(This post is adapted from a sermon given at North Hodge Church of God on Sunday, February 10, 2013)
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Years after John the Baptist shouted this earth-shaking proclamation, the Apostle Paul penned the following words to the Church at Philippi, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Both of these saints of God were communicating the same essential truth: If we are in Christ, we are no longer Romans or Britons or Africans or Americans. We are of a new nation, a new people, and citizens of a new Kingdom. We are Christians.
When we allow this truth to soak into our souls, we will find that many of us have misunderstood and misapplied the very concept of God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven is not something that we can join like our local rotary club or the boy scouts. Nor is it an identity that we can tack on to our selves like we do with our occupation or hobbies. When we become citizens of this Kingdom, it is as serious as leaving the nation of one’s birth and entering into a new country.
Becoming a Citizen
There are millions of people around the world that have caught a glimpse of the possibilities within American society and now desire citizenship to this nation. But, no matter how much they may want to become citizens, they must go through the proper channels and put in the required effort, time and money before they can turn that desire into a reality. In the same way, citizenship into the Kingdom of Heaven is something that must be entered through the proper channels.
Jesus once told his disciples, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9). He made it clear that citizenship in the Kingdom could only be obtained by going through him. He’s the office of immigration and naturalization for God’s Kingdom and as a result, if we want a part of that Nation, we must go through Christ.
Fortunately, rather than fill out countless reams of paperwork, take civics classes and complete a citizenship test, entry into God’s Kingdom is contingent on one action: belief. When Paul was asked by the Philippian jailer about the process of entering God’s Kingdom, Paul responded simply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). When we come to God in faith, we are instantly “translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son” (Colossians 1:13). We don’t have to wait in any lines or take any tests. We don’t have to enter a waiting period or experience second-class status for any period of time. We go from citizens of Satan’s realm to members of the Heavenly Community.
No Dual-Citizenship in Heaven
The United States is a nation that allows dual citizenship. If someone moves here from Australia and wants to enjoy the benefits of being a member of both counties, he is legally allowed to do so. Some nations, however, frown on the idea. After all, as a citizen of both nations, where does ones ultimate loyalty lie? Loyalty is an important part of what it means to have citizenship and our ultimate allegiance can only go to both as long as both nations are in total harmony. But what happens when a disagreement occurs? When dissension rises up, a person’s true loyalty reveals itself. At that moment, it won’t matter whether he has legal citizenship in both countries, his actual citizenship will manifest itself.
God doesn’t allow dual citizenship in his Kingdom. When John the Baptists said, “Repent!” he was, in essence, saying, “Revoke your earthly citizenship.” If we want to be a part of God’s Kingdom, we must be willing to give up any claim we may have to this earthly Kingdom. Jesus put it plainly when he told his disciples, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). He made it clear that we can only have one to whom we give allegiance. We cannot split our loyalty down the middle or give fealty to both God and this world.
We must choose. If we want to enter into God’s Kingdom, we must give up this world. If we want the world, we must give up God. No one can have both. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Believing that we can be both citizens of this world and of God’s Kingdom is as absurd as thinking that someone could have served both the United States and Nazi Germany during World War II. Sides must be chosen. Which side are you on?
Jesus made the requirements of discipleship totally clear when he said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” ( Luke 14:26-27). Those are harsh words and they might not make us feel good. But they are words that must be contemplated and allowed to sink into our spirits because they are truth. Christ can be our only allegiance.
In His Majesty’s Secret Service
In Switzerland, all males aged 19 to 34 are required to spend some time in the armed forces. For the Swiss, serving the nation is simply part of being a citizen. The Kingdom of Heaven works the same way. Once we become citizens, we are required to serve the King. And we don’t serve for two or four years and then get to return to ‘civilian’ life. Once we’re in the service of this King, we remain there forever.
The scriptures tell us that when John saw many of the religious people of his day coming to be baptized, he told them to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Many of these religious people wanted the benefits of salvation and God’s Kingdom without the price they’d have to pay to remain there. They wanted to hold on to the worldly citizenship that gave them authority over others and a feeling of self-righteousness. They would have been fine with doing the works they had already been doing but the idea of God calling them to the kind of radical life that John the Baptist lived was unthinkable. Locusts and honey simply weren’t enough.
When Jesus called the disciples, he called them into a life of service to his Kingdom. Paul once told the Corinthian church, “we are ambassadors for Christ,” and it was a call that he took very seriously (2 Corinthians 5:20). He saw himself as a representative of God’s Kingdom, sent to tell people about the far better nation that awaited everyone who would enter in. As a result of that perspective, he cast off the cares of this world and humbled himself to the point of death at the hands of the Romans. It was a fate that awaited much of the early Church because they had a common view of themselves and the Kingdom. They were no longer citizens of this world; they had passed from a kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light. As a result, service to the King was a permanent part of their lives and it remained so until their last breaths.
Are you an illegal alien?
Over the past few years, the debate in America over immigration, specifically illegal immigration, has risen to a fever pitch. Many people are upset because of the seeming lackadaisical attitude that the federal government has taken towards enforcing our southern border. Estimates put the United States’ illegal immigrant population over ten million. Fortunately, this isn’t even an issue in God’s Kingdom.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not a nation that can be sneaked into. Though some may try to sneak over the fence, God knows exactly where they are and he strictly enforces his immigration laws (John 10:1). Though the visible Church may have people who desire to illegally move in, God will have the final say (Matthew 13:24-30).
Some people think they can enter the Kingdom while they remain citizens of this world. They keep all of the worries, cares, desires, concerns and appetites of the world. They think they can keep the culture and dialect of this world but still be a part of God’s Kingdom. They don’t mind giving their ten-percent or going to church every Sunday but when real sacrifice is demanded of them, they return to their fatherland.
Other people believe they can enjoy the benefits of living in God’s Kingdom without being in His service. They believe that witnessing and missions, bible study and prayer are for a select few chosen ambassadors. They don’t realize that if they’re in God’s Country, they are chosen ambassadors. God’s Nation is one in which every citizen is chosen for service. No one gets to sit at home and merely enjoy the fruits of another’s sacrifice.
My prayer for us all is that we’d allow God to search and try us. Ask God whether you are a true citizen or an illegal alien. If you aren’t in service to the King, go to him and cry out, ‘Here am I, send me!” If you’ve been neglecting your duty to God, repent. Revoke the citizenships to this world and give all of your allegiance to him. He is the only King worth revering and His is the only Nation worth giving loyalty to.