Seeking the Kingdom (3)
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6.33
Hearts and minds for the Kingdom
Seeking the Kingdom of God, as Jesus commands, begins within, in our souls. We must train our hearts to desire the Kingdom and shape our minds to envision and embrace it. Neither the heart – which is naturally deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17.9) – nor the mind – which in its natural state is corrupt and hardened against the things of the Lord (Eph. 4.17-19) – are able to bend themselves to the Kingdom of God. Rather, they must be ordered and disciplined to their respective tasks of desiring and knowing the Kingdom. This is the role of the conscience.
Referee of the soul
The soul is the immaterial and spiritual aspect of each human being which provides the motivation and direction to all of life. It consists of three overlapping, fully integrated, but separate and distinct entities: the heart, which is the seat and source of affections; the mind, which processes thought and manages the various elements thereof, and the conscience, which houses the values and priorities of the soul. Another way of thinking about the conscience is as the will – that inclination and propensity to act in particular ways which serves as a default in bringing heart and mind together according to ultimate values.
The conscience is thus a kind of referee in the soul, presiding in the contest of heart and mind to suppress whatever is not consistent with the ultimate values of the soul, and to shape and direct affections and thinking to work together in order to bring ultimate values and priorities to expression in words and deeds.
The natural state of the conscience
Like the heart and the mind, the conscience, in its natural state, is unable to fulfill its appointed task in a way that serves the interests of the Kingdom. This is because it has become encrusted with evil values and priorities (Heb. 9.14). Exposed to lies and half-truths and practiced only in self-serving decisions, the conscience apart from Christ is hardened against the truth of God and the priorities of His Kingdom (1 Tim. 4.1, 2).
Only the redemptive work of Christ can interrupt the conscience in such a state and begin to point it in new directions (Heb. 9.14). This is the work of the Spirit of God, Who, by dwelling in the believer, works to convict him of sin, righteousness, and judgment, by such inward work indicting the conscience and shaping the will so that it can function properly in relation to the rest of the soul and body (Jn. 16.8-11; Phil. 2.13).
Renewing the conscience
The immediate effect of the indwelling of the Spirit is to turn the will to God, leading the believer to cry out, “Abba! Father” in a gesture of submission and embrace which sets a new course for the conscience and the life (Gal. 4.6). From that moment the Spirit “lusts” to transform soul and body into the image of Jesus Christ (Gal. 5.16, 17; 2 Cor. 3.12-18). By His continual searching, teaching, and piquing the believer, He begins to redeem the conscience and, with it, the soul. The will, now righty and increasingly directed to the things of the Lord, begins to exert power and direction over the affections and thoughts, until a dialog and harmony is established in the soul on which the Lord can build for the sanctification of the believer.
This work of the Spirit in redeeming the conscience and the soul is one in which we must consciously participate (Phil. 2.12), beginning with the retraining of the will. The Spirit brings to the classroom of the soul the Law of God – the books of Moses and the prophets, seen through the life and work of Christ, and interpreted by the Apostles (Ezek. 36.26, 27). By stirring up our minds to attend to these words from God (2 Pet. 3.1, 2), the Spirit begins to establish God’s Word concerning His Kingdom as our chief priority, and this, in turn, forms the heart to desire and the mind to know the Kingdom of God.
Thus we must give disciplined attention to the renewing of our consciences – making sure that our consciences, with respect to God and men, are always “good”, always what God would want them to be (Acts 24.16). By faithfully reading, meditating on, and studying the Word of God, and by listening to and waiting on the convicting work of the Spirit (Ps. 139.23, 24), we may improve the health of our conscience, as well as our heart and mind. And by keeping all this renewing work focused on the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, we will be able to achieve a manner of life that is pleasing to God and beneficial to those around us (Rom. 14.17, 18).
We cannot do this work alone. We need other believers to teach and encourage us, to serve as examples and sounding-boards, and to hold us accountable in prayer and in person. The Spirit of God has given gifts to the members of Christ’s Body, the Church, which we are to use in building one another up into Christlikeness (1 Cor. 12.7-11). Thus, if we would know the full benefit of the Spirit’s work in shaping our consciences, not only must we submit to the Word of God, but to one another as well, that we might be mutually edified in seeking the Kingdom of God.
