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

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