A Higher Calling, part 3 (Philippians 3:20-21)

In the last paragraph of Philippians 3 Paul has been encouraging the Philippian church that if they want to follow Christ they must follow him (v. 17), not the “enemies of the cross” (vv. 18-19), Finally, in vv. 20-21 Paul indicates the characteristics of Christ followers…

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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.

Having identified the characteristics of unbelievers, who were citizens of an earthly kingdom, Rome, he now turns to talk about the dual citizenship that we Christians have.  Yes, we are citizens of an earthly country, but also citizens of heaven.

That is an important thing to remember in an election year.  We cannot and should not divorce our faith from our political positions or the candidates we vote for.  As Christians we are responsible to live out and promote the values of another kingdom, a kingdom where God and His truth rule.

That will often be out of step with our culture, which is declining into moral corruption.

This up-front declaration “But our citizenship is in heaven” references a reality already mentioned by Paul in the pivotal text of 1:27: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  “Manner of life” is more exactly “manner of life as citizens” (and thus implicitly, “of heaven”).  The same root word that is used there is used here in 3:20 for “citizenship.”

You can hear the similarity in the Greek.  In 1:27 it is the verb politeúesthe, and here in 3:20 it is the noun políteuma.  Both are built on the noun polis,which means “city.”  All kinds of English words come from this: policemetropolispolitics, politicalpolitician.

The reality behind both references is that the Philippians were citizens of the commonwealth of Heaven—they belonged to another polis, apart from PhilippiThis was particularly poignant for the Philippians because Philippi was a singularly self-conscious little Roman polis (legally Italian soil), which kept the locals at a distance while at the same time intruding into their lives.

The Roman citizenship the Philippians enjoyed meant a great deal to them (Acts 16:12, 21).  It enabled them, though living in Macedonia, to say, “My citizenship is in Rome.”

We need to appreciate all this would have meant to the Philippians, who greatly valued their Roman citizenship.  Just as the Philippians could consider themselves citizens of Rome and were under Roman laws and customs (even though they were in fact far from Rome) so Christians should consider themselves citizens of heaven and under our Lord’s laws and customs.

Thus William Barclay notes:

 “Just as the Roman colonists never forgot that they belong to Rome, you must never forget that you are citizens of heaven; and your conduct must match your citizenship.”

Our heavenly citizenship and destiny are far more important than our brief earthly sojourn (cf. Gal. 4:26; Heb. 11:10).

Even though we live on earth, our citizenship is in heaven.  We are thus foreigners and aliens, actually ambassadors representing our real country.

Because heaven is our destiny and our real home, we are to “eagerly await” a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.  The Greek word apekdechometha, translated “look for,” is a strong compound.  It speaks of an intense yearning for the coming of Christ.

As Philippians would eagerly await a visit from the emperor in Rome, even more so should Christians eagerly await the coming of their King – Jesus Christ.

James Montgomery Boice mentioned how

“The expectation of the Lord’s personal and imminent return gave joy and power to the early Christians and to the Christian communities.”

It was that confident expectation that filled them with joy, with hope, with an urgency to preach the gospel and maintain holy lives.

Paul uses this same term in Romans 8:19

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

Right now, we (8:23), and all of creation groan (8:22) because of the curse.  Paul presents creation eagerly awaiting the revealing of the sons of God because when we are being revealed in glory (v. 18), creation will be freed from the curse and God will re-create heaven and earth (Rev. 21).

I picture it as like a young child, knowing his father is about to come home from work, stands at the window or the door in eager anticipation of that door opening and his father coming home.

Or, as Paul puts it in Romans 8:22, it is like childbirth.  The process itself is painful, but the result is full of joy.  So Paul concludes:

23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Here again, Paul is saying that when Christ returns (at the rapture), we will experience the fullness of our adoption as sons (receiving our inheritance) and we will have a redeemed body.  It will be changed into glory.

While the Judaizers always lived in the past tense, trying to get the Philippian believers to go back to the Mosaic law, true Christians live in the future tense, anticipating the return of their Savior.

As citizens of heaven, we should desire and pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

As Christ followers we should be committed to the rule of Jesus Christ over all our lives.

Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper proclaims:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

It is interesting how much Paul has emphasized the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We cannot separate His ability to save from his right to rule.  If He is your Savior, He is your Lord.

In Philippians 1:2 grace and peace come from “the Lord Jesus Christ.”