By such means we may expect the Kingdom of God to grow as the primary objective and value in our souls. Thus established, it will become the default setting for how we must think, feel, and choose; and this, in turn, will put us in good stead to set aside the everyday practices of our former sinful lives and begin to take up those which must characterize our new life in Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.
Read about Patrick and his work in the Kingdom of Christ in T. M.’s book, The Legacy of Patrick, from our online store.
“Pray then like this…‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…’” Matthew 6.9, 10
What do we expect?
I doubt there is a person anywhere in the world who professes faith in Jesus Christ who does know and occasionally recite the Lord’s prayer. In the same way, I doubt there are any such people who have no knowledge or awareness of the Kingdom of God.
For too many such people, however, the Kingdom, for the coming of which they doubtless occasionally pray, exists largely as an idea or a concept only. It has little reality either in or through their lives, and experiencing daily progress in that Kingdom is not something they expect to know or to realize, and, consequently, not something to which they give much conscious exertion.
“According to your faith, be it unto you,” as Jesus might say. If we know there is a Kingdom of God, and know something of its righteous and peaceable and joyous character, and, what’s more, if we know that our Lord has taught us to pray for its coming, then why should we not earnestly seek and fully expect to realize more of its reality in our midst? If we claim to believe in the Kingdom but are not realizing its outworking in and through our lives, then what does this suggest about the nature of our faith (Jms. 2.14-17)?
There are two reasons why so few of the followers of Christ today evidence so little of the reality of the Kingdom of God in their lives: First, most Christians do not understand how to seek the Kingdom; and, second, most of us have little real understanding of the ways the Kingdom makes progress through and among us. We affirm the necessity of seeking the Kingdom; however, because we do not know how to do so, or how the Kingdom actually advances in and through us, our lives are bereft of all but the barest manifestations of this righteous and peaceable and joyous realm of grace and truth.
We have seen that seeking the Kingdom involves desiring it as a thing to be possessed because of its beauty and power; cultivating a Kingdom mindset so that our thoughts and plans are filtered through the priorities of the Kingdom; and embracing seeking the Kingdom as the first priority in all ways. The Kingdom of God will never be a reality in our daily lives until it becomes the guiding principle and commanding vantage of our souls – heart, mind, and conscience.
It is to the practical outworking of the Kingdom in “all our ways”, here briefly introduced, that we now turn our thoughts.
The everyday practices of the world
When we were yet citizens in the “kingdom of the flesh”, as it were, all our thoughts, affections, values, and everyday practices evidenced and confirmed our patrimony, all day long. We thought, felt, valued, and lived like people for whom satisfying fleshly desires was the most important thing in life – make a living, be comfortable, have stuff, indulge our whims, satisfy every bodily urge.
Paul would describe us at that time as being “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Gal. 4.3). That phrase, “elementary principles,” translates the Greek term, stoicheia. This word derives from a verb meaning “to walk” or “to conduct one’s affairs.” Hence “elementary principles” probably means something like “everyday practices” or “basic lifestyle.”
In the kingdom of the flesh everything about us declares our allegiance to material and sensual interests. What we dream about and hope for, the things that dominate our conversation and fill up our time, how we spend our money, and what brings us happiness, be it ever so fleeting – these “everyday practices” or “basic lifestyle” components are what they are because we are enslaved to the world. We don’t know anything other than what everybody else is living, and we don’t have the ability to get beyond that way of life into something different.
But once we have been born again by the Spirit and God, translated into the Kingdom of God’s Son, and are beginning to be grounded in God’s Word and filled with His Spirit, all that changes. Those “elementary principles” of the world must no longer be allowed to dominate our lives. Now, walking in the Spirit, we begin to learn new practices, building on the renewal that is taking place in our souls, so that the Kingdom of God advances in and through us by increments, in every area of our lives.
Everyday practice in the Kingdom
The effects of God’s Word and Spirit, as they work in our lives, are unto a salvation that brings to light the glory of God – His undeniable, fearsome, and awesome presence – in every area of life (Phil. 2.12, 13). This is our calling, to make known the glory of God which He has hidden in everyday things, so that men might know, fear, obey, love, and serve Him through Jesus Christ (Hab. 2.12; Prov. 25.2; Deut.10.12). As they do, everything in their lives will become a means of glorifying and enjoying the Lord (1 Cor. 10.31; Ps. 16.11).
