Once you begin to see value in yourself, you’ll also need to see value in transformation. Then you’re enabled to make a choice that makes sense to you. You can intend transformation to live new life in God’s kingdom.
I find it unsettling that after forty years as a Christian, I never really had a complete or practical image of the kingdom of heaven, probably because I marginalized the bulk of what Jesus said. I didn’t see it myself when I read the Gospels, nor did church leaders present it to me.
I had a stronger relationship with my church and bible than with Jesus. Like many, I believed that forgiveness alone would save me. And the cross he hung on, not he, would change my life. Effectively, for most Christians I know, Jesus is worth more dead than alive because his primary value was in his crucifixion, not his life.
The Lord’s life-style didn’t make sense to me. Therefore, I didn’t plan and organize my own life-style around his. I never formed the intent to live the kind of life from above that he did in God’s kingdom. And after forty years, it showed.
For one thing, I saw the kingdom of heaven and salvation strictly as an afterlife issue. The kingdom was far away and far future, having little bearing on the challenges in my current life. Eternity started after I physically die, and passage from death to life occurred only then. For another thing, any necessary changes in this life would happen to me once I espoused the right doctrines, especially those pertaining to atonement for sin.
For me, this constituted trust, faith, and belief. It was the definition and extent of obedience to Christ. My delayed reward would be that I’d one day wake up in a wispy realm with God, engaged in an eternal church service complete with choirs, harps, and lots of Amens and Hallelujahs.
Becoming the sort of person who can stand life with God never occurred to me. I wondered instead how God can stand me.
Everything Jesus said and did was to proclaim and manifest life as lived in the kingdom of heaven. “For that is why I was sent.” (Luk. 4:43) The good news he proclaimed is that the kingdom is near, not far, and available now, not just later, to anyone who seeks it. Everyday life—working, raising a family, conducting business, dealing with problems and neighbors—can shift into this interactive realm among us where no one needs to lie, kill, or cheat to find blessed well-being.
To trust in Jesus means to count on him for a complete picture of the eternal kind of life derived from God’s ways, designs, and reality. Belief in Christ doesn’t mean belief in his biography; it means to think and act as if what he says is trustworthy. Genuine faith intendsto do what he says to do, i.e., to follow him into God’s kingdom here and now. The afterlife is simply the natural extension of that.
No one wanders aimlessly into the kingdom of heaven. No one “arrives” lost and unprepared. Repentance is a deliberate choice to live better by becoming a healthy, renewed soul—sound of mind, heart, body, and behavior—that can rule and serve safely with God.
The Israelites wandered for forty years in the desert until they were ready for the Promised Land. This was for their protection (similar to God barring Adam and Eve from re-entering Eden). If the Israelites were to stand living with God, they had much to un-learn, re-learn, and practice.
For example, they had to learn God’s provision, so He gave them manna from heaven for sustenance. They had to learn and practice God’s ways of love, so He gave them the Ten Commandments. Through it all, and by grace, God never left them on their own, but was with them, providing all the guidance, opportunities, and help they needed to prepare.
Today, what started with Israel extends to you and me, as planned all along, through Jesus. I find it fascinating that he’s the bread of life (manna) from heaven. He’s the Ten Commandments in the flesh. He’s the one with us ‘til the end of the age, providing all we need to prepare for ruling and serving the creation in the fullest presence of God in ages to come. This, of course, includes atonement.
I don’t know how I missed it before, but the great Exodus is a model, even a prophecy, of God’s continuous work with mankind. Jesus’ resurrection parted the sea of death to allow safe passage. And, like the ancient Israelites, it’s our responsibility and privilege to follow, learn, trust, and practice.
Repent, For The Kingdom Is At Our Fingertips
In the preceding weeks, I’ve written about knowing God and His ways, knowing yourself, and learning to love yourself without self-contempt, all to prepare for the next step of neighbor love. But don’t let accepting yourself equate to being stuck with yourself. You don’t impose “this is who I am, like it or not” upon yourself and others.
While it might seem humble, that’s a sneaky form of pride that destroys hope and repentance. If left in place, little will go well for you—unless you like ruined relationships and being stuck with a lonely, decaying spirit trapped in a body that dictates your every whim. Your sense of place with God will be nearly non-existent even if you have a great relationship with your church or bible.
Whereas pride always imposes, love never does. Jesus knows you don’t change against your will, and not unwittingly. Your power is in the freedom to intentionally choose deliverance. “This is me” is merely where you start. Transformation is the path you take once it makes sense and participation becomes your own will. But you need a plan to follow. Then, plan to follow it. Otherwise, you’ll either abandon God in disgust or resign your life to exhausting guilt management for things you dislike about yourself, but feel powerless to change.
Changing your mind will change your world. Do you realize that you can join God in what He’s been doing, one life at a time, all these centuries of human history? You can be His partner in bringing about all that is right and good, starting with you.
This week, contemplate various ideas and habits of mind or body that might prevent planned intent to live a new life from above. Which ones might be creating a spirit of unbelief in you?
1. You have an incomplete image of life in the kingdom of heaven. It’s irrelevant to “real” life here and now. Your health, livelihood, finances, and relationships are temporary, not a part of eternity or your soul, and are therefore trivial.
2. You don’t like planning, or feel you shouldn’t have to if God is in control and taking care of you. Anything you do might be “works salvation,” which would be a grave sin.
3. Turning the other cheek, blessing those who curse you, or neighbor love don’t seem smart and don’t make sense. This life-style is a weakness, not strength, and hardly wise or valuable in this world.
4. Jesus lived the way he did only because he’s supernatural. For mere mortals, it’s impossible. You’ve tried and failed before, so the best you can do is pray, worship, and hope for forgiveness.
5. It never occurred to you, and no one has ever suggested, that you could be whole and complete. You’ve accepted yourself as you are and don’t expect God’s rewards until after physical death.
6. You’re fine. It’s others who need to change. If they’d get their acts together, life would be grand.
Most of these reflect the shallow, empty faith common in much of today’s Christian culture. It’s no wonder we feel so far from God. Consider that total faith in the wrong system is as bad as no faith at all. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?” (Luk. 6:46)