A high school student from our church was working on a civics school assignment, and asked me the other day how I would answer this question: What is a good citizen? It’s a great question, especially as we are about to fully embark on the next presidential campaign. Here are three thoughts that came to mind as I reflected on it:
1. A good citizen actively cares for the flourishing of his or her community.
“For God so loved the world,” the Bible says (John 3:16), and so should we. Yes, there are verses that tell us we are citizens of heaven first (Philippians 3:20), that we are not “of the world” (John 17:16), and that we are to “seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). But these verses just remind us to keep things in proper balance when it comes to this life compared to the next life, not to wash our hands of this life entirely.
If this life is a training ground for eternity, then the values that we will live by then – compassion, love, mercy, holiness – should be practiced now. “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
So out of love for their neighbor, good citizens will be motivated to be advocates for matters of righteousness and justice which hurt their community. We will obey the Lord’s call to us to “seek the welfare of the city” where we live (and by projection, our country as well), and to “pray to the Lord on its behalf” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Jesus’s very incarnation – God taking on human flesh to save us – shows us the importance of immersing ourselves in humanity, fallen though we are, for the purpose of transforming it where we are able.
2. A good citizen honors the role of government and respects the place of politics in civic life.
Government is not a necessary evil. It is necessary, full stop. In eternity, Jesus will be king, and “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:7). Presumably there, where God’s laws will be written fully on my heart (a heart uninfected by a selfish, sin nature), we won’t need volumes of ordinances to keep us from cranking our stereos too loudly in the morning. We’ll just naturally give thought to our neighbor’s needs first. Here though it’s not so simple.
As I was enjoying pizza the other night with my wife, a man across from our booth was enjoying pizza with his wife, though in a wheelchair. There was a day not too many years ago where it wouldn’t have been nearly as effortless a thing for a person who couldn’t walk to enjoy a meal in a restaurant. But then lots of people rolled up their sleeves, went to meetings, wrote letters, created awareness of a problem, and the American Disabilities Act was born, which made the other night at the pizza place possible.
There is where the process of politics comes in. And so a good citizen will be an informed citizen, with a firm grasp on how politics work in their community, then share in its responsibilities, and defend the values that they would like to see upheld. Not everyone though will agree with those values, and so the good citizen will learn the art of persuasion, diplomacy, tenacity, and grace under fire. The good citizen knows the difference between civil disobedience and anarchy, which topples statues, sets neighborhoods on fire, and defaces art masterpieces to get its way.
3. A good citizen honors the kingdom of God above any earthly sovereign power.
- The good citizen who follows Christ the King understands the limits of earthly politics in establishing goodness on the earth, and so will never make an idol out of parties, platforms, or people.
- The good citizen who follows Christ understands that laws cannot change a heart; only the gospel can do that.
- The good citizen who follows Christ understands the fallenness of every human heart, and so every scheme, every -ism, every ideology offered to bring in utopia will fail. Without checks and balances on every system, and accountability on every person, the power of politics will corrupt those who wield it, to the misery of all.
- The good citizen who follows Christ understands that if the time comes when any earthly power claims absolute allegiance to its rule, he or she will say, “I must obey God rather than man.”
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. His latest book, “Communion With Christ” is now available through Amazon. His blogs and scripts can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon.