Overview: Kingdom Living

The last section showed in what sense the Kingdom had come, and in what sense it was still future. While the Kingdom is primarily an end-times event, there are ways that the Gospel Message can have an effect on us today.

The first article in this section examines God's righteousness. God is a righteous judge and His judgment is perfect. His standards often sound harsh or strict, but that's because it is a much higher standard than any that we go by in our lives. Yet His righteous judgment is balanced by His tender mercy and compassion.

He made provision for Israel to cover their sins, but His ultimate desire was for their hearts to be righteous so they wouldn't sin in the first place. He has more delight in obedience than in burnt offerings.

Jesus proclaimed a new standard of righteousness that was more concerned with the heart than with merely outward behavior. This new standard is both good news and bad news for us. The good news is that we are not in bondage to the letter of the Law, and have tremendous freedom under the New Covenant. We are to be guided by the spirit and by love, not legalism.

The bad news is that we have a higher standard. Just thinking evil is as bad as murder. Just looking at a woman with lust is as bad as committing adultery. Who then can be saved? The Apostles asked this and Jesus' answer was that with God all things are possible.

The New Birth
The higher standard Jesus spoke of is one which cannot be achieved by our own ability, since our hearts are sinful by nature. It requires the New Birth to truly change us from the inside. The second article in this section examines what is meant by the New Birth.

The New Birth is said to be based on "seed" but what is that seed? According to Jesus it is the Word of God, which is not just a synonym for the Bible, but is the Gospel of the Kingdom. His parables comparing the Gospel with seed being sown give us a clear mind picture of how it is supposed to work. It is planted, and if the soil is good the seed of that Word begins to grow and develop in us, and will bear fruit as we abide in Christ. A process of regeneration begins when we accept and believe the Gospel, and it will be completed when the Lord returns.

That process continues as long as we remain in the faith. Contrary to what is commonly referred to as "Once saved always saved," it is not enough to have a "moment of faith" even if we turn away later. There are a number of verses in the New Testament that refer to the conditional nature of salvation. But it is not salvation by works. We are saved by grace through faith, but we must continue in that faith. This is dealt with briefly here, but in more detail in a Closer Look article.

As an outward expression of our faith in Jesus and acceptance of God's gift, we are commanded to be baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ. Some say that water baptism is obsolete and was replaced by the baptism of the holy spirit. But there are many clear records in the Bible about baptism, showing that spirit did not replace water but was added to it. There is a need for the outward sign as much as there is for the spirit. This is also briefly dealt with here, but handled in more detail in a Closer Look article.

The Spirit and the Word
The Holy Spirit is closely associated with the Word. The third article in this section looks at how the Spirit and the Word dwell in the believer and bring about regeneration.  (What the Holy Spirit is and is not is handled in another Closer Look article.) The ministry I was formerly involved with held that "The Holy Spirit" was a name for God, while "holy spirit" was a gift He gave. This gift was a "new birth seed" that was now part of me, and it was up to me to "operate" it. Closer examination of the Scriptures shows that neither of these views is what the Bible teaches about the holy spirit.

A study of the Old Testament use of "spirit" helps us to understand what the Spirit of the Lord, or the holy spirit, is. God's Holy Spirit is His presence and power in operation in situations or in people. It is an extension of God, not a separate person. In addition, "my spirit" refers to the spirit of man in me, and must be differentiated from the spirit of God. The Spirit of Jesus is God’s Holy Spirit as focused in the risen, glorified Christ.

The power of God's Holy Spirit works in us today, as a token or pledge of the New Covenant. The process of regeneration is a primary function of the holy spirit, along with enabling us to be witnesses for Christ. It is by way of the spirit that God and Jesus abide in us, as the words of Christ abide in us. As we grow, we begin to bear the fruit of the spirit, rather than continue in the works of the flesh.

Law or Grace
Since the Gospel of the Kingdom has been the one message throughout the Bible, some conclude that we are to keep the Law of Moses, while others believe we are saved by grace and not works. The fourth article in this section looks at the question of Law or Grace, and how it must take into account Paul's distinction between the Old and New Covenants.

The Old Covenant laws were not given so that Israel could be saved by them, any more than we can be saved by works. They were the expected response to their unique relationship with God. But many of the Israelites, especially the Scribes and Pharisees, ended up using the works of the Law as a way of trying to establish their own righteousness. Instead of observing God's ways, out of love for Him and for their neighbor, they prided themselves in keeping minute details of the letter of the Law, but missed the whole heart behind it.

Paul wrote at length about the Law versus grace in his epistles. But grace is not a license to sin. Jesus taught a higher standard, and it is based on genuine love, first for God, and then for people. The New Covenant of grace includes redemption from the curse of the Law, as well as the opportunity to develop the heart of love that God desires us to have.

Some consider the Sabbath to be a "universal law" that predated Moses. But the fact is that while the Sabbath commandment refers to God resting on the seventh day, there is no indication that God commanded everyone to rest on the seventh day ever since creation. When the Sabbath was introduced for the first time, it was given specifically to Israel, not their fathers. While the Sabbath law reflects God's resting on the seventh day, its primary purpose was not to commemorate His resting, but rather His leading them out of Egypt, according to Deuteronomy.

Many of the ordinances and rituals of the Old Covenant have been spiritualized in the New. Observing its many rules and regulations is no longer required. But this does not mean that our actions are irrelevant. What we do should be a demonstration of what is in our heart. Grace is the perfect balance between legalism on one side and license to sin on the other. We are to hold fast to the words of our Lord and allow them to permeate our hearts to the end that they produce the genuine fruit of good works in us.

Living By Faith
The fifth article in this section looks at what it is to live by faith, and what "faith" really means. We are saved by grace because of Christ's sacrifice, through faith in his name. Often "faith" is thought to be a blind belief in something even though there is absolutely no logical reason to believe in it. But this is not how the Bible speaks of faith.

There is in some circles a great deal of emphasis on the so-called "Law of Believing." Sometimes referred to as the "health and wealth gospel," it focuses on believing or having faith for things that you want. And if you don't have sufficient health and wealth in your life, it's your own fault for not believing enough. This is dealt with in greater detail in a Closer Look article as well.

Faith and the verb "to believe" are simply two forms of the same thing. And the root word in the Greek means to persuade, to trust, or to have confidence. Someone tells you something, you believe it. It's that simple. Why do you believe it? Either because you trust them to begin with, or because they persuade you. People speak of "accepting on faith" a doctrine or belief that one cannot explain or understand. But is this kind of "blind faith" what God expects of us? Jesus spoke of believing, but in the vast majority of Scriptures, it had to do with believing what God said, and believing who Jesus was.

Faith is more than just "believing for things" - it's trust and confidence to the end that we obey. We are saved by grace unto good works. If we believe Jesus is Lord, we are expected to obey him and live according to his commands.  There is a difference between doing works to try to make yourself righteous, and doing works out of obedience. When you are acting out of obedience, your works demonstrate your faith.

When we believe the Gospel of the Kingdom, we live in light of it. This includes obeying the commands of our Lord, including preaching the Gospel. More than believing to receive abundance, or operate power, our primary focus is to speak the truth in love, so that others may share in the glorious Gospel that we have been entrusted with.

We are called to preach the Gospel, but not to try to change the world. The world will be changed when Christ returns; we just make known the message of what is coming. The events leading up to the ultimate end-time fulfillment of God's Kingdom are the subject of the next section.

Mark Clarke
E-mail: mclarke@godskingdomfirst.org