Citizens of Heaven - Bob Sawvelle

Citizens of Heaven, Part 2

Last week I began examining what it means to be a Citizen of Heaven. Today I want to continue this teaching and discuss how important understanding our new creation reality is as a follower of Jesus. Understanding our new identity affects our understanding of our authority as citizens of heaven.

Understanding who you are in Christ, your rights as His child, and as a citizen of heaven empowers you to live from God’s divine purpose and power!

As I shared last week, heaven aids those who understand their identity and position in Christ. Knowing your citizenship and purpose affects your thinking and behavior. Confidence builds, you pray with focus, and your prayers become effective.

You are an heir of God and joint-heir with Christ. You are a citizen of His Kingdom, and He promises to care for you. God will care and provide for you. He will empower you to fulfill your destiny and purpose in life. You are an epistle of Christ, illuminated by the Holy Spirit within!

Dual Citizenship

We are citizens of heaven on earth, called to live from God’s domain here. His domain is free of worry and filled with peace.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. Phil. 3:20-21 NLT

We are citizens of a commonwealth called heaven, where Jesus, our Savior and King, lives. We eagerly await His return and are anchored in hope of our resurrection. This confidence keeps us in His peace and joy in a turbulent world. It also empowers us to reach others and expand the borders of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

The city of Philippi was under Roman rule in the country of Macedonia. They understood the concept of a colony in a foreign land and what it meant to be a dual citizen of two countries (although not everyone in Philippi was a Roman citizen too).

From this earthly example, Paul reminds the church at Philippi that although they may be citizens of Philippi and Rome (dual citizenship), spiritually they have a higher citizenship (one based in heaven) while being citizens on earth where they are only foreigners. They comprise the colony of heaven on earth—within this colony or embassy, a different culture exists. To further illustrate this, when Rome occupied a new territory, like Macedonia, they brought the influence of Rome into the region. They began to reshape the culture to look and feel like Rome. They sent leaders and ambassadors there to help make the new territory a colony of Rome.

On this understanding of the influence of Rome on the culture of their region, Paul tells the Philippian church that as citizens of another world, they should:

First, walk worthy of this citizenship. Don’t live of the world or be influenced by the world in how to think and act. Change your perspective.

Second, as citizens of heaven, they had the privilege of representing heaven in this world, to bring a manifestation of God’s kingdom to this world.

Third, they were exhorted not to worry; but pray and trust God (Phil. 4:4-9)

You enter God’s kingdom through new birth (John 3:3). Each of us become part of God’s family, a Kingdom citizen, and part of God’s colony on earth—you became naturalized as a citizen of heaven!

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. Eph. 2:19 NKJV

Not only does new birth make you a citizen of heaven, but your citizenship begins immediately. We are kingdom citizens and His ambassadors now,

So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” 2 Cor. 5:20 CEB

Why is this so important? Religion tends to postpone the benefits of our heavenly citizenship to the future. God’s Kingdom is both now and yet to come. Salvation, healing, deliverance are no good in eternity—we need them now—not later! People in our generation need to encounter God’s love and power NOW through a confident Church who understands their authority as citizens of heaven.

When I became a Christian 40 years ago, my understanding of my rights and authority as a child of God and citizen of heaven was limited. As I grew in Christ, I became more aware of the authority of God’s Word, the authority I have in the name of Jesus, and subsequently my authority in God’s promises and prayer. It changed my life, and it will change yours!

The reader in Paul’s day would have understood the might of Rome behind its citizens. As an ambassador for Christ, you live in one world while representing another. We have the culture, economy, and power of heaven presently.

Why would Jesus tell us to pray for God’s kingdom to come if it were automatic? Yes, Jesus will come again—this is a sovereign act of God. But God’s kingdom, which is His domain and rule, manifests through family members, who exercise their rights as citizens of heaven.

