I have recently become a foreigner. I am a “born and raised Texan” (yes, I’m aware we can be a bit obnoxious about our state), but I now live in Colorado. I will soon need to trade in my Texas driver’s license (today, I think!) and Texas license plates for Colorado versions. I have crossed the border into a new territory, which has made me think about citizenship and how to live where you aren’t really at home.
I have only changed states right now, but if I went to live in a foreign country, I would have much different expectations of the government than when I’m in my own country. I could not expect them to make changes to accommodate my preferences or convictions. For example, I could not go to China and expect them to adopt Capitalism, nor could I go to south France and expect them to ban topless beaches.
Just as I have a form of dual citizenship right now as a born Texan residing in Colorado, I also hold another dual citizenship. I am a resident of America, but like all who follow Jesus, I was born into the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Peter writes that God’s people are “a holy nation,” and he describes us as “foreigners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:9, 11 NIV). The words he uses here mean “sojourners, literally, settlers having a house in a city without being citizens in respect to the rights of citizenship.” Sounds a bit like an American citizen living in another country…or a citizen of a foreign country living here. (No, this blog is not about immigration policy!)
If this is case, we have a great deal in common with the Israelites while they were in exile in Babylon. What were God’s instructions to them? Were they to fight the government, try to overthrow the king, change the laws, or complain because the Babylonians did not wish to follow the Israelites’ God-given moral code? No. The prophet Jeremiah gave them the following instructions:
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer. 29:5-7 NIV)
God instructed them to live honorable, productive lives and to pray for the prosperity of the host country. This translates into our being instructed to pray “God Bless America.” Peter gives similar instructions when he says to “Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God…” (1 Pet 2:12 VOI).
What would this country look like if all followers of Jesus who are living here as “foreigners and exiles” lived productive, exemplary lives that demonstrated the love of Jesus to our unbelieving neighbors, which in turn made them take note and give glory to God? Could the way to truly transform our country of residence be getting our neighbors to transfer their true citizenship to the Kingdom of God, instead of criticizing, attacking, and fighting? Pray for this country, be an example to your neighbors, and remember that we are “citizens of heaven, exiles on earth, waiting eagerly for a Liberator, our Lord Jesus the Anointed, to come and transform these humble, earthly bodies into the form of His glorious body by the same power that brings all things under His control” (Phil 3:20-21 VOI).