“Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that — whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent — I should hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel, and by not being intimidated in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign of their destruction, but of your salvation — a sign which is from God.” (Phil 1:27-28)
Is it coincidence that we find ourselves in this politically charged, counter-imperial passage on the weekend we honor the memories of all the brave, fallen patriots of this nation? Let us honor and remember our American heroes today; but let us never confuse our American citizenship with our primary allegiance to Christ’s very different sort of Kingdom.
Christians are not citizens of this current world order. We are not primarily good Americans. (Though, I am thankful I was lucky enough to have been born here and grateful for the freedoms we enjoy.) Our primary allegiance is NOT to the American flag (though we can honor that too). Our marching orders are not delineated in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, and our highest values are not “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We are certainly NOT called to live lives worthy of the “American Dream.” I submit that the American Dream may be the single, most significant obstacle to understanding and embracing the true, radical teachings of Jesus and his Kingdom that is “not of this world.”
This entire letter to the Philippians is saturated with counter-imperial messages that challenge the Jesus followers there to make Him their sole King and only allegiance. Paul’s main message is this: “As citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
We are citizens of heaven. We are loyal subjects of another King. We pledge our primary allegiance to the Cross of Christ and the Kingdom He is advancing through Calvary-like love. We are called to live lives worthy of this gospel. The current world is passing away, and we are called to be the forerunners of a new, inbreaking world set in motion on the Cross and with the Resurrection and to come in full in the future. “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). ” For the present shape of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31).
God is looking for loyal emissaries willing to set up faithful colonies that manifest Christlike love and values to the onlooking world around them. These “resident aliens” will inhabit the land, live peacefully among non-Christians, slowly drawing them into their remarkable counter-cultural life, evidenced by their unity of heart, mind and mission. Our mission and calling is not to seek our own life, freedom and personal happiness. Rather, we are called to “lose our life” for the sake of others (Luke 17:33), to become “slaves of Christ” (Eph 6:6) where we’ll find ultimate freedom, and “seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness” (Mark 6:33). This is a life worthy of the gospel of Christ. This is a life that sets us up like a city on a hill, with everyone looking on and liking what they see.
“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.”
For more on this central teaching on Christian identity and kingdom citizenship I recommend reading Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, The Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd or Jesus For President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne.