The Kingdom of God
A Hard Question
For eleven years I was privileged to serve on the Board of Ordained Ministry for my denomination. The responsibility of the Board is to work with people who are candidates for ordained ministry, helping them navigate their way through the long process. From assisting them in understanding God’s call in their lives to celebrating with them at their ordination, it was a rewarding experience.
Broadly speaking, the areas the Board focuses on are a candidate’s call to ministry, pastoral and leadership skills, psychological and spiritual well-being, preaching and teaching abilities, and theological soundness.
My particular position was to serve with the group that assessed a candidate’s theology. We were responsible for reading a candidate’s theological paperwork and then interviewing him or her in person.
One of the tough issues each candidate had to face is the topic we will look at in this chapter: The Kingdom of God? What is it? How are we to understand it?
Would you be able to answer those two questions? Correctly? It’s a hard subject, one that many Christians have not spent a great deal of time thinking about. Some candidates struggled with it as well.
The Focus of Jesus
Maybe you’re wondering why, if it is such a hard question to answer, would we ask the candidates about the Kingdom of God. That is not a hard question to answer. The reason candidates are asked about the Kingdom of God is because it was the central theme of Jesus’ ministry. Everything he preached on, did, and taught somehow related to the Kingdom of God.
Here are some examples of Jesus’ focus on the Kingdom of God in Matthew’s Gospel alone.
Matthew 13:24 – Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.
Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 13:31 – He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.
Matthew 13:33 – He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Matthew 13:44 – “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Matthew 13:47 – “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.
Jesus referred to the Kingdom over thirty times in Matthew’s Gospel alone. That certainly suggests this was an important topic for our Lord.
Jesus Begins His Ministry
Our text finds us at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Matthew 4:12 reports that Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been put in prison. We do not know how long it was after Jesus heard this news, but we learn Jesus returned to Galilee.
This is key because Jesus was moving from something of a wilderness setting to a much more highly populated area. It was one in which he would be able to minister to a greater number of people. Many roads traveled to and from Galilee. Many people lived there. The opportunity to reach more people with his message would increase considerably.
Interestingly, Matthew suggested this move to Galilee was a fulfillment of a prophecy found in Isaiah 9. That’s why he wrote in Matthew 4:13-16,
Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali–  to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles–
 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
Then we read these important words in verse 17,
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
That phrase, “From that time on…” is important. Matthew highlighted that Jesus was beginning his public ministry, one that would eventually take him to the Cross.
And what was the message of Jesus? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
You have likely heard the word “Repent.” When we hear the word, repent, we often think of being sorry for something we’ve done and then promising never to do it again. And certainly there’s an element of that here. However, in the Bible, the word means more than that. The word repent carries a couple of essential ideas with it.
A Change of Thinking
First it denotes changing the way a person thinks about something. Instead of thinking about something the way “the world” does, in a self-centered, rebellious sort of way, repentance means agreement with what God has said about that issue.
The Sermon on the Mount is a marvelous exposition or teaching on this very thing. Jesus teaches us the fallen world thinks one way, but he calls his followers to think another way, his way.
A Change of Life
In the Old Testament, and the way Jesus was using the word here, repent means more than a change in one’s thinking. It also means a change in one’s behavior. One commentator said by “repentance,” Jesus meant,
“A radical change of mind and heart that leads to a complete turnabout of life.” (William Hendrickson, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 197)
Again, the Sermon on the Mount is focused on what this “radical change of mind and heart and complete turnabout of life” looks like.
Jesus also seemed to stress an urgency in his call to repentance. But what’s the hurry? Why the sense of urgency to repent? Because, Jesus stressed, the kingdom of heaven is near.
What is the Kingdom of God?
What is Jesus referring to here? What is this “kingdom of heaven” that is near? The Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God, is the sovereign and gracious reign and rule of God.
Jesus doesn’t refer to the Kingdom as a place, in the sense of a geographical location. Instead, the Kingdom is God’s rule and reign. It’s wherever God’s will is being proclaimed and done. It’s wherever his influence is in effect. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, for example, in Matthew 6:10,
your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The Kingdom of God is manifested in the hearts, minds, and lives of those who have bowed their knees to the King of the Kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ. Wherever the loyal subjects of the King serve him, there you’ll find the Kingdom advancing, being extended into every sphere of life.
The Church and the Kingdom aren’t identical, but the Church - followers of the Lord Jesus - are the primary agents who spread God’s Kingdom.
What are some examples of the Kingdom breaking into our fallen, broken, and sinful world?
The rule and reign of God, saturated in his grace, empowered by his sovereign Spirit, and directed by his will can be found wherever God’s people are at work for his sake and in his name.
United Methodists believe in God’s prevenient grace, the grace of God that goes ever before us, drawing us to Christ. We therefore hope and pray that even in those places where the name of Christ is not yet known or proclaimed, God’s prevenient grace is drawing people to the King of the Kingdom.
The Good News of the Kingdom
In verse 23, Matthew wrote,
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (emphasis mine)
What does Matthew say Jesus is preaching here? The good news of the Kingdom. The phrase “good news” is where we get our word “gospel.” The Kingdom of God ultimately cannot be understood apart from the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ.
The good news is what God has done in and through his Son to reconcile sinful, lost and broken people to himself. God sent Jesus, as his name implies, to save his people from their sin. The Kingdom cannot be properly understood apart from this.
God’s Kingdom turns all other kingdoms upside-down and not only offers salvation through Christ, but also sets patterns, attitudes, and behaviors for citizens of the Kingdom.
Already and Not Yet
The coming of Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God. Yet the Kingdom will not be fully consummated and enjoyed until Christ returns and we’re gathered to him. Theologians call this living between the “already” and the “not yet.” The Kingdom is present in our midst, and yet, it is not all it will one day be.
This “not yet” aspect of the Kingdom is perhaps why Jesus, while he was still with his disciples at the Passover meal, told them,
Luke 22:15-18 – “…I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Emphases mine)
Part of our understanding of the Lord’s Supper includes not only looking back to what Christ did for us, but it also emphasizes looking forward, forward to that day when we’ll dine with our King at the heavenly banquet, he’s graciously prepared for us.
Until then, Christ’s faithful subjects are called to live in this in-between time, representing their King and extending his Kingdom into every sphere of life.
The Light of the World
Living as Light
In this chapter we will continue looking at what it means to understand how our faith applies to all of life. We saw in the last chapter how Jesus used the image of salt to explain that his disciples are called to impact the culture in which they live. Salt was used in the ancient world as a preserving agent which helped slow down the spoilage of food. So too, Christians are called to hold back the moral and spiritual decay that surround us. Because of who we are in Christ, Jesus does not tell us to “be” salt, but reminds us that we are salt and therefore are expected to live like it.
