...
Rev. Steven Key, emeritus minister of the Protestant Reformed Churches and
member of Loveland PRC in Loveland, Colorado

For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20

This month we commemorate Ascension Day. The significance of Christ’s ascension is unfolded from many perspectives in Holy Scripture, including in Philippians 3:20. Because our Lord has been received into heaven, “our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ, according to Scripture, is our Head, the Head of the church, and we are in Him; therefore, our life is in heaven.

The meaning

The word conversation in Scripture refers not merely to speech, such as is the common usage today; but it has reference to our walk of life, our behavior from every point of view. In writing to the Philippians the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses a different word than is commonly translated conversation and that refers to one’s conduct or walk of life. The word he uses here is a Greek word you would recognize as that from which we derive the term politics or political. He refers, therefore, to our walk of life as defined by our citizenship, a heavenly citizenship.

We recognize that we have our conversation here on earth—for however many years God gives us. We live among our neighbors and in the various relationships God gives us. But we do so as strangers passing through (I Pet. 2:11). As the apostle Paul calls our attention to things spiritual and to the significance of Christ’s ascension, he reminds us that our conversation is in heaven, where we now have our true citizenship.

Heaven is the perfect realization of God’s fellowship and love, of communion between God and His citizens. It is that reality in which God rules over all by His grace, and in which kingdom His subjects delight to do His will. There God is King. There Christ is the revelation of the perfect kingship of God, and at the same time the first citizen of that kingdom. God, therefore, rules us through Christ and by the Spirit of Christ. According to His sovereign good pleasure and His decree of election in Christ, He has established an unbreakable covenant union between us and our King Jesus. Because of that, we who are the citizens of that heavenly kingdom find our chief delight in doing the will of God.

That our citizenship is in heaven emphasizes two things.

In the first place, it means that we belong there. We have a legal right to our place there. That certainly cannot be said from a natural point of view. Of that we are reminded constantly by the sins of our flesh. So that when Paul writes that our conversation or citizenship is in heaven, there is reference to that sovereign work of God by which He has given us that legal right to our place within His kingdom as citizens and as willing subjects of the Most High God. We have that right because of Christ alone who is our wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption (I Cor. 1:30). That legal right to our place in heaven is established by Christ our Head being in heaven. That is God’s seal of approval upon Christ’s work, whereby He gave us that right to be citizens of God’s kingdom.

There is a very important practical reason why we observe Ascension Day. The church looks at the glorified, ascended, heavenly Christ, and knows that she has her citizenship in heaven. We know that because Christ has given us our naturalization papers, the papers by which we know that we are citizens of heaven’s kingdom. That is the gospel. In the gospel we have Christ’s word and assurance that our citizenship is in heaven. By the gospel we know that our citizenship is in that commonwealth where God is our Friend-Sovereign and we are His friend-servants. Those citizenship papers we lay hold of by faith. God so works in us by His Holy Spirit that we receive those naturalization papers of the gospel and submit ourselves willingly to the government of Christ. We recognize the constitution and laws of the kingdom of heaven. Not only do we have the rights of citizens in that kingdom, but in that kingdom we have citizenship obligations, spiritual obligations, obligations of love.

For that reason, that our citizenship is in heaven means, in the second place, that our conversation is in heaven. Belonging to that conversation is our thoughts, desires, inclinations, speech, all our actions, our whole life in relationship to God and to others. Among many other things, to that conversation belong our life within our marriage relationships, our relationship to our employers, our relationship to the state and to all those who are in authority over us. That our conversation is in heaven means that our whole life is controlled by Christ, so that our walk in the midst of this world is antithetical, in stark contrast to that of the world.

Yes, we still struggle with our sinful natures. But when our life is in heaven, then we exercise ourselves in a tremendous battle against sin and against the world where their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things (Phil. 3:19). Is it so with us? The apostle says (v. 17), “Be ye followers together of me, and mark them which so walk as ye have us for an ensample…. For our conversation is in heaven.” Do we hear this Word of God? Is this true of us?

We are living in an age where heavenly conversation is extremely rare, even in the church. The spirit of our age is self-centered and pleasure-crazed (II Tim. 3:1- 5). That affects us. It presses upon us. Looking upon Christ, we must remember our citizenship. We must be able to confess with the apostle, “Our conversation is in heaven.”

The ground

The ground of our heavenly citizenship is Christ’s perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness, imputed to us by a wonder of grace. The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom entirely different from any kingdom on this earth. Here you might travel to another country. A family might go to Canada and spend some time there with special visitor’s permission and, if they like it, they might over a lengthy process become naturalized citizens. But it is not that way when it comes to heaven. Heaven, as to its idea, is not something you can just try out for a while. You do not apply for citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. Before you can enter heaven, even as to its idea—fellowship with God—you must first be naturalized, indeed, born again. John 3:3: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

That you and I are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, whose conversation is in heaven, is due to the fact that Christ has given us those legal naturalization papers by a wonder of God’s grace. Our right to enter is grounded in God’s sovereign wonder work of election and is established by Christ, rooted in the righteousness He obtained for us in the cross. That right has been sealed in the resurrection of Jesus.

But our entrance into heaven has been realized in His ascension. The believer not only has his citizenship papers in heaven legally but, united with Christ, he already lives in heaven. That again is an astounding truth and hard for us to comprehend through the eyes of our earthly perspective. But we must live in the consciousness of our heavenly citizenship. As our legal and organic Head, the ascended Christ has united Himself with us forever by the outpouring of His Holy Spirit. The heavenly One has made us heavenly. That is the wonder of grace proclaimed to us in the gospel of Christ’s ascension. The ascended Lord of glory regenerates us, calls us, sanctifies us, giving us the knowledge of belonging to His kingdom. He makes us partakers in the joy of that citizenship. He fills our hearts with thankfulness to God and the desire to live for His name’s sake and for His glory. He instructs us in the knowledge of that heavenly conversation. And being instructed by the irresistible and powerful Word of His grace, we say, “Our conversation is in heaven.” Is that true of you?

That heavenly citizenship causes a great tension in our lives. For that heavenly conversation is ours only as a small beginning. But when the heavenly Christ by His Spirit comes and dwells in us, and implants within us His heavenly life and keeps that life alive and gives vibrancy to that life, there is a tension, a struggle, a battle. We are earthly, yet heavenly; sinners, yet righteous; corrupt, yet holy. But our conversation is in heaven.

And that means two things. First, it means that we are sorry for sin and flee from it. Second, it means we want to live the life of heaven, in which the will of God is our delight. We want that in every aspect of our lives. We sing from the heart with the psalmist in Psalm 119, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way” (Ps. 119:97, 104). We are strangers in the earth, with no abiding place here.

The fruit

So we also expect the Savior from heaven. For His salvation we long. Though our conversation is in heaven, we still lie in the midst of sin. O, how we long for the day when we shall experience the perfection of heavenly glory, in the fellowship of our God! Come, Lord Jesus!

For that we look. That word look is expressive of the longing gaze of the child of God toward God’s promises, a gaze that reaches forth for that which is coming. That hope governs our perspective and our life.

When you view this text in the light of its context, then you also see that these words are meant to be an exhortation for us. “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample…. For our conversation is in heaven.” The apostle says to the believers in Philippi, “Follow us. You cannot see Christ, but you see us. Follow us, and walk as you see us walk.” We ought to be able to say the same to our children and to those who see our example. That will be true when our eyes of faith are fixed upon the ascended Lord of glory, Jesus Christ the Head and Mediator of the covenant. In Him our conversation is in heaven.