The Centrality of Christ in Discipleship - Part 4
IV. The Kingdom Consciousness of a True Disciple
A. The Kingdom of God was the heart of Jesus’ teaching (Luke 4:42-44).
What God has done, and will do, through Christ in the inauguration the kingdom of God is the pervasive mindset of a true disciple.
Christ’s announcement of the Kingdom of God marked the end of the old era of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus stated that the ‘Good News’ of the Kingdom of God was being preached starting with John the Baptist (Luke 16:16).
Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom of God was very closely associated with the Gospel message itself. “And [Jesus was] saying, ‘The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel’” (Mark 1:15).
The term, “Kingdom of God,” in its general sense in both O.T. and N.T. means God’s reign—His divine kingly authority, especially over those who belong to Him (see Ps 103:19; 145:13; Is 52:7; Dan 2:44; 7:14, 27). The passages in Daniel indicate that God’s reign—His rule as King of creation, will at the end of the age invade human history and establish everlasting dominion on earth.
The glorious message of the Kingdom is that God will establish His kingdom on earth through His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s divine reign is given by the Father to the Son (Luke 22:29-30; 1 Cor 15:24-28; Rev 11:15).
Christ is appointed by God to take back the title deed to the earth and to reclaim God’s authority in every sphere by overthrowing and judging all hostile authority. The angelic victory cry announced during the future Tribulation period is, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15).
This same angelic victory cry encompasses the divine conquest of both the satanic and the human enemies who oppose God’s reign and glory. “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of the brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev 12:10).
The death and resurrection of Jesus was the decisive point in the coming of the kingdom (Mt 16:21; Mk 9:31; Luke 18:31-34; 24:7). According to Colossians 2:13-15, Christ’s redemptive work disarmed the rulers and authorities. In other words, Christ’s sacrifice in the place of His people not only brought redemption to the elect; it also stripped Satan of his weapons (2:15).
The kingdom is now manifest in heaven’s spiritual rule over the hearts of believers (Luke 17:21); and one day will be established in a literal earthly kingdom (Rev 20:4-6). In one sense the kingdom is a present reality, but in its fullest sense it awaits a yet-future fulfillment (MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1396).
(FOR DISCUSSION: Why are the thoughts of a true disciple of Christ dominated by thoughts of the Kingdom of God?)
B. In Christ and His work, the future has already come (2 Cor 5:17). The age to come (though not in its global fulfillment) is penetrating this present age.
The sin, death, and meaninglessness of the present age have been transformed by righteousness, life, and meaning of the age to come. Hope in Christ connects us to the age to come. “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19).
The conquest of sin, death, and the devil at the cross established the rule of God over the church. We are in a period between the comings of Christ. The future, or eschatological dimension, penetrates the present. The truth is, with the coming of Christ, the present age died (Gal 4:4; Eph 1:10). This is afundamental division in human history recognized by Scripture (David Wells, Above All Earthly Powers, pp. 205-210).
“Last Days” refers to the present period established at the cross (Heb 1:1-5; Heb 9:26; 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 3:1; 1 Cor 10:11). The end of the ages has come upon us. The victory won at the cross of Christ has established this era as “the last days.” We live in a unique time period between the victory won at the cross; and the consummation of this victory at the Day of the Lord.
(FOR DISCUSSION: In what sense does the first coming of Christ mark the fact that the end of the age is imminent?)
C. We live between the cross and the resurrection.
Eternal life is a present reality—in essence it has begun in the believer already (Jn 3:36; 5:24; 6:47, 54; 11:23-27). For the believer, the present age of this world has passed. The so-called wisdom of the present world has been judged and exposed by Christ.
The “wisdom” of this world is foolishness. It cannot lead men to a saving knowledge of God. The Lord is systematically shaming the wisdom of the world through the ‘foolishness of the cross’—He is doing so through a message regarded as foolish by the world (1 Cor 1:20; 2:6-8; 3:18; Titus 2:12).
Think of how tragic it is for the unbeliever living apathetically in his spiritual darkness. For the non-Christian, the present age still belongs to Satan—for Scripture states that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 Jn 5:19).
By contrast, the believer has been delivered from the domain of darkness and has been transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col 1:13). For us as believers, God’s grace has brought eternity into time. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20-21).
