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What follows is a special 3 part series by my good friend Dan Martin. He is one of the original 3 bloggers that I got close to when no one else ever read this blog 😉 Not only do we have some roots, but we challenge each other regularly and share many views on theology. You really should read these posts and then read his blog like crazy!
Since the language of “Kingdom” implies citizenship and allegiance, it’s instructive to see what the kingdoms of this world think of citizenship. Let’s take a look at the law of the kingdom in which I reside, the United States of America. The basis for defining citizenship in the United States is the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the first sentence of which reads:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
Simply, you are a citizen of the U.S. if you were either born here, or naturalized, and are subject to the nation’s jurisdiction. Born is easy, and obvious, but naturalization is defined by a completely different and much more complex law. It’s also more relevant to our subject of Kingdom citizenship, for the simple reason that nobody becomes a citizen of the Kingdom of God by natural birth. We are all naturalized citizens of the Kingdom of God, if we are citizens at all. While I’m not saying that Kingdom naturalization is identical to American naturalization, there are some interesting parallels we can draw out. You can see the entire Immigration and Nationality Act Title III here, and I invite you to follow the link and read them. See particlarly section 337, subsections (a) and (b).
In summary, to become a citizen of the United States, you must swear to:
- Support the Constitution of the United States;
- Renounce the allegiance and claim of any other nation, state, or sovereign;
- “Support and defend” the Constitution and laws, and “bear true faith and allegiance” to them;
- Serve the United States either by bearing arms or noncombatant military or civilian service, when required (note that religious conscientious objection to military service is permitted, but does not excuse the citizen from civilian service)
- If you have any title or nobility in your previous citizenship, you must renounce it
The Kingdom of God, too, has a constitution. Though Christians can and do argue about what that constitution actually is, I would submit that in Jesus’ kingdom the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is a pretty good candidate, and merits our allegiance. It is certainly true that we must renounce the claims of other sovereigns if God is our king, for Jesus pointed out that we cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24), and that no one who throws his lot in with Jesus but turns back is fit for the kingdom (Luke 9:62). While one cannot take up arms for the Kingdom of God, we are certainly required to serve the King, and Matt. 25:31-46 gives us a pretty good clue what that will look like. It is finally also true that earthly rank is meaningless in the Kingdom of God (Luke 22:24-30 and elsewhere).
Interestingly, this perspective on citizenship then leads us to a new understanding of evangelism, for God’s Kingdom is at war. God originally created the cosmos as his own domain, and specifically on Earth, he placed his image-bearers as viceroys–rulers in his stead–and stewards of that domain. However, a deceitful enemy tempted humans to disobey their creator, and through a process we describe as “the Fall,” seized control of God’s good creation. Since that time, through various tactics and strategies, God and those forces loyal to him have been engaged in warfare with the enemy, fighting to retake God’s lost territory.
Citizens of God’s Kingdom are soldiers in that battle; not with conventional human weapons, but with weapons nonetheless (2 Cor. 10:3-6), pulling down strongholds and taking territory for the Kingdom. But just as our weapons are not of the flesh, the strongholds we attack are not ordinary land territory, but rather “every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (v. 5), in order that the subjects of the kingdom of this world, will turn and submit themselves to the True King.
For what we are really trying to do in evangelism, is not to “save souls from hell,” but rather to recruit for the resistance! The Kingdom advances when those enslaved to the Powers are freed from their bondage and place their allegiance in the True King. Those new recruits are naturalized into citizenship in the Kingdom, renounce their former allegiance, and bear new (different) arms for their sovereign. They, like we, become ambassadors and soldiers of the King, waging war against the Powers by ministering to the Powers’ subjects with the paradoxical weapons of love and peace and kindness and justice.
Kingdom citizens, we live in enemy territory! From the Bible Belt of the United States to the steppes of Siberia to the jungles of Myanmar to the deserts of Saudi Arabia, this world is the territory of the Prince of this world (Lk 4:5-6), and he is the sworn enemy of the Prince of Peace! There is not, never has been, and never will be a Christian nation. The Kingdom of God, knows no national boundaries, fights no earthly wars, but seeks recruits from all men everywhere to acknowledge and serve the one God and his anointed king, Jesus Christ.