“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
For our conversation is in heaven…!
Literally, according to the original text, we read: “For our commonwealth exists in the heavens…”
Now, if our commonwealth is in the heavens, it must follow that we are citizens of that heavenly form of government. It must mean that the laws by which we are governed are dictated from heaven.
That the translation has “conversation,” is due undoubtedly to the fact that the apostle is contrasting the life and walk of the church of Christ with that of the children of this world. Of the latter the apostle writes in the context: “For many walk…who are enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” They give evidence that they are merely world citizens.
Not so, however, do the redeemed members of Christ’s church live and walk! Their walk is wholly different. They seek and set their hearts not on the earthly things, but the heavenly. They do not idolize their belly, but they live in the Spirit. They hate not the cross of Christ, but they are crucified with Him, yea, they are identified with Him in His death and burial, in His resurrection and ascension, and exaltation at God’s right hand. Their end is not destruction, but blessed eternal life. All of this blessed estate the apostle with one sweep of the pen describes in the text as our commonwealth which is in the heavens. There is our citizenship, even though temporarily we are required to sojourn here on the earth. Here is not our real citizenship,—our walk is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. While we are still on the earth, we are governed by the laws of heaven, and possess all the rights of the citizens of that heavenly kingdom.
Indeed, we have the rights of citizens in the heavens!
What this means can perhaps best be understood by the illustration of an immigrant who migrates, let us say, from the Netherlands to these United States of America. Such an one leaves his fatherland and seeks a better country in this western hemisphere. As a stranger in a strange land, he enters through the port of entry to make this land his home. That such an one is a complete stranger is immediately in evidence. You can see it in his face, you can hear it when he speaks. In fact, his whole appearance gives him away as being a stranger in our country. What is still more severe, is the fact that he is also a stranger in the juridical sense. His citizenship is on the other side of the ocean, in the land of his birth. In the new land he has no citizen rights. Under certain circumstances it is possible that such a migrant may be forcibly returned to the land whence he came. However, if he is determined to remain in the new land, in time he may take out naturalization papers. Accordingly, he will then be pronounced by a court in the land to have now become a citizen of these United States after he has promised to abide by the laws and regulations of the new land of his choice, and he swears his allegiance to the flag of his new country. When this happens, he obtains all the rights and privileges of those who are regular and native citizens of our country, namely, the right to live here, to be protected by the law of the land, etc. Juridically he is pronounced to be an American citizen.
So our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is determined juridically.
O, indeed, it may be difficult for us who still dwell on the earth to form a clear and perfect conception of the heavenly. Not only are we as children of God still so imperfect and does the darkness of our sinful understanding hinder us from perceiving the things of the kingdom of heaven; but also, even apart from the fact that we still have a sinful and corrupt nature, we are earthly, not heavenly. We are earthly from the point of view of our creation; we are bound to the earth, to the material, earthly, tangible, and temporal things. All our senses whereby we take cognizance of things, are earthly. We are simply bound to the earth in all our thinking, willing, and acting. And therefore we cannot form another conception of the heavenly than is revealed to us in the mirror of the earthly.
In spite of all this, however, there is nevertheless much that can be said of the heavenly. We can know of and speak about it with confidence, that there is a commonwealth, a fatherland, a heavenly kingdom, where God, the Lord Himself is King, where His will is law, but where He is the sovereign friend of His people, and where He purposes to spread out His tabernacle over them in eternal love, wherein He is feared and worshipped with awe, where the bond of His covenant friendship encircles all His own, where they behold Him in the beauty of holiness, and serve Him in love forever. This constitutes the very heart and essence of that which is heavenly. Further, we know that in the heavenly commonwealth all the above mentioned relationships find their concentration in and realization through our Lord Jesus Christ.
He is the Mediator through Whom all the glory of the heavenly shines in all the members of His body. He is the First-born among many brethren. For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell, and unto Him is given power to renew all things, and to destroy all that is of the earth, earthy. In the heavens and earth- made perfect there shall be no more death and curse, but complete deliverance from the material bonds that tie us to the earth. In the new creation which shall be dominated by the heavens there is no corruption, no death, no struggle, no sighing, and all tears are forever wiped away. There is perfect peace!
