Summary: We Are Citizens of Heaven: A fact that brings comfort; a fact that demands character.
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.