DEVOTION – CHURCH AND STATE
The screaming crowd was ready to riot when the object of their fury was taken into custody by the Roman commander. The commander ordered his centurion to bind the prisoner and stretch him out for a lashing with the Roman scourge, as a quick and dirty means of interrogation. But Paul, who had been testifying of Christ to the people of Jerusalem, still had a significant card to play. He asked, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:25)
The officer was skeptical at first, saying “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.” Paul, who came from the Roman colony of Tarsus, answered him by saying “But I was born a citizen.” At this revelation the Romans were alarmed and released him, for citizens of the empire had protections and privileges that others did not have, including the right to a trial before being convicted and punished.
Citizens by Birth
Many of the Spokesman’s readers claim citizenship by birth, as well. Anyone who is born within the United States or its territories is a citizen, as well as those who are born abroad to parents who are U.S. citizens. This citizenship status carries with it a very valuable array of rights, including the freedom of speech and religious expression, the right to bear arms, the right to a speedy trial by one’s peers when accused, and protection against unreasonable searches and cruel punishments, among others. Paul did not hesitate, at the appropriate time, to make use of his earthly citizenship status, and neither should we. We do this when we exercise our civil freedoms in our homes, churches, communities, and particularly in the voting booth. We rightly celebrate these freedoms each Independence Day on July 4.
Citizens by Rebirth
As valuable as our earthly citizenship is, its worth cannot compare with our citizenship in the Lord’s kingdom, the Holy Christian Church. Paul recognized the difference when he wrote in Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” What can possibly compare with the blessing of redemption from all sin through Christ, peace with God, His abiding protection throughout this life, and entrance into life eternal as His gift of grace?
Since we are such citizens of heaven, the remarks of both the centurion and the Apostle Paul are true of each of us, in a wonderful way:
The centurion observed “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.” This man paid handsomely to obtain his earthly civil status. A large sum was also required to purchase our heavenly citizenship. It was the Lord Jesus, not we, Who paid the awful price. “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied, and so were you—a citizen of heaven. This did not happen, however, through your natural birth. It happened when you were reborn by the working of God’s Holy Spirit. Now, as a child of God and a citizen of His heavenly kingdom, you are in full possession of all the blessings He confers upon His own, “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” (1 Peter 1:23)
In a natural way, those who are born in the United States are blessed with many liberties and privileges. Responsibilities come with those rights—the obligation to abide by our laws and to be ready to defend the freedoms which we share. In a supernatural way, we have been reborn to new life in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit through His means of grace. May we always treasure these far greater blessings, and live responsibly each day for the Lord, Who paid for our heavenly citizenship with His own blood.
Bruce Naumann is associate pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.