As I sat in church on Sunday, singing songs that melded the spiritual with the patriotic, and applauding members of the military who had fought to keep America free, I contemplated more than ever the distinction between this world and the next.
There are some Christians who feel no loyalty to any country. They emphasize verses such as the one in the book of Hebrews, chapter eleven, which says of those who had been faithful to God yet never saw the fulfillment of all His promises on earth, “They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. … They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”
As a Christian, I take those verses to heart as well. Everything of which I am a part in this world is temporary. My ultimate destination is beyond any earthly nation. I agree with that assertion.
Some, though, will take it to mean that if this is temporary, then it is inconsequential. That is a leap in logic that is not valid. What we experience now may be temporary, but it is nevertheless real; it may be temporary, but God still demands our all in ensuring that righteousness prevails in the here and now. What I do now has eternal ramifications; the eternity into which I will enter one day will be an extension of what started here. The character I develop now will go with me into that eternity.
One of America’s founders, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, understood these priorities very well. In a document he wrote arguing for liberty of conscience with respect to religious beliefs [as opposed to the state telling people which church they should attend], he said this:
Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.
Madison is clear in this statement that our first responsibility is to God, and we are citizens of His country above all others. Yet that does not negate the reality of citizenship in our earthly country. We simply need to keep our priorities straight.
I have usually shied away from the word “patriotism.” That may seem strange to some of you who know how devoted I am to the Constitution and the rule of law. My concern is that what we call patriotism be more than just an emotional attachment to a physical place on this globe. Instead, we need to concentrate on the principles that form the basis for a God-honoring patriotism.
When the United States government and its culture swerve away from God’s principles, it is harder for me to “feel” that patriotism. I admit that this year it was harder than ever due to the policies the nation is currently following. Yet my God-honoring patriotism inspires me to do whatever I can to reverse these policies and to challenge that which is dominant in the culture that is unchristian.
This is what the Lord has called all Christians to do. That’s what Jesus meant by being salt and light. I will not curse the darkness [although I will point out quite clearly where it exists]; I will instead keep pointing to the Truth that can set all men free from the sins that bind them. I will do so even if I am the only one doing it. It’s nice to know, however, that I am not alone.
Jesus says to all Christians,
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.