Contrasting Two Kingdoms

When I read The Myth of a Christian Nation last year, I took a lot of notes about the kingdom of God before launching into a self study of kingdom parables. The author, Gregory A. Boyd, responded to God-and-country believers who conflate religion and politics, by contrasting the ways of the world with the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ’s kingdom is not of this world; if it were, Jesus would have told his followers to fight as the world fights.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

John 18:36

How do you use your power?

The kingdom of this world trusts the power of the sword. Boyd used the word sword to represent more than physical force. The sword symbolizes all the ways people use power over people. Individually, we use power over people to get our own way – to bend people to our own will. The strong use their power over the weak. The rich use their power over the poor.

The government uses its power over people to control the behavior of its citizens. Of course we need laws to protect our rights and to prevent people from harming other people, but there are limits to the power of the sword. Many Christians want the government to use the power of the sword to force people to obey God’s laws. The problem with this is that laws change a person’s behavior but do not have the power to change the heart.

The kingdom of God has a completely different concept of power. It is based on the power of the cross – the power of redemption. When you put your trust in Jesus, he changes you on the inside. When you have been redeemed, you want to follow God’s laws.

The kingdom of this world responds to conflict by engaging in a tit for tat. If we are insulted or injured, we respond in kind – an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. We may hit back even harder, trying to outdo the other person’s meanness. In God’s kingdom, the injured person responds by returning evil with good – turn the other cheek, bless those who curse you.

The hope of the world lies in a kingdom that is not of this world, a kingdom that doesn’t participate in tit for tat, a kingdom that operates with a completely different understanding of power.

Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation

Instead of using power over people to force them into compliance or engaging in a constant tit for tat, Boyd encourages us to use our power differently, following the example of Jesus. When you respond to another person with gentleness and self-sacrificing love, they may see the injustice of their own ways. Love has the power to transform the enemy’s heart. When we return evil with good, we stop the endless cycle of violence fueled by hatred. Let the Spirit purge your heart of bitterness, wrath and anger (Eph. 4:31).

Who is the center of your universe?

In the kingdom of the world, people are motivated by self-interest and personal will. Our culture encourages us to be self-centered, to put the self first. We compete with each other to be on top. We trample each other to get ahead. We covet what others have. Instead of living sacrificially, we are self-indulgent and greedy.

The kingdom of God is based on God’s will and the interests of others. God’s will is that we love others as we love ourselves. In God’s kingdom, we don’t look just to the interest of ourselves, but to the interest of others. We don’t exist to be served but to serve. In the kingdom of God, grace abounds. In the kingdom of God, humility abounds. There is no room in God’s kingdom for selfish, self-important people.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:4 (ESV)

How big is your world?

The kingdom of this world is tribal. We choose sides. We circle the wagons. We ostracize. We build walls to keep people out. We insult and demean others. We look down on and exclude people who are different. We defend our own team at all costs. At our worst, we identify so strongly with our own tribe, we demonize our enemies and treat them inhumanely.

The kingdom of God is full of unconditional love and boundless grace. In God’s kingdom, we love one another, even our enemies. The kingdom of God isn’t limited to people who look like you and act like you. There is room in God’s kingdom for everyone – every racial, sexual, ethnic, and socioeconomic group. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

I long for the kingdom that is not of this place. As I know all too well, it is easy to conform myself to the ways of this world, to engage in selfish power struggles. If I want to be transformed by the Spirit, I must humble myself and become like a child. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

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Scottish Castle Photo by John Roberts on Unsplash

Lord, remove the veil

In chapter three of The Pursuit of God, Removing the Veil, A.W. Tozer wrote about the Holy of Holies, the innermost and most sacred part of the ancient tabernacle in Jerusalem. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place and only once a year during the Day of Atonement. An ornate veil made of blue, purple, and crimson yarn separated the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place where Levites and priests were permitted.

When Jesus was crucified, the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom! The veil that had restricted access to the presence of God was removed, allowing all who believe to freely approach God and hear His voice. When Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins, he opened the door to all worshipers to enter God’s presence.

Of course, God is always present; He is omnipresent. He is everywhere. He reveals himself to us through creation. But we don’t all experience his manifest presence. Even those of us who know He is with us, long for more of Him. My thirsty soul is restless and pants for God. My chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

Psalm 42:1-2

Tozer asked, since the veil was removed by Jesus death, what prevents us from entering God’s presence? Is there a veil in our hearts that shuts out the light and hides the face of God? Yes, there is a barrier. “It is the close-woven veil of the self-life which we have never truly acknowledged…”

The self-life. The long list of hyphenated sins of the heart: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-indulgence, self-love, self-centeredness, self-promotion, etc.

