Citizens of Heaven

Good Evening. Please turn with me in your bibles to Philippians 3. Philippians chapter 3.

Having finished Song of Solomon, which I argued pointed us ultimately toward a heavenly marriage, a final Edenic-like garden in Glory, I thought it would be encouraging to continue the theme. I plan to spend the next several sermons looking at various images that the bible uses to describe heaven.

The topic of heaven is an interesting one to study. There is not a ton of direct biblical data to describe the exact details of heaven, the details that some people really want to know. Where is Heaven now, in terms of space and time?

What age will I be in heaven? Will I be young again, or will I be seen and recognized as I was at the age at my death?

What will it look like? Specifically, how literal are we to interpret John’s words at the end of Revelation?

Will I still have some kind of job or responsibilities in heaven? Or will it be like an eternal vacation?

Lots of questions. However, even though the exact details are not always given, the most important ones are. And many of those most-important details are given to us in the analogies that the biblical authors use to speak of heaven.

Tonight, in our text, the image that Paul uses to speak about the topic of heaven is using the language of believers being “citizens of Heaven.” Citizens of heaven.

Before we get to studying the various aspects of heaven itself, with all the glorious privileges and rights and blessings that will be experienced there, we will spend tonight talking about the fact of our heavenly citizenship, and what that ought to mean for us as we await the final unveiling of our heavenly inheritance to come.

Specifically, how ought the fact of our heavenly citizenship inform how we live out our days on THIS SIDE of glory.

That’s our image, our topic for tonight’s lesson. Let’s read our text, Philippians 3, starting in verse 17 and going through verse 21:

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 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.

The major exhortation of this paragraph, indeed a dominant theme of Paul’s letter, is for the Philippian believers to imitate Paul. He says very clearly, “do as I do, and watch out for those that don’t.” That’s verse 17.

And then in verse 18 he begins a contrast. He describes those that walk as enemies of the cross of Christ, and he describes their behavior in verse 19, and in verse 20, puts in a contrasting conjunction: but our citizenship is in heaven.

That’s the hinge. That’s the fulcrum of this paragraph, that divides to two major categories, and likewise, that will be the hinge of this two-point sermon. We’ll look first at what we could call, earthly citizenship. And then the second point will be heavenly citizenship. First, earthly citizenship, and secondly heavenly citizenship.

First, let’s examine what we might call: Earthly Citizenship

Paul’s category of “those that walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” is a category of men and women that terrorize his ministry, and the church of Christ. He speaks, for example, in verse 2 of this chapter of those dogs who mutilate the flesh, that is, the Judaizers who wanted to boast in their flesh.

They thought they were righteous because of their obedience to the laws of Judaism, rather than faith alone in Jesus Christ. Their boasting was in a righteousness that comes from the law, rather than a righteousness that comes from the Spirit of God.

And then, lest we be confused as to exactly what this category of people looks like, he gives us verse 19. He gives us 4 descriptions of what these enemies look like: Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

Let’s walk through these four categories. First, their end is destruction. Earthly citizens have as their end destruction.

Paul cuts right to the chase, starting with the end, the final destination. He does something similar in 2 Corinthians 11, warning about the false apostles are claiming to be genuine apostles of Jesus Christ.

And it is no wonder, Paul argues there, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. And so he concludes: “So it is no surprise if [Satan’s] servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”

Their end. The end of their behavior. The natural fruit of their actions.

Or we could also turn to Romans 6, where Paul speaks of our lives before our conversion, and he asks a question: “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.”

What is the end of unrighteousness? What is the end of an earthly, or we might say, fleshly citizenship? It is death.

That’s the very next step in Romans 6, for the wages of sin is death.

Contrary to everything that Satan and the world would have you believe, sin in this world will not bring you liberation and happiness and life.

That’s what it promises. That’s the bait that Satan used in the very first temptation. When Eve was in the garden, he told her to take the fruit: You’ll surely not die. You’ll be alive. In fact, you’ll be so alive that you’ll be like God.

You’ll not need him anymore. You can be your own master. You can do what you want to do. You can be liberated and free and happy and never die. That’s the satanic lie: that sin will not lead to death and destruction.

