Philippians 3:20 says of Christians,
Our citizenship is in Heaven.
When someone is naturalized as a citizen of a country he gives up whatever citizenship he previously had and no longer has any allegiance to his former country. So does this mean that when we became Christians we gave up our citizenship in our earthly country? There are some Christians who think this is so and that for this reason Christians shouldn’t get involved in any form of political activity.
Citizenship in New Testament times was not the same thing it is today. The Roman Empire was made up of many nations. Some of the people in that empire were considered Roman citizens and had rights that noncitizens didn’t. Paul was such a citizen and if you read Acts you will find out that he exercised his citizenship rights when doing so would help him spread the gospel.
But being a Roman citizen didn’t keep a person from also being a citizen of whatever part of the empire he lived in. This citizenship was in addition to whatever other citizenship he possessed, not a substitute for it.
It was similar to being a citizen of a country and also a citizen of a state or province of that country. I am a citizen of the United States and since I live in Kansas I am also a citizen of Kansas. I can exercise both citizenships at the same time without any conflict. In the same way, the fact that I am a citizen of Heaven because I am a Christian is no barrier for my exercising the rights of my American citizenship.
In fact the Bible says that human governments ultimately get their authority from God.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
And verse 4 says,
For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
It certainly can’t be wrong to take part in an institution which God has established.
There are examples in the Bible of followers of God being involved in worldly governments.
Joseph’s faithful obedience resulted in his being placed in the position of being second in command in the Egyptian government.
Daniel was taken to Babylon and there rose to a position where he had a strong influence on the government.
Paul took advantage of his status as a Roman citizen and exercised the rights that came with his citizenship.
At least one member of the church in Corinth held a government position. Paul wrote the letter to the Romans from that city and at the end he names some believers who sent their greetings to the Romans.
Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we must always do everything our government commands us to do. When its actions or laws contradict God’s commands we must obey God. We find some examples of this in Daniel. Chapter 3 tells how Daniel’s three friends refused to bow down to a stature when commanded to do so. Chapter 6 tells how Daniel disobeyed a law the prohibited him from praying to God. But we must do whatever our government requires when it is possible to do so without disobeying God.
Christians are free to exercise the same rights and must fulfill the same responsibilities as other citizens. But we have a responsibility that other citizens do not and it is the most important one. We are commanded to pray for our country.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
1 Timothy 2:1-2
In a letter written to the exiles in Babylon Jeremiah said,
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
When someone becomes a Christian this act doesn’t make him of less value as a citizen. If his country has laws that are contrary to God’s commands his faith may force him to disobey those laws, but his new relationship with God means that he can pray for his country and God will hear his prayers. The country is better of as a result of his new relationship with God.