If I asked you what makes someone a citizen of a particular country, you would most naturally, and correctly, answer, “It’s where they were born.” That’s the simplest answer.
Now of course we can move to another country and go through the requisite process to become a citizen.
But what are we to say of those men and women who are born in a country, possess citizenship, and then betray that country?
What about the Timothy McVeigh’s who pledge allegiance to country with hand over heart, serve in the military, and then park a truck filled with explosives in front of a government building and blow it to smithereens?
Most countries call such actions treason. Punishable by death. Which basically says, “You’re no citizen of this country.”
So beyond birthplace, pledges, and oaths, it seems that behavior is of utmost importance in the discussion of citizenship.
How you behave says more about your allegiances than birthplace, pledge, or oath.
Does that same line of reasoning apply to the spiritual realm? What of those who pray a prayer, confess faith, are baptized, but who behave no more like a citizen of heaven than the devil?
In Philippians 1:27-30, the apostle Paul makes the case that one’s behavior is indicative of his true citizenship. He commands those who call themselves citizens of the kingdom of God, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” Our English translations don’t use the word citizens, but it’s there: “Only behave as citizens worthy of the gospel…”
Paul proceeds to list behaviors becoming of a citizen of heaven.
1. You stand firm (v.27)–like a soldier prepared for battle. The same word is used just prior in Ephesians 6:11 “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
If a soldier is prepared for the physical assaults of the enemy, shouldn’t a citizen of heaven be prepared for the assaults of hell? To push it further, isn’t it true that you know when and how you’re most likely to be attacked by the devil? A pet sin, private indulgence, proclivity towards a particular evil? You know it’s coming and yet you stand unprepared. That’s suicide.
Be prepared to stand firm against the specific attacks of the enemy.2.
2. You strive side by side (v.27)–like an athlete determined to be victorious. The word for strive is where we get our word athlete, so it makes sense to take advantage of the metaphor. In an age when there was no ‘tapping out’ in boxing or wrestling, he who lived won.
That’s why Paul takes this issue up elsewhere, such as 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Athletes discipline their bodies and train and diet and compete with utmost intensity. Why? For a perishable wreath. A bonus. An over-sized ring. A gold medal.
If an athlete will exercise such discipline for that which fades and is left behind when s/he dies, how crazy would it be for us to not train all the more for that which never fades?
We train together and run alongside one another, side by side. Paul says we do this “for the gospel,” but he isn’t saying we strive in order to attain the gospel. Rather, we strive ‘on behalf of’ the gospel mission and message. We run to the next person who needs to hear of Jesus. We discipline ourselves to flee from temptation. We shed sweat and blood in order to help rescue a teammate in need. Our citizenship drives our behaviors.
3. You show courage (v.28)–like the outcome is known. Your opponents can’t shake you because you know that Jesus has overcome the world. When your opponents see that you aren’t flinching, it’s a sign to them of their destruction and your salvation, their defeat and your sweet victory.
Who are these opponents?
– A friend who encourages you to seek vengeance against the guy who wronged you.
– A boss who asks yo to cut corners in order to increase profit margins.
– A husband who asks you to view pornography or act out pornographic fantasies.
Be not afraid. For you’ve not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control. Jesus has overcome your opponent in that moment. Your victory and your salvation are from God.
4. You suffer for the sake of Christ (v.29)–like Christ himself suffered. Suffering comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. But one things must be made clear.
Having the 10 Commandments taken off the courthouse walls is not suffering. Not being able to pray out loud at a designated time in school is not suffering.
Our brothers and sisters around the world who are being beheaded, bombed, and raped, they may speak a better word as to what constitutes suffering.
The strange thing about the way Paul says it here is that “you should not only believe in him,” which translates, “you won’t JUST believe…you’ll go over and above belief…you will also suffer.” It’s counted as a grace to suffer for Christ. Blessed are the persecuted.
While the most intense sufferings have yet to reach the US, we do suffer by way of disease, decay, and death. And how we suffer says much of our allegiances. Can we say with Paul, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain!”? Do we bear on our bodies the marks of Christ?
Are you standing, striving, showing courage, suffering? These are behaviors that mark a citizen of the kingdom of God. What does your behavior say of your allegiances?