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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

Upholding the World

March 14, 2010

Understanding the life of faith as “practicing the Kingdom of Jesus” begs a larger, overarching question, one that is essential to provide proper orientation and definition of our understanding.

Our King is an active sovereign, Whose reign and rule we practice on earth, that we may advance His Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit unto the reconciling of all things to God.

The Gift of the SpiritThe Business of the King (4)

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” John 16.7

We are beginning to see that, as He rules from His throne of power at the right hand of God, our King Jesus is continuously and critically busy. He upholds the creation and everything in it, giving to all creatures and things life and continued existence according to His steadfast love and faithfulness. And He intercedes for His people to ensure that they may be strong in their faith and pleasing to their heavenly Father.

But Jesus continues to pursue His business in other ways as well, and, in so doing, He is not alone. With the Father, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to His faithful children and directs His work as He prepares the saints, from glory to glory, for their appointed callings and tasks. With the Spirit, moreover, our King marshals His angels, day by day, to protect, guide, and assist the saints in the great work of making disciples to which He has appointed them (Heb. 1.5-7; Rev. 14.6, 7).

The Spirit of God, with multitudes of angels to assist Him, serves in the interests and for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in equipping His people and building His Church (Jn. 14.26; 1 Cor. 12.4-7; Eph. 2.19-22). This should not be taken to imply some subordinate role for the Spirit; rather, His work fulfills the work of Jesus, Who could not accomplish His agenda without the aid of that heavenly Comforter.

But what does Jesus send the Spirit to do in the lives of His people? Four tasks in particular have been entrusted to this most holy and powerful member of the Triune God.

The Spirit gathers the saints
The first work of the Holy Spirit is that of gathering the elect of God and bringing them into the fold of King Jesus. The Spirit accompanies the preaching of the Word of God to regenerate and indwell those whom God has chosen from before the foundations of the world (Jn. 6.63; Gal. 4.6; Jn. 3.6-8; Eph. 1.4). Those whose names have been written in the Book of Life await the word of witness from faithful evangelists, so that, with the hearing of the Gospel, they might be saved (Rom. 10.10-17). When it pleases God, on such occasions, the Spirit convicts lost sinners of their sin, opens their eyes to the Truth of God, captures their hearts, and engages their tongues to confess God as Father and Jesus Christ as Savior and King.

"...none of us would ever come to a salvation and life in Jesus Christ."

Were it not for the fact that the Spirit, the “eyes of the Lord” (Zech. 3.9-4.10), roams the earth in search of the lost sheep of God, none of us would ever come to a salvation and life in Jesus Christ. We were dead in our trespasses and sins and enemies of God; we would never have sought Him on our own, though that is His longing (Eph. 2.1; Rom. 5.10; Acts 17.26, 27). But our King Who loves us with an everlasting love sends His Spirit out, the White Horse of Revelation 6.2, day by day, to patrol the earth and gather those whose appointed time has finally and graciously come.

The Spirit sanctifies the saints
The second work of the Spirit is to sanctify the saints of God, working within them with mighty power to transform them into the image of Jesus Christ and make them willing and able to do the will of God (2 Cor. 3.12-18; Phil. 2.12, 13).

This He does, again, by the ministry of the Word of God (Jn. 17.17), causing the read, studied, preached, and taught Word to dwell within the believer where it begins to bear fruit in a transformed heart, mind, conscience, and life. The Spirit uses the Law of Christ, as foundational to all the rest of God’s Word, in this great undertaking (Ezek. 36.26, 27), teaching and admonishing, by comparing Scripture with Scripture (1 Cor. 2.12, 13), in order to shape and fashion the believer increasingly into the image of Jesus Christ, Who is the end of the Law for all who believe (Rom. 10.4).

This work of sanctification is accomplished from within the soul, where, as the Spirit convicts, teaches, and fills, the believer comes to understand and desire the things of the Lord, leading to obedience in the whole of life. All this work of the Spirit is directed by our King Jesus, since His words are the means for our sanctification (Jn. 6.63; 14.26) and His image is the end to which we are being conformed (2 Cor. 3.12-18).

This work of sanctification divides into two aspects, holiness and equipping for ministry (2 Cor. 7.1; Eph. 4.11, 12). As we are being sanctified, the Spirit enables us to bear virtuous fruit and employ supernatural abilities in glorifying God and serving others (Gal. 5.22, 23; 1 Cor. 12.7-11).

The Spirit empowers the saints
This leads seamlessly into the fourth great work for which Jesus sends His Spirit to His saints: that they might be empowered to do the will of God in serving others and being witnesses for Jesus Christ (Jn. 13.1-15; Acts 1.8).

"The gift of the Spirit is not an end in itself..."

The gift of the Spirit is not an end in itself, but a means to the end of glorifying God through our Lord Jesus Christ by good works of love (Eph. 2.10) and good words of truth (Eph. 4.15). As the Spirit sanctifies the believer, he gains not only an understanding of divine mysteries, but a growing hunger and zeal for them, that he might carry them out in obedience. That, in turn, establishes the will of God as the primary value of the conscience, leading to acts of obedience in service and witness to others.

The Spirit keeps the saints
Finally, the Spirit of God, sent by Jesus and the Father, keeps the saints of God against anything that might pluck them from the Father’s hand (1 Pet. 1.5). The Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the sons and daughters of God (Rom. 8.16). Thus assured, we rest in His presence and care, fixing our minds on the things that are above, where Christ is seated in glory, and not on the things below (Col. 3.1-3; 2 Cor. 4.6).

We are kept from falling away by the staying power of the Holy Spirit, not by our good works. He keeps and guards us unto the day of redemption; we joyfully concur in His inward witness and strive to demonstrate our gratitude and sense of calling through sanctification and service.

So our King Jesus is busy through His Spirit on our behalf, working within us to will and do of the Father’s good pleasure, so that we might know true righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit in the Kingdom of God’s own dear Son (Rom. 14.17, 18; Col. 1.13, 14).

His Enemies At His Feet

The King’s Business (11)

The LORD says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Psalm 110.1

The King and His business
Exalted to the right hand of God, Jesus Christ has been anointed as King of kings and Lord of lords. He is busily about the work of bringing His Kingdom to fruition on earth, as it is in heaven, and we have been examining the ways He does this.

We have seen that He upholds the creation as the great staging-ground for unfolding the divine economy. At the same time, and with the Spirit of God, King Jesus intercedes for His saints that they might be free of the burden of guilt and shame to serve Him with joy in His Kingdom. And we have seen that, with the Father, Jesus sends His Spirit to indwell, instruct, and empower His saints, building the Body of Christ in unity and maturity as He equips individual believers to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4.11-16).

These are truly great works, works befitting a King of such exalted majesty and might as our Lord Jesus has attained. It should not be difficult for the followers of this great King to identify their role both as objects of His Kingdom progress and instruments of the same. King Jesus is working to increase righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit in each of those who call upon His Name in sincerity and truth; and, through them, He is working to establish His reign more firmly and visibly within the affairs of men and nations, until the knowledge of the glory of God fills the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2.14).

What an unfathomable privilege and awesome experience to belong to this Kingdom and to be involved in its ineluctable power and progress in human history! The more we understand the King’s business in this time before His imminent return, the better we will be able to use our time, talents, and treasures on earth, making the most of every opportunity to advance the rule and glory of our King and God (Eph. 5.15-17).

We turn, then, to consider yet another facet of the King’s business in which, as with all the rest, we have an active interest and concern.

The enemies of the Lord
As Jesus reigns over all creation, every nation, and all peoples, the Father Himself is at work with and through the Lord and the Spirit to put the enemies of Christ under His feet. Who are these enemies of King Jesus?

In one sense, all those who have yet to acknowledge the Kingship of Jesus are His enemies. Indeed, even all those who sincerely believe in and love Jesus Christ were at one time His enemies (Rom. 5.10). It’s not that we sought to stamp out His Name, suppress the faith, or assail His people. Rather, our ignorance and indifference alone qualified us to be enemies of the Lord. As He Himself said, those who are not for Him, actively and entirely, are against Him, and are His enemies (Matt. 12.30).

Other enemies are more overt and aggressive in their opposition. Those who deny the claims of Christ and seek to realize life’s hope and their own purpose apart from the Lord certainly qualify as His enemies. These, having heard the revelation of God in created things, nevertheless refuse to acknowledge His greatness and goodness and to thank Him for His steadfast love and faithfulness. Instead, they make idols of their own devising, and then chart a course for their lives, apart from God, that seems right to them (Rom. 1.18-32). Needless to say, all such chosen ways of life end in the grave, apart from God and without hope (Prov. 14.12; Eph. 2.12).

More aggressive still are those enemies of Christ who work to suppress the faith of King Jesus. This they do through propagandizing the Lie in various forms and by persecuting the saints of God. Such enemies of the Lord show themselves to be most intimately in league with the powers of darkness, although they may neither recognize nor admit this to be so (cf. Matt. 4.1-11).

The ultimate enemies of the Lord, at work within all His human foes, are those spiritual forces of wickedness in high places, together with the corruption and death they wreak upon humankind. And like all the enemies of King Jesus, these shall all be placed under His feet, until the very last enemy, death itself, is destroyed at His coming (1 Cor. 15.25-28).

How then does the Father, with the Lord and His Spirit, overcome these enemies of our King?

A four-pronged assault
Our heavenly Father and His King, Jesus Christ, are diligently in pursuit of the destruction of His enemies along four simultaneous fronts.

First, the Lord works by His Spirit and His Church to shame and convert His enemies, thus making them no longer enemies but friends (Ps. 83.16). Through the preaching of the Gospel and the demonstration of good works, many who at one time never knew the Lord, or even denied or opposed Him, are being brought to salvation as the Gospel and the Law expose their sins, demonstrate their need, and point to the only Savior Who can redeem them.

A second way that Jesus works to subdue His enemies is by surrounding and constraining them through the good works and increase of the saints of God (Ps. 81.15). As the ranks of believers increase and the Church grows in unity and maturity, the Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy advances in a given location, and even those who do not love the Lord are constrained to live within the parameters that Kingdom establishes. Many may even confess faith in the Lord – although this is but a pretense – if they sense it will be in their best material and social interest to do so. Thus their rebellion is contained and their enmity nullified by the powerful presence of the Spirit and Word in the Church.

The third front of the Lord’s assault against His foes is that of removing His grace and Spirit so that their rebellion increases, leading to dissolution, despair, and death (Rom. 1.18-32). Even the enemies of God, those most adverse to His claims and spiteful of His grace, receive the benefit of His steadfast love and faithfulness as He upholds the world and all things – and everyone – in it (Ps. 52.1). Yet the more they harden their hearts against Him, plunging ever more deeply into the abyss of sin, the more He will give them up to their folly, until their foolish chosen way destroys them and others (Prov. 14.12).

