Citizens of Heaven
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 3:20–4:1
Probably all of you at some point have had someone look you in the eye, and with a heavy voice he says, “Well, I have some good news and some bad news.” It makes you a little nervous, and almost everybody responds by saying, “Give the bad news first.” Why is that? It’s because we really prefer to end on a positive, hopeful note.
Similarly, as Paul reaches the end of Philippians 3, he has some good news and some bad news. And like us, he begins with the bad news in vv. 18–19. We saw last Sunday that these verses lament a terrible tragedy. Paul remembers people who had professed faith in Christ, but they ultimately proved not to be his children.
This is because when they had to choose between Christ’s eternal priorities or chasing the things of this world, they “set their minds on earthly things” as opposed to Christ and eternal things. So that’s the bad news. Verses 18–19 lament the apostasy of false converts who never truly knew the Lord.
But then Paul follows with the good news in our text for today, 3:20–4:1. The good news is that God has a tremendous inheritance awaiting those who remain faithful. And it is far better than the earthly things others were pursuing. Therefore, they must “stand fast in the Lord.” So in this passage, the Spirit has provided us with a wonderfully encouraging anchor as we face our own storms and the temptations of the devil. This is great news to close out the unit. My outline consists of 4 anchors to which we must hold fast as we endure the rough seas of life and spiritual warfare. The first anchor is…
I. We are citizens of heaven (v. 20a).
Paul opens v. 20 with the bold declaration, “For our citizenship is in heaven.” To fully appreciate the force of this statement, we need to see it in context. First, life was incredibly difficult for both Paul and the Philippians. We saw in chapter 1 that Paul was potentially about to die for his faith, and remember what Paul says to the Philippians in 1:28–30.
Paul says that the Philippians were enduring the same kind of conflict in Philippi that he was enduring in Rome. Their commitment to the gospel was probably costing them jobs, financial security, important relationships, and potentially even putting them in the crosshairs of the law. The gospel was costing Paul and the Philippians dearly.
And these sacrifices had to make the betrayal of those mentioned in 3:18–19 that much harder. While they were suffering for Christ, others had abandoned the hard road of discipleship for the comforts, securities, and pleasures of this world. And some had probably got their jobs, their families and their place in the community back.
So, vv. 18–19 probably stung very deeply. And it’s in this context that Paul turns to those who have remained faithful. They have believed the gospel. They are resting in the finished work of Christ and like Paul their ambition is to know Christ even to the point of “fellowship(ping) in his sufferings (and) being conformed to his death.” And Paul boldly declares in v. 20, “OUR citizenship is in heaven”!
Yes, those who had “set their mind on earthly things” may have had it easier right now, but our citizenship is in a far better place than this broken and decaying world. We are citizens of heaven!
The concept of citizenship has come up a couple of times in Philippians (e.g., 1:27), because it was especially significant in Philippi. This is because Philippi had been given the unique privilege of Roman citizenship 100 years prior. Even though the Philippians lived a long way from Rome, they were citizens of this glorious city.
Similarly, Paul encourages this group of battered, worn down believers that their true homeland is not in Philippi where they were outcastes. Instead, their home is in heaven with Christ! I’m reminded of Hebrews 11:9–10, which state of Abraham, “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; (Why did they live in tents as foreigners?) for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
We need to remember this hope, because we all get worn down by this world. Life is hard. We deal with suffering, sickness, and pain. As well, obedience to Christ is hard. He demands a lot. And like the people of vv. 18–19, we begin to long for earthly things. We crave human glory, sexual fulfillment, acceptance, food, and many other things that this world holds out with the promise of happiness.
But when our hearts begin to long for the world, we must remember that we have a far greater homeland. We are citizens of the glorious city of God. And the verb Paul uses in v. 20 emphasizes that it is yours today, even as you live in this broken, fallen world. You are today, a citizen of heaven.
So, hold fast to that anchor even as the world batters you with wave after wave of suffering, sorrow, and temptation. Remember, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.” I don’t need to satisfy every earthly craving, because Christ has something so much better for me in glory. Christian, praise the Lord that “our citizenship is in heaven.” The 2nd major anchor in this text is…
II. Our Savior is coming to rescue us (v. 20b).
This statement looks forward to the second coming of Christ. But Christ’s second coming is only significant because of what he did in his first coming, which Paul already describes so eloquently in 2:6–8. For all eternity, Jesus enjoyed the glory of heaven, but he didn’t grasp tightly to that glory. Instead, he let go of his glory to become one of us. Not only that, he humbled himself to the point of dying our death. He took our punishment in his body on the cross. Jesus descended to the lowest depths of humanity.