The everyday practices of the Kingdom of God, coming to expression from our Kingdom-captured souls, will shape the way we speak (Col. 4.6), how we relate to others (Jms. 1.19, 20; Jn. 13.1-15), do our work (Ps. 90.16, 17; Col. 3.23, 24), manage our time (Ps. 90.12), use our resources and possessions (Ps. 24.1), and talk with those who oppose the life of faith (2 Tim. 2.24-26).
In the Kingdom of God we have been made new creatures by Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5.17); now we submit to Him – to His Law, Word, and Spirit – day by day, moment by moment, so that in us it might be seen that He is at work, willing and doing of His good pleasure, to bring that newness to expression in every detail and facet of our lives, little by little, but surely and ineluctably (Phil. 2.12, 13; Rev. 21.5; Lk. 13.18-21).
The importance of the self-watch
Thus it is important that all those who have come to the Kingdom of God nurture their souls on Kingdom food – the Word and Spirit of God – through the disciplines of Kingdom growth – prayer, reading and meditation, worship, study, conversation – and that they maintain a continuous watch over their lives to ensure that progress in the Kingdom is evident increasingly (Prov. 4.20-27; Ps. 119.59, 60; 1 Tim. 4.15, 16).
By so doing we seek the Kingdom of God, bear the fruit of the Kingdom in every aspect of our lives, and make practicing the Kingship of Jesus the real and increasingly powerful force of our lives and in the world.
For more insight to the Spirit’s work of joy in our lives, get the book, The Hidden Life, from our book store.
Founding Documents (1)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone… Ephesians 2.19, 20
The foundation of the Kingdom
The Kingdom of God is the rule of Christ Jesus in righteousness, peace, and joy by His Word and Spirit, in and through the Church (Rom. 14.17, 18). The Church has been brought near to Christ and translated into His Kingdom (Eph. 2.13; Col. 1.13); He has commanded us to seek His Kingdom and righteousness as the highest priority in life (Matt. 6.33), and given us the power of us Spirit to accomplish this holy objective (Acts 1.8; 1 Cor. 4.20; Ezek. 36.26, 27). When the Church is faithful in seeking Christ’s Kingdom, the Lord brings the knowledge of His glory to the attention of men and nations, as they observe the hope that lives within us and the light that shines through us (Hab. 2.14; 1 Pet. 3.15; Matt. 5.13-16).
This makes the Christian life full and abundant in Jesus Christ (Jn. 10.10), when we walk in the Spirit within the framework of the growing Kingdom presence on earth (Gal. 5.16-23; Dan. 2.44, 45; Is. 9.6, 7). Nothing could be more desirable than for us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and to serve Christ and bless men by a diligent and conscientious pursuit of the Kingdom of God (Rom. 14.17-19).
This is what we mean by “Kingdom Civics.” Kingdom Civics defines the nature, objectives, and means of the pursuit of Christ’s rule on earth as it is in heaven. This is the believer’s high and holy calling in life, a calling which he can only take up on the foundation of what God has revealed in His Word and preserved through His Church (2 Thess. 2.15). The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, understood in the light of the great tradition of interpretation in the Church, are the authoritative founding documents of the Kingdom of God.
The Bible is the greatest and most influential book of all time. It continues, year-in and year-out, to sell more copies and affect more people’s lives than all other books, past or present. We cannot expect to enjoy the fullness of Kingdom living apart from a growing understanding of the Word of God in Scripture. Everything about the Kingdom of God takes its shape according to what God has revealed in the Bible. We cannot seek the Kingdom, nor shall we realize its blessings, without a deep devotion and growing commitment to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.
While the Bible consists of two primary “testaments”, comprised of sixty-six separate books, it is the work of one Author and one Mind – God and His Word and Spirit (Jn. 6.63; 1 Tim. 3.15, 16; 2 Pet. 1.19-21). Thus, in spite of the fact that the Bible was compiled over a period of some 1500 years, written by some forty different writers, in three languages and on three continents, yet it tells one story – the story of God’s covenant relationship with His people.
