This past weekend, Pastor Steve preached on our duty as Christians to obey the governance that God himself created and placed in authority over humanity. He taught how these are not easy considerations and have a number of implications that affect our daily life. We obey these God-appointed earthly authorities because this obedience is reflective of our primary, heavenly citizenship that is reflected in the here and now of our earthly citizenship.
During the Civil War in 1863, an individual commented to then President Abraham Lincoln, “the Lord was on the Union side.” Lincoln had a sage response that resounds through the ages and is well worth its weight in consideration for us in modernity. He replied, “I am not at all concerned about that, for I know that the Lord is always on the side of right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.” 1
President Lincoln highlighted a very significant series of realities in this concise and theologically sound statement. First, he rightly pays homage to the theological reality that God will always be on the side of what is right and good. All things God allows to occur fall within this essential framework for human life (Romans 8:28). The second reality that demands consideration is that he does not presume that his perspective, or the perspective of the Union, was the right one. He simply stated that he prayerfully strives to lead the nation to be on the side of the Lord.
How needed this perspective is. As this sits on our collective conscience for a moment, I want to pose this question for our consideration: Are you…am I…are we…prayerful and pursuant of being on the Lord’s side, or do we cling to our version or desire of what the Lord’s side should be?
God, in his providence and plan, knew that in late summer/early fall of 2020, Bethel Church would be in Romans 13. He knew that humankind would be in the midst of the most globally tumultuous season of modern history with a myriad of opinions on each issue. God knew about the pandemic, mask recommendations/requirements, the challenges they would pose, and of the differing politico-theological opinions that would result from these things. He knew about the school system and other varying cultural authorities that would be making sweeping decisions on behalf of our families, and the divisions this would cause not just in the church, but also in our homes, on the nature of authority. He knew that we, the primarily American audience of this submission, would sit on the precipice of a foundational election season, with many having differing ideologies of what is “right,” much like the man who spoke to President Lincoln.
In short, God knew we would be in the midst of a theo-cultural identity crisis.
When one is having an identity crisis, they question their values and beliefs; they re-ask previously established “how” and “why” questions regarding how to go about life. This sometimes results in a search for new meaning, new purpose, new context for something that before seemed established, if not routine, and a pursuit of finding one’s place in what seems like chaos. 2 In an effort to once again work through the crisis to resolution and a firm identity, counseling and other equipping entities work through a series of questions like the following to assist someone in his identity quest: 3
These are helpful. But there is one that is of greater significance than the rest, and it provides answers and context for a number of the others.
“What grounds you?”
For the Christian, the answer to that question is always Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we have the gospel of salvation via God’s calling and enabling by faith through grace. This brings a resulting groundedness from a change in identity, as outlined for us in Ephesians 2:1-7:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
We were once dead and following the course of this world, but now, in God’s mercy and salvation, made alive, raised up, and seated in heaven. Being seated in heaven, something very significant occurs. Our identity and our citizenship change. Our primary identity and citizenship–association is no longer Earthling, American, or Hoosier. As the Apostle Peter outlines in 1 Peter 2:9-11, we are [in bold]…
“…a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim[ers of] the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles…”
We are God’s people. As Paul specifically references in Philippians 3:20, we are citizens of heaven. Identity: Christian. And while we remain Earthling, American, or Hoosier in our current physical location, we are citizens of a kingdom that we have not yet fully attained. We become sojourners and aliens now dwelling in a place that is not our ultimate destiny. This means our mindsets and our conduct should reflect our ultimate citizenship, not our temporary location.
As a Christian, the only identity crisis we still have is the one we bring on ourselves when we step outside of the mentality of our exclusive, primary, heavenly citizenship. We create the very identity crisis that plagues us because we have our citizenship(s) in the wrong order, and it affects how we live our lives.
All of this yields yet another significant question, and series of needed answers, that will result in my challenge to you moving forward as we consider Romans 13 and beyond.
The question is this: how do those who declare their identity as a citizen of heaven or “Identity: Christian” conduct themselves?
For answers, we turn to God’s manual of Scripture and its application.
While it is easy here to let the Bible speak for itself, I am going to modernize this just a bit and make a series of recommendation points for us to walk away with:
I believe a very simple summary could be made this way: before speaking or posting, ask yourself this: “what citizenship is on my mind?” or “what kingdom/identity am I representing right now?”
We live in charged times. In this heightened state of human tension, it is increasingly easy to think like an Earthling, American, or Hoosier. It is easy to channel the thoughts of the man speaking to President Lincoln in 1863 and believe “the Lord [is] on [my] side.” My strongest encouragement to you is to consistently and fervently have the mindset, speech, and conduct of your primary identity: Christian—one who is a citizen of heaven. To pursue, as Lincoln did, a lifestyle of striving to be on the side of the Lord. We do this by spending time with God; reading his Word and growing in our knowledge of who God says we are and do what God says we must do. This will prevent you personally and us corporately from having an unnecessary identity crisis and enable us to live confidently and purposefully in this sojourning land until God calls us home.
|↑1||William J. Federer quoting Abraham Lincoln, “America’s God & Country: Encyclopedia of Quotes,” (St. Louis, Mo., Amerisearch Inc., 1999), 387-388.|
|↑2||“What’s an Identity Crisis and Could You Be Having One?” https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/identity-crisis#causes.|