We’re going to look at the other half of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:13-16. Here he is sounding a similar note to his words on being the salt of the earth. Because we are light, we must live as light in a dark world. Jesus teaches,
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
We each exert influence in the lives of others, whether we recognize it or not. President Woodrow Wilson once told the following story which makes this point.
“I was in a very common place, I was sitting in a barber chair, when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself – to have his hair cut – and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me, I was aware that I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr. D.L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular effect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They didn’t know his name but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.”
Can you imagine exerting that much godly influence, simply while getting your hair cut? That gives us a glimpse of what it means to be a light, but we must look more deeply at Jesus’ words.
Just as Jesus’ purpose in calling his followers salt was to contrast them with the world, so too was he contrasting his followers with the world when he referred to them as light. The use of the word light points to the nature of the world around us. It is shrouded in thick darkness.
In contrast to the darkness of the world, Jesus mentions two sources of physical light: the light from a city set on a hill and the light from a lamp set on a lampstand.
A City on a Hill
Long before Ronald Reagan called America a bright and shining city on a hill, there were the Puritans. Commenting on the early American Puritans, John Winthrop said,
“[For the Puritans] All of life was spiritual, a seamless fabric integrating heart, soul, body, and mind in an effort to live life [in the presence of God]. The kingdom of Christ was not confined to private devotions or church gatherings, but extended into the realms of human knowledge and activity.”
He called this effort and attitude, “a shining city upon a hill.” The Puritans sought to faithfully model before a dark world what it meant to be the light of Christ.
If you have ever gone camping a far distance from a city or town, you may have a good idea of what total darkness can be like. I remember a camping trip in high school that took my friends and me a long way from the lights of civilization. The first night I was amazed I couldn’t see my fingers just inches in front of my face.
Jesus’ audience lived in rural communities. They were familiar with pitch black darkness. They would have immediately understood what Jesus meant by being able to see the light of a city on a hill, even a faraway city. Those same people, being Jewish, may have instantly thought of Jerusalem as the great city set on a hill, giving its light to the world. But Jesus had a different light in mind.
The Real Light
In his teaching and preaching, Jesus pointed out that he was the Light of the world, and his followers were to share in that mission. He taught, for example, in John 8:12,
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
It’s in light of those words that Jesus says,
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
William Hendrickson writes that Jesus’ followers - the light possessors – are now to be light transmitters.
Reflectors of Light
It’s important to note that Christians are not the light, in and of themselves. Only Jesus is the true light of the world. However, just as the moon has no light of its own but reflects the light of the sun, so must followers of Christ reflect his light in a dark world.
When people see the Light of the world reflected in our lives, they aren’t witnessing our own light but the light of Christ dwelling in and shining through us. Like a city on a hill, Christians who let their light shine before others cannot be hidden. The good light from Christians helps to counter the overwhelming darkness of the world.
A Lamp’s Small Flicker
It’s not a coincidence that haunted houses are dark. Our minds run rampant when we find ourselves in a totally dark setting. Surely that is why evil is associated with darkness. Even the smallest amount of light makes darkness a little more bearable than it was before.
Even the smallest flickering flame of an olive-oil lamp make us grateful in a totally dark setting. Such light would be a blessing in a home on a dark night. If you ever had a “night light” growing up, you know even the weakest bulb is more than enough to light your path. That’s why Jesus said in verse 15,
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
Don’t Hide Your Light
What would be the purpose of Jesus sending his followers into the world as light if they were only going to live as “undercover” Christians? Jesus is teaching it would be silly for people to light a candle or lamp, only to hide it under a bowl or cover of some kind.
This is an important lesson about discipleship. Jesus says the very purpose of following him is to give his light to the world. Therefore, we read in verse 16,
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
How do Jesus’ disciples lighten the dark world around them? The light is the “good deeds” performed by his followers. According to Jesus, these good deeds are done in such a way that at least some people recognize Jesus’ followers as God’s sons and daughters and praise God because of them.
Shine Where God Places You
Sometimes our minds race to spectacular demonstrations of those who have been the “light of the world,” such as William Wilberforce, John Wesley, or Hannah More. While we thank God for faithful Christians like these, we should be encouraged to serve as the light of Christ right where God has placed us.
When we practice godliness in our homes, showing love and putting our family members before ourselves, we show Christ’s light. Our light is also revealed in the workplace, where Jesus’ disciples are honest and work with integrity and excellence. When Christians stand for justice for the least or demonstrate mercy to those in need in our church family or community, our light shines brightly.
Jesus, the light of the world, has saved and forgiven us, changed our hearts, given us hope, put his love in us, given us joy, and set our feet upon the rock which cannot be shaken. Surely our lives should reflect those truths in the way we love God and our neighbor. When we do, the dark world is less able to ignore or deny the light of our Lord, which shines in and through us.
The Salt of the Earth
People Are Watching
A Peanuts cartoon showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown. She said, “Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school, and I got sent to the principal’s office already. And it was your fault, Chuck.” He said, “My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?” She said, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me.”
While we may laugh or roll our eyes at Peppermint Patty trying to pass the buck, she was, in a very real sense, right. We should be a good influence on our friends. We exercise influence daily, for better or worse. People are watching us. What do they see in your life?
Do they see hypocrisy? Do they see someone trying desperately to please God, not always succeeding, but always trying? It’s tough to be sure. Yet it doesn’t remove the fact that we influence the people in our lives, one way or another. It’s essential to understand that just as our faith ought to impact every sphere of our lives, so too, we as Christ’s disciples, are called to affect our spheres of influence for Christ’s Kingdom.
It Begins with Christlike Character
In the last chapter we began looking at Kingdom Discipleship. Our Christian faith ought to permeate every sphere of our life, not just bits and pieces of it.
We saw in the Beatitudes, that Jesus lays out what the character-norms of his Kingdom are. It was not until he first taught us that we’re to be poor in spirit, mournful over sin, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers, that he then called us salt and light. Jesus shifted our attention from what every disciple’s character must be, to our outward witness and influence in the world. He tells us who we are and who we must be as a watching world looks on. Our faith may be personal, but it’s by no means private.
Be Who You Are
Jesus called us salt and light and commanded us to go out and live accordingly. In this chapter we’re going to look at the first part, what Jesus meant by salt of the earth.
Matthew 5:13 says,
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
What does it mean to be the salt of the earth? To understand what Jesus meant by salt, we must know a little about salt in the first century. But first, notice something: Jesus said we already are salt. He wasn’t telling us to go out and become something we aren’t. We’re to go into the world and be who we already are.