That’s the same bait we see today. Satan whispers to us: God’s word doesn’t really prohibit this or that. Just go ahead and take it. Express yourself. You deserve it. It’s not that bad. That’s just what naive men want you to believe. There’s nothing really wrong with it. You can control it.

You’ll be fine, in fact, you’ll be more than fine, you’ll be free and happy.

But what he doesn’t tell you is the end. He does a great job at hiding the hook. It doesn’t matter what your sin of choice is, whether it is sexual sin, or pride, or greed, or anger. Every single one of those things ends in death. Destruction.

And that destruction doesn’t wait until death. No the destruction begins in this life. If you’re enslaved to sexual sin, you’ll reap the consequences of broken relationships and physical suffering.

If you’re enslaved to pride, no one of any character will want to be around you, and you will fall in your pride, and when you fall, all those phony friends will desert you.

If you’re enslaved to greed, you’ll never know contentment and peace.

And if you’re enslaved to anger, you will harm those closest to you, and eventually end up isolated and alone, because nobody feels safe to be around you.

But worst of all is not the destructive fruit of these sins in this life. The worst is left for the next life. Because you chose to be a citizen of this age, partaking of the fruit of unrighteousness, you will suffer eternal life and death in the next age.

You will not enter into heaven, but will be consigned to hell, where you will experience everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46). Paul describes Hell in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 as everlasting destruction.

You don’t just die and are destroyed. You are destroyed continually, perpetually. Suffering eternally, because of your choice to listen to the little “g” god of this age, and to reject the true God of heaven.

Their end is destruction.

Next, he says their god is their belly. Their god is their belly. This speaks to their appetites. Their cravings. It is amazing how contemporary Paul’s words are here. It is as if he is describing our cultural moment.

Instead of keeping their physical appetites under control, they are led around by their appetites. This could look like sexual indulgence. It could be unrestrained alcohol consumption. It could be an enslavement to food, or to entertainment, or comfort.

Whatever the area, the person is not ruled by their mind. Rather, their own body has become their god. Rather than their body being a temple of the holy spirit, their body has become a temple to a false God, a body used for the worship the idol of self-indulgence.

Earthly citizens always do this. They do what feels good. To do what feels right. Their impulses get the best of them. They think they are free, but they are actually enslaved.

And how do we know that they are enslaved? The next thing Paul says:

and they glory in their shame,

They glory in their shame. They pride themselves in that things that should have brought them shame. Again, this seems amazingly contemporary.

It is not enough that they would carry out their wickedness in secret. But they feel the need to boast about it. To make sure everyone knows about it. And to lure others into the same kind of sins. Misery does indeed love company.

It’s not enough to practice homosexuality, they feel the need to boast in it. Have pride in it. It’s not enough to have an abortion, but we need to shout about it.

But, lest we think that this temptation is simply for those rank pagans out there, the same temptation follows us where we go too. It’s not enough to have sound doctrine, we can feel the need to self-righteously condemn those other churches, with their impure doctrine and their wimpy pulpits.

Or it is not enough for me to pursue faithfulness in my work. I feel the need to boast about it, to brag about the advancement and success that I have earned for myself.

Whatever our weakness, Satan will find it, and he will exploit it. Earthly citizens are always keen to make more converts to their kingdom. They are zealous evangelists for their false God.

And why is that? Because of what Paul says next:

with minds set on earthly things. Their minds are set on earthly things. Fleshly things. Sinful, things.

What are these earthly things? He gives a list in Colossians 3:5 and following where he says:

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.[c] In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”

These are the kinds of thing that Citizens of the earthly kingdom fix their mind upon. If you are always thinking about sexual sin, if your mind is always seething in anger, always slandering and gossiping, always coveting the next and best thing, then be warned, that’s what Paul is condemning here.

Paul tells us in Romans 8 that those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…

He continues:

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God… Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

If that describes you, if your mind seems to gravitate on these things, if you see that you’ve boasted in actions that ought to have been to your shame, if you’ve been enslaved to your belly and led around by your appetites, then know that your end is destruction.