Finally, in certain cases, the Lord and His Father subdue those who stand arrogantly against them by simply removing them from the stage of history and consigning them to eternal death (Acts 12.20-23). The Lord raises up kings and He puts them down; those who stand most notoriously against Him should fear that they may fall within His crosshairs. We, the Lord’s ambassadors, must be diligent to warn the wicked and call them to repent.

Within reach of grace
At all times, however, as long as they live on this earth, the enemies of the Lord are not beyond the reach of His grace. We think of such men as Nebuchadnezzar and Paul and realize that God’s great power to save is able to subdue even the most aggressive of His foes. And this makes our work as ambassadors and preachers all that much more urgent and exciting.

Knowing that the Lord is subduing all His enemies as He advances His reign on earth, let us be diligent to warn the recalcitrant, inform the ignorant, and to call all men to repent and believe the Good News of our King and His Kingdom.

And, as we do, let us stay mindful of the fact that the Lord has bound our most furious enemy, and His, even the devil Himself.

ChainsThe King’s Business (12)

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man?” Matthew 12.28, 29

The binding of Satan
On the east face of the Cross of Muiredach, a 9th-century carved cross at Monasterboice, in Ireland, Jesus stands as King over all creation. Under his foot is a chain, which descends into the abyss, where Satan is held at bay by a great angel, and bound by the power of Jesus Christ.

Whenever I mention that Christ has bound the devil so that we need not be defeated by his power, someone objects. “How can the devil be bound,” comes the query, “when Peter says he stalks about like a roaring lion?” True enough, the devil does stalk about like a roaring lion, but like a roaring lion on a chain held firmly in the power of our victorious Savior and King. Concerning this, Augustine wrote, “we should not be so fond as to think that these unclean spirits are either to be feared for any hurt, or honoured for any profit they can bring upon man’s fortunes. For they are in power, but even as wicked men on earth are, so that they cannot do what they please, but are mere ministers to His ordinance, whose judgments no man can either comprehend fully or reprehend justly.”

Satan is bound, held in check by our Lord Jesus Christ, and as long as we know the “length of his chain,” we need not fear his stalking-about or roaring. We can resist Him as Jesus did, with the power of God’s Word. For it was during the temptation in the wilderness, when Satan threw his best punches at the weak and fasting Savior, that Jesus blocked them all and delivered mortal blows to the devil by silencing and subduing him with the Word of God. From that point to this, Satan has been bound, and Jesus has been plundering his holdings.

At the right hand of the Majesty on high, Jesus continues the work of plundering the devil that He began while yet in His earthly sojourn. That great work has been going on for 2,000 years, and we are privileged in the Kingdom to God join in the plundering as Christ leads us triumphantly against the enemy of our souls.

In four ways in particular King Jesus pursues His work of plundering the devil.

The souls of men
First, Jesus is wresting the souls of His elect out of the devil’s hands. We all, when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, were enemies of Christ, captive to the devil and deceived by his wiles so that we neither sought the Lord nor walked in His ways.

But when it pleased our King to save us, and to call us to Himself, not even the greatest powers of hell could prevail against His will (Matt. 16.18). The preaching of the Word of God, accompanied by the inward work of the Holy Spirit, is stronger than the strongest grip of Satan and all his hosts. And just as the Lord plundered the devil in taking our souls for Himself, so He continues to do today, as His obedient witnesses make the Good News of the Kingdom known to those around them.

The time of our lives
The followers of Jesus Christ are called to redeem the time, for the days are evil (Eph. 5.15-17). Whatever time we fail to claim and use for the cause of Christ and His Kingdom will be lost to spiritual forces of wickedness in high places. Time, as Edwards explained, is a precious gift from God; but we must learn to make the best use of it. The devil and his minions will seek to gobble up as much of our time as they can, as though our time were their own. So we must lay hold on the moments of our lives diligently, with forethought and prayer, and for the Kingdom purposes of Christ.

For this we need the help of our King. Jesus can teach us to “number our days” in such a way as that we may plan our time in advance to be used for His wise purposes (Ps. 90.12). As we offer our plans up to Him, He is able to direct and counsel and guide us in working out our salvation so as to ensure that we will use our time for His glory and not for the works of the devil (Jms. 4.13-17; Phil. 2.12, 13). He will help us to “walk circumspectly” (Eph. 5.15) in the execution of our plans, so that we keep our time out of the devil’s hands and in the hands of the Lord.

All over the world spiritual forces of wickedness have hi-jacked God’s gift of time to people; in us, the citizens of Christ’s Kingdom, however, he has no power to keep us from using our time for the purposes of our King.
 
Our words and works
The same is true with our words and works. By His Word and Spirit, Jesus is enabling us to take captive even our thoughts and to make them obedient to Him (2 Cor. 10.3-5). As we bring our thoughts into submission to King Jesus, He will renew our minds (Rom. 12.1, 2) and teach us how to use His own mind to think His thoughts after Him (1 Cor. 2.16). Our King Himself will guide and counsel us concerning how we must speak and act in order to fulfill our callings as His ambassadors.

As we are thus renewed in our thoughts and minds, we may govern our words and works accordingly through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3.14-19).

