Renovaré Living in the Kingdom of God Conference
with James Bryan Smith and Dallas Willard
Talk 2 of 6:“The Fine Texture of Life in the Kingdom of the Heavens” by Dallas Willard.
Transcript by Ray Cowan, 8 July 2007. This conference is available on CD from http://www.renovare.org.
Now this evening, it's getting a little late, so if you find yourself getting sleepy, just pinch the person next to you. I'm sure that will wake you up.
And if you have your booklet, if you'll turn to page six. There's a great deal more material here than we have time to go over, but a lot of the scriptures and so on you can study those by yourself and we will cover the main topics that are in this section.
This is Session 2, “The Fine Texture of Life in the Kingdom of the Heavens”. The “Kingdom of the heavens” is God's reign, and, in the simplest possible language, the “Kingdom of the heavens” is what God is doing. It's what God is doing. It's God in action. And we are given the privilege of entering the Kingdom of the heavens by faith in Jesus Christ. And Jesus came, and it was the gospel he preached; it was an invitation to trust him and to bring our whole life into the Kingdom of the heavens.
The Kingdom of the heavens is manifested in Jesus' actions in preaching, in teaching, and in manifesting the power of God. And the rule of God in healing, in the miracles of nature, and above all, in his resurrection from the dead. Was a manifestation of the presence of the Kingdom. It's God in action.
Now, you're tempted, as a person living in this world, to trust something else besides God in action. And that is what Eve did. The devil confused her, and worked on her thoughts, and the outcome was, “Eve, you'd better trust youself. You had better take things into your own hands, and exercise your kingdom.” And she bit, and Adam bit too, so don't blame Eve by herself. I mean, it was simply a matter that they were led to mistrust God, and that's the general form of all sin.
And then it comes into human life, and we begin to build our kingdoms, and we build a Babylon, and we build a humanity, and that's the kingdom of human beings. And we're tempted to live our lives in terms of that, and try to use that to manage our lives to take care of ourselves, cause we think that's what we have to do. See? And the big step is always, “Shall I trust God?”
Now Jesus comes, dies for our sins, rises again, leaves his people in the world as a standing invitation to trust him. And when we come to trust him, then we step into a new life, in which we are his trusting disciples. And the word “disciple” means we are learning how to live our lives in the Kingdom of God. That's being a disciple of Jesus; we're students.
And that means, in particular, the things that he taught, the things that he did, we're learning. And there's built into all of the parts of our personality a lot of resistance to that. And we have to take action, now with grace, to remove those things that keep us from trusting God and living His life.
Uppermost is fear. Fear is the primary, if you wish, insult to God. And you have to think about what it would be like, if you had charge of someone, a child or someone, and they were constantly afraid of things they were taking care of. And that would not be something that would allow that person to grow and profit from the things you are making available to them. It wouldn't be something to make you feel very comfortable yourself. What would that mean, that they were not trusting you? And, for example, if you tried to tell them that something was good, and they didn't trust you, then they might get cross-wise of you, and their relationship to you might be one of fear of you.
And now fear of God becomes a primary part of human life, and if you look at religions generally, what you see primarily is fear of God. God is often a very fearful being in the world religions. And the most you can hope for is to manipulate him and stay out of trouble with him, see. And as Jim so effectively presented, this often slips over into our Christian understanding also.
But what we're offered in Christ is a new life, and we, in these meetings, have got to do everything we can, your pastors have charged us, to do everything we can to make this as specific and realistic as possible. And so we're going to try to talk about, in your life, in my life, in individual life, and what goes on there, and what steps can be taken so that our life is actually lived in the Kingdom of God. That means the whole being that we have, all dimensions of the self, and we're going to look at that in a moment here on page seven, all of those are brought into the Kingdom of God. And that will mean that we will be bringing grace, and kingdom, and life, together. So you may want to just jot those three terms down; because this is what we have to do: is to bring life, kingdom, and grace together.
There aren't two gospels in the Bible; there isn't a gospel of grace and a gospel of the Kingdom. And that is a primary misunderstanding that affects Christian scholarship, both from the left and from the right. The idea that Jesus preached one gospel, and that was about the Kingdom. And then that failed, or somehow he was wrong, or the Jews failed, or somebody failed, and it didn't happen. And so then another gospel—and this is ordinarily thought to be Paul's gospel—Paul's gospel is the gospel of forgiveness of sins through trusting Jesus' death on the cross. And I just want to say to you I won't have time to go on at great lengths about this, but once you understand what grace is, and once you understand what Kingdom is, and once you understand what life is, you'll see there's one gospel. And the heart of that gospel is “Trust Jesus.” Trust him.
