8 Statements about the Kingdom of God
Sadly it would be true to say the church has lost this message. Most Christians think the Kingdom of God is something which will happen one day. We have reduced the Kingdom to a personal experience now and a collective experience in the future. E Stanley Jones put it well when he said. “If Jesus made the kingdom of God the centre of his message and the centre of his endeavour, the greatest need of man, as I see it, is to rediscover the kingdom of God.”
So to help us in the process let’s put forward 8 statements that encapsulate some key aspects of the Kingdom.
1. Kingdom is the sovereign rule of God
When Jesus introduced the Kingdom to his disciples he spoke about the rule of God that exists in heaven. He went on to say that this rule is now to be expressed in the earth.
“Our father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words Christianity is about heaven invading earth not about us escaping here to go to heaven. ’All the major events that followed Jesus’ inauguration of the Kingdom – the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit are “not designed to take us away from this earth, but to make us agents of the transformation of this earth” (Wright)
What are the implications for us of God’s sovereignty? Jesus said after the resurrection “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18). This means every part of creation is subject to Christ. Abraham Kuyper put it well when he said “”There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’” This means all of life is sacred. To divide the world into sacred and secular domains is to deny the sovereignty of God.
God is over all of his creation. There are many spheres within creation. Each of these spheres can be influenced by the redemptive, compassionate and loving servanthood of people of the Kingdom. All of life relates to God. What happens in each of these spheres is equally important. To serve in the market place is a calling just like it is to be in church ministry.
2. Kingdom is a present reality
When Jesus began his ministry he said “The Kingdom of God is at hand”. Later on he talked about things that were to happen in the future concerning the Kingdom.
So we see here an important principle about the Kingdom. It is both ‘now’ and ‘not yet’. There is a tension here that needs to be recognized. If we focus solely on the ‘now’ of the Kingdom we can reduce the Kingdom to social action focused on changing the world. Alternatively if we focus on the ‘not yet’ emphasis we fail to address the current pains and needs of the world.
Jesus saw the ministry of the Kingdom was fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 61. In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus outlines the integral and holistic nature of the Kingdom. It is good news to those who are disinherited either physically, socially, politically or spiritually. The Kingdom relates to every level and arena of human life and existence. The Hebrew word ‘shalom’ aptly describes the result of the Kingdom coming to a person or a community. It means the establishment of peace between man and God and the well-being, welfare or safety of an individual or a community.
Our challenge as Christians is to know what the will of God is and to work with God by the power of the Holy Spirit to see it happen in earth. Commenting on Matt 6:10 NT Wright, one of the leading theologians of our time, makes this observation. “It’s a prayer about God’s kingdom coming on earth –which, as we have seen, pretty much sums up what Christianity is all about.”
So simply put – Christianity can be summarized as seeing God’s kingdom come on earth.
3. The Church is not the Kingdom
The question must then be asked. If the Kingdom is the central message of the gospels and really summarises the essential heart of Christianity – why do we hear so little about the Kingdom of God from the pulpit or in the books we read and the DVDs we watch.
The answer is quite simple. We have substituted the church for the Kingdom. In other words many Christians believe what God is doing in the earth is predominantly expressed thru the church. Accompanied with this has been the reduction of the gospel to the gospel of salvation not the gospel of the Kingdom. As a result much of Christian thinking has been focused on individual salvation and the building up of the church.
Amongst other things such thinking shows a lack of understanding of the nature of God’s sovereignty. God exercises His sovereignty in two ways – saving grace and common grace. As agents of saving grace Christians are to evangelize and bring people to Christ. “As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.” (Colson)
We see this principle in the commissions given by Jesus. In what is called the “Great Commission ‘– there is the call to evangelism and discipleship: While in the “Great Commandment’ – we are called to love our neighbour which includes social action.
