Citizenship in Heaven
Text: Colossians 1:1-14;
By: Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
Imagine, if you will, one of the most beautiful places you can think of. Maybe it is a place you’ve already been to or a place you are planning to visit. As magnificent as that image in your mind is, multiply that beauty by a million or a billion, to beyond your wildest dreams. Whenever I hear a description of heaven, like what we read in Revelation, I am overwhelmed by the size, the dimensions, and the beauty described. Here in Revelation we have John trying to describe, in human terms, the awesomeness of the images he is seeing.
As John describes the dimensions of the city, the beauty of the city, he is setting forth its perfection. By describing this city as made of shining precious stones and translucent gold, he is suggesting a glory and beauty that surpasses human experience and imagination.
He goes on to describe how there is no temple there, no house of worship. Why? Because none is needed because through Christ’s work all His people have direct fellowship with God. In heaven God’s glory and splendor will be fully revealed. There will no longer be a need for the sun or the moon because God will be the source of all joy and light. The gates of the city will never need to be shut for fear, because God is the source of all security and liberty and this place will always be secure.
I contrast this image with some words of a hymn that describes some of the beauty of our country. “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountains majesties, above the fruited plain!” (America the Beautiful, by Katherine Lee Bates, 1904). With as beautiful and majestic as that image is, it pales in comparison to the description of heaven, a new land that is waiting for…??? Everyone??? Is everyone going to heaven regardless of who they are and what they believe or is there a requirement to get in?
This brings me back to the topic of citizenship that we started looking at last week. Last week we focused on what it means to be a good citizen here on earth; today, I want to focus on what it means to be a citizen of heaven. Being a citizen here on earth is fairly easy, from the time we are born we are citizens of the country. This is definitely true of the United States. As people, born into citizenship, we are automatically granted all the rights and privileges of being citizens. However, if you were born in another country and you want to become a citizen of the United States, then something is required. What might that be? Well, one must apply to be a citizen and go through an extensive process of learning this country’s history, understanding its laws, and being willing to swear allegiance to this country. You don’t get to sneak in and be granted citizenship, you have to go through the correct process. Once you have done so and been granted citizenship, you are then granted all the rights and privileges of being a citizen because, you now are one.
Why do I share all this? I share all of this because it pertains to our situation in our relationship to God and whether or not we will spend eternity with Him. What do I mean? Consider, being a citizen of heaven is a bit different from being a citizen on earth. Our being naturally born does not give us automatic citizenship in heaven. Allow me to pause here to say this: there are occasions where I have been asked, “what about children who are miscarried, or die in infancy, or those who are too young to make a decision to follow Jesus, or those who are not capable of making that choice? Are they kept out of heaven?” My response to those questions is, “No. No, they are not kept out of heaven because of God’s grace.” God’s grace and love cover people of the above mentioned categories in a special way that brings them into citizenship through the blood of Jesus. What I am referring to, as we continue this message, are those of us who are able to answer for ourselves and make the choice to follow Jesus.
We may be born, as in our case, a citizen of the United States. However, this does not imply we are also citizens of heaven. Even if we are born to Christian parents, we are not automatically citizens of heaven. Even if our family has attended church for generations, we, as individuals, are not automatically citizens of heaven.
To be a citizen of heaven there is a requirement we have to meet. The requirement is that our name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21:27). To become a citizen of heaven we have to go through Jesus. There is no sneaking into heaven. There is no bargaining or bribing our way in. There is no way to get in on the shoulders of somebody else. There is no way to get in on the faith of anybody else. Each one of us has to go through Jesus.
Why would we want to become a citizen of heaven? For many of the same reasons so many people want to become citizens of the United States. There are benefits, blessings, and freedom that you can’t get or have anyplace else. Being a citizen of heaven offers us life in eternity in the presence of God as well as immediate blessings we can enjoy now. The great news is, the offer of heavenly citizenship is open to all people. All. ALL! There are no exclusions or exceptions to who receives the invitation to become a citizen of heaven. The exclusion comes to those who choose not to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. If you do not believe Jesus is Lord, then you will not have citizenship in heaven. If you reject Jesus, then you are rejecting God, His kingdom, and your desire to be present with Him. If you reject Jesus, then you are also rejecting a whole bunch of great benefits that He gives to us immediately upon our placing faith in Him.
In Colossians chapter one, Paul lists five benefits God gives all believers through Christ. These are benefits we receive in the here and now just by becoming citizens of heaven through faith in Christ. As I already mentioned, we have the eternal benefit of continued life in the presence of God when we pass from this one. That’s right, our eternity with God starts, our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, starts the moment we receive him into our life. There are five other benefits beyond this.