Whereas Satan has managed to sow the Lie into the thoughts and deeds of untold multitudes, Jesus is taking back from the devil the thoughts, words, and works of His people, and is using them to advance His Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18).

The earth and everything in it
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it (Ps. 24.1). Nevertheless, it has pleased God to allow the devil to roam throughout the earth, going here and there to capture the minds of lost men and women and, with their minds, all their possessions as well. The result is that vast fortunes of wealth and material assets are squandered for sinful or, at best, merely secular ends.

But in the lives of those whom King Jesus has taken captive to His grace and truth, great changes are in evidence. No longer does Satan command the use of our talents and possessions; instead, we consecrate all that we are and have for the Kingdom purposes of Christ, and practice a stewardship of our possessions that seeks a return on investment to the glory of our King with all we are and have (Matt. 25.14-20).

As we seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness as our highest priority in life (Matt. 6.33) and do everything as unto the Lord and not men (Col. 3.23), our resources play a role in furthering the good purposes of the Lord. He keeps our resources from the enemy of His Kingdom by teaching us how to will, and enabling us to do of His good pleasure with every good and perfect gift with which God has endowed us from on high (Phil. 2.12, 13; Jms. 1.17).

Satan holds no threat for the souls, time, words, works, and possessions of those who daily and moment-by-moment yield themselves to the rule of King Jesus. From His throne at the right hand of God, by the power of His Word and Spirit, in and through His people, Jesus is taking back from the devil every good gift, that He might use all things for the sake of His Kingdom purposes (Eph. 1.15-23).

The devil is powerless to prevent our King from pursuing the business He has planned from before the foundation of the world and is even now carrying out in His good and perfect way and time.

castleThe King’s Business (6)

“And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
-John 14.3

The King’s Business
We have been considering the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and King, as He is seated at the right hand of God in the Majesty on High. We have seen that He is advancing His reign on earth, as it is in heaven. Having bound the devil, He is taking all the enemy’s usurped possessions unto Himself, reclaiming His elect and building His Church as He upholds the world and everything in it by His own powerful Word.

He is truly a working King! And it is our privilege to enter into His work by looking to His Word and resting in His Spirit. Thus the King’s business becomes our business as we orient our lives and prosecute our days according to the divine economy and the Kingdom civics that economy requires.

But this earthly sojourn of struggle, strife, and progress in redemption is not the end of our journey. For in His last work our heavenly King shows the great depth and eternal worth of the love He has for us. He is preparing a place for us to be with Him, in uninterrupted, unobstructed joy and bliss, forever and ever.

A City to Come
This is that City to Come for which the patriarchs and faithful in every age have longed (Heb. 11.13-16), the glorious Eternal City which, as Edwards’ explained, is the true destination and highest hope of every Christian pilgrim. John received a glimpse of that Eternal City in Revelation 21 and 22, a place of supreme beauty, unending wonder, and glory all around.

In one sense the City to Come is a true but timeless place, a new heavens and new earth, but without the corruption of sin or the constraints of time. In another sense that City to Come is the Bride of Christ in all her perfection and glory, as John saw in Revelation 21.9-14. King Jesus is preparing the City in its latter form by gathering and perfecting His saints; concerning its former, He is bringing the City to Come to a state of readiness by finishing out His plan for the Kingdom of God on earth. In eternity we will dwell in a specially-constructed material/spiritual cosmos where there is no need of the light of the sun and where neither death nor corruption shall be found. We will engage in all the activities of culture and society familiar to us here and now, but without the taint of sin, and without missing a beat in offering continuous praise and thanks to our Triune God.

But we will also dwell with all our brothers and sisters from every age, tongue, culture, and tribe, sharing in the gifts and graces each has received and dedicating all we are and have to celebrating and glorifying our Savior/King and His Father and Spirit.

Where righteousness dwells
The City to Come will be a place where righteousness dwells without blot or stain of sin (2 Pet. 3.13). We can scarcely imagine what that will be like! How truly joyous, enriching, and mutually edifying it will be to dwell and work among a people we can trust completely and who, like us, are devoted above all to enlarging the glory and honor of Christ.

Here there will be no harm, no fear, no worry or doubt, and no shame. Here we will live with people in whose every manner the person of our King and Savior is manifest with ever-increasing glory. Jesus is preparing this place even now by sanctifying a people for His glory, receiving them into His heavenly court when they depart this life, and readying them – and us – for the final victory over the enemy of our souls (Rev. 19).

All glory
Even now, in the courts of heaven, all the angelic hosts and departed saints sing ceaselessly of the glory of our great and holy God (Ps. 29.9). This is but the “warm-up” for an eternal chorus that will sing of glory in response to the manifestation of glory that will daily greet them in the presence of the Lord, of His glorified saints, and in the new heavens and new earth.

The weighty, comforting, reassuring, strengthening, beautiful, and amazing presence of the living God will be our constant companion as we take up our callings and work together to extend and enlarge the chorus of glory that will resound around us without interruption.

Joy and pleasure
There we will finally know that fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore which, here and now, we can only glimpse in fleeting glances and experiences (Ps. 16.11). But we could bear no more in this life, given our continuing sinfulness; thus, the Lord rations His glory to us, as He did to Moses, in servings meet for our weak and frail condition (2 Cor. 3.12-18).

But there, at the eternal banquet-table of the Lord, nothing will be held back. We will want for nothing, and all that we have ever hoped for and desired in the way of joy and holy pleasure will be ours in the presence of our God and King.

