A couple brief thoughts on patriotism and citizenship in the Christian life

For those of us who live in the United States, our society joins together today to celebrate the birth of our nation as an independent state as well as the virtues of good citizenship and loyalty to one’s country. It is a day of patriotic expression, pyrotechnic displays, and commemoration of our national history that often features a curious mixture of facts and less national mythology. As Christians we find ourselves as people with a sort of dual citizenship, as we are both citizens of the country in which we reside and citizens of the heavenly kingdom into which we have been translated by God’s loving work of grace. But these two citizenships are not equal in their importance. We are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of heaven, of God’s heavenly city. This bond transcends all national, ethnic, and geographic boundaries. This is our true home. Likewise our fellow saints around the world are our true fellow citizens and countrymen. In this regard we share a closer bond of love and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Singapore, the Philippines, and Northern Ireland (to name a few) than with the vast majority of our fellow citizens here in our own country. For we share a spiritual kinship and membership in one household of faith as fellow brothers and sisters who have been adopted into the family of God. It is with this body, the body of Christ, that our loyalties truly lie; and while patriotism and love for one’s country is not itself a bad thing, if such patriotism in any way interrupts our love and loyalty to the body of Christ, it becomes a sin. Of course this is not to say we cannot participate in the Fourth of July celebrations, nor is it wrong to celebrate one’s country and to thank God for his blessings and the place that he has given us in this earthly kingdom. Indeed we ought to pray for our land, both giving thanks for the unprecedented blessings (both material and in liberties) that he has given us in this land, as well as praying that the Lord may have mercy and grant to our nation much needed repentance for our rapidly decaying public morality.

But let’s keep in mind that the kingdoms of this world are transitory. All human political institutions pass away, and all conquests, revolutions, and wars for independence which have punctuated human history are only for a moment. Ultimately, whatever nation state to which we belong is for us inconsequential. All that matters is that we are members of the body of Christ and therefore are citizens of what Augustine calls the “Celestial City” of our God. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world; we are merely passing through on our arduous journey toward the dwelling place the Lord has prepared for us. Our citizenship in this earthly city is temporal like all other earthly things. It will not last, and in the end it does not matter. Just as the great saints listed for us in Hebrews 11, we desire and earnestly seek “a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). So have a happy Fourth! Enjoy the fireworks, the fellowship of family and friends, the festivities and (hopefully) a day of relaxation off from work. And as in all things in the Christian life, let us all remember continually to set our affection on things above, not on things on earth (Colossians 3:2).

JS

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