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19. Heavenly Citizenship

Thoughts from my journey with JESUS.

Bible reading Philippians 3:20.

Writing of other people Paul says, “Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our bodies so they will be like His glorious body”, Philippians 3:19-21. My depressing disability of having no proper voice due to cancer, will be finally sorted and mended when I am given a new voice in heaven, which is my real home. I will be able to speak again in praise of our Lord Jesus Christ. I look forward so much to that!

Where is your citizenship? Where do you as a person legally belong? To where and to whom do you have the rights, duties and responsibilities of simply living? Some of you are or have been refugees and displaced people. You may have had your earthly citizenship summarily taken away by the authorities. You may have lost your birth nationality.

Many of you had to make a choice when South Sudan voted to eventually become independent of Sudan in 2011. My country (the United Kingdom) is going through a similar trauma as I write this, trying to peacefully leave all of the other 27 countries of the European Union on 29th March 2019.[1] As long as I remember I have said, tongue in cheek, ‘I am British by birth, Cornish by choice (Brenda and I make our home in Cornwall, England), and European because I have to be’! Britain joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973, when I was 24yrs old.

The younger people growing up in your countries face similar choices. Should they stay at home with their families, or move away to University in a big city, or to find a satisfactory job, and even to marry? We must pray for and trust them as they make these tough decisions about where to live, while in their teens or twenties.

The New Testament Greek word for ‘citizenship’ politeuma signifies ‘the life condition and the heavenly status of the Believer’. While journeying on earth we Christians try to live the heavenly life. We try to show where we really come from. Perhaps it is better to say, we must live showing where we are so confidently travelling to.

Most of us work and earn money to support our living down here on earth. It is necessary of course! But, for the Christian, it is not the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ of life. We know that life goes on for us after we die here. A wise Christian is regularly investing his or her time and talent in their real home, which is with God the Father in heaven. Heaven is being where God the Son, our Lord Jesus, is. Now we must follow the promptings of God the Holy Spirit directing our lives to follow Jesus twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and for the fifty two weeks every year we are given to live by God. Holy Spirit controlled living works itself out in self-controlled living, Galatians 5:22-25.

I have just turned 70 years old. When you read this, God-willing my whole family will have gathered to celebrate, with a meal prepared by my son and his partner at their home overlooking the Atlantic ocean. Significant birthdays may be milestones in life on earth. But our birthday into heaven is infinitely more significant. A Christian is born again into heavenly citizenship, John 3:3-7. Please make sure you are!

We read of Paul using his earthly Roman citizenship for the furtherance of his gospel ministry here on earth. See Acts 16:37-40; 22:25-29; 23:27; 25:10-12; 26:32; 28:19-20. He also writes twice of a higher “citizenship with God’s people”, see Ephesians 2:12-19. Through the blood of Jesus Christ believing Gentiles and believing Jews have become one united Holy Spirit filled Christian family. God lives today in and through this believing household. Not only a Roman citizen, with many, many, others, Paul knew he was a citizen of heaven.

I may live to be 71 years on earth next January 2020, or even to 100 years 29 years beyond that! God only knows. My friend of 40 years, Rev Nagi Konagi in Khartoum Bahri, seems to be living on and on for ever and ever. From 1979 when we travelled together around what was then Sudan, he was virtually free to journey anywhere, as long as there were no security issues. (Note the cover photos on this book). This was because he was (and is) a Sudanese national. But I had to show my British/European passport, my Sudanese visas to enter and to stay, my area travel permits for where Nagi wanted to take me, my camera documents and all my money receipts. Very different treatment! Good job we are both, firstly, citizens of heaven!

Three concluding thoughts on being a citizen of heaven:

1. Citizenship brings responsibilities. “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”, Philippians 1:27. “Set your heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things”,Colossians 3:1-4. In everything be a living advertisement for our Lord Jesus. He told us to spend our lives wisely for heaven, Matthew 6:19-21.

2. Citizenship brings hope. “We remember before God … your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”, 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Keep an eye on the sky with an ear listening for the trumpet,

1 Thessalonians 4:16. Justice will be done in heaven and hell even if it is often not done here. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people to be most pitied”, 1 Corinthians 15:19.

3. Citizenship brings protection. Our lives are safely preserved until God calls us home. The apostles were released from jail, Acts 5:17-21; Stephen was martyred, Acts 7:55-60; Ananias of Damascus was preserved, Acts 9:1-16; James was executed, Acts 12:2; Peter was miraculously released from prison, Acts 12:5-11; Paul was rescued several times, though he was last recorded a prisoner under house arrest, Acts 9:23-25, 16:22-36, 21:35-40, 23-25, 27:42-44, 28:4-6, 28:30-31.

Our starting reading promises transformation for us when we arrive in heaven. We will have sound minds and bodies. We will speak the right language and maintain a good holy, Jesus-like character. Our Lord and Saviour will be the centre of all our attention.

We will be enjoying the life that God made us for. Citizens, all at home in God’s heaven!

Originally written as BiMonthly Encouragement, 10th February 2019.

Discussion guide

1. Share any earthly ‘citizenship issues’ you have had. What are some of the obstacles you have (or have experienced) to being where you want to be?

2. Describe your “birthday into heavenly citizenship”. Highlight any circumstances that brought you to that point.

3. Consider Philippians 3:20 and John 3:3-7, then explain this “birthday” in the light of those Bible texts.

4. In this chapter I mention the passport, visas, health documents, travel, and camera permits I needed on my Sudan visits, 1979-2003. Use your own words to say in one sentence everything you need to be a citizen of heaven.

5. From the Scriptures share the responsibilities of a Christian citizen of heaven. My concluding thoughts above will give you a start, but there is much more.

6. What do you understand by ‘Christian hope’? How does it help you live in Sudan or South Sudan, or anywhere else on this earth?

7. Compare and contrast those “who have no hope”, 1 Thessalonians 4:13b, with those who are waiting “to meet the Lord in the air”, 1 Thessalonians 4:17b.

[1] 1st January 2019.

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