After much thought and consideration over the past few weeks, I am now able to conclude with my fifth and final entry on my series of what is the gospel. Here are some summary points from the first four articles:
I started out by claiming that an attempt to define the gospel is both a simple act and not so simple act. It is simple in that the gospel is not to be overloaded with do’s and do not’s. We don’t really have to write some treatise to simply define that which is the good news. But I also stated that I do not believe it is as simple as quoting John 3:16 or Romans 6:23 and there you have it. Those passages are important, as all of Scripture is. But I am not convinced those passages give us the gospel in it’s nutshell. (More thoughts can be read in my first article.)
I then spent two articles (article 2; article 3) laying out what I believe is central to the gospel. I tried to show how the centrepiece of the gospel is that of the coming kingdom of God. Why would I assert such? When Messiah stepped onto the scene, that’s what He proclaimed – the gospel of the kingdom of God. Since the good news of God’s rule on earth was important to the King, Jesus, I believe this is the vital aspect of the gospel.
In both articles, I also tried to make it very clear that I do not believe the centrality of the kingdom of God makes any other aspects of the gospel unimportant. The incarnation of the divine Son, the sacrificial death of the divine Son on the cross for humanity’s sin, the resurrection of Christ from the grave – they are all very important aspects. But I believe they are a result of the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven. They are part of the process, if you will, in seeing the King enthroned at the right hand of the Father and reigning over all in His rightful place.
Lastly, in my fourth article, I addressed the issue of why we don’t read too much about the ‘gospel of the kingdom’ post-Christ, meaning, following His resurrection and ascension back to the Father. When reading Acts and the epistles, such words are not regularly found within those writings.
But this should not detour us from what was central to Jesus. Because, for Jesus, the gospel was about the coming kingdom, then we should realise that this would have been at the heart of the message of His first followers as well. When they proclaimed the gospel, they for sure knew about the reality of the King and His kingdom. It’s just that they used many synonyms in explaining such – eternal life, salvation, the gospel [without the phrase ‘of the kingdom’]. Not only that, but to speak of Jesus Himself in regards to the gospel is to also speak of the kingdom. Why? Because Jesus is King. And when one faithfully proclaims the King, they faithfully proclaim the kingdom.
So, though a rather full summary, that is what my first four articles were about as I explored what the gospel is really about – the gospel of the kingdom.
In this final article, I do want to respond to the challenge that I received from a couple of friends on what this all means practically. I mentioned in my last article that, if anything, theology must be practical. And, if anything, the gospel must be practical for real people living real life now.
I have actually posted a couple of articles before on the practical reality of what it means for the kingdom to be here now and what it means for the kingdom to still have a future aspect. But I think there are a few more issues to discuss.
So, what does the gospel of the kingdom of God mean for us practically. I share a few points:
1) A Change In Perspective
I start by giving my own testimony of what began to happen in my life when I realised the gospel was about the kingdom of God, about it being here right now. In the first few years of my new life in Christ, the kingdom was usually conceived of in this manner: a) a place ‘up there’, maybe in the clouds and b) a place you went to when you died.
That was my basic conception of the kingdom of God, which I now realise was quite off.
But when I found out that God’s kingdom is a reality now, this became good news (or gospel) for me, as one can imagine. Of course, we have to keep this in check with the reality that we await the final consummation and completion of the kingdom coming to earth. But Jesus’ words to the disciples about how to pray – ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ – were not just words for the future. They were words for today, for now, for my life, for the earth that Jesus told us He had all authority over.
Imagine the flood gates of revelation that opened for a young 20-year old realising this. I was not just awaiting something in the future. Here I was now a disciple of the King, a disciple of the kingdom. Here I was now with the reality of the kingdom in the present. Not everyone had bowed their knee, but I had. And, not only that, there was a worldwide body that had bowed their knees to Jesus. Imagine what God could do with a people that were submitted to His kingship, His lordship. But I think we just don’t realise or easily forget this reality – He is King and He is reigning over all.
Again, imagine if this stuff really sunk in deep within our hearts!
So, the simple truth of knowing that the gospel of the kingdom was a reality now, this changed my perspective in a major way. And, as I’ve said, I truly believe that as God’s people get a glimpse of the kingdom be real today, for now, this can bring a change in perspective that allows us to walk out the desires of the King and His kingdom.
2) A Change In Lifestyle
The reality of the King and His kingdom calls for a lifestyle change. I don’t just mean that one stops cussing, stops drinking heavily, stops smoking, etc, though stopping such things aren’t a bad idea. But what I mean is that we begin to think and live like Jesus did.
But where does that start? I believe it starts with serving, or maybe better stated, with washing feet and laying our lives down. Isn’t that what the King Himself did?
From a biblical standpoint, kingship and leadership is underlined with the act of serving. That is foundational to ruling and leading – for earthly kings, for elders (leaders) in the church, for the one who says they want to follow the King. Matter of fact, look at what the ruling King did one day:
3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5)
Did you catch that? Jesus knew all things were given to Him by His Father. He was going to be in charge, going to rule over all heaven and earth, as He later reminded His first disciples in Matthew 28:18.
