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Seeking the Kingdom of God – and Why

1-28-13

I have been thinking lately of insights that my wife shared during her period of ministry. Some I have “swiped” and used in my blogs and other writing; just as any Christian wisdom we all gain has been similarly swiped from the Holy Spirit, after all. One of the Holy Ghost’s job descriptions is to guide us in all ways spiritual.

She once observed that the devil doesn’t hate us for ourselves – he doesn’t give a fig for us – but hates the Jesus in us. And that hatred is in direct proportion to the amount of Jesus we have invited into our hearts; that is, the Christ who lives in our lives, and we display and exercise. Just so. This is why Jesus warned that believers would have trouble in this world, and face persecution from all sources, even from family.

She also once observed that before every major event in Jesus’s life and ministry that is recorded in scripture, He went aside to pray. Here was the Son of God – the Incarnate God, in that great mystery – who nevertheless needed to pray. He prayed in private; He prayed long; He prayed often; and He prayed fervently. Surely an example we must not ignore.

And then, Christ’s many references to Heaven. He did good works, and He encouraged others to do good works; certainly. But He focused on Heaven. It should be our goal. It is our natural home. It is where we will find peace… where we will receive treasures… where we will dwell with the Most High. But Jesus did not try to bribe His followers with glimpses of a dreamy theme park: eternal life should be our goal. It is gained by believing that Jesus is the Son of God, in your heart, and confessing this Truth by your words.

There is a movement in contemporary church circles to denigrate the place of Heaven. A gaggle of propositions is maintained chiefly by the “emergent” church, who merely comprise the shock troops; philosophies have also infected mainstream and many evangelical churches. The simple Gospel message is too, well, simple, in their eyes.

It amuses me that the vocabulary of the movement invests it with a secret-society entre-nous aura that is the spiritual equivalence of certain door-knocks to enter speakeasies or secret handshakes in fraternal societies. Let’s see: it is not a church; it is a “conversation.” They are not Christians; they are “Christ-followers.” It is not about answers; it is about “questions” (many of the proponents deny Absolute Truth). It is not about the destination, but about the “journey.”

When the destination is Heaven, this last emergent commandment stubs its spiritual toe. Recent emergent cardinals or popes have dismissed the relevance of Heaven, and some reject the existence of Heaven and/or hell. The real importance, if I can apply a generous patina to their reasoning, is to do Heaven’s work on earth. That is, charity, caring, assistance, and service to others. It is what Jesus would do if He were now, we are told.

Yes, He would. Yes, He did. But He never missed the opportunity to be up-front about a person’s heart, faith, and eternal life. Salvation. Heaven. The place Jesus talked about, and pointed us towards. It was His priority, to be every person’s priority.

It is simple, really – Christ’s concern was our own salvation, one by one, so that after our standing is sure, we might properly serve others. And for the proper reasons. It is ironic that after 500 years, the “works doctrine” asserts itself again. The same with this modern version of relativism, which has polluted the church for 2000 years. If good deeds earn us eternal life, be prepared to meet a lot of government bureaucrats who otherwise despise the Bible, and Communist commissars who dictate food allotments but who shut down churches.

Our righteousness – the “good deeds” we do, our pumped-up conceits of the works we perform – are as dirty rags to God. The Bible tells me so. Practically speaking, these acts might be worthless, and are surely worth less, in God’s eyes, if we neglect our own salvation and do not preach it to others.

The sixth chapter of Matthew has words about these things. It is one of the Bible’s chapters that fairly overflows with elemental wisdom. The Lord’s Prayer; not letting your left hand know what the right does; the lilies of the field; today’s troubles being sufficient to themselves. And “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” Read it when you have a chance. Here are some excerpts:

Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing….

And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! …why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously….

All pointing to Heaven. To earnestly desire Heaven, we will, as our hearts overflow with godliness, serve others. To do service work as a way of earning Heaven – or, worse, to not care whether we will have eternal life with God or not – is the abrogation of faith, of love, and of obedience.

As we think of Heaven – as I believe Jesus wants us to do, continuously – we also look forward to experiencing the joy of fellowship with the saints, communion with God, friendship with Jesus; and the grandest of all reunions. What a meeting in the air!

