Results tagged “Kingdom of God” from Reformation21 Blog

An Extraordinary Love


Dying to self is the fertile ground from which love springs and the weeds of anger and hatred and jealousy cannot take root. When we die to self, we look more like the One who bought us and more like children of our heavenly Father. Let us shock the world by manifesting a Kingdom ethic they can't help but find alluring.

As Christians, ours is a different ethic--namely, a Kingdom ethic. We live by an ethic that comes from above. That truth is brought home as Jesus teaches, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'" (Matt. 5:43-44). This statement by Jesus launches the Christian ethic into the stratosphere of uniqueness. He says that we are not just to refrain hating our enemies back but we are to have a positive attitude towards our enemies! "Those who persecute you," Jesus says. He takes the worst of enemies. Are there any enemies more difficult to love than persecutors? And we are supposed to love those?

When Stephen is being stoned as the first martyr of the Christian church and Saul stands there holding the garments, Stephen utters his last words, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." He is being executed unjustly and yet it is not anger that pours forth, but love. He prays for them.

"This just isn't possible," we might think. I agree, it isn't possible in our flesh. But it is possible for the child of God by the Spirit of God to love the enemies of God for the glory of God. Stephen possessed the power of Christ within Him. The same Christ, who hung upon the cross and cried out to His Father in prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing" (Luke 23:24).

Isn't this the crux (pun intended) of the Christian life? We look different because we are different. As Christians, we don't belong to this world, so we don't respond as the world with anger and hatred. Let them foam at the mouth, but not us. Let them be on a continual cycle of anger with the day's news, the day's injuries, the day's insults, but not us.

Jesus goes on to say, be "perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Jesus sets before His disciples the ethics of the Father and says, "See who He is; be like Him. Do as He does." Our life is to reflect the life of our Father and manifest His person and truth to the world around us. That is revolutionary, especially in our day!

How do we manifest love instead of anger and hatred? Only by His power. Only by reminding ourselves that we ourselves have no ground on which to stand. To inquire within, "How can I have anger and even hatred in my heart towards my enemies, when I was the recipient of God's love and grace when I was an enemy?" "Has a greater insult or injury been offered to me than I offered to God?" How can I not give what I have received? How can I not understand the grip sin can have upon another? How can I not be moved with compassion that they lack knowledge of the grace of God or don't know it to the degree I do?" We take a step back and look at our enemies with the lens of God's grace and love.

What impact could it have on this culture, a culture that desperately needs it, if every Christian transferred the fervor of hatred, ridicule, and anger towards our enemies into fervent prayer for them instead? What if we prayed with the same zeal with which we ruminate upon the injustices done to us? What kind of impact could that have?

"Love your enemies," Jesus says. He doesn't say we have to like them. Some have done such horrible things, that we may never like them. But we can love them. We can take a step back and remind ourselves of the sinner they are and the need for God's grace they have, just as we are and have need. As Christians, we don't take our ethical standards from the community we live in--thank God. We don't look to society to set our standard for what is right and wrong. We don't look horizontally to determine who we should be. We look vertically at who He is; and, He is love. He is our Father. His only begotten Son is our Savior. This God sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45). He gives good gifts to all. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). That is love. We were enemies and He loved us. So, our love is to surpass that which the world evidences. Not just exceed them in quantity but in quality. Ours is a different love. Ours is to be an extraordinary shocking love.

'Til Kingdom Come


So much recent debate surrounding social justice seems to boil down to fundamental disagreements and misunderstandings about the relationship between the "Kingdom of God" and the "Church."  Many have conflated these two biblical concepts so as to lose the clear lines of demarcation regarding the mission of the church and the activities of believers in the world. Others have so pitted them against one another as to bifurcate any necessary correlation. In vol. 5 of his Reformed Dogmatics, Geerhardus Vos made a number of profoundly important points regarding both the distinctness and interconnectedness of these two biblical concepts when he wrote,   

"On the one hand, 'kingdom of God' is the narrower, and 'church' the wider concept...On the other hand, the 'kingdom of God' or 'of heaven' is a broader concept than that of the church."1

Concerning his observation about the "Kingdom of God" being a more narrow concept than the "Church," Vos noted, 

