Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, had triple citizenship status. He was citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, and a Roman citizen. His subjection to the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, took precedence over the other two realms;“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil 3:20) In the world he was “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” Paul counted these things “loss” for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Yet he conformed to the ways of the Jews and honored the fact God had raised up the nation to bring Christ into the world. He earnestly desired Israel’s salvation. He amplified his apostleship to the Gentiles so that Gentile believers would share his perspective. Concerning his Roman citizenship, little is said about his appreciation other than having it by birth. He did use his status as a Roman to protect himself against the prosecution of the Jews. Ultimately, he appealed to Caesar and to Caesar he went. To what end did he honor Israel and use his Roman citizenship? It was for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law. . .” (I Cor. 9:19-21) The words of this inspired brother give us the right outlook as we wonder how to handle our joint citizenship of earthly dominions and the heavenly realm. The purpose of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ must be served. As citizens of America, we face the situation of participating in a Republic. Our vote and other political activities serve to support men who promise policies which align with our point of view. Yet, our participation in the Kingdom of Heaven precludes any forceful intervention causing people to conform. In other words, we cannot say “Repent or we’ll see to it that you get the lethal injection.” (I think this is the bottom line.) It seems a contradiction. One might conclude that the saints have no place in earthly politics. I don’t think we can escape having a place in earthly politics. However, such a place must be kept under the objective of the gospel.
There are some who advocate so called “militant christianity,” an in-your- face approach, making no excuses about the need to legislate such things in the name of the Lord that will be good for society. “Execute the offender, that the just might live in peace.” (My synopsis.) And it should be acknowledged the Lord does grant societies to use the death penalty. However, in the Kingdom of God judgement and vengeance are kept back until the return of Christ. The Kingdom’s function is for salvation, not for legislation.
From what stock do citizens of the Kingdom come? Do they all come from good, stable families? Law abiding citizens? People we want for neighbors? After all the Bible does say;“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Cor. 6:9-10) But the passage continues; “And such were some of you.” Thus every soul who comes to Christ has been in darkness. “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor. 6:11) Do we pick and choose prospects for salvation according to our liking? It is not for us to do. “God commands all men everywhere to repent.” The Spirit was very clear in helping every saved person to remember where they came from. “. . .We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” Statements like this found throughout the scriptures should deeply instill in each converted heart this knowledge; we are products of mercy, and not the fruit of good American policies. Therefore “militant christianity” is contrary to upholding the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One might say that our freedom to worship is a good American policy. No doubt. Let us be thankful. But are we any more special than the many who kept faith under oppressive regimes? Are we better than John Hus, who was willing to die (1415) rather than bow down to a form of government that wanted to dictate how God should be understood? I fear that undue desire to tailor a form of earthly government to our vision could serve to erect the very thing that murdered John Hus. Such a thing would be no better than godless communism. When the Emperor Constantine enacted legislation to give and uphold rights to the followers of Jesus, he also supported the horror of executing those religious minded who would not conform to the main stream. This was done at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Again, one might say; “How could such a thing happen in our time? I can’t see it.” Who would have foreseen that a mass of everyday people could rise up and say “Sieg Heil!?”
So how do we face our situation? The Bible teaches us to honor our government officials, therefore we have to recognize that earthly government contains honorable occupations. President, congressman, sheriff, soldier, and civil servant are all honorable occupations. My conviction is that as such, a follower of Jesus can be rightfully employed in these things, just as one might be a farmer or grocer. If we vote, we do participate. If we don’t vote, we we still participate by enjoying the benefits of those who do. (The Bible doesn’t say anything about Paul voting, but it does show him using his Roman citizenship extensively for protection.) That being said, we have to be clear in our minds; earthly governments are God-given temporary structures for the sake of temporary occupations (carpenters, lawyers, gas station attendants, mothers, fathers, janitors, preachers, etc.) They are given to prevent anarchy. [See Romans 13:3-4] A degree of stability is provided “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him.” (Acts 17:26) Earthly governments are not designed for the world to come. They will not ascend into glory. Therefore we can’t give our worldly cares priority when it comes to citizenship status. If we place our earthly status before the Kingdom of God, the cares of this world will choke out the Word so that it becomes unfruitful. If voting, we must vote without too much concern over the outcome. If we run for office, we must recognize that it is not the kingdom of heaven. The Lord’s wisdom on matters such as this were expressed though the apostle Paul; “But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away.” (I Cor. 7:29-31) Thus we are not to “misuse” this world. This includes its politics.
We may have an idea of what we want a society to be, but it may not conform to what God is willing to allow. Nebuchadnezzar, the one who burned Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, said this concerning the Lord; “How great are His signs, And how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And His dominion is from generation to generation.” (Dan.4:3) He learned this lesson from a voice in heaven; “. . .the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.” (Dan.4:32) Our political aspirations and ideals are not always harmonious with what God allows. Putting on the whole armor of God is not the same as cutting off Malchus’ right ear. Peter was willing for fight for Jesus with sword in hand, and Jesus told him to put away his sword. In other words, the cause of Christ is not advanced through carnal weapons. Through each follower of Jesus, the message of the gospel must be foremost. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood. . .” We have to allow the Spirit of God who “commands all men everywhere to repent,” to dwell in us. Subsequently, if we vote, let us do so with the understanding that even if our wishes come to pass, it may not turn out to be a happy thing. Remember why Nebuchadnezzar was given the heart of a beast for a period of times; “This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.”(Dan. 4:17)
It’s natural to want to identify with a place or a group. That’s how others are able to describe us – the humanly tangible and perceptible. How contrary the notion is though to who God would have us be. He makes us strangers to this world through obedience to Christ. And how strange a world it seems when you know that after just a few more moments we’ll be home for good. Strangers in a strange land no more.
This is an issue people of faith need to carefully consider. So many well intentioned people believe that a civil government ruling in the name of Christ is the ideal. However, civil authority has always been separate from religious authority in God’s designs. For instance, in the Old Law, the priesthood and royalty exercised duties independent from one another. Uzziah tried to blend the two to his own detriment (see 2 Chronicles 26:16ff). Furthermore, political leaders have always used religion as a means of controlling their constituency. Jeroboam recognized and exploited this soon after the kingdom of Israel split (see 1 Kings 12:25ff). Government and religion seems like a marriage made in heaven for everyone except those who live under such a yoke.
While we should exercise our divinely-endorsed legal duties as citizens, true Christian political activism takes place in the prayer closet, not the picket line; by kneeling down, not, “sitting in”; with benediction, not bullets. (1 Timothy 2:1-4) If we question the effectiveness of such an approach, we might well question the strength of our own convictions.
“For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)