In that heavenly kingdom we have received citizen’s rights, and are declared to be the lawful citizens!
These rights we have obtained through our Lord Jesus Christ! He obtained them for us by His perfect obedience, through His suffering and death. Because He so deeply humbled Himself, God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name above every name. Therefore also God has given unto Him the Spirit without measure, in order that He might sanctify us, and write on the table of our hearts the laws of the heavenly kingdom. And because we are in Him, both by sovereign election and by faith, we are principally. already with Him in heaven. This is the tone of all the Scriptures. Listen to what the apostle writes in Ephesians 2:5, 6: “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Or again, in Colossians 3:1: “If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” But note, too what we read in Hebrews 12:22, 23: “But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” Such, indeed, is the rich meaning of our heavenly citizenship!
But even so, there is much more that must be said! Particular notice should be given to the fact that the apostle neither in the text nor in any of the texts mentioned above is exhorting us to become such heavenly citizens. Nor does he inform us that we shall become such in some future time. Rather, he makes the positive statement that our citizenship is now in heaven. Our present walk as citizens is now in heaven.
That is what is so remarkable about our present status! Calling attention once more to the illustration we used above concerning the immigrant who becomes a citizen of our country, you will observe that there is a marked difference between that earthly example and the spiritual reality of our present citizenship which is heavenly. Though the migrant is eventually juridically declared to be a citizen of his new country, and after many years residing in his new land he may assume the customs of that new country, learn to speak the new language quite fluently, adopt the modes of dress, and habits of living, etc., so that in many respects it would be difficult to distinguish him from the natural citizen; yet with all this change, you will still detect that he is a foreigner, with different blood in him. You will observe, and he will admit that he came from another nation. Even if he has learned to speak the American tongue fluently, he has a brogue, or there are certain words which he cannot pronounce as the native. He reveals certain habits which plainly indicate that he has not perfectly coincided with our manner of living.
But how different it is with the citizen of heaven!
While he is in the world, he is estranged to it. He lives the life of heaven. Not only is he declared juridically to be the proper citizen of heaven, but he is made such a citizen spiritually by pure and sovereign grace.
All this is accomplished for God’s people by the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ!
He is our Saviour! Who delivers us from the greatest possible evil, unto the greatest possible good. Who delivers us from the sin and corruption, from the curse and destruction of the present evil world, and makes us to be partakers of the very life and glory of heavenly citizens.
He is the perfect Saviour, while He is the complete Mediator! This is beautifully indicated in all the names ascribed to Him. He is the Lord, who purchased us with His precious blood, Who possesses us in body and soul, Who defends us against all our enemies, and preserves us in the salvation He has merited for us. He is Jesus, Who saves His people from their sins, Who saves unto the uttermost all who were given Him from the Father. He is Christ, the anointed of the Father, and qualified to make us the partakers of His anointing by His Holy Spirit.
So our heavenly citizenship becomes a present reality!
And so also it follows that we look for Him out of the heavens!
You see, because we are heavenly citizens, we of necessity become strangers in the world!
Not only do we become estranged to the world, lose all our attraction to the world, and seek those things which are above. But we actually become strangers to the world, and in the world. At least, so it ought to be! O, indeed, we readily confess that we have but a small beginning of new obedience. We freely admit that often the line of demarcation between us and the world is hardly discernible. And in the measure this is so, we cannot boast that our citizenship is in heaven, nor can we say with the apostle that we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is this fact that deeply humbles us into the dust, so that with the publican we must cry out: “O, God, be merciful unto me, the sinner!” But when by God’s grace we live as strangers, we are marked by the world and treated as such. Then we are hated, maligned, persecuted, and required to suffer for His Name’s sake.
It is this, that moves us to look to the heavens, from which we expect our Saviour!
Our heavenly citizenship then brings with it this salutary effect. On the one hand, we are made to become strangers in the present evil world. On the other, to look in holy anticipation for the Saviour, Who shall change our vile body, the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself. When we are delivered finally from the body that must be returned to the dust whence it came, and this body is conformed to Christ’s glorious body in the resurrection, then our citizenship will be perfected in glory.
This is our blessed hope!