Christians hold two passports. We are citizens of two kingdoms: the earthly and the heavenly. We have responsibilities to both kingdoms, but one – the heavenly – must ultimately trump the other. As such there will always be tension in the believer’s life.
Learning how to live with this tension as we strive to get the biblical balance right is always a tough assignment. But it must be attempted. There is ultimately only one king, with many false claimants to the throne. While government is a divinely established institution, and a much-needed one in a fallen world, our loyalties to it can only go so far.
Being a committed Christian will always mean that other allegiances will be demanded of us, but they must be refused nonetheless. Ultimately everyone must choose their full and final allegiance. When Jesus was taken away by the mob for execution, the crowd cried out, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
There of course can never be two ultimate kings. So if we embrace false kings of our own making, that means we must reject the rightful king of the universe. Whether these are political leaders, or pagan ideologies, or false gods like materialism or pleasure, there can never be two kings sitting on the one throne.
And it was not just Jesus who alienated people and polarised the crowds. The early disciples experienced the same thing. Wherever they went they seemed to cause trouble, and the crowds were continuously opposing them. As but one example, when Paul and Silas were in Thessalonica it did not take long for trouble to erupt.
As we read in Acts 17:5-8: “But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: ‘These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’ When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil.”
The charge of proclaiming “another king” was partly right. The disciples were not setting up political rivals to Caesar, but by elevating Jesus as the one true Lord, that meant Caesar was not lord. But the political authorities of the day of course could not tolerate any such rival to Caesar.
David Peterson comments, “Accepting the lordship of Christ would mean new priorities and loyalties for those who became disciples. It would lead to the transformation of personal relationships, business and personal ethics, social structures and ambitions, new attitudes towards other religions, and changed ways of relating to Caesar and his representatives.”
Yes quite so – the gospel changes everything, and when people take on Christ as Saviour and Lord, everything gets transformed. The world is simply turned upside down as the KJV says in Acts 17:6. That is always the case when Christians faithfully follow their Lord and declare their faith.
As James Montgomery Boice remarks, “Paul and Silas had been upsetting the world. But that wasn’t a bad thing for them to do. It was a good thing, because the world had already been turned upside down by sin. So by turning it upside down again, they were actually setting it right. I wish all Christians would upset the world that way.”
Me too. But such world-transforming business will only come about when we have stopped trying to serve two (or three or four…) masters, and decide just who in fact is king, and the sole authority and ruler of our life. Only then can we become effective for the Kingdom as the early church was.
Of course to say all this is not to decry the political processes and realities which we face in this world. As I mentioned, we are dual passport holders. We are citizens of the heavenly kingdom, but we have very real responsibilities in the earthly realm.
One of them is to be a good citizen, as we seek to be salt and light, and seek to help work for righteousness at the political and social levels. So our responsibilities as voters, as citizens, and as residents of our particular nations must be taken seriously.
In the US right now it means at the very least, quite carefully and prayerfully considering how to vote not just for a president but for the various congressional races and other ballots. And as we do all this to the glory of God, we of course realise that our ultimate hope will never be in politics alone.
Yes we strive for the best government and the policies most in line with biblical principles, but we know that heaven will not be brought to earth by politics alone, and no one party or candidate is going to be the complete answer to all our problems.
As Malcolm Muggeridge once put it, “As Christians we know that here we have no continuing city, that crowns roll in the dust and every earthly kingdom must sometime flounder, whereas, with knowledge of a king men did not crown and cannot dethrone, we are citizens of a city man did not build and cannot destroy.”
That indeed is our ultimate hope, and our only hope. Sure, we work and pray as hard as we can in this life to see godly government established – or as close to it as we can in a fallen world – but we recognise that the full and final answer to all our problems is a King from another realm.
It is his Kingdom we must work for, and we must seek to make His kingdom manifest in this world. And that is just what Jesus taught us to pray for: “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’” (Matthew 6:9-10).
So as we avow our allegiance to only one King, let’s let that loyalty be tested and proven as we seek to extend his Kingdom in this world. Indeed, we know that at the end of history, the Kingship of Jesus will be made manifest to everyone:
“And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15). Let’s allow this process to begin now, as we decisively resolve to make Jesus King of our lives.