You’re headed for a death and existence of pure misery, that will be only compounded by your denial of Christ here tonight.

The message of salvation is before you to consider. Because God has sent his own son to redeem the citizens of this earthly kingdom. In fact, he became a child of this world, born of a woman and born under the same law that condemns me and you. And yet he was without sin.

He never once was enslaved to sinful passions and appetites. Rather he was chaste and pure for the entirety of His life.

Never once did he succumb to sinful rage and anger. He was always in the driver’s seat of his emotions.

Never once did he have his mind set on earthly things, but was instead focused on his heavenly kingdom.

Just remember, when Jesus was in the wilderness tempted by Satan himself, when Satan offered him all the kingdoms of this world if he would just bow, Jesus didn’t break, and he didn’t take the bait.

He responded with scripture. He succeeded where Adam and Eve failed. He remained faithful.

But not only that. He went to the cross in order to take the punishment that his people had earned. Even though death was their sentence, and even though Jesus hadn’t personally earned such a sentence of death, Jesus went to the cross anyway.

He bore the death that his people had earned, so that they might be granted the eternal life that he had earned in their place. This is the wonderful exchange. Our death, for his life. Our punishment, for his glory. Our end of destruction, exchanged for an end of glorification.

And that message is yours for the consideration tonight. Don’t let the bait of Satan keep you content in your sin. Your end will be destruction. Your god is your belly. You glory in that which is shameful, and your mind is set on earthly things.

Rather, come to Christ and his kingdom. Have your heavenly citizenship secured. Repent and believe in Christ today, and your eternal destiny will be secured, your sin will be forgiven, your conscience will be cleansed, and true joy can be obtained.

Forsake the earthly kingdom, with its tyrant of a king, and embrace the kingdom of heaven, with a king that would die for his citizens. No earthly king would ever do that. But our heavenly king has done that for his people.

Now, let’s move on to the second point, which is looking at the nature of this heavenly citizenship. The heavenly citizenship.

We’ve seen what it means to be a citizen of the earthly kingdom. Now let’s take the same framework and look at it from the heavenly perspective.

First, we’ll note the end. If the end of all earthly citizenship is destruction, we can say with confidence that the end of all heavenly citizenships is restoration. Restoration.

Look just a few verses up in Philippians 3 starting in verse 9:

“be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

The resurrection of the dead is the end that he seeks. Now look at verse 20 of the same chapter:

“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.”

Resurrection and restoration are the end that awaits every citizen of Heaven.

Not long ago I preached through 1 Corinthians 15 which is the classical text on the doctrine of the resurrection, so I won’t belabor the point here. But the doctrine is clear enough.

We all feel the effects of the fall and sin in this world, and we feel them even more acutely as we age. Our bodies decay. We grow weary. We wear out. Things don’t work the way they used to, and when we get hurt, our bodies don’t heal themselves like they once did.

But for citizens of heaven, for those that have a righteousness that comes from faith rather than from the law, then we can be assured that this world is not our end. These bodies are not all there is. Weakness and frailty aren’t our final destiny.

We may come from dust, and our bodies may return to the dust, but mere dust we shall not remain. Christ will return, our heavenly king will come back, and at the sound of a trumpet the dead will rise.

We will receive resurrected and glorified bodies that will not wear out. We will not feel decay. We will be eternally with our king in his heavenly country. Unlike the citizens of earth, with their end being destruction, we can be assured that our heavenly end is resurrection, is restoration. Is glorification.

And why do we have that hope? Because of who our God is. That’s the next area Paul addressed.

He said of the earthly citizens, that their god is their belly. But heavenly citizens are not enslaved to their appetites. Instead, our God is Jesus Christ.

Paul says in verse 12 that Christ Jesus has Made me his own. His god is not his belly. He’s been bought by another, redeemed by Christ Jesus.

And who is this Christ Jesus? Verse 8 also speaks of Christ Jesus as Lord. Rather than having his belly as his master, Paul had Jesus Christ as his Master and Lord.

He speaks even more explicitly Romans 6 when he talks about being slaves to God, and slaves of Righteousness. That’s another way to describe a heavenly citizen, as being so bound to God through redemption that God is our master.

