The last post, I’m Not Going To Heaven, was a paradigm shift for many folks, and I received a few questions about it.
Here’s one from Philippians 3:20
“…But our citizenship is in heaven.”
Doesn’t that mean we are going to reside in Heaven when we die?
I believe the word “heaven” has become a metonym for a place to reside in the after life, and although that meaning is close, it’s not accurate–and not based on the Bible.
Would you join me as I consider the possibility that Heaven is actually the government seat of a sovereign empire known as the Kingdom of God– Like Westminster is to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Commonwealth of Nations, and what it means to be a citizen of heaven?
Psalm 103:19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all
Isaiah 66:1 This is what the Lord says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.
Matthew 5:34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
If Heaven is the seat of government of the sovereign state known as the Kingdom of God, what does it mean to be a citizen?
Under the government of a sovereign state, commonwealth, or empire, citizenship confers authority (rights & responsibilities). Could the early church, existing under the oppressive Roman government, have understood the gospel message to be more about an invitation to citizenship – in a new sovereign state – namely the Kingdom of God, and less about scoring a ticket to an eternal vacation?
Colossians 1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
How do you become a citizen?
In many countries, citizenship is conferred at least 5 different ways.
Thinking about these ways of conferring citizenship may shed an interesting light on some Christian teachings, understandings, and interpretations of the gospel message.
Following is a list of the 5 ways to citizenship:
I. Be born within the borders of the sovereign state, its territories, or outlying possessions.
As I understand this qualification for citizenship one would have to be born in Heaven. Uh…next way please.
II. Be born abroad of parents who are citizens of the sovereign state.
So…Sons of God?
Luke 3:38 Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.
Genesis 6:2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
Genesis 6:4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
Job 1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them.
Job 2:1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord.
Job 38:7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Matthew 18:3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
Romans 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
Romans 8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
Romans 8:19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
Philippians 2:15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
Galatians 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
1 John 3:1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
1 John 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
John 3:3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
John 3:7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
1 Peter 1:23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
III. Be adopted by a citizen of the sovereign state.
So… adopted by God?
Romans 8:15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Romans 8:23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
Romans 9:4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
Galatians 4:5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
Ephesians 1:5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—
IV. Marriage to a citizen.
Ephesians 5:30-32 for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Revelation 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
V. Naturalization – In Many Countries Its A Process That Requires 6 Steps:
1) Give up all prior allegiance to any other sovereignty –
Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Acts 5:31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
2) Swear allegiance to the new sovereign state –
Matthew 10:32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.
Luke 12:8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.
3) Learn the language and culture of the new sovereign state –
Genesis 6:12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.
Leviticus 18:24 “‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.
Leviticus 18:30 Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them.
Leviticus 20:23 You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them.
Deuteronomy 18:9 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there.
2 Kings 17:33 They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
2 Chronicles 7:14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Esther 3:8 Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.
Psalm 95:10 For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’
Psalm 106:35 but they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs.
Isaiah 2:3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
Isaiah 55:9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Jeremiah 7:3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.
Jeremiah 12:16 And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people.
Jeremiah 25:5 They said, “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the Lord gave to you and your ancestors for ever and ever.
Ezekiel 16:47 You not only followed their ways and copied their detestable practices, but in all your ways you soon became more depraved than they.
Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.
Revelation 15:3 and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations.
4) Support and defend the fundamental principles, or established laws, which constitute the sovereign state, and its governance –
Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Hebrews 8:10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
James 2:8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
1 John 3:9-11 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
Ephesians 5:1-5 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
5) Serve the interest of the sovereign state –
Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Matthew 18:18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Luke 17:3-5 So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sistersins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
John 20:23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Ephesians 5:18-20 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 8:17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Philippians 3:10-12 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Colossians 1:12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light
Hebrews 3:1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.
Hebrews 12:14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
1 Peter 1:13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.
1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
2 Peter 1:4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
1 Corinthians 16:15-16 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it.
Ephesians 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Hebrews 13:17 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
6) Good moral character
1 Corinthians 6:8-10 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with mennor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-23 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Ephesians 5:4-5 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
“Aren’t just you quoting many of the same verses that have been used to “make” converts for generations. Isn’t this mincing words?”
For generations Christians have suggested – implied – that if you will just say the magic words in the right way, you will be magically changed into a Christian. Then all the old sinful temptations will pass away and your character, health, marriage, and finances will be transformed to a new glorious, Christ-like, status.
To persuade people that this magic is real, we manipulate their emotions with persuasive sermons, lights and music, and seize upon moments of vulnerability. Weeks, months, years later when they grow weary of waiting for the magic to happen – they give up. And when they do, we blame them, say they must have sin in their lives, label them “backsliders” and distance ourselves from them – lest their unbelief rub off on us.
We don’t behave this way toward new citizens – maybe because we don’t expect the birth, or adoption, or marriage, or naturalization process to magically transform them. What we all recognize is that citizenship confers legal rights and responsibilities – and that’s it.
Just new, legal authority.
That’s the difference.
No doubt there’s a lot more to the idea of “citizenship in heaven” than we can cover in this post. This is a short and incomplete review – just enough to provoke a re-thinking of the traditional presentation of the gospel and “salvation.”
Should we consider framing the gospel as an invitation to legally transfer citizenship?
Would doing so more accurately portray what really takes place and more properly set expectations?
How would an understanding of citizenship, with it’s legal rights and responsibilities, align with Jesus’ prayer that the kingdom would come, his will would be done, on Earth as in Heaven?