A Call to Citizenship
At the outset of this book I said that the basic question the Church needs to answer today is what it means to be in the world but not of the world. In understanding that the community of Christ has a distinct culture in the kingdom of heaven I believe we have found an answer.
Jesus calls us out of darkness and into his light. He rescues us from the bondage of sin and our imprisonment in the kingdom of darkness. Consider that we were all once citizens in this dark kingdom, but now that citizenship has been negated. When we choose to follow Jesus we shed our old home and walk freely out of that spiritual darkness to our new home in the kingdom of heaven. We are now a part of the community of Christ, citizens of his realm. When we choose this narrow path we are answering a call to leave one culture for another, opting for the spiritual culture of Christ’s kingdom and accepting the divine paradigm of God.
I have used the term ‘community of Christ’ a fair amount in this book instead of the word ‘Church’ because we need to understand that as Christians we belong to a far reaching community of believers that goes beyond church buildings and denominations. The Church is a spiritual community living in one spiritual country and they are the people of God. If every church building were torn down and destroyed the Church would remain (and probably be strengthened), for the be the community of Christ is to be something far more than a religious institution or system. The community of Christ is made up of those who know God and love him. This identity is not contained in buildings with programs, but is a spirituality of relationship with Jesus Christ. The Christian style of life is rooted in that spirituality. We are a spiritual people who need to understand our spiritual culture.
The spiritual life of the Christian is about life in the Spirit. At the core of Christian spirituality is a relationship with Jesus marked by transformation and love. Our spirituality should lead to the outward expression of these two values, we are the messengers of transformation and love in the world.
To be such messengers requires an ever deepening relationship with God. The spiritual culture of the kingdom is lived in as we live out the spirituality of the kingdom. It is important to understand that Christians are to follow Christ and his Way being empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is he that enables us to overcome the lure of the values of world culture. This is good news for the believer, for we do not attempt to live a Christian style of life alone, we have the supernatural aid of the presence of Jesus within us. What we must be willing to do is live in step with the Spirit, listening to his voice and promptings, allowing his direction to guide our responses and attitudes.
Christian spirituality is not complicated thankfully. While our theology can become complex, our spirituality remains simple. We know that we have bee saved by acknowledging Jesus as Lord. Salvation begins our journey with Jesus and his Spirit. The rest of our lives are spent being open to the work of transformation he performs in us making us more and more like himself. We know that we are forgiven, our sins cleansed and removed through Christ as we confess them. We are freed from the power of sin to destroy us. More than that we are filled with the Life of Christ, spiritually regenerated by his power. We know that we are loved, deeply and unconditionally loved. The love of God is like no other and when we receive his love it is the most powerful means of transformation known in the universe. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. We live our lives in partnership with him. It is his presence that enables us to be like Christ, his work within us that transforms us from what we once were in the old nature and makes us new. We know God. What an incredible statement! Herein is the amazing culmination of Christian spirituality. No longer separated from God, we approach him boldly and are able to enter a real and authentic relationship with him. That Christians do not cultivate this relationship is tragic. It is in our relationship with Jesus that become his disciples, those living out the culture of the kingdom and a truly Christian style of life. It is as we learn who he is and what he is like that we become his voice, his hands, his feet , his very presence to those all around us. Our spirituality should do nothing less than bring the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It is as we experience his love that we are able to love others with the profound love we are called to in the culture of the kingdom. We love because he first loved us. We come again to the two commands of Christ in Matthew 22, our cultural center, and find that they are also the core of our spirituality; Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.
Where the Church has rejected the Holy Spirit’s central role in our lives great error has occurred. Where the Church has removed belief and hope for an authentic relationship with God, great thievery has taken place. To deny the reality of the Holy Spirit is to deny God himself, for they are One. To have taught Christians to not engage with him has taught them to keep God himself at arms length. Where this system of belief exists church becomes nothing more than a weekly event with little real spiritual meaning. People are left with no connection to their lord and saviour, and if they begin to experience one they quickly shut it down because that is the response they have been taught. Without relationship with Jesus and his Spirit there is no ground work for a spiritual life, and thus there can only be the weakest of spiritual identities, for to deny the Holy Spirit is to deny the seal given us marking us as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. As a result people are left to be tossed about by the power of world culture. Jesus calls us to a spiritual life, to be a spiritual people. Our spirituality is vital to being truly Christian and living in the spiritual culture of the kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven is meant to expand. It is an open kingdom that offers citizenship to all who would accept it. The Great Commission of Jesus is to go out in the world and bring the Gospel to all, to go out and spread the culture of the kingdom to all corners of the earth. Jesus opened the gates of the kingdom to everyone and the citizens of the kingdom do not have the authority to close those gates. God’s will is that none should perish and when we stop people at the gates through judgment and lack of loving acceptance we find ourselves opposing the will of God. There is no requirement for entrance into the kingdom other than receiving Christ as Lord. We need to remember that transformation occurs after that moment of salvation. A long standing problem in the community of Christ is that we have communicated a reverse order to the action of entering the kingdom, “Get yourself in order first, then we will allow you into the community.” This stops people at the threshold of the gates as though to say, “Since you don’t already yet look like Jesus you may not enter.” The reality is the exact opposite. It is in the presence of Jesus that we are transformed. The community of Christ is the presence of the kingdom and Jesus and thus it is in their midst that people will find the hope of transformation. Recall Paul’s confrontation with Peter and church at Jerusalem in Acts. Paul was upset that they would not associate with Gentile Christians who were uncircumcised. He had to remind them that such outward signs no longer had the power to disqualify people from the community. What is spiritual, what is in the heart, is what matters. The community has no defence for keeping people out of the kingdom based on outward appearance or brokenness. We all came to the gates broken and sinful, and we all found ourselves welcomed in by Jesus. Our imperfections do not offend him, for he is able to transform us through his love and forgiveness, his power to make us new creations. Many come to the gates of the kingdom so broken we wonder if they can ever be mended. The resounding reply form Jesus is always “I can do that.” It is the right of every citizen of the kingdom to be received into the community of Christ, to be loved and to be transformed. It is this Gospel hope of citizenship that is offered to all and it is by loving those outside the gates that the invitation is made. Kingdom culture places great emphasis on loving and accepting others so that they may know the love of Jesus.
All citizens in the kingdom are equal. This equality is a cultural value of the kingdom of heaven and a distinctive paradigm of its citizens. All lines of social division and hierarchy so familiar in world culture are not present in the kingdom. There are no levels of one over another, no rich over poor, no master over slave, no ethnicity over another ethnicity, no race over another race etc… There is only the family of God, each a brother or sister of Christ. Each is a servant of the one king Jesus, and he has called us to serve on another. The same status is bestowed on all citizens, to be the nobility in the kingdom of heaven. This is Christian community in its purest form, to accept one another as equals and to serve one another. As we saw earlier in John 17 it is this unity that acts as one of the most powerful signs to the world that Jesus is the Son of God and lives today. The culture of the kingdom challenges our concepts of what it means to be privileged and powerful, to be significant and great. It challenges rich and poor alike, for neither within the kingdom can consider the other in any other light than the love of God. Their separation ceases to exist in the culture of the kingdom, for they become each others servants. For the rich this is a challenge because they are not accustomed to thinking in terms of serving those culturally and socially beneath them. For the poor this is a challenge because they are likely to resent serving those they are accustomed to being above them, who have mistreated and neglected them. The culture of the kingdom does away with this idea of social strata based on material or genetic status (Gal. 3:26-29). Everyone is on the same level in the kingdom, each equal in their full citizenship.