Now, don't trust something he said, or something he did; trust him. Put your confidence in him. And to trust him means that you're going to take your whole life and you're going to rest it in expectation and hope on his real action in your life. To trust Jesus means you're going to take your whole life and you're going to rest it in expectation and hope upon his action. Grace is his action; and his action is also the Kingdom.
So let's begin with Romans 14:17, because here is Paul, and when Paul speaks about the Kingdom, he's speaking about the same thing, salvation by grace through faith, it's exactly the same thing. And here's what Paul says (and this is in a church context where people were fussing over behavior, particularly things about real deep stuff like what are you eating, and so you can find people today who are just tying themselves in knots over this. Not that what you eat is totally unimportant, but it's not a religious matter. And these people were making it a religious matter, because it was mixed up with a lot of pagan stuff and idolatry.) He says, “Look. The Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God, is not meat and drink. That's not where it is. That's actually the Kingdom of men, the Kingdom of human beings. That's where that battle breaks out.”
Now here's what the Kingdom of God is. If we don't get any further than this tonight, please try to take this in and make it a part of your thinking as we go on to other topics it will fill out. Here's what the Kingdom of God is: it is righteousness, and peace, and joy. But wait a minute: that's not where the sentence ends. Because it isn't just any old righteousness, and peace, and joy. It is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. It is a kind of righteousness, a kind of peace, and a kind of joy, that is brought about by the action of God in your life through the Holy Spirit.
Righteousness, it means a kind of goodness, it's a goodness, that is supernatural. That's the kind of goodness we need. And that kind of goodness is of course seen in Christ and constantly taught about in the Scriptures. Righteousness is goodness. Dikaiosune [δικαιοσύνη]. It's really good. And the righteousness of God is the standard here. And the righteousness of God is what is manifested in Jesus Christ. And when you read the book of Romans, you see a long discussion about the righteousness of God. And that righteousness turns out to be sacrificial love.
Now, if you know what sacrificial love is, you know it's supernatural. Now, of course, selectively here and there, you see some sacrificial love. But when you see a person whose whole person is devoted to sacrificial love—you know human beings can't stand that. It'll kill you. We don't have the resources for that. We're finite, and very limited, and we have to have something flowing through us that produces a kind of goodness that is not possible in human terms.
Peace—what is peace? Peace is restful fruitfulness. Restful fruitfulness. Peace. The background here is the term “shalom”. Shalom always refers to restful fruitfulness. It is not an absence of war. It isn't an absence of conflict. It isn't the absence of anything. Peace is a positive reality, see.
Now, so Paul says, for example, in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, that passes understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
You see, one of the reasons why it's important to just sort of go slowly over this, and think about the words, is because those words will just zip through your mind and they won't mean anything, you see. So you need to translate them. When you read “peace”, the peace of God, the restful fruitfulness of God—that you can't even understand—will keep your hearts and minds, will set a guard around your thoughts, see. If you see that going on in your life, those two things are going to strike you. One is, "I don't understand this." The second is, "but ain't it wonderful." To just see that happen, see that it isn't just human striving. The same way with the love. It isn't human striving. It's something that is coming through us by the power of the Holy Spirit which represents the Kingdom of God in action in our lives—and that's grace.
Righteousness, peace, and joy. Now joy is a pervasive sense of well-being. Joy is a pervasive sense of well-being. It isn't pleasure, by the way. For example, you can be joyous even though you're suffering. Even though you're in pain. Even though you don't like what is going on.
Once again, this is supernatural. That's why Peter describes it, in the first chapter of 1 Peter, as “joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” This is supernatural. This is something that is not human. Joy unspeakable and full of glory that comes from confidence in Jesus. As Peter says, you've never seen him; and yet you know. And on the basis of that knowledge, your life is one of joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Now, I don't say this to make you feel bad or anything, but we need to, because of the charge of the pastors to the Renovare team here, I have to ask you: would you describe your life that way? A joy which you can't even begin to describe and full of glory. Now see, that is for you, and that is for me. And that is what life in the Kingdom of God is like. Now we're not done talking about this. I'm trying to help you see where we're headed. And, and when we talk about the fine texture of life in the Kingdom of God, we're talking about a life that has a kind of righteousness, peace, and joy in it that is nothing but the result of the Holy Spirit operating among us.
