If you have ever traveled, you know that cultures are different. The deep south is not the same as the far north in the United States (everything is fried in butter; if they don’t know you, they might not be open). When we go to very different cultures we can experience “culture shock” because things are SO different: gestures, food, social expectations (being on time; making eye contact; physical greetings), driving habits, etc. In culture shock, we experience “a condition of disorientation affecting someone who is suddenly exposed to an unfamiliar culture or way of life or set of attitudes.”
When we commit our lives to Christ, there should be culture shock. We have moved spiritually. We are now citizens in a new country, with a new leader (Christ), new customs, new language, new priorities. And then we balance this with remaining in our national country and being a citizen there. As Christians, we are all dual citizens, balancing what are at times two very different cultures.
So let’s talk about the culture of the Kingdom of God, and in the process address some things in our culture as well. I am going to present this as 4 questions and answers: How do we get into the Kingdom? What characterizes the Kingdom? When Will I experience the Kingdom? How will I experience the Kingdom?
Q. How do you get in to the Kingdom of God?
A. Through a commitment to dedicate my life to the risen Jesus.
When Jesus was talking with Nicodemus the following conversation took place:
“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:3-7 )
Jesus was basically saying, “Nicodemus, you know that you need a physical birth to experience the physical world; human parent make human babies. You need a spiritual birth to experience spiritual life. You need to a heavenly parent to make you a child of Heaven.” Later, Paul will compare this to adoption. When we commit our lives to worshipping and following Christ, we are brought into a new family, with a new Father in Heaven. We continue to honor our earthly mom and dad – it’s a commandment after all - but our ultimate allegiance is now to our Father in Heaven. And receiving this adoption is as simple - and profound – as John 3:16, which is just 9 verses later (still part of the same conversation):
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
Believe (pistis in Greek) carries the idea of “being persuaded to confidently, trustingly commit yourself.” We acknowledge that Jesus is God, that through his life, death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven, that Jesus alone has the power to save us, and that we respond to His loving sacrifice by offering our love and worship as well as the service of our lives in return.
We commit with heart, soul, mind and strength , and we enter the Kingdom of God as we accept Christ as King – the ultimate authority for life and godliness. In new birth, we see that God brings life. In adoption, we see that God offers to make us one of His own. In kingship, we are reminded that the rule and reign of Christ has been set up in our life.
Q. What characterizes the Kingdom?
A. God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest (honorable), whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely (acceptable and prized), whatsoever things are of good report (repute); if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
“Make every effort to respond to God's promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7)
There’s just a partial list: Truth, honesty, honorable, justice, purity, loveliness, praise-worthiness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, faithful, morally excellent, knowledgeable, self-controlled, enduring, godliness, mutual affection. That’s what characterizes the Kingdom. That’s a compelling list. These things are available to us when we accept Christ as King thanks to the Spirit and the Word of God.
It doesn't’ mean that life will be easy or perfect. It’s just that the more we experience the work and presence of Christ in our life, the more these things will begin to characterize our life in Christ.
It also doesn’t mean we will do them perfectly, but we will pursue them, applaud them, and do our best with God’s grace to live them out, not for recognition, or for power, or to earn God’s love, but as a trusting, committed response to the covenant we as Christians make with Jesus. “I commit my life to you; I trust that you can save me spiritually and that your path of spiritual transformation of my life is trustworthy. I will follow you. I want my character, my thoughts, my actions to be like yours.”
We pray for God to do something miraculous in us through His Spirit, we “study to show ourselves approved unto God” by rightly understanding and applying His Word to our lives (2 Timothy 2:15), and we surround ourselves with followers of Christ (Colossians 3:16)
Q. When will I experience the Kingdom of God?
A. If you are a follower of Christ, you are and you will.
“The kingdom of God comes—but not with signs that you can observe. People are not going to say, “Look! Here it is!” They’re not going to say, “Look! It’s over there!” You want to see the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is already here among you (within your midst).” Luke 17:20-21)
The first-century Jews wanted a leader to throw off Roman rule and make Judea a nation. There was a cultural longing for national restoration, a nation in which everything centered around God. There would be safety within the borders; everyone would live within God’s law; God’s people would be powerful, and the long-awaited Kingdom would finally arrive. I’ll be honest – that resonates with me. There’s something compelling about a safe, comfortable life. Wouldn’t it be nice if those outside the Kingdom loved and supported what was happening in the Kingdom?
But Jesus talked about the arrival of the Kingdom even as he spoke in a land of occupation and oppression. It was not a Kingdom of physical dominance – he specifically tells his servants not to fight (John 18:36). It’s not a Kingdom of cultural comfort. It’s a spiritual Kingdom that exists no matter what our surrounding circumstances look like.
But that’s just part one. There’s more.
"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” (Matt. 25:31-34)
The Kingdom is fulfilled within history [already], and will reach its fullness at the end of history [not yet]. For Christians, the Kingdom begins in this life and finds its fulfillment in the next.
Q. How will I experience it?
A. In a broken, longing, hopeful world.
On this side of heaven, we will always experience the spiritual kingdom of God in the midst of the physical kingdoms of the world. In the last two weeks, I saw the following:
- a video of four men being slowly burned alive by ISIS
- more Planned Parenthood videos that show the callous and calculating taking of human life
- the increasing move in culture to marginalize and even vilify those who hold to Christian beliefs
- the expose of Ashely Madison clients that included Christians in leadership
- MTV’s video music awards last week that just showed the stark contrast between the values of the world vs. the Bible
The beauty and hope of God’s Kingdom can be experienced in the midst of a very broken and lost world.
We lie, and gossip, and betray, and break hearts, and love poorly, and are not fair, and we are shallow and petty and desperately chasing after things that will never bring us hope or meaning or true joy and peace…. And yet the beauty and hope of God’s Kingdom can be experienced in the midst of a very broken and lost world.
- When truth triumphs over lies
- When purity is honored instead of demeaned
- When repentance and forgiveness highlight grace
- When joy emerges from despair
- When an unexpected peace occurs in or around us
- When we experience the beauty of patience and kindness
- When those around us are faithful and enduring
- When Christ reaches out to us sinners and draws us into His Kingdom
In Luke 14, when one of the disciples comments on how great it will be to feast in heaven, Jesus immediately tells a parable about a feast here on earth in which the poor and maimed and lame and blind are invited – in fact, compelled to come in.
“He [God, the Father] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13)
The Kingdom is a feast, a celebration of the love and mercy of Christ to which the poor, the rich, the dirty, the clean, the smart and dumb, the blatant sinners and the careful sinners – in other words, all of us - are invited in to experience the goodness of life in the Kingdom in the presence of the King.