Philippians 3:7 – Philippians 4:1
Millions of America citizens were neither born in the United States nor have at least one parent who is a United States citizen. They are Americans because they have chosen to become a citizen of the U.S. by naturalization. According to the Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly Immigration and Naturalization Services or INS), naturalization is a process by which U.S. citizenship is conferred upon a foreign citizen or national after he or she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).1 Since 1907, there have been 22,459,966 petitions for naturalization filed. Of these, 19,773,642 persons gained citizenship. In 2003, 523,408 petitions were filed; 463,204 persons were naturalized. You may be thinking, what are the requirements for gaining citizenship by naturalization? There are six general requirements for administrative naturalization:
1. A period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States;2. An ability to read, write, and speak English;3. Attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution;4. Knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government;5. Good moral character; and,6. Favorable disposition toward the United States.
The last four criteria bear a remarkable similarity to Paul’s own discussion of “citizenship” in Philippians 3:7–4:1 — a citizenship that is “of heaven” (3:20). In this sermon, I would like to look at Paul’s criteria for heavenly citizenship using these last four (slightly “revised”) criteria set out by the Office of Citizenship and Immigration. In looking at these four statements, we are presented with what could be called the essence of Christian citizenship — the basics. These are not traits of Mr. Incredible or Elastigirl from the hit movie The Incredibles or the requirements of “super-Christians,” such as Billy Graham or Mother Theresa. These are requirements of everyone who desires their commonwealth to be in Civitas Dei. The sermon is thus entitled “Christian Citizenship 101.”
Requirements for “Christian Naturalization”
The first requirement for Christian citizenship is an attachment to — not the U.S. Constitution — but Jesus as Savior and Lord.2 In today’s church, the words “Savior and Lord” roll off the tongue often without much thought. To us, they function as a hendiadys (to borrow a term from Greek grammar) — that is, “the use of two words . . . to express a single complex idea.”3 You might be surprised to learn that Paul uses these two words together only here in his thirteen epistles.4 The notion of Savior is downplayed in most of Paul’s letters to churches, but is especially important in his letters to individuals (especially Timothy and Titus). In 1 Timothy 4:10, Paul tells Timothy that “we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.” Similarly, to Titus (2:13), Paul refers to Jesus as our “great God and Savior.” The emphasis in the Pastoral Epistles is on Christ’s godly status, a status that confers through Him salvation to all who believe.5 Jesus as Lord is a notion much more at home in Philippians and is seen as the exercise of authority or control over everything (see especially 2:5-11). In this passage, Paul not only embraces Jesus as universal deliverer (e.g., Savior) and sovereign ruler (e.g., Lord), he recognized that he was able to “take hold of [Christ] because I had been taken hold [by Him].”6 This language holds in perfect tension the great cry of the Protestant Reformation — salvation by grace through faith. Salvation is indeed by grace (because Christ “takes hold” of us) through faith (our “taking hold” of him). To gain citizenship in a new commonwealth, we must attach ourselves to Jesus by faith, claiming Him as the sole provider of deliverance (see 1:19) and obeying Him as the master of our lives (see 2:12).