Where is your citizenship?
Imagine two young men in their early twenties, each with comparable and natural ability. They live only 14 kilometres apart. But their circumstances are very different. The first young man lives in a comfortable apartment, drives a decent car, has a lot of cool clothes, eats well, and is pursuing the career for which he studied at university. The second young man lives in a dirt-floored shanty, blisteringly hot, no car, only one ragged change of clothes, a minimal diet, no hope for an education, and tries to find manual labour jobs to make ends meet. He dreams about things the other guy has only 14 km away. The difference between these two young men? Citizenship! One lives in Spain and is a Spanish citizen. The other lives near the city of Tangiers and is a citizen of Morocco. 14km and yet they live worlds apart simply because they have different citizenships. If the young man from Africa could somehow move the distance between here and Reading, acquire EU citizenship, get an education and a better paying job, his life would change dramatically.
In Philippians 3:17-4:1 Paul uses the idea that as citizens of heaven, we should live differently from those who are citizens of this earth`;
3:17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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. 4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
The Bible says, choose your nationality: one is right, the other is wrong. And then having chosen the right one, you need to be a good citizen. Let’s look at CHOOSING THE RIGHT NATIONALITY:
1. Christians must not live as citizens of this earth (3:18-19).
It’s not pc these days to warn about false teachers, but Paul, the apostle repeatedly warned the Philippians about people who promoted a false version of Christianity. Who were they (in Phil. 3:18-19)? They were people in the church, people saying ‘yep, I am a Christian’. That’s why he weeped real tears — because we expect wrong and misleading teaching outside, but when it’s inside the church, that’s a humongous problem. Essentially, these people who said ‘hey I am a Christian’ were living quite inappropriately for being a Christian. Hey, I am a follower of Jesus, just don’t follow my example to closely.
Like being public about your faith in Christ but still binge drinking, or trying to sleep with people you are not married to, or refusing to forgive people who have wronged you. Or being full of praise and worship on Sunday but somebody quite different on Monday. Or pretending to accept people and then dissing them badly when they are not around. It causes huge confusion inside the church and outside. Not to mention correctly earning the accusation of hypocrisy. These people wanted to live as close to sin as they could get away with. And that’s always been a problem, and I am sure is here today too. Paul is direct: we must not turn the grace of God into an excuse.
What excuse? The one that says I have been forgiven and can keep being forgiven, so I don’t have to obey God’s way all the time, and anyway when I do stray a quick prayer for forgiveness sorts it out. When I do this I cheapen God’s grace and make a mockery of his moral law. Being just a rule keeper with no freedom in Christ is wrong, but so is thinking that freedom in Christ means I can do what I want and God will have to forgive me. It’s pretty simple to understand, if you THINK you are a Christian but you live as a citizen of earth more than a citizen of heaven, three things stand out:
A. YOU WILL LOVE THINGS OF EARTH MORE THAN THINGS OF HEAVEN
The cross of Christ is the central principle of the gospel and of the Christian life. “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). The cross humbles human pride, because it shows us:
— good works cannot make us right with a holy God
— we cannot save ourselves from God’s righteous judgment.
— we cannot even help God out unless we do so within the scope and power of the worthiness Jesus and the power of his shed blood.
To come to the cross for salvation means you do not trust in your own ability to be good enough for God, instead you trust completely in all Jesus Christ accomplished for you. Anything less is like taking all your most precious possessions and letting them be sold on eBay for a penny. We cheapen the cross when we do not understand all our problems stem from accepting we are born sinful, that we come into this world with a sinful nature, that we are wicked to the core. Like you, I struggle with this sometimes, especially when I think that I am basically a nice person, who tries to be fair and live justly, but let me say it plainly, you can never really get right with the Lord your God if will not believe that there is something in the core of your being that needs the power and love of the cross of Jesus to heal you and set you free.
B. YOU MAY BE HEADING FOR ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
That sounds dreadful because it is. People invested in being citizens of the earth are told in verse 19 their “end is destruction”. That’s eternal punishment, just to be clear. Not being wiped out by God so you cease to exist. God teaches us we don’t just live lives of selfish indulgence and then get zapped into nothingness at the end of life. If this were true, why would he bother to try and rescue us? The Bible says those who reject God’s mercy at the cross will be cast into the lake of fire where they will endure eternal punishment (John 3:16; Rev. 20:10,15). Not so cool. Eternal ruin or loss. Tough to hear, but the Bible never minces words and we decide where to spend eternity.
