Finding Treasures, New and Old, in the Pages of Scripture

Have you ever been reading a familiar part of the Bible–one of the gospels, for example–and came across something you’d never noticed before? I don’t know how many dozens of times I’ve read Matthew, and just a few weeks ago I noticed a verse that I don’t think I’ve ever thought about before. It comes right after a collection of several parables about the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus says,

“Have you understood all these things?” They replied, “Yes.” Then he said to them, “Therefore every expert in the law who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.”

Matthew 13:51-52, NET

As I’ve pondered this verse over the past few weeks while studying the kingdom of God, one thing that jumps out at me is the importance Jesus puts on the old and the new. Treasuring both seems like a different recommendation than what some other scriptures teach us about how to relate to the old and the new. But Jesus also makes this sound like something we’re supposed to do. An “expert in the law” (also translated “scribe” or “Torah scholar/teacher”) who is trained (or “discipled”) for the kingdom seems like someone who has paid close attention to Jesus’s teachings and understand them. So how can we imitate this disciple-scholar’s approach to the kingdom of God?

An Old and New Commandment

Describing someone who is trained or discipled for the kingdom as bringing out old and new treasures can seem strange in light of Jesus’s other teachings. The parables of the new patch on an old garment and new wine in old wineskins make it seem like the new and old is incompatible (Luke 5:36-39). Later, Paul writes about cleaning out the old so we can be new, and of the old passing away because we are new in Christ (1 Cor. 5:7; 2 Cor 5:17). Part of figuring out this puzzle involves asking the question, “Old and new what?” because not all these passages are talking about the same old and new things. In addition to keeping that in mind, I think the key to unlocking this mystery is found in John’s writings:

Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have already heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

1 John 2:7-8, NET

Jesus did not do away with the old commandments and words of God (Matt. 5:17-20). He did, however, bring something new to add to it, including a new covenant which would supersede the old (Heb. 8-9). Part of participating in this new covenant involves us cleaning old things that are incompatible with godliness out of our lives (that’s what Paul was talking about in the Corinthians passages). It also involves properly balancing and appreciating the new and old treasures of God’s word.

Called into the New, Founded on the Old

People often think of Christianity as something new that Jesus started. The way scripture talks about it, though, “Christian” is just a new name applied to believers who were continuing to follow the teachings of the one true God and align with His unfolding plan as Jesus revealed the next steps. Our faith’s roots aren’t found in the first century C.E.–they’re found “in the beginning” when God created the heavens and the earth. Jesus coming as the Messiah was the next step in the plan God had laid out even before He laid the foundations for the earth (Matt. 25:34; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20).

As part of His work here on earth, Jesus revealed more fully how to worship God and invited us to “serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code” (Rom. 7:6, NET). Now, is Paul saying here that the old has no value? “Absolutely not!” Rather, he argues that “we uphold the law” when we live by faith” (Rom. 3:31; 6:15; 7:7).

For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NET

The work God is doing in us and the knowledge He gives us are amazing treasures. Part of this treasure of understanding involves an appreciation of the value both of the new and old things that God has given His people. Through His extraordinary power and mercy, we are called into a new thing founded on very old truths.

Finding and Keeping Kingdom Treasures

If we go back to the kingdom of heaven parables that Jesus shared before making the statement where we started this post, we find that He talked about treasure there, too.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid. And because of his joy, he goes out and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. Upon finding a pearl of great value, he went out and sold all that he had and bought it.” …

Then He said to them, “Therefore every Torah scholar discipled for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure both new things and old.”

Matthew 13:44-46, 52, TLV

God’s kingdom is a treasure so precious we should be willing–and even joyful–to give up whatever is needed to get the kingdom (Matt. 10:21; Luke 18:22). And we should be collecting and treasuring things related to the kingdom, such as the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” hidden in Jesus (Col. 2:3, see also Matt. 6:19-21). As we continue to learn and grow, let’s appreciate the rich history of our faith and our own personal experiences, as well as the new things God teaches and the glorious future He has planned.

Featured image by Oliver Eyth from Pixabay

Shining as Lights on Fire for God

If we want light in our homes today, we just have to turn a light switch and the lamp comes on. Back in Bible times, though, a lamp involved fire. You had a container for the oil, a wick to carry that oil, and when the wick was lit the fire gave light. In the familiar parable of the 10 virgins, the reason they needed to have oil was to keep the fires in their lamps burning.

In this parable, 10 virgins take lamps and go out to meet the bridegroom. I assume they were friends of the couple, probably the women who watched with the bride as she waited for her groom to arrive on an unknown day at an unspecified time (in keeping with Jewish tradition). The five foolish virgins took lamps, but not extra oil. The five wise ones had lamps and extra oil. When the bridegroom took longer to arrive than they’d expected, all ten of them fell asleep.

When the shout announcing the bridegroom’s arrival woke them, the wise virgins had enough oil to keep the flames in their lamps burning but the unprepared women’s lamps were going out. In the time it took them to run out and buy more oil, the “bridegroom arrived and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. Then the door was shut.” When the other virgins showed up and knocked, they did not get in. They weren’t even recognized (Matt. 25:1-13).

Jesus ends this parable by saying, “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour.” It’s one of the kingdom of heaven parables (like we talked about last week) which teaches us something about what we must do if we want to be citizens of God’s kingdom. In this case, one thing it teaches is that we need to be prepared, with our lamps burning and properly fueled.

We’re Supposed to Shine Like Lamps

The idea of Jesus’s followers having or being light comes up more than once in the gospels (Matt 5:14-16, to mention one). We’re supposed to shine as lights, having been illuminated by Christ’s light.

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a hidden place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who come in can see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is diseased, your body is full of darkness. Therefore see to it that the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part in the dark, it will be as full of light as when the light of a lamp shines on you.”

Luke 11:33-36, NET

Jesus’s intention after “lighting” us is not to hide us in a cellar or snuff us out with a basket or bowl (NET footnotes). He wants us visible, shining with His light. Therefore, we need to be constantly watchful to make sure the light in us does not become darkness (the “therefore see to it” instruction is an ongoing, “present imperative” [NET footnote]). Like our eyes take in light to let us see, our minds take in Christ’s word to let us live in His light. Internalizing His words puts light inside us too, so it can shine out. If we internalize other (especially ungodly) things, though, that can change the way we shine. What we let into our eyes, hearts, and lives matters to God and it can affect the way our lamps are burning before Christ’s return.

Fueling our Lamps with the Word

If we want to fill our eyes with light and keep our lamps well fueled, we have a source for light readily available. Whether you use print Bibles, apps, or search online, for most of us in the modern world God’s word is right at our fingertips. The more time we spend with His word, the more exposure we get to the Light.

Your word is a lamp to walk by,
and a light to illumine my path.

Psalm 119: 105, NET

Your instructions are a doorway through which light shines.
They give insight to the untrained.

Psalm 119:130, NET

For the commandments are like a lamp,
instruction is like a light

Proverbs 6:23, NET

One of the ways that we fulfill Jesus’s instruction to shine as lights in the world is by internalizing the light that God has given us through His word. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all,” so if we want to walk with Him in the light we need to listen to Him (1 John 1:5-7, NET). Getting “dressed for service” and keeping our “lamps burning” as we watch for the Master’s return (Luke 12:35-38) involves filling our minds with God’s commands, instructions, and teachings while asking Him to help us understand His mind through His spirit. It is only by spending time in God’s Light that we can be light (Ps. 36:9; 43:3).

Clothed With Jesus’s Light

When writing his second letter to Timothy, Paul urged him “to rekindle God’s gift” because “God didn’t give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:6-7, NET). The spirit in us is like a fire, and we can either stir it up (i.e. rekindle) or let it die down to coals. That’s up to us. God gives us His spirit and His word, but whether or not we are on fire for Him is a choice we get to make.

