Like millions of people before me, I came to America to discover a new life. It has been some 30 years since I stepped off that plane in Los Angeles, but I will never forget that moment. Too, I vividly remember the day, seven years later, when I stood in a courtroom and pledged my allegiance to the United States of America, officially becoming a U.S. citizen. That was 1984, and I remember thinking of the millions of immigrants before me who had done the exact same thing, and how precious American freedom is.
People born in America can take their freedom for granted. But believe me, when you've lived in a dictatorial state that permits and promulgates religious persecution, you will prize that freedom highly. My certificate of U.S. citizenship is my guarantee of safety and my ticket to all of this nation's great rights and privileges. If you visit my office, you will see my certificate on the wall. I put it there because I'm proud of it.
I have a deep and abiding affection for my adopted country and consider myself privileged to live here. But as much as I love America, it does not hold the attraction for me that heaven does - because that is where my ultimate citizenship lies.
I became a "naturalized" citizen of heaven when I entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ. And if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you have been adopted into God's family and have been granted citizenship in an adopted country called heaven - the eternal dwelling place of God.
But citizenship also carries responsibilities. In swearing the oath of allegiance, I took it upon myself to live by the laws of the United States. In so doing, I placed myself not just under the protection but also under the authority of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
I could not expect to live in America, yet abide by the laws of another country. I could not expect to go through the Constitution with a red pen and cross out all the items that didn't suit me. I accepted its duties wholesale. And I accepted the right of my new country to discipline me if I failed to keep the law.
Coming to Christ bears many similarities to taking on a new nationality. When I came to Christ in 1964, I swore an oath of allegiance more rigorous by far than the one I would later swear in an American courtroom - and I do not mean that as a slight on my own adopted country.
The day I committed my life to Jesus Christ:
■ I publicly renounced my allegiance to any other spiritual authority.
■ I submitted myself to the kingdom of God and its disciplines.
■ I pledged my allegiance to God, who rules this kingdom.
■ I accepted His legal authority over me.
■ I willingly agreed to obey His Word with all my heart.
■ I surrendered all of my rights to Him.
This amounts to a pretty hefty commitment. I was - in a literal sense - signing my life away. Becoming a Christian involves a complete submission to God. I now accept that His rule over me is supreme and that I no longer have control over my own life.
So what did I think I was doing by making such a commitment? In submitting my old life to God, I received a new and far more precious life in return - a life in which I enjoy every freedom and privilege God's kingdom can give.
And so it is for everyone who comes into His kingdom