"Heaven's Citizens on Earth"
(Delivered Sunday, June 29, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
This being the week we celebrate Independence Day, I felt led to share with you from a passage in which God instructs us how we are to live as good citizens of this free land. And for that reason, I ask you to turn to Paul's New Testament letter to Titus.
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Titus is one of the "pastoral" epistles of the New Testament. I have grown to love Paul's pastoral letters. They're called "pastoral"; because he wrote them to pastors. Two of these letters were written to Paul's young associate, Pastor Timothy; and the third - the one we're looking at this morning - was written to Pastor Titus. (I wish I had more opportunities to preach than I do, because I would love for us to go through a study together of these three wonderful letters. And I would especially love to preach from this letter to Titus. It contains so many good words of encouragement and profound bits of doctrine for us, that I find it frustrating to only dip into it occasionally.)
Titus was the man Paul had commissioned to be the pastor of the church on the island of Crete. He was a Gentile believer (Gal. 2:3), with whom Paul felt enough confidence to share many significant aspects of his own ministry. Titus was sent by the church to accompany Paul, for example, when he went before the church leaders in Jerusalem to settle a crucial doctrinal matter (Acts 15:2; Gal. 2:1). He was also used by God to encourage Paul during one of his missionary journeys (2 Cor. 7:6-7). And he was entrusted by Paul to manage a collection gathered by the churches in Macedonia to aid suffering Christians in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:6, 16-17). Paul could even count on Titus to provide needed support to others of his co-workers (Titus 3:12-13). Titus was a dear man to Paul, and also a valued co-laborer in the cause of Christ. Paul called him, "a true son in our common faith" (1:4); and because of this, many scholars believe Paul was the one who led Titus to Christ. Titus was a model of faithful Christian service - a man Paul greatly loved, and had found trustworthy for ministry.
Perhaps that's why Paul gave Titus this very tough job - that of being the pastor of the group of believers in Crete. Paul told Titus that, "One of them, a prophet of their own, said, OCretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons" (Titus 1:12); and in saying this, Paul was quoting from the ancient Cretan poet Epimenides. And then Paul adds, "This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith ..." (v. 13).
Paul was very concerned for the church on the island of Crete. It was being plagued by false teachers who were subverting entire households with false doctrine (1:10-11). These false teachers were professing that they knew God, but were then denying Him by their sinful behavior (2:16; see also 3:1-10); and Paul was deeply concerned about the influence this would bring on the Cretan Christians. The Cretan church had become distracted from its witness by getting wrapped up in disputes and fights over divisive and non-essential matters (3:9-11). And so, Paul had personally sent Titus to Crete to do two things: (1) appoint godly leaders who would lead the church in the right direction and protect "sound doctrine" (1:5-9), and (2) to himself teach the people how to live the kind of life that is "proper for sound doctrine" (2:1-3:8).
And that brings us to our passage this morning - and to its particular bearing on us who live both as Christians and as free citizens of the United States of America. Among the many other thing Paul told Pastor Titus to do for the Christians on Crete, he told him this:
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior toward men appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men (Titus 3:1-8).
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As Christians, we must always remember that we hold a dual-citizenship. We are citizens of an earthly nation; and we are responsible to fulfill the duties of that citizenship faithfully. But that citizenship is a temporary one - lasting only for as long as we are in these temporal bodies. And so, we are to view that temporal citizenship from the standpoint of a greater and more eternal citizenship. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian believers;
For our citizenship [or "conversation" as it's translated in the KJV] is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself (Phil. 3:20-21).
Note that it says, "Our citizenship is in heaven" - not "will be" in heaven, but "is" in heaven right now! The believer is not to view himself or herself as merely "going" to heaven one day - even though that certainly will be the case. Rather, the Christian is to see himself or herself as already a full citizen of heaven - already (positionally) seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus even at this moment (Eph. 2:7). The man or woman who is in Christ will never be more of a citizen of heaven than they are right now - and they have but to go there one day and experience the full blessings of that citizenship.
So as Christians living in American, we must never forget that our heavenly citizenship is a much greater thing than our earthly citizenship. Our heavenly citizenship is a unspeakably precious thing - purchased for us at a far greater price than even our liberty as Americans, because our heavenly citizenship was purchased for us by the precious blood of the Son of God. It's a great honor to be a citizen of America - in fact it is, I believe, among the greatest honors that could be had 'under the sun'. But even so, it's a immeasurably greater honor to be a citizen of heaven. And of course, what a blessing to be both!