And do this because we know the time, that it is already the hour for us to awake from sleep, for our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers. The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light. Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.

Romans 13:11-14, NET

The statement “our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers” is as true for us today as it was for Paul’s first readers. The work God the Father and Jesus began in us will come to completion either with our deaths or at Christ’s return (Phil. 1:6), and that time is getting closer each day. We mustn’t waste any more time before we put off darkness and clothe ourselves instead with the true Light of Jesus Christ (John 1:4-5; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46). The more time we spend with Him and becoming like him, the more we will shine as lights on fire for God.

Featured image by Hans Benn from Pixabay

The Kingdom of God is Like …

I’ve written two posts now on the kingdom of God, and I feel like we’re still only scratching the surface as we talk about “Living for the Present and Coming Kingdom” and “Unexpected People in the Kingdom of God.” As we seek to understand God’s kingdom and our role in it both now and in the future, one of the most helpful places to look is the gospel parables. Jesus began many of His parables, particularly in Matthew’s account, by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like,” and then providing an illustration. We can still read these parables today if we’re curious to learn what God’s kingdom is like according to the One who the Father has put in charge of ruling it.

When explaining the parable of the sower to His followers, Jesus said, “The secret of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you” (Mark 4:11, NET). That’s what’s hidden inside these parables, and this secret is given to us as well if we also listen carefully to the Master’s words. Today’s post is a long one, but I think it’s important to try and look at all these parables together rather than splitting them up into a two-part post.

Something Small that Grows

One of the things Jesus taught in his parables was that the kingdom of God (a phrase used by Mark and Luke), also called the kingdom of heaven (by Matthew), starts out small. With Jesus’s first coming, the kingdom He introduced was not showy or big.

He gave them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest garden plant and becomes a tree, so that the wild birds come and nest in its branches.”

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all the dough had risen.”

Matthew 13:31-33, NET

Like the tiny mustard seed in the garden or the yeast hidden in 47 pounds of flour (NET footnote), God’s kingdom wasn’t all that noticeable at first. Even today, you’d have no idea it’s here unless you know where to look. One day, though, it will spread to cover the whole earth just as the tiny mustard seed grows into a 10- or 25-foot high plant (depending on which species Jesus was talking about) and yeast spreads to fill all the bread dough.

A Field of Wheat and Weeds

The idea of the kingdom as a growing seed extends into other parable as well. It grows behind the scenes, in ways people don’t understand until the harvest (Mark 4:26-28). It starts out as seeds of the Word sown into the world, which can then take root in human hearts (Mark 4:1-20). And it’s like a field where good seed grows alongside weeds.

He presented them with another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed darnel among the wheat and went away. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the darnel also appeared. So the slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the darnel come from?’ He said, ‘An enemy has done this!’ So the slaves replied, ‘Do you want us to go and gather it?’ But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the darnel you may uproot the wheat along with it. Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burned, but then gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

Matthew 13:24-30, NET

Jesus later explains that “the field is the world and the good seed are the people of the kingdom. The poisonous weeds are the people of the evil one” (Matt. 13:38). This puts the kingdom in a broader perspective than we might usually think of, starting from the very beginning when God first “planted” people on earth and the devil first began corrupting them. This parable also talks about the time of the end, when God will sort good from bad, which connects it to the parable of the net Jesus shares a little later (Matt 13:47-50).

A King Who Trusts His Bondservants

The way that God will sort people out at the end of the age is a central theme in several of Jesus’s parables of the kingdom In one of these parables, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner” who hired workers for his vineyard throughout the day and then paid them all the same wage (Matt. 20:1-16). Though he gave everyone exactly what he’d promised, the people who’d worked longest and hardest protested it wasn’t fair. The landowner replied kindly, reminding the men that they’d received what was agreed on and asking, “Are you envious because I am generous?” It’s a beautiful illustration of how God’s mind works differently than ours, and how much He wants to give people good things. Those who decide to follow Him later in their lives or closer to the end of the age will be given the exact same blessings He offers to those who’ve followed Him for decades.

