Alaska is a very transient place, and there’s about a 50/50 chance that when you meet someone new, they’re either going to be a life-long Alaskan or a transplant from somewhere else. That ratio might look a lot different in a place like rural Iowa or Montana, and it will surely look different in a place like Hawaii. But Alaska is a polarizing place. It's a crossroads of commerce, travel, industry, tourism, and all sorts of other things that lead to people staying for life or coming and going.
Now, as for myself, I sometimes have difficulty when someone asks me where I'm from. On the one hand, I was born in southern California, in a town called El Centro near the border of Mexico, right near the town of Mexicali. I lived there a short time before I moved with my family to an even-more obscure town on the border of California and Nevada called Needles. I lived there until I was about five years old and then my family and I moved to Manassas, VA which is right outside of Washington, DC. Then after that, when I was nine, we moved to a little town in northwestern Colorado called Craig and we lived there for seven years. Then, when I was sixteen, my family and I moved to Fairbanks, AK and that’s where I finished high school and college and met my wife. We lived in Los Angeles for several years while I went to seminary, and now we’ve lived in Anchorage for coming on ten years. In fact, if you're doing the math, this is the longest I've ever lived in one place.
So when someone asks me, “Where are you from?”, sometimes I can’t help but say, “I don’t know.” Is Fairbanks my home? Is Craig home? In some sense, I could say with firmer confidence, at least I know that Alaska is home. I’m a resident of Alaska and have been for the past 22 years. And of course, broadening the scope even further, I know without a doubt that I am a citizen of the Unites States of America. That’s at least clear. I was born here. I’ve been a citizen from birth. I have a passport that authenticates my citizenship.
But I’m a Christian. And that means that as much as I’m a citizen of this country, I’m also a sojourner. I’m a traveler in a land that isn’t my own. That’s how the Bible describes us: "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul" (1 Pet. 2:11).
So, as a Christian I find myself living in two realities. I’m a citizen of this country—a nation in this world. And yet I’m a sojourner in this world and I belong to another country, another world, another kingdom.
So which is it? Where do I belong? Which place do I have citizenship? The answer may surprise you: I have citizenship in both. A Christian is a dual-citizen. On the one hand, he lives in the world. He is a citizen of this world by pure, physical birth. There’s no getting around that fact. And yet he is simultaneously a citizen of another world—another kingdom that is not of this world.
Augustine was one of the most important theologians in the history of Christianity, and a leading figure in the church in North Africa, which was part of the Roman Empire, and he lived during the time when the Roman Empire was falling. There was a cultural emergency going on because of that decline, and Augustine sought to think through all the issues going on, including the meaning of culture and the responsibility of Christians within the culture.
What Augustine ended up doing was referring to two cities. He referred to the city of man and the city of God. And surprisingly, he said that Christians are actually citizens of both of those cities. And God, in his wisdom and divine plan chose to leave Christians in this world as part of the city of man, which is a fallen world. And what he reminded us was that while man was a citizen of this world, he must not forget that he is also a citizen of another world.
We see this same dual citizenship come out in the life of the apostle Paul. Remember in Acts 22, when he was witnessing to the people, he was arrested and about to be flogged by Roman soldiers until he revealed that he was a Roman citizen and that such a flogging would be illegal. So he claimed Roman citizenship and all the rights bound up in it. But at the same, it was Paul himself who wrote to the believers in Philippi and said, “But our citizenship is in heaven…” (Phil. 3:20).
So what does this dual citizenship reveal? It tells us that it’s possible for a person to have two places of birth. Every one of us has a physical birth place. We're all born somewhere in a very literal, physical sense. But the Christian also has a a very real spiritual birthplace as well, and it's this birthplace that's by far the most important thing about us. It's also the one thing that's going to regulate how we live out our citizenship in the city of man.
If we're being honest, every Christian struggles in one degree or another with their dual citizenship. And to a certain extent, I think that's to be expected of several generations of believers who have known nothing but life in a society whose laws and customs were for the most part rooted in biblical morality. Being a Christian was comfortable because the two cities had enough overlap to not cause undue conflict in one's loyalties.
But that era has passed, and with a vengeance. The biblical influences of society are being deconstructed with such velocity and violent zeal that it's quite astonishing to consider the turnaround. We're finally seeing a nation and society which is much closer to the time of Paul and the early church...the time before Constantine adopted Christianity as the religion of the empire. It's no longer comfortable to be a Christian. There is far less overlap between man's city and God's city. The overlap is seen mainly in those elements of natural law and common grace, and even these are being assaulted or denied.
Thus, Paul's words to the Philippians rings out especially strong: "For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with their mind set on earthly things" (Phil. 3:18–19). Paul could have just as well been writing about 21st century America as he could have about Greco-Roman culture.
He's describing people who belong to only one city. They are sole citizens of the city of man. Their sole influence is the city of man. Their sole mindset is the city of man. And Paul warns his readers to watch out for these people, partly because of the persecution they bring, but I think more than anything because of the temptation they pose. That's why in the preceding verse, he urges his readers to "join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" (v. 17). It's not so much the physical danger these people pose as much as the fact that their mindset is infectious and alluring. And because we live and breathe and eat and sleep in the city of man, we all have a hard time remembering that we're citizens of the city of God, and ultimately we're bound by the ethics of that city over and often against the city of man.
The reality is that there are massive cultural shifts going on and they are very apparent. I don't think anyone is unaware of that. But I don't know if all of us are prepared for the fact that the culture itself is erasing the overlap between man's city and God's city. I don't think we're prepared for the implications of that. I don't think we've completely embraced our dual-citizen status and that that unique status is going to lead to major issues in the coming days. I don't think we're as prepared as we think we are for the impassable conflict between these two cities and the fact that ultimate loyalties are being forced.
The last two years have caused these issues to surface. There is legislation in the works that would threaten to force the issues further. The answer isn't necessarily in stopping it from happening. I'm not saying it wouldn't be a good thing. Paul certainly saw the strategic importance of his Roman citizenship. He employed it to gain a gospel hearing before Caesar. It worked. But that strategy alone won't solve the issue because the trajectory of history is that the city of man will continue to progress in a decidedly evil direction until the end of the age and the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. Any political victories, in my opinion, simply slow the enemy advance (to use military terms...you're welcome Pastor Steve!).
For the Christian to have as settled, peace-filled soul, he has to have his eyes on something higher and further out than short-term political victory. A red wave in November doesn't mean the fight is over. It means the fight is stalled until another day. The core ideology of progressivism, after all, is the religious-like belief that the Grand March of progressivism will move inexorably forward, felling every cultural and political opposition in its path until at last progressive heaven-on-earth is established in the form of a socialist paradise. That Grand March isn't going to stop because of a mid-term defeat in the House and Senate.
Instead, the settled, peace-filled soul of the Christian is to be found not in his earthly birthplace but his heavenly one. And that reality—that ultimately he's a citizen of God's city and God's kingdom—that will not only calm his soul but embolden him to stand firm when his loyalties are forced by the angry mob of the city of man. And in that time when the Christian is forced to decide which citizenship to lean towards—which one deserves his greater loyalty—he will feel more like an outsider than he ever has before, because he knows that while he belongs to the city of man, it's not his home, and it doesn't feel like his home either.
And that's how it's supposed to be.