Citizens of Heaven and a Worthy Savior
Nick Esch, 5/3/2020 Cornerstone Baptist Church
If I said, a good American is ___________… what would you say? How would you fill in the blank? Perhaps you would say a good American is honest and hardworking… Or maybe you’d say a good American is a good citizen who rightly lives in line with the constitution and the laws of the land for their good and the good of their fellow man. And all of those answers are right in one way or another. And all of us should seek to be good citizens of this country, or of whatever country we find ourselves in… But, we Christians must also remember that we have a heavenly citizenship that outranks our earthly citizenship, because our heavenly citizenship is eternal.
Philippians 3:20 reminds us, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” And since that’s true, we’d do well to ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be a good citizen of heaven?” This is a far heavier question than what it means to be a good American. This is asking what it means to be and live as a true Christian, as a true child of God, as a true citizen of the kingdom of God. And Lord willing, that’s exactly what we’ll see in God’s Word today. So look with me at Philippians 1:27.
So far Paul has been encouraging the Philippian Christians: telling them how he’s praying for them, how he longs for them, and how he hopes to get out of prison and see them soon. But, he doesn’t want them to be discouraged by his imprisonment, so he has been telling them how God has used his imprisonment for the advancement of the gospel and the glory of Christ, because in and through Paul’s life and ministry, God has caused many to see that Christ is infinitely better than anything life could give or death could take; and now many, like Paul, are living for Christ, and counting death as gain. And that leads us to verse 27.
In verse 27 Paul says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” Here Paul picks up right where he left off, basically telling the Philippians that he may or may not get out of prison. He’s already said that he knows that through their prayers and the help of the Spirit he will be delivered, but by that he meant that he would make it to the end of this life still trusting in and following Christ. By God’s grace he would holdfast and be delivered from this life into glory. But, that doesn’t mean that he’ll make it out of prison; so, whether he does and can come to them, or whether he doesn’t and he never sees them again, either way, Paul is saying, their calling is the same. But, what is their calling?
The first part of verse 27 says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” Notice the verse starts with the word only, and by that Paul is saying that this charge, this calling is all-encompassing. It is as if Paul is saying, “If you only give your life to doing one thing, make sure it’s this… Do this above all else…” Or really you could say, do this in and through all that you do, because what’s being laid out here is a summary of what the entire Christian life should look like. Like 1 Corinthians 10:31, that says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” So here the Philippians are being told to do everything that they do in this manner… In a manner worthy of the gospel… And because this is all-encompassing, this applies just as much to us as it does to the Christians in Philippi… This calling applies to all Christians.
Every Christian is to, “let [their] manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” But, what does that mean? Well, the ESV isn’t as helpful here as other translations are. You see, in the original Greek, manner of life, was really one word, the word πολιτεύεσθε (po-li-teu-es-the). You can hear the word politics in there, because this all ties together. Polis is the word for city, and politics refers to the affairs of a city. And the word here translated in the ESV as manner of life is a verb referring to the way in which a citizen of a certain area or a certain city lives and behaves. The same word in its noun form is used in Philippians 3:20, when Paul reminds us that, “our citizenship is in heaven…” That’s why Hebrews 13:14 reminds, “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come…” And that’s why the Christian Standard Bible, for instance, translates verse 27, “As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And that’s what Paul is saying here.
Christians are citizens of heaven, and therefore we should live in such a way that our life displays that fact. But what does it mean to be a citizen of heaven? Well, the answer to that is tied to what comes next. We are citizens of heaven called to live our lives in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Christ… Now, don’t misunderstand what’s being said here. In the song Is He Worthy, we sing, “He is…” because Jesus is deserving of all praise and honor. But, in this context the word worthy doesn’t mean deserving, but fitting or appropriate. Let, me show you what I mean.
In Acts 26:20 Paul talks about how after he preached the gospel in certain areas he called the Gentiles there to, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” In keeping withis the word for worthy in the Greek. He’s saying that the Gentiles should repent and turn to God, and then live in such a way that their life is fitting or appropriated to their repentance. As John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:8, they should, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” In other words, if they have truly repented their life should reflect their repentance. The fruit of their repentance is deeds, is a life that displays that they have truly repented and turned to God. But what exactly does it look like to repent, turn to God, and live in step with that reality?
Jesus helps us understand this, and really ties all of this together in Matthew 10:37-38; there He says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Now, as I said about our passage, though this word translated worthy could be translated deserving, the context doesn’t allow for it, and neither does the context of Matthew 10. As Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And as Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death…” And that’s all we deserve: physical death and spiritual death… We certainly do not deserve the Son of God: the most beautiful, loving, kind, generous, gracious, and amazing person in existence… So you see, that can’t be what worthy means here.
