The Rule of Christ in Our World Today?

Last night, I finished up Tom Wright’s book, Simply Jesus. I plan to provide a short review of the book, along with its companion, How God Became King. But, for now, I thought I would share a quote from the book which I found challenging.

As is his approach in many of his books, in the final chapter, Wright brings out some practical implications on the subject at hand, mainly what it means for Jesus to be king in our world today. To this question, here are some of his thoughts on what this might look like:

The Beatitudes are much more than a ‘new rule of life’, as though one could practise them in private, away from the world. Jesus rules the world through those who launch new initiatives that radically challenge the accepted ways of doing things: jubilee projects to remit ridiculous and unpayable debt, housing trusts that provide accommodation for low-income families or homeless people, local and sustainable agricultural projects that care for creation instead of destroying it in the hope of quick profit, and so on. We have domesticated the Christian idea of ‘good works’, so that it has simply become ‘the keeping of ethical commands’. In the New Testament, ‘good works’ are what Christians are supposed to be doing in and for the wider community. That is how the sovereignty of Jesus is put into effect. (p216, italics his)

There are 2 problems that can exist amongst Christians:

1) We reduce ‘good works’ to only our personal moral values.

Living out the life of Christ and his kingdom becomes solely about personal quiet times, only watching certain types of films or listening to certain types of music, not letting certain words be a part of our vocabulary, etc. Of course, when the rule of God transforms a human being, it affects deeply within the life of that person. But it also calls that transformed person to connect with the wider transformed community to affect the not-yet transformed community at large.

2) We identify such wider projects as part of a ‘social gospel’.

In the context, some might challenge this approach with words like this – People are only about being nice by helping the poor and disadvantaged, but aren’t too worried about their eternal destiny and making the gospel known to them. But that’s just it – Christ calls us to a) announce the good news that he is in charge and is making all things new and b) join in the project of seeing all things come under his rule and be made new. Of course, he has promised himself to make all things new. But he has still asked us to join in this project with him. Announcing the good news will, by implication, mean living it out as well. And if the good news is that God has become king through Jesus, and has now begun a restoration project for humanity and creation, and it certainly is this, then we need to enact these things as the transformed community of Christ. The life of eternity has already begun. The destiny of the life of the age to come is present now. And so we call people to be reconciled now and become even now part of God’s restorative rule.

This can take the form of so many varying things, as Wright suggest in his own words above. A centre for troubled youth, serving refugees on a weekly basis with games and activities, providing sandwiches and water for the homeless in a certain part of the city, etc. And, yes, this will open the door to input the life of Christ into people, to call people to our Father. But let us be careful to not approach these people as our ‘gospel projects’. Well, the only reason we are doing these ‘other’ things is so that we can get to the important stuff – telling them about Jesus and how they need to be saved.

Yes, we want to make Jesus known to people. But could we actually form relationships where we serve to serve? Let things come together authentically, not rushed or feeling a bit fake.

The world is waiting to see what it really means for Jesus to be in charge, to be the king who is making all things new. Christ is waiting for us to join in with him.

And so, I quote Wright’s final words of the book:

This is what it looks like, today, when Jesus is running the world. This is, after all, what he told us to expect. The poor in spirit will be making the kingdom of God happen. The meek will be taking over the earth, so gently that the powerful won’t notice until it’s too late. The peacemakers will be putting the arms [weapons] manufacturers out of business. Those who are hungry and thirsty for God’s justice will be analysing government policy and legal rulings and speaking up on behalf of those at the bottom of the pile. The merciful will be surprising everybody by showing that there is a different way to do human relations other than being judgmental, eager to put everyone else down. ‘You are the light of the world,’ said Jesus. ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ He was announcing a programme yet to be completed. He was inviting his hearers, then and now, to join him in making it happen. This is, quite simply, what it looks like when Jesus is enthroned. (p229-230)

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8 thoughts on “The Rule of Christ in Our World Today?

  1. This is going to be a weird comment, sorry.

    For whatever reason, reading this post made me very uncomfortable. I’m not really sure why yet. I think I need to mull it over for awhile. The idea of Christians “restoring” man and creation through good works just doesn’t sit well with me. I’ll get back to you when I understand the particulars of my discomfort.

    • Ken –

      It is a challenge to think this way for many evangelicals. As I noted, it seems to connected to what we think is a liberal, social agenda where being good and doing nice things is the goal. Well, yes, such is the goal, but not the only goal and must be seen in light of the gospel of the kingdom.

      God has always desired to ‘rule’ his good creation through his image bearers, humans. The family of Abraham was to do this, and extend it into the whole world, calling all image bearers to such. But they fell short and so a particular descendant of Abraham, the perfect Israelite, would need to do it in their stead. Enters in Jesus, the Messiah and unique Son of God. And it is now the vocation/call of all those being renewed in Christ to continue this. We announce the gospel that God is king through his good reigning Son, his Son is making all things new, and he wants to use us as his partners in doing so. God has always been into partnerships – from Genesis, to walking out our own salvation, to the writing of Scripture, etc, etc.

      Therefore, acts like being a blessing to the oppressed, restoring a neighbourhood riddled with poverty, transforming a garden, etc, is part of living under the rule of God. And we are calling all to join us as we move towards the final renewal of all things in Christ!

      It’s pretty fantastic.

      • Thanks for the reply.

        I think I’ve figured out what irks me about this line of thinking. And I think you actually mentioned it in your reply. You said, “The family of Abraham was to do this, and extend it into the whole world, calling all image bearers to such. But they fell short and so a particular descendant of Abraham, the perfect Israelite, would need to do it in their stead.”

        I think that the purpose of the law was to prove that man can’t hold his own in a “partnership” with God. Man ALWAYS fails to hold up his side of the bargain, while God has proved He is always faithful. In Christ, God said to man, “Enough! I’ll hold up your side of the bargain FOR you.” We no longer have the responsibility to renew or reconcile anything of this world to God’s purpose or use. He reconciles it all through Christ. He doesn’t ask or require our help anymore, because He knows we will FAIL.

        Note that when the sermon on the mount discusses how the kingdom of God is managed or looks, it is all spiritual in nature. There is nothing about taking care of the physically poor, needy, the animals or nature. It is all looking at humanity through spiritual eyes and addressing man’s spiritual needs. God will take care of the physical aspects of reconciliation (first in our own bodies and then in the earth) when the time for His kingdom to PHYSICALLY come down to earth occurs. His SPIRITUAL kingdom is already here, and that is where the focus lies during this “age of grace”.

        And really what would be the point of expending great effort on or having as a primary goal the physical renewing/reconciling of this world to God’s purposes or use, when we know the fate of this world is to burn and completely be replaced? It is to be “reborn”, just as we are reborn spiritually into perfection in Christ NOW. We are the first fruits of what will happen to the earth before God comes to dwell here. But it will be only God’s work, not ours. Just as it is God’s work, not ours, that renews US.

        AFTER the world is reborn, THEN God will set us up as “co-rulers” in His millennial reign. We don’t know exactly how that’s going to work, so I can’t really speak to whether this co-ruling supports or weakens either position. I can tell you that since I believe the millennial kingdom is ultimately another “point” that God is making about man’s inability to measure up to God’s standard no matter how perfect man has it, that our co-ruling may only be a temporary position, not God’s ultimate desire for us in eternity. But I speak with no authority on that. It’s largely my supposition, based on what I’ve read and heard.

        Still, in scripture I see our ONLY “job” as to spread the news of the kingdom and the age of grace that God has provided for people to accept the completed spiritual work of Christ within each one’s own heart, mind and life. While noble and socially worthwhile (and in many cases, a great way to introduce God’s love in a practical way — a “means to an end” — the end being souls recognizing their spiritual renewal through Christ), any physical renewal we take on in regards to this planet is not part of God’s “plan” for this world. This world is destined for God’s judgement and there is nothing we can do to stop that from occurring. And why would we want to?

        Come quickly, Lord, and reconcile ALL things unto yourself.

      • Ken –

        Your reply shows that you work under more of a dispensational view. I think it’s an unhealthy view. I’ll try and make some points below.

        1) From a biblical standpoint, I do believe the idea of spiritual that you have presented is a bit askew. To be ‘spiritual’ means to be ‘of the Spirit’. It refers not to some ethereal or floaty sense. It is ‘of God’s Spirit’, that which is fully of his kingdom. Spiritual gifts are gifts of the Spirit, a manifestation of the Spirit of God at work in our lives, showing what it was like as God’s rule comes on earth as it is in heaven. The same goes for the idea of heaven. Heaven is not so much ‘up there’. It is the rule and reign of God, which God has made very clear that his desire is that it be on earth as in heaven. God wants heaven and earth united, and this has already begun in Christ, the person where heaven and earth have already fully united.

        2) Christ’s (and the Scripture’s) teaching on taking care of people is not just their ‘spiritual’ needs. Well, yes, it is. But not in some floaty, ethereal sense. It is in regards to seeing the reality of God’s good rule across the whole of our lives. God makes it clear in the beginning when he gives a garden to be cared for, to be fruitful and multiply, etc. This is all very much physical, but very much spiritual. It is all of God’s Spirit life. It is all of God’s kingdom rule. Therefore, to state this – There is nothing about taking care of the physically poor, needy, the animals or nature. – I believe is to miss the mandate of God from the beginning right through to the full new creation. To take care of your garden is to point to the renewing work of Christ. To provide for the poor is to point to the provision of our good Father. This is all very much a part of now, his kingdom on earth now.