And the honor of heavenly citizenship demands something of our behavior. If we were temporarily living in a foreign country, we would want to do a good job of representing our own honorable and worthy citizenship as Americans while living in there. Likewise; we must see ourselves as responsible to do a good job of representing our primary home - being grateful citizens of the heavenly kingdom - during our short time on earth. As Peter wrote;
And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:17-19).
In fact, I'll go so far as to say that you cannot be the kind of American citizen God wants you to be until make your American citizenship secondary, and your heavenly citizenship primary. Placing our heavenly citizenship first is what will make us the best Americans possible. Peter wrote;
Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men - as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king (1 Peter 2:13-17).
"Fear God. Honor the king." That's to be the order of things for us who are believers in Christ. We bear a positive witness to the world when we use our liberty "as bondservants of God". We're to submit to our government "for the Lord's sake".
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Now, Paul was deeply concerned for his brothers and sisters in Crete; and he wanted to see them represent their heavenly citizenship well before the view others. And so he urged Titus to "speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine" (2:1); "that the word of God may not be blasphemed" (v. 5), but "that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things" (v. 10). I believe Paul would urge the same thing for us Christians, who are Americans, that he urged for those Christians in this morning's passage. I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us, through this Scripture, to live as good citizens of this temporal kingdom by being - above all else - good citizens of our eternal home.
Notice, first of all, that Paul urges you and me to ...
1. BE GOOD CITIZENS OF THIS EARTHLY KINGDOM (vv. 1-2).
He told Pastor Titus to remind his brothers and sisters to conduct themselves according to seven characteristics of good earthly citizenship: "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men" (Titus 3:1-2). Let's consider these characteristics one by one.
First, he was to remind them to be subject to those who are in positions of governing authority. They are to be subject to "rulers"; and the word he uses refers to those in the chief or highest positions. This would parallel our president, our governor, or our mayor. And they are also to be subject to "authorities"; and this would refer to those who have been granted authority by those chief leaders. They would parallel lessor officials, or appointed cabinet members, or local police officers or civil servants. We're to be subject to both higher and lower authorities. This is very much like what Peter said; "Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good" (1 Peter 2:13-14).
Good citizenship in this temporal nation, then, means being subject to the authority of those who are in leadership positions over us. Now of course, we're to do so while keeping in mind that the authority of governing leaders is not absolute. Should these governing authorities ever command us to, in some way, disobey a clear command of God, then the biblical principle we follow is that "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). But apart from that exception, we are to see ourselves as obligated to obey God THROUGH obeying our governing leaders.
All legitimate human authority is derivative in nature. It comes from the top down; from God to those He has appointed over us. This is why good citizenship in an earthly kingdom begins with being faithful citizens of heaven. The apostle Paul wrote;
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil (Rom. 13:1-5).
Second, you'll notice that he says that the Cretans are "to obey". I take this to be in the specific context of governmental leaders. But I also believe it speaks of a general principle for any case in which submission to a human authority is required: Christians are to be good citizens by being a people characterized by an obedient spirit.
To "obey" is something distinct from being "subject". It's one thing to be "subject" to authority; because that speaks of a state of being - being "under" someone in rank. The Christian is not to be a rebel against authority, but rather accept the role of the leaders God has placed over them. But it's another thing to demonstrate an "obedient" spirit to that authority under which we are placed. The word Paul uses for "obey" comes from two Greek words joined together: peithomai, which means "to be persuaded to" or "won over to", and archŕ which in this case means "ruling authority". Thus, the word peitharche˘ speaks of an inward attitude of the will - an obedience that comes from an inward persuasion.
I have often wondered what would happen to the windshield of my car if I had a bumpersticker that said, "Honor and obey authority". It's not an attitude that is very popular in American culture right now. Our culture says, "Question authority". But to honor and obey it is an attitude that is to characterize someone who is - first of all - a citizen of heaven.
Third, Paul urged that the Cretans "be ready for every good work". "Being ready" speaks of the idea of being of a mindset that is prepared and predisposed to doing good to others. It speaks of an attitude of community service and volunteerism. Its the kind of attitude that does more than complain about how bad the schools are - but that goes out and actually does something proactive to help solve the problems. It's the kind of attitude that doesn't wait to be asked to beautify a portion of the community - but that goes out and actively takes care of the problem before being invited to do so. It's the kind of attitude that is receptive to good works that need to be done - not just the kinds we like, but "every" good work.
