In yesterday’s post I suggested that God has equipped us to see, hear, and think of the present Kingdom of God in ways that are real and tangible. This begins with our comprehension of the reality of Jesus today versus viewing him as a historical personality.
Today I want to discuss our work in the present Kingdom. The Scripture makes it clear that God builds the Kingdom. However, God has ordered his world in such a way that his own work within that world takes place not least through one of his creatures who reflect his image. We participate in God’s work. With thanks to NT Wright and his work Surprised by Hope, I’d like to outline how our present work in the Kingdom can be viewed. Wright expresses it in three ways.
First, the Kingdom work of Justice in what Paul calls “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). Justice is the intention of God to set the whole world right. Where we see evil and injustice, we stand and speak. We stand and speak on behalf of those who do not have the ability to stand for themselves and have no voice to speak for them. Following the pattern of Jesus (Luke 4:18-21), we stand against evil, injustice, and alleviate suffering any way that we possibly can.
Second, this Kingdom work includes pointing out Beauty. We need to highlight the glory and splendor of creation that foreshadows the glory yet to be revealed. Beauty gives us glimpses into the future Kingdom that will be consummated at the return of Christ. Romans 8:18-25 indicates that all of creation will ultimately be redeemed, just as we will someday be redeemed. God will not throw away his creation. If I understand the Scriptures correctly, God will someday establish the future Kingdom here on earth.
Finally, we participate in the Kingdom work by sharing the gospel message. Jesus inspires hope for the present, not just the future. The word “evangelism” sends shivers down the spine of many. But just because many do it badly doesn’t mean nobody should ever do it at all (Romans 1:14-17). The power of the gospel lies not in the hope of an experience, nor in removing the threat of hellfire, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, Jesus is Lord, the powers of evil have been defeated, and that God’s kingdom has come.
I believe that there are four areas where we get the gospel message wrong. First, we get it wrong when we say that in order to become a Christian one has to say no to the good things of the world. The gospel offers the ability to say no to the bad of our present evil age, but not to the denial of the good.
Second, we get it wrong when we make the gospel about what happens to us when we die, or, in other words, Heaven and Hell. The gospel was never intended to make physical death the hinge upon which the gospel swings. If you read the New Testament, you’ll discover that Jesus didn’t make much of physical death. On at least two occasions he referred to people who had died as “asleep.” In the teaching of Jesus, the death that counts is the death that comes at conversion. Too often we emphasize the wrong death in our proclamation of the good news (Colossians 3:1-4).
Next, we misspeak the gospel when we make the main thing a personal and private relationship with Jesus which becomes the only thing that matters. The gospel according to Jesus is not a “me and my salvation” experience that is disconnected from anyone or anything else. The gospel is very corporate and communal.
Finally, we get the gospel wrong when we communicate that radical obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is optional. The commands of Christ are not optional for me to pick and choose. In the present Kingdom, our ethical behavior is a reflection of hope.