Summary: In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: “But our citizenship is in heaven." This sermon explores that idea.
When I was in college, one of my friends, who immigrated to this country from South Korea with his family when he was 14, became a citizen of the U.S. First he lived in this country for some time, learning the language and gaining familiarity with its customs. Then he went through a period of formal instruction, learning some of the basics that every citizen of the U.S. is expected to know. Then he was examined, and his readiness to gain citizenship was evaluated. Then the big day finally came, and he stood before a judge, took an oath of allegiance, and was declared a citizen of the United States of America.
He will always remember that day—his citizenship day. On that day, his identity changed; his name remained the same, but a new people claimed him as one of its own. On that day, his place of belonging changed.
For Christians, there is an even more important citizenship day—not the day we became citizens of the U.S. or whatever other country we call home, but the day we were granted citizenship in heaven—our baptism day.
Today is Tony T.’s baptism day. On this day, he will be granted citizenship in heaven. On this day, his place of belonging will change. On this day, a new people will claim him as one of its own. On this day, his identity will change.
He has lived among this new people for some time, learning the language of faith and gaining familiarity with the customs of the church. He has gone through a period of formal instruction, learning some of the basics that every citizen of heaven is expected to know. He has been examined, and his readiness to gain citizenship has been evaluated. (This, by the way, is one of the tasks of session.) Finally, his big day has come. He will stand before God, take an oath of allegiance, and be declared a citizen of heaven.
And all the baptized will celebrate with him, for our citizenship is in heaven also.
That’s what the Bible says—we are citizens of heaven, resident aliens here on earth.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: “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” (Philippians 3:20).
Peter says the same thing slightly differently in his first letter: “Dear friends, I urge you, aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from the sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
As long as we are on this earth, we are not in our homeland. We are citizens of heaven, still physically residing in the kingdom of darkness (the land of our birth). Whether we were born in the U.S. or Japan or Nigeria or France, the land of our birth is this fallen world.
Paul writes that, “he saved us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13). Before we belonged to the kingdom of God’s Son, we belonged to the power of darkness. Paul emphasizes the same idea in Ephesians: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:1-2).