Brothers and Sisters,
This past Sunday, we considered what it means to be citizens of heaven whose temporary abode remains here on earth. Our great challenge, we saw, is to live in accord with our heavenly citizenship and eschew those earthly influences that would have us do otherwise.
You may recall I had some things to say about the “cultural catechism.” Influential voices (government officials, celebrities, academics, etc.) advocate a worldview at odds with our Christian confession. We don’t have to look far to find some influencer maligning our “traditional” values and declaring our views not just wrong but dangerous.
These influencers would like to see us (and our children) disabused of our backward ideology, and they’re not afraid to advance their cause online, on campus, and in the legislature.
If these citizens of the earthly city want to speak up in the public square, then I say go right ahead. God’s world will never contradict His Word, and His people are called to give an answer—not to stifle a conversation (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).
But there is a more subtle pressure that impinges upon us as we live and move on the streets of the earthly city. It presses in every time we flip on our TV, head to the mall (remember those?), shop at the grocery, or go to a football game. If we’re not careful, this pressure will cultivate in us a set of habits, practices, and dispositions that are far more 21st-century American than they are Christian—that is, far more earthly than they are heavenly.
A few weeks ago, I wrote in my weekly newsletter,
We just are liturgical beings. Getting our kids ready for school, pledging allegiance to the flag, standing in line at Starbucks—these patterns of life take on a religious character in that they form us to be certain kinds of people: attentive caregivers, devoted patriots, caffeinated consumers, etc…. Whether we’re standing in a sanctuary or sitting in a Starbucks, the question isn’t whether we’re being formed; it’s how.
Christian discipleship, as I said, is a matter of taking all our patterns of thought and action captive to the obedience of Christ. We want to be formed and transformed in accord with the truth of His Word and not the falsehood peddled to us overtly through the cultural catechizers and covertly through the habits and patterns of life in our modern world.
Heavenly citizenship does not require us to withdraw from the earthly city but to “look carefully” as to how we walk upon its streets (Eph 5:15-17). Yes, that means knowing our Bibles and defending against the verbal slings and arrows of an outrageous culture.
But it also means engaging in practices of counter-cultural formation—the ordinary means of grace (Bible, prayer, worship, etc.) through which God conforms us to the image of Christ.
For a brief moment, let’s focus on two of them: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
As the sign and seal of God’s covenantal bond, Baptism is the mystery by which we declare that this one is a citizen of heaven. Not by natural right but by supernatural grace, the baptismal water bears witness to a claim of identity that supersedes any earthly state.
As the sign and seal of Christ’s broken body and shed blood, the Lord’s Supper provides an ongoing supply of spiritual nourishment for our world-weary souls. At His table, we are reminded that there is no good thing this world can offer that He has not already given.
Through baptism, God writes our name in His heavenly register (Phil 4:3; Heb 12:23; etc.). Every time we witness another’s baptism, we “improve” our own by remembering that we are saints and citizens of heaven. In the Supper, He gives us a taste of our heavenly inheritance that paradoxically increases our desire for an eschatological feast in the House of Zion.
These Christ-ordained practices form us in a way of heavenly being and strengthen us against the formative pressures of the earthly city. We cannot prize them highly enough, nor can we lose sight of their everyday, practical value for the Christian life. If you need another reason to get out of bed and come to worship in person, let it be this.
Our world will make its claims upon you this week. When it does, declare to yourself as Luther did when he was tempted, “I am baptized.” When the world holds out its forbidden fruit and tempts you to take a bite, clap back, “I have food to eat of which you know nothing.”
So long as we sojourn in the earthly city, we can expect the influencers to attempt to catechize us and the patterns of daily life to exert their formative pressure. So be it. Come what may, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil 3:20-21).
In Christ Alone,