"While the Church has both a visible and invisible side, and so can often be perceived of an entire nation, the kingdom of God in its various meanings is the invisible spiritual principle. It is the lordship Christ exercises over our souls if we truly belong to Him, our submission to his sovereign authority, our being conformed and joined by living faith to His body with its many members. It is the gathering of these true members and subjects of Christ. It is called the "kingdom of heaven" because it has its center and its future in heaven. All the spiritual benefits of the covenant are linked to it: righteousness, freedom, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit [cf. Rom 14:17]. As such a spiritual entity, it is within man and does not appear with an outward face. Understood in this sense, the kingdom of heaven equals the invisible church, but then in its New Testament particularity, for Christ preached that the kingdom of heaven had come near, namely, through His coming. He is the king, and through His clear self-revelation and through His completed work, the invisible church also receives a new glory that it did not have previously, so that even the least in this kingdom is still greater than John the Baptist [Matt 11:11]."2

With regard to the insistence that the "Kingdom of God" is the broader, and the "Church" the narrower concept, Vos explained,

"The Kingdom of presented to us as leaven that must permeate everything, as a mustard seed that must grow into a tree that with its branches covers all of life. Plainly, such a thing may not be said of the concept 'church.' There are other spheres of life beside that of the church, but from none of those may the kingdom of God be excluded. It has its claim in science, in art, on every terrain. But the church may not lay claim to all that. The external side of the kingdom (the visible church) must not undertake these things; the internal essence of the kingdom, the new existence, must of itself permeate and purify. It is precisely the Roman Catholic error that the church takes everything into itself and must govern everything. Then there appears an ecclesiastical science, an ecclesiastical art, an ecclesiastical politics. There the kingdom of God is identical with the church and has been established on earth in an absolute form. According to us, it is otherwise. The true Christian belongs in the first place to the church, and in it acknowledges Christ as king. But besides that he also acknowledges the lordship of Christ in every other area of life, without thereby committing the error of mixing these things with each other. The Old Testament church-state, which comprehended the entire life of the nation, was a type of this all-encompassing kingdom of God."3

These distinctions lead naturally to certain conclusions concerning the complex interrelatedness of these two spheres of God's rule and reign in His people and in the world. Vos wrote, 

"If now one compares the visible church and the kingdom of God viewed from the first side, then one can say that the former is a manifestation and embodiment of the latter.

If one compares the visible church and the kingdom of God viewed from the second side, then one can say that the former is an instrument of the latter.

If one looks to the final outcome, then one must say that the church and kingdom of God will coincide. In heaven there will no longer be a division of life. There the visible and the invisible will coincide perfectly. Meanwhile, for now the kingdom of God must advance through the particular form of the church."4

The complexity of these two concepts necessitates that we give the utmost care to our consideration of both their distinctness and interrelatedness. It is only as we do so that we will profitably enter into conversations about the mission of the church, social justice, mercy ministry, the individual and the corporate, the sacred and the secular, and the myriad of others associated matters about which Christians love to spend inordinate amounts of time debating online. Though a daunting task, in and of itself, it will prove a worthy endeavor sure to yield great benefit to fellow members in the church.  

1. Vos, G. (2012-2016). Reformed Dogmatics. (R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, A. Janssen, ... K. Batteau, Trans.) (Vol. 5, pp. 8-9). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2. Ibid., vol. 5, p. 8.

3. Ibid., p. 9

God's Special People?


I attended a highly patriotic Christian school from kindergarten to fifth grade. It would definitely have been categorized as a nationalistic, God-and-country school. We pledged allegiance to the American flag and then to the Christian flag (which seems awfully Charlemagne-esque in hindsight). At the same time, I grew up in a home that was highly appreciative of the freedoms we enjoy as American citizens--but one that was certainly not nationalistic per se. My father wasn't comfortable with some of the nationalistic expressions they taught us at school. I distinctly remember feeling uncomfortable pledging allegiance to a national flag when I was a very young boy. Still, I spent very little time questioning how much, if any, national adherence is appropriate in the life of a believer. 

When I was in my late 20's, I moved to Philadelphia to start an internship at Tenth Presbyterian Church. The church happened to be celebrating its mission conference when I began my time there. Flags from countries all around the world hung down from the balcony, awaiting the participants. As I stood there witnessing what was part of the preamble to an incredible mission conference, one of the pastors on staff asked me a question that I had never been asked before: "What do you think," he said, "about having an American flag behind the pulpit in the church building?" Being caught off guard, I quickly responded, "I haven't ever really thought about it. Why?" What he said next continues to have an impact on my thinking today. "We have so many people from so many different nations of the world living here in Philadelphia that I would hate to give the sense that if you are going to become a Christian, that means that you will be have to become a patriotic American. If a Middle Easterner was invited to one of our services, would we want them to have to identify Christianity with American patriotism?" This very difficult issue is one that the church has needed to work through over the past several decades. In short, how are we--as Christians in America--to hold Christianity and patriotism together without harming the cause of Christ through our misplaced or imbalanced patriotic zeal?