        3) You stated – AFTER the world is reborn, THEN God will set us up as “co-rulers” in His millennial reign. Actually, we are already co-rulers now. The mandate in the beginning has been re-established for those in Christ, being renewed in the image of God. Announcing that God is king and taking care of the poor is to rule on his behalf even now. Not with authoritarianism. But with grace, mercy, servant hearts and justice.

        4) You said – This world is destined for God’s judgement and there is nothing we can do to stop that from occurring. And why would we want to? Yes, our good and right God must judge. But, as I’ve said before here, judgment is ultimately about making things right. God will judge by renewing all good things and bringing destruction on all bad things. Creation is not bad. It’s good.

        5) People might ask – Why do we take care of the earth if he is going to renew it all one day? I might ask – Why announced the good news if God is sovereign? Why call people to faith and repentance if God will call whom he will call? The fact is that God has called us to participate in all things he is up to. God could have written Scripture himself, but he chose his kids to do so. God could have done the sanctification thing all by himself. But he asks us to submit and cooperate. God can take care of the poor all by himself. But he asks us to serve them. God can renew the earth all by himself, but he asks us to take care of it. And on and on we can go.

        This is very ‘spiritual’, but not just in a spirit/soul thing. This is of the Spirit, of God’s kingdom rule for the whole person, all people, and all creation. It’s been his plan from the beginning.

      • Thanks for the well thought out and quick reply. I must confess it takes me MUCH longer than that to get my thoughts out the way I want them, and even then sometimes I regret I didn’t add a thought or explain things better.

        I admit I do hold to a somewhat dispensational view. Probably due to being brought up in the Conservative Baptist denomination. However, I do not hold as fast to it as others might, and do recognize the pitfalls that can come from creating harsh dividing lines between the “ages”.

        I do feel, however, that God has and does work in different ways with man in different periods throughout time. They certainly all tie together as a whole, and they don’t change His nature, but there are different focuses. And why shouldn’t there be? We don’t treat our children the same throughout there lives. We interact the with them in one way as children, another as teens, and another as adults. We have the same feelings towards them, and our basic nature hasn’t changed, but the way we interact changes based on THEIR needs. I believe this is similar (though definitely not a perfect metaphor) with how God has worked with man through the “ages”.

        Now to speak to each of your points.

        1. I did mean spiritual things as things “of the spirit”. When Jesus interacted with people, he most often first addressed their physical need, but he ALWAYS made a point to speak to their spiritual need to be freed from the slavery of sin by means of a savior (himself). In the sermon on the mount, the kingdom of heaven is described in spiritual ways – things that pertain to our needs of forgiveness, mercy, peace with God, salvation and freedom from sin. I believe Wright in his book is trying to “physicallize” them (for lack of a better word), but I don’t think that was the Lord’s intent. His job was to tell them what the kingdom of heaven would entail after He died. It is a spiritual kingdom, and NOT physical, like they were hoping. God’s not here on earth yet (except in His omniscient omnipresence sense). The earth still belongs to the “king of this world” and this earth is still the “kingdom of this world”. This is not physically God’s kingdom. “Heaven” is the place where God dwells. That’s what MAKES it Heaven. When God comes to earth, that will make it heaven on earth. But He won’t do that until the earth has been perfected/reborn/reconciled. So heaven and earth have NOT been fully united, because the presence and corruption of sin on this world prevents that. They have been united spiritually, and that is not ethereal, it’s practical. God’s grace has extended into the muck of this world and still makes us part of His kingdom NOW, even given the corrupted physical state of our bodies and our world. It’s a miracle of God’s grace.

        2. If your idea of a good and perfect world is one in which you must “tend” a garden, then I don’t want to live in that world. I HATE gardening 🙂 God’s creation (even in it’s corrupted state) largely takes care of itself (if let alone). When it is perfected, it won’t need tending, and will provide for itself and for us should we desire to partake of it. God told Adam to “subdue” (rule/be master over) the earth, not “take care” of it. It didn’t need to be “tended” until AFTER the fall had corrupted it. Us trying to “clean up” the planet is another attempt at taking the reigns away from God and making the planet our very own DIY project — Extreme Planet Makeover anyone. Having an uncooperative planet was both the natural consequence of sin and a judgement upon man. Only God can fix that problem. Again, noble of us to try (if we are doing it as a means to reach into the real HEART of man’s problems – his need of a redeemer), but ultimately, not necessary. And that doesn’t mean don’t do it at all. Common sense tells us that if we “clean our room” we will have a nicer place to live. But it shouldn’t be our “mission”.

