Dear Church Family,
I’m praying that in a few short months I will be able to introduce you to my son Graham Dean. Right now he is a Colombian citizen, but in the course of our adoption process, when he steps foot on American soil, he will be a full fledged American citizen. His citizenship will be as valid as yours and mine (with the exception that he can not become President of the US – bummer!). While Katy and I are working very hard to make this a reality, our greater prayer is that we would be able to see Graham become a citizen of the Kingdom of God. This process of naturalization is not brought about by paperwork, rather it is brought about by faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ. Those of us we have trusted in Christ for salvation are made citizens of God’s Kingdom. This has glorious and weighty implications in two particular areas: our status and our duty.
Heavenly Citizenship – 1 Peter 2:9-17
Peter’s first letter is helpful in unpacking what being a citizen of God’s Kingdom means. For the sake of space we are going to explore two of the titles that Peter gives to us as God’s people. One of the ways that Peter describes believers is as “a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). Read that again if you missed it. God chose to save us so that we would be his possession. You have been saved from the wrath that you have justly incurred, to put it simply, because God desired for you to be his. There is glorious joy and comfort found in this truth. This means that there was nothing about you that merited your admittance into God’s Kingdom. In fact everything about you merits your expulsion from God’s Kingdom, yet he has granted you citizenship to make you his own. If that does not bring you joy, then read Psalm 37 and meditate on the ways that God will ultimately bless and care for the people that he calls his own.
The description of “sojourners and exiles” is the second title of the citizens of heaven that we will consider. Peter is drawing a distinction between those who are God’s possession and those who are possessed by this world. The moment we are given citizenship into heaven is the moment that our nature no longer mirrors the nature of this world. We are in a moment, and until God makes all things new, fundamentally different from the things of this world. We begin a progressive change of desire so that we long for the things of God more than the earthly passions of this world, thus making us sojourners in the world we once called home. In the context of this passage, Peter is calling his audience to persevere in lives of holiness which will demonstrate our true citizenship. And by the conduct of our lives, it will prompt people to attribute praise to God. So the question becomes, if we have been made citizens of this Kingdom, what is the duty of our citizenship?
In applying these truths, Peter calls his audience to “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution… ” (1 Peter 2:13). Much could be said about what it means to be subject to every human institution, but what we cannot miss is the reason. Peter calls us to subject ourselves for the “Lord’s sake”. Peter is making clear that our allegiance to God supersedes our allegiance to human institutions. Even further he asserts that our submission to human institutions is motivated by our allegiance to our King. This means that when we are operating within a human institution, our actions are chiefly motivated by God’s will for our lives as described in his word. One of the chief ways we see this play out is in our involvement with government, whether that be voting or holding a particular office ourselves. If we heed this passage then our participation in government is guided by, not primarily a spirit of patriotism, but rather the Spirit of God through the word of God.
Subsequently, if our allegiance as citizens is primarily towards God, then our common identity in Christ supersedes any other common identity we might share. Consider for a moment that you share infinitely more in common with a Syrian believer than you do with the person you grew up with that has not trusted in Christ. We as humans gravitate toward people who look like we do. Since this is our natural response, Peter gives us this clear command to “Love the brotherhood…” (1 Peter 2:17). This means that there are people we are called to love in which the only thing we can say about our commonalities is that we share Christ. And if we share Christ, then the barriers of social status, socioeconomic levels, ethnic upbringing, cultural norms, political convictions, age, and race are crushed under the weight of Christ’s glory.
So brothers and sisters, consider your citizenship. “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)