As some of you know, for about the first half of the year immigration and visa woes plagued my travels back and forth from the US. While we actually managed to sort out everything every time and I was able to leave and return as I pleased, it was a complicated process (that I’m thankful other people mostly navigated for me). Mexico changed their immigration laws this year, likely as a response to the strict immigration requirements the US has enacted for Mexicans (though getting in to Mexico is still nothing compared to getting into America, I’m told). I’ve traveled across the Mexico-US border an impressive 11 times this year (with one more coming in less than three weeks) and have spent hours of my life in immigration and customs lines, with most of the time spent wishing I was a dual citizen and could have short lines both ways.
Recently in church we read a passage of scripture dealing with our status as citizens of heaven, and I was struck by the importance of those words. There are more benefits of citizenship than simply “belonging” and having a home, which is how I’ve usually considered those passages about being a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Obviously, the United States of America wasn’t even discovered yet at the time the New Testament was written, but I think there is something to be gleaned from looking at the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship according to the US government (which can be found here in case you’re finding this post on a search for why to become an actual US citizen).
Today we’ll look specifically at the benefits, or rights, of citizens. It’s important to note that these are rights exclusively afforded to citizens, so for example, the right to reside here is not listed because that is also afforded to non-citizens. What those rights would mean metaphorically for the Kingdom of Heaven (does God issue tourist visas? Green cards?) is a little more theologically heady and not ground we’ll be treading here.
Benefits of Citizenship:
1. Voting (Participation in the Future of the Country):
This was a Roman Citizen’s right as well, and therefore part of what Paul would have meant when he talked about us as citizens of heaven (Eph. 2:19). As Christians, we are able to participate in the future of God’s Kingdom.
Let that sink in.
God doesn’t need us, but yet He allows us to be used. It’s not full-on democracy, but I wouldn’t disagree with saying that prayer is a little bit like the electoral college. And therefore it is both our right and our responsibility to participate in the future of the Kingdom through prayer, worship, and fellowship.
2. Bringing others in to the country:
This was also a right of a Roman citizen, in that the children of a Roman citizen would be Roman citizens. As citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, we are able to go before God on behalf of others in the world and petition for their citizenship, as well as live lives that draw others into the Kingdom, that make the Kingdom attractive.
Additionally and importantly, our exclusive means of entry into this Kingdom is through the only One who has the credentials to enter on His own, but who graciously is granted the means to bring others into the country if we will simply take His hand. Who he chooses and how he chooses those who enter is beyond the scope of this particular post (and something we probably won’t really fully understand until we’re in that short line at immigration), but it is clear that whoever enters the Kingdom enters on His request and because of His work.
3. Traveling with a US Passport and Getting Assistance from the Government While Abroad:
If the metaphor is that we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, then we are strangers and aliens here (1 Peter 2:11). But we are not left without help in this world. As citizens of heaven, we are given assistance while “abroad” in the form of the Holy Spirit and other believers and the work of God in the world. **Note: In the Kingdom of God, I’m not entirely behind the idea that this is a right given exclusively to citizens (common grace and all that) but I would say that it is one promised to citizens that perhaps isn’t promised to tourists. Or perhaps the Kingdom of Heaven is more inclusive in this right because it is more inclusive in its citizenship.
4. Showing your Patriotism (Demonstrate your commitment to your new country):
It is important to note that the US government considers this a benefit of citizenship, and therefore not strictly a responsibility. Because we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we have the opportunity to publicly label ourselves as such.
Sometimes I am embarrassed by church affairs and disputes and want to hide my “patriotic colors” in the closet for a while, but those colors are a blessing of being a citizen of a kingdom that lasts forever. Some of the things that happen in the name of the kingdom of heaven are not, in fact, supported by the kingdom, just as is true in any country on Earth today. I can still be a proud citizen when other proud citizens are sullying the country’s name and reputation; indeed, if I am not, there will be nothing but sullying happening.
What do you think? Are the rights of US citizens translatable to our rights as citizens of the Kingdom without end? Check back tomorrow for the responsibilities of US citizens and their parallels in the Kingdom of Heaven.