“But our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20)
The historical pattern of the Bible has consistently emphasized the alien nature of those who place their faith in GOD. We see that clearly as the story progresses from the pilgrimage of Abraham through that of his son, Isaac and grandson, Jacob through Joseph’s captivity and eventual reign in Egypt, the enslavement of the Jews, their exodus 400 years later, and their subsequent desert wanderings. GOD’s people have always been aliens and pilgrims, physically and/or spiritually seeking a place to call home.
In both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and in the New Testament, this theme is always a subtext. The “promised land” of national Israel is a foretaste of the heavenly promise for those whose trust is in the Lord, who the Bible attests (I believe) to be Jesus Christ.
I was with a group of people praying most of last week and, on one day in the middle of prayer, the thought came to me that many of us who claim faith struggle, often unknowingly, with some of the same issues that earthly immigrants do upon seeking and moving to a new homeland. High on that list is slowness to develop skills in the language of the new land and a gravitation to the comfortable, well-known cultural norms of the old homeland. Learning a new language and new cultural norms is difficult and it is natural to fall back on the familiar. Because of the nature of my current professional role, I witness a lot of this. f
The Apostle Paul, on several occasions, promotes the mystical view that the citizenship of the faithful is a settled matter: it is in heaven. All of his teaching, therefore emphasizes language and norms that are heaven-based, not earthly. These norms are largely alien to this world. Take for example Paul’s instruction on love, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). This is an earthly exception, but it is the heavenly norm.
Foreign to heaven are earthly norms like situational ethics, possessiveness, intolerance, envy, fear, defensiveness, anger, verbal aggression including the many forms of micro-aggression to which we can subject others such as sarcasm, discourtesy, condescension and passive-aggressiveness, along with physical aggression, and retributive “justice” (i.e. and eye for an eye).
How many “believers” are still more comfortable living according to the norms common to their natural earthly habitat and are not earnestly seeking, striving to assimilate the heavenly norms into their lives? Admittedly, it’s a stretch to do that, but so is learning another language or learning enough about a country’s history and institutions to comfortably pass a citizenship test. I think the transformation to heavenly thinking and behavior while still on earth is essential to the inner peace we all want and to the quality of our witness to the many who are watching.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2021. All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.