Back in April, Kevin invited me to go to court with him. Before you start wondering how fast he was driving, let me tell you a few things about my friend. First, he’s a member of our church. Second, he’s a consistently joyful man. Third, he’s a citizen of Ghana, or rather he was a citizen of Ghana until the day I joined him in court. On April 16, Kevin renounced his Ghanian citizenship and swore allegiance to the United States of America.
I had never attended a naturalization ceremony before and I didn’t expect have any sort of spiritual experience in a U.S. District Court. But I’m really glad I went with Kevin, because the ceremony provided a remarkable picture of the gospel in action. Here’s what God showed me that morning.
1) The gospel is more powerful than we think
At one point, a lawyer from the U.S. Attorney General’s office presented the roughly 70 candidates for naturalization one by one before the presiding judge. She read their full name and stated the country who’s citizenship they were renouncing. A mom and her daughter from Syria. A family from Russia. Men from Great Britain and Egypt. Another woman from Saudi Arabia. There must have been 30 or 40 different countries represented in that room. And then it dawned on me – it was a picture of heaven (Rev 7:9). Every nationality standing before me represented a group of people that Jesus died to save (Joel 2:32).
I naturally tend to think of Jesus as a Savior for suburban, middle-class America. God was kind to remind me that morning that his work is so much bigger than our little corner of the globe. The gospel is glorious because it is sufficient to redeem men and women from every tribe and people and language and nation.
2) The location of our citizenship determines the nature of our lifestyle
Before declaring the pledge of allegiance, an immigration officer led the naturalization candidates in swearing the following oath of allegiance:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
By choosing to become a U.S. citizen, my friend Kevin assumed privileges and responsibilities that he never had before. Chief among them was his commitment to to refrain from all acts of “allegiance and fidelity” to the country of Ghana. From then on, all his “allegiance and fidelity” must be reserved for the United States of America. In other words, he promised to be loyal to a new master and not turn back to follow his old master.
The entire exchange made me think of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven…Stand firm thus in the Lord.”
If you’re a Christian, whether you live in Ghana or America, heaven is your true home. We live temporarily on earth, but our citizenship no longer lies in the kingdom of this world. We have a new Sovereign, a new Master, a new Lord. His name is Jesus.
Choosing to follow Jesus means renouncing our loyalty to all the pleasures and people of this world just like Kevin had to forsake his loyalty to Ghana. Choosing to follow Jesus means investing our loyalty freely and completely in the kingdom of heaven, just like Kevin swore to uphold and defend the laws of the United States of America. When the location of your citizenship changes, the nature of your lifestyle must also change (Matt 16:24).
If you claim to follow Jesus, if you are a citizen of heaven, then you will speak and act in ways that are strange to people who are citizens of this world, whether they share your classroom or cubicle. Being a citizen of the kingdom of heaven means speaking new words (Eph 4:29), spending according to new priorities (Matt 6:20), loving for new reasons (1 Jn 4:7), working for a new boss (Eph 6:7), embracing a new community (Eph 2:19), and living according to new rules (Gal 5:16). When God saves us, he saves all of us, which means every part of our life is re-aligned and re-deployed. The location of our citizenship must determine the nature of our lifestyle.
It was a honor to attend Kevin’s naturalization ceremony. It was an even greater blessing to leave a federal courthouse (of all places) with a renewed vision for the power and claim of the gospel.