Posted by: everynation | April 20, 2011

Citizenship in Heaven

By Bruce Fidler

Citizenship in heaven (Php 3:20) does not involve abandonment of the earth or humanity’s cultures. Rather, the citizenship metaphor is employed by Paul to contrast the identity and consequent motivation and desires of the believers with those who derive their identity solely from this fallen world. Indeed, these “enemies of the cross of Christ” have their mind set on “earthly things.” But Paul’s pejorative use of “earthly” in contrast to “heaven(ly)” should not be construed in a Gnostic manner that regards the material world to be intrinsically evil. If that were the case, why did the Son of God incarnate and why would Paul’s heart beat so passionately with the hope of the transformation of the human corpus into one of immortality at the resurrection. It is sin and human adherence to it that is to be disdained, not the creation itself. It is a major mistake to equate the “earthly-heavenly” contrast to mean anything more than an ultimate juxtaposition between the fallenness of humanity and the righteousness of God.

It should also be kept in mind that Paul’s metaphor regarding citizenship was written to believers who were Philippians, members of a Roman colony located in Greece whose citizens were endowed by law with full Roman citizenship with all its rights, privileges, and responsibilities. Even as the general citizenry of Philippi derived their civil identity from Rome, so the believers were to derive their spiritual identity from the exalted Christ. These recipients of Paul’s letter would have clearly understood his exhortation to mean that they should live in a manner worthy of the honor with which they had been graciously bestowed, not as an implicit abandonment of their local responsibilities. Indeed, that is the overall thrust of the passage in which the phrase “citizenship…in heaven” appears.

Furthermore, the immediate context of the phrase states that as citizens of heaven believers “eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” When we read all of the various letters traditionally ascribed to Paul, we understand this expectation to involve the resurrection of the dead and the renewal of creation. It is the time when, as Jesus put it, “the meek shall inherit the earth” and Christ will consummate the establishment of his kingdom on earth so that God’s will might be fully done here as it is in heaven.

Let us therefore live, labor, and pray for Christ’s return as honorable citizens of heaven seeking to be transformative salt and light in a world of fallen humanity.

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Bruce Fidler is the lead pastor for our Every Nation Church in SeattleĀ 

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