And you know when you're teaching on something like this, sometimes you, you just want to say so many things at once to avoid misunderstanding. You see, this isn't talking about being passive. Like, “Lay it on me, Holy Spirit.” And maybe showing up at church waiting for it to be laid on you. It's not going to be laid on you. You're going to be active in this. And the Holy Spirit is going to be active too. So there's going to be a lot of different action that goes on now because you're going to be immersed in a kind of life, and how many of you know that life is never passive? It's never passive.
Now, it can receive, and life has to receive, doesn't it? Like a living body has to have food, and has to have air, has to have water. It receives that. But, I tell you, if you try pouring it on a dead body, there's a striking difference. Ok? Because a living body has the capacity to reach for it and take it in. See, that's the nature of life, of life. And here let's say something about life: what is life? Life is self-initiating, self-sustained, self-directing activity. Self-initiated, self-sustained, self-directed activity. Now the only one who has life in Himself is God. That's the only one. And all life comes from God. For example, in 1 Corinthians, I'm sorry, 1 Timothy 6, the 13th chapter [verse]: “I charge you, in the presence of God who gives and sustains life to all things...” Now how many things does that leave out? Nothing. Everything that has life, God sustains it. Now for that matter, he sustains everything that doesn't have life too, so in a sense this is not news.
But notice that wording: “In the presence of God, who gives life to all things” and then in the 19th verse, “Storing up for themselves a treasure of a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” See, this is a special kind of life: “life indeed”. See, if you're not alive in Christ, you're still biologically alive. And life comes in kinds. We don't have time to make a lot of that tonight, but see, the person who's dead in trespasses and sins doesn't have supernatural life.
Now, this is an important point, so please think about it. I want to go back the passage that Jim [in lecture 1 of this series] used in Romans. Where Paul is contrasting those who are dead to sin. See, it, you also, you were dead to God. Now, what does it mean to be dead to something? It means it has no hold over you. It has no attraction for you, doesn't give you anything. It's out of touch. And when we were dead in trespasses and sins, that's the way we were to God.
Now then, when we come to life in Christ, we're dead to trespasses and sins. What does that mean? That means that trespasses and sins have no hold over us. You're not under the law, but you're under grace, so sin shall not have dominion over you. What that means is, now, if you sin, it's by choice; you don't have to. And primarily what that means is that in the area of things that are wrong, I'm trusting God, I now have a new life in me, and consequently the old stuff isn't even attractive.
See, there was a time when I was a boy, that I liked to shoot out street lights with a BB gun, or occasionally pop a cat. And now I confess that I am totally dead to that. I am totally dead to that. There's not the least attraction in me to that. See, that's being dead. Now, there's a few other things I'm not quite that dead to, right? So that's the progress that's going on. A lot things that are a lot more serious than popping cats with a BB gun for a long while had real attraction to me. Now I look back and say, “How could I have been so stupid?”
Now that's actually what lies in your future. If you are someone who has put your trust in Christ, you are going to come to the point where anything that is wrong will just look stupid to you. And if you, if you want, looking ahead a little bit to tomorrow, if you're interested, if you'd like that, see, you can ask God to help you. And many people, when they're struggling with temptations, instead of just struggling with the temptations, they should just ask God to help them see how stupid it is.
Because when you see it, you won't have any attraction, it won't have any attraction for you. See, and, and the reason why, and this is what we're saying earlier with Jim here, see, it's when we learn that we don't have to do anything, and then we still are thinking about stuff that looks attractive, that's what tells us how much we trust Christ. Because everything that Christ said to do is good for us. And if he says, “Bless those who curse you,” that's good. And if I trust him—that's what trust means. And all of his teachings are like that—learning to do them are a matter of trusting him. See, discipleship and obedience are not something other than trust. They're the natural outgrowth of trust. That's why it's so important for us to trust Christ, and not just something he said or something he did.
Now let me shock you by saying that what is preached as the gospel in our culture is normally one theory of the atonement. Just one theory of the atonement. And if that's all you believe about Jesus, then all the rest of this is going to look like a mystery. If, on the other hand, you understand that trusting Jesus means you just believe—and I like the words of Mohammed Ali, except not about Mohammed Ali, you know. He says, “I'm the greatest.” What you need to believe about Jesus is that he's the greatest. There isn't anyone comparable to him. That everything he did, and everything he said, was the greatest. And that he's actually in charge of human history. And of everything. And that he knows best about everything.