God has decisively reclaimed us and saved us for Himself. Yet there is a final phase of this reclamation that is still to come. Scripture says that we are eagerly waiting for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Rom 8:23b).
The fact that believers are eagerly awaiting their glorification does not diminish the truth that God has now, in the present, ‘broken into our lives’—transforming them by the reality of His truth, power, and love.
C. K. Barrett writes, “The common pattern of N.T. eschatology is in [the book of] Hebrews made uncommonly clear. God has begun to fulfill His ancient promises; the dawn of the new age has broken, though the full day has yet to come. The “age to come” is already being tasted and experienced (Heb 6:4-5) because “the world to come” has already been subjected to Christ’s rule (Heb 2:5) (Barrett quoted in Wells, p. 212).
This rule of Christ is the target of opposition from enemies (Heb 2:8-9; 10:13-14); but the outcome is sure (Heb 9:26). Thus the author of Hebrews speaks of a salvation being experienced in the present, a redemption, an inheritance, and a covenant each of which is also “eternal” (Heb 5:9; 9:12, 15; 13:20).
We must not miss the significance of this. The truth of the kingdom of God that we believe and preach is all about God’s mighty in-breaking into human history. God’s in-breaking involved both saving and vanquishing. God has done for us what we had no hope of doing for our selves—He has conquered our darkness and our love of darkness. And He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and placed us as subjects in the kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13-14).
God’s rule has begun in the hearts of believers; and will someday soon fill the earth. As disciples and subjects of King Jesus; we receive this Kingdom—we receive the kingdom because by His sovereign grace, God had made us subjects of Jesus Christ; the King of Kings.
In Christ, the eternal God—eternal life—eternal truth walked on this dusty planet 2000 years ago. It was through Christ that God was breaking into our age in sovereign mercy. In Christ, God took decisive action against sin, death, and the devil (overcoming the greatest enemies of our souls).
During His earthly ministry, the context of “The Kingdom of God,” was the means by which Jesus defined Himself, and His work. The message of the kingdom of God is what Jesus used to set forth and reveal the purposes of God in sending His Son (Matt 12:28; 16:28).
(FOR DISCUSSION: Name and describe some of the ways the believer’s life is to be controlled by the two events of the cross and the resurrection.)
D. Living between the cross and the resurrection means that the believer’s life must be defined by both events.
To live between the cross and the resurrection is to live between the two events in a way that is dynamically connected to both. Romans 5:1-11 contains this “already, not yet” tension. The believer does not yetactually reign with Christ over the earth, but does already belong to that new age and rule of life in Him (Rom 5:17, 21).
The outworking of the “reign of grace through righteousness to eternal life” is through “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5:21). This is why the role of ongoing faith in the Gospel is so vital (the Gospel is our ‘map, our identity, and our destiny’).
The Gospel is our constant reminder of the reality of the present reign of grace and life. We really do participate in the reign of grace and life (5:17). It is ongoing faith in the Gospel that produces a life-transforming awareness of the reign of grace.
Ongoing faith in the Gospel deepens our assurance, hope, and joy in the unshakable fact that the reign of grace cannot be frustrated, no matter what tribulations we face (Rom 5:1-5).
Salvation transferred and discharged us from the old era of sin’s reign (2 Cor 11:3; Jn17:3). Believers have been radically identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. The Christian life is defined more by allegiance to a Person (the Lord Jesus Christ to whom all authority has been given) than it is by allegiance to a moral code.
Our part in the process of renewal is to keep the eyes of our minds fixed upon things that are unseen. The phrase “things that are unseen” refers especially to the age to come (2 Cor 4:18; Phil 3:8-17). This same fixing of the mind on things above refers also to the “treasure principle.” In other words, where your treasure is, there will your heart (affections) be also (Matt 6:19-21; Col 3:1-3; Eph 4:22-23).
We are not to be preoccupied with temporal things, we are to fix our minds upon eternal things (2 Cor 4:16-18; Phil 3:18-19). Our responsibility is to fix our eyes on things that are unseen -- that is the kingdom age to come in which the resurrection of our body and glory will be ours. Faith and hope in God’s promises is the key to being renewed day by day.
Mind renewal through the Gospel puts our focus back upon what God is doing in us; and what God is doing in history. God never backs off from His purpose to conform believers into the image of His Son. Renewal each day means we are to live as a new person in Christ. We are to reject the sins that are totally out of place in God’s people (Col 3:5-9).