But he didn’t stay there. Verse 9 says, “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.” Jesus rose from the dead, and he ascended to the right hand of the Father. And he offers salvation to all who come to him in faith.
The good news of the gospel is that I can be placed in Christ if I put my faith in what Jesus accomplished on the cross. I can stand in his righteousness, and I can live in his resurrection power. And upon receiving Christ I am immediately made a citizen of heaven. My home with him is forever secure.
So, if you have never received Christ as your Savior, I hope that you will come to him today in faith. Admit that you are a sinner and that you cannot save yourself. You need a Savior to rescue you from your sin and the punishment that you deserve. And then put your faith in Christ and in his death and resurrection. Rest in him. If you do, you will be placed in Christ, and Romans 8:1 promises, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” I pray that you will receive him today.
So, Christ came to save in his first coming, and then he rose again and returned to the Father. But before he left, he promised in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
In light of this promise Paul says in v. 20 that those who have received Christ look heavenward to our true homeland, where our Savior dwells, and “We…eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul says, “We eagerly wait.” It’s like we are in a big crowd, standing on our tip toes, straining our necks to see someone famous. We want to see him so bad, and we can’t wait for that moment.
And what a day it will be! 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 promise, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” That will be an incredible moment.
And notice how Paul describes the one for whom we look. He is “the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Interestingly, if you look at Paul’s epistles, chronologically, this is only the 2nd time he has used the title Savior. He uses it 10 times in the Pastoral Epistles but only twice in his previous letters, so most scholars believe he uses it here purposefully.
Specifically, the titles “Savior” and “Lord” were normally reserved in Roman society of Caesar. He was celebrated as Rome’s deliverer and the most powerful lord among men. But Paul says that we have a Savior far greater than Caesar. We eagerly anticipate the day when the Lord Jesus Christ will appear in glory. When he comes the 2nd time, notice what 2:10–11 say regarding his lordship (read).
Our Savior is coming to rescue us from all evil and from every effect of the curse. It is going to be a glorious day when we see our Savior.
So, the challenge of v. 20 is that we turn our eyes toward heaven, eagerly anticipating the day when our Lord appears to fully and finally save those who belong to him from the curse of this world. And then we must let the glory of that day shape how we view both the sorrows of this life and the pleasures of this world.
May God give us faith like Abraham to see our true homeland (Hebrews 11:13–16). Let’s live for “a better country” than we could ever find here. So our 2nd anchor is that our Savior is coming to rescue us. But that’s not all he will do. Our 3rd anchor is…
III. Our Savior is coming to transform us (v. 21).
The foundation of v. 21 is the fact that today we dwell in “lowly (i.e., humble) bodies.” We get that. We are too short or too tall. We are too fat, or we too are skinny. Your hair is too thick or too thin. We also get tired and hungry. Our bodies get sick, and they age over time. Some of you deal with constant pain or physical limitations.
But even more significant is that we all struggle with sinful passions, which are the result of fallen bodies and sinful hearts. Some of you have some pretty dark sins in your past for which you feel incredible shame. Others constantly fight addiction, lust, depression, and the fear of man.
We want to do the right thing, but so often we end up doing the wrong thing. It’s a constant, frustrating battle. In Romans 7, Paul reflects on his own struggle against the flesh, and we can all relate to his frustration when he concludes, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” All of us from the youngest to the oldest, from the most spiritually mature to the least spiritually mature live in a “lowly/humble body” that brings pain after pain and temptation after temptation.
As a result, we eagerly anticipate the day when he “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.” 1 John 3:2 tells us that this will happen the moment we see Christ at the Rapture. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
In that moment, Christ will finish the process he began the moment we were saved. Philippians 3:10 states that we are currently being conformed to Christ’s death through the often painfully slow process of spiritual growth. But in the “twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15:52), Christ will finish the process. We will be transformed.
No longer will we struggle with aches and pains, physical or mental disorders, and deadly diseases. No, Paul says our bodies will be “conformed to His glorious body.” And most importantly, our struggle against sin will forever be over. No longer will there be any need to restraint my desires, because every passion and impulse of my heart will be pure. And I will never again experience guilt or shame, just the joy of Christ’s presence. It’s going to be a wonderful day.