This is familiar language in the Bible. God says we are holy and then calls us to be holy. It is in that spirit Jesus commands us to go out and be who we are. Let those of the world see who we truly are as Christ’s disciples, those who are increasingly growing into the likeness of their Lord.
In the ancient world, salt was used primarily as a preservative. Since people in that time obviously didn’t have deep-freeze refrigerators, they used salt to preserve much of their food. That’s not a totally foreign concept for us today. There’s a traditional delicacy in South Africa known as “biltong” which are small thin strips of meat that have been salted and dried, perhaps like our Beef Jerky. Long-distance travelers in past generations carried biltong with them. In fact, it was so well preserved it didn’t even need a “best-eaten-by” date.
Followers of Christ are to have that same “preserving” influence in the world. Apart from his disciples’ preserving influence, the world turns ever rottener. Our influence on the world as the salt of the earth is that of delaying, of slowing down the moral and spiritual disintegration. If our lives as his disciples conform to the Beatitudes in verses 3-12, then we will be an influence for good in our culture. Without the influence of the gospel, society will suffer moral decay and become putrid, unfit for the consumption of godly men and women.
There’s another interesting use for salt Scripture alludes to. Ezekiel 16:4 hints at the Jewish practice of rubbing newborn babies with salt. It’s likely this practice wasn’t for ritual cleanness, but for hygiene. It was already understood that if you didn’t pay attention to hygiene at the beginning of life, then sickness and even death could result. If Jesus had that in mind, his application would be this: we need to commit ourselves to being salt in our culture at the earliest possible opportunity.
It’s important, if our lives are to make a moral impact on others, that we live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ as we live among them. We must take our stand from the very start. Of course, there will likely be a steep price for such faithfulness.
It is no coincidence that the linking verses between the Beatitudes and the reference to Salt and Light are verses 11-12, which say,
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We find another use of salt illustrated in Judges 9:45. When Abimelech defeated the city of Shechem, “he destroyed the city and scattered salt over it.” The use of salt was a symbolic and effective action, to render the ground infertile for the future. This is what we do as Christians when we take our stand for God in our culture. We make the soil of our culture - the relationships in our lives, our friends at school, coworkers, teammates, next-door neighbors, whomever it may be – less fertile for ungodly influences. In and of itself this will not transform our culture, but it will make it more difficult for sinful attitudes, habits, words, and ideas to take root and become the norm.
Does Your Coworker Know You’re a Christian?
G. Campbell Morgan, former minister of Westminster Chapel in London, in his book How to Live, told a story about a conversation he had after he finished preaching one evening. A man approached Morgan to tell him he had invited a fellow employee, one with whom he had worked for 5 years, to attend the church service. He then said, “My suggestion came as quite a surprise to my friend. He responded to my invitation by saying, ‘Are you a Christian?’ And when I answered, ‘Yes, I am,’ he replied, ‘Well, I am too!’ Here we had worked beside each other for years, and we never knew that we were both believers in Christ. Wasn’t that funny?” To the man’s surprise, Morgan retorted, “Funny? No, it isn’t funny at all! You both need to be born again.”
It was inconceivable to Morgan that two men could be truly saved and work side-by-side for 5 years and not be aware of their relationship as brothers in Christ.
The Loss of Saltiness
In the last chapter we read George Barna’s summary of the “state of the church,” that he gleaned from his many years of poll-taking and statistical analysis. He concluded that, sadly, the church today is almost indistinguishable from the rest of society. He was not talking about being different in a superficial and outward way that you might notice in some legalistic churches. Rather, he was addressing fundamental moral and ethical differences that Christ ought to make in how Christians live. From all appearances, the church today, in far too many quarters, isn’t serving as the preserving agent Christ said she is. It seems the salt is losing its saltiness.
What happens if salt loses its saltiness? According to Jesus it might as well be thrown out onto the street, which was the garbage dump of the ancient near east, to be trampled by people. Some scholars have wrestled with this part of the verse, suggesting that salt can’t stop being salt. It can’t be anything other than salt. Therefore, it can’t really lose its saltiness. So, what did Jesus mean?
Although salt can’t lose its saltiness per se, it can become adulterated, impure, and contaminated. If it becomes sufficiently mixed with sand, for example, the salt will no longer be useful as a preservative. It loses its effectiveness. What do you do once something outlives its usefulness? In the case of “saltless salt,” you throw it away. It’s no longer any good. The world is described in the Bible as fallen, sinful, rotting and in need of help. It’s with that backdrop that Jesus tells us we are salt and we are to be salt.
The Power of Small Beginnings
Think about that for a minute. Just like salt, Christians may seem small and insignificant, even powerless in a culture like ours. Yet we have the ability to influence every segment of it and permeate the whole. It’s easy, almost seductive, for us to become consumed with polling data and despair we aren’t as numerous and as powerful as others. But we must never give in to Satan’s lie that we are effective only when we have large numbers, a show of strength, or our person in the White House.
Who turned the Roman world upside-down? I love how the King James Version renders Acts 17:6. It reads,
These [that is, the first Christian disciples] that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;
The verse describes the first Christians, that little band of no-names, who were making their rounds in the Roman Empire, affecting everything they touched with the power of the Gospel.
One Bible commentary summed up that verse this way,
What a reputation these Christian had! The power of the gospel revolutionized lives, broke down all social barriers, threw open prison doors, caused people to care deeply for one another, and stirred them to worship God. Our world needs to be turned upside down, to be transformed. The gospel is not in the business of merely improving programs and encouraging good conduct, but of dynamically transforming lives.
That’s Kingdom Discipleship! That’s the vision our Lord holds before us when he calls us salt. Though we may be small in number and seemingly powerless by human standards, we, like that little band of disciples, can still turn a culture upside down, one person at a time, one family at a time, one church at a time.
We may be powerless on our own, but with God all things are possible. If Jesus told us we are salt in this world, then we better behave like it. In their book, Turning Point, Marvin Olasky and Herbert Schlossberg recount the following story,
“The original Cassius Clay (not the boxer who changed his name to Muhammed Ali) was an affluent slaveholder in Lexington, Kentucky. He could have lived a comfortable life, at least until the Civil War. But Clay believed that chattel slavery was ungodly, and he also believed that society should be ordered on Biblical principles.
And so Clay freed his own slaves and then tried to reach fellow Kentuckians by publishing an antislavery newspaper.
“Clay’s writings show both personal faith and a belief in the uses of reason within revelation. “He emphasized God’s faithfulness not only to individuals but also to societies, and he argued that Christians should use their God-given intellects to structure society along Biblical lines. “Clay wrote, “Let true Christianity prevail, and earth will become the foreshadowing of Heaven.”
