God is loveToday we return to our overview of the final couple of chapters of Tom Wright’s heartily recommended book Simply Jesus. (You can read my review here and all related posts here.)

God’s kingdom comes like a farmer sowing a fresh crop or like a vineyard owner looking for workers to pick the grapes, bringing people on board to help. When God goes to work — when Jesus becomes king — human beings are not downgraded, reduced to being pawns or ciphers. In God’s kingdom, humans get to reflect God at last into the world, in the way they were meant to. They become more fully what humans were meant to be. That is how God becomes king. That is how Jesus goes to work in the present time. Exactly as he always did.

— Tom Wright, Simply Jesus (emphasis added)

In my last post on Simply Jesus, I talked about how Christians often see the kingdom of God as being largely irrelevant in this life, either because it exists entirely in the future or because it resides wholly in another dimension and rarely breaks into our universe of space, time and matter. Often, as we see it, our job is to get saved and be nice until either Jesus returns or we die and go to heaven.

In the above excerpt, our friend Tom brings out another angle to help us understand just what this mysterious kingdom is all about. God’s kingdom, in short, is the place and time where God is king. It follows from this that to join in Jesus’ kingdom work means to make God king in our lives.

Now, talk of making God the king of our lives is familiar territory for anyone who’s spent much time around Pentecostal/charismatic churches. (While I think about it, since “Pentecostal/charismatic” is a bit of a mouthful, perhaps I should invent a new word that covers both categories – how about “charismocostal”?)

We sing about Jesus being king and we earnestly declare in our prayers that we want him to be on the throne in our lives. But what do we really mean by that?

I would suggest that, if we’re brutally honest, what we often mean is that we really want Jesus to be king of our private sphere. We want to be able to call him Lord, to look to Him for things we need, like peace and contentment, and to go to church and do churchy stuff with our church friends. At a push, we might occasionally talk about our faith with others if the opportunity presents itself.

But is that really all it means for God to be king?

There are those who believe that establishing and manifesting God’s kingdom is all about pursuing and practising the miraculous and the spiritual gifts. It means healing meetings, prophetic visions, and even worship concerts where gold glitter falls from the ceiling. It means going up to total strangers to pray for them and prophecy to them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I sincerely believe that God can and does do miracles in the world today, and that the Holy Spirit can and does give gifts to God’s people. And far be it from me to throw stones at those who feel called to take these gifts and miracles out onto the streets. But again, to reduce God’s kingdom work to the pursuit of miracles and the operation of spiritual gifts is, in my opinion, to seriously miss the point.

What then? Is God’s kingdom about forcibly declaring His dominion over all the earth, including every city, every government and every nation? Is it about demanding that moral standards be upheld and crying foul whenever Christian principles are ignored? I think not. To me, that sounds an awful lot like those followers of Jesus who wanted to forcibly make him king – something Jesus was determined would not happen. (Again, I’m not suggesting we should be complacent about moral decline; I’m just saying that resisting societal forces isn’t the thrust of what the kingdom is about.)

So then, if it’s not about private piety, miracles and spiritual gifts, or demanding justice and reversing moral decline, just how is God’s kingdom established in and through our lives?

As Tom Wright says, the way in which God becomes king is through fallen human beings becoming more fully what they were meant to be. Which in turn raises three questions.

1. What are human beings mean to be? The best way I can answer this is to return once again to Paul’s fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Humans were made to live and breathe love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

“But wait”, you say, “Weren’t we made to rule over the earth?” Well, yes, we were. But the emphasis has to be on the fruit of the Spirit. Why? Well, if you major on ruling over the earth without worrying too much about the fruit of the Spirit, what you’ll end up with is what Paul describes earlier in the same chapter: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Sound familiar?

2. How do we become more fully what we were meant to be? This is something that happens through the obedience of faith and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. And this is a both/and combination, not an either/or choice. Loyal efforts at obedience without the power of the Holy Spirit won’t get you far. Conversely, the Holy Spirit will not make you like Jesus in spite of yourself. We combine our mustard seed of faith with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. The result is sanctification, which is a fancy name for the process of gradually become less selfish and defensive and more self-giving and other-centred (which is to say, becoming more like Jesus, who is the perfect human being we were always meant to be like).

3. How does us becoming more fully what we were meant to be enable God to become king? Well, actually it’s quite simple, in theory if not in practice. God’s defining characteristic is love. This is true to such an extent that the apostle John summed up the essence of God in three words: God is love. And if God is love, then His kingdom is the place where His love reigns. In other words, it’s a world in which the ruling, defining paradigm is one of love instead of self-protection and rivalry. But what does such a world look like? For that, we go right back to Paul’s fruit of the Spirit: a world in which everyone fully displayed the fruit of the Spirit would be a world in which God’s love was fully on display.

As you can see, there’s a beautiful symmetry about how all this fits together. God is love, and His kingdom is all about love. You might even say that all you need is love.

Do you feel passionate about establishing God’s kingdom? Great! Now go and find someone to love.

[ Image: Charles Clegg ]