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We Do Not Set Aside Faith as Citizens of This World

Keith Kariniemi | The Voice of Zion March 2024 - Home & Family Article --

Citizenship refers to the behavior that is exhibited by people who are citizens, often in terms of the duties, obligations, and responsibilities that come with being a citizen. God’s children are unique among the peoples of the world in that we are citizens of two kingdoms. We share the citizenship of our temporal kingdom, or our home country and its government, with those around us. However, we are also, and much more importantly, citizens of God’s kingdom, and we share that spiritual citizenship with all of God’s children, wherever they may reside. While we cannot separate these two, we are in the world but not of the world (John 17:14), the focus here is on the believer as a citizen of the world.

Temporal Kingdoms Are Subject to God

In approaching temporal citizenship as believers, it is good to begin by considering that all governments are subject to God. God’s Word is clear on this matter, as the following portion of Colossians relates: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:16,17). Therefore, all citizens need to remember that our governments have been instituted by God and for His purposes, including to provide order and security in our societies.

While we may not understand why certain types of governments exist, why actions or inactions by our governments take place or do not take place, which we may find agreeable or disagreeable, we as God’s children find comfort in trusting that God is ultimately in control of all things, including our governments. We are reminded of the smallness of our thoughts and our understandings in Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8,9). Therefore, we are instructed, in the end, to put aside our own ways, thoughts and understandings and simply trust in our dear heavenly Father, praying that His will is done.

God’s Word shows how various governments and authorities of this world have been used by God for His purposes. We see this in countless examples in Scripture: the Pharoah and the children of Israel enslaved in Egypt, the story of Joseph and his role in government, the anointing of King Saul, King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian captivity, Herod, Pontius Pilate and the Roman Empire and their roles during Jesus’ life, etc. Throughout human history, God has instituted various governments to serve His purposes, some we may understand, and many we do not. However, it is not important that we understand, but rather that we simply believe God’s Word in this. While we here in North America live under governments much different than those of these examples, we still, as God’s children always have followed God’s Word. Even today, we believe that our governments, no matter our personal opinions concerning their policies or actions, have been instituted for God’s purposes.

A portion of Scripture that relates to this point is found in Isaiah, where God encourages the children of Israel enslaved during the Babylonian captivity to trust that His purposes will be served. “And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me” (49:23). And, continuing, “But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children” (v. 25). What great comfort is found here, where God reminds that He is in control and that His purposes, in this case the Babylonian captivity, are for the good of His children.

In approaching our temporal citizenship and the responsibilities that come with it, we affirm that God knows all, and God sees all. God knows that we live under governments that are democratic in nature, wherein some powers and responsibilities lie with the citizens, perhaps most evident through voting. These types of governments require citizens to engage and work together, something that can be difficult for a believer, even a great trial, especially during these highly politicized and polarized times.

The trials and tribulations that may rise from being a citizen in this world are known to our dear heavenly Father, and He has promised to always care for us, even to the end. All things are for His purpose, even governments built and administered by humans: “For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God” (Heb. 3:4). How comforting it is to trust that temporal authority must always yield before God; indeed, it is always subject to Him.

Responsibilities of Believers to Society and the World around Us

In considering the responsibilities of the believer in today’s democratic societies, perhaps it is best to start with love. We remember how Jesus simplified the law into two commandments, with the first, and the greatest, being “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matt. 22:37). He followed that with the second, saying, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (v.39). We understand that the neighbor Jesus speaks to is any person that we interact with, in whatever way that interaction takes place, whether a fellow citizen in God’s kingdom or a fellow citizen in the society around us. While God’s Word provides us much instruction and encouragement concerning the special and holy relationship between His children, God’s Word also speaks to the relationship between His children and the world around them. Love is the starting point for that relationship.

The love that Jesus refers to is that love that comes from God; it is not a love derived from man. It is the love that is born of the Holy Spirit, whereby God’s love for each of His created people resides in the heart of the believer. It is God’s love that encourages and instructs us to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). We understand that each of God’s created people has an undying soul, and each will one day need to stand before God to be judged. It is our heart’s desire, from God’s Holy Spirit that resides there, that all people would believe, so that they would one day hear, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). Our unbelieving neighbors, including those citizens of society around us, are only a repentance away from citizenship in God’s kingdom. God’s love for the undying soul of mankind causes us to approach others in society around us in such a way that God’s love shines through.

This same idea is encapsulated in the Golden Rule where Jesus says, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matt. 7:12). When we consider what is the paramount desire we have from others, we simply want others to preach that Gospel message to us, forgiving us our many sins and journey faults. Our heart’s desire is that we are then able to believe that wondrous message, that all sins and offenses caused or taken are forgiven in Jesus’ name and precious, atoning blood. We certainly want to preach this gospel message to all; it is a responsibility that we have as citizens of God’s kingdom (the Baptismal Command). 