In 2009, the Lord called me to plant a church in a coastal town in Southeast Georgia that lies between two military bases. Our congregation has consisted of a majority of Army and Air Force officers over the years. I have certainly grown in my appreciation for the sacrifices that the men and women of our armed forces make in order to defend our freedoms. I regularly pray for the spiritual and physical protection of those officers who are deployed and of their families. We give special attention to the families of those officers when they are deployed. Having now worked closely with so many who have served in our armed forces--and having seen the enormous sacrifices that they make (and they are far greater than most of us will ever realize)--deep and sincere gratitude wells up within me whenever I think about the these men and women. However, when I think of those in our congregation who serve in the military, I think of them first and foremost as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. The role they play as members of the armed forces of the United States of America is secondary, at best, to membership they have in the eternal Kingdom of Christ by God's grace.  

The Scriptures are clear that believers live as citizens of two kingdoms. We live as citizens of the heavenly Kingdom of God--while, at the same time, living as citizens of an earthly kingdom. When the apostle Paul wrote the epistle of Ephesians he wrote it to those who were "in Christ" and "in Ephesus." In union with Jesus, believers belong to the nation of Christ--as over against the nation of Adam. Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews of His day--who were citizens of the only manifestation of a theocratic kingdom in redemptive-history: "The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it" (Matt. 21:43). What "nation" did Jesus have in mind? The Apostle Paul would remind the Gentile believers to whom he was sent that they were the true "Israel" (Gal. 6:16; Rom. 9:6). Although they had once been far off from the promises of Israel in the Old Covenant, now they had been brought near through His blood. They had been grafted into the only tree, which is Christ (Rom. 11:11-24). This means that the New Covenant church, the true Israel, transcends national identity. No one understood the unsurpassed value of being a member of Christ's heavenly Kingdom (as over against being a citizen of any earthly kingdom) so well as the Apostle Paul. After his conversion, the most zealous and patriotic of all Israelites became the missionary to the nations. He did so because he realized that there was a heavenly Kingdom that had manifested itself on earth through the preaching of the Gospel.

While the transcendent privilege of belonging to the Kingdom of the Son of God's love is the supreme blessing we experience in this life, we recognize that there can also be benefits to our living as citizens of earthly countries and cities such as Ephesus. When the Apostle Paul was about to be killed by an angry mob, he appealed to the benefit of being a Roman citizen (Acts 22:22-29). This, in turn, served to protect the Apostle Paul and aid him in carrying out his ministry among the Gentiles. In the same way, it is not wrong for us to appeal to the privileges that we have as American citizens. We have large blessings and should use them to advance the Kingdom of God when appropriate. J.I. Packer, in massively important 1988 article, "The Christian and God's World: The Battle for America's Soul," wrote:

"I see the United States as having at this time a unique role in the world at both levels of Divine operation. I might perhaps be able to see this more clearly than a native American every could, simply because I look at it from outside. As a non-American, I do not endorse any form of that Utopian triumphalism, the secular counter-part of the Pilgrim's hope of building New Jerusalem in Massachusetts, that periodically breaks surface in the American mind and that looks to outsiders so ominously like the pride that goes before a fall. The idea that America is God's most favored nation, and always will be, is a snare and a delusion that can only sap America's spiritual strength in a way that Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Malcolm Muggeridge think has happened already. Do not, I beg you, fall victim to any such notion as that.

Nonetheless, I want to go on record as saying to you, and about you...What it boils down to is, that among the larger nations, only the United States has both the manpower and the money to sustain Evangelical world mission for the next generation, and this gives America an uniquely important role in the global strategy of the kingdom of God at the present time."

This, it seems to me, touches the nerve of how we should respond to the freedoms and resources that we have as Americans. We should be grateful for the country that God has placed us in, precisely because the Gospel has been rooted in this country for so long and so many have come to hear about Christ here. We are able to worship the true and living God without fear of persecution because of the freedom that we have here. This has been an unsurpassed blessing in the history of the world. Yet, our patriotism ought not lead us to embrace freedom for the sake of triumphalism or utopian hedonism. The words of the Apostle Paul--while made in light of the implications of the grace of God in the Gospel--are nevertheless to be well heeded in the context of American privilege: "Do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Gal. 5:13). We must never forget that America is not "God's special country" over against other countries in the world and that its citizens are not "God's special people." Christians belong to a greater nation (Matt. 21:43)--one in which we are truly "God's special people" (1 Pet. 2:9)--namely, the everlasting Kingdom of Christ. All of this has massive implications for how we view the privilege we have as American citizens.