Benefit one: God made us qualified to share His (Jesus’) inheritance. Paul encourages us in Colossians 1:12, “giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.” The Father has qualified us by making us worthy. I don’t have to remind us of how sinful and filthy and unfit for the presence of God we are without Jesus. We are aware that without Jesus our righteousness is as filthy rags. Our good deeds apart from Jesus are garbage and count for nothing in terms of personal holiness in the presence of God. Before Jesus, no matter what we did, our personal actions counted for nothing. But God, through Jesus, qualified us, has made us worthy to share in the inheritance of the saints. We are worthy because God has made us worthy through Christ. Repeat after me, “I am worthy, because God through Christ, has made me worthy.”
Many years ago, when I was pastoring in North Carolina, I asked a man in the church to assist me in serving communion. His eyes became as big as saucers, and you could see worry and panic setting in. Beads of sweat started rolling down his face as he said to me, “Pastor, I’m not worthy to do that. I’m not worthy.” I put my hands on his shoulders and said, “Neither am I, but Jesus has made us both worthy.” He then took a deep breath and said, “I will.” In and of ourselves we are not worthy. The benefit of citizenship in heaven is that God makes us worthy.
Benefit two: He rescued us from Satan’s dominion of darkness and made us his children. Colossians 1:13, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness…” Before we receive Jesus into our heart we are under Satan’s dominion and under the power of darkness. There are those who would laugh at that statement. They would laugh at it because their thought is, “I don’t feel like any force is controlling my life or pressing me down.” The thing is, when we are being pressed down and just living our life from day to day, we may not be aware of the evil that is going on and directing our life away from God. Only when we become aware of God’s prevenient grace calling us into a relationship, and we become responsive to that grace, do we fully recognize what has been motivating our life. When we fully respond to God’s grace that is being offered in Jesus, we are given freedom from darkness, and brought into citizenship in the kingdom as God’s children.
Benefit Three: God brought us into his eternal kingdom. Again, Colossians 1:13, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” When we have received Jesus into our life, we are instantly citizens of His kingdom. We get to celebrate and rejoice in all the rights and privileges of the children of God. We get to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and we get to love our neighbor as our self. More than that, we get to love one another as Christ has loved us, all because we are brought into His eternal kingdom.
Benefit Four as a citizen of heaven: God redeemed us, bought our freedom from sin and judgment. Colossians 1:13-14 “…conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood…” God paid the price for all our sin on the cross. He paid our penalty, so we don’t have too. We could never pay for all our sin anyway. We could never earn our way into heaven, no matter how many good deeds we may do. Praise be to God, that he paid the entry fee for us.
Benefit Five: God forgave all our sins. Colossians 1:14, through Jesus we have “the forgiveness of sins.” All our sins are gone forever. The sins of our past are gone and we are no longer under condemnation for them. Any new sins we commit, we can quickly go to the Father and ask forgiveness in Jesus’ name, and…receive the forgiveness He gives because, through Jesus we are set free from the power of sin.
Let me ask you, do you ever find yourself beating yourself up for sins you committed in the past? You mull them over in your mind again, and again, and again, wishing you hadn’t done them? If so, I want to encourage you to cut it out! Don’t let the devil steal your joy as a citizen of heaven. The devil just wants you stuck on your past because it distracts you from the very life you have in God right now. Through faith in Jesus, you are a citizen of heaven redeemed by His blood and all your past has been washed away. Your past is covered and gone by the blood of the lamb. What this means for us is we can choose to not sin any more. Isn’t that great? As Christians, as citizens of heaven, we have the freedom to choose to live our lives in the fullness of the love of Christ. We can choose to be united as one because, in Jesus, we are one.
Being a citizen of the United States is great, but, nowhere near as great and awesome as being a citizen of heaven. By being a citizen of heaven, we have eternal life that starts right now along with the blessings of living as God’s children in the here and now. And as God’s children in the here and now, we have the ability to be even better citizens of this country, by living our faith boldly, and participating in the life of this country. We may not like everything that is going on, we may not like everything we see, but church, this is one of the reasons we are here. As citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we are here to share the Good News of Jesus and offer His invitation of citizenship into heaven to all people. We are here to be a blessing and to be a part of transforming the world through the power of the Gospel of Christ. By boldly living our faith we demonstrate our “good citizenship” in heaven and our love of Jesus and His love for the world. Amen.