I recently came across a study about Millennials and GenZers in Kenya identifying themselves first as Kenyan, by their faith, and lastly by their tribe. In other words, I could say that I am a Kenyan, a Christian, and a Kamba, for example. On the one hand, this is progress because tribalism, which has been such a nuisance for Kenya and Africa, is generally losing grip as a stronghold for the younger generation. Many of us would say hallelujah to such news. But, on the other hand, is it OK to view ourselves first as Kenyans, then second as citizens of heaven; Christians? Which citizenship should supersede the other?
Identifying ourselves with respect to our nationality is nothing new. We see Jesus, in his conversation with the woman at the well, identifying himself as a Jew (John 4:22). The woman even seems to recognize Jesus as a Jewish even before he admits the same, most likely from how he was dressed (John 4:7-9). I take from this that it is not sinful to consider myself a citizen of my nation, dress or even behave like so, so long as it conforms to scriptural patterns of modesty and holiness (1 Peter 3:3-4). Jesus was about the business of God the Father above all other relationships, even his relationship to the Jewish nation (Luke 2:49). Jesus’ example of where his priority and loyalty were is essential for us to remember as we move forward in deciding if it’s OK to view ourselves as Kenyans first, then as Christians.
Following Christ’s example, we can safely say that there is nothing wrong with being a Kenyan. The positives of viewing myself as a Kenyan first might be that I will be patriotic hence prioritizing service to my country and fellow citizens. More Kenyans with a similar mindset will likely lead to unity in our beloved country. One might even dream of a better-developed nation. The implications of such a stance can seem convincing on the surface. However, we must remember that in placing our boast in mainly being Kenyan, we prioritize that which is passing; temporal (1 John 2:17). Our Kenyan identity ends here. It will by no means proceed on to eternity. To be faithful Christians while sojourning as Kenyans calls for loyalty to One who was, is and forever will be (1 Peter 2:11-12).
As Christians, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom (Philippians 3:20), which means we are really not of this world (John 18:36). To be a citizen of heaven, one needs to be born again (John 3:3). In addition, the loyalty of citizens of heaven must be to King Jesus above every other relationship there is, including the authorities (Matthew 10:37-39). In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says that we cannot serve two masters; we can only be truly loyal to one.
If you’re a citizen of heaven first, you must also give some level of loyalty to your government because the Lord desires that you do so (1 Peter 2:13-14). Consider what 1 Peter 2:17b reads: “Fear God. Honour the emperor.” Notice the sequence. That should be the order of our allegiances. When people in authority ask us to do something sinful, we boldly defy because our eternal citizenship matters more. The consequences of such may be dire, as we will see, but we must remember that the one we fear is more powerful (Matthew 10:28).
Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego offer a helpful example in our discussion. The three found themselves in a situation where they had to decide who they feared (Daniel 3:13-15). King Nebuchadnezzar had commanded that everyone bow down and worship a golden image at the sound of the horn, lyre, pipe, and every kind of music (Daniel 3:1-7). Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego had to make a bold choice as to where their loyalties were. They chose to obey God above the king despite being warned of the impending consequences. The king ordered that the three be thrown into a fiery furnace. He was, however, completely awestruck when he saw four men
walking in the fire instead of three (Daniel 3:24-25). The Lord joined them and saved them from the flames. The bold obedience of Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego brought God much glory before the King and all the peoples of the earth. God also blessed their obedience since the king promoted the three in their province (Daniel 3:28-30).
Who Has Your Loyalty?
Consider where your loyalty lies. For example, you might hold an identity card that says you’re Kenyan, so are you a Christian Kenyan or a Kenyan Christian? The order of those two identities says a big deal. The kingdom you consider yourself a citizen of first will significantly impact your worldview. It will steer and guide what matters to you. For example, those who consider themselves citizens of the kingdom of heaven will seek to be like Jesus. They will be those who “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). They will also abstain from sin, keep their conduct honourable and respond in love when they’re slandered (1 Peter 2:11-12).
The scriptures remind us that the Lord is the pearl of greatest value (Matthew 13:45). He is indeed worth selling and forsaking everything we have in order to gain him (Matthew 13:44, Philippians 3:8). If he is that valuable a treasure, we must not put anything above him, even our earthly citizenship.