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Click: What a Meeting In the Air

Category: Christianity, General Ministry, Service

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3 Responses

  1. Well said, Rick. If there is no eternal life/heaven, we might as well “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” But praise God, we have that promise! Thank you for the reminder to share this truth with others.

    We think of you often during these days. I can see that the Lord is calling you to remember much of what made Nancy the precious gal she was. I love the glimpse into her character and love for God. Thank you.

  2. DannyK says:

    I’d like to politely disagree. I have no delusions about earning my salvation through good works, but I think you’ve oversimplified the argument. Christ is quite clear in teaching that some of the most “obedient” doers of works were comparable to whited sepulchers – perhaps gleaming on the outside, but rotting and decay on the inside, and lacking any real connection with God. But it doesn’t seem Christ was suggesting that we not worry about obedience and actions and doing good works…just that “right action” on its own doesn’t mean you have the Kingdom within you. I could just as easily compile a list of scriptures where Christ asked for obedience, and equated obedience with loving him, and suggesting that unless you obey you cannot abide in Him or He in you.

    Christ didn’t say “don’t worry about doing good deeds”, he also didn’t say “Don’t do good deeds publicly.” He said “don’t do your good deeds publicly to be seen of men.” If there’s anything that the Sermon on the Mount seems to suggest to me, it’s that right action needs to be coupled with higher and more Christ-like motives….only then is it truly transformational on a spiritual level, only then does it begin to build the Kingdom within you.

    It is one thing to give to charity with sincerity of heart and with a true desire to relieve suffering and love God’s children (including even when others are aware you did so), it is another thing entirely to give to charity to secure political or corporate favors or to be esteemed by men. It is one thing to obey simply because you love God and desire to draw near to him, and it is another to obey to set yourself up as greater than another. It is one thing to compliment someone genuinely and lift them up, it is another to compliment them to manipulate their affections or behavior.

    He is not asking for perfection, but he is asking for discipleship…he wants us to become apprenticed to Him and to learn from Him and follow him, and that includes “going about doing good”. Ignoring the relevance of obedience is just as dangerous as thinking that obedience is all you need to ensure salvation.

    In my experience, good deeds done sincerely in the service of God couldn’t be further from “dirty rags” and “worthless”…they are in fact the times when I feel closest to Him because I am developing the Love in me that He shares for me and everyone else…I am becoming like Him, and finding that the Kingdom is in fact “within you/me”.

    I hope I do not seem overly critical or argumentative, that is not my intent. I leave this comment with respect for you and your desire to serve God, and hope you feel not criticism, but brotherhood in Christ.

  3. Brother, I appreciate your comment, and the spirit in which it was written. My intention was not to denigrate good works, but rather put them what I believe is the biblical persepctive (the phrase “our righteousness is as dirty rags” is from the Bible). I think it is important, as I wrote, to adhere to a scriptural point of view. In my eyes, through the centuries many Christians have let good works supplant the basics of faith — what I mean is individuals’ faith in God and the requirements of salvation — no matter how wonderful deeds can be. And OF COURSE they are often wonderful, and efficacious, and fulfilling. It is NOT an either/or situation. And I suppose I am being a bit mechanistic in my exortation: We can pursue good works (doing good and feeling good in the process) and lose our faith… or never have possessed a faith in God. BUT to have faith in God, having received salvation and the Holy Spirit… believers can not help but pursue good works, from the fullness of their hearts. Even the most “works-oriented” (to use an ancient perjorative exegesis) book of the Bible, James, still maintains that faith results in works, and not that good works by themselves lead to salvation. As these points of view have arisen in the contemporary church, I addressed the issue that way. Perhaps clumsily. Thank you again for your thoughts.

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... Rick Marschall is the author of 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia magazine called him "perhaps America's foremost authority on popular culture") to history and criticism; country music; television history; biography; and children's books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals and magazine articles; he was co-author of "The Secret Revealed" with Dr Jim Garlow. His biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series (Thomas Nelson) was released in April, 2011. Read More