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

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.

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.

The Book of God’s Covenant

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.

One story

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.

The Old Covenant

August 02, 2010
The Old Covenant

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.

The New Covenant (1)

August 16, 2010

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

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