I was in London exactly 146 days, 9 hours, 6 minutes, and 56 seconds before England hosted the 2012 summer Olympics. I still have a photo of myself, wearing a London hat, standing in front of the massive Olympic countdown clock in Trafalgar Square. Then, 146 days later, I was met with collective groans from my friends as I donned my London Olympics cap to root for the host nation. Who watches the Olympics and roots for a country in which they don’t reside? I guess I do.
The Olympics are the perfect opportunity to express pride in your nation as you cheer your team to victory. We rank countries based on medal count. It is a show of global unity for participating countries. However, it’s also an opportunity to observe our tendency toward exceptionalism, our belief that America is superior to other nations.
God and Country
We have a complicated history with American exceptionalism. Christianity Today found that more than half of Americans say that God has a special relationship with the United States. Even a third of non-believers agree! We believe—consciously or subconsciously—we have been uniquely blessed and chosen by God, even at the expense of other countries.
It is good for you and me—American Christians—to have pride in this country. Patriotism is not wrong. But American and Christian have become synonymous to many of us. And this has muddied the waters, not only for us, as believers, but for our neighbors who don’t yet follow Jesus. In our zeal and patriotism, we must be cautious about mixing our worship of God with love of country. Our opinions about our country can influence our beliefs about God. Our patriotic zeal can actually become an idol we worship in God’s place.
“Worship God and celebrate your country, not the other way around.” Ed Stetzer
A good self-check is how defensive we become when someone suggests our patriotism could actually be a form of idolatry. Today, we have such polarizing views of how we are to love our country. I fear that our politics shape our theology much more than the other way around. No political party aligns completely with a full biblical worldview. When we read the Bible or hear a sermon, we must remove our cultural biases and let the Spirit challenge places that have become blind spots and idols.
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20-21).
If you are a follower of Christ, you have dual citizenship. You are a citizen of the earthly country in which you reside, but only temporarily. Your primary citizenship is in heaven, thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus.
As believers, we are to promise our love and allegiance first to God and our Christian brothers and sisters before considering our country. I share a more significant connection with the Christ-follower across the ocean, than with my unbelieving neighbor across the street. I share a zip code with one, but I share my Savior with the other. (Of course, I also want to share my Savior with my neighbor, but that’s a different topic.)
One day, our earthly citizenship will fade to the background and give way our eternal citizenship. And the eternal city won’t look like ours does now. We have a future promise:
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
As citizens of heaven, when we reflect on Easter, this is our day of deliverance! This day is worthy of celebration and honor because Jesus won the war not against flesh and blood, but against our own sin and the Enemy, and He has set us free! This is our story. Jesus and His Kingdom are where we should channel our utmost hope and affection.
We have a unique opportunity to be good citizens so that we may be a light to the world around us. I celebrate believers who die to themselves daily, submit to Christ, and emulate Him as they actively participate in their communities. They celebrate what is good in our nation and work to change what’s not. While we are here, we have work to do! But let us not confuse temporary for eternal, and let us not take our eyes off of the Kingdom that is to come.