After ten months of waiting it’s finally here – a notification inviting Sarah and me to take our Canadian citizenship test later this month. Why are we becoming Canadian citizens? Why did you become, or are happy to be a Canadian citizen? Isn’t it because this country offers peace, freedom, and opportunity that is the envy of the world? As wonderful as it is to have Canadian citizenship, the Apostle Paul tells us this morning that we have something even better. He reminds us that we are citizens of heaven. That’s a fact that brings comfort, and a fact that demands character.
The people to whom Paul was writing appreciated the value of citizenship – Roman citizenship. The Philippians were so proud of their Roman citizenship that they dressed like Romans, spoke like Romans, and even built their city to look like Rome. Roman citizenship was valued because it afforded one a measure of protection and justice to which non-citizens were not entitled.
Paul, however, wanted the Christians in Philippi to remember that they had something much better than Roman citizenship; they were citizens of heaven. This fact would bring them comfort because, as powerful as the Roman state was, it could not free its citizens from worry, pain, or sorrow. No government can do that. In fact government sometimes adds to our pain doesn’t it? So what are the perks of being citizens of heaven? Paul explains: “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” (Philip. 3:20, 21).
Many people wish they had the body of a model or a movie star. They want this so badly that they are willing to pay good money for personal trainers and plastic surgeons to get such a body. But no matter how good your personal trainer or plastic surgeon is, one thing they cannot do is stave off the inevitable – death. It doesn’t matter how wonderful you look in life because in death we’ll all look pretty rotten. But now for citizens of heaven there is hope. Paul says that when the end of the world comes, our Savior Jesus will return, raise the dead, and give believers bodies like his own glorified body - a body that can never grow old, become sick, or die!
Does that sound too good to be true? Many people have scoffed at the idea of the resurrection but we can be certain that it will really happen because it has happened before. Jesus himself came back from the dead and this same Jesus promised to reappear and raise all people from the dead. While everyone will be raised from the dead come Judgment Day, only citizens of heaven will receive a glorified body. Non-citizens, enemies of heaven, will receive bodies that will have to endure pain and scorn for eternity.
So how does one become a citizen of heaven? Well to become citizens of Canada, Sarah and I have had to fill out paperwork, pay money, and swear a number of oaths - one being that we have never been charged with a felony, and the other that we swear allegiance to the Crown. Is that the kind of thing one has to do to become a citizen of heaven? Not at all! In fact God is the one who does all those things so that we can be citizens of his heaven. He started the process by taking an oath of allegiance to us! Think back to the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve fell into sin and forfeited their citizenship in heaven, how did they get it back? Not by seeking God out and confessing to him what they had done. Instead they ran away and when they were confronted by God they blamed him for their fall into sin. Adam and Eve received back their citizenship only after God swore allegiance to them when he promised to send the Savior to crush the head of Satan.
God did more than swear allegiance to us; he actually kept his oath by sending his Son. It was God’s Son, Jesus, who fulfilled the other requirements for citizenship. Before Sarah and I can become citizens of Canada we’ll have to take and pass a citizenship test. In the same way God has laid out a citizenship test for us and demands that we get a perfect score on it. Any little slip-up and we are disqualified from citizenship forever. This test is not about knowing facts about God. It’s not about being able to recite the books of the Bible. It’s all about clean living. We are to be loving and considerate of others with every thought, word, and action. No one in the world has come close to passing this test – that is except for Jesus. He was perfect and, now here’s the thing, he gives us credit for his perfect test score.
With completed citizenship test in hand we’re one step away from becoming members of heaven. What still keeps us out is the payment. I was surprised at how relatively little it cost to become a citizen of Canada but it’s not like that with heaven. The cost is more than we can pay, for God demands that we pay for all our sins. That’s something we could never finish doing. So Jesus came to fulfill this part of our citizenship requirement too. He paid for our sins through his death on the cross. So how do we become citizens of heaven? By doing nothing! Jesus has fulfilled all the requirements. Put your trust in him for he holds a heavenly passport with your name on it, signed in his blood.
Being a citizen of heaven is a fact that gives us comfort but it’s also one that demands character. This is no different than being a citizen of an earthly country. You know what I mean if you’ve ever run into Canadians who have been obnoxious tourists. It’s embarrassing to you and your country isn’t it? In the same way being a citizen of heaven means that we will want to act a certain way while on earth. Paul explains in our text. “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven” (Philip. 3:17-20a).
The temptation of being a citizen of heaven while an inhabitant of earth is to think that we have dual citizenship. What I mean is that, since we’re not in heaven yet, we think that we don’t have to act like citizens of heaven and can instead act as citizens of the world. After all “When in Rome do as the Romans do!” right? An attitude like that, however, can actually lead to the forfeiting of our heavenly citizenship. The Apostle James put it this way: “…don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4b).
Dear Christians, we are not citizens of the world. We are citizens of heaven. Therefore it is not O.K. to act as the world does - to find the same lewd jokes funny, or to shrug off our temper tantrums. And we shouldn’t think that just because we make a trip here to heaven’s embassy every Sunday that all is well with our faith. What happens when we drive away from here? Do we shove our heavenly citizenship in the glove compartment and turn on the radio to listen and sing along to music that glorifies violence or promiscuity? Do my non-Christian friends see a difference in the way I handle pressure, or do I resort to the same foul language and tone of voice they use to deal with challenging situations?
“We are citizens of heaven.” Paul reminds us. Actually what he said is “We are a colony of heaven.” There’s a difference between the two. While I am a citizen of the U.S., I don’t live in an American colony. I don’t fly the American flag outside of our house. I don’t shoot fireworks off on the 4th of July. Unless you spoke to me and heard my funny accent you probably wouldn’t know that I am an American citizen. On the other hand when you go to Chinatown, there’s no question where those people are from. They live as if they’re still over in China. They eat the same kind of food as they do in China, they talk in Chinese, and they celebrate Chinese customs and holidays. That is how Paul is encouraging us to live – in such a way that it’s obvious to others that heaven, not earth, is our home. Therefore when you have guests over, don’t stop having your daily devotions around the dinner table. Don’t skip church that Sunday. Instead invite your guests to be a part of those things. Show off your heavenly citizenship that others may be interested in finding out more about this blessing.
I’m looking forward to receiving my Canadian citizenship; this is a great country in which to live. But I have to admit that I’m a lot more excited about my citizenship in heaven for my ruler there gives me so many more blessings – all of them eternal. That’s why I want to keep my eyes on heaven, and not focused on what this world has to offer. The truth is only by looking to heaven will we keep from falling into the spiritual potholes of earth. Join me in focusing on our heavenly citizenship so that together we may stand firm in the blessings Christ has won for us. Amen.