God’s way of relating to men has always been by a covenant, which God Himself consistently refers to as “My” covenant. The covenant whereby God binds men to Himself and incorporates them into His Kingdom is His covenant. It is entirely of His design. He disposes it as He will. He accomplishes and sustains it as a working bond between Him and His people. God’s covenant is all of grace. God’s one covenant of grace unfolds by stages throughout the various epochs of revelation, according to the needs of God’s people and the purposes of His redemption at any particular stage. The story of God’s covenant, as it unfolds throughout the Scriptures, reveals and advances the purpose of the divine economy in bringing into being a people for God’s glory.
“I will be your God…”
The story of the Bible, and of God’s covenant, is summarized in what we might call the “covenant motto,” which could also be the sub-title of the Bible: “I will be your God, and you will be My people” (cf. Lev. 26.12; Jer. 7.23; Jer. 11.4; Jer. 30.22; Ezek. 36.28; 2 Cor. 6.18; Rev. 21.3). The Kingdom of God, anticipated in the Old Testament and brought near in the New, is, by the Word and Spirit of God, the active agency by which God accomplishes His covenant purpose.
Thus, the better we understand the character, content, and course of the Bible – the Scriptural story of God’s covenant – the better we will be able to realize the promise of the Kingdom for every aspect of our lives. Scripture is sufficient to equip and enable us for the good works of Kingdom-seeking that God has redeemed us to perform (2 Tim. 3.15, 16; Eph. 2.10). Yet many Christians today, while they may hear many sermons, participate in active Bible study groups, and even read the Word faithfully day by day, still remain ignorant of the overarching purpose of the Bible and of their place in its covenant story and Kingdom design.
But there will be no progress of God’s Kingdom, either in our own live or through us in the world, apart from a growing understanding and submission to the Kingdom principles, protocols, and practices revealed in God’s covenant book, the Bible.
In this series of Kingdom Civics, therefore, we shall consider the Scriptures as the founding documents of the Kingdom of God. Then we will show how, by His Word and Spirit, the Lord has preserved His Word and enlarged its application in advancing His economy, through the Church and its creeds and confessions. The story of God’s covenant, which begins within the pages of Scripture, has continued through the course of human history, as the Church has labored to advance Christ’s rule on earth as it is in heaven by diligence in understanding and obeying the Scriptures, the Book of God’s Covenant.
Are your Bible reading and study practices what they ought to be? For a concise overview of how to study and apply the Bible, go to our book store and order a copy of Text to Transformation.
Founding Documents (2)
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15.4
Two covenants in one
The Book of God’s Covenant – the Bible – is divided into two covenantal dispensations, traditionally referred to as Old and New. These two Testaments together tell the story of God’s covenant relationship with His people, whereby He brings them to His Kingdom and righteousness through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
As covenants, both the Old and New Testaments partake of a similar structure. In each God comes to His people entirely by grace, offering precious and very great promises by which they may know Him and the blessings of a restored relationship with Him (cf. Gen. 12.1-3; 2 Pet. 1.4). These promises entail everything that pertains to life and godliness, all that human beings could ever want for happy and fruitful lives.
Enjoyment of the promises is contingent upon faith and obedience. Arrested by grace, God’s people respond by believing Him and His promises and following in the path He marks out for them as the way of obedience. All those who refuse the promises of God, freely and lavishly offered to undeserving sinners, are left to themselves and the ravages of sin, leading to death and everlasting separation from God.
This covenantal structure – grace, promises, faith and obedience, blessing or sanctions – holds the entirety of Scripture together. Wherever we may be reading in the Bible we can see that we are engaged in some aspect of this structure. Understanding this structure, and being able to discern it, helps us to hold the Bible together as one book and allows us to relate the parts, whether in the Old Testament or the New, to the whole.
This structure is evident in Scripture from the very beginning and recurs and expands in developing dispensations throughout the Old into the New Testament.
A story of covenant development
The Old Testament – 39 books written by some 35 authors over a period of around 1500 years – reveals the developing nature of God’s covenant relationship with His people. In the Old Testament we see God’s Covenant unfolding in five separate covenantal periods. Each of these lays the foundation for the next and, to a certain extent, continues into it, although certain “administrative” changes appear with each successive period.
Nevertheless, through all five periods, the structure of grace, promise, faith and obedience, and blessing or sanction remains intact.
