When You See My Life, Do I Seem Like a Citizen of Heaven?
If you missed the first post in this series about our Heavenly Citizenship, click here to read Part 1.
My first year of teaching, a student in my class arrived in January from Russia. The poor kid. We smiled at him a lot. The other kids put their arms around his shoulders. They talked to him as if he understood. When we went to lunch he shook his head violently upon seeing the pepperoni pizza. His grimace seemed to scare the other kids as they had been excitedly telling him all morning that it was pizza day.
He pointed instead at the uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Big mistake. I'll never forget how his little lips pressed together into a horrible grimace as he spit the sandwich out onto his red tray. Apparently peanut butter is not a widely eaten food in Russia. We had no idea what Mikhail liked to eat. He never brought a lunch from home, but began to stomach the semi-American food served in our lunchroom. By the end of the school year he picked up social phrases in English, but he was always an obvious foreigner to us.
In Greece I was easily identified as an American. My clothes, my accent, my blonde hair, my mannerisms all screamed foreigner. Everyone could tell I was an alien in that country. I could never pass as a true Greek citizen.
Saul was born a Roman citizen. He was blessed to be born into a system with many rights and privileges, such as we are in the United States. Saul grew up persecuting followers of Jesus until one day on the Damascus road Paul met Jesus for himself. He became a citizen of heaven and "immediately" proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues saying, "He's the Son of God" (Acts 9:20).
How could people tell that Paul's primary citizenship had changed? How did he display his new-found hope in Jesus so that all who met him knew that he was a new man?
1. Paul was constantly pressing towards heaven's glory: Philippians 3:13b-14: ...straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Our ultimate goal is to pursue God's race for us until we reach this place of eternal bliss. The only place where Earthly struggles will melt away and our upward prize will be granted. Our place with God. Paul was continually encouraging his readers to press towards Heavenly goals. Run the race. Be the example of a Heavenly minded one in all you do. Feel the urgency of sharing God's love and His glorious eternal promises with others in the unique ways that He allows each and every day.
2. Paul didn't always use his earthly citizenship; instead choosing to further God's plans even in tough circumstances.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in Philipi when they are beaten and arrested:
Acts 16:20-23- And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, "These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice." The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them in prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.
You know what happens next...Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns to God. An earthquake frees all of the prisoners and the jailer gets saved along with his entire family.
The magistrates send word to let Paul and Silas go, but Paul resists their sudden change of heart:
Acts 16:37- But Paul said, "They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out."
When the magistrates find out that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens they're afraid. They come right away and apologize to them for the way their rights were violated.
The real question is: Why didn't Paul tell the magistrates from the very beginning that he and Silas were Roman citizens?
Did Paul know that God was going to use them to minister to the jailer? Did Paul worry that he and Silas would be instantly killed if they verbally argued with the magistrates? Maybe Paul was considering what course of action would most contribute to the testimony of his Heavenly citizenship? Participating in Christ's suffering (Philippians 3:10) as an example to the other believers? (Philippians 3:17) It's hard to know Paul's motivations. But one thing is for sure, his choices made a Heavenly impact that day.
When we choose to allow God to use our pain and our suffering, we share in Christ's pain and redemptive plan for others.
3. Paul eagerly awaited the coming of the Lord, and continually preached and wrote about his position as an heir to an eternal future:
Philippians 3:20- But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Romans 8:17: ...and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:23b-25: ...but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Paul knew that our hope and future is in our unseen citizenship. Someday our heavenly bodies will rejoice in the redemption of our battered souls. A heavenly citizen focuses on a heavenly home.
When we prioritize our Earthly citizenship over our Heavenly citizenship, we miss out on the purest hope we have. The hope of that which we cannot see, but trust that God has prepared for us.
Do people around us see Heaven's hope shining through? Do we exude a quiet trust in God's plan even through the toughest circumstances? It's not easy, but when we focus on our true future, what do we have to fear?
Paul endured a life we cannot imagine, and yet he focused on the only important finish line. Our Heavenly doorstep. Our forever homeland. An inheritance that cannot be lost. Heavenly citizens can exude hope in God's promise of eternal life in a perfect place.