        3. OK, you got me on this one. We are already co-rulers, I agree. But it is a positional status rather than a practical one. I’m a co-heir with Christ, but I don’t have a new body like He does yet. So, I am a co-ruler with Him, but I possess no real authority in this corrupted world yet. Here, I am told NOT to judge, where scripture states that in the millennial kingdom, we WILL judge. It WILL be a different age. This is NOT the start of that age. It’s a NEW age, and God will interact differently with fallen man and with us than He does now. This is clear from any study of the millennium. So, dispensationalism wins this hand. 🙂

        4. Correction – creation WAS good. It’s not salvageable at this point. If it was, then God would do so. But He’s not going to, is He. He’s going to TOAST IT! Time to wipe the slate clean and start over, just like He does in us. We are a “NEW CREATION”. The earth will be a NEW CREATION. “ALL THINGS will be made {created} new.”

        5. You say..
        “God could have written Scripture himself, but he chose his kids to do so.”
        Yes, we have scripture where God clearly tells people to write things down. Whether He desired us to gather them all up, put them (well, some of them) together in a book and practically worship it. Doubt it. Still – point conceded.

        “God could have done the sanctification thing all by himself. But he asks us to submit and cooperate.”
        He DOES do it all by himself. Submitting doesn’t mean we DO anything – in fact, it’s a LACK of doing. If I need to shave a cat, it might be easier if he lies still, but even if he does, he didn’t shave himself, or even help. I did the shaving.

        “God can take care of the poor all by himself. But he asks us to serve them.” But WHY does He ask US to? Because He wants people to put their FAITH in Him, and when WE do something on His behalf, it gives them a taste of His love, but still requires them to have faith in the end. If HE just did it, it wouldn’t require any faith for them to believe. Again, it’s a means to a greater end. It’s ULTIMATELY people’s hurting hearts that God wants to fix (which requires faith), not just their hurting stomachs.

        “God can renew the earth all by himself, but he asks us to take care of it.”
        No, He didn’t. Find me any scripture that says that, besides the misquoted passage in Genesis, where God asked anybody to take care of the earth, for the sole purpose of helping the earth, without any greater spiritual purpose behind it.

        God’s kingdom is on earth and we should announce it. But it’s not yet a physical kingdom, and doing physical good works for people and/or the planet, while it may feel good for both you and the recipient, and certainly can help draw people towards the love of Christ, are NOT NECESSARY for the furtherance of the kingdom. God’s got that part covered in His own good time. It’s simply not our job.

      • Ken –

        Thanks for the interaction. Just some follow-up from me.

        In the sermon on the mount, the kingdom of heaven is described in spiritual ways – things that pertain to our needs of forgiveness, mercy, peace with God, salvation and freedom from sin. I believe Wright in his book is trying to “physicallize” them (for lack of a better word), but I don’t think that was the Lord’s intent.

        What else can you do when you live out mercy, forgiveness, peace, etc? They become actual real and physical acts on earth as in heaven. Sure, a chair and the reality of peace are not described the same way. But one possibly sits up in their chair a bit more when they have experienced peace. Mercy is extended through hospitality, care for people’s needs, etc.

        We will forever have a problem if this is all simply ethereal stuff with no real connection on earth. Right in the midst of the sermon on the mount Jesus says to pray that the rule of God come on earth as in heaven, his will be done on earth as in heaven. This isn’t some projected event for the future. It was happening right there as the messianic king was in their midst and was to continue in those followers of God’s messiah.

        It is a spiritual kingdom, and NOT physical, like they were hoping.

        Yes! But that doesn’t mean it is simply something internal or ethereal of spacey or up there. Being spiritual is to be physical. From the beginning, God declared the physical good. God declared the physical good because his Son became a physical human being. To be spiritual is to be physical. It is very spiritual to care for our bodies. It is very spiritual to exercise. It is very spiritual to plant a garden. It is very spiritual to care for people’s needs. And, again, all of this shows mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace, love, joy, goodness, etc.

        In all, to say God’s kingdom is on earth but not a physical kingdom is to miss what it is about. God’s kingdom on earth will renew the entire cosmos. But the cosmos will not be some completely different kind of thing, a floaty palatial city in the clouds. When you provide for the needs of the poor, it is a direct pointer to what it will be like when the kingdom is fully here. When you plant a beautiful garden, it is a direct pointer to what it will be like when the kingdom is fully here. When people believe the announcement that God is King through his Son, Jesus, and follow him with a life of faith and repentance, this is a direct pointer to what it will be like when the kingdom is fully here. All of them matter and count.

    • Love the discussion.

      Thank you for your thoughts.

      Still can’t get into this mindset of us bringing or even helping to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. It’s just doesn’t jibe with my worldview.

      Why would He tell us to pray for His rule and will to come to earth if it was already being established? Why would creation groan for redemption if it was already being redeemed through our acts?

      It just doesn’t make sense to me.

      But as this is the first major idea you’ve posted within the past year that I couldn’t agree with you on, I think we still have a good track record. Thank you for opening my eyes to different perspectives on long held beliefs.

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