Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The 'Big Picture' series - 3: The Two Kingdoms

Practicality: People are always having to choose between loving and serving themselves (or idols) or God (and hence others), which are fundamentally opposed and mutually exclusive. Whether people belong to the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of sin is dependent which King they give their allegiance to – themselves or God - and whomever they are devoted to they serve with their actions. Thus, we need to be completely selfless and instead be whole-heartedly committed to loving God and loving others in everything we do.

There is a powerful figurative thing that is often referred to, but little understood. Christ often spoke of it when He taught, as did the apostles. In fact, it encompasses so much of what it means to be a Christians that perhaps we, too, should spend as much time thinking about it as Jesus and the apostles did. I speak of the Kingdom of God.

What is it, and how does it relate to us? Before I give answer to that, I must describe a different kingdom, the one that is not of God. I will call this kingdom the kingdom of sin, and seek to describe it.

The nature of a kingdom is that it has a king, and kingdom is defined by the people who give allegiance to that king. Thus, people in the kingdom of sin are allied to sin – they serve it, they obey it, they live for it. In what way can someone be so allied to sin? Well, in my previous post on sin I described it as being a failure to love God and love others. Thus, anyone who is not devoted to doing this is therefore devoted to something else, and as I mentioned in my previous post, such devotion is typically to either themselves, or things that distract people from loving God and others (idols).

So, the citizens of the kingdom of sin are determined by their devotion to things that are unloving of God and others. At the extreme, this involves intentional harm to others – but nevertheless, such intentions are generally grounded in either selfishness or idolatry. Citizens of this kingdom therefore make as their king their own desires – and they are ruled by them. They are ruled by things like greed, lust, materialism, ego, unfairness, competition and appearance. These are the type of powers that Paul writes Christians battle against. The eyes of people living in the kingdom of sin are turned not to God and others, but to themselves and to things.

It is not good to live in the kingdom of sin. The ultimate futility of life in this kingdom can be easily seen, for we enter this earth with nothing and with nothing we will return. The prestige, wealth, and size of ego we gain is ultimately of no value, for it is only what we give that remains. What is worse, however, is that the selfishness and idolatry of the kingdom of sin lead to pain, dissatisfaction, lack of fulfillment, and relationships that are only a shadow of what they could be. Indeed, it is only in relationships that meaning for our existence is found, and so by loving on others but ourselves and meaningless things – we naturally destroy our relationships, for true relationship is inherently about loving someone else. People in the kingdom of sin ultimately find little but loneliness and the yearning for a deeper life.

Because the citizens of the kingdom of sin do not serve God or others, these two become things to serve what they are devoted to. They view God as something that will benefit themselves, or as a way to serve their idols. Naturally, God does not indulge them, for to do so would merely feed the selfishness and idolatry that keep them enslaved. What is worse, is that they also use others to benefit themselves or serve their idols. Such selfishness tends to hurt others, because instead of creating love and care among people it steals it away, and people are abused, wronged, cheated, lied to, enslaved, and even killed. Such a description is fitting of our current society, where we are so familiar and disturbingly comfortable with it that we do not imagine a different way of life, and that is exactly why Christ described the Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God embodies a way of life that is completely different from the kingdom of sin. Indeed, they are totally opposed, as light is the opposite to darkness. Those in the Kingdom of God do not love themselves nor idols, but God. I use the word ‘love’ not only in an emotional one, but also in the practical sense that it is the purpose of our actions. Relationship with God becomes paramount – it is literally what those in the Kingdom live for. Because people of the Kingdom do not serve their selfishness, they no longer value selfish gain, but in giving love to others. Members of the Kingdom are not selfish, and it is for this reason that citizens of the Kingdom of God are described as ‘dead to themselves’ but living for God. The selflessness of the Kingdom of God is illustrated by Jesus many times. He tells parables of a people giving up all they value for it, and it is precisely because they give up what they want that they can join God’s Kingdom. This is the ‘cost’ of following Jesus in His loving relationships with the Father and with others. Selflessness is the cross that Christ tells us to carry – for on it we put to death our selfishness – the word is rich with the idea of self denial, for Romans forced people to carry the very cross they would die upon.

So, in the Kingdom of God, it is true that those who find their life, ultimately lose it; but those who loose their life, and instead live for God and others, gain true life. By denying our selfishness, we can love others and form true loving relationships with God and others – which is where we find we truly find life. In loving God and loving other people, we are obeying God’s instruction – which teaches what loving Him and others involves in practice.

It is an appropriate analogy to describe the two kingdoms as two lands separated by a large distance. People in the kingdom of sin cannot be in the Kingdom of God while remaining in the kingdom of sin, because the Kingdom of God is far from it. Is it not sensible then for Jesus and the apostles to urge us to leave sin? Unless we leave sin, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Nor can selfish citizens of the kingdom of sin expect the kingdom of God to come to them, for the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with the kingdom of sin – but rather people choose what kingdom to be allied to in their hearts, for “the Kingdom of God is within you”.

The two kings therefore do battle for our hearts, and we choose who wins by who we serve. If we are selfish, we serve sin, but if we love God and others instead, we serve God. The two kingdoms are totally opposed and mutually exclusive. It is no surprise, then, that Jesus said that no one can serve these two masters. We serve one of these kings, whether we like to admit it or not.

But when do we serve God and when are we serving sin? The essence of faith is committed devotion, and so needless to say we should be always serving God. Indeed, if our selfish desires ‘die’, then analogy suggests that Christ-like character should come to life in us to replace it, and so selfishness should not come back to life.

Yet, we think we can be committed to serving both ourselves and God, so in fact we are committed to neither. We are like solders doing battle who repeatedly change allegiances during battle. Surely, the commander of such people would rather they do not fight at all! Such double-mindedness is condemned in the Bible. This lack of allegiance to either seems to be why the Laodiceans were described as “lukewarm” in Revelation, and it is surely why God disliked their behaviour.

So, we need to be committed to God’s kingdom, and to do that we must leave our selfishness that causes sinful action. These thoughts will lead us to the next topics I intend to discuss, repentance and salvation.

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