Where is your citizenship?

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Philippians 3:20-21

“Gaijin da!” – “There’s a foreigner”. This is a phrase you will hear fairly regularly if you venture into parts of Japan that are less frequented by tourists.  Children might shout it out when they are surprised by or curious about the presence of someone who is obviously not Japanese. You might hear “Mr/Mrs Gaijin” from an adult who is not sure how to refer to you. From others, it might have a more derogatory meaning.

A “gaijin” is anyone who is not Japanese. The official term is “gaikokujin” or “outside country person”, but you are more likely to hear the shorter form “gaijin” – “outside person”. In essence, it means someone who is not Japanese, someone from outside of Japan.

In Japan, there is a clear distinction between people who are Japanese citizens and those who are not. It doesn’t matter if you were born in Japan or have lived here all your life; if you’re not Japanese, you are a gaijin, an outside person. As a gaijin you cannot vote, work for the government, or work as a teacher in a public school. Only Japanese citizens can do these things. Moreover, Japan does not permit people to hold more than one nationality. If you want to become a Japanese citizen, you must renounce any other citizenship you hold. While children may have dual nationality, when they reach adulthood, the Japanese Government asks them to choose.

Our citizenship is important. It determines the rights and privileges that we have. Paul was a Roman citizen. In those days, that was significant, providing various rights throughout the Roman Empire. On some occasions Paul took advantage of those rights, such as in Philippi where he protested against being beaten publicly without a trial (Acts 16:37). In fact, the city of Philippi was itself a Roman colony, and its people enjoyed the same rights and privileges as they would in Rome. Many of those in Philippi were also Roman citizens. They lived in Philippi but their citizenship was in Rome.

It is therefore interesting to note that Paul refers to citizenship twice in his letter to the Philippians. In 3:20, he reminds the Philippian believers that they are citizens (“politeuma” in Greek) of heaven. This was not just a future status, but a current reality. And in 1:27, Paul uses the Greek word “politeuomai”. This word is translated in our English Bibles as “conduct yourselves” or “let your manner of life” but it has the meaning of “living as a citizen”. Although some of the Philippians may have been Roman citizens, and they lived in a town governed by Rome, their primary citizenship was in heaven. Therefore, they were to live as citizens in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Tim Keller once wrote on Twitter “The way you live now is completely controlled by what you believe about your future.” The Philippian believers suffered persecution for their faith (1:29-30). However, Paul and the believers in Philippi knew that their citizenship was in heaven. They not only believed that Jesus was coming back but they eagerly awaited it, looking forward to the time when everything would be made new. This is what gave them hope in the midst of their trials.

We know that our citizenship is in heaven, but it’s important to ask ourselves whether we are living as if we really believe it. It is possible, even as Christians, to become so comfortable in this world that we do not actually long for the world to come. Are we eagerly awaiting a Saviour from heaven, or do we want to have some more time here? Can we say, as Paul did, that we desire to depart and be with Christ which is better by far (1:23), or would we actually prefer to stay here a little longer?

One of the privileges of being a missionary is a sense of not being fully at home in this world. Living for a significant period of time in another country changes you, so that when you return, you no longer feel fully at home in your passport country. Even after living here for more than 25 years, however, Japan is not my home either. I am still very aware of the fact that I am a foreigner, an ‘outside person’. This feeling of not being at home in either place may in some ways be an unpleasant one, but it serves as a constant reminder that my true home is not in this world. My citizenship is in heaven.

Our reality as Christians is that we are all “gaijin” – outside people. Even though we live in this world, we are not of it (John 17:14-16). We are citizens of heaven. Our true home is elsewhere, with Jesus, and that should make every difference to the way we live our lives now. 

By Lorna Ferguson