Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5.17
Many polls and observers have shown that the community of Christians in our country is hardly distinguishable from their unbelieving neighbors in a great many areas. We tend to work in the same places, have similar interests, wear the same fashions, spend our money in much the same ways, use our free time (with the exception of church activities) pretty much alike, and in our everyday conversations and concerns reflect the interests, obsessions, and distractions of the day.
It’s fair to ask, Just what difference does it make for someone to become a follower of Jesus Christ? Are there implications for their lives beyond merely feeling safer and more secure for eternity? Or finding some modicum of peace amid the vicissitudes of an uncertain world? Or having a few relatively nice and trustworthy friends? In short, what difference does the Gospel make?
Just how far should we take Paul’s statement that “the new has come”? If indeed a new order has broken out among us, with new priorities and power, offering the hope of communing with God in His glory and entering into His joy as a way of life, then it is altogether reasonable to take Paul’s statement broadly. Where the Gospel of the Kingdom has established its presence, all things are being made new by the One Who rules from heaven at the right hand of God (Rev. 21.5). The better we understand this, the more the reality of the Kingdom – its power for righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit – will pervade every aspect of our lives.
Transforming the soul
The Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Gospel of the Kingdom – brings exceeding abundant power to work within us, from the inside out, making all things new and turning our world rightside-up for Jesus Christ. This comprehensive newness begins in our souls, where the power of the Gospel affects how we think, feel, and choose – our minds, hearts, and consciences.
The Gospel powerfully affects the thoughts we entertain and the way we think as it brings the newness of Jesus Christ to our minds. Old, sinful ways of thinking, that focus on the desires of the flesh and the fleeting interests of a secular and material world, begin to be replaced by minds renewed to focus on and think like Jesus Christ (Eph. 4.17-24; Rom. 12.1, 2; Col. 3.1-3). As those who have come to the Kingdom of God become more accustomed to thinking with the mind of Christ, they begin to take all their thoughts captive, redeeming them from worldly and fleshly ways to make them serve the purposes of Christ and His Kingdom (1 Cor. 2.16; 2 Cor. 10.3-5).
Thus, as the believer’s way of thinking begins to change, his worldview grows and changes to reflect the interests and agenda of King Jesus. The power of the Spirit at work within him makes him willing and able to understand and do the will of God (Phil. 2.12, 13). No one who has come to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and possesses the mind of Christ can continue to allow his mind to be dominated by the outlook, mindset, and ways of thinking of a sinful and unbelieving age.
The same is true with the believer’s heart. In those who have come to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of Christ exerts tremendous power to generate new attitudes, hopes, aspirations, desires, and feelings.
Whereas before entering the Kingdom one may have been almost entirely motivated in his affections by what seemed best for him (Prov. 14.12), once in the Kingdom of God the Spirit begins to bring forth fruit, gifts, and power through affections directed toward the needs and concerns of others (Gal. 5.22, 23; 1 Cor. 13.4-13; Rom. 12.9-13). The Spirit of God gives the believer a new heart, and that heart longs to know and do the will of God as revealed in His Word (Ezek. 36.26, 27; Phil. 2.13).
So not only is the mind of a Kingdom citizen renewed, so also are his affections, so that what he desires and aspires to now becomes informed and shaped by his growing Kingdom worldview. A renewed heart, in turn, reinforces the renewed mind and steers thinking more consistently in the direction of the Kingdom of God.
The Gospel of the Kingdom also exerts powerful transforming effects on the conscience of each individual, removing the encrustation of wrong priorities and sinful values (Heb. 9.14) that have built up over the years of unbelief, and shaping the conscience in new ways to reflect priorities consistent with seeking the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6.33; Rom. 2.13-15; 1 Tim. 1.5).
Thus the Gospel of the Kingdom, rightly understood and fully embraced, begins to work in the souls of those who receive it to transform them increasingly into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Transforming the life
As we are being transformed in our souls – mind, heart, and conscience – we will also begin to demonstrate newness in the activities of our bodies. Paul explains the general principle of this newness in Romans 6.6-22. Old ways that we used our bodies are now to be “put to death” so that new ways of using them – eyes, ears, tongues, feet, hands – can be learned, employed, and improved.
