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Patriotism vs. Nationalism, the Patriot of Heaven, and Where We Stand
Patriotism is noticeable around our place.
On Memorial Day, you will see a flag in our front yard.
On July fourth, we’re likely wearing something red, white, and blue—and maybe decorating the cupcakes with it, too.
I love my homeland and am grateful to have been born in a place that has given me the freedom to worship, gather, write, pray, be educated, serve, defend, speak out, and live—freely.
As an American patriot, I still stand with hand over my heart for the national anthem. I gladly honor the men and women who have served, sacrificed, and died—and those who still serve—for the freedoms I enjoy.
Patriotism vs. Nationalism
At one time, the words patriotism and nationalism were used almost interchangeably. While both words express love for one’s country, over the last century, these two words have grown apart in meaning.
Stay with me—we will tie all of this to the twenty-first century Christian.
According to Merriam-Webster, patriotism is a love for or devotion to one's country.1 Nationalism, on the other hand, means loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations.2
While, at its core, nationalism may resemble patriotism, we should avoid viewing it as the same. Nationalism crosses a dangerous line by implying a mindset that says, “We are the best. We know best. We care only for our own development and welfare.”
Was Jesus a patriot or nationalist?
“Sitting down, He [Jesus] called the twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.’” Mark 9.35 (NASB)
The teachings of Jesus promoted a servant mentality. He mentored His disciples in caring for the development and welfare of others, regardless of culture, profession, economic stature, male or female, and more.
Jesus was on a mission from the Father to bring eternal life to all. It was a better way, yet, free will was part of the arrangement, and it still is. Our decision to receive the gift of salvation depends on us, not on a nationalistic mindset.
The Scriptures do not describe Jesus as a member of a particular ethnic background or nationality. This is as it should be, for Christ the Lord transcends skin color, language barriers, and racial division.3
It often comes as a surprise for Christians to learn, however, that Jesus was not white. Especially in the Western world, we grow up with a predominately white Jesus printed in Bible picture books, documented on screen, and displayed in nativity scenes.
The truth is, Jesus was of Middle Eastern descent, which means he would have had a darker skin color. (I so want to be involved in teaching this to my two oldest grandsons, who are not white!)
We do know Jesus was born in a Jewish home and lived in the Jewish culture in the land of Israel.4 As Christians, it is important to understand this as it pertains to the history of Israel and her people.
So, to answer the question, the Gospels strongly suggest Jesus would not have been a nationalist, at least according to today’s definition of the word.
Was He loyal and devoted to His earthly homeland? Yes, but He advocated a servant-minded approach to life and ministry. His message was for all the people, and it still is. Though Jesus was a Jewish Messiah, Scripture confirms His gospel was for both Jew and Gentile—and for all the nations of the world.
“I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, and I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations.” Isaiah 42.6 (NASB)
Patriot of Heaven
It is also essential that we understand Jesus was not an American patriot, but he did maintain dual citizenship.
His primary place of residence was Heaven, which He left to fulfill the will of the Father. The Savior of the world became a citizen of earth, for a time. Then, Jesus Christ, the Son of Heaven, returned to the place of His primary citizenship.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him […] And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” John 1.1-3; 14 (NASB)
That Word was Jesus. The Patriot of Heaven moved earth-side and dwelt among us, bringing life and love and peace—for the nations.
Where We Stand
When I travel outside the country and the date on my return ticket draws near, I say, “It’s time for me to go home.” I am an American patriot of this proverbial melting pot of cultures, skin colors, languages, and nationalities.
My homeland is one of the most beautifully diverse collection of people on the planet—and, today, it is what threatens to destroy her from within. The very diversity that has made us seems to be breaking us.
Even so, I am still an American patriot, but this is not the only thing my life is about. Though I love the land of my birth, I am aware this is simply a stopping place on the itinerary.
As Christians, we have received dual citizenship. As members of God’s family, we hold the necessary entry papers for Heaven, our eternal home.
Friend, we are headed somewhere with far greater promise.
This world is not our final destination. The Patriot of Heaven sits, now, at the right hand of the Father—interceding for us while, we remain earth-side for a time.
And He is saving us a place at the table for the big welcome home!
“For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.” 2 Corinthians 5.1 (NLT)
Thank you to A. Kay Baker for helping me to hash out some of my thoughts on this topic. For more on this topic, check out the following articles. (Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with everything you’ll read, but find them good jumping off points for discussion.)
The Problem of Nationalism by Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D., The Heritage Foundation
Jesus Is Not Your American Patriot by Ameen Hudson, ChurchLeaders.com