Like Acts 26 and Matthew 3, the word for worthy means fitting or appropriate, it means in keeping with… So, in Matthew 10 Jesus is saying if we love anyone or anything more than Him then our lives, our affections are not fitting or appropriate for a Christian because they are not in keeping with the life and heart of a true Christian. A true Christian, someone who repents, turns to God, and lives in step with that reality, loves Jesus above all: above all that life can give; and a true Christian joyfully picks up his cross—his instrument of execution—and follows Jesus to the death, because He loves Jesus more than anything death can take. The true Christian worthy of Christ, the true Christian who is fitting and appropriate, who lives in keeping with who Jesus is and what He’s done is one who says with Paul, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), because Jesus is their greatest treasure. That’s what it means to live worthy of Christ, or as our text says, to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ… It means to live and love in such a way that it is clear that Jesus is our greatest treasure, our greatest love… that we are most satisfied in Him…
But, in and of ourselves, we are sinners deserving of death because we don’t love Christ as we ought, we don’t live for Christ as we ought… In James 1:14-15 we’re told, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” We are broken sinful creatures with broken sinful desires… with broken sinful loves and affections. In and of ourselves we do not love Christ rightly, and thus we all commit sins deserving of death. This is what Romans 1:18-32 teaches us, that though we were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, to love Him in His glory above all else, we have exchanged Him and His glory for created things instead… Above all we have exchanged God’s glory for our own… Our desires, our affections that were meant for God have turned in on themselves, and turned away from God, and thus we have fallen short of God’s glory… And that is at the heart of what sin is… Sin is an offense against the infinitely glorious God, it’s a breaking of His commandments (especially the command to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength), and it is thus a falling short of His infinite glory, and thus sin is an infinite offense…
As you know, Charles Spurgeon was a great preacher and pastor; but what you might not know is that his father and his grandfather were ministers as well. It ran in his family, so to speak. Well, in Romans 5:19 we’re told that by Adam’s disobedience the many were made sinners… Adam and Eve, our ancestors, were put in paradise to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but they chose to rebel against Him instead. And now all who are in Adam, all of humanity are by nature sinners. It runs in our family, so to speak…
It’s not that we are sinners because we sin, but that we sin because we are sinners. When Adam and Eve sinned against God, humanity as a whole fell, and now we are all sinners by nature. We naturally love and worship ourselves and the creation instead of the Creator. As Ephesians 2:1-3 says, by nature all of mankind are dead in our sins, living in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and are by nature deserving of God’s wrath. As Jesus said in John 6:34, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” We are by nature dead in sin, enslaved to it, and thus dead to God—already dead spiritually, destined to die physically, and to be always dying but never dead in hell under God’s wrath forever, because our infinite offense deserves an infinite punishment… And we’re so dead, so enslaved, so blinded by our love affair with sin, self, and stuff that we can’t see, or won’t see how lovely Christ is, how much lovelier He is than sin, self, and stuff.
Ephesians 2 says everyone in this state is without hope and without God. We’ve rejected God, rebelled against God, and are justly deserving of God’s righteous wrath. So, what are we to do… Well, in and of ourselves, there’s nothing we can do. But, this is why Philippians 1:27 is so sweet. It doesn’t call us to merely live in a manner worthy of God the Son, but to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, the gospel of God the Son who is the Christ, the Messiah, the promised King who came to save His people.
The word gospel means good news; and, as verse 27 says, it’s the good news of Christ, or the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ. And this good news is explained throughout Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 2:5-11 for instance, were told that, “Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” But He didn’t stay dead. He rose in power. And, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
And this is incredibly good news, because as Paul says in Philippians 3:9, when we turn from our sin and trust in the finish work of Christ we are, “found in him, not having a righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…” That’s why Philippians 1:27 talks about the gospel of Christ and the faith of the gospel at the end of the verse, or the faith that is in the gospel…
Philippians tells us that the gospel is the good news that tells us that there is one true God who created us to glorify Him, but instead we have rebelled and rejected Him, and thus deserve His wrath. But Jesus, who is God, became a man, and lived a perfectly obedient life; the life lived for God’s glory that we have failed to live. And then He died the death that we deserve to die; and He didn’t merely die physically, but spiritually as He had the wrath of God due us poured out upon Himself in our place on the cross. He satisfied God’s wrath due God’s people. And not only did He humbly and obediently live and die, but then He powerfully rose from the dead, so that all who turn from their sin and trust in Him, all who place their faith in Him would be united to Him, and thus covered in His righteousness. Again, Romans 5:19 says, “by the one man’s disobedience (Adam) the many were made sinners…” But it also says, “by the one man’s obedience (Jesus) the many will be made righteous.” And so, all who have faith in Christ are saved by Him, united to Him, clothed by Him, belong to Him, and will spend eternity with Him glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever.