Rather than having fleshly appetites driving the ship, Paul says that because he now possesses a heavenly citizenship and the Holy Spirit, he can restrain his appetites. He can exercise self-control. He’s not a mere animal simply led around by his urges. He’s actually free to choose righteousness, for the first time, because he is not enslaved to sin.

And what does this newfound freedom result in? Does it produce within in a self-confidence or boasting?

That kind of boasting in self is what happened when he was a citizen of the earthly kingdom. He boasted in his flesh. Look back at verse 4:

“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,[c]blameless.”

From an earthly perspective, he had everything going for him. He was the best of the best, among the earthly citizens. Plenty to boast about. But he eventually saw that he was boasting in things that were nothing. Verse 7:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”

Earthly citizens boast in all manner of things, and that is to their shame. But heavenly citizens will gladly give it all up, they will count everything as loss, in exchange for the surpassing value of knowing the heavenly King.

Knowing Christ is far more valuable than worldly prestige, than earthly comfort, than satisfaction and security in this age. All of that is fleeting and vain. Rather, to have Christ as your king, to know him as your comfort and peace, to have the heavenly king as your protector, that is the blessed condition of heavenly citizens.

Of course this heavenly citizenship doesn’t necessarily mean peace and comfort in this age. But it does mean that no matter what this world throws at you, no matter how hard the king of this age pounds you, no matter the sufferings we experience in this life, our heavenly citizenship is guaranteed. We’ve received the Holy Spirit as our down payment, and he will hold us until the very end.

And that is what we fix our minds on, which is the final mark of a heavenly citizen. If the earthly citizen fixes his mind on the things of the flesh, the heavenly citizen fixes his mind the things of the spirit. Or we could say the things of heaven.

To quote Romans 8 again:

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

The heavenly minded person is filling his mind with God’s word, God’s promises. Heavenly citizens follow Paul’s command to fill one’s mind with the things listed in the next chapter, Philippians 4:8

“whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Is your mind fixed on these kinds of things?

Heavenly citizens remember much of Jesus, fill their mind with him, remember his sacrifice, remember the promises we have in him, remember the resurrection we have to come. And this produces a heavenly steadfastness and peace as we walk through this age.

Don’t you want that? This world is full of such anxiety, such restlessness, such anger and vitriol, such hatred and animosity. That’s the natural fruit of a mind set on the earthly kingdom.

God’s people ought not be so. Our minds should be so saturated with our heavenly citizenship, and our heavenly king, that we instead walk through this turbulent age with quiet and peaceful spirits, full of joy.

Do you have such peace and joy? Is your mind tranquil and at rest? Or are you turbulent and anxious, fretting about this world and its stormy existence?

If your mind seems stuck on earthly things, I’ll close with this. Look back at chapter 2, where Paul tells us how we can have a mind set on heavenly things. Philippians 2, verse 5 says:

Have this mind [there’s that word again] among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

How do we get this mind? We don’t get there by self-discipline or meditation. We don’t get that mind through education and study. We don’t get there through ambition and climbing up the ladder of recognition. This mind is a gift.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. If you want a mind set on heavenly things, then what does Paul say? He tells us the gospel again.


Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

If you want a mind full of heavenly thoughts, if you want to experience your heavenly citizenship now as much as we can in this age, then Paul would tell you to think about Jesus and his gospel.

Grow in heavenly mindedness by remembering your heavenly king. Remember his heavenly sacrifice. Remember his heavenly ministry to you even now. Turn away from the citizenship of this age with its sinfulness and anxieties, and believe the promise of the gospel.

Remember the promises he has for you to experience in heaven to come. Remember the rewards he has set aside for you. Remember the heavenly home that he has gone away to prepare for you. Remember the resurrected body that he will provide for you. Remember your heavenly citizenship.

But most of all, remember the king of the heavenly kingdom, and how much he loves you. It is he and his love, that really makes our heavenly citizenship able to sustain us through the trials of life, as we sojourn in a foreign land, waiting to be brought home, to our heavenly country.


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