The point is that heaven is the place from which we get our identity. Our lives as we live in this world reflect the character of heaven and the Christ who is in heaven. As we enter daily into our places of work, into our homes, and even into our churches, heaven goes with us. Even with all of our sinfulness, we reflect the holiness of God which is defined in his law. We must be busy spreading the Kingdom of God as long as God gives us life here on earth.
One favorite passage of the “two-kingdom” proponents is the quote from Philippians 3:20 where Paul says that “our citizenship is in heaven.” From this text, there often arises a retreat from the responsibility to apply the law of God to all areas of life including political science, economics, mathematics, sociology, etc. These are considered worldly concerns. We are told that we must be heavenly-minded because our citizenship is in heaven. Theology is limited to “spiritual issues.”
In the political realm, there seems to be only two choices—either liberal humanism or conservative humanism. Christianity has been relegated to just another “pie-in-the-sky” religion partly because Christians themselves believe that their citizenship is in heaven. As such, they really have almost nothing to say about the issues of the world in which we live. It’s time to debunk this myth!
We have created our own “safe space” in the church building where what is said on Sunday has little to do with what is going on in the world around us. Political issues that relate to the law of God will definitely be discussed in the foyer after the worship service, but seldom in church from the pulpit.
In Philippians 3:20, the King James Version translates the word “citizenship” as the word “conversation.” The word “conversation” is right out of antiquity, and it means “our manner of life.” Our manner of life in this world results from that which is in heaven. This is all that Paul is saying, and nothing more. The Greek word translated “citizenship” is derived from “polis” which means “city.” The NASV in the margin translates it as “commonwealth.” The “commonwealth of heaven” is not a relationship with another world that facilitates our escape from responsibility to apply the law of God to all areas of life in this world. It is the place that is the source of our character and deeds as Christians living here on this earth.
The point is that heaven is the place from which we get our identity. Our lives as we live in this world reflect the character of heaven and the Christ who is in heaven. As we enter daily into our places of work, into our homes, and even into our churches, heaven goes with us. Even with all of our sinfulness, we reflect the holiness of God which is defined in his law. We must be busy spreading the Kingdom of God as long as God gives us life here on earth. Anything less is a type of existentialism. It is akin to the philosophy which implies that the world began when I was born and it ends when I die. Also, it is non-covenantal. There is no future orientation other than heaven itself. The “citizenship in heaven” motif must not become an excuse that prevents us from applying the law of God to the issues of the world in which we live, and it must not inhibit us from leaving a Christian culture where our children’s children can thrive.
The antithesis in Christianity is not between the body and the spirit. It is between sin and righteousness. I am afraid that the old Greek-dualism of body and spirit has had too much influence on our theology. For example, Abraham was a stranger in a foreign land not because he was in a physical body, but because he was in a land full of idolatry. Abraham was looking for a city whose builder and maker is God, a city void of idolatry. He died without seeing that city, but a partial realization of that city would come later in the City of Jerusalem. It will come yet in its perfection when the New Jerusalem comes “down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2).
This is not to deny the effect of sin on our physical bodies and the hope that our sick bodies will be transformed that we might live on a new earth in peace and good health (2 Peter 3:13). Anyone with a serious or chronic illness must maintain this hope.
We are strangers here on earth because it is full of idolatry, not because we are in the body and our citizenship is in heaven. Our goal while we now have life on this earth is to preach the gospel and pray that God’s will “be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). Let us reconsider this misunderstanding of our citizenship being in heaven, and transform our minds to do the Lord’s will here on earth in every area of life (Rms. 12:2).
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.