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Walk by the Spirit: Part 7

Christians have dual citizenship. We are children of God and part of his kingdom, yet we still call this world home.

John A. Braun

We got off the plane and headed to the baggage carousel to pick up our luggage. The sun was shining through the windows after the long transatlantic flight, and we were ready to travel. But we were not free to travel yet. Our passports had to be checked before we could enter the country. The process is familiar to anyone who has traveled across an international border.

As I stood in line waiting to be admitted to another country, I remembered Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). He explained, “Flesh gives birth to flesh.” My parents gave me flesh and blood. Flesh gives birth to flesh. I couldn’t change my birth. I didn’t do anything to gain citizenship in the United States. I didn’t pass a test. I didn’t pick my parents, my ethnic origin, my language, or the culture or history that surrounded me. I had a passport, I thought, as I stood in line and waited.

I thought a little more about what Jesus told Nicodemus. I am a born a human. That’s a good thing, I am happy to be alive and enjoy life, but there’s a downside as well. Just because I was born doesn’t mean I can enter the kingdom of God. None of us can. On our own we’d stand in line outside the kingdom of God forever. God requires more than one birth certificate. Born again, Jesus said. There’s a checkpoint we must pass before we can enter into the kingdom of God.

Why? Birth here only allows us life and breath. The downside means that human birth pits every human against God. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit.” He also described us as “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Something must change. Jesus says it clearly. We must be “born of water and the Spirit”

By the gospel in Word and sacrament, we are forgiven and changed. God makes us his children and citizens of his kingdom. I didn’t do anything for that status any more than I did for my natural birth. Born again, baptized, and now a citizen of God’s kingdom, I have a second passport. This one is emblazoned with the cross of Christ and “kingdom of God” stamped on its cover. Jesus has secured our status as his children. Paul wrote about that too: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ” (Galatians 3:26,27).

More than a change in status

Jesus was crucified once and for all. When the Holy Spirit brought us to faith, we were changed. All that kept us out of the kingdom was nailed to the cross. We are children of God and citizens of God’s kingdom because Christ’s blood cleanses us of all sins and gives us eternal life.

We become drop-jawed sinners, awed by God’s love in rescuing us from our addiction to the sins of the flesh and the death that comes because of them. We hold the passport to his kingdom now and to the one to come. But it’s not just a status change. It’s the privilege of turning away from the passions and desires that come from our natural birth. We are no longer trapped by them or slaves to them. Within those who are citizens of God’s kingdom lives a desire to please the One who has rescued them and destined them for eternal life.

Like others before us, we leave sin behind and move forward to eternity with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—the fruits of the Spirit—showing the change in our lives. Now we live as foreigners, aliens, and exiles in the world in which we were born (1 Peter 2:11). We know we don’t belong here, so we turn away from sinful desires and act as citizens of heaven. Sins forgiven, we will walk through the gate clothed in the righteousness of our Savior.

Changed but still not perfect

That’s not a new thought to anyone who is a Christian, but here too there is a problem. If we use the analogy of the passports, we have two passports as long as we live here in this world. One of them belongs to the sinful world and the other to the kingdom of God. As long as we live here, we have a dual citizenship. We see and understand both. We know that the passport to the sinful world leads away from life and eventually will be stamped by Satan. He will greet those he welcomes to hell with a satisfied grin. We also know that the passport to the kingdom of God entitles us to forgiveness and life. Jesus will welcome us with open arms into his heavenly and eternal mansions.

While we are here, we have not surrendered the passport of the flesh. When we look back on the acts if the flesh, we discover a longing desire to return to their attractions. We are not alone in that pull backward. Lot’s wife had it, and so did the apostle Paul. He wrote, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). Like Paul, we sometimes stuff the passport of the kingdom of God out of sight and show our passport of the flesh instead.

You may have hidden your kingdom passport, but by God’s grace you can pull it out again and return to being a child of God. It’s called repentance, and it happens in all our lives. The longing to return to the pleasure of sin is in constant conflict with the desire to live in gratitude for all Jesus has given us.

The apostle says it so clearly in Galatians 5:24,25. We belong to Christ. By faith we are connected to him who was crucified for all our sinful passions and desires. That happened once just outside of Jerusalem, and it was for all people. All those sins were buried with him. Our record is wiped clean. We are heaven bound, but we are not there yet. In this life, conflict remains because of our dual citizenship.

That’s why Paul and the entire Bible continue to encourage us to avoid sin and live as children of God. “Let us keep in step with the Spirit,” Paul urges. The temptations along the way beckon us, so we need the reminders to stay on course. We dare not surrender our kingdom passport and be denied at the gate.

Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series acts-flesh-fruits-spirit

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