You see, we are citizens of heaven, but live in a country called earth. The church (ecclesia) are called out ones, to be like a colony. We are an embassy, a refuge for the last, least, and lost of our world!

If I am overseas, in a foreign country, I have the right as a US citizen to go to the US embassy or consulate to get help if I need it. If I lose my passport, I can rightfully expect the embassy, who has the “might and force” of the US government behind it, to help me.

Understanding your rights as a citizen of heaven empowers you to live from divine purpose. Heaven aids those who understand their identity and purpose. Knowing your citizenship and purpose affects your thinking and your behavior. Confidence builds, your prayer life changes, others affected.

New Creation Realities

Paul writes to the Corinthians,

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Cor. 5:16-17 NLT

Your new birth, which occurred when you put your faith in Jesus, began the process of the Holy Spirit’s transformation and regeneration in your life. In Christ, you participate in the divine nature of God (2 Pet. 1:4).

Through His victory on the cross, your old nature—which was dominant before your conversion—is now rendered powerless and your new nature is preeminent. You are presently empowered by the Spirit to live in the newness of recreated life. Through an intimate relationship with Jesus, we learn to rely on God to accomplish His eternal plan for the earth.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says that we are a new creation, and this could be Paul’s most defining statement about what it means to be a Christian. Paul stresses that through Christ’s death and resurrection, you have been united with Him and elevated into His victory and ascension glory (Eph. 2:6).

This new creation reality is an important concept to understand. You are united with Jesus in unseen heavenly realities, and you are enthroned with Him in His victory and glory. You are now living as a new creation from heaven toward earth.

Translators have developed the English phrase “new creation” from two Greek words Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 5:17 and in Galatians 6:15.

The English word “new” is derived from the Greek word kainós, which means, “What is new and distinctive as compared with other things.” [i] This newness is about form or quality.

The English word “creation” is derived from the Greek word ktísis, which means, “To make or create something which has not existed before; to create; creation (in the New Testament, used exclusively of God’s activity in creation).” [ii]

Ktísis is the same word used in Colossians where Paul says of Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). Ktísis, as used in the New Testament, involves God’s creative activity. Thus, becoming a new creation conveys the idea that you are a new and distinct person through regeneration in Christ. Your present motivation is to live for God and walk with Him in an intimate relationship.

Therefore, we should see everyone (and the world) according to the spiritual realm. “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh…” 2 Cor 5:16 NKJV

While Paul stresses the change that has happened to each one of us in Christ (vs. 17), he also teaches us to see each other differently. Why?

Because in Christ, we have been created new!

“From now on,” means to “no longer” see others in just a natural realm. No one includes you! Don’t look at yourself in just the natural realm. See yourself as you are, a new person in Christ. Don’t view yourself any longer from your old nature or previous life before Christ!

Just as we no longer understand Jesus from a fleshly or human perspective, we must recognize the supernatural, spiritual dimension in each other as well. While Paul is stressing the change that has happened to each one of us in Christ, he is also trying to help us see each other differently—from heavens perspective!

Live as a Citizen of Heaven

“Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.” (Phil. 3:17 NLT) Paul tells them to “pattern their lives” after his. How did he live?

By forgetting the things of the past (Phil. 3:13) and concentrating on the future—running straight ahead for the heavenly goal and gaining the ultimate prize: Jesus—His presence and anointing (Phil. 3:14).

Paul persecuted the Church, and his past was less than ideal. The same is true for many of us, our past was contrary to Christ. Paul reminds the Philippians, and us today, that some are enemies of Christ, still living for the world:

there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.” Phil. 3:18-19 NKJV

Paul is describing how humanity, outside of God’s family and heavenly citizenship through Christ, is living. Outside of God’s colony lies turmoil, destruction, and eventual death. Paul wept over the condition of lost humanity. His desire was that all would come to Christ and live from new life in Him.

Again, Paul doesn’t focus on his past failures; rather, he focuses on his new life in Christ. Paul maintains an eternal perspective. And he is encouraging the reader of Philippians 3 to do the same.

