‘Dual citizenship’ occurs where an individual possesses citizenship in two countries. For example, someone may possess both citizenship in Australia and citizenship in the United States.
There are a number of ways to obtain dual citizenship providing countries’ laws allow for it. Some people become dual citizens automatically for example, upon birth, whilst others may be granted citizenship from a second country through acts like marriage or permanent residence.
Christian believers also have dual citizenship however, ours looks slightly different. Whilst we may have citizenships that show that we identify with countries on this planet we also have a second and more crucial citizenship – citizenship in heaven – and it’s important we realise what this means for us.
The apostle Paul spells this out for us in more detail in Philippians 3:17-21:
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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.
Let’s get deep for a second and unpack this as best we can in sub-1000 words (Don’t let this discourage you from reading the rest! Keep going!)
Paul challenges his audience, the Philippians, and subsequently us today by offering two distinct and separate “walks” in Phil. 3:17-19:
- A Christ-centred walk or,
- A self-centred and earthly-focussed walk
It’s plainly clear in the language Paul uses that he leaves no room for middle ground; the walks cannot be completed in unison. It is also plainly clear that Paul encourages his believers to choose the the first of these walks – a Christ-centred lifestyle.
The latter walk is, according to Paul, seen to end in ‘destruction.’ It is revealed to be self-indulgent lifestyle where the people who choose this path deify their stomachs, find pride in their shameful acts and become overly engrossed and enslaved to earthly or materialistic things. Paul refers to these people as those who “walk as enemies of the cross,” and whilst this may sound harsh it is true as this life makes it extremely difficult to genuinely respond to the hope of salvation offered through Christ. Ultimately, the person who chooses this walk chooses to satisfy their bodily appetite over their spiritual appetite and find glory in shameful acts and thoughts rather than humility in righteous acts and deeds. They fall slave to their earthly ambitions instead of mastering them into submission in order to better focus on their relationship with God.
In contrast for those that choose to imitate Christ through Paul (v.17), the apostle goes on to emphatically proclaim that the believer’s “citizenship is in heaven.” The term “citizenship” (politeuma) is only used three times in Scripture but only once in this particular way.
This particular use of the term establishes Philippian believers as citizens under the sovereign power of God, emphasizing that they are a part of the heavenly kingdom governed by God. The implication however, is that the Philippian Church is a colony of Heaven on Earth and that they are ‘registered’ as citizens there, not as citizens of Earth or a colony of Rome.
How is Philippi’s situation relevant to me you ask? Whilst you may not live in the Roman Empire or be subject to Rome’s laws you are FIRSTLY a citizen of Heaven and SECONDLY, a citizen of Earth if you identify as a Christian. The implications of this citizenship are integral to our faith. Identifying as a citizen of heaven first and a citizen of earth second sets the scene for adversity, persecution and suffering because the way that believers conduct themselves WILL and MUST be different than how the rest of the world operates.
We learn, through Paul’s teaching, that to be a citizen of heaven means that we live as salt and light to the world. So what can we learn from Paul’s teaching in Philippians 3:17-21? Lots but lets focus on 3 things.
The leading message in this passage is that Christians should focus on walking a Christ-like life rather than a self-centred life. Paul’s framework for imitation in verse 17 – join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us – is still applicable today.
Christians should look to recognised Church leaders who model Christ’s character and establish a mentor-pupil relationship with them. This not only allows the Christian to learn through imitation of a respected leader in the Church but also allows for the mentor to be a source of both accountability and correction. Through this imitation, accountability and correction Christians are better enabled to walk in their faith in a manner that reflects Christ and in which they master earthly desires and temptations.
A second application for Christians today is to heed Paul’s call to unity. Believers need to remain focused on the hope promised to them through Christ, His death and resurrection. This focus allows Christians to navigate the persecution and suffering that comes hand in hand with being an active, participating follower of Christ. In a world where members and groups in society are often more than ready to persecute and tear each other down, remaining unified as Christians is increasingly important. As God himself is a triune and communal God, Christians too, should walk in unity and community with one another, edifying and encouraging one another with regards to their faith.
Finally, Paul’s declaration that a believer’s true citizenship lies in Heaven, not on Earth, holds just as much stock for Christians today as it did for Philippians in the first century. Christians must constantly remind themselves that they are a colony representative of the Kingdom of God. The purpose of a colony in imperialist countries was to expand the influence of the mother country and to increase resource-income for the mother country. Christians are therefore, charged with the mandate of expanding the influence of the Kingdom of God by being a counter-cultural, yet loving, humble and accepting, force in society. Whilst ‘producing resources for the mother country’ may be a crude phrase to use, another responsibility that Christians are charged with is to win souls to Christ which can be achieved through the messages we send with our words, actions and lifestyles.
This is probably one of my favourite passages in the Bible because it reminds me of who I really belong to. When I myself am forced to make a choice between Christ and Earthly desires, this passage challenges and encourages me to choose Christ, for my citizenship is first and foremost in heaven. I hope this passage can challenge and encourage you too!