His motivation was to allow the gospel to transform first individuals and then the society.”
That’s Kingdom Discipleship. That’s what it means to live as salt in a society, to prevent or delay society’s moral and spiritual decay. Jesus said,
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
Jesus declared we are salt. Therefore, let us live as salt and be a Kingdom influence for the glory of our King and the good of our neighbors.
Matthew 28:18 - And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Compartmentalized Living Won't Do
I remember when I first started using the phrase, “faith for every sphere of life.” It began as I started studying the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It just made sense that if Jesus Christ is the Lord of heaven and earth, then he is Lord of everything. And if he is the Lord of all there is, then I must submit to him in every sphere of my life, or else I should stop calling him Lord. Jesus said as much in Luke 6:46,
Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? (NRSV)
This notion is in marked contrast to the way many people think and live, including myself in the early days of my faith. I, like plenty of other folks, had long been an adherent of a compartmentalized faith. Men, you know the drill: the Christian faith is fine for Sunday mornings, but it has nothing to do with the rest of your life. It’s embarrassing to admit, but that’s where I was.
Personal, Not Private
Instead, the Christian faith should be understood as a comprehensive view of life. The secular world around us, however, still prefers the church to remain silent about anything not having to do with personal prayers and worship on Sunday mornings. Faith, they say, is private. Sure, you can practice it at home, or even with other Christians on Sunday mornings, but don’t you dare bring it into the public square. Jesus, however, doesn't give us that option. The Christian faith certainly ought to be personal, but it should never be private. To paraphrase the Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper, "there is not a square inch in all the universe about which the Lord Jesus Christ does not declare his own.”
As a United Methodist, I have rejoiced that John Wesley took just such a view of the Christian faith. He called it Scriptural Holiness and said it was his purpose in life to spread such Scriptural Holiness over the land. For Wesley, holiness was inward but also outward. It was personal and it was social. There was no picking and choosing. Faith must permeate every aspect of a Christian’s life – prayer, personal devotions, worship, marriage, parenting, work, economics, politics, education, the arts, personal morality, relationships, civic duty, and serving the community, just to name a few spheres of life.
This Includes Your Life
I encourage you to prayerfully ask yourself what it would mean for you to understand there is not even the smallest corner of your life about which Jesus Christ, as Lord, is unconcerned. How would acknowledging and submitting to that truth change your life? How would it bless your relationship with your family and friends? What consequences would it have for you in your workplace? Can you imagine the possibilities? Brothers, Christ is calling you to follow him in every sphere of your lives. Do you hear his voice? Will you follow him?
Lord of heaven and earth, remind me this day that there is not a square inch in all the universe about which you are unconcerned. While I rejoice that I have seen changes in my life through the gracious work of your Spirit, please show me those areas I am attempting to keep from you. Convict me of my sin and rebellion in those areas and turn my hard heart to flesh and joyful obedience. Please let my life faithfully bear witness to you as I serve as your ambassador to other men who are struggling with handing you the reigns in their lives. Together, may we extend your glorious Kingdom into every sphere of life here on earth, as it already is in heaven. In the name of the King of kings and Lord of lords I pray. Amen.
Pursuing Scriptural Holiness
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Our True Rule
The United Methodist Church, by way of its denominational standard, addresses the sufficiency of Scripture. The 2008 Book of Discipline reminds us, Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
The "practice" referenced is the practice of our faith, the exercise of living this life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and preparing for the next. We believe God expects us to live such a life in accordance with Scripture’s direction, rules, laws, commands, examples, teachings, principles, and all the rest. That covers a great deal of ground.
United Methodists believe that what John Wesley called scriptural holiness relates to both our inward walk with Christ and the outward expression of that relationship with our neighbors. Our Doctrinal Statements, General Rules, and Social Principles cover an enormous variety of topics, such as God, the Church, the Bible, discipleship, economics, environment, bioethics, justice, marriage, parenting, politics, poverty, and yes, our precious Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through him. In all these spheres and more, Scripture is our “true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
The 2008 Discipline says this about scriptural holiness,
We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.
Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.
In other words, Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life. This is what our Discipline means when it reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
So, while the Bible doesn’t, for example, teach me how to change the oil in my car, it still directs and guides me to do even something as mundane (and as important) as that to God’s glory. It teaches me to be a good steward of what God has provided. And caring for my car in such a manner shows my love for my closest neighbors - my family.
The Apostle Paul teaches us,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Scripture is profitable for every area of your life. He doesn’t use the same language here, but Paul is saying Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life. Bishop Mack Stokes addressed this by writing,
Immediately following the “General Rules,” Wesley wrote, ‘These are the General Rules of our society; all which are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice.’ (The Bible in the Wesleyan Heritage, p. 21)
Understanding that Scripture is sufficient for faith and practice is not the same as saying the Bible is a science textbook, a political constitution, or a manual for how to care for your car. But the Bible clearly does have something (and something important) to say about those areas of life and far more.
Wayne Grudem, (who is not a United Methodist), shares this definition for the sufficiency of Scripture, which I believe is helpful. He writes,
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly. (Systematic Theology, p. 127)
God commands us to submit to our Lord in every sphere of life and he guides us in that quest in and through his Word. It is sufficient for such a grand pursuit.
A Faithful Witness
In Psalm 2, the nations are depicted as raging against God's rule. Such rebellion still exists in our day. On the personal level, the constitutional nature of each person has not changed since Psalm 2 was written.
Individuals are still, in their fallen condition, at enmity with and rebellion against God and his reign in their lives. This human condition presents itself in different ways, perhaps as many as there are people. But it all stems from their sinful, fallen, and broken condition.
It shows up corporately as well. Such "raging" against God's rule and reign is revealed in groups, systems, and even the culture at large, much of which appears as desiring and pursuing the opposite of what God wills and commands.
Wag the Dog
Yet none of this is done in ignorance. The nations (and individuals) know what they are doing. This is where Romans 1:18-21 comes in. God has made himself plain (evident) to all so that no one has an excuse. Yet people in their fallen human condition suppress the truth they know about God in unrighteousness.
They neither glorify nor thank God, but instead, their thinking becomes futile, and their foolish hearts are darkened. They do not want a belief system that stifles their desires and pursuits. They don't want a worldview and faith that leads to repentance and new life. They don’t want to be ruled by Another. Thus, their desires and lifestyles wag the dog. In other words, they adjust their worldview to fit their desires and the ways in which they want to live.
They mistakenly view the freedom God permits to be autonomy with impunity. We know this to be true because God’s Word teaches it. We know this is true because we once walked in their shoes. Thus, our hearts ought to ache for those walking in such rebellion and brokenness.