Journeying toward that City
So now we are like Abraham and all the patriarchs. We study to gain a clear and compelling vision of the City to Come, and we bring our lives, to the best of our ability, into conformity with what we know will be our citizenship then and there (2 Pet. 13, 14; 1 Jn. 3.2, 3). We are pilgrims journeying through the days of our lives, preparing for our eternal home and the glory that awaits us there. We carry no excess baggage; we encourage and sustain all who journey with us; we bear witness to our Eternal City and the King Who is preparing it for us; and we urge others to give up love of this transient world to seek the City which is to Come, which King Jesus is even now preparing for us.

As hard as He is working, in all the ways we have seen, so hard must we also work, hastening our growth in the Lord and furthering our journey to be with Him where He is (2 Pet. 1.5-11; 2 Cor. 7.1; Heb. 12.1, 2). This is the calling and privilege of all who acknowledge Jesus as Savior, Lord, and King; it is the duty of all who declare themselves to be citizens of that eternal realm of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18).

The Realm of GodThe Kingdom of God is a concept familiar to most Christians, but only as a concept, something to talk about, merely. But, as Paul reminds us, the Kingdom of God is not merely something to talk about. If we want to experience all that Christ has for us in His Kingdom – full and abundant life (Jn. 10:10) – then we shall have to become more familiar with this new reality that He has launched into the world.

Power from on HighThe Kingdom of God is a realm of true spiritual power, which works to transform the world according to the purposes and plans of the divine economy.

Kingdom Civics

Monday, 10 May 2010

Power for Peace

The Character of the Kingdom (3)

 

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14.17


A real but unseen power

The Kingdom of God which Jesus and the Apostles proclaimed, and which began to unfold and expand on earth with the pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit on the first Christian Pentecost, is a very real power. Even though we cannot see it, we can see its effects, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3. The first effect of the Kingdom, as its character comes to expression on earth as it is in heaven, is to increase the righteousness of Jesus Christ on earth.

 

The Spirit of God works by powerful spiritual persuasion to restrain the power and effects of sin and to allow space for righteousness to advance among men. The Church is the primary locus to which that unseen spiritual power flows, and from which it emanates. We can know that we are obedient citizens in the Kingdom of God when the pursuit of righteousness in the fear of God is a dominant motive in all we think, say, and do (2 Cor. 7.1). For the character of the Kingdom, Paul explained, is righteousness.

 

The power of peace

The second attribute of the Kingdom is peace. Where the Kingdom of God is advancing, peace obtains, and expands to bring benefits to increasing numbers of people. Peace is that wonderful state of soul and body in which we rest contented in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God. Many things assail the peace of believers – hardships, trials, temptations, setbacks, deprivation, persecution, and much more. But these are no match for the peace of the Kingdom when that realm has begun to take hold on our lives and to become visible through us. The peace of God, and the way believers enjoy that peace, regardless of their circumstances, surpasses understanding (Phil. 4.6, 7). They who have come to know that peace know that it is real, and they rejoice in possessing it as part of their inheritance and privilege in the Kingdom of God.

 

The peace which comes with the Spirit and Kingdom of God is a gem with four facets. They who are seeking the Kingdom of God know that peace, in all its luster and beauty, and it is a gift they pass on to others as well. Believers are outposts of Kingdom peace in a world where peace of mind, and, increasingly, peace of any kind, is a commodity in short supply.

 

Peace with God

The first facet of the gem of peace is peace with God (Rom. 5.1). Through our Lord Jesus Christ we no longer fear God as a terrifying Judge (Rom. 8.1). We fear Him for Who He is, but that fear is tempered by love for God, because of all He has done for us. Love and fear move us to serve the Lord, and, in serving Him, we find His help and favor, and thus know ourselves truly to be at peace with the Lord.

 

What a glorious privilege! Believers do not languish in guilt and shame; they do not dread the day of death. Being at peace with God they know He is caring for them always, and so they endure whatever trials may come their way in the secure knowledge that all is well between them and God. This peace leads to daily seeking of the Lord, to know Him better and love Him more, and to worship that rises from the depths our souls and declares our love for God in prayer, song, and hearing the Word of God.

 

Peace with God is the first facet of the gem of peace, and it casts its beauty and brilliance on all the other facets as their defining feature.

 

Peace with ourselves

One of the things I like best about praying the psalms is that they let me be myself before the Lord. Whether I’m joyful, filled with gratitude and praise, or a little down or angry, I can always find a psalm that will take me where I am and bring into the Lord’s renewing and restoring presence. And if the Lord thus takes me where I am, should I not do the same as well?

 

We can all find reasons not to like ourselves very much – things we wish were different, better, or had never happened. But knowing that God loves us, warts and all, and that we have peace with Him in His Kingdom, we can learn to live with our follies and foibles – not complacently, but patiently, waiting on the Lord and striving to overcome our shortcomings and failings, even as we rejoice in the person God has made us to be.

 

In the Kingdom of God we can have peace with ourselves, because we know that we have peace with God, and we know that the indwelling Spirit of God is helping us to become more like Jesus Christ every day (2 Cor. 3.12-18).

Peace with others

Christians disagree about a good many things. Some of that is natural, because all human beings are different. Some of it relates to differing levels of maturity and understanding, while some also derives from our different callings in life.