The Bible actually has much to say about how the Gospel of the Kingdom impacts the ways believers use their bodies. For example, their tongues eschew filthy and frivolous speech to communicate that which is edifying, gracious, instructive, and corrective of sinful faults (Eph. 4.29-32; Col. 4.3-6; 2 Tim. 2.24-26). Kingdom citizens devote the remainder of their bodily strength to discovering and serving the needs of others, flourishing in good works, and pursuing holiness in the fear of God (Jn. 13.1-15; Gal. 5.16-21; Gal. 6.1-10; 2 Cor. 7.1). Their possessions also cease to be something to squander on mere self-interest; instead, they become resources to touch the lives of others with the Good News of a new Kingdom and a new King (Acts 2.44, 45; Acts 4.32-37; Acts 11.27-30).
Finally, living in the Kingdom of God affects even the way believers think about and use their time. They understand time to be a most precious gift, as Edwards explained, and they want to make the best use of their time for the progress of the Kingdom according to the wisdom of God (Eph. 5.15-17; Ps. 90.12).
They who are being transformed in their thinking, desires, and values cannot help but express that transformation in the ways they use their bodies, possessions, and time. The Kingdom of God that is within us, therefore, impacts every aspect of our personal lives, inside-out and outside-in.
Transforming the culture
It stands to reason that people who are being transformed from glory to glory in their souls and bodies will make an impact on the culture of which they are a part. We may define culture as the artifacts, institutions, and conventions by which a people define, sustain, and enrich themselves. Throughout the Scriptures we see examples of how those who live self-consciously under the Kingship of the living God made a profound impact on the culture of which they are a part. The Kingdom of God and the new mind, heart, and values it brings, exerts transforming power on marriages (Eph. 5.22, 23), families, employer/employee relations (Eph. 6.1-9), the way people do their work (Eph. 4.28; 1 Cor. 3.12-15; 2 Thess. 3.6-12; Col. 3.23, 24), how they think about political service (Rom. 13.1-4), and even everyday relationships and diversions (1 Pet. 4.1-6).
It only makes sense. As believers are being impacted in their outlook, desires, and priorities, and as the changes there come to expression in how we use our bodies, possessions, and time, there is going to be an impact on the culture which reflects the new Kingdom orientation that has begun to pervade every aspect of our lives and establishes the presence of the Kingdom with increasing visibility.
Transforming the times
If we are being transformed, and are transforming the culture of which we are a part, we should also expect that the Gospel we embrace will transform the times in which we live, so that the intellectual and moral temper of the times will begin to reflect more of the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Lord.
Those people in Thessalonica who observed Paul and his followers as they went about their business and witness in that Greek city certainly saw that they were “turning the world upside-down,” challenging all the settled ways of thinking and living that had become encrusted with sin and were not honoring to God (Acts 17.1-9) and modeling new ways of being-in-the-world that reflected their devotion to King Jesus. Over the years the Christian faith has changed the times in many ways, bringing new institutions to care for the ignorant, ill, and poor; new methods for developing the earth and her abundant resources; new ways of communicating beauty, goodness, and truth through the media of the arts and the work of education; and new forms of statecraft to preserve, enhance, and extend the God-given liberties of men.
The general principle of the Gospel’s impact on the times in which we live can be summarized by combining Ecclesiastes 7.29 with the portrait of Christ as exalted and ruling that we receive in Psalm 45.6: God made human beings upright, to live holy lives before Him; they, however, have by many rebellious schemes brought ruin to the plan of God and consigned themselves to wickedness and death. Now Jesus is ruling, with a scepter of uprightness, advancing His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, through the ministry of the Gospel, so that men might be made new and their cultures and times might be transformed.
Our aspiration as citizens of the Kingdom of God must be to see all this potential impact coming to fruition through our lives, in our times.
Metaphors of transformation
The Scriptures emphasize the transforming power of the Gospel of the Kingdom in a variety of ways. Perhaps most familiar are the various metaphors suggesting the transforming impact of the Gospel. The light of the Gospel illuminates the darkness of sin and shows the way to new life in Christ. The Gospel is like leaven which transforms the loaf of a sinful world into that which is wholesome, nourishing, and good. Like salt the Gospel guards against decay and preserves what is good. The Gospel is living water binging newness of life to all who imbibe. The Gospel bears abiding fruit through those in whom it takes root, and the Spirit of God uses the Gospel to forge all who enter the Kingdom into a glorious temple for the living God.
It is impossible to escape the teaching of Scripture concerning the transforming power and impact of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Such transformation – of soul, life, culture, and times – should be part of the hope we promise in the Gospel, the vision embraced by those who receive it, and the life pursued by every follower of Jesus Christ in working out our salvation in fear and trembling.
If we are not proclaiming, seeking, and realizing the transforming power of the Gospel, then it may well be that the gospel we have embraced is more in line with the “near Christianity” of much of contemporary Christianity than the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus and the Apostles proclaimed.