Philippians 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (NKJV). Whatever our earthly situation, Christians can rejoice in the fact that we are citizens of heaven. Before we were in Christ, we were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, but contact with His blood changed all that (Eph. 2:12-13). Now God has gathered people of all nationalities into His Son and made a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9), Christ’s church, the true Israel of God (Gal. 6:16).
How do people become citizens of heaven, so that their names are written there (Heb. 12:23)? Well, by birth. Citizenship has always had a connection with birth. Birth was how the apostle Paul became a Roman citizen, “Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born” (Acts 22:27-28).
While the path to becoming a citizen of an earthly nation can be by birth or through naturalization (which may involve applications, waiting lists, and various other prerequisites) the uniqueness of citizenship in heaven is that everyone today must be naturalized by birth. Nicodemus was born an Israelite, and through hard work had become not only a Pharisee, but also a ruler of the Jews (John 3:1); thus, he probably thought he would certainly be a citizen of heaven because he was a descendant of Abraham (cf. Mt. 3:7-9). However, when Nicodemus approached Jesus one evening, he heard the truth, which radically challenged his beliefs. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This new birth was not a second physical birth, as Nicodemus obtusely queried (John 3:4), but is a spiritual birth of water and Spirit (John 3:5).
When one is ready to submit to the Savior, water baptism brings new life (Rom. 6:4), makes one a child of God (Gal. 3:26-27), washes away sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16) and saves (1 Pet. 3:21). Truly baptism is this new birth, the washing of regeneration, and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5), at which point one becomes a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is the one and only path to the Father (John 14:6), and baptism puts one into Christ (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27); thus, the one path to heavenly citizenship is defined.
While many may give most of their time and effort to the affairs of earthly commonwealths, trying to make their government the best it can be according to their views, the Christian must always place citizenship in heaven first. Are we working to help people become citizens of heaven? Christ is our loving monarch, who rules in righteousness as Isaiah 32:1 prophesied. His is the only perfect kingdom, and the only one that will matter in the end (1 Cor. 15:22-24).