Kingdom Visionaries (8)
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17.3
All things new
It is impossible to read the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and fail to see that He was promising and calling people to an altogether new way of life. The Kingdom of God, as He envisioned and taught it, was a new realm, entered by the new birth, and issuing in a new life of freedom in God’s truth, unto the praise of God’s glory.
In order to realize this life one had to be born from above, by the Spirit of God (Jn. 3.5-7), and, from that moment, to deny himself, take up his own cross daily, and follow Jesus in pursuing the priorities of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 16.24, 25). But what are those priorities? What should we, the heirs and citizens of the Kingdom, embrace as the guiding framework, template, and pathway of our lives?
According to our Lord Jesus Christ, there are two primary and overarching priorities attendant to citizenship in the Kingdom of God: Know the Lord, and bear lasting fruit.
Know the Lord
Eternal life – life in the Kingdom of God – consists in knowing God and Jesus Christ. This is no mere intellectual achievement. Rather, the kind of “knowing” envisioned here is deeply intimate, personal, and transforming. To know Jesus Christ is to eat His body and drink His blood (Jn. 6.48-56). It is to know the experience the power of God and to understand and obey His Word (Matt. 22.29). To know the Lord is to become His child (Jn. 1.12), to call upon Him as Father, and to pray to Him about everything (Matt. 21.22; Jn. 16.24); it is to receive His good gifts, and to use them, like wise stewards, for the increase of His glory (Lk. 11.11-13; Matt. 25.14-30). It is to be indwelt by His Spirit so that the life of God is formed increasingly within us (Jn. 14.15-17).
Equally important, to know the Lord is to be known by Him, to have Him so personally and intimately a part of our lives, that His presence is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 7.21-23; 28.20). We can accomplish many ostensibly religious and good things without knowing the Lord. But unless we know Him, and are known by Him in return, we shall have no part in His Kingdom.
To know the Lord is thus to “walk in step” with Him, embracing His mission, seeking His vision, relying on His Word and Spirit, and living according to His holy and righteous and good Law (Matt. 5.17-19). In the Kingdom as Jesus envisioned it all the children of God were gathered to Him, like chicks to their mother, taking refuge in the shelter of His grace and truth, feeding on the gifts to which He brings them, and growing to maturity in order to extend His offspring and Kingdom citizens (Matt. 19.13-15; 23.37).
We may only know God through Jesus Christ, by receiving Him as the promised Word, Savior, and King, sent from the Father for our redemption and restoration (Jn. 14.6). Knowing the Lord by taking on the yoke with Jesus Christ, and learning from Him (Matt. 11.28-30), is thus the first priority for every citizen of the Kingdom of God.
Bear lasting fruit
Citizenship in the Kingdom of God ensues when the Lord Jesus calls a lost sinner to repentance and faith, bestowing the gift of the Spirit, according to His Word, and granting new life in the Kingdom of God. All who are thus born from above are equipped with all they need to begin knowing the Lord ever more intimately, personally, and transformingly.
But why has Jesus called us to the Kingdom. He Himself explains: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn. 15.16). God is glorified when His children bear lasting fruit (v. 8); thus also His children prove themselves to be such, and therefore to be justified in laying hold on His promises and seeking more of His Kingdom (Matt. 7.12, Jn. 15.8).
But in what does this fruit consist? We may divide our fruit-bearing into four sub-categories.
Righteousness. Jesus expects His followers to bear genuine righteousness, the righteousness of God’s Law, and not merely – like the Pharisees and scribes – as an external show of conformity to regulations and rules, but as the outward expression of a heart fully devoted in love to God (Matt. 22.34-30; 5.17-20; 23:25, 26).
This is not something we can achieve in our own strength. Nor is the righteousness that we express, to whatever extent we are able to bear such fruit, our own righteousness. Rather, it is the evidence and fruit of the indwelling Christ, Who, by His Word and Spirit, brings life and renewal in and through us to refresh all those around us (Jn. 6.63; 7.37-39).
We must strive for this righteousness (Matt. 6.33). This life of righteousness is the way to fullness of joy in the Kingdom of God (Jn. 15.6-11), but we cannot attain it to any degree without abiding in Jesus and His Word and Spirit. Without Him, we can do nothing (Jn. 15.1-5).
Love. Chief among the virtues of righteousness, and defining all the others, is love. Jesus calls us to love our fellow citizens in the Kingdom as He has loved us, and to love our neighbors – whoever they may be – as we love ourselves (Jn. 13.1-15; Matt. 22.34-30). Jesus insisted that the Law and the Prophets are sufficient to instruct us in the ways of love, and He promised that whoever learned, kept, and taught these would be great in the Kingdom of heaven (Matt. 22.34-30; 5.17-19).
Disciple-making. Jesus has instructed all His Kingdom citizens to devote themselves to the work of making disciples as they are going about the everyday activities of their lives (Matt. 28.18-20). We are called, that is, to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and to teach, encourage, and assist our fellow Kingdom citizens in growing to maturity in that glorious realm. Whatever else we do as expressions of love for God and neighbor must be expressed within this disciple-making cast.
Part of our disciple-making priority requires that we become seekers of those who are lost (Lk. 19.10). We cannot simply wait around for lost people to ask us what we believe. Like Jesus, we must go to them, get to know them, look for ways to serve them, and, as we are able, engage them in conversations concerning the Lord Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.
Reconciling. Jesus understood that He was sent to earth, to bring the Kingdom of God near to men, because of His Father’s undying love for all the vast cosmos (Jn. 3.16). He also knew that God was at work in Him, to accomplish through His work of redemption the reconciling to God of all His creation (2 Cor. 5.17-19).
Whatever our particular involvement in creation may entail – work, cultural activities, involvement with the environment, politics – we must take a Kingdom perspective on it, so that we may pursue the vision of all these aspects of the creation reconciled to God.
As we have seen, in Jesus’ mind the Kingdom of God is primary. By bringing it near, and by drawing us into it, He calls us to embrace its priorities and to bring every aspect of our lives into joyous and fulfilling line with the purposes and course of the divine economy, as that is unfolding within the Kingdom of God.
- How do you understand what it means to “know” the Lord? What are you presently doing to increase in that knowledge (2 Pet. 3.18)? Can you see specific areas in which you have grown in the Lord, or need to grow?
- Can a person truly be a citizen of the Kingdom of God and be indifferent to or merely casual concerning with the work of bearing fruit? Explain.
- What are the greatest obstacles you must daily overcome to loving your neighbor? Do you have Christian friends to encourage you in this?
T. M. Moore