God’s kingdom is full of mercy, but we must not forget there is also justice. You can’t have just one–justice and mercy always work together. “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves,” and who freely forgave one slave’s enormous debt simply because they asked for mercy. But when that slave devalued the gift and refused to show mercy to others, the mercy given to him was taken back (Matt. 18:23-35). God deeply desires to show us mercy, but His justice also demands that there are consequences if we refuse to respond to His mercy in the right and proper ways (specifically, in this parable, by showing that same mercy to other people).

God entrusts us with a responsibility to live in a certain way while we’re here on the earth. The kingdom, which we’re part of now as we wait for Jesus to return, “is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted property to them.” The slaves (or bondservants, depending on the translation) who did anything productive with what the king gave them are rewarded abundantly; only the slave who did nothing to demonstrate his faithfulness is thrown out (Matt. 25:14-30). God deeply desires a good, eternal outcome for us, but a big part of how we’re judged is determined by us and how we choose to respond to what He is doing in our lives right now.

A Wedding

My favorite analogy for the kingdom of God is found in two parables (as well as other scriptures, which I talk about in my book God’s Love Story). In the first of these parables, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son” (Matt. 22:2, NET). Just that phrase holds a lot of meaning, especially when we think of Revelation 19 and the wedding celebration of the Lamb. The main point of this parable, though, isn’t to talk about the marriage so much as who will be there.

He sent his slaves to summon those who had been invited to the banquet, but they would not come. … Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but the ones who had been invited were not worthy.”

Matt. 22:3, 8, NET

You can click here to read the whole parable. As in several other parables we’ve looked at, Jesus is talking about the need for us to properly respond to God’s invitation if we want to be in the kingdom. There’s also a level of preparation involved, as the king expected all the guests to dress in wedding clothes for His banquet. It’s similar to the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25, where “those who were ready went inside” with the bridegroom “to the wedding banquet,” while the unprepared were shut out (Matt. 25:10-12, NET).

The Most Valuable Treasure

Jesus’s parables reveal how much He and the Father want to have all people in their kingdom, while also revealing we have a lot of influence over whether or not we’re actually included in that kingdom. God’s kingdom requires commitment and preparation from us, along with a change in our hearts to become more like God. He makes all of that possible and offers us ongoing forgiveness and support as we follow Him, but we do have to make the choice to actually live His way of life. With the importance of that commitment in mind, two more parables highlight the fact that all the effort we put into following Jesus’s command to “above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness” (Matt. 6:33, NET) will be worth it.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field, that a person found and hid. Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matt. 13:44-46, NET

The more fully we grasp the true value of the kingdom of God, the more we realize that nothing else can possibly compare to it. Paul gives us an illustration of what this looks like in real life when he counted the cost of following Christ and concluded that the rewards will be so amazing any suffering we endure will be overshadowed (see Romans 8 and Philippians 3). Today, all of us who’ve received God’s invitation to follow Him have the chance to understand “the secret of the kingdom of heaven,” just like those disciples to whom Jesus spoke these parables so many years ago. Let’s use what we learn to live as part of His kingdom and pursue a faithful relationship with Him.

Featured image by Pearl via Lightstock

Grief, Depression, and Healing through Gaming

I’ve read books that handle the topic of mental health extremely well, such as Eliza and Her Monsters. I’d dare say most of us have seem films or TV series, or read books, that touched us deeply and maybe even pushed us toward personal growth and healing. I’d never experienced that with a game before, though, until playing through Gris over the past couple weeks.

Gris is a single-player adventure game by indie developer Nomada Studio, where you play as “a hopeful young girl lost in her own world, dealing with a painful experience in her life.” The game is a “journey through sorrow,” and you help Gris “navigate her faded reality.” In addition to being the character’s name, gris means “gray” in Spanish and that reflects the gray world where you begin gameplay.