Salt and Light
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be his ambassadors, his witnesses, to precisely these individuals, these systems, this culture. Christ tells us we are salt and light in this dark and decaying world. He commands us to go to and be for these people who were created in his image. Ours is a message of reconciliation and reclamation. It's the good news that even in our rebellion against the King of the universe, he has made a way to re-create that fallen and broken image through our redemption in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our task is to learn how to faithfully bear witness to those in our spheres of influence. Instead of a cookie-cutter approach to our witness, we need to really listen to, learn about, and get to know our neighbors so we can discover how their sin, rebellion, and brokenness are manifested in their lives. We know what their ultimate need is. We know what (Who) the ultimate answer to their need is. Yet, we want to be able to communicate that answer to them in a way they will understand and even appreciate, while trusting God for the results.
Matthew 6:10 – Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
God, Grant Us Reformation
In his book, Hot Tub Religion, J.I. Packer makes this observation,
“…we look at the church of our day and say, ‘We need another reformation.’ But do we know what we are saying? …We are in danger of settling for too narrow a perspective of what reformation is – too narrow a notion of what it was in the past and too narrow a notion of what it will be in the future if God visits us once more.”
Packer asks a good question. Do we indeed know what we are saying when we cry out for reformation? I was awakened to how little I comprehended the word when I began to study what reformation, biblically understood, truly means. I have discovered that this simple word is filled with great meaning. Contained within the word reformation are the ideas of revival, renewal, awakening, restoration, and even overhaul.
As I have considered these words, I have come to realize that the coming of the Kingdom of God was and is a reformation. As our Lord Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God, he brought forth revival and renewal to people’s hearts, minds, and spirits. He awakened them to their great need for the living God. He brought forth restoration where only brokenness existed before. He turned existing ideas about God and humanity upside-down as he revealed God and his good news. He exchanged the temporal perspectives of man for God’s eternal perspective for every sphere of life. Because of this, I have come to see the need for reformation, biblical reformation, in three essential areas of life.
Reformation and the Individual
God uses individuals to touch and transform the church and the world. A.W. Tozer writes,
“It is mere common place to sing or pray, ‘Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me.’ Where else can a spiritual quickening take place but in the individual life? There is no abstract ‘church’ which can be revivified apart from the men and women who compose it.”
Tozer points out that which should be obvious; that the church and world will not be reformed until faithful men and women begin chasing after God and his ways. Individuals do not have to wait for the church before they can be renewed to newness of life and the things of God. Our own faith must be real and personal before it can be social and corporate. Tozer adds,
“Every prophet, every reformer, every revivalist had to meet God alone before he could help the multitudes. The great leaders who went on to turn thousands to Christ had to begin with God and their own soul. The plain Christian of today must experience personal revival before he can hope to bring renewed spiritual life to his church.”
It is true, or course, Christianity is about community and relationships. No Christian is called to live alone on an island. However, this community is a community of men and women who have been personally and individually touched by the Holy Spirit and brought forth from death to life.
Reformation and the Church
One aspect that unites great leaders from Christian history, such as the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, and John Wesley, was their prophetic word to the church in their day. Sadly, they were sometimes viewed as John the Baptist – as lone voices crying in the wilderness. However, the Holy Spirit moved through these faithful men to bring about reformation in the church in their day. God is still using people the same way in our day. In my own denomination, the United Methodist Church, I see faithful men and women standing up for the true and living God and his Word. I also see God renewing lives in his church through a variety of renewal groups. And I know it is through the prayer of these men and women that God will bring a mighty reformation to our denomination. This is true for churches in every denomination or no denomination at all. However, we need to be guided by a proper understanding of reformation, so we might know what direction to take, and therefore, what path not to take.
The puritan pastor and writer, Richard Baxter, has helped provide clarity concerning the notion of reformation. In his book, The Reformed Pastor, he showed that the idea of reformation, biblically understood, combines the heart and mind. In other words, we are not experiencing true reformation in the church when only one aspect is emphasized. Baxter points out that there must be inward spiritual renewal as well as outward correction of doctrine in Christ’s church. It does the church little good if she is only emphasizing correct doctrinal adherence and ignoring inward spiritual vitality. So too, a church that cares little for doctrinal faithfulness and only concerns herself with “religious feelings” cannot rightly be called faithful either. Instead, genuine reformation will reflect these two sides of the same coin. J.I. Packer comments,
“The Bible records many striking movements that textbooks usually call reformations. In every case this same two sidedness applies. These movements had an outward aspect; immorality and idolatry were put away. But they also had an inward side; men and women were stirred to seek God and renew their covenant with him.”
This is true reformation experienced in the Bible and in Church history. These two works, the inward and outward works of God, are really one work seen from two points of view. We cannot have one without the other. Prophetic voices must call Christ’s Church back to both emphases if we are going to experience real reformation. Martyn Lloyd-Jones declared that we have no reason to expect God to usher in reformation and revival if we are not being faithful to God in our present situation.
Reformation and the World
The Lord Jesus Christ came to a dark and lost world with the good and transforming news of the Kingdom of God. Individual believers, and the church, are called out of the world to bear witness to the Light of the world. We are called Christ’s ambassadors as we proclaim God’s message of reconciliation. Along with that beautiful, life-transforming message, God calls us to love our neighbors by serving them and standing up for them. We are called to be who we are in Christ – salt and light to a dark and decaying world. We live in the world though we are not of it.
Our faithfulness in our little part of the world will help bring about the reformation God desires. The Kingdom Jesus ushered in and proclaimed was not about slight adjustments here and there. It was about a complete overhaul – in our thinking, speaking, attitudes, values, priorities, beliefs, and behaviors. As God’s will is done in our lives as it is in heaven, God’s Kingdom-influence will be extended to the various spheres of our lives.
So, let us pray that God will bring biblical reformation into our lives for his greater glory and the blessing of our families, churches, workplaces, communities, and world.
A Kingdom Disciple is, quite simply, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. The phrase, Kingdom Discipleship, is my shorthand way of communicating what it means to live faithfully as his follower, under his Lordship, and in his Kingdom. This distinctive is not really mine. It’s neither innovative nor original. However, my goal in emphasizing Kingdom Discipleship is to help Christians understand more fully what God has revealed in and through his Word. It is also my desire to stand squarely in the tradition of our Christian heritage, most especially my own particular lineage of John Wesley.