This title is the highest of all names, the name already proclaimed in Christ’s super-exaltation in 2:9-11:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The ultimate confession of the universe will be that Jesus, Messiah, is Yahweh, the awesome God who created the heavens and the earth, the one who sets up kings and takes them down (cf. Isaiah 45:5, 6, 14, 18, 22, 23)—the Savior.

Earlier in chapter 3, verse 8, Paul had said:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

What Paul means is the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord.”

And here we “wait eagerly for our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now, this was a big deal for Christians in the first two centuries.  To proclaim anyone else “Lord” other than Caesar was treason against the state.  It wasn’t long after Paul wrote these words that Christians were being martyred for calling Jesus “Lord.”

It costs us far less these days and in this country, yet we hesitate to call Him Lord because we don’t want to give up the right to control our own lives, our own bodies, our own desires.

When Christ returns for us at the Rapture, He will “transform” our present mortal bodies into immortal bodies to be like our Lord’s resurrected body.

Right now, our body is a “lowly body,” meaning that it is weak and susceptible to all kinds of infirmities both physical and spiritual.

By the way, this does not mean that we should be satisfied with a weakened, unhealthy body.  We should do all we can to maintain our health.  But regardless of what we do to strengthen or improve this body, it will grow weaker and eventually die.

But the new body we will receive at the Rapture will be “glorious,” and it will be like the body of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was not merely resuscitated from the dead in the same body.  He was resurrected in a new body, patterned after the old yet equipped and fitted for heaven.

Christ’s resurrected body is the prototype of what awaits each of us.  As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:49, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”

Murray Harris writes in his classic study Raised Immortal:

Paul is saying, then, that in place of an earthly body that is always characterized by physical decay, indignity, and weakness, the resurrected believer will have a heavenly body that is incapable of deterioration, beautiful in form and appearance, and with limitless energy and perfect health.  Once he experiences a resurrection transformation, man will know perennial rejuvenation, since he will have a perfect vehicle for God’s deathless Spirit, a body that is invariably responsive to his transformed personality. (Murray J. Harris, Raised Immortal (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984), p. 121.)

The change will be necessary because our weak, mortal bodies are in­sufficient to receive and participate in the glorious state.  Also, because Paul says in Romans 7 that a “sin principle” still exists in the “mortal body” of believers, and we need a new body in order to be rid of our inclination to sin.

Our new bodies will be glorious.  Listen to Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44:

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead.  What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.  It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.  If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Then, in vv. 51-57 Paul describes the timing of this change:

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We will be changed in a moment.  We will be taken to heaven and given a new body fit for heaven, full of power and glory, and will never perish.

Notice that in Philippians 3:21 It is the “Lord Jesus Christ who will transform” us and here in 1 Corinthians 15 the victory comes “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

As Harris says, “To summarise: just as the event of spiritual resurrection is founded exclusively on the resurrection of Christ, so the ensuing state of spiritual resurrection is totally dependent on the risen life of Christ.” (Murray J. Harris, Raised Immortal (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984), p. 108.)

Paul concluded his thoughts here about Christ’s power by stating explicitly that Christ does this “by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself ” (v. 21).  This is an allusion to Psalm 8:6, which speaks of God’s intention to subject all creation to mankind.

In its context, Psalm 8:6 says…

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,

So here Christ fulfills mankind’s destiny, and in doing so he makes the universe subject to himself.  Everything is of Christ!

The power that enables him even to subject all things to himself is the same power that transforms our lowly bodies into bodies of glory.

Again, this is described back in 2:9-11

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

We get the opportunity to willingly bow our knee to Jesus now, so that He can save us from our sins and slavery to sin, death and Satan.

If you are not willingly subject to Him, you will be forced into subjection to Him. His enemies will bow before Him.  He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

So, do you live as if you are members of another kingdom, a heavenly kingdom?

The Christian knows that his true “home” is in heaven, and not on earth. Even the Old Testament saints knew this:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Christians look to the future, put more stock in the future and the promises God has given to us.  Living in the future tense means letting Christ arrange things in life in the proper rank now!

C. S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, writes this:

“Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise […] If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Lewis continues, “Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

– C. S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity, pp. 135-137. Published by HarperCollins.

Do you live for the eternal realities of heaven, or the passing pleasures of this world?

Lewis also reminds us that it is precisely those who think most about heaven and about their future destiny who have made the greatest impact on this present world.  “It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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