This is the gospel. And it is this gospel that transforms us from being mere sinners, to being citizens of heaven. We were dead in sin, blind to the beauty of the glory of God in Christ, and headed towards eternal destruction. But, then we were confronted by the Word of Christ, by the gospel… And as Romans 10:17 says, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” We were dead in our sin and in darkness, then we were confronted with the gospel that tells us that, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And when we saw God’s amazing love and irresistible grace in Christ, suddenly everything changed.
“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” (Ephesians 2:4-5)… As Ephesians 2:8 says, “by grace [we were] saved through faith. And [it was not our] own doing; it [was] the gift of God.” By grace, through the gospel and the power of the Spirit we were granted faith… We were blind to His beauty, living only for our selves and our sinful desires… But, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, [shined] in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). By His sovereign grace through the power of the Holy Spirit, we were enabled to, “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8a)! For the first time we saw the truth that, “Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8b)! And when we saw, when we tasted, we turned from our sin and trusted in Him. We had true genuine faith for the first time. We turned from our sin and trusted in and treasured Christ. Or, as we saw earlier, we repented, turned to God, and began to live in step with that reality for the very first time, we began to truly treasure Christ, because that’s what faith does…
And, as 1 Peter 2:9 says, when we truly heard that gospel call and repented and believed, God, “called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once [we] were not a people, but now [we] are God’s people; once [we] had not received mercy, but now [we] have received mercy.” Or as Colossians 1:13 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” By God’s grace, through faith in the gospel we are delivered from sin, Satan, self, the world, and God’s wrath, and we are brought into right relationship with God, and into the kingdom of God, and we are thus citizens of heaven.
When we, by God’s grace, see Christ rightly in the gospel, and we truly repent and believe in the gospel, God is doing a great work in us at that time. He’s causing us to be born again. As Ezekiel 11:19 says, He removes our heart of stone, that naturally loves sin, self, and stuff more than God, and replaces it with a heart of flesh, that beats for Christ; that desires and treasures Him above all else. In John 3:3 Jesus said, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And by that He meant that until God does a regenerating work in us, we will never see the truth of the gospel, nor will we ever see heaven. But, by God’s grace every Christian has seen the truth of the gospel, we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and we will see heaven, we will see the kingdom of God; in fact we will glorify God and enjoy Him forever, as we live with Him forever in His heavenly kingdom. And by God’s grace, already, here and now, we are citizens of heaven. Who we were at the core of our being, before God’s grace, was sinners… But now, by God’s grace in and through the gospel, who we are at the core of our being is citizens of heaven. And Philippians 1:27 is saying that we are therefore to live as such.
But, that doesn’t mean living perfectly, because we won’t be able to do that until we are with God in heaven. Living as citizens of heaven now, means living in a manner worthy of the gospel. And as we saw, that means repenting, turning to God, and living in step with that reality… which means loving Jesus above all: above all that life can give or death can take. In means, like Paul, living a life that displays that to live is Christ and to die is gain. But, again, we will do all of that imperfectly. So, we must continue to repent, and seek to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
Though we have been born again, and are now new creations in Christ, we are not yet what we will be. We are still living in broken bodies in a broken world; we have a real enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy… And we ourselves are still recovering from our love affair with sin, self, and stuff. We are recovering sin addicts, as it were. And so, we sin, and we fail to be who we truly are. We fail to live as citizens of heaven. But, we can still live lives worthy of the gospel if we will continue to repent. If we confess our sin, ask the Lord for forgiveness, trust in the finish work of Christ to provide that forgiveness, and seek to turn to God once again, believing that Jesus is better than our sin, better than self, and better than stuff. In doing this, we display the beauty of the gospel and what the gospel does. The gospel doesn’t immediately bring us into sinless perfection, but it changes the direction of our lives towards Christ and Christ-likeness.
Lord willing, in the weeks to come we will get into the specifics of how to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, but, generally what we see here is that living in a manner worthy of the gospel means living as citizens of heaven, our true home. But, because we are not yet home we will stumble and fall many times on our way home. So, in the meantime, we live worthy of the gospel as we acknowledge, own, and repent of our sin, and do all that we can to proclaim and display that Jesus is better than sin, that Jesus is better than self, and that Jesus is better than stuff. We don’t live in a manner worthy of Christ or worthy of the gospel of Christ by acting as though we deserve it, but by acknowledging that we don’t deserve it. All we deserve is death and hell, yet in Christ we receive grace, love, and mercy… In Christ we receive eternal life and eternal joy… So, living in a manner worthy of the gospel means openly acknowledging our unworthiness, and living to magnify the worth of Christ, who is infinitely better than everything and every one.