I love living in the country in which God has placed me by an act of His sovereign, common grace. There is everything right about loving a country that has provided so much religious and political freedom. There is everything right with thanking God for such large privileges. But, we must never forget that "this is not our home," and that "here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come." John Piper sums up the matter so well when he says, "Long after America is a footnote to the future world, Christ will reign with His people from every tongue, tribe and nation." We must always remember that we belong to a greater nation--a spiritual nation made up of brothers and sisters in China, North Korea, England, Germany, Iran, Afghanistan, Ghana, Morocco, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, etc. After all, we will eternally be a chosen nation of believers from every tongue, tribe and people. Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for the Savior--the Lord Jesus Christ."

*This is an adapted version of a post that first appeared on June 29, 2014 in

A Political Paradigm Shift for Christians

With the 2016 Presidential election drawing near, Bible-believing Christians are as divided over their votes as at any time in recent memory. Very few offer support to Hillary Clinton, given her rabid support of abortion and disrespect for religion. The divide instead comes between Christians who plan to hold their noses and vote for Donald Trump and others who refuse to endorse such a scandalously ungodly man. On the one hand, we hear, "Save the Supreme Court!" On the other hand, "Disassociate from evil!" What we are really hearing is the shattering of a paradigm, in this case the evangelical willingness to compromise politically with "lesser evils" in pursuit of public good. A couple of realities are making this approach less palatable to many believers:

  • First, Christian involvement in politics has not succeeded in rallying a "moral majority" that will keep America from going down the tubes. The reality is that our generation has witnessed a spiritual and moral disaster of biblical proportions, even though "Christian" candidates have often won the elections. In this situation, increasing numbers of believers wonder if the pursuit of political power might be doing more harm than good. Might it be that the moral influence of Christians has been greatly lessened because we are seen to compromise on principle? Might the hypocrisy of, say, abandoning our moral convictions for the sake of a couple of Supreme Court seats (itself a most uncertain hope), actually speed the culture's rejection of Christian ethics? 
  • Second, we ask the question if the gaining of political power is the correct objective for Christians at all. True, followers of Jesus are citizens of the secular realm and have a duty to serve there as salt and light. But shouldn't the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 at least make our witness to the gospel and the character of God a higher priority? And if our political compromises have the effect of making a mockery of our witness, should we not stop making these compromises? In short, shouldn't we consider making gospel integrity a higher objective than political success?
  Whatever happens in next week's national election, it is clear that Christians need to think about an entirely new paradigm when it comes to political engagement. Do we consider a third party that would be explicitly Christian (following the example of Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands)? Such a course would have cons as well as pros, but perhaps the time has come to give it serious thought. In the meantime, this unsettling election surely calls for believers to pause and reflect biblically. To this end, let me suggest 3 biblical principles that can inform not only our future paradigm but also our voting decisions in the coming national election:

  1. The Christian must trust in God, not in man. Psalm 118:8-9 says, "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes." Armed with this faith, there is no reason for Christians to support ungodly men or women as a "necessary means" to our survival and success. We have a sovereign, almighty, covenant-keeping God who cares for us. Why would we disgrace that faith by selling our support to political candidates of either party who behave in a morally contemptuous manner? Here is the question the world wants to know about us: Who do we trust, in God or in princes? 
  1. The Christian must aim for faithfulness, leaving the outcome to the Lord. This is not to say that Christians remain uninvolved in political or other public affairs. But being a Christian surely limits us from endorsing blatant sin and giving public support to grossly ungodly candidates. As Psalm 97:10 says, "O you who love the Lord, hate evil!" To this the pragmatists answer, "But the Supreme Court!" But the psalmist continues: "[The Lord] preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked."
  1. The Christian must prize the name and reputation of Jesus and think first about the spread of his gospel message of salvation. From this perspective, government persecution is not the greatest evil we should fear. The church often flourishes spiritually when under oppression. But the church is always crippled by hypocrisy and betrayals of our message. Far above any fear we should have of secularist oppression, Christians should dread a compromise to the public integrity of our witness to Christ and his kingdom.
  I find that these principles do not permit me to give public support (or my vote) to either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for the simple reason that the lesser of two evils remains evil. I do not believe it is my duty to "win the election," but rather to conduct myself according to biblical standards of truth and grace.   I do not want to send a message to the world that my fear of tyranny and persecution is stronger than my faith in God to rule and protect. I know that many of my fellow believers disagree with this, either because they evaluate the candidates differently or fear that compromise is simply necessary at this hour. While I beg to differ, can we at least start a discussion after this election about our strategy for political engagement in the midst of a culture that happens to be the mission field for our witness to Jesus and his saving grace?