My wife, Sylvie, grew up in southern France. After living in the United States for almost thirty years, she still hasn’t become an American citizen. It’s not that she’s anti-American or afraid of the civics test. She’s fluent in English and appreciates the way America welcomes immigrants. She’s concerned lest pledging allegiance to the United States be viewed as a betrayal of her past, her family, and her identity. You can take the girl out of France, but you can’t take France out of the girl.
To what—or to whom—do we give our ultimate allegiance? According to the apostle Paul, Christians are “citizens of heaven.” The Bible is the story of how “strangers and aliens” become naturalized—“fellow citizens” with God’s people (ephesians 2:19). It’s all about how people from many nations become a unified people set apart for God. The Bible names Israel and the church alike a “holy nation” (exodus 19:6; 1 peter 2:9).
We’re going to explore the connection between reading the Bible rightly and becoming a citizen of heaven. You can’t become an American citizen simply by respecting the Constitution; you have to pass the test. In the same way, you can’t be a citizen of heaven simply by having a high view of the Bible, knowing what it says cover to cover. Citizenship happens only when people are united to Christ through faith and begin to be transformed into his image (romans 8:29). As Jesus explains to his disciples, unless one if born again it is not possible even to see the kingdom of God (john 3:3).
Citizenship, whether national or celestial, is both a privilege and a responsibility. Along with certain perks come certain duties. If “[f]or freedom Christ has set us free” (galatians 5:1), what do Christians need to know in order to use their freedom for the glory of God?
Kevin J Vanhoozer