Our daily task of living to reflect the holy character of God, and living under righteousness (justification) is our preparation to live with God forever in His eternal kingdom. When the N.T. describes God’s grace, with that description of His grace comes an explanation of the believer’s identity in Christ, the believer’s mandate to be conformed to Christ, the believer’s relation to the Body of Christ, and the believer’sdestiny in Christ. These grace-based spiritual realities are a powerful incentive for Christian living.
Thus the Gospel gives us, and instills in us “kingdom values” that are joined to our hope of resurrection life. Those kingdom values are lived out by setting one’s mind on things above; considering the members of our body as dead to sin (immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, lying); putting on the new self; putting on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with and forgiving one another; putting on love; letting the peace of Christ rule in your heart; teaching and admonishing one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness; being a submissive wife and a loving husband; avoiding bitterness; being obedient children; avoiding exasperation of children; doing your work heartily as unto the Lord.
The more our hope is joined to kingdom thinking—the more it is fixed on the resurrection, the more we will seek an energetic compliance with God’s purposes in Christ. “If we are definitively sanctified by the work of Christ and the gift of the Spirit, ‘growth’ in holiness will mean increasing and abounding in practical expressions of that status, calling and commitment which is already ours by God’s grace” (David Peterson,Possessed by God, p.136).
(FOR DISCUSSION: What is so significant about the “already, not yet” tension? What are some of the effects upon professing believers who are blind to this “already, not yet” dynamic? How does the Gospel instill kingdom values in us?
E. The cross is at the center of God’s plan.
In the secularized, relativistic age in which we live, we are ever prone to divide up our complex lives into compartments in order to keep things “manageable.” To our own shame, we even attempt to compartmentalize the eternal truths of God—often partitioning them off from the demands, pleasures, and activities of life.
“Kingdom thinking” brings us back to the reality that this is a moral universe. It is a moral universe solely because of one reason; the Creator and Ruler of this universe is holy. Moral cause and effect (crime and punishment—obedience and blessing) are not impersonal laws and forces. The inviolate law of moral cause and effect is a reflection of the character of the God of the universe who rules His creation.
This universal truth of God’s moral government must be the backdrop for properly understanding the cross of Christ. In the incarnation and work of Christ, God in the flesh comes to address the outcome of His broken moral law.
God in Christ takes on the burden of His own wrath. God absorbs His own wrath in the Person of Christ. The holy justice His character demands—He Himself provides in the substitutionary death of Christ. This fact should shake us—rock us—stagger us, moving us to awe and adoration. We should find His infinite grace to be ever fresh and exhilarating to us.
In Christ, Agape love reaches out of eternity into time. The age to come has broken into time and space. Christ crucified is at the center of our worldview. Time and eternity meet in Christ. His resurrection nails us to eternity. The age to come, which will endure through all eternity, has arrived in the Person of Christ. The cross of Christ ‘kills’ all private worldviews.
The main point of kingdom thinking is this—for the people of God, end-time judgment has already come at the cross! The “hell” they should have justly endured was borne by Christ in His passion.
Christ entered our alienation and dereliction. He came to earth and radically identified Himself with our cursed existence—He was the man of sorrows acquainted with grief. He was the believer’s “High Priest in training” (see Hebrews 4:15-16; 5:7-9). He identified Himself even with the consequences of our sin with its shame, sorrow, suffering, rejection, betrayal, fear, grief, death, and separation from God.
(FOR DISCUSSION: Describe the ways in which the cross of Christ defines your life—where you have been, what you were, what you are now, how you are to walk, where your power for holiness comes from, what you will be).
F. The cross marked the decisive turning point in the destiny of all men, fallen angels, and the creation itself.
The world was blind, and still is, to the triumph which Christ accomplished by His death and resurrection. Paul proclaims in Colossians, All the fullness of salvation dwells in Christ. “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him I say, whether things on earth, or things in heaven” (Col 1:19-20). The Father was pleased to have all redemptive power dwell in Christ who is the Agent for and goal for reconciliation (Col 1:20).