4. Kingdom is within every person
When Jesus was talking to the Pharisees in Luke 17:21 he made another important observation about the Kingdom. He said to them “the Kingdom is in your midst” – referring to himself but this can also be translated the Kingdom of God is within you. This concept is reiterated by Paul in Romans when he says “that which is known about God is evident within them” (Rom 1:17) Kant wrote “Two things strike me with awe, the starry heavens above and the moral law within”
We are made to obey the laws of the Kingdom. Like the law of gravity these laws operate whether we acknowledge them or not. Why for example does it feel good when we do good? Dr Adler, a Jewish psychiatrist, states “I suppose all the ills of human personality can be traced back to one thing – not understanding the meaning of the phrase ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’”
This is how the Kingdom operates. Similarly when we make choices that hurt others we experience inner disquiet because we are working against the truth of God that is within us. Living against the laws of the Kingdom affects our health. Psychiatrist William Sadler put it this way “If we lived in a truly Christian way, half the diseases of the people of America would drop off tomorrow morning and we would stand up a new healthy people.”
Because we are made in the image of God each of us has within us what Wright calls ‘the echoes of the Spirit’. He identifies four characteristics:
• Longing for justice
• Quest for spirituality
• Hunger for relationships
• Delight in beauty
5. Kingdom happens outside the church
Most Kingdom activity will take place outside of church. Let me go further – the activity of the Holy Spirit is not restricted to those places where Christians are active. The Holy Spirit can and does speak and work within the lives of those who have not yet met the King of the Kingdom.
Take some clear examples from the book of Acts. Phillip is in the midst of a revival when the Holy Spirit directs him to leave this move of God to go into the dessert. There Phillip is led to meet a leader from Ethiopia who just happens to be reading Isaiah 53 and is wondering who this prophecy is talking about. Clearly the Holy Spirit was at work long before Phillip came onto the scene. What made it a significant moment from a Kingdom perspective was Phillip’s obedience to be at the right place at the right time to work with the Holy Spirit.
A similar theme emerges in the story of Cornelius. A God-fearing Roman centurion who is visited by an angel and directed to send men to Jerusalem to get Peter to come to his house. Peter struggles with this situation because the work of the Kingdom – initiated by the Holy Spirit – is happening in a realm outside his frame of reference. This is an important principle of the Kingdom – to be able to recognize and work with the activity of the Holy Spirit as He moves into new spheres.
If we reduce the Kingdom by limiting the scope within which the Holy Spirit can work then we limit the effectiveness of the gospel. Rather we should be asking God to show us where the Holy Spirit is already at work within our communities and then looking for ways to work with Him for the expansion of the Kingdom.
When it comes to the church we can think of Sunday as the church ‘gathered’ and Monday as the church ‘scattered’. Sunday then becomes a time to strengthen, encourage and equip Christians to take the Kingdom into their world.
As church growth expert, Eddie Gibbs says, churches should shift from an invitational, ‘Come’, seeker service strategy (which works in largely churched suburbs) to a ‘Go’ strategy of dispersal, with a sustained commitment to infiltrating each segment of this fragmenting world.
6. Kingdom is expressed in a variety of passions
As we have established the Kingdom is all about the will of God being done on the earth. For this to happen “God’s passion must become our passion” (Wright) When we consider the nature and character of God we recognize that His passions are broad and diverse. The means the Kingdom will be expressed in a wide variety of passions.
This table highlights some of the different passions we find within the different members of the Godhead.
Just a bit of theology to explain this table. In the unfolding of creation each member of the Godhead has taken the lead in the various phases. So for example we see the Father took the lead in Creation, the Son in salvation and the Holy Spirit in completing the work begun thru the Incarnation. So we can link the three great commissions to each member of the trinity.
It follows from this each of these mandates reflect different aspects of the Kingdom. Creation mandate – has a strong emphasis on social justice, dominion, arts and politics. The evangelistic mandate focuses on evangelism and discipleship. While the relational mandate focuses more on spiritual power and signs and wonders.
So here we have explained three different streams within the Christian tradition – the liberals, evangelical and the pentecostials. Each stream validly represents different godly passions.
Once we see the vastness of the Kingdom it helps understand how other people can be equally passionate about a range of issues that may not stir our hearts. This passion is an expression of the heart of God for His creation. We are to pursue the passion God has given us but equally to validate and appreciate the passion He has put in others.