 

In spite of these differences, however, Christians can be at peace with one another – although maintaining that peace can sometimes require a good deal of effort (Eph. 4.3). When we are peace with one another, the love of Christ becomes visible, we are drawn together on the basis of what we have in common, and we rejoice in the knowledge that we are true brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

 

I’ve seen this many times over the years, particularly in my work with the movement known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together. We have many differences – both within the contingent of Evangelicals who make up this group, but also with our Catholic brethren, with whom we work to identify and declare our common convictions in the Lord.

 

Sometimes discussions can be a little difficult. Sometimes there are sharp and irreconcilable differences. But at all times the Spirit of peace rules in our meetings, and we know the reality of the Kingdom by virtue of our common citizenship being at work.

 

Peace for the world

As those who have peace with God, know His peace in our souls, and share His peace with fellow believers, we are also able to extend the offer of peace to the world around us. For years the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has offered the Gospel to countless millions of inquirers by using a little tract entitled, “Peace with God.” We can quibble and debate about the theology or adequacy of this tract; however, untold millions have come to Jesus Christ through the offer of peace, extended by a sympathetic and caring counselor, using this little outreach device.

 

Since we are called and privileged to offer the gift of peace, let us not be remiss or hold back. The peace of God, which we enjoy, and which binds us together in the Body of Christ, is the second characteristic of the Kingdom of God. They who know the peace of God, who dwell in that peace, and who extend it others inside the Body of Christ and without, they are the true citizens of the Kingdom of God.

 

For more insight to the Spirit’s work of righteousness in us, and in our communities, get the book, The Ground of Christian Ethics, from our Book Store.

Power for Joy

May 24, 2010

Power for Joy

The Character of the Kingdom (4)

 

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14.17

A new character in the world

The Kingdom of God brings an entirely new “national character” to the world. Americans are known for their practicality, their “can-do” spirit. People think of the British as maintaining a “stiff upper lip” in all situations and “muddling through” no matter what. The Spanish and Italians are flamboyant, the French oh so sophisticated and romantic, the Germans austere, and so forth. None of these stereotypes is entirely true, but I mention them just to show that, over the centuries, people of certain national origins tend to be stamped with, and, in many ways, to represent the character of their native land.

 

The character of the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Because the Spirit of God brings heavenly, eternal power to bear on and in all those who are translated into the Kingdom of God, He brings a bit of God Himself, and of His eternal existence, to spread around among the members of Christ’s reign. Our being-in-the-world reflects the eternal character of the unchanging and holy God. As He is all righteousness, peace, and joy in and unto Himself, so we who submit to His rule begin to express that “national character” as well.

 

Or, at least, that’s what we aspire to represent to the world around us. The followers of Jesus Christ still carry around a good deal of “old baggage” from their former way of life; the law of sin continues to express its presence in us, even as we strive to become in reality more of what we already are in fact through Jesus Christ.

 

The joy of God

The third dominant attribute of the Kingdom of God is joy. The triune God is full of joy within Himself; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit take infinite delight in one another, in their several perfections and combined beauty, and know a joy in merely being that no external circumstances or conditions could ever interrupt. The joy which God has in and of Himself is the same joy which believers in Jesus Christ begin to know in the Holy Spirit as part of their citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

 

This joy differs from mere happiness. As the word itself suggests, “happiness” tends to derive from the combination of favorable conditions at any particular time (happenstance). We may expect to know a good deal of happiness in this life as followers of Jesus Christ. God wants His people to be happy. He provides for their every need and brings them blessings untold, day by day, because He wants us to be happy.

 

But we may not always be happy, for the simple reason that the circumstances of our lives may not always be as we would choose them. In this life, Jesus said, we will know trials of various kinds (Jn 16:.33) – illness, loss, deprivation, persecution, disappointment. At such times the conditions of our lives are not such as we would choose; they do not combine to bring us that feeling of goodness and overall wellbeing that we experience as happiness.

But though our happiness may at times be interrupted, we may know a joy in the Kingdom of God that sustains and motivates us even in the midst of trials.

 

The conditions of joy

Joy is a much more deeply-seated affection than happiness, and therefore much more to be desired. Joy comes not from favorable temporal conditions, but from secure, unchanging, and eternal ones – the condition of being safe in the Father’s hand, forgiven, free, and bound for eternal glory.

 

Nothing can change that circumstance. Our salvation is all of grace, as is our daily increase in the Lord. We did not create the conditions by which we have come to know God and eternal life, nor did any other temporal creature or entity. God has saved us; God keeps us; God sustains and cares for us; God daily witnesses to our spirits by His Spirit that we belong to Him. Of course, in gratitude for this, we must work out our salvation in fear and trembling; but the certainty of our standing with the Lord is of the Lord, and not of ourselves or any temporal creature or contingency.

 

Nothing that can happen to us in this life, not even death, can change the eternal, God-given conditions of our salvation. Thus we always belong to the Lord – even when we stray from Him and incur His displeasure – and we always possess the promise of eternal life and a place where there are no sorrows and no tears but only everlasting bliss in the presence of the Lord.

 

Knowing that we belong to God, that our sins are forgiven, that He provides all our needs through His riches in glory in Christ Jesus, that Jesus is coming one day to take us to be with Him forever, and that then we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is – knowing all this gives citizens in the Kingdom of God a deep peace and joy which issue in lives of righteousness in the power of the Spirit.