Paul wrote to the Colossians, “And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.” (Col. 1:27 NLT) Think about this: in Christ, not only is our past forgiven and we are made new, but we share His glory now—not just later in eternity, but here on earth presently!

Paul explained to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2:20 NKJV) Your new life in Jesus empowers you to live in the superior law of the Spirit—above your flesh, past, and law-based religion! And this is the invitation for all who are outside of Jesus!

Crucify the Flesh

While we are new creations, we are also maturing into the fullness of what God has done for us in Christ. As we renew our minds to God’s truths, change our thinking from old patterns and behavior, we begin to live from greater realms of God’s glory and authority.

Understand, God doesn’t want to merely change you; He wants to transform you. This began, when by faith, you accepted Christ and His gift of grace—the Holy Spirit then indwelt you—and is in the ongoing process of transforming your mind. But you must participate with the Spirit and His work in you.

It is essential that we learn how to crucify the flesh, our old nature. Those who belong to Christ must crucify the flesh, deny self, take up their cross, and follow Him. As we do this, we put off the old man and put on the new man. [iii] By the Spirit we put to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom. 8:13). This journey takes intention, action, and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Like an athlete who stays in shape, we must spiritually be “in shape.” We must be positioned to respond as Christ would, not allowing our old nature to react to temptation or triggers. To get “in shape” Christ shows us how to bring the body under subjection.

Live a Life of Spiritual Discipline

How do we change, get in shape, and live as citizens of heaven? Live a life of spiritual discipline.

To live the crucified life, realize Jesus modeled how to do this. He modeled this through the spiritual disciplines. [iv] We have the help of the Holy Spirit to walk differently and we have practices to implement to sustain our relationship with the Father: prayer, fasting, silence, solitude, Word, worship, and service.

Prayer. Jesus modeled how important it was to spend time with His Father in prayer. He did nothing except what He heard from His Father. Here we learn how to listen and obey the voice of God. Learning to surrender to His lordship, doing His will rather than our own. Silence and solitude allow us to meditate and contemplate upon God.

Fasting. Before He ever began His ministry, Jesus spent 40 days in prayer and fasting. During that season, tempted by the enemy, He overcame Satan’s schemes. Fasting helps bring our body and spirit into alignment with the Lord. Fasting creates a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit like no other time.

Read and study God’s Word. The Holy Spirit brings revelation from the Word. We learn how we are to live and operate in the power and reality of God. The Word examines our heart and our motives. It provides the boundaries for which humanity needs to live well and prosper.

Worship. Worship brings us into the realm of our Holy God. He is Holy, and His love and holiness are discovered as we surrender in worship and adoration of Him.

Service. Jesus made it clear He didn’t come to be served but rather to serve others. We are called to do the same. Laying down our lives for others rather than fulfilling our selfish desires.

Final Thoughts

Genuine Christianity, led by the Spirit, opens the mind to the potential of being completely transformed to think like heaven—to have a kingdom perspective.

God is after something far more than “good behavior,” He is after the maturing of each of us, and the Church, into the fullness of Christ, to function with a mindset that nothing is impossible with God!

We have been called to teach the nations how to stop giants, prosper in famines, overcome pandemics, rebuild cities, and restore families ravaged by the devil!

God is looking for those who will align themselves with heaven, so His realm can invade our world.

It starts with surrender, loving Jesus, and communing with Holy Spirit. We allow the Spirit to transform our thinking to live as a citizen of heaven, and we exercise through spiritual discipline to empower us to walk in the fullness of the authority we have been given in Christ.


Bob Sawvelle Signature


For a more in-depth look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message, “Citizens of Heaven, Part 2”


[i] Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 447.

[ii] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 513.

[iii] Dallas Willard, The Great Omission (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2006), 84.

[iv] Willard, Omission, 89.

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