We also pray for God’s Kingdom to come, for His will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” Even where Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven, he adds: “and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).
And don’t forget that in the New Heaven and New Earth John sees the nations walking in the light of the Lamb, “and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it… They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (Rev. 21:24-26).
It is really important to examine the connection between our citizenship being in heaven and the glory of the nations being brought into the New Jerusalem. How do we get from one to the other?
Jesus tells us clearly: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20).
Our citizenship in heaven is the source of our mission. We are colonists of heaven. We bring the ways of heaven to earth in order that Christ’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. The nations learn to bring their glory to Christ because they are taught how to by the saints of God.
So we are Christians first, and all other loyalties follow. But being Christians first means that everything else follows. Everyone must come to Christ empty handed. Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling. Naked look to thee for dress, helpless look to thee for grace. But it’s vitally important to recognize that Jesus sends us back out into the world to get stuff. Jesus fills our hands with gifts that He wants us to bring back to Him.
Of course if at any moment we are tempted to take a gift somewhere else, we must stop and remember how we were empty handed and naked. We must remember (and be reminded) that everything is a gift from Him to be brought back to Him. He gives us a wife or a husband to give back to Him. He gives us children to give back to Him. He gives us gifts, skills, opportunities, talents, vocations to give back to Him. He places us in families, cities, churches, and nations to bring back to Him.
And here’s my point: you can’t bring those things to Jesus unless you embrace them. You cannot truly offer them to Jesus unless you love them. This is the pattern of the cross. It was only by the death of Christ that He purchased us and the world. It was only by His sacrificial love that He is able to offer it all up to His Father. “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24). God gives authority in order that it may be used to serve Him. God gives authority in order to bring what ever is under that authority back to Him. Strictly speaking, this is what authority is.
Authority simply is the duty that God gives to bring His gifts back to Him. He gives a husband authority to bring his wife to Christ. He gives a mother authority to bring her children to Christ. He gives pastors and elders authority to bring those sheep to Christ. He gives kings and presidents and judges authority to bring their nations to Christ.
Therefore, our task as Christians in the nation of America is to bring America to Christ, to teach America to come to Christ, to teach our nation to walk in the light of the Lamb. This is no generic pluralistic society we are aiming for. This is no bland western democracy. We have been commanded to disciple this nation, to teach this nation all that Christ has commanded, so that our nation will imitate the ways of heaven, so that our nation will bring its glory and honor into the New Jerusalem.
While we have just been apprised of the gross idolatries of many churches in America this last weekend, with services in which it is difficult to determine whether God is being worshiped or the US flag or military service members or the current president’s motto (all of which deserves its hearty condemnation), it must be said that there is nevertheless a real ditch on the other side of that muddle which is every bit as muddled. Simply put, Jesus has commanded us to bring America to Him. We are not commanded to bring the nations to America. America is not the Savior of the world. We are to bring the nations to Christ. And one of those nations is America. America is not the Savior of the world because America is a nation that needs saving.
But the only way we will bring America to Christ is if Christians love her. The only way she will walk in the light of the Lamb is if Christians lay their lives down for her. Jesus taught us that the only way to rule is to serve, that the only true authority is the authority of sacrifice. This means that the only way God will give us influence and authority in this land is by dying for it. You cannot bring the glory of a nation to Jesus unless you have died for it. Of course you can die for something in an idolatrous way. You can offer your children to Molech and certainly feel very sacrificial, but that isn’t really love. It’s actually a form of deep hatred, resentment, and spite. When children are slaughtered for a higher good, the land is defiled. But when men lay their lives down in honest love for Christ and the gifts He has given, lands are healed.
We are at the point in the story where there are no easy answers. Our military is drunk on power and confusion. Our politicians are arrogant and blind. Our churches are comfortable and confused. Our families are riddled with betrayal and brokenness of various sorts. And if our hope would be placed in any of those things, our hope would be lost. But the power of the gospel is the power of grace. This is not a bland, generic wet blanket of warm fuzzies to lay over our sins and failures. No, grace is the mercy of God for our sins. Grace is the love of God that takes our sins away. Grace hauls us out of the pits we have dug for ourselves, washes us clean, and sets us on a Rock which cannot be moved.
This kind of grace turns empty cisterns into fountains of living water. It turns deserts into gardens. It turns fear into love.
We are in a bad place in this land. We celebrate abominations. We sacrifice our children to strange gods. We are defiled in our hearts and minds with lust and greed and apathy. But the mission is unchanged. Jesus hasn’t faltered. He suffered and bled and died for this mess, for our mess, for this American mess. He purchased this land, our neighbors, our cities, this nation with His blood. He loved this part of the world in order to save it.
Without pretending away all the complications and complexities of the founding of our nation, it is nevertheless true that all things being equal, they understood that liberty required love and love required sacrifice.
There is a great deal of nationalistic hubris and confusion masquerading as patriotism in our land, but if you ask me (which you didn’t), I’d say there is a whole lot more spite and resentment and bitterness in our land all while we continue enjoying massive comforts and freedoms. We say “love” a whole lot and have so very little. And despite all the confusions, men who have been blown up by roadside bombs in far off countries doing their best to serve God and this country still resemble Christian love far better than most of us do sitting on our couches at home.
So my prayer on this American Independence Day is that God would teach us to love America like He loves America. That we would hate her sins more fiercely, and that we would more gladly lay our lives down for our neighbors. What greater love is there than this? And this is the power that enables Christ to subject all things to himself. And amen.
Happy 4th, y’all.