In whatever countries of the world we live, Christians hold dual citizenship. We may be citizens of first-century Rome, eighteenth-century England, or twenty-first century America. But we also know that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). So how are we supposed to handle our dual responsibilities?
In his famous salt and light metaphors, Jesus gave some essential insights we need to keep in mind while living as citizens of two worlds.
First, Christians are as different from non-Christians as salt from putrefaction, light from darkness, or water from oil. Second, though called to be spiritually distinct from non-Christians, believers are expected to penetrate and bless society as salt penetrates meat. Third, the church is a visible counterculture where Christians keep promises, treat the poor with respect, love our enemies, and otherwise serve as light-bearers to others. Fourth, losing our distinctiveness from the world makes us useless to non-Christians in whose presence we are called to exhibit righteousness.
We are not called to monasticism but to holy worldliness. That is, we are to live in earthly societies with a heavenly commitment. We are to serve God by serving our communities. And our highest and best service to the larger community is to exhibit first and then declare the values we know in Christ.
All this assumes that a faithful church will influence its culture in significant and obvious ways. That greed, sexual immorality, drugs, racism, and divorce are routine in our culture does not need proof. That this is so in a country where 95 percent say they believe in God and 90 percent say they pray with some frequency indicts us for an absurd and inexcusable unfaithfulness.
Here are some of the issues before our world today: crime, homelessness, hunger, child sexual abuse, chemical dependency, materialism, unethical behavior in business and government, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, gambling, abortion, unwanted children, pornography. Which of these is unworthy of our concern? Our prayers? Our help?
Two equally fatal errors compromise the integrity of the religion of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, some Christians are so concerned about the world to come that they are no earthly good to anybody. On the other, some get so caught up in this world that they forget where their primary citizenship lies.
The real challenge for the church is to live heavenly reality so faithfully that it makes a worldly difference.