7. Kingdom fruit is more than evangelism
Recently I had the opportunity to preach on the Kingdom in my local church. As part of this message I referred to the warning from Jesus that if we don’t produce the fruit of the Kingdom then God will take the Kingdom from us and give it to someone else who is being productive for the Kingdom (Matt 21:43).
It follows that for us to be effective for the Kingdom we need to know what is Kingdom fruit and how can we produce it. In response to this message I had an interesting talk with my friend Mark Darling.
Mark is a psychologist who specializes in neurofeedback therapy for Autism Spectrum conditions. Neurofeedback is a non-invasive, painless and fun therapy for children on the Spectrum that is based on complex scientific processes. Mark’s dedication to this field of study was initiated by the journey he and Kym have walked with their son Nathan.
He has seen amazing results with families that have been torn apart by trying to cope with children suffering from these conditions. But despite these great results Mark made this comment: “And yet the little voice says what’s the point of all this if they don’t actually get saved and become Christians …”
So here’s the rub – what is Kingdom fruit? Is what Mark does producing the Kingdom or does it only become Kingdom if someone makes a personal commitment to Jesus?
Many Christians would claim the latter. The only thing that really counts they believe from God’s view point is personal salvation. But is this what the Scripture teaches. When asked to explain how we should fulfill the great commandment to love our neighbor Jesus used the illustration of the good Samaritan. Nowhere in this story is there the suggestion that seeing the wounded man saved is the measure by which fulfilment of the commandment will be measured. The ministry of Jesus is summarized in Acts in that he went about doing good and healing those who were oppressed (Acts 10:38).
While it’s always possible to swing towards social action and to neglect an emphasis on evangelism – it is wrong I believe to say that those who promote justice, healing, compassion and mercy from a Christian perspective are not reflecting the heart of God and thus producing the fruit of the Kingdom. As they do this they are sowing seeds of hope and salvation that will in many cases turn people’s hearts towards encountering for themselves the reality of a personal relationship with the King of the Kingdom.
8. Every Christian is an agent for the Kingdom
Last year I was presenting a seminar called “Rediscovering the Kingdom of God’. After listening to my seminar a guy called Matt came up to me, thanked me for my teaching and then made a comment that has stuck with me ever since. He said “I go to church every Sunday and I watch all that is going on and I think there’s got to be more to my Christian faith than this”
Be clear Matt wasn’t bagging church but he had a desire to see his faith expressed in a meaningful way in the world in which he lived.
For many Christians the highlight of their week is the Sunday service. Sadly many believe this is where the Kingdom of God is primarily expressed. Ministry is confined to that which is done within the church. This is demonstrated in the true story of a young lawyer who was asked what her ministry was. She replied “I teach Sunday school at my church” What a travesty!! Nothing she did during the week in bringing justice, compassion and resolution to the world in which she worked counted, in her mind, as having any spiritual value. How can we change people’s thinking to break free of this Sunday/Monday dichotomy?
Our faith makes us responsible to bring the Kingdom into every area of life. In the words of Justine, a Burundian living in Rwanda, “I see what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. I see that it’s about changing this world, not just escaping it and retreating into our churches. If Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God is true, then everything must change. Everything must change.”
What a profound insight – when the Kingdom is expressed – everything must change. The change begins in us and then it finds its expression in the world in which we live and work. It is about bringing God’s mercy, compassion, justice and righteousness into every sphere of His creation. So our lawyer friend has the opportunity and responsibility to bring about change in her chosen field of endeavour by using her gifts, training and experience to be an agent for change – an agent for the Kingdom.
To illustrate how this happens Jesus used a parable of the wheat and the tares. (Matt 13:36-43) The field is the world and it belongs to Jesus. He sows people of the Kingdom into the field to produce the Kingdom. While there is opposition it is in this context that the will of God is done on the earth.
What does all this mean for me?
What is the passion God has given you?
How has He equipped you in terms of personality, gifting, experience?
Where has He planted you or where does He want to plant you?
What does it mean to produce the Kingdom in that sphere?
What is the vision God is giving you for producing the Kingdom?