And I want to emphasize that our only boasting in that day will be in the Lord. We’re not going to look down at our glorified bodies and say, “Wow, look what I did. Look at what I earned through my righteous life and religious deeds.”
Yes, it’s true that our sanctification contributes to the process, but even that is all of grace. Christ will “transform our lowly body,” not us, so we will glory in Christ and in what he accomplished through his resurrection.
It’s going to be a wonderful day, but Paul’s not done. He ends v. 21 by saying that Christ will accomplish this remarkable work, “according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” In other words, we will not be the only ones who are transformed.
Colossians 1:19–20: Reconciliation speaks of peace. There has been no peace in creation since the curse. But the day is coming when Christ will crush Satan, the demonic powers, and all evil. He will perfectly restore everything in creation to its pre-Fall condition. And we will enjoy a perfect new world with all the fullness of God’s beauty and grace. It’s going to be incredible.
But that’s not even the main point of v. 21b. Rather, the main reason Paul mentions the mighty power of Christ is to emphasize that the same power that will reconcile all creation will also WORK in us. The Greek word translated working is energeia. We get our word energy from it. Whenever this word is used in the NT, it always describes supernatural power.
So, what Paul intends to say is that we can know with certainty that we will be transformed and receive our full, promised inheritance because the same power that will subdue every effect of the curse will work in me and you and every believer to transform us into the image of Christ! It will come to pass for us and for every believer who has gone before us into the presence of the Lord. We will be transformed.
In sum, vv. 18–19 lament how sum had abandoned Christ to avoid the shame of the cross and to indulge passions of their bellies. And as the Philippians suffered for Christ and wrestled against their flesh, they probably wondered if it was all worth it. Paul says, “Absolutely!” based on the 3 anchors in vv. 20–21. We are citizens of heaven. Our Savior is coming to rescue us. And our Savior is coming to transform us. So, how should we respond. Chapter 4:1 urges us…
IV. We must stand fast (4:1).
Therefore, indicates that Paul is drawing a conclusion based on what he just said. Paul is going to tell us how we should respond to the 3 anchors.
But before he gets to the challenge, he frames it with 4 affectionate descriptions of the Philippians. They were his “beloved and longed-for.” He cared deeply about them. And they were also his “joy and crown,” which probably looks forward to the final judgment.
Paul is saying the when he stands before the Lord someday, his joy will be in the fruit God gave among the Philippians, and he will be crowned based on work among them. So, Paul loved these people dearly, and he speaks to them not merely as an authority but as a loving father.
Then his fatherly tone continues with the command, “So stand fast in the Lord, my beloved.” Paul used this same verb in 1:27, where he challenged us to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind.” You may recall that Paul is picturing us as soldiers, standing firm in our battle lines even as the enemy seeks to intimidate and scatter us.
3:18–19 said that we are surrounded by all sorts of temptations. The world is constantly putting things in front of our eyes and telling us, “This thing will satisfy your heart and make you so much happier.” Not only that, it tries to intimidate us into moving off the foundation of our faith. The world claims that it’s foolish to believe the Bible and that its ethics are outdated. It pushes us to the edges of culture for remaining faithful to Scripture.
And we can begin to believe that maybe Jesus isn’t worth it. Maybe if I back up just a few steps from the battle line, everything will be okay. But Paul urges us with the love of a father, don’t back down. Heaven is coming. Jesus will transform you and everything around you. The world system will not win. Jesus will subdue all things.
As a result, stand fast. Keep your eyes on the prize, and keep living with eternal priorities. Stay faithful to God’s truth and to the gospel. Keep obeying God’s commands, and keep doing the right thing day after day. Christian, don’t forget that we are strangers on the earth. We have a city whose builder and maker is God, so stand fast.
But finally I want to emphasize that we don’t stand fast solely in our own strength. For one, 1:27 said we are all strengthened as we stand together and lean on each other.
But even more importantly 4:1 says we stand “in the Lord.” The foundational truth of 3:1–4:1 is that the Christian life is rooted in Christ. We are in him. He is our righteousness, and he is our strength (3:3). Everything is summed up in Christ.
Therefore, I don’t have to stand on my own. I can stand fast in him. Praise the Lord for that, because I am weak, and I can’t stand on my own, but I can stand in him. So, Christian, “rejoice in Christ Jesus” every day of your life. Rehearse the gospel, remember what Christ did, pray to him, and walk in him.
To sum it all up, “Stand fast in the Lord today, because he will complete his work in the future.”