So now then when I come to any of his commandments, what is my response? “This is the best. This is the best.” But I don't know how to do it. And my body, and my feelings, and my thoughts are already in another direction. Well, what's the response then? Then I must learn. I must learn. Because the life that has now come in to me—this self-initiating, self-sustaining, self-directed kind of life from above is one that leads in the direction of the kind of life that was in Him.
And, you know, you don't believe for a moment, do you, that Jesus stood around wishing that he could, uh, go see the girls down in the red-light district. Right? I'm sure that none of you think that he ever did that. Or that, you know, when he was on the cross, that what he really wanted to say instead of being very holy and saying, “Father, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, you know. What he really wanted to say is, “Just wait'll my dad gets his hands on you, and I'm going to see to it that you really get it in the neck, because I, I'm his son, and you're doing this to me, and you're really going to get it.”
I mean, how many of you think that that was what he wanted to say? May I see your hands? No, you see you know he didn't want to say that. Why? Because you know what he was like. And so when he said, “Father, forgive them,” that was a natural expression of his identity. That's who he was. Right? And so he didn't have a struggle with that. It was the natural expression of the life that was in him.
Now see, this life that is in him, is the eternal kind of life. Eternal doesn't mean just endless, it means the kind of life that is expressed above all in agape love, but also in limitless power to do what is good. You see, now that's where our faith in Jesus really faces a challenge. Is God going to take care of me? Can I trust Him? What about death? What about pain, failure? What about rejection by human beings? All those things that we fear so much, you see—can I trust Him in those? Am I ok when that happens to me? Am I ok when cancer comes? Am I ok when there's a problem with a child, or with a mate, or a business? Am I still ok? What does it really mean to say that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus?
You see, this life has to flow, and we have to trust it, and we have to learn how it takes over everything that we are. See, eternal life is knowledge of Jesus Christ. Let's take two passages here and just comment on them briefly. One is John 17:3, and that's referenced here, in your reading, I think, somewhere. And this is the only place that you have a definition of eternal life. Now you may want to look at John 17:3: “This is eternal life: that they should know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
Now you have to understand that “knowledge” as it is used in the Bible almost never, and certainly in this passage, does not mean knowledge “about”. It means involvement “with”. It's participation in an interactive, intimate relationship. See, that's what life is, that's what knowledge is. When the prophet says, on behalf of God, to Israel, “You only have I known of all the nations of the earth,” he didn't mean God didn't know about the rest of them; he meant you only have I had an intimate, ongoing, interactive relationship with, of all the people on the earth.
Mary said, “I know not how I shall have a baby since I know not a man.” She wasn't saying, “I don't know about men”; she was saying, “I'm not in an intimate, interactive relationship with a man.” That's knowledge, and that's grace, also, see. Because look at the very end of 2 Peter, and your very familiar verse here: “Grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” That's 2 Peter 3:18. Grow in grace and in knowledge. Right.
See, that means grow in interactive relationship. Grace itself is actually the action of God in our lives, bringing to pass what we cannot accomplish on our own. I hope you're beginning to see now how life, Kingdom, and grace come together. They're one thing. You don't receive grace without receiving Kingdom. You don't receive Kingdom without receiving life. You don't receive life without receiving grace. And one of the problems with our understanding of the message of the Scripture as human beings is we don't bring these words together.
For example, grace itself is normally—I've heard leading teachers in our country say—grace has only to do with guilt. Grace has to do with much more than guilt. This, this is the way that grace, and Kingdom, and life get shut off from the Christian. The Christian is told, “Now, you need to be saved by grace.” And that is unmerited favor. And it is presented in such a way that it has only to do with the forgiveness of sin. And there's a transition, a transfer of credit and you get the righteousness of Christ credited to your account. I'm not talking against that—I'm just saying you want to understand that that is only one manifestation of grace. And the primary understanding unmerited favor, that's right—it is unmerited favor. If, for example, I am speaking in some context and I'm trusting God to accomplish something with the words, and that happens, that's unmerited favor. I don't deserve it. You understand what I'm saying? That's God's hand. It comes in there. And I get to be a spectator; I get to watch it. I get to be there when it happens. And I didn't make it happen; it was not my strength, or wisdom, or whatever, that did it. And if it was, God help whoever's listening. It's God moving. See, that's what we're looking for.