Jesus Christ is Lord
By using the phrase, Kingdom Discipleship, I wish to remind disciples of Jesus Christ that our call is to faithfully and obediently follow Christ in every sphere of life. I believe this is imperative because Jesus Christ is Lord over every sphere of life. It was God who granted Jesus authority over all heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18) and gave him the name above every name (Phil. 2:9). It would, therefore, run counter to the biblical witness regarding our Lord’s authority, for his followers to live compartmentalized lives. God doesn’t want us to submit to Christ for just 70 or even 95 percent of our lives. He wants all of us. To paraphrase Abraham Kuyper, there is not a square inch in all the universe Christ has not claimed for himself.
Therefore, our call as his followers is to intentionally, faithfully, obediently, and joyfully extend his Kingdom – his rule, reign, will, and influence – into every sphere of our lives (in every area of responsibility, interest, relationship, and authority). Everything, what some might call the common and the uncommon, the sacred and the secular, is to be lived for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31) and according to his will.
God’s Kingly Influence
The influence of the Kingdom of God and of his Christ must come through gracious, loving, and truthful persuasion, modeling, and witness, never through coercion or manipulation. The kind of transformed individual, family, church, state, society, and world God desires will not, indeed, must not come through violent political revolution or rebellion but by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent “salt and light influence” of God’s people.
The Local Church
The primary means, humanly speaking, by which God’s Kingdom is extended in this way is through local assemblies of God’s people. It is in and through the local church that the life-giving, mind-renewing, and life-transforming Gospel of the Kingdom is proclaimed, taught, and lived out. It is only as men, women, boys, and girls are reborn by the Spirit of God that they are able to enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:3-8). Then, as they continue to grow in their faith, having their minds renewed and lives transformed, they become better educated, equipped, and encouraged to take this good news of the Kingdom into every sphere of their lives. And just as the woman in Jesus’ parable mixes her yeast into the dough and works it until it permeates all of it (Luke 13:20-21), so too is the Kingdom of God extended into every sphere of life by his disciples.
Faith for Every Sphere of Life
Imagine the Difference
What would our culture look like today if the church lived as the salt and light that Christ said we in fact are? How might our society be transformed if every Christian and every local church functioned according to their true identity as salt and light? Can you imagine?
These are not hypothetical questions. These are real questions for real times to real people – to us. Sometimes we may reflect on how bad off our culture is and bemoan the fact there’s nothing we can do about it. Yet the Church in every age has found itself in a similar struggle. We can learn much from Christians in earlier generations.
Lessons from History
Note the following examples of Christians who made an impact in their day, an impact that eventually led to their culture’s significant transformation.
For all of its virtues, the mighty Roman Empire was a decadent place. It was in the midst of that Empire the church was born. When the early Christians weren’t being persecuted for their faith, they were, at best, only being tolerated. Additionally, they were merely one faith on a buffet table of many faiths. Sound familiar?
It’s impressive, therefore, that this small, seemingly insignificant group of marginalized and oppressed people could so powerfully influence such a mighty Empire, so much so it would eventually be declared the official religion of Rome. What happened to bring that about? Many things to be sure, but consider these two examples:
First of all, it was customary for unwanted babies to be discarded in the garbage heaps of Rome. Usually, such a child was not born the desired sex for the family and was seen only as a liability. The family would take the baby down to the garbage heap and leave the child there to die. The early Christians kept a sharp eye out for such things and their response was amazing. When babies were “thrown away,” our brothers and sisters in the early church would go to the garbage heaps, retrieve the children, and take them home to raise them as their own.
Second, throughout Rome’s history there were times when devastating and deadly plagues broke out in densely populated living quarters. The response of most Romans was to leave as quickly as possible in hopes their own lives would be spared. But our brothers and sisters in the early church remained behind. Why? To care for the sick and dying. To show Christ’s love, even in the midst of the devastation.
That sacrificial servant-mentality cost some Christians their lives. But it also accomplished something great. It revealed the life-transforming power of the gospel through an outward witness. It showed Christian discipleship isn’t merely for Sunday mornings. It declared to all of Rome that Christians didn’t just “talk the talk” but they also “walked the walk.”
As a result many people turned to Christ. Christianity grew. Jesus Christ was mightily exalted. A culture began a process of positive transformation. These two examples show us what can happen when Christians function as salt and light in their world. The early Christians took seriously the call of Christ to live as the salt and light that he said they already were. Matthew 5:13-16 is a wake-up call to the church today.
We find these words of Jesus about being salt and light on the heels of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11). These familiar words of Jesus are found at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s there Jesus shows us a picture of what every Christian should look like. He says in Matthew 5:3-10,
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These words describe what every Christian should look like. These aren’t to mark the “super spiritual” among us. These characteristics are to mark all who follow Christ – everyday, ordinary, rank-and-file Christians. These characteristics are countercultural. They describe countercultural men and women whom Christ asserts are salt and light for a dark and decaying world.
We cannot easily imagine these words printed as a vision statement on Wall Street or in the hallowed halls of Washington D.C. or in some Hollywood executive’s office, can we? These are not the valued character traits in many places of power and influence.
The State of the Church
Yet, we sometimes find these same characteristics absent in the Church as well.
According to George Barna, the greatest problem in the Church today is, instead of the Church influencing our culture, the culture is influencing the Church. We don’t look much different from the world. Barna writes,
“Two out of every three American adults claim that the United States is a Christian nation. Don’t believe it. Never have so many been deceived.
Based on an analysis of 131 measures of distinctive attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviors, we have developed a means of assessing the influence of the Christian community in America. This evaluation is based on a comparison of the similarities and differences between Christians and non-Christians. The data demonstrate that although Christians are distinct in some areas of thought and deed, they generally represent an invisible and ineffective presence in the U.S. Surprisingly few Christians have developed a holistic, integrated and balanced form of Christianity that provides non-believers with a viable lifestyle alternative to consider.”
And then, after he reveals that unbelievers and Christians are virtually identical in many spheres of life, Barna concludes,
“The bottom line is that in the dimensions of life where Christians can truly influence their world – i.e. in the non-religious domain – we have failed to demonstrate the power of our faith. Christianity is not losing influence in America because it is overmatched by the challenges of the day; it is losing its impact because believers have been unsuccessful at merging faith and lifestyle outside the walls of the church. Non-believers expect us to have different religious beliefs and practices; those differences fail to impress them. Only when those beliefs and practices shape every other walk of life do they sit up and take notice.”
This is an important insight. In the Beatitudes, Christ tells us about the inward and personal character of his followers. Then he makes an important shift. He tells us it’s impossible to follow the norms of the Kingdom – to be his disciples in the world – in a purely private way. Donald Carson comments,
“The righteousness of the life you live will attract attention, even if that attention regularly takes the form of opposition. In other words, the Christian is not poor in spirit, mournful over sin, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker – all in splendid isolation.