I bought Gris after it came up in my Rhetoric of Gaming class (a special topics course I’m taking during this semester of grad school). I expected to enjoy the game, knowing it has a beautiful soundtrack, stunning animation (it’s gorgeous even on my laptop that’s not designed for gaming), and frustration-free gameplay where you’re challenged by puzzles but not worried about running out of time or dying. I hadn’t expected it to move me to tears so many times or make me want to write about mental health.

I suspect one of the reasons Gris resonated so strongly with me is because of my interest in how people talk about mental health in everyday conversation and various forms of media. As my regular readers know, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since I was about 15, and I also lost a close friend to a car accident seven years ago. Gris pulled all those feelings of hurt, sorrow, and sadness up to the surface, punctuated them with moments of beauty and hope, and handled them with great care.

mild spoilers ahead

Grief, Depression, and Healing through Gaming | LikeAnAnchor.com

One of the things that stood out to me in particular about Gris is that they didn’t fall into the trap of oversimplifying grief and depression. It wasn’t a smooth, easy journey out of despair nor was it something that happened in an overly linear fashion. Most people don’t experience depression or grief as a moment of dull, faded, gray in their lives that grows gradually lighter and lighter until finally the world is set right again. It’s more like what happens in Gris as you travel steadily toward something hopeful and light and good, and you still go through cycles when the darkness comes back and seems ready to devour or choke you. But you do get through it, and even though the marks of when you fell apart are still there you are whole again.

end spoilers

I’d go so far as to say that playing Gris has the potential to be a healing experience, particularly for those who’ve struggled with depression and grief. While it’s no substitute for professional counseling and/or personal healing work, Gris is a powerful example of the potential that games–and art in general–have as a positive force in this world.

Unexpected People in the Kingdom of God

As I began studying the kingdom of God a couple weeks ago, I noticed there were several times when Jesus told his listeners that the kingdom wasn’t going to be full of the type of people they expected it to be. Rather, those who expected to get in wouldn’t make it and the people they’d thought wouldn’t qualify would be there.

Part of what Jesus was doing in these interactions was blowing up the idea that the kingdom belonged only to one ethnic group (Jewish descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) or only to those who lived perfect religious lives. There’s a much more open invitation than most of Jesus’s audience realized, and God wants all sorts of people in His kingdom. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something expected of the people invited, though. It’s just not exactly what the Jewish people who were involved in these particular interactions thought God wanted.

For those of us today who believe in God and read His Bible, the sorts of people that Jesus says will be included in the kingdom shouldn’t surprise us. Even so, it’s just as easy for us to get caught-up in ideas that don’t have much soundness in scripture, or to become complacent in our own righteousness, as it was for the people of Jesus’s day. And so as we look at these scriptures about the people Jesus says will be in the kingdom, perhaps they will challenge us to take a closer look at our expectations–and our own lives–just as they challenged Jesus’s listeners two centuries ago.

The Sinners Who Know They Need God

Jesus was in the temple courts when “the chief priests and elders of the people came up to him” and started questioning his authority. As part of His answer, He told a parable about two sons (Matt. 21:23-46). At the end, He says, “I tell you the truth, tax collectors and prostitutes will go ahead of you into the kingdom of God!” (Matt. 21:31, NET). It must have been a shocking and offensive thing to hear, and it’s not much later that they crucify Him. This isn’t the first time Jesus had said something like this, either. After a centurion came to Jesus asking healing for his servant, Jesus told those following Him:

” I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel! I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 8:10-12, NET

The people who were sure they’d done everything right, who didn’t think they needed to change, who thought they were better than others–those people were told they’d be thrown out of the kingdom (Luke 13:24-30). Today, we also need to beware of complacency; of the Laodicea attitude that says, “I am rich and … and need nothing” (Rev. 3:17, NET). The sinners who know they need God have an easier time getting into His kingdom than self-righteous religious people do. We can’t expect to coast into the kingdom based on any human qualifications, or attending the “right” church group, or even the most rigorous keeping of God’s laws.