The creation covenant. The first period of covenant-making in the Old Testament is that which begins with the creation. God did not have to create the world, and, in particular, He did not have to create people to live in this “very good” environment. God has no need of anything or anyone outside Himself; His act of creating, therefore, was entirely of grace, in order that created beings might share in His glory and enjoy the fullness of life and love He has known within Himself from all eternity past.
Graciously placing human beings in a lush, abundant, and beautiful environment, God commanded them, if they would know the fullness of His blessings, to obey His Word. When Adam and Eve failed, the sanctions of the creation covenant fell upon them, and they died to righteousness and, ultimately, to (temporal) life itself.
The covenant with Noah. By the time of Noah in Genesis 6 God’s covenant was already in place, although the people of earth had largely scorned its promises and consigned themselves to its judgments. God did not say that He would make a new covenant with Noah; rather, the covenant He extended to Him was “My” covenant – the one He had already initiated and was maintaining. In faith and obedience, Noah built the ark and brought the blessings of God to the world.
The covenant with Abraham. Following the episode of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11) God moved to enlarge the scope of His covenant once again, by reaching out to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees and offering Him the promises of Genesis 12.1-3. To gain those promises Abram was commanded to believe God and obey, first, by going to the land of Canaan; second, by having a child with Sarah; and, third, by circumcising the child on the eighth day. During a season of testing and setbacks, Abraham obeyed God and was given a further promise that his descendants, after a period of sojourning in Egypt, would return to Canaan where they would flourish in the promises of God (Gen. 15.12-21).
We note that the form of God’s covenant relationship with Abraham was the same as that with Adam and Noah – approached by grace, given promises, told how to obey, and blessed for obedience. The way the covenant was administered differed in each of these periods, due to changes in the historical circumstances in which the covenant was offered. The form of it, however, remained the same, and we can see certain elements of the covenant continuing unchanged in each period, as, for example, the command to multiply and fill the earth.
The covenant with Moses. Following their period of captivity in Egypt, Israel was now no longer a tribal entity, but a great nation. God’s covenant would once again need to be altered – without compromising the essential structure or replacing the core components of promise – in order to meet the needs of a nation of people.
The Law of God, the land of Canaan, and the tabernacle became the primary administrative components used by God in this new epoch of covenant development in order to extend His blessings to His people. Israel was not saved by keeping the Law; they were saved by grace. Keeping the Law was the way to show gratitude to God and to demonstrate their covenant uniqueness (cf. Deut. 4.1-8).
The covenant with David. With David God expanded the scope of the covenant, formalizing it into the kingdom aspect which was first promised in Genesis 35.9-12 and 49.8-11. The kingdom focus is twofold, one on an earthly monarchy, descended from David, and one extending as an eternal Kingdom through, we must suppose, an eternal Son (2 Sam. 7.8-16; cf. Ps. 89.1-37). Again, the purpose of this new dispensation of God’s covenant was not to nullify what had gone before, but to adapt, adjust, and enlarge God’s Covenant in order to prepare for its final stage of development, that of the New Covenant.
We may thus think of the Old Testament developing within a covenantal structure, according to progressive covenant epochs, each overlapping and bringing forward aspects of the previous period, while, at the same time, introducing new components and developments in God’s covenant relationship with His people.
This same structure continues into the period of the New Testament, which, indeed, is already anticipated and foretold within the Old Testament, as we shall see.
Are your Bible reading and study practices what they ought to be? For a concise overview of how to study and apply the Bible, go to our book store and order a copy of Text to Transformation.
Founding Documents (3)
“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Matthew 12.28
In the generation following Irenaeus, the lawyer Tertullian stood forth to carry the torch of orthodoxy forward.
The Law of Liberty (21)
Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Psalm 119.33
Over the more than 40 years that I
The Law of Liberty (20)
I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law
The Law of Liberty (19)
When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies; I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments. Psalm 119.57, 58
Celtic Christians worked hard at building communities dedicated to the pursuit of holiness. Not just monks and other clergy, but lay men and women from all walks of life joined in the effort to grow out of all sinful practices into the liberty and love of God
The Law of Liberty (18)
Make your face to shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes. Psalm 119.135
In the human soul, the conscience functions as the keeper of priorities, values, and default choices. In that respect it is nearly equal to the will. Except when people are reacting instinctively to something