 

This is the joy of God’s Kingdom, which, together with righteousness and peace, represents the true national character of those who have entered the eternal and unseen realm. As citizens of the Kingdom it is our high calling in life to seek the Kingdom of God as our first priority, so that we may bless both God and man by bringing our national character to light in the world (Rom. 14:18).

 

For more insight to the Spirit’s work of joy in our lives, get the book, The Hidden Life, from our book store.

Kingdom Civics

Monday, 31 May 2010

Desiring the Kingdom

Seeking the Kingdom (1)

 

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6.33

Nothing more glorious

The Christian life can be described as practicing the Kingship of Jesus Christ, nurturing a vision and the disciplines of life in the Spirit which lead to serving Jesus in every aspect of our lives. And King Jesus is working for us even now, interceding, upholding the creation, sending out His Spirit, building His Church, and gathering His chosen ones as He advances His Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. The Kingdom of God is a real, albeit spiritual, power, and it exerts a force for righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit wherever it extends. Nothing could be more glorious, more filled with joy and adventure, or more completely satisfying to the human spirit than to practice the Kingship of Jesus within and for the realm which He is spreading over all the world (Is. 9.6, 7).

 

When Jesus commanded us to seek first the Kingdom of God, He did so knowing that this is the supreme and highest calling any human being can know. They who value the Kingdom above all else, who have tasted of its awesome and transforming power and have experienced its peace and joy, are fairly violent in their efforts to gain more of that glorious realm – just as Jesus said they would be (Matt. 11.12). All who have even glimpsed the character and potential of the Kingdom, as it advances like a growing stone against all opposition (Dan. 2.44, 45), are forcing their way into it, ever more deeply, day by day (Lk. 16.16). For those who know the King and His Kingdom, nothing matters more than that they should enter and possess it, and be possessed by it, for the unfathomable blessings it holds; nothing is too great a sacrifice, and no exertion is too costly for those who see the Kingdom of God in all its glory and power.

 

If this does not describe you, then you must ask yourself: What is it, precisely, that I desire more than the Kingdom of God?

 

Where your treasure is

People are motivated in their daily lives by hope and vision. What we “see” in our most vivid and focused imaginations becomes what we desire above all else. What we desire is what we invest in – time, strength, resources, energy, friends. All the things we treasure most in life will be devoted to achieving the thing we envision, that which we desire above all else. We can tell where our hearts are by considering where we are investing our treasure (Matt. 6.21).

 

Where, to begin with, are you investing your treasure of time? Jonathan Edwards wrote of “the preciousness of time,” that it is surely God’s greatest gift to us, next to our salvation. How we spend our time will say a great deal about what we desire most in life. If the best and most productive time of our lives is spent in getting and spending, indulging the whims of our flesh, or simply frittering away the time of our lives in mindless diversions, then we are simply saying that our hearts are devoted to nothing more than ourselves, and whatever we think will bring us fleeting pleasure or the semblance of fulfillment.

 

And what about our conversation? God insists that our words have potential to impart grace and truth (Col. 4.6; Eph. 4.15), to edify and comfort (Eph. 4.29; 2 Cor. 1.3, 4), to teach and encourage (Col. 3.16; Heb. 10.24). But if we only have words for business transactions, commercial exchanges, trite and frivolous banter, self-justifications of various kinds, gossip and criticism, everyday events and situations, or meaningless mutual entertainment, what does this say about where our hearts are focused?

 

If our time and talk are devoted to self-service in one way or another, it’s certain this will be true of our treasure and our strength as well. The vision that motivates us under such circumstances is no bigger than our happiest previous experience, be it ever so fleeting. We may wish to extend that experience and minimize unpleasant ones; or perhaps we can imagine some other combination of experiences, possessions, relationships, or attainments that we hope will give us even more happiness than we have known before.

 

But what is that, and what are all such vain and empty dreams, compared to the glory of the eternal and ever-advancing, righteousness-disseminating Kingdom of the Prince of Peace and Joy?

 

Examine yourself

After two lengthy letters of instruction, correction, admonition, and affirmation, the Apostle Paul concluded his communications with the churches in Corinth by calling on them to examine themselves. If they would not embrace his teaching, receive his correction, and renew their efforts at being the Body of Christ, it may well be that, though they were church-going folk, they had not yet truly come to know the Lord (2 Cor. 13.5).

 

A similar word of exhortation is in order for us. Seeing the Kingdom of God, if only in prospect, as filled with and spawning righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit; communing with Jesus Christ exalted at the right hand of God; and practicing obedience to His Kingship unto full and abundant life – knowing this we will surely desire more and more of it, day by day. We will surely long for more of the transforming power of God’s Spirit, making us anew after the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18). We will earnestly seek the exceeding abundant power of the Holy Spirit to work out God’s salvation in us and use as His witnesses to the world (Eph. 3.20; Phil. 2.12, 13; Acts 1.8). We will faithfully attend to the Spirit as He teaches us the Law of God and forms us unto righteousness according to its teachings (Ezek. 36.26, 27; Rom. 7.12).

 

And if we do not, if such things do not inflame us with vision and desire that nothing else can satisfy, then we must be honest enough to admit that we have not tasted of the Kingdom of God, and, with that, we probably do not know its King.

 

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also; what you envision, you will desire, and what you desire, you will give your all to attain.

Read about Patrick and his work in the Kingdom of Christ in T. M.’s book, The Legacy of Patrick, from our online store.

