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May 15, 2016
Citizens with the Saints
When I was younger, it was very common for children in school to receive a grade in what was called “citizenship.” Generally the grade would be either a “U” for “Unsatisfactory” or an “S” for “Satisfactory.” Sometimes a teacher might use an “I” to indicate improvement was needed. These grades were grades of some significance. Parents, and the community at large, actually placed great stock in children learning the behavior needed to be “Good Citizens.” At many schools, to show the importance of “Good Citizenship,” medals were awarded to those children who were deserving. Citizenship was all about discipline and self-control to make you a better person, the community a better community, the country a better country, and the world a better place.
The system of education for children to become good citizens included some very important concepts. Following are some of these concepts I have gleaned from various lesson plans and are worthy of note:
• Take responsibility.
• Participate in service.
• Be a good steward.
• Be a good neighbor.
• Follow the rules.
• Be always willing to learn.
• Work hard.
Many of us are probably relieved that we don’t get report cards as adults. We might find ourselves a bit embarrassed with a “U” that might show up in these categories.
That ought to cause us to pause and think—especially when we realize that these very things are required by God for His citizens! How easy it is for us, in our society, to forget that God is in charge, He sets the standard, He sets the bounds for our thoughts and actions. Even people of the world realize that all men are of service as citizens for good or ill. The famous songwriter, Bob Dylan, put it this way: “You’ve got to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’ve got to serve somebody.” If we are to be God’s citizens, we must realize that our lives must be controlled by Him.
Peter, at the same time he reminds us we are priests, also reminds us we belong to God—we are His nation. “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1Peter 2:9). We are to be a set apart nation—citizens proclaiming His excellencies.
Have you ever wondered, “What happened to the fire, the zeal?” When we read in the Bible of the kingdom citizens of the first century, we can feel their enthusiasm. Christ is still King and we can still be His subjects, so why do people often feel so deficient? May be it is because we have forgotten what being a citizen implies—we belong to Him, to His house, to His kingdom. We tend to focus on only one aspect of the gospel message—Jesus is our Savior. That is indeed a great and glorious thing—however, we see from Scripture that a great emphasis is placed on “Jesus our Lord”! Hear Peter’s words: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
Hear the words of Jesus’ instruction: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Can there be any doubt that Jesus is Lord and master and that is what should be preached? Simply put, that concept is the message of the gospel. “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2Corinthians 4:5).
How could we ever hope to claim to be a citizen in His kingdom without being under His control? It can’t be done. Remember, you’ve got to serve somebody. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). It is one thing to have Jesus as Savior, but quite another to recognize His Lordship in our lives. The one who has Jesus as Lord of his life will live so as to show the Lord in his life.
Jesus has given us a wonderful description of those who are fit to be His citizens in what we call His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7). The blessed man is the man who has Jesus as Lord. The citizen is called to be humble; the citizen is called to recognize his sin to come to repentance; the citizen is called to a life of care and concern for others; the citizen is called to give all to the service of the King (Matthew 5:3-12). The citizen is the salt of the earth: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Matthew 5:13). He is the light that lets men see the glory of God reflected. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). He is to be like God in his behavior toward his fellow man. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The citizen will not play the hypocrite (Matthew 6:1-24). Neither will he worry about things of this life to the detriment of his spiritual life (Matthew 6:25-34). The citizen is not harsh with his fellow man (Matthew 7:1-6). The citizen recognizes his need for God (Matthew 7:7-11). The citizen watches for false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20). He will be a wise builder, acting on the words of the Lord (Matthew 7:21-27).
When citizens are truly acting as citizens great things happen. God’s house grows. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22). The citizens, like men of Abraham of old are “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). We know we are citizens now, but also look to the future: “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
Citizens have a standard—God’s. “Let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Philippians 3:16-17). Why follow the standard? Because we know where our citizenship lies. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
Think once again of the child’s lesson plan for citizenship and then ask ourselves these similar spiritual questions: Do I take responsibility and recognize my sins? Am I a participant in service for God? Am I a good steward of God’s blessings? Do I love God and my neighbor? Do I follow His rules? Am I always willing to learn more from His word? Do I work hard in building up and in teaching?
Do I recognize Jesus as my Savior AND my LORD? Am I a fellow citizen with the saints whose citizenship is in heaven?
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.