The People Who Do God’s Will

Let’s go back to the parable of the two sons, because Jesus says a lot more there than just delivering a warning about who will and won’t be in the kingdom. He also explains why.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ The boy answered, ‘I will not.’ But later he had a change of heart and went. The father went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, tax collectors and prostitutes will go ahead of you into the kingdom of God! For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe. Although you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

Matthew 21:28-32, NET

See? It’s not about what we say we’ll do or believe. It’s about how we actually respond to God. The “sinners” getting into the kingdom do so because they listen to godly instruction, repent, change, and live according to the Father’s will as they live their lives going forward. The mistake people were making in Jesus’s time was thinking that one group was naturally more righteous–and therefore more deserving–than the other. While some also think that today, we also (and perhaps more often) make the mistake of thinking that we don’t need to be righteous–that we just confess Jesus and we’re automatically in the kingdom. Neither view is correct. God wants everyone to join His kingdom and He expects us to do His will. The kingdom is about His grace and our covenant faithfulness.

The kingdom of God will be … given to a people who will produce its fruit.

Matthew 21:43, NET

Those Who Are Changed by Jesus

The idea that God’s commands don’t matter any more today is absolutely unscriptural. Jesus didn’t do away with law, commands, or any part of the Word of God. Rather, He elevated them to a spiritual level. Under the New Covenant, we’re to live on that spiritual level, doing God’s will because our hearts are transformed to want what His heart wants. There are certain “fruits” that God expects from those in His kingdom.

Paul tells us that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5). However, formerly unrighteous people can. Every single one of us has sinned and qualified as unrighteous before God (Rom 3:9-23). In order for us to become righteous instead of unrighteous we need to be washed, sanctified, and “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11, NET). We all need to undergo a significant change in order to inherit the kingdom of God, both now and in the future.

And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven. Now this is what I am saying, brothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

1 Corinthians 15:49-50, NET

This change is fully accomplished at the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:51-58), but putting on Christ starts now (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27). It doesn’t matter what your ethnic or religious background is or how unrighteous you might have been before knowing Christ. It’s one of God’s greatest miracles that He calls people who seem the most unworthy and unexpected by human judgements and turns them into His children (1 Cor. 1:26-31). He just asks us to follow Him and be faithful, and He’ll make us part of the people who are citizens of His kingdom.

Featured image by Anggie via Lightstock

Living for the Present and Coming Kingdom

What does the kingdom of God mean to you? Take a moment and picture it in your mind, as well as you can. What does it look like? Where is it? When is it? How are you defining “kingdom”?

For a long time, I’ve noticed that many Christians I meet seem to talk about the kingdom in two different ways. One group of people talks about it as something that’s here, in-progress, right now. “We bring the kingdom come” echoes through our radios, and teachings, books, and conversation reveals the idea that the kingdom is happening today and that we’re involved. On the other hand, some talk about the kingdom as something that will happen/arrive at a specific time in the future. Again, this view of the kingdom echoes through our music, sermons, books and conversation as we talk about the kingdom.

I’ve been going through all the New Testament scriptures talking about God’s kingdom, and I’m struck by the realization that Jesus talks about the kingdom in both senses. At one point He says, “The kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21, NET), then He talks about the kingdom as something believers inherit after His second coming (Matt. 25:31-34). If we try to pick just one view or the other, we lose something important that God is trying to tell us about His kingdom. This kingdom is real and in-progress now, but it will not be fully realized and present until the future. Understanding this can have a profound impact on the ways that we live and worship today.

Kingdom-Building

We’ll return to what Jesus Himself says about the kingdom, but I think it’s helpful to start with looking at how one of the people that Jesus directly taught explained the kingdom to newer believers.

giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves.

Colossians 1:12-13, NET

Paul says that believers have already been placed in Jesus’s kingdom by God the Father. The kingdom belongs to God, and He calls us to be there (1 Thes. 2:12). This has already happened, and is continuing today. Then, something else will happen after the resurrection.

