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Dear Christian friends,
At a different time people referred to people referred toAmericaas a “melting pot.” I always understood that to mean that people immigrated toAmericaand adopted American culture and language and all became a harmonious group of people. Now, however, the term “melting pot” has become politically incorrect. Some say that ‘melting pot’ is a term of prejudice. It infers that other cultures are inferior. The politically correct now use the termAmericais a ‘salad bowl’ or a ‘mosaic’ where people retain their culture and language and customs. People want us to embrace multi-culturalism and individual and ethnic identity.
Life can certainly be complicated, can’t it? We need to be reminded and put into practice what Paul said, “Be all things to all people,” but what God’s people really need to know is that all people are sinners and they need Jesus. We are here to tell them. When we know Jesus “Our Citizenship is in Heaven.” That’s what Paul speaks to us about today. 1) What that means for now; 2) What it means for the future.
Living as a citizen of heaven is not some kind of trailblazing concept. It is not like invent the wheel all over again. The apostle encourages us to find an example and imitate that person.
I am sure that when some read what Paul has to say they are offended when he says, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” You heard that right. Paul encourages us to follow his example and tell others to follow his example.
That sounds pretty arrogant, doesn’t it? Yet imitation is exactly what Scripture tells us elsewhere. The writer of Hebrews says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Parents, children imitate you. That’s what you want, so set a good example for them. Since you are a Christian, make sure you live a life that is imitation-worthy.
But then look at Paul’s life a little closer. He was a man leveled by God’s law and deserved every bit of it. He had a life BC and AD. “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” He had a life where he had nothing to do with Jesus Christ except to fight him.
But Paul went on humbly to say, “But God, set me apart from birth and called me by his grace.” If you are going to imitate Paul, understand like Paul that you are the object of God’s mercy. He loved you with a special love and forgave every sin you have ever committed. Know that as Paul knew that.
And I do mean every sin. Any and every sin condemns us before God. The soul that sins is the one who will die. Yet there are sins that just seem worse than others. Murder tops the list. While committing murder by snuffing someone’s life from them has not been committed by anyone here, yet each of us carries around sins that plague and antagonize us. It even seems impossible to shake the guilt. Yet, remember and remember well, it is not the size of the sin that keeps people from the mercy of God but the lack of faith to believe that God can be so merciful that keeps people from heaven.
Remember well how that applied to Paul. He persecuted Christians and partook in their death. He was guilty of murder. Paul admitted, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But he didn’t stop there, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.”
No, you haven’t done something so bad that God doesn’t forgive you! Learn that from God, but see it in Paul. Imitate his faith. That’s how a citizen of heaven does.
You can see the effect that had on his life. He was on fire for Jesus, zealous to have Jesus the center piece of his life. He was willing to suffer anything that needed to be suffered for Jesus. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
The second letter to Timothy is the last letter Paul wrote. His death was not of natural causes, but because he loved Jesus. Yet look how he died, a man full of faith in the one who called him to faith, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
“Oh, for a faith that will not shrink
Though tossed by many a foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
Of poverty or woe.”
Imitate the faith of Paul, God’s called by grace servant. That’s how to live now as a citizen of heaven.
As we live as citizens of heaven, we stand with Jesus but we also stand up for Jesus. Standing up for Jesus means living a life of discernment. It is the skill to differentiate. It is the ability to see issues clearly. We need this spiritual skill so we know right from wrong, to distinguish light from darkness, truth from error, righteousness from unrighteousness. It is a gift that we need to ask the good Lord for.
We also need to recognize the enemies of Jesus and his people. “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” There is no way of knowing from these verses if Paul is specifically referring to people whom he taught and had now become enemies of Jesus like he had once been. Yet be clear on this that anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is an enemy of Jesus. “You are with me or against me,” Jesus once said.
There is only one direction that those who are not with him are going – destruction – to outer darkness, Jesus once said, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
As citizens of heaven we recognized the characteristics of the enemies of Christ. But remember that these characteristics are part and parcel of the sinful nature inside of us. Paul identifies three characteristics: 1) Their God is their stomach. When the goal in life is self- satisfaction and personal pleasure; when life is all about self! 2) Their glory is their shame. Committing sin and bragging about it as if it is cool. The drunk who brags how sloshed he got; the adulterer who brags about how many notches are on the belt; the golfer that brags about choosing the four iron over the fourth pew and needed time with Jesus; the student who boasts about the cheating he did. Have you ever bragged about sin? 3) Their mind is on earthly things. I don’t know who said it, but ask yourself if this is your motto. “Let the mind of the master be the master of your mind.” Forgive me Lord for the times it has not. Recognize the characteristics of Jesus’ enemies.
Remember that you ARE a citizen of heaven. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Remember who you are, God’s child. You are a citizen of heaven. Notice he doesn’t say we “could be” or “might be” citizens of heaven, we are citizens of heaven. That thought was significant when one considers the context of these words. Philippi was the city where Paul’s rights as a citizen ofRome were infringed upon. He was arrested and flogged and tossed into prison and not given due process of law. When Paul reminded everyone of his Roman citizenship, all became afraid because his rights were violated.
As citizens of heaven we have rights and privileges that we enjoy. We have a right to due process. We can go before our righteous and holy God in heaven, no less, and expect to hear the words “not guilty” pronounced over us. This is true because all our sins were transferred to Jesus and paid by his blood. He was guilty for our sins so we could be innocent. That is a right we have as his people, as citizens of heaven right now.
As citizens of heaven we also know what that means for the future. “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.” The Savior who forgives us is the Savior who “brings everything under his control.” There is nothing he can’t do. He promises to bring us into heaven, but not as we are. He promises to transform “our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
On Judgment Day the bodies of believers of all believers will be united again with the immortal soul. Our bodies will be made like Jesus’ glorious body. In the Old Testament (book of Daniel) God promises that “those who are wise will shine like he brightness of he heaven, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” I am not so sure that we can understand what that all means but such promises sounds awesome.
But when he says that we will have a glorious body, what does that mean? From the great resurrection chapter of the Bible - I Corinthians 15 - “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” Most clearly, there will be no more undertakers, coffins and graves or obituaries. Never again will anyone die. In fact, each believer will have a spiritual body. Again it is hard to say what that means. Usually spirits are invisible, but we will have bodies. Job said in the Old Testament, “In my flesh I will see God…my eyes will see him and not another.” When Paul says that we will have a body like Jesus’ glorious body, remember how he met his disciples at the seaside after the resurrection and said, “Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” When they still did not believe him he ate a piece of broiled fish and ate it in their presence. Maybe that means we will eat in heaven too. I hope it isn’t just fish! If it is, I hope it is like Longhorn makes it and I hope it is deep-fried.
When it says that we will have spiritual bodies it means that we will no longer be subject to sin and temptation. We will be fully in tune with God’s will. No longer will we carry around this traitorous part of us inside of us that hurts others and sins against God. We will be 100% new nature and 0% sinful nature. We will live in its fullness as citizens in heaven.
Until that day let’s live as citizens of heaven now.