This is the kind of attitude that calls upon us, as Christians, to step out of our "seperatistic" or "fortress" mentality, and moves us to give of ourselves in some way to the betterment of our community overall. It's a "community-oriented" attitude - a very Christian attitude to have. And just think of how much more of a ready hearing our testimony might receive from those around us if we gave proof of an active love for the community?
Fourth, Paul said that the Cretans were to be reminded to "speak evil of no one". The word Paul used to describe what they are to avoid is blaspheme˘ - to "blaspheme". This involves the idea of not speaking evil of someone, or not being slanderous of them, or of not ridiculing them. This is certainly to be true of those in authority, because those who are in authority are placed over us by God. The Bible tells us, "You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people" (Ex. 22:28). But I believe it also forbids us from speaking evil of any of our fellow citizens - even of those who do us wrong. Peter wrote that we are not to return evil for evil, or reviling for reviling,
... but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For [quoting from Psalm 34:12-16] "He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil" (1 Peter 3:9-12).
Fifth, Paul urges that the Cretan believers - as it says in many translations - "be peaceable". Personally, however, I think that the King James Version translated Paul's meaning best: "to be no brawlers". The word Paul uses is the Greek word for "a fighter", with the negative prefix before it that gives it the idea of not being a fighter or a brawler.
There are some professing Christians who love the chance to get into a good scrap in the 'culture war'. But to display that sort of an attitude is very bad representation of our heavenly citizenship. Paul told Timothy, "... A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will" (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
Obviously, as faithful citizens of heaven, we must Ofight the good fight' (2 Tim. 4:7). It's our duty to do so. But we must also be careful, in fighting that fight, that we don't aim our weapons at people. We don't fight with human weapons against human forces. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). Ours is a spiritual warfare, not a fleshly one. To fight on a fleshly level can be a particular temptation when we, as Christians, seek to bring a Biblical perspective to bear on political or social issues. We can lose our perspective and begin to attack those who hold opposing views. We can easily begin to think we're doing the work of God; when, because of our quarrelsome and hostile manner toward people, we're actually losing the battle in the spiritual realms. May God help us not to be brawlers on earth as citizens of heaven!
Sixth, Paul urges that the Cretans be "gentle". Grammatically, this is related to the previous statement about "not being a fighter". It's the opposite of being a brawler or a fighter. The word Paul uses, however, doesn't suggest that we're to be passive or weak or easy to take advantage of. Rather, it is a word that refers to doing that which has a view to what is appropriate or fitting; and it means that we're to be "fair" or "reasonable" in our manner. It's the word Paul used when he told the Philippians, "Let your gentleness be known to all men" (Phil. 4:5).
Someone has translated this word by the phrase "sweet reasonableness"; and I've always liked that way of putting it. It's the idea of putting away a disagreeable or difficult attitude with people; and instead, saying, "Hey listen; we may not agree on all points; but I'm on your side, because I want what's best for both of us. Let's work together the best we can for what is fair and equitable for all." The citizen of heaven should be the one who works hardest - as much as is possible - for what is fair and just for everyone. The citizen of heaven should be willing to give up his or her rights for what's right for everyone.
Seventh and finally, the Cretan believers were to be "showing all humility to all men". The idea here is that, with respect to others, the Christian is to demonstrate a forbearing spirit - meek; not in the sense of "weak", but of power brought under control. When a Christian has the power to lash back, he doesn't. When a believer has the opportunity to put an opponent in their place, she refrains from doing so. He or she treats others with dignity and grace; humbly showing respect for the personhood of others - respect, in fact, for "all".
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These seven characteristics are to be ours as citizens of heaven living as citizens of an earthly kingdom. Titus was to remind the people under his care of these things. Paul used a form of the verb that suggests that he was to put them in mind of these things continually. We need that continual reminder because when we're living and working in an earthly kingdom, it's easy to forget who we are. It's easy to forget that we are to be citizens of heaven first of all the whole time long; and so, it needs to be continually brought to our attention.
This leads us to our second point. We are to live as good citizens in our culture and in this earthly kingdom ...
2. BUT DO SO AS THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN MADE INTO CITIZENS OF THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM (vv. 3-8).
This is Paul's main point in this passage. The fact that we are citizens of heaven is to be the primary reason why we are to live as good citizens in an earthly kingdom. Look at how Paul develops this.
First he identifies us as those who formerly lived in sin. He writes, "For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another" (v. 3). And here, he mentions seven characteristics of those who live in the sins that characterize life in this earthly kingdom. You'll notice that he mentioned seven virtues of good Christian citizenship; and now, by contrast, he shows us seven characteristics of people who are not citizens of heaven. What Paul describes here is very much like what here described in his letter to the Ephesians;
... in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according the the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others (Eph. 2:1-3).
These seven characteristics certainly describe the deplorable and wicked character of the sinful culture around us and in which we must live. It helps us to see why we are here - that is, to serve as "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:13-14). It illustrates the sort of behavior we are to avoid as we live on this earth. But the most important thing it shows us is what we ourselves were once apart from Christ! Before we became citizens of heaven, we were ordinarily characterized by foolishness, disobedience, deception, lustfulness, malice, envy and hate. We behaved that way because we were apart from Christ and were NOT citizens of heaven. It helps us to appreciate why we are to be "showing all humility to all men".
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But then, Paul reminds us that we have been saved from such a lifestyle by God's grace through Jesus Christ. He says, "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us, through the washing of regeneration an the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (vv. 4-7).
Look at what this passage tells us of God's manner toward us when we were in our sins. First, he says that God was "kind" toward us. Second, he says that God allowed His "love" to appear - and the word Paul uses for this love is philanthropia - "love for mankind". Third, he says that God was "merciful" toward us. And finally, he says that God has shown "grace" to us. This was God's manner toward us even when we were still lost in our sins. Even when we were still characterized by those horrible practices, He showed us kindness, love, mercy and grace. His goodness to us in the heavenly realms certainly obligates us to be good to those around us in the earthly realms.
Then look at what this passage tells us what this God did for us in order to save us from our hopeless condition. First, it says He saved us - "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy." If it were by works of righteousness we had done, we would never be saved; because we had no ability to do works of righteousness. He tells us about this in verse 13-14, and shows us that this mercy was shown to us through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross; "looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people zealous for good works."
Second, it says that He saved us "through the washing of regeneration". Regeneration means "new birth" or being "born again". And regeneration truly "washes" us. It's as if God causes the old us to be put to death and a brand new "us" to be born; washing away our past and giving us a brand new start. Paul says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17).
"Regeneration" is something that God does for us only once. It changes our standing before Him forever and makes us brand new creations. But regeneration doesn't mean we immediately live holy lives. And so, third, Paul says that God also caused us to be saved by the "renewing of the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior." And it's the indwelling Holy Spirit who enables us to live the life on this earth that pleases Him.
You see, you and I do not have the power on our own to live like the kind of good citizens Paul described in verses 1-2. Only Jesus can live a life like that. But God causes the life of Jesus to be lived out progressively and increasingly through us by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. "I have been crucified with Christ," Paul said; "it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
And fourth, Paul tells us that we now live as those who have "been justified" [that is, declared righteous] "by His grace". God makes us righteous as a free gift through our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. There is now, therefore, no longer any condemnation for us (Rom. 8:1). We stand "justified" in His sight.
And now, look at the purpose of it all: "that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (v. 7). We are to live on this planet as citizens of an earthly kingdom; but we're to do so as those who are heirs - even right now - of the hope of eternal life. We walk around on this earth as those who are destined for heaven. We live as those who are living eternal life right now - and will keep on living it in heaven forever! That's our real home! But it's ours by God's free gift; and so, it obligates us to live humbly on this earth as people who have been radically transformed by God's kindness, love, mercy and grace.
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And so; Paul was eager to encourage Titus to proclaim this to the believers in Crete. He told him, "This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm continually, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men" (v. 8). In living like this - that is, in exhibiting our citizenship in the eternal, heavenly kingdom by being good citizens of this temporal, earthly kingdom - we'll prove to be the greatest blessing possible to the citizens of this earthly kingdom at the same time.
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My wife pointed out an interesting line the other day from the famous psychologist Viktor Frankl. He was writing about concept of "freedom"; and he said,
Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.1
As I read that, I wondered to myself what a "Statute of Responsibility" might look like. I concluded, however, that it should look like us as God's people. We're to be living as monuments of responsible citizenship on earth, by living on it as we belonged more to heaven than we do to earth.
As we celebrate our nations' freedom this week, let's be sure we do so as citizens of an even greater and more eternal nation. Let's grow increasingly to be good citizens of the United States of America by - above all else - behaving like good, faithful citizens of heaven.
1Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 134.
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