Texans are known for being proud of our state. We take it seriously to be citizens of Texas, and our commercial jingles teach us to brag about our unique Texas tortilla chips, trucks, beers, and music. My third child was born in another state, but we made sure to have a box of Texas soil under the delivery table. As the Austin Lounge Lizards sing in their parody song, “Even of our pride we’re proud and we’re proud of that pride, too.”  We Texans may take it to silly extremes, but we can understand living up to the glories of our citizenship.

In Philippians 1:27-30, the Apostle Paul asks the proud citizens of Philippi to consider a new kind of civic honor. Philippi was a strong Roman colony populated by hard working retired soldiers and productive business owners. Paul appeals to them to live as worthy citizens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The word “citizen” does not appear in every English translation, but it is behind the reference to “manner of life” in Philippians 1:27. Paul repeats this concept in Philippians 3:20, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from there we wait for a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  

How can we live as worthy citizens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? First of all, we must know what the Gospel is. It is not so much about what we accomplish for God, but what God has accomplished for us. We are made citizens of heaven, not by our righteous acts, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:5, Romans 5:8). Jesus came for sinners like you and me as a sacrifice of atonement. He reconciles us to God as a gift received by simple trust. This makes us humble, rather than swaggering braggers.

Philippians 1:28 clarifies that being worthy citizens of the Gospel means that we will not be terrified by opposition. I have to admit I get scared sometimes. I think the command here is to not stay scared. Public opposition to belief in Jesus is certainly growing in openness and aggressiveness. But our reliance on God and lack of fear is a sign of our salvation.

Finally, Paul tells the Philippians something really strange. He says in Philippians 1:29 that it is a gift granted to us to believe in Jesus, but also to suffer for him. This is hard to swallow. Many of us have been trained to think that faith should lead to a lack of suffering. However, Jesus is clear in John 16:33, that in this world we will have trouble, but we can take heart because he has overcome the world. Paul says it is a gift to “suffer for his sake”. Do you believe it?

What helps me to remember my citizenship in heaven is to back up a step and remember that we’re not just members of the state of heaven, but we’re part of something even more intimate and exclusive. We are adopted children of God because of what Jesus has done for us. Last time I saw my grandchild, I found it cute to see her pulling on her mama’s leg even though her mama was busy. I eventually scooped her up to let her mama finish her work. But it occurred to me that we quickly learn not to “pull on people” like that as we grow older. Dane Ortlund relates this kind of thing to our relationship with God. In the book, “Gentle and Lowly”, he says, “Is it not presumptuous audacity to draw on the mercy of Christ in an unfiltered way? Shouldn’t we be measured and reasonable, careful not to pull too much on him?” The answer, of course is no. Jesus commands us to come to him as a little child. We should never grow out of that kind of child-like audacity in our running to Jesus with every concern and need. Do you want to live as a worthy citizen of heaven? Never stop pulling on Jesus with every need.

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Dave McMurry

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