The coming of the Kingdom
The New Testament, as we have seen, announces the coming of a better covenant than that by which Israel lived, together with Kingdom power to bring the hope and promises of that covenant to fulfillment, in Jesus Christ, for the people God is giving to Him (2 Cor. 1.20; Jn. 17.6).
During His earthly ministry, Jesus announced the Kingdom as having arrived with Him. He then taught and commissioned His disciples to carry on that work upon His return to heaven, and to establish Kingdom communities in which the character of the Kingdom could be displayed. The New Testament tells us the story of these beginnings and establishes a template for how we, the people of God in our day, are to practice the kind of “Kingdom civics” which will allow this work to continue throughout the generations.
In the course of telling this story the New Testament explains three primary tasks or facets of God’s plan – what we may call “the divine economy” – by which He intends to unite all things in heaven and earth unto Himself once again. These three tasks are the priorities every Kingdom citizen must make his own if he is to be faithful to his calling and dutiful in the work of Kingdom civics.
The first task of the Kingdom era is that of making disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). We do not fulfill our Kingdom calling merely by winning people to Christ. Rather, those who come to the Lord, by grace through faith, must become rooted and grounded in Him so that they abide in Him and bear the fruit of good works which is the mark of true discipleship (Eph. 3.17-19; Jn. 15.1-12; Eph. 2.10). Becoming a disciple is a life-long calling to which we devote ourselves from the beginning of our relationship with Christ. It involves nurturing a vision of Christ exalted in glory, practicing the disciplines of discipleship, and walking in the way of Christ as His obedient followers. Thus each disciple learns to “practice the Kingship of Jesus,” as I have elsewhere explained.
Making disciples is relationally-intensive. It requires people who know the Lord teaching and encouraging others to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Tim. 2.2). It is a work that can only properly be completed in community with other Christians, where all the gifts of the Spirit can be brought to the task of nurturing the followers of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7-11). And it entails instruction in a body of doctrine and practices which, as they are learned, must be continually reinforced so that they may be passed on to subsequent generations of disciples yet to come (Ps. 78.1-8; 2 Tim. 2.2).
Making disciples is the work of all Christians, although it primarily falls to those who exercise leadership in the believing community. No pastor or church leader should consider that his work is progressing according to the Lord’s calling until he is faithfully involved in the work of helping others grow to practice the Kingship of Jesus Christ.
Building the Church
The mark of true discipleship is ministry in love, both within and beyond the community of faith (Jn. 13.1-15; Matt. 5.43-48). As the saints of God grow in their discipleship and become equipped for works of ministry, their outreach and service to one another and to their neighbors builds the local congregation in unity and maturity in the Lord (Eph. 4.11-16). Thus, not only do individual believers grow in Christ-likeness; their churches and communities also take on more of the stature of the fullness of maturity in Christ Jesus.
Here is the second task which the New Testament describes as flowing from the power of God’s Spirit in advancing the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The New Testament offers much helpful instruction concerning how church members are to be equipped for ministry, what kinds of leaders they require, what contexts they should develop for growing as communities, how they should worship the Lord, and by what means they must reach out to their neighbors and the world with the Gospel of the Kingdom. It is beyond the purpose of this series to unpack these details at this point.
Church leaders must not ignore the teaching of the New Testament on such matters, preferring instead to employ whatever methods or resources may presently be in vogue to whatever ends they have decided will best serve the purposes of their church. In this, as in all matters, our Kingdom documents must have the last word; we must look to the pattern of Scripture, particularly in the New Testament, to guide us in the work of making disciples and building the local church.
Seeking the Kingdom
Our final task is the overarching and driving force of all we do: seeking the Kingdom of God. This seeking focuses on the end of advancing, through individual discipleship and the work of local churches, the reign of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit which is the Kingdom of God (Rom. 14.17, 18). We seek the Kingdom through all the means of grace available for disciple-making and building the church, and we seek it against whatever spiritual or temporal powers may seek to resist or undermine the progress of God’s Truth (2 Cor. 10.3-5; Eph. 6.10-20).
Thus seeking the Kingdom pervades every aspect of our lives and all our efforts in building the church as the defining priority for all we are, do, and hope to achieve. And the New Testament teaches us to look forward to the day when the Kingdom of our Lord shall come in its fullness in the new heavens and new earth, where we shall be together forever with the Lord and His people, in uninterrupted bliss and glory.
These documents, then – the Old Testament and the New – provide the foundation on which we take up the calling of Kingdom civics. But they are not the only documents. For throughout the history of the Christian movement, God’s people have, through prayer and study and earnest discussion, developed related documents to guide us in understanding these foundational texts, so that, with each successive generation, the teaching of Scripture and the call to Kingdom living have been powerfully revisited and gloriously renewed.
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