood was that when God’s people are gathered together in worship and service, he is there in their midst. And where he is, heaven is, along with the heavenly angels. Jesus told us that where two or three are gathered in His name, he is there in their midst (Matthew 18:20). We can be sure that he is here among us now.