If Jesus commands us to “seek first the kingdom” then it is imperative that we know more precisely what this means. If the kingdom is as the Bible describes, the rule and reign of God come to earth through Jesus the King over all other kings then this reality carries enormous implications for how we are to live and act as faithful followers of Christ.
In Romans chapter 12, the Apostle Paul exhorts all believers to “offer your bodies (the entirety of our being) as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (v. 1). Again, we see the connection to the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. In one sense, Jesus surrenders all of his rights for the sake of others—in obedience to the Father—and as such we are called to do the same. Is this not the description that Jesus further illuminates in the Sermon on the Mount? It is in Jesus’ words that we gain insight into the radically alternative virtues of God’s kingdom—the same virtues that we are to seek and keep seeking through prayer, grace and obedience.
Jesus is not laying a list of onerous rules upon his people but rather explaining the path to peace, righteousness, and abundant life free from the confines of our sin nature that will one day be complete in the new heaven and new earth. Our mission, in part, is to display this new life in order that the world might know the truth about the God who created all things and is redeeming all things through the atoning work of Christ on the cross and his all-encompassing lordship brought to bear upon the earth—the world’s only hope of setting things right. Likewise, we the church, are given new life to bring his redemptive reality to bear on the lives of both people and the world in which we live.
Let’s be brutally honest, this is where we face our greatest challenge to being faithful. While our nature encourages us to cling to self, our rights and desires, faith in Christ encourages us to do just the opposite. Following in the way of the world, when we’re wronged, we want justice. When we’re attacked, we want revenge. When we’re deprived, we want to be compensated. When we’re in want, we envy and resent others. When we give, we set limits. However, Jesus tells us that the way of his kingdom is to leave justice to him, to love (and pray for) those who persecute us, to accept our deprivations and look to him for provision, to accept our standing in obedience to God’s sovereignty, and to give generously without any expectation of return.
One key to this new orientation is given again in Paul’s epistle to the church in Rome when he writes, “don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (v. 12:2). Some translations read, “renewing of your mind,” meaning to change from that way of thinking which is characteristic of the kingdoms of this world to a new way of thinking that comes from God and that represents life in his kingdom that has overcome the world.
By not understanding that the gospel is the announcement of God’s kingdom come to bear upon the earth, we are left with a gaping hole in our Christian faith. The admonitions given throughout scripture that explain the paradoxical nature of God’s kingdom contrasted with the world’s tend to remain good ideals but impractical (we think) and thus we treat them as electives within the Christian faith rather than our central purpose.
To be sure, the virtues of God’s kingdom are “impractical,” which is why we must do so by faith trusting in God. This is where the gospel appears as foolishness to the world but in acting upon these virtues (being faithful), God accomplishes his purposes. We do and he accomplishes!
© 2013 by S. Michael Craven
Respond to this article here.
Subscribe to Michael's commentary here.
S. Michael Craven is the president of Battle for Truth and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on Battle for Truth and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit www.battlefortruth.org.