Now when I do that, I grow in grace. You understand what I'm saying? That's how you grow in grace. More and more of what you're doing is interactive and dependent upon God's action. And I grow in knowledge, because I'm growing in interactive relationship. And I grow in life, because there is now more of God's life, His self-initiating, self-sustaining, self-directing activity that's going on in my life.
See, when we trust God, that's what happens. Paul refers back to Abraham, and says Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. In effect, God said of Abraham, “I'd rather have you trusting me than be perfect.” Now, tie this with what Jim earlier said. Life isn't about not sinning. What did Abraham trust God for? A baby. Read the context. Abraham wasn't trusting God for the forgiveness of his sins. He was trusting God for a baby. And it was because of that confidence in Abraham that God said,
“I'd rather have that than perfection.” Now, of course, the best of all is both. And you don't have to throw away one to get the other. Now, in our case, we don't have to throw it away, because we've already thrown it away. Right? We're not, we're not going to handle this in terms of doing what is right, so, you know, give up early and avoid the rush.
As Jim has presented, we put our lives on a different basis. We enter into a relationship. And we say thank God for God has opened up the fountain of grace to us, reaching far beyond forgiveness, and we receive it into our whole life. If you look on your page there, under two, Roman numeral IIB, you'll see a reference to 2 Corinthians 9:8. Now this context, you may recall, is a context where an offering is being taken up. This is the passage where it talks about how God loves a hilarious giver. And Paul is saying in that context, see, to be a hilarious giver, you really have to trust God. Whoopee, I just got rid of ten thousand dollars. Are you, what are you trusting? You can't trust that ten thousand dollars, cause it's gone, see. So you've got to have something else. So you are entering into relationship.
That's what's so sad about giving, and how it's misunderstood among Christians. Giving is an opportunity to participate in the Kingdom of God. It's an opportunity to put something out there into God's work and watch what God does with it. And, he, maybe he won't do anything for you, but he's going to take care of you. The important thing is what he does with what you give. And he takes that, and multiplies it, and look at this verse: “And God is able to make all grace”—Paul is wonderful in the way he can pile things up. “All grace” is not enough. It's going to abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything you may have an abundance for every good deed. Now how many of you see that that pretty well takes it all in, see? This isn't about just forgiveness of sins. You don't grow in grace by getting more grace for forgiveness of sins.
Isn't that clear? If you're going to grow in grace, you're going to grow in righteousness. You're going to grow in peace. You're going to grow in joy—in the Holy Spirit. That's how you grow in grace. It isn't the sinner who uses a lot of grace. It's the saint. See, a saint burns grace like a 747 burns fuel on take-off. You want to see someone who really needs a lot of grace? Mother Teresa, Billy Graham. Now if you get this, it'll help really straighten out a lot of our unhappy and unfortunate thinking about grace and Kingdom living.
You want to take, you want to go about your life and your work in such a way that everything that you're doing is derivative from grace. You couldn't do it if it wasn't for grace. That's where you want to live. You say, “Oh, I'm so weak.” Well, Paul says, “My grace is made perfect in weakness.” See, that's what Jesus taught Paul. Paul was not a great big, macho, fine-looking, slick-talking guy, going around taking in converts. He was actually not a very attractive person, didn't speak well, apparently, from the record. And he didn't get a lot of respect, and he wanted respect. He had been raised to get respect. But he didn't get it, and he wouldn't try to get it, because he understood that's not what he was there for.
And that's one reason why Paul is the one who was used so greatly. In the early periods, when Christianity was expanding in the Roman Empire, Paul really got it. He understood what the message was. He understood what Jesus is doing. And it entirely took him off of all the little ritual righteousness, and all the little fine-looking things. I, I heard of a speaker, a Christian speaker the other day who insisted that he be met at the airport in a limousine and that they have a fruit basket that was hand-made in his room when he got to the hotel. Now Paul didn't do that, see. But there were people in his day who did, who came to town with an entourage, and a big expense account. And Paul never did that. Paul just came in quietly and began to speak, began to teach, began to manifest the Kingdom.
He learned that from Jesus, see. And that kind of life is a life of grace. And so weakness, all of that, doesn't matter, because you're not the one doing it anyway. God is doing it. And you get to be there. You get to see it happen. So now let's just be fairly specific here: what about praying for someone? Praying for someone that is in serious condition of some sort, or, praying about a serious condition in the community or the church, or your business life. See, you, you pray—not in your strength, not because you know how to pray, because you remember Paul says in Romans 8, we don't know how to pray as we ought. So give up. Step in and pray, and watch how the Spirit begins to move in the praying. Don't dive bomb, you know, get in and drop it and you're out. When you go in and pray, you stay there. You stay there. And you see what will happen as you stay there. See, that's one reason why we shouldn't pray for people unless that's the best we can do. We should pray with them. And I don't know where you are on this, but if you begin to do this you'll see all the difference in the world.