Our Cultural Commission
No, these countercultural norms, faithfully practiced in a sinful world, make up a major aspect of our witness as Christians. That’s why Jesus follows up the Beatitudes with his teaching about salt and light, what we might call our Cultural Commission, our outward witness to the world.
Jesus develops two metaphors to give us a picture of how his disciples must, by the lives they lead, leave their stamp on the world. He calls us salt and light. This is what I call Kingdom Discipleship. Consider these questions.
I know many of you do much of this already, but can we agree we have much further to go? Jesus told us plainly that we are salt and light to a world in need. We’ll unpack in more detail what it means to be salt and light in the next two chapters.
As I conclude this chapter, I want to share this: I’m on a recruiting mission. I’m looking for a few good men and women. I’m looking for Kingdom Disciples.
What is a Kingdom Disciple? A Kingdom Disciple isn’t simply someone who has a few right beliefs about God, Jesus, salvation, and the Bible. It’s not someone who’s only concerned about his or her personal salvation. It’s not someone who merely attends an occasional worship service or Bible study, listens to Christian radio stations, says a blessing before lunch at a restaurant, or gives to charity.
Those are all good things to be sure. They’re important things. But if that’s what our view of discipleship is, then we have a truncated understanding of what it means to follow Christ and thus limit our ability to participate in transforming our culture for Christ.
Chuck Colson wrote in his book, How Now Shall We Live?, the following:
“Right after signing the contract for this book, and while still plagued by writer’s remorse (was I really convinced that this book needed to be written?), my wife, Patty, and I visited old friends for a weekend and attended their local evangelical church, which is well known for its biblical preaching. I found the message solidly scriptural and well delivered. That is, until the pastor outlined for the congregation his definition of the church’s mission: to prepare for Jesus’ return through prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship, and witnessing. In that instant, all lingering doubts about whether I should write this book evaporated.
Don’t get me wrong. We need prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship, and witnessing. But if we focus exclusively on these disciplines – and if in the process we ignore our responsibility to redeem the surrounding culture – our Christianity will remain privatized and marginalized.
Turning our backs on the culture is a betrayal of our biblical mandate and our own heritage because it denies God’s sovereignty over all of life.”
A Kingdom Disciple is a follower of Christ who understands that because Jesus is Lord over every sphere of life, our faith is therefore, a total, balanced, and integrated world and life view. As a consequence, such a follower of Jesus Christ lives in faithful response to that truth in the various areas of his or her life.
It’s only this kind of radical, biblical discipleship that will transform our culture for Christ. This is nothing more and nothing less than what Christ has called us to be in the Sermon on the Mount.
Our faith ought to pervade every aspect of who we are – as individuals, husbands, wives, employees or employers, church members, neighbors, citizens, and so on. The Dutch theologian, Abraham Kuyper, put it this way. He said,
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”
A Social Religion
What if we lived our lives as though that were true? John Wesley and George Whitefield did. It’s been said that England was on its way to its own bloody revolution, like France before it, were it not for these men and the gospel they preached and lived.
They preached a gospel that took in the totality of life. John Wesley screamed from the rooftops that Christianity is a social religion. Yes, it absolutely deals with an individual’s personal relationship with Christ. That’s essential. But that personal relationship must bear fruit corporately, socially. The church is a covenant community, not a village of hermits. We must be here for one another, and as we are, we can help transform our culture.
The revivals of the early Methodists produced not only spiritual revival, but brought forth political, educational, and economic reform in England. Lives were so completely and radically changed by the gospel of Christ, that a violent revolution was avoided. This is our heritage.
Jesus declares in Matthew 28:18,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Paul says in Colossians 1:15-17:
He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (emphases mine)
Can there be any doubt that these texts, and others like them, teach that Jesus Christ is the Lord over the entire universe. And if he is, what does that mean to us? What will that truth look like in our lives? How can that truth transform, not only individual lives, but families, churches, workplaces, neighborhoods and communities, a culture, a world?
Jesus Christ Is Lord
An Early Confession
Thus far in this study we have looked at who Jesus is and why it matters, why Jesus came to our world, the nature of his atoning work on the Cross, and the historical reality of his resurrection. We have learned that Jesus Christ was, and is, the God-man, who died for the forgiveness of our sins and was raised on the third day for our salvation. And yet, as essential as those affirmations of faith are, they are not the earliest creedal formulations about Jesus.
One of the earliest confessions of the Christian community was, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” The title, “lord” in the first century would have been used in much the same way we use the words “sir” or “Mr.” today. It was a sign of courtesy and respect, but not necessarily a divine, or even regal, designation. It was used for Jesus throughout his earthly ministry by those who knew him well, but also by those who did not know him at all. It was a term of respect for the day in which he walked the earth. But all of that changed after his resurrection from the dead. The term “lord” used in polite society came to mean much, much more to his disciples.
Jesus is God
“New Testament scholar, F.F. Bruce wrote,
“The word mar (‘lord’) had a wide range of meaning. In some Aramaic documents dating from shortly before the Christian era it occurs as an equivalent of such divine names as Shaddai (‘the Almighty’) or Yahweh (the personal name of the God of Israel). …Since the form Marana-tha was addressed to the risen Christ in the context of worship, a sense nearer the divine end of the scale of meaning was probably intended.” (Jesus: Lord and Savior)
Bruce goes on to say,
“What is true of the Aramaic form is equally true of the Greek word kyrios, used repeatedly in the New Testament with reference to Jesus. …When early Christians said ‘Jesus is Lord’ (kyrios Iesous), they used the word in its most exalted sense. That is why they refused to say ‘Caesar is Lord’. It is not that they refused to honor the Roman Emperor; on the contrary, they made a special point of honoring him. But they would not allow him to share an honor which, in their view, belonged to Christ alone. To say ‘Caesar is Lord’ from the later years of the first century AD onwards was to acknowledge his divinity, and this was something which Christians could not do.” (ibid.)
What we start observing in the New Testament writing is the usage of Old Testament titles and references for Yahweh – the God of Israel – being used for Jesus, particularly the title, Lord. In the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:5-11, we discover that this move by the early Christian community was “not a matter of inadvertently equating them: it is deliberately affirmed that God has conferred his own name, with the unique dignity attaching to it, on Jesus. It might not be appropriate to reword ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ as ‘Jesus Christ is Yahweh’; but nothing less than this is involved.” (Bruce, ibid.)
In the Christ-hymn, just referred to, the Apostle Paul writes,
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
This point is made crystal clear when Thomas encountered Christ in one of his post-resurrection appearances. Upon experiencing the risen Lord face to face, Thomas declared, in what must have been both amazement and worship, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). About this declaration of faith, the English Standard Version Study Bible notes,
Thomas’s confession of Jesus as his Lord (Gk. Kyrios) and God (Gk. Theos) provides a literary link with the references to Jesus as God in [John’s] prologue (1:1, 18).
