First impressions are very powerful. They also can be fleeting. It is the lasting impressions that are carved over time that define the character of the individual. They are defined by how a person conducts themselves on a day to day basis and how they stand firm against adversity. If these are the standards of character given to us by the world, how much more important it is for a Christian believer.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved – and that by God.” (Philippians. 1:27-28)
For ten years, I had the privilege of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with Southeast Asians living in America. I was given the opportunity of establishing close ties with families and to know their stories of immense struggle and difficulty before coming to the U.S. American citizenship continues to be a valued possession. Most of us cannot grasp what its like to live in a country without freedom, nor appreciate the opportunities to make a good living. All a person needs to do is to attend a naturalization ceremony and see the beaming faces of those who have worked hard to learn a new language, a new culture and to pass the citizenship examination. They are proud to become U.S. citizens and are thrilled to live in free country.
During the time of the Apostle Paul, Roman citizenship was an extremely valuable possession. Knowing this, Paul told his people to “conduct” themselves in a way that is worthy of the gospel. The Greek word used for “conduct” means to exercise their citizenship. He wanted the church to value their citizenship in heaven in the same way they were proud to be Roman citizens.
One significant way to exercise American citizenship is to vote. However, voter turnout in the U.S. is low. People are choosing not to exercise their citizenship. As a result, the country suffers. In the same way, when Christians do not exercise their citizenship in heaven, the kingdom of God suffers.
To live in a manner worthy of the gospel is giving evidence of the new spiritual life that the gospel has produced in our heart. When Christ dwells richly in us, our lives are renewed and transformed. We no longer live for ourselves, but live to love and serve God. To exercise our citizenship in heaven is to tell people what Jesus Christ has done for us and show them in our lives that we mean it. We accentuate our message by living lives that brings honor and glory to God.
Paul also encourages his young believers to stand firm. The phrase “stand firm” is used almost twenty times in the Bible. A Christian needs to expect that there will be times of intense pressure from the opposition. The stakes are high. The winner receives the crown of life and the loser eternal damnation. The world increasingly pressures Christians to draw away from Christ and to focus on gratifying human lusts and desires. For these reasons, Paul tells us to “stand firm” so that you will not be swayed by sin. He is saying that believers who stand firm in Jesus will not be frightened by the opposition, no matter how big and strong they may look. A Christian receives confidence and courage knowing that God is on their side. Their status is certain. They are victorious!
When a Christian feels they are under attack, they can not only be confident in victory, but also be comforted in a unique way. Their struggle with outside forces can be a “sign” of the genuineness of their faith. You are becoming a threat to the opposition! The world will take notice of the fearless courage of a Christian believer standing firm in the faith. They will observe that a sincere Christian believer has a power working for them that is far greater than any human power.
As we live out our day, let us exercise our citizenship in heaven with a thankful heart and a rejoicing spirit that sincerely celebrates what Christ has done for us. Tap into God’s resources that allow us to grow, stand firm and receive the victory in heaven.