So, what did He do? He didn’t stand up and bark orders. He got down on His knees and washed feet. Absolutely astounding! And, let’s be honest, such paled in comparison to the brutal death He was about to undergo at the cross – a laying down of His life for His friends. That is our King and that is how His kingdom functions. Of course, this was only enacting what He had earlier said when some of His close friends were arguing about their place in the kingdom to come:
…even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)
This is the change in lifestyle, even in mindset, that I am talking about. One who knows how to ‘rule’ is one who knows how to serve, to wash feet, to even lay down their lives for others. And that is the reality of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. I believe God is still enacting miracles and healings. I believe revival and major moves of God still happen today. But God is very interested in those small things. Those small things are very instrumental in bringing the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Such reminds me of these words from the missionary, Hudson Taylor:
‘Little things are little things, but faithfulness in little things are big things.’
This is the change in lifestyle that the kingdom brings.
3) A Change Within
One of my favourite passages of Scripture that speaks about the kingdom of God is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. It might not be the most known passage, but there it is in very plain English (ok, it was originally in Greek, but our English translations are pretty reliable here):
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)
In the context of chapter 14, Paul is speaking about the believer’s conscience in regards to food specifically sacrificed to idols. Should one eat it or should one not eat such?
We aren’t usually dealing with this kind of issue in modern, western societies. But the principles laid out in this chapter are helpful in regards to issues of ‘gray’ (grey for Brits). We need to be careful in passing judgment on people in regards to our ‘food’ issues, whatever they may be (i.e. movies, music, art, tattoos, etc). To such an issue, Paul gives this very helpful thought in vs14:
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.
With these things, let’s stop trying to be the Holy Spirit and, instead, let the Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit. But, Paul, then, makes a very interesting statement about the kingdom of God and connects this with the activity and role of the Holy Spirit: For the kingdom of God is…a matter…of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
We really need to stop quibbling over such silly issues and get on with the reality that the kingdom rule of God is at work in the believer by the righteousness, peace and joy available in the Spirit of God. That is powerful! That is fantastic!
We can get so caught up in small behavioural matters, moral conduct codes, and petty concerns that we miss the reality of the kingdom of God in our midst through the Spirit, who brings God’s righteousness, peace and joy.
Guess what the rule of God consists of? Yes – righteousness, peace and joy. Yes, there are other aspects we could focus on. But Paul gives some good starters here. And, so, for the Spirit-indwelt believer, we have the reality of the kingdom at work in us, which brings about the possibility of effecting the righteousness, peace and joy of God’s reign right here and right now. I can walk out the things of God’s kingdom right here and right now because the Spirit gives me the life of the kingdom to do so.
Of course, we remain fallen in a fallen world, susceptible to sin. But we can remain focused on the work of the kingdom of God via the Spirit of God in the people of God. We can practically walk out the purposes and desires of God here and now because of this truth.
4) A Change In Wording
As I took time to emphasise in my fourth article, the gospel of the kingdom does not have to be worded as such every time we speak of the gospel. The gospel is the gospel. At times we bring out the reality of the cross, at other times we focus on the resurrection. Then, again, we sometimes speak of Jesus and who He is. Other times, we share a story that draws in people to the story of God (I think Jesus was pretty good at that). Or, at times, we proclaim who is presently reigning over all with a longing for it to be finalised in that final day.
But what I am getting at is that every time we proclaim the gospel, this does not mean we are caught in some bind to call it the ‘gospel of the kingdom’. For an 85-year old atheist lady on her death bed, I might simply and humbly speak of the hope I have, looking to draw her in by such beautiful truth. If anything, the gospel is a gospel of hope. The gospel of the kingdom is about the hope of our reigning God that is available in Christ.
For a 7-year old boy, I’m not going to wax eloquent about the present reality of the kingdom of God. He might simply need to know that this God who created Him truly does love Him.
But that’s just it – the gospel, or the gospel of the kingdom as Jesus called it, has so many varying aspects to it. That’s why I don’t believe you can nail down the gospel by quoting John 3:16. It could prove important to someone who has never heard such a verse. But I am thinking many religious Americans don’t need to know that. Thus, as Paul so pointedly said, we need to be all things to all people that we might save some (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Again, for one who is wrapped up in much bondage and addiction, they might need to know that the power of God is available, that Jesus is in charge, He came to destroy the works of the devil, and we can see Him have victory over such sinful bondages. And, of course, the differing situations and circumstances go on and on.
But, the practical reality is that the gospel of the kingdom is true now, is a reality now, and is available now. And whenever the people of God proclaim the gospel of God, they need to remember they are proclaiming the One who reigns over all, has come to bring that kingdom now, has sent His Spirit to work out His kingdom purposes in our lives, and has called His people to serve like true kings (and queens) themselves.
This is the reality of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven!
There could have been many more aspects to consider, but, for me, these four are very helpful in realising what this gospel of the kingdom means to real people in real life here and now. I can only be thankful of the good news that Christ is King and He is in charge and He is at work by His Spirit in His people. I have hope that I can walk out the words of the King, since He is the One empowering me anyways.
Thus, I close this short series by reminding us to pray that His kingdom come now on earth as it is in heaven. As it does, we will see hearts broken, knees bow and lives changed.