Thus, to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord is nothing less than to claim he is God, and therefore, has the authority of God himself. For example, in Matthew 28:18, Jesus declares,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
In other places in the New Testament, we read statements about Jesus that are rightly attributed to God alone.
In Colossians 1:15-20, we read,
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (emphases mine)
John 1:1-3 puts it this way,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (emphases mine)
Hebrews 1:1-4 affirms,
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (emphases mine)
What a majestic and glorious vision of Christ these New Testament writers had! And those are only a few examples of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I hope it is becoming clear that the early church did not view Jesus as just a man, nothing more than merely a great teacher, moral philosopher, or political revolutionary. He was truly human to be sure, but he was more than human; he was the God-man, the Lord of all.
A quotation that is often attributed to St. Augustine goes something like this: “If Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.” The Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper expressed a similar line of thought with these words: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
But what does it mean, practically speaking, to understand and affirm that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord? There are two senses of Lordship that I want to focus on in the rest of this lesson.
The first is the ontological sense of Christ’s Lordship. Ontology is a branch of philosophy that focuses on “being” or “existence.” This relates to the nature of Jesus Christ – the affirmation that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. He is the very God of the Old Testament, as well as New Testament. As such, he is Lord over all things – over heaven and earth, time and space, and life and death. He has dominion over all there is, inside, and even outside, the universe. This understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ ought to lead us to religious devotion to him, which would include, but not limited to, our worship of him.
At this point I hasten to add a vital detail to help us properly understand this aspect of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This understanding of Lordship means that Jesus is Lord of all there is, whether one chooses to recognize and acknowledge him as Lord or not. Our belief or disbelief in his Lordship does not impact this reality in the slightest. As the Apostle Paul points out, however, it would be much better, (as one’s voluntary expression of love, commitment, and worship), to bow before Christ and confess him as Lord now, for the day will come when every person will have to bow before him and confess his Lordship, whether one wants to or not (Philippians 2:10-11). C.S. Lewis made the same point this way,
“When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left. For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not.” (Mere Christianity)
There is a second sense in which Jesus is Lord. We might think of this as an ethical perspective of his Lordship. This has more of a subjective understanding to it and application of it. This means we must not only recognize him as Lord but also choose to submit to him as Lord. This involves submitting our thoughts, words, deeds, desires, attitudes, priorities, values, and every other facet of our lives to his authority and reign. The word authority means, “the right to impose obligation.” When we submit to Jesus Christ as our Lord, we recognize and understand that every sphere of our lives belongs to him. For, as the Scripture we have already looked at affirms, not only was everything (including us) created by him, but it was also created for him. Therefore, we are only able to live the way we were created to live, when we are living in alignment with who Christ is, and in accordance with his will for our lives.
Thus, there should be no compartments of our lives that we keep off limits from Jesus’ claim on them. Our lives should be lived for his glory. We glorify him by living in obedience to him, for this is an expression of love for him (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:2-5). We take all our thoughts, words, deeds, desires, etc., and submit them to Christ by cultivating his perspective on them and bringing them under obedience to him (2 Corinthians 10:5). By doing this, we are honoring him and living in alignment with the One who created all things, and therefore, knows what is best for us.
Because Jesus Christ is Lord, every sphere of life and human interest must be brought into submission to him – religious and ethical convictions, marriage, family, workplace relationships, money and finances, sexuality, politics, government, entertainment, television and internet viewing habits, hobbies, friendships, priorities, art, education, law, leisure, values, beliefs, conduct, economics, and on and on. Jesus Christ has been given authority over it all. Thus, it is Christ and Christ alone who sets the parameters for what brings him glory in these multifaceted and various spheres of life, and what does not bring him glory. In fact, Jesus asks his hearers in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
To be sure, Jesus is a loving and gracious Lord, filled with mercy and compassion, but he is still the Lord, nonetheless. Therefore, we may not rebel against him with impunity. Yet, the glorious and beautiful truth in this is that the better we come to know this Lord of all, the more we grow in love for him, want to become like him, and desire to faithfully follow him in every sphere of life. And, astonishingly, this same Lord invites us to relate to him as brother and friend, for this Lord is also the Lover, Redeemer, and Reconciler of our souls.
This view of Christ’s Lordship has transformed my life and ministry and I believe it can do the same for you. Such a view has helped guide me away from a self-centered, compartmentalized, temporal perspective of living in this world to a Christ-centered, holistic, and eternal perspective. Seeing life this way is like finding the right pair of eyeglasses with the proper prescription to view reality. Only with these eyeglasses am I able to see things as they really are. C.S. Lewis put it this way,
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
What About You?
Is Christ your Lord? We’ve already seen that Christ is the Lord, regardless of our perspective and acknowledgement of him or our response to him. Idolatry has been part of the human condition since the beginning. We often look for other masters to serve who will permit us live the way we deem best. But they are broken idols of our own making which will lead us astray. Furthermore, it was Jesus himself who said we cannot serve two masters. In Matthew 6:24 he taught, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” In other words, Jesus taught that there is no neutrality when it comes to him. He says in Matthew 12:30, “Whoever is not with me is against me…” One Master or Lord will lead you to abundant and eternal life; the other lord and master will lead you to death and destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).
Jesus is not a Savior only, but Lord and Savior. He is the Lord of your salvation. He sets the parameters of how a person can enter into an intimate relationship with the living God. It is a gracious gift that comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Indeed, this has been a defining mark of faithful Christian belief since the first century. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:9,
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
This is the faithful confession of faith that has been passed down from one generation of Christians to the next, for two thousand years. But this is not a faith that saves souls for eternity only. It is also the one Way that brings abundant life that yields true temporal blessings to individuals, families, communities, nations, and even the world, as Christ’s disciples produce much, good, and lasting fruit for him and his Kingdom.
Let me end with a prayer I developed based on a study of the ancient Celtic Cross, which emphasized the Lordship of Christ.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, please have mercy on me a sinner.
You are the Lord of heaven and earth, of time and space, of life and death.
You are the fount of all wisdom and knowledge.
You are the Lover, Redeemer, and Reconciler of souls.
Please fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may,
Know you more clearly,
Love you more dearly,
Become like you more nearly,
And follow you more faithfully in every sphere of my life.
For the sake of your Kingdom and holy Name I pray. Amen.
I pray that that prayer would be more fully realized in my life, as well as yours. Thanks be to God.
Here I Stand
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.