For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

1 Cor. 15:22-25, NET

Jesus is currently ruling, running, and bringing about the kingdom, filling a key role the Father has entrusted to Him. The Father is actively involved as well, selecting and calling people into the kingdom. This kingdom is something we’re part of today and, if we remain faithful, we’ll also be part of the future, fully-realized kingdom at the time when all enemies, including death, are eliminated (1 Cor. 15:26-28) and the kingdom is subject to the Father’s direct rule (Rev. 19-22).

Aiming Toward the Kingdom

A frequent description of Christ’s ministry is that He came preaching Good News of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1; Acts 1:3). Over and over, He talked about what the kingdom of God is like (mostly through parables) and explained what people need to to do be in the kingdom. We know that our walk with God is a relationship, and we’re supposed to obey Him because we love Him, not because we’re trying to get something out of Him. That does not, however, cancel-out the fact that we are promised a place in the kingdom as a reward for following God faithfully. There’s no shame in joyfully accepting the gifts that God is delighted to give us.

Instead, pursue his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is well pleased to give you the kingdom.

Luke 12:31-32, NET
Living for the Present and Coming Kingdom | LikeAnAnchor.com
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This is a memory scripture for many, and seems simple on the surface. But how can you actually pursue the kingdom? Is it about living as if you’re there now? Or aiming for the future kingdom? Or maybe we should set the idea of pursuing the kingdom aside and just focus on seeking a relationship with God, since that might be easier to make sense of.

I’d been pondering these questions for over a week when I stumbled upon an idea from Jordan Peterson (through an Akira the Don song, of all things) that helped things come together. This quote is from his lecture series on Genesis, when he took a side-trip into the New Testament to talk about the “lilies of the field” passages in Matthew 6 and Luke 12.

The idea is that, if you configure your life so that what you are genuinely doing is aiming at the highest possibly good, then the things that you need to survive and thrive on a day-to-day basis will deliver themselves to you. That’s a hypothesis, and it’s not some simple hypothesis. What it basically says is, if you dare to do the most difficult thing that you can conceptualize, your life will work out better than it will if you do anything else. Well, how are you going to find out if that’s true?

It’s a Kierkegaardian leap of faith. There’s no way you’re going to find out whether or not that’s true unless you do it. No one can tell you, either: working for someone else is no proof that it will work for you. You have to be all-in in this game. The idea is, “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” It’s like, that’s actually a fairly important caution when you’re talking about not having to pay attention to what you’re going to eat or what you’re going to wear. What it’s essentially saying is that those problems are trivial in comparison.

Jordan Peterson, “Biblical Series VII: Walking with God: Noah and the Flood”

One of the things Peterson points out is that Jesus is saying we need to live right now in a way that aims us toward the kingdom. That’s also where righteousness comes in, as we seek to mimic God’s character and live as if we are already part of the kingdom Christ is building now and will complete in the future. Anything else is so much less important that it’s like it doesn’t matter. The kingdom should be so valuable to use that we’re willing to let go of whatever’s getting in the way of us being there (Mark 9:43-50; Luke 18:24-30).

Living for the Present and Coming Kingdom | LikeAnAnchor.com
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Citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom

The Bible talks of us as pilgrim travelers here on this earth and as aliens in a foreign land. When we covenant with God and give our lives to Him, we transfer our citizenship to heaven (Phil. 3:20-21). God is our king now, today, because Jesus “loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father” (Rev. 1:5-6, NET). For us, the kingdom of God is real and relevant today, and it is also the goal we keep in mind to help bolster our faith.

These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. … they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:13-14, 16, NET

Our loyalties should lie with God. His kingdom is the “country” we should think of as our true home. That’s a key part of what it means to be all-in, seeking His kingdom and righteousness. It’s not about what we get; it’s about knowing who we are in Christ and committing ourselves to being part of the family He and the Father are building.