In a biblical worldview, the emphasis of salvation is on community, not individuality. Individuals are saved only to become a part of the new society that God is creating, namely, the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed transforms relationships, values, and ethics. The idea in some Christian quarters that one can accept Christ as “Savior,” but not as “Lord” until some later time, is untenable. To become a Christian is to yield to Christ as the Lord of His Kingdom, repenting of being a part of the dark empire that destroys God’s intentions for justice and shalom and deciding rather to be a part of Christ’s transformative community in this world.
How do we enter into the Kingdom?
Jesus’ idea of the Kingdom was different from the Pharisees, the zealots, and even the Jews of Qumran. His Kingdom would not be found through strict adherence to man-made rules (Pharisees), by violent revolution (the zealots), or by separation from the wicked world (Qumran). (What are the contemporary analogues to these three?) Instead, God offers the kingdom by supernatural means as a sheer gift. “We enter not by good deeds or social engineering, but only as we repent and accept God’s forgiveness.” (Ron Sider, Good News and Good Works, p. 56)
The point of all the New Testament’s teaching about grace and mercy is that God accepts sinners. The only requirement that we have is to accept God’s supernatural gift. This was Jesus’ teaching:
- “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14)
- “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3)
- “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3)
- “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
Once we are in the Kingdom, what is our purpose?
The most popular articulation of gospel in evangelical circles has been one that emphasizes God’s forgiveness. It’s the gospel that says simply that each one of us is guilty of sin and will be damned to Hell unless we accept that Christ died on our behalf to forgive our sins and give us eternal life. I don’t want to seem derogatory to this expression of the gospel (for on one level, it is true), I just want to point out that I believe it’s not enough to change people’s lives. A truncated gospel leads to truncated transformation. When forgiveness and our entry into heaven is the framework of our gospel, it makes life in the here and now secondary. It makes our Christian existence only about evangelism and personal piety, looking forward to our heavenly reward, rather than the wholeness of who we are and the Kingdom life we are called to live in today’s world.
“In (a) typical day, look at how much time you spent on activities other than Bible reading, prayer, and evangelism. If Christianity speaks only to these personal acts of piety, then it does not address most of our lives at all. If life includes more than Bible reading, prayer, and evangelism, then the Christian life must include more as well.” (Mike Wittmer, Heaven is a Place on Earth, p. 20)
The point of this post is to explore the Christian life as Kingdom people. When we enter the Kingdom, we are called not to simply bide our time awaiting some heavenly bliss. That is not the call of the King for his people. The gospels do not end with anything that sounds like, “Jesus died and resurrected. Now you’re assured of forgiveness and your heavenly place is guaranteed. Don’t worry about justice and peace in this world, for it is all going to pot anyway. Abide your time, awaiting your heavenly bliss to come.” No, the gospels end with something more like, “Jesus has died and resurrected. Now you’ve got work to do!”
Look at how two of the Gospels end:
- “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)
Notice a few things in this passage:
1. After Christ’s death and resurrection, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is significant. The Kingdom is now inaugurated, and Christ is the King.
2. What we might expect of the Messianic King, is the pronouncement that he will now take down the evil rulers and bring justice and shalom to the earth through his power and might. However, this is not what he says. He instead tells his followers that they, yes they, will be the ones doing the work of the Kingdom, rescuing more from the dominion of darkness and making them disciples of the King.
3. And Jesus promises them that they will not be alone in this endeavor. He will be with them always, until the work is finally finished.
- On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)
Notice a few things in this passage:
1. It is the “first day of the week.” This is the second time John emphasizes this in chapter 20. The point: Easter did not just happen to be on Sunday and that’s why Christians now go to church on that day. No, the “first day of the week” harkens back to the six days of Creation. What we’re being told here is that, with the resurrection, God has initiated the New Creation. This is the new Genesis. God has begun “making all things new.”
2. Jesus’ first words to the disciples is, “Peace be with you!” This is not just some common greeting. The Prince of Shalom Peace is proclaiming that since he has been resurrected, shalom is now available in this new creation.
3. We might have expected Jesus to have said (with our American evangelical worldview that gobbles up the “Left Behind” series and thinks that the Christian hope is to escape this world and be in some heavenly bliss), “I’ve died but I’ve resurrected! The purpose of this is to assure you of eternal life with God in heaven!” (though this is partly true). But that is not what we find. What Jesus says is this: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you,” and he breathes on them the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower them for their Kingdom work.
The gospel stories do not end with “And so, you now have the promise of heaven. Thanks be to God.” No, they end with “Go, make disciples. I am sending you on a mission. I will be with you as you do it… but get to it!!”
So, as Christians we are called to a vocation.
“A prime citizen (of the kingdom of God) has been redeemed far down in her spirit, way downtown in her heart, so that she deeply loves God and the things of God…Because of her enthusiasm for the kingdom, she doesn’t merely endorse justice in the world; she hungers and works for it. She doesn’t merely reject cruelty, she hates and fights it. She wants God to make things right in the world, and she wants to enroll in God’s project as if it were her own. She ‘strives first for the kingdom’ in order to act on her passion. In short, she is a person with a calling.” (Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God’s World, p. 108)
Our education, our jobs, our leisure time, our artwork, our raising of our children, our activism for social causes, our politics, our church life, our eating, drinking, and all that we do must be for the building of the Kingdom, for the glory of the King.
It is not enough to strive to be moral and honest in our work (though it cannot be less than that). It isn’t enough, either, to try to share with our neighbors or our friends at work about Jesus (though evangelism is a major part of it). It is seeking first the Kingdom in ways that will transform our work and our play, our duties and our passions, our tasks and our relationships. It is praying, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and then doing what it takes to cooperate with God in his answer to that prayer.
“The core of Jesus’ radical ethical thrust is precisely his summons to begin living now in this fallen world according to the values and demands of the dawning kingdom…Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom does indeed produce a disturbing community. But it is a community that lovingly challenges the evils of the status quo and dares to strive now toward that wholeness in personal, socio-economic, and political life that Christ will bring in its fullness at his return.” (Ron Sider, Good News and Good Works, p. 71).
Links to the entire series:
1: Define the Predicament, and You Understand another Facet of the Gospel
2: Predicament #1: The Lack of Shalom
3: Evil Bondage in the Place of Shalom
4: EXODUS and the GOOD NEWS of FREEDOM in Paul
5: EXODUS and the GOOD NEWS of FREEDOM in the GOSPELS
6: Another of Humanity’s Predicaments: Broken Relationships
7: The Prophesied Kingdom of God
8: The Kingdom of God Restoring Israel from Exile
9: The Kingdom of God Healing Broken Relationships
10: The Kingdom of God and the Atonement
11: The Kingdom and the Mission of God’s People
12: What is my view of the Kingdom of God?
technorati: emerging church, spiritual formation