Independence Day is a time to celebrate the many blessings we have as a nation, especially the great amount of freedom we really do enjoy. In some countries you can be punished for criticizing the government, or for your religious beliefs. But times of patriotic celebration also invite us to consider the relationship between our citizenship in this world and our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.
Of course, loyalty to Christ comes first. The apostle Peter is quite pronounced in his declaration that heavenly citizenship makes believers “foreigners and exiles” in the world (1 Peter 2:11, NIV). Yet, interestingly–perhaps surprisingly for some revolutionary-minded Christians–this does not mean that Christians are disruptive to the earthly societies in which we still live. On the contrary, having our citizenship in heaven makes us very good citizens on earth, in every way that would not compromise our fundamental loyalty to Christ.
So the apostle says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (vv.13-14). Loyalty to Christ, so far from leading to social revolution, implies that we should be respectful and obedient to earthly authorities. And we should remind ourselves that the Roman emperors if the first century were not good or godly men; they were pagans, with pagan morals and vices. When we take this into our own context, it suggests that disrespecting the president and other government officials is not Christian behavior–even when those officials are immoral.
This doesn’t make Christians government stooges. When the powers go against God, we must respectfully disobey (see Acts 4:19). But the general rule is that citizenship in the kingdom of heaven means good citizenship in the earthly lands where we presently sojourn as strangers. This will help our witness (1 Peter 2:15), as we live out our loyalty to God (v.16).