When we were born into this world, we became resident citizens of it. Planet earth is where we live and move and have our being. And this earth is also full of other people living, moving, and being.
The Bible uses the word, “world” in these two ways too. It may refer to the planet we live on (Romans 8:20), and it may refer to the people who live on earth (John 3:16–17).
The Bible also uses the word, “world” to refer to the system of values and attitudes of a society that has abandoned God and is in opposition to Him. This world system is expressed through a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions (1 John 2:16).
But when we accepted Christ, God, “rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:13). We were given a new status as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). Consequently, we’ve become “temporary residents and foreigners” in this world (1 Peter 2:11). It’s no longer our true home and when we fold up this temporary bodily tent at death, we have an eternal house in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1–4).
In keeping with our new status and identity we are to hate and shun the ungodly world system. This is what James meant when he wrote, “friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God” (James 4:4; cf. Philippians 2:15). It’s also what John wrote, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you” (1 John 2:15). And Peter writes, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11 NASB1995).
So that is our tension: believers are citizens of heaven living on earth. We’re temporary residents and foreigners among the nonbelieving citizens of the earth and their world system, which runs counter to God’s will. How do we live with that tension?
Here are a few specific guidelines to help us.
By faith, keep your mind focused on heavenly things
Meditate on heaven regularly. Value Christ supremely. As citizens of heaven is it is important to, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3 NIV).
“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT)
Recognize that we will suffer for the cause of Christ because we are “temporary residents and foreigners,” striving to live godly lives and opposed to worldly values
The world does not know God or love Him and because it hated Him it will hate us.
“Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3)
Live as a citizen on earth obeying the laws of the land and fulfilling your responsibilities toward your government, community, family, vocation, and church
“Athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5)
“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)
Don’t get tied up with things of this world
“No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:4 NIV)
In Romans 12:2 Paul wrote, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” Jesus prayed that all His followers who are in the world but not of it would not be overcome by the world. (John 17:11)
Work hard and enjoy your life and the fruit of your labour
“And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor.” (2 Timothy 2:6)
“God...richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17 NIV)
As citizens of heaven living on earth, we’re living in time but made for eternity. And as the old song, “This World Is Not My Home,” by J.R. Baxter goes, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through…. And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”