However, it is nonetheless essential for the child of God that they are able to forgive even those who do not believe for trespasses committed. Jesus makes this clear to us, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14,15). We want to endeavor to love others as God loves us, where we forgive even our enemies and those who harm us by their trespasses against us. We want to love those around us in society, those who we share temporal citizenship with, and our greatest love for them is found in forgiving them, as God forgives us.

It is then this foundation of love, which comes from our citizenship in God’s kingdom, which leads and guides our temporal citizenship. In our interactions with others, even concerning politics (the organizing of society, including government), we want to always approach others in love, and we also want to always approach in truth as well. God’s love and God’s truth. The most important matter in our lives is living faith, keeping faith and good conscience, and we cannot forget this when we engage with our temporal citizenship. We are reminded, “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). 

We also cannot set faith aside when we practice our temporal citizenship; our citizenship in God’s kingdom, and the responsibilities therein, always come before, and guide, our temporal responsibilities. We need to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). For example, we are instructed to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). We are reminded here that all our interactions with those in society around us, including regarding our governments and those in our governments, ought to reflect our spiritual citizenship. We have the responsibility as citizens in this world to be that light onto the world, that light which may draw those in unbelief unto living faith. The good works that are spoken of here are not of us, but they are of God’s Holy Spirit. 

It is also, in approaching temporal citizenship in this manner, that the truth of God’s Word may become manifest: “walk as children of the light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth:) proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:8). When we keep faith and good conscience, as children of God within two kingdoms, our actions (and inactions) provide the rebuke those around us need, and that exhortation to repentance. This call to God’s kingdom is the greatest love we can show to those in unbelief around us. 

God knows all the difficulties that His children face, including those that arise from being citizens of both kingdoms, and His Word provides us comfort in the face of such difficulties, most often by reminding us of that which is most important: our citizenship in His kingdom. “And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled…For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing” (1 Pet. 3:13,14,17). We are reminded here that the only thing that matters, in the end, is keeping faith and good conscience. We cannot be so troubled by the things happening in society around us, the harms that are inflicted upon us, that our worries, doubts, and fears end up causing us to give up the gift of faith.

It is good that we place all our cares, doubts, worries and fears into the hands of our loving and merciful heavenly Father; He has promised to care for each one of His children, no matter what we face in this world, no matter what type of society or government around us. While our temporal citizenship is important, it is nothing compared to our citizenship in God’s kingdom. May we all keep faith and good conscience, holding dear to that hope of heaven!  

Citizenship Is Serving

Carl Harju

We hear that we are citizens of two realms, God’s kingdom and the world. Both realms depend on the labor of citizens to move forward. In addition to serving our families and close neighbors, believers serve in different capacities within the congregation. We are encouraged and happy to do so.

We also can serve in different capacities in our communities. This is good citizenship. We may serve by volunteering for an organization that has touched our lives in some way. We may have an interest or even a passion for their cause. Some of these organizations may include various charities, emergency services, or government. Some of the most well-known examples of believers from the Bible serving in these capacities would include Joseph and Daniel and his three friends.

In God’s kingdom we rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit speaking through the congregation for many decisions. When serving in society we rely on logic and knowledge to make decisions.

Serving in these capacities may come with personal benefits. We may learn new skills. For instance, my years as a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician on my city’s ambulance led me to a career in nursing. Serving on the city council and as mayor taught me to listen and to seek to understand others’ viewpoints before making decisions. Community service can also be used to combat loneliness or too much idle time.

There are moments in my service where I may have to withhold my personal beliefs. For example, I personally believe drinking alcohol would jeopardize my faith. However, my community has decided they want alcohol available to them and have established limits and criteria for a business to be able to sell alcohol. If a retailer has met those criteria, as mayor, I am obligated to sign their permit. I do not feel I need to speak on the dangers of alcohol at each council meeting or to each retailer.

I hope that God’s Word and the Holy Spirit would enlighten my conscience and guide my actions, even when I am serving my community. I pray that my words and actions would reflect positively on God’s kingdom. I serve with the desire to help my neighbors and with the hope that future generations will continue to find my community a safe place to live and work.  

Discussion Question:

  1. What does it mean to you personally to be a citizen of your nation?

  2. What are some of the duties and responsibilities of your temporal citizenship? What actions do you take because of these?

  3. What experiences do you have in keeping faith and good conscience as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven while also engaged in activities as a citizen of this world? How do you let your light shine unto the world?

  4. How has it been for you in trusting that governments and persons of authority are subject to God? What things make it easier or more difficult to keep this trust?

  5. How has it been for you in remembering to love your neighbor, including those who serve in government?

  6. How do we keep our spiritual citizenship as the most important matter in our lives?

  7. Read John 17:15. What does this Bible passage mean for believers?

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