C. YOU WILL LIVE FOR THE THINGS OF THIS EARTH.
That’s what it means in verse 19: “their god is their appetite” — selfish and sensual pleasures are more desired than denying self and living for Christ. God does not want us to live miserably because we spend all our time trying to be good – He has richly supplied us many things to enjoy but if we remove God from being the chief object of our joy and replace him with some earthly pleasure, we are guilty of worshipping idols. So, you can become slaves to your desires if you try to be Christians but remain citizens of the this earth. You “set our minds on earthly things” (3:19). Are you loving earthly things more than heaven? Obviously, earthly things do consume your time and energy but a Christian who puts a smile on God’s face is someone who does not put earthly comfort and happiness at the centre of their life. Knowing Christ means having hope of being with Him in heaven. Decide to set your mind on Christ heaven, and you deal a blow to sin and the problems in life. Stick with the world and it goes pretty wrong pretty quick. Remember, Paul wept because enemies were in the church, so:
(1) Don’t turn from the truth of the gospel because there are hypocrites in the church. If you get passed a counterfeit £10 note you don’t give up on money – counterfeits happen because the real thing is worth imitating. Every Christian will disappoint you sometime, so don’t centre on them, centre always on Jesus Christ.
(2) What you do is more evidence than what you say. Jesus spoke of spotting false teachers by their fruit or deeds (Matt. 7:15-20). Paul warned of some who “profess to know God, but their actions shout out that they actually deny God, and often disobey him. Christians are not sinless, but a true Christian who sins will admit that sin to God and each other, ask for forgiveness, and then do something about the problem. Now let’s look at HAVING CHOSEN, HOW TO BE A GREAT CITIZEN OF HEAVEN
2. Christians must live as citizens of heaven (3:17, 20-21; 4:1).
Just being one means you live distinctly, and representing your native land in this alien land where you are temporarily staying. Three things distinguish the citizens of heaven:
A. DO YOU PROVIDE A GODLY EXAMPLE?
“Join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (3:17). Sounds boastful, but the fullness of the Christ in and through me is worth being an example about. Make sure you are showing others how a Christian can walk with God. You can do it, and you can learn more by reading your bible.
B. DO YOU EAGERLY WAIT FOR THE COMING BACK OF JESUS CHRIST?
The return of Jesus Christ in power and glory is frequently emphasised in the New Testament, mentioned in 23 out of the 27 books in the New Testament. He will bodily return. He promised He would come the first time to die for our sins and kept His word, and He promised to return. When He does, it will be with power. He will rule and reign and transform our “lowly bodies,” currently subject to disease and death and bending always toward sin, into conformity to His resurrection body. It will be physical transformation AND spiritual transformation. No more sickness or death, no more sinning. This side of eternity, you get to choose to become subject to God voluntarily – after he comes again you will have no choice. Make the choice here on earth and you discover that Jesus is your saviour — decline the offer from God and you will find Jesus as your judge. This is a choice God lets you freely make yourself. Citizens of heaven are happy for his coming return, citizens of earth couldn’t care less.
C. AS YOU WAIT FOR HIS RETURN, ARE YOU STANDING FIRM?
In 4:1 “Therefore” means, in light of the truth of His coming, stand firm in the Lord. Paul has a tender heart for these people he calls “my beloved brethren,” “my joy and my crown,” and again, “my beloved.” He longs to see them standing firm in the Lord, not swayed by the false teachers. I want that for you too.
Christianity is knowing Christ and being found in Him. He is our wisdom, our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). Jesus is our all in all (Col. 3:11). He is our sufficiency for every need, our refuge, our rock in times of trouble. Stand firm in the Lord! Are you a citizen of heaven right now? It takes A new birth. Just as you could not do anything to bring about your physical birth, so you can do nothing to affect your spiritual birth. It must come from the Lord. Just as He is powerful to raise the dead and subject all things to Himself when He comes again, so He is powerful now to raise the dead spiritually and impart new life to all who call upon Him. He can even now take your rebellious heart and bring it into submission to Him through His mighty power. Scripture promises, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). Cry out to Him for the new birth.
This passage of the Bible is a warning to those who profess to be Christians, but who really are living as citizens of this earth, living for self and pleasure, with no view to the coming of our Lord. Nothing could be more tragic to profess to be a Christian, to be involved in serving Christ, and to stand before Him one day and say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” only to hear the horrifying words, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:22-23). Make sure your citizenship is truly in heaven. Then live as a citizen of heaven, not as a citizen of this earth. Amen.