Most people are citizens of someplace, either by birth or by choice, and with citizenship comes certain responsibilities. But what does it mean to be a good citizen? And how should Christians balance their primary allegiance to the kingdom of heaven with their earthly obligations to their communities and countries? This six-part blog series, produced under the direction of David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview, aims to explore how Christians can best steward these responsibilities from a biblical worldview. Learn more at FRC.org/worldview.
Being a good citizen isn’t easy; it takes work, conviction, and determination to uphold truth, reform shortcomings, and seek justice. However, despite the inherent difficulty of good citizenship, good citizens are essential for any community to flourish.
Communities need the good citizenship of their Christians. Although Christians are first and foremost citizens of heaven, we are not called to sit back and passively accept whatever is happening within our communities. Like the Israelites in exile at the time of the prophet Jeremiah, we ought to “seek the welfare of the city” where God has placed us, and “pray to the LORD on its behalf,” because our welfare is bound up in its welfare (Jeremiah 29:7).
It can be tempting to think that our civic engagement is unnecessary because we have the assurance that God is in control. However, confidence in God’s sovereignty does not give us a license to be lazy or passive, as Scripture makes abundantly clear. Christians have an active role to play in our communities as we “let our light shine before men” (Matthew 5:16), modeling for our neighbors what it looks like to fear God and honor those in authority (1 Peter 2:13-17). When the work of good citizenship is hard or unpopular, we should not shrink back in fear, “for God has not given us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
While many aspire to be good citizens and expect the same of their neighbors, the truth is, not everyone wants to do the hard work of being a good citizen themselves. Doing the right thing often requires endurance, courage, and resolve, which is partly why we have bad citizens. Most bad citizens are passive, contributing little to the flourishing of their community. Meanwhile, they selfishly expect good citizenship from their neighbors so they can reap the benefits of a thriving community while doing none of the work.
An essential quality that works in tandem with good citizenship is unity. If citizens are self-interested and rely upon their neighbors to do the hard work of good citizenship, the people will be disunified and the community will suffer. As citizens work together for the good of their community, the people thrive, and there is peace. Christ touched on the importance of unity when He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Matthew 12:25).
Sin affects every area of life, including our citizenship. Many bad citizens are bad not because they misunderstand good citizenship, but because it is far easier to lean into our human brokenness and think that others can “make up” for our lack of contribution.
Christian reader, do not be fooled; it is not just non-Christian citizens who can be passive. Regrettably, some Christians think that, because God is sovereign, they do not need to play an active role in their communities. They fall for the fallacy that what we do does not matter. However, God invites His people to be part of His work in His world—which includes our communities—for His glory.
During the election, American Christians might be tempted to use God’s sovereignty as an excuse to disengage or not vote. But passivity is the wrong choice. It is not up to politicians, lawyers, and organizations to seek the welfare of our country, states, and cities. Rather, it is the responsibility of all citizens. Taking on this responsibility requires intentionality, discernment, and actively engaging our minds to consider how our prayers, conversations, and votes will further the peace of our communities and the flourishing of our neighbors. Good Christian citizens who are actively engaged and deliberate about their contributions to their communities set a clear example of the gospel message of hope.