Self is the opaque veil that hides the face of God from us.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Tozer says that we must bring our self- sins to the cross for judgment. Removing the veil is not an easy or pleasant process. To remove the veil is to tear apart a part of yourself. We can’t do it alone. God must do the work for us. Our job is to yield and put our trust in Him.

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Lord Jesus, thank you for breaking down the barrier between me and my God, for reconciling me to the Father. Son of God, Son of Man, thank you for showing me who God is. You make real to me his never ending love, mercy and forgiveness.

Dear God, please forgive me. I know that my sin separates me from you. I fall short of your glory and am not worthy to be in your presence. And yet my soul pants for you like a deer pants for streams of water. I long for your manifest presence.

Father God, I don’t like to think of myself as self-centered and yet I know that I am too often centered on myself. I struggle with self-righteousness. When I concern myself with the morality of others, it is easy to ignore my own sinfulness. My independence leads to a feeling of self-sufficiency and yet I am not sufficient. I need you.

Lord Jesus, you showed me how to walk in your Light and yet, I still struggle with self-control. You taught me who I should be but there is another power in me that is at war with my mind and my heart. I want to what is good, but I don’t. I want to control my tongue, but I don’t. I want to control my thoughts, but I don’t.

Lord, I can’t do this soul work without you. You are the potter; I am the clay. Mold me into the person I should be. Transform me. Renew me. Tear down the veil in my heart. In the precious name of Jesus, amen.

The Blessedness of a Poor Spirit

Chapter two of The Pursuit of God, The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing, left me feeling uncomfortable with myself. What is fighting for first place in my heart?

Men have now, by nature, no peace within their hearts, for God is crowned there no longer, but there in the moral dusk, stubborn and aggressive usurpers fight among themselves for first place on the throne.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Dear God, I have been doing a lot of soul searching since I read what A.W. Tozer had to say about possessiveness. He called the love of things a disease that takes the place of you in the heart. So I have to ask myself: am I too attached to material things?

Tozer said that the way to have deeper knowledge of you is “through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and giving up all things.” Lord Jesus, this reminded me of the time you challenged a rich man to sell all of his possessions, give the money to the poor, then come and follow you. He walked away sad because he had a lot of possessions. How would I respond if you asked me to sell all my earthly possessions? I have to confess that I don’t want to give away everything I have. But I do want to follow you. And I know that I have everything I need in you.

When I was a kid, we were poor and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t because I had to do without things; it was because people looked down on us and made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. You used physical poverty to teach me that my worth isn’t determined by what I have but by who I am. I learned to have empathy for the “least of these” because I know what it like to be one. I learned that money and things are not the keys to happiness. Thank you for teaching me these things.

Lord, you have blessed me greatly. I have a nice, comfortable home. I have a lot of stuff. Everything I have, I owe to you – not just my physical possessions, but my talents and abilities. More importantly, you paid my spiritual debts in full. Sin had left a crimson stain, you washed it white as snow.

Tozer wrote about Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to you. Even though he was a rich man, he possessed nothing. This, Tozer said, is the spiritual secret. The secret is not to have nothing; it is to possess nothing. It is to renounce possessions and to make you the real treasure of the heart.

I know, God, that it isn’t just things that take your place in my heart. Sometimes for me, it is the desire for social acceptance and approval or the desire to be in control. Lord, thank you again for all you have given me. Please reveal all the things that fight you for first place in my heart and root them from my heart.

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Jesus Paid It All

  1. I hear the Savior say,
    “Thy strength indeed is small;
    Child of weakness, watch and pray,
    Find in Me thine all in all.”
    • Refrain:
      Jesus paid it all,
      All to Him I owe;
      Sin had left a crimson stain,
      He washed it white as snow.
  2. For nothing good have I
    Whereby Thy grace to claim;
    I’ll wash my garments white
    In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.
  3. And now complete in Him,
    My robe, His righteousness,
    Close sheltered ’neath His side,
    I am divinely blest.
  4. Lord, now indeed I find
    Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
    Can change the leper’s spots
    And melt the heart of stone.
  5. When from my dying bed
    My ransomed soul shall rise,
    “Jesus died my soul to save,”
    Shall rend the vaulted skies.
  6. And when before the throne
    I stand in Him complete,
    I’ll lay my trophies down,
    All down at Jesus’ feet.