Citizens of Another Place.
Syrian refugees will soon arrive on our shores—and not ours only. Nations around the world are opening their doors to Syrians displaced from their communities by the violence of a fatiguing war. Men, women and children like my family and yours simply want a new beginning. They want a chance to live quiet, peaceful lives again. They want their work to be meaningful, their children to develop to their full potential, and their relationships to thrive. They want to escape the constant warring and destruction—and they are willing to change their citizenship to make it happen.
As we explore identity through the eyes of the Apostle Peter who was an eyewitness of the historical Jesus and a veteran of God’s transforming power, we see some parallels to our current socio-political state of affairs. The first element of identity the Apostle examined was our role as children of a Heavenly Father. The second follows closely on its heels: citizenship.
“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially,” reasons Peter, “live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (I Peter 1:17). Live as strangers here, he counsels. Strangers to what? Peter goes on to clarify his unusual message by explaining, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (I Peter 2:11).
There is a war going on in, around, and for each of us. It’s a war that we are not fully cognizant of, yet neither are we fully innocent of. The devil, spurious wraith and enemy of our souls, is behind this war. He works from without and from within to slide us closer and closer to the slippery precipice of destruction. He masquerades as a rainbow of light, inhabits the shadows of our fears, and hides in the darkness of our ignorance—even implying he doesn’t exist—anything to ensure we fail to return to our true Father. But we do not need to remain in his territory ‘Sin’, under his terrible tyranny, helpless against the terrorism of his attacks.
We have a Father and He has prepared a ‘kingdom’ for those who have their hopes set higher than the rebellion our race has inhabited. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” explains another first century follower of Christ, “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).
When we identify ourselves as citizens of heaven we find our identities with earth are less confining, less descriptive of our true selves. (Note: heaven is not the location depicted by cartoons as caricatured angels in clouds and saints on duty at heavenly golden gates. It is the embodiment of life beyond time where individuals finally realize their full created potential in relationship with God).
Earthly identities can be anything from roles within our families, national and ethnic identification, educational and vocational labels, to gender and sexual identities. All of these earthly identities begin to fade in the brilliant light of identity as citizens of God’s absolute, unhindered domain. Only this identity is eternal.
“Here,” explains the Apostle Paul, “there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11). Paul is listing common identities in the first century Roman Empire. He gives examples of national and ethnic identities, religious and gender-based identities, military identities and societal identities. They are examples, not meant to be exhaustive but to incorporate all temporal identities we humans gravitate toward embracing. In contrast, identity with Christ is unveiled as the supreme and quintessential identification available to us. When Christ is all to us we realize the true proportions of our existence—we discover all we were designed to be and do and experience.
So how do we live with this heavenly identity foremost in our minds? Are we relegated, as the saying goes, to ‘be so heavenly-minded we are of no earthly good’? We may remember Peter’s counsel that we live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear. Our citizenship in Christ’s eternal domain is to affect our daily living by giving us a reverence for life here on earth as created by and for God, and a hope for the life to come. We are to fear the consequences of destroying ourselves by embracing other identities—they all turn us little by little away from God, away from His love for us—and instead come in awe, daily, submitting ourselves to God’s plans for us. It is not easy but it is what our souls are designed for.
Join with countless followers of Christ as we hold citizenship in God’s kingdom in highest regard in our heart of hearts; we “set (our) hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1).
(Photo Credit: [[File:Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015. Author Mstyslav Chernov]