I have an American birth certificate and an official passport that declare that I am a citizen of the United States. However, as St. Paul reminds us, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 3:20) A letter to Diognetus written at the end of the fourth century, describes our status in the world.
“Christians are indistinguishable from other people either by nationality, language or customs. They do not live in separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. They do not base their teaching upon reveries inspired by human curiosity. Unlike other people, they champion no purely human doctrine.
Regarding dress, food and manner of life, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
“Yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but the desires of the flesh do not govern them. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they live on a level that transcends the law.
“Christians love everyone, but people persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult.
For the good they do they receive the punishment of transgressors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. The Jews attack them as aliens, the Greeks persecute them, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
“To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.
“Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together. Similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place. Christians also live for a time amid perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such are Christians’ lofty and divinely appointed function, from which they are not permitted to excuse themselves.”