Who Am I ? - I Am a Citizen of Heaven
Topic: Changed Lives Passage: Philippians 3:20–21
Who Am I? Finding Our Identity in Christ
Grace Community Church
June 26, 2016
Who Am I? I Am a Citizen of Heaven
This morning we're going to be wrapping up the series we've been in on our identity in Christ. Starting next week, we're going to spend the rest of the summer learning from Jesus' most famous sermon, the sermon on the mount. There are many other things that could be said about our identity in Christ, but I thought it'd be appropriate to close this series out by looking at one of the most exciting benefits of what Christ has accomplished for us: in Christ we are citizens of heaven.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21 ESV)
In 1911 Joe Hill wrote a parody of the hymn "In the Sweet By and By". It was written with poor migrant workers and the hard life they lived in mind. The 1st verse and chorus goes:
Long-haired preachers come out every night. Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right. But when asked how 'bout something to eat, they will answer in voices so sweet: (Chorus) You will eat, bye and bye, in that glorious land above the sky. Work and pray, live on hay, you'll get pie in the sky when you die.
A lot of people believe that thinking about heaven offers as much practical help to living life today as singing pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye offers practical help to poor and suffering migrant workers. We've all heard the saying "don't be so heavenly minded that you're of no earthly good". When I first heard that I thought it sounded like pretty good advice, but the Bible actually tells us the opposite is true. We can be so earthly minded that we're of no earthly OR heavenly good, but being heavenly minded doesn't cause us to check out of the realities of this life, it helps us to deal with them from a better perspective. The Bible says that we become MORE useful here the more our hearts are invested there. In the preceding verses Paul writes with tears about a group of people who "walk as enemies of the cross" and says their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (vs. 19). But God has called us to better things. We are citizens of heaven and as such we should "set our minds on things above, not on things that are on earth" (Col. 3:2). If we want to have a greater impact while we're here on earth we should cultivate a greater, not lesser, longing for heaven in our hearts.
There is a longing in every person's heart for heaven
The fact is everyone has a deep longing in their heart for heaven, whether they recognize it or not. Ecclesiastes says that God has set eternity in men's hearts. This explains why nothing on this earth ever seems to totally satisfy. It's like we have an itch that nothing here can scratch. I heard a well known commentator talk about how when he was younger he believed that money was the answer to everything. But as he gained more and more wealth, he also felt his life becoming more and more empty. At the point where he had everything money could buy, he was nihilistic and suicidal. The more earthly goods he had, the less meaning life seemed to have.
God made us for more than this earth has in its fallen state. Have you ever had one of those near-perfect days, maybe by a lake or a campfire or with good friends, and you think, "it doesn't get any better than
this"? The truth is, the best days on this earth won't be half what the worst days in heaven will be.
A lot of people think of heaven as an ethereal, other-worldly, place where you sit on a cloud all day playing a harp. Pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye. And so it's no wonder that this life, with interesting stuff like eating a steak or playing football or listening to a concert or watching a beautiful sunset, seems so much better and so much more real. But the Bible doesn't paint a picture of harps and clouds and pie in the sky. In fact, God created us as physical creatures designed to live in a real world and that is what heaven will be.
So what happens when a believer dies? The Bible says they are immediately in the presence of the Lord in a perfect and glorious place. This past week I was at a pastor's lunch and sat next to Pastor Dave Hackett from the Hope Church. He told me about when he was being operated on to have a stent put in to repair a clogged artery, and he was conscious throughout the operation. At one point he heard the doctor say to his assistants, "this is the touch and go part". And then he said he actually felt his spirit begin to detach from his body. It was like nothing he had ever felt before and he thought to himself, I am going to die. As he began to leave his body, his body felt like a mass of wet clay, but his spirit felt like an Arabian horse - full of energy and ready to leave! He said his spirit knew exactly where it was going. Eccles. 12:7 says: the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. His spirit was ready to go to God, but then, all of a sudden, something in the operation worked and his spirit rejoined his body. The doctor would later tell him there was a point where he thought he was going to lose him. When the believer dies, the spirit knows exactly where to go: to God who gave it. The Bible says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
At that moment we will be amazed to see Jesus face to face. To stand in the presence of God the Father. To experience the unrestrained power of the Holy Spirit. But that's just the beginning of what God has planned for us! He is going to make a new and perfect earth, and He will resurrect us in perfect, and physical, bodies. Paul says Jesus will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.
