Let’s define what a citizen is. Merriam-Webster defines a citizen as:
An inhabitant of a city or town, one entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman. A member of a state. A native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it.
An inhabitant? That’s right, for over and over the New Testament tells us that our position is ‘in Christ.’ Rights and privileges? In John 1:12-13, we read that, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” So if you’re a gospel citizen, you’re a child of God. But let’s go on with that definition.
It says, “A native or naturalized person.” I’m going to say something to you that some of you may not realize. Are you ready? When it comes to being a gospel citizen, a member of the Kingdom of God, none of us are natives to that Kingdom. When I moved to Colorado, I almost felt that way when finding native Coloradoans. Most were from other places, such as Texas or Oklahoma. Same with when I lived in Florida, where that state seemed to be New York or Jersey South! But when it comes to being a citizen of the Kingdom, none of us are born nationals. So many people, maybe even some of you in this room, maybe some of you who are members, believe you were born Christian. Your parents were, your grandparents were—so you must be. There is a difference between the citizenship of this world and the citizenship of heaven.
So how do we become a gospel citizen? Do we take a citizenship test? By US law, in order to become a citizen of this country, you take a citizenship test. Section one is about American Government and all it involves (law, structure, etc.). Section two is about American History. Section Three is about Integrated Civics regarding geography and the like. You know, many of us probably would struggle with those tests.
Do we have to take a test in order to become a citizen? Some say that. The test is that we have to do ‘gospelly’ things! If I come to church, serve, get on a leadership team, even preach! Scott and I were talking about his class he was taking and brought up the name Elias Keach, the son of the old Baptist preacher Benjamin Keach. He was a wild child, but when he arrived in Philadelphia, he decided to dress like a clergyman. When they found out he was the son of Benjamin Keach, he started preaching.
Keach was elegantly dressed in his ministerial coat and white bands and probably using one of his father’s sermons he began his discourse, but about half way through he suddenly stopped short being seized with the enormity of his hypocrisy and sin. The people assumed he had been seized with a sudden illness. When they gathered around him and asked the cause of his fear, he burst into tears, confessed his fraud and threw himself upon the mercy of God and pleaded for the pardon of all his sins. He immediately traveled to the Cold Springs Church, the first Baptist church established in Pennsylvania, and poured out his heart to Elder Thomas Dugan. The aged Baptist Pastor lovingly took him by the hand and led him to Christ.
The man was saved by his own preaching. This drives home what Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). You see, just saying or parroting, “Jesus is Lord” will not do. He goes on to say, “… but He who does the will of my Father in heaven.” So, wait! In order to be a citizen, I need to do His will! No, in order to be a citizen, you need to not just say He’s Lord, but He must be Lord—and from that, you do His will. You do not do His will in order to get him as Lord, you do His will due to your heart (will, mind, emotions) surrendered to him!
A gospel citizen, then, is one who has been adopted by the Heavenly Father through what His Son accomplished on our behalf. Those who are part of the citizenship have surrendered their heart (again, mind, will and emotions) to Him. And what Paul is calling believers to do is this: if you’re a gospel citizen, live like one. In other words, the gospel is not simply to get us to heaven. The gospel fuels us in Christ for the here and now.