God’s People, part 275: Roman Citizen

Read Acts 22:22-29

“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!””  (2 Corinthians 5:20, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 275: Roman Citizen. We’ve discussed Paul at length throughout Acts. Most of the Acts of the Apostles is focused, in fact, on Paul and his mission to the Gentiles.  We know that Paul was a devout Jew, a former member of the Pharisees, and a former persecutor of Jesus’ earliest followers. We know that when he “converted” to belief in Jesus Christ, he did not convert from one religion to another; rather, he saw Jesus as the the Jewish Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Jesus Christ, for Paul, is how Abraham’s faith would become a blessing to all nations. It was through Jesus Christ as Messiah that all nations would confess and accept Lord and Savior.

For Paul the Christian faith was the Jewish faith. Christianity was not a separate religion, but the SAME religion. Of course, the Jews who disagreed with Paul saw it very differently; however, Paul was born, lived, taught, and died a devout Jewish theologian. In his very letters, he indicates just how Jewish he thought he was.

Yet, there is another aspect of Paul we have not discussed. Paul was not only a diaspora Jew from Tarsus, the capital city in the Roman Province Cilicia, but he was actually born a Roman Citizen. There are varying reasons suggested that could explain how Paul was born a Roman citizen. One such reason is that Tarsus was a freed city because it had aided Octavian (aka Caesar Augustus) and Antony in the civil wars and thus they were freed and considered to be a Roman city. Thus, most who were born within it were considered to be citizens of Rome.

There are other ways in which one could become a Roman citizen, such as performing a vital service for Rome or by purchasing citizenship at a hefty cost. In fact, the commander in our Scripture reading today said that he had purchased his citizenship; however, Paul, stated to the commander that he had, in fact, been born a Roman citizen. This proved, for Paul, to be quite a convenient fact that literally saved his hyde from abuse and torture.

The only reason Paul even mentioned his citizenship of Rome was because the commander had ordered him to be whipped. As a Roman citizen, Paul was afforded rights that non-citizens were not granted. He could not be punished prior to a fair trial and, as we will see later on in another devotion, as a Roman Citizen Paul had the right to appeal his case to the emperor.

Here’s the point that can be taken from the fact that Paul acknowledged his Roman citizenship. First, we do owe our allegiance to the government in which we live in. There is nothing wrong, for instance, for a Christian to also acknowledge and work within the confines of his or her earthly citizenship. In fact, under normal circumstances, that is how we ought to work. There is nothing wrong, even, with taking a healthy pride in where one is from.

With that said, Paul did not boast about his citizenship, nor did he use it to place himself above anyone else. First and foremost to Paul, he was a citizen of the Kingdom of God. He was of heaven even though he lived on earth. He saw his earthly dwelling as a diplomatic appointment, and he reminded all Christians that we were on Earth as God’s ambassadors.

Finally, given our divine appointment as ambassadors, we MUST remember that we ultimately represent Jesus Christ. What that means is that if our government calls us to do something that is against Jesus Christ, our allegiance is to Christ ALONE. Those who hold up Romans 13:1-7 as an absolute mandate to follow the government do so devoid of the context set in Romans 13:8-14. Therefore, Romans 13 is NOT a mandate to absolutely follow government; however, it is a mandate to follow government when doing so does not conflict with Jesus Christ.

Let us, therefore, remember that Christ is King and our mandate is to FOLLOW HIM. Being a law abiding citizen does, overall, honor Christ. With that said, we are called to follow Christ at all costs, even if it means disobeying our earthly rulers. Let us be a people who grow, like Paul, to understand when and when not to embrace our worldly citizenship so that we may further witness to the love of Christ and his supreme reign in the coming Kingdom of God.

We are appointed as ambassadors of heaven, which means we should be representing Christ to the world around us.

Lord, help me to grow in my ambassadorship so that I may fully represent you in all that I do. Amen.

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