The limitations we all live with now will be done away with. Infirmities will be healed, imperfections will be removed, weakness will be a thing of the past. Jesus' resurrected body seem to defy the law of physics - it was solid, but it could pass through walls and he could appear wherever he wanted to. We're not going to be ethereal ghosts, we'll be solid, but if we're like Christ we will not be limited by the laws of physics. When we talk about living on the New Earth rather than in heaven, I don't think that means we are limited to the New Earth. We are citizens of heaven. There's free passage from earth to God's heaven, and both are heaven.
There is biblical reason to believe that life will be a lot like this earth, only on supernatural steroids. We will eat, we will travel, we will work, we will laugh and we will recognize and enjoy each other. Only without sickness, without fear, without frustration, without death, and without end. The things that we enjoy on this earth we will enjoy on the new earth, only it will be much, much better. Randy Alcorn in his book Heaven, writes,
The most ordinary moment on the New Earth will be greater than the most perfect moments in this life - those experiences you wanted to bottle or hang on to but couldn't. It can get better, far better, than this - and it will. Life on the New Earth will be like sitting in front of the fire with family and friends, basking in the warmth, laughing uproariously, dreaming of the adventures to come - and then going out and living those adventures together. With no fear that life will ever end or that tragedy will descend like a dark cloud. With no fear that dreams will be shattered or relationships broken.1
It's not pie in the sky, it's real life here on earth - only better than we can imagine and what we all long for deep within. Rather than live with an inner nagging sense of unsatisfied longings and disappointments and unfulfilled dreams, the Bible says our hearts will be overwhelmed with joy - Isa. 60: 5 says, then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy… There is a longing in our hearts for heaven.
Christians are pilgrims on earth and citizens of heaven
Notice that Paul doesn't say that our citizenship will be in heaven one day. Right now our citizenship is in heaven. This is our residence, heaven is our home. Now, let me again say that this doesn't turn us into "pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye" kind of people. It doesn't make us unengaged and unreliable people, just the opposite. In the narrow view, we are actually dual citizens. We are blessed to be citizens of the United States of America and this weekend we proudly celebrate the signing of the declaration of independence and the freedoms and blessings we enjoy as Americans. I love this great country! But we never want to forget that as Christians we are also citizens of heaven. Dual citizenship. In Acts 22 Paul claims to be a citizen of Rome. Being a citizen of heaven didn't disengage him from being a citizen of Rome. But it changed his priorities - the priorities of the kingdom of heaven became his priorities, and because of that, he sought to be a good citizen of Rome, up to the point that it didn't clash with the priorities of heaven.
I say that we are citizens of USA in a narrow sense because the deeper reality is that in terms of this life, this planet, and everything that has to do with earth, we are pilgrims just passing through. Speaking of those who died without seeing the fulfillment of God's promises Hebrews 11:13-16 says: 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Think about that: we are pilgrims and aliens in the only place we have ever known, and our true home is a place that we have never seen and never experienced. When you stop to think about it, that is really strange! This earth, this life, is all I've ever known. It encapsulates all my experienced life. In the natural, to leave this life and this planet is to leave everything I've ever known and what seems to my senses to be everything there is. But faith in the promises of God found in the bible, tells us that not only is this life NOT everything there is, but it isn't even the main thing there is. This reality is far less real than the reality of heaven. It's the appetizer for something much, much better. You and I are pilgrims, just passing through. Heaven is our home.
That is faith. Faith sees what our eyes have never seen. This isn't our home. When we talk of a believer
passing, we say they have gone home to be with the Lord. And that fact interacts with this life in amazingly powerful ways.
It means that everything we do here has incredible meaning. Eternal life won't be a completely new existence, it will be a continuation of our existence, albeit in a glorified state in a glorified place. We will remember our lives, our friendships, our activities on this planet, although our memories will be purified and filtered.
Life on earth matters more, not less because of our eternal hope in Christ. The reality is, when we think this life is the only life there is, that when we die it's the end of the road, rather than leading to wise and productive living, it leads to a foolish, live-for-today, grab all the gusto you can kind of living. It drives people to be greedy, or selfish, or seek pleasure more than anything, all things that come from a nihilistic, "life-is-meaningless, it doesn't matter what I do in the end" kind of thinking. Randy Alcorn makes this observation: When we grasp the reality of the New Earth, our present, earthly lives suddenly matter. Conversations with loved ones matter. The taste of food matters. Work, leisure, creativity, and intellectual stimulation matter. Rivers and trees and flowers matter. Laughter matters. Service matters. Why? Because they are eternal.
Life on Earth matters not because it's the only life we have, but precisely because it isn't - it's the beginning of a life that will continue without end. 2
The second powerful effect this has on us is that it means we will have opportunities that we maybe never had on this earth. Last week Janice and I went to the Albert Speer memorial park just as the sun was setting, and we watched a beautiful sunset. We couldn't help but think of God's creative glory displayed in that sunset. But think of the person born blind, who never once will have the opportunity to see a sunset in his life. Think about the person born lame, who dreams of running through a field, but never will. The young boy who wanted to play baseball but can't because he was born with a heart disease that prevents vigorous physical activities. Opportunities missed. Or the young girl whose life is tragically cut short by a car accident and will never know what it is to have a sweet sixteen party or get married or have children or rock grandchildren on her knee. Opportunities she will never have. Or the mother whose child is taken tragically early and lives with the heartache of a million missed opportunities.
But it's not limited to those kinds of missed opportunities. Have you ever considered that it's possible that the smartest person God ever created never learned to read because he or she never had the opportunity? Or that the most naturally gifted musician ever born was never able to learn an instrument because none were available? What opportunities might you have missed, roads you chose not to take, but maybe now wonder what if?
For the believer, these aren't missed opportunities, they are delayed opportunities. The blind will one day see sunsets that will dwarf anything we've seen. The lame will run and dance and walk. The young life cut short will live those opportunities out. The young girl will get married…to the perfect bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and she will sit at a wedding feast and laugh and cry and experience all the joy - multiplied a 1000x - that she ever could have in this life.
My dad wrote poetry and several poems he wrote were based on real life interactions he and I had when I was a young boy. In one such poem a dad is helping his 8 year old son with his geography lesson and the boy asks about Africa and the father fills his head with images of lions and tigers and elephants and other amazing wonders and adventures, so much so that the boy asks, "can we ever go there?" And the father replies "maybe someday, son." And as the boy goes to bed with his head filled with dreams of lions and tigers, the father walks sadly back into the living room, because he knows they will never go there. He is a low wage worker barely making ends meet and such dreams are beyond his reach. When I read this poem, I felt like I was seeing a window into my dad's heart and his discouragement and disappointment in life. I felt the sense of sadness and failure that my dad might have felt as he wrote this poem. He died at the age of 38 - having never gone to Africa. But one day - he'll be able to tour all the nations on the New Earth and there will be lions and tigers and elephants and other wonders. Not a missed opportunity, a delayed opportunity.
There is a longing in our hearts for heaven, we are citizens of heaven and pilgrims on earth. And the last point is this:
The way to keep our hearts in heaven is to put our treasure in heaven
As citizens of heaven, we should actively seek to make the priorities of heaven our own priorities. Jesus tells us the way we can do that is by investing our treasure in heaven. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be. Let's close by considering two ways we do that.
By loving Jesus. The most glorious thing about heaven - the greatest treasure- will be that we will be with Jesus, we will be with God. All the other joys, discoveries, and adventures, will be dwarfed by the joy, discovery, and adventure of knowing and being with God. Our enjoyment of everything else, including our relationships with each other, will be enhanced by God being at the center of it all.
It's all too easy for our Christian walk to become a head-centered thing: I believe certain truths and doctrines and therefore I am a Christian. But what keeps us in Christ isn't head knowledge alone, but a growing love and affection for Christ. Jesus is the bread of life and the living water. Being a Christian is hungering and thirsting for Christ and finding our satisfaction in him. So love Jesus and seek to fan that flame of love in your heart.
By serving the kingdom. Investing (storing) treasure is a metaphor for what we invest our lives in. If you have Apple stock, you are following Apple's profitability far more passionately than I am. You have skin in the game. Jesus says, put skin in the game for heaven, invest in that kingdom. We can do that through every relationship, every conversation, every act of kindness. When we serve the needy we are investing in heaven. When we spend time and energy helping out in a ministry in the church, we are investing in heaven. When we give financially to the work of the gospel, we are investing in heaven. It doesn't matter how talented we are, how wealthy we are, or how public what we invest in heaven is. What matters is how faithful and obedient we are to do it. And as we do, a great thing happens: our hearts follow our treasure and we love and think about and want to invest more in the priorities of God's kingdom, and that leads to great joy.
CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia ends with a beautiful paragraph that echoes the beautiful promises that God gives us in His word: that there is a life, a kingdom, a new earth, and a resurrection body waiting for all who believe in Christ.
And as [Aslan] spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before. 3
Here's how the Apostle John saw it: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with the amd be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. Rev. 21:1, 3-5
1 Heaven, Randy Alcorn, pg. 456
2 Ibid, pg. 443
3 C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, pg. 228
More in Who Am I?
June 26, 2016Who Am I ? An Ambassador for Christ
June 19, 2016Who Am I ? I Am Secure Because I Will Never Be Forsaken by God Part Two
June 12, 2016Who Am I ? "I Am Secure Because I Will Never Be Forsaken by God" Part One