To reconcile (apokatallacia)—in its redemptive sense means to exchange hostility for friendship. The prefix conveys the idea of complete reconciliation. God’s reconciling of man to Himself is necessary because of the enmity of sinners toward God in their natural mind (Rom 5:8-11; 8:5-7). Man’s corruption is an effrontery to God; the fact and existence of corruption requires reconciliation before relations can be restored.
But, in what sense does Christ reconcile all things to Himself? (All things reconciled by His blood cannot mean universal salvation.) The broader (non-salvific) meaning of reconciliation in this verse points to the Great White Throne judgment at the end of the millennium when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father (Phil 2:10; Rom 14:11) (H. Wayne House, “The Doctrine of Christ in Colossians,” Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (Apr 1992), pp. 185-186).
“Having made peace,”—the participle is inserted to indicate the reconciliation is not a cosmic miracle in which the universe is changed outside of man. BUT that reconciliation is primarily concerned with relationships that are restored. Peace here is not primarily defined in the negative—that is by erasing or canceling out hostilities—but reconciliation points to positive content with positive blessings—spiritual blessings impacting the prosperity of the whole man (ibid.). (This fact is monumental—the direction of the universe, including those who live in it, is forever changed because of what God does through a man, Christ Jesus, Col 1:19-23)
At present, heaven and earth are not now united (reconciled). Kingdoms are in conflict; sin brought the universe into a state of corruption; decay; deterioration. Sin destroyed harmony.
Through the blood of His cross the sin principle is conquered—the curse is borne; the law satisfied; peace is made and restored. Through Christ and His cross the universe is brought back to its proper relation to God (see also Eph 1:9-10).
As a just reward for His obedience; Christ is exalted to God’s right hand—from this position of exaltation, glory, and power—He rules the universe.
What He accomplished at the cross; He will consummate at the Second Advent when He formally and militantly takes back the title deed to the earth.
Through Christ; all intelligent beings—both obedient and disobedient, and both human and angelic will acknowledge the sovereignty of God manifest in the Lordship of Christ who is over all.
The vastness of Christ’s Person is seen in His cosmic Kingship (He is Head of the Church; all things are under His feet; He is Lord of all creation). Thus His cross affects not only mankind; but the entire cosmos. Also a distinction needs to be made between reconciliation and salvation.
Reconciliation removes the barrier between God and man and opens the potential for a new type of relationship between the two. But the barrier removed does not mean that reconciliation has been appropriated.
The act of reconciliation in Christ’s death does not itself immediately effect reconciliation for the individual—people by nature do not desire to take advantage of this situation of their own accord. This does not detract from the reconciling work of the Father—for it had to take place for salvation to be in accord with God’s nature.
All the redeemed and unredeemed will acknowledge His sovereignty; AND in that sense there will be reconciliation. But this does NOT mean the unredeemed will be given salvation. (Christ’s vicarious death on the cross paid the price necessary to make possible this peace.)
As cosmic Lord, when God in reconciling all things prepares to put creation itself under His authority and rule, through the administrative reign of Jesus Christ—then when Christ is inaugurated as the cosmic Potentate at the beginning of the eternal state, the earth will have its day of reckoning and redemption, and will be transformed (2 Pet 3:10; Rev 21:1).
Present spiritual warfare in this life takes place between the believer and satanic powers (Eph 6:10-18). But Christ at the right hand of the Father possesses authority over the angelic realm, though at the present time that realm has not come under final judgment.
In spite of their present limited power; the angelic realm will be subject to God’s work of reconciliation. Christ will be exalted and every knee will bow (Phil 2:10).
Paul highlights all the aspects of the believer’s former alienation in the bulk of Eph 2.
Now the believer’s present condition as reconciled (Col 1:22) emphasizes life; and blamelessness free of reproach. The purpose of the reconciliation is to present each believer before Him holy, blameless, and beyond reproach.
The intended goal of reconciliation is reached BECAUSE Christ’s incarnation allowed Him to die a real death in our place. The prepositions Paul uses to support our being in Christ. By identification, believers are positionally holy, blameless, and beyond reproach. And they are to manifest these qualities in the Christian walk.
(FOR DISCUSSION: How would it alter and improve our loyalty and devotion to Christ if we saw Him more and more as He truly is—as Cosmic King, Reconciler of all things, Head of the Church, Judge of all the earth?
G. Practical applications that flow from kingdom consciousness (‘sermons we can preach to ourselves’).