The Kingdom Mindset

June 07, 2010

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13.45, 46

A question of value

A casual survey of the contemporary moral, political, and economic situation will reveal that the Kingdom characteristics of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit do not seem to be the determining factors in the way things are. Which is a little difficult to understand, given that, in this country at least, such a large percentage of the population claims to be Christian, even to be born again.

 

I daresay if 40% of the American people were jihadists, we would be living in a very different society than at present. The fact is that the vast majority of those associated with the Name of Jesus Christ, and, by inference, the Kingdom He came to bring near, have very little of the kind of mindset which is essential for raising the visibility and furthering the progress of that Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

 

As we have seen, those who see the Kingdom as it really is – the promise of liberty, righteousness, and power that it proffers – desire it above all else; they can become fairly aggressive in seeking to possess that Kingdom for themselves. The first Christians, chased from their homes by persecution, fled in all directions, taking the message of the Kingdom with them with such enticing power that the Gospel quickly became established in regions beyond Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 8-13). These first believers valued the Kingdom and all its promise more than their own familiar and secure surroundings – indeed, more than their own lives. They knew it to be a possession more valuable than anything they might hold in this world, so they readily gave up everything to know, seek, and advance the rule of King Jesus wherever they went.

 

When we desire the Kingdom, and are determined to seek it as our first priority in life, we will succeed in this desire to the extent that we understand the Kingdom of God and set our minds to obtain it above all else.

 

But what does this entail? What kind of mindset must we nurture if seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness is going to characterize us more consistently?

 

Aspects of a Kingdom mindset

Those who desire the Kingdom must begin to put in place the kind of Kingdom mindset that will enable them to realize the object of their desires. Having a heart for the Kingdom of God – desiring it above all else – is the place to begin. But realizing the desire of our hearts – to gain and possess the Kingdom increasingly – will be quite impossible without a mind set on the Kingdom to guide all our thinking, choosing, and living.

 

There are four key disciplines for developing a Kingdom mindset. We have to work at these continuously, because the noise and distraction of our secular and material age can easily cause us to lose our focus on the larger objective to which we have been called in practicing the Kingship of Jesus. We have to learn how to fill our minds with the promise and ways of the Kingdom, so that we can evaluate all our activities in that light and develop plans for steady Kingdom progress.

 

Let’s look more closely at each of these.

 

The promise of the Kingdom: A mind set on the Kingdom of God is under the thrall of the promise of God’s Kingdom – the promise of power to live in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The more understand the value of these qualities, and the more we are able to keep them in mind at all time, the less appealing and alluring will be the ways of the world.

 

We can improve this aspect of our Kingdom mindset by studying the teaching of Scripture and the writings of great saints about this pearl of great price. Presidential candidates will often lay out a vision for their administrations, even to the point of giving them names – The New Deal, The New Frontier, The Great Society. Such visions are meant to inspire prospective voters and to guide policies, programs, and agendas.

 

The Kingdom of God is its own vision, rich with the prospect of grace and truth abounding to sinners, and the glory of the Lord covering the earth as the waters cover the sea. The more we study this vision and fix the promise of it in our minds, the stronger will be our mindset to seek the Kingdom we desire so earnestly.

 

The ways of the Kingdom: At the same time, we must devote ourselves to learning the ways of the Kingdom – the ways of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17). The Spirit works with the Word of God, so, naturally, we shall want to continue growing in knowledge of and love for Scripture. The Spirit moves us to bear witness. He bestows gifts to be used in ministry; brings forth fruit of a particular kind; and instructs us in the Law of God for everyday living (Acts 1.8; 1 Cor. 12.7-11; Gal. 5.22, 23; Ezek. 36.26, 27). The ways of the Kingdom of God are the ways of God’s Spirit; the more we strive to be filled with Him, and to walk in Him, the more we shall find the ways of the Kingdom coming to expression in our lives (Eph. 5.15-21; Gal. 5.16-23).

 

Kingdom evaluations: Part of being filled with the Spirit involves making the best use of our time (Eph. 5.15-17). In the Kingdom of God all decisions, choices, activities, opportunities, and relationships have eternal significance. If we are not careful to evaluate each of these – before we engage them, while we are involved in them, and after we have finished – we may fail to make the most of our time and, thus, forfeit an opportunity to advance the rule of King Jesus. By bringing the light of Kingdom understanding and Kingdom ways into every situation of our lives, we focus our growing Kingdom mindset on specific everyday opportunities, and we will find that mindset to be an effective practical guide for everyday Kingdom living.

 

A Kingdom course: Make your plans in life, for every aspect of life, according to the vision, ways, and evaluations characteristic of your growing Kingdom mindset (Ps. 90.12, 16, 17). Plan as much as you can, and take your plans before the Lord for His approval and affirmation (Jms. 4.13-17). The more we can prepare our minds in advance to do the right thing in every situation – the Kingdom thing – the greater is the likelihood that this is what we actually will do. Make Kingdom plans, and let none of your plans depart from the vision and ways of the Kingdom you are daily learning to live.

 

Desiring the Kingdom is the place to begin in seeking it, but this must be supplemented by a deliberate and ongoing effort to nurture a Kingdom mindset. Together, these two, faithfully pursued, will establish Kingdom-seeking as the default priority of our souls.

Read about Patrick and his work in the Kingdom of Christ in T. M.’s book, The Legacy of Patrick, from our online store.

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