But of course that means you have to trust God enough to do that and not worry about what's going to happen. So for example, I had to come to the place where I realized I don't answer prayers. I pray. I don't answer prayers. And I'm willing for God to do anything he wants to. And I will just because of that and because of my confidence in Him and I know that He wants to do good things, I'll just get up there and do exactly what Jesus said. I will ask, I will seek, I will knock. I'll make a nuisance of myself. I'll keep standing there. See, well, but, what can you do? Nothing, except that. And that's the occasion for God to begin to move in.
Well, I must move here with the speed of light, so turn on to page seven. See entering the Kingdom in this way, does mean a number of things, that Jesus spells out, and there are three things that he says about entering the Kingdom of the heavens. Now may I say that when he's discussing this, he's not primarily talking about going to heaven when you die. That'll take care of itself. If you enter the Kingdom of heaven, you don't need to worry about where you're going to end up. If you don't get involved in this, then maybe you should worry. But you remember that Jesus said that if you haven't been born again from above, that is, if there hasn't been something that has happened to you from God that has touched you so that this new life begins to flow… Now remember what I said about what life was. That, that new life is pulsing in you through the new birth. See, this is why Paul says in Romans 8:14 as many as are moved by the Spirit of God, they are the children of God. You don't need to worry about if you are a child of God if the Spirit of God is moving in you. That's the new birth.
It says in Matthew 18 unless you repent and become like a little child, you can't enter the Kingdom of heaven. And in Matthew 5:20 he says unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you can't enter it. Now see, to enter it means to be involved in what it is doing. To enter the Kingdom of heaven means to be involved in what it is doing. Now do you remember Matthew 6:33? We sing a song, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and everything else will take care of itself.” See, that's quite a promise. But it's based on being involved in the Kingdom of God.
Now, how do you know you've found it? You know you've found it like you know you have found electricity when you take a-hold of the wire. When you take a-hold of that wire, you realize there is something moving here. And it isn't me, unless perhaps I'm going up and down. There's a power there.
And you know that you have found the Kingdom of God when that life begins to move in you. And you're no longer simply under your own direction. You're no longer just trusting yourself. And you experience that, and you learn how to work with it, and how to draw your life as the vine, the branch draws its life from the vine. It takes in something that is beyond it, and it is moving. Now being born again is an illustration of that. Going beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees—what was the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? Well, it was precisely the righteousness defined by external action. What Jesus is saying there is you have to move to the level of the heart. And he illustrates that, and we'll talk about that a little in just a moment here.
Becoming like a child—unless you repent and become like a little child. What is it that marks a child more than anything else? Well, I think, you know, Jesus didn't say. But I think the thing he had in mind was the presumption of a child. A child presumes. They can't really do anything but presume, right? Here they are. And its so wonderful to watch how when a little child enters a home. How it changes everything, ’cause now there's this little life that is there and it just says, “Gimme. Gimme.”
And that's what you do in the Kingdom of God. You don't come to the Kingdom of God as the people in Matthew 18 were doing saying who's going to be greatest. That's what the discussion was about. That's totally gone, cause now you're on a different basis. And instead of saying, “Am I going to be great?” We say, “How about you?” Right? See, Paul said, “Let each consider others better than himself,” in Philippians 2. What a release that is. And how the world would be changed if that would just happen!
Of course, you can't do that unless you're standing in the Kingdom of God because unless you're standing in the Kingdom of God through the presence of the new life that has come into you, and is now taking over more and more of you, you're going to be thinking about comparisons, and you're going to be thinking about “Well, what about me? Where do I stand?” See, that's what the fellows where saying when, when they were saying “Who's going to be greatest in the Kingdom of God?” Well, they had it all wrong. They were thinking about a political, human sort of thing God was going to bring down. Jesus had been trying to teach them that but they couldn't receive it. And now the little child, he's really not worried about that, you know. A little child doesn't have the adult values. Ask a three-year-old kid what they want to be and they're apt to say the garbageman or the man that lives in the box down the street, and, because, what do they know? Well, that's really what Jesus was talking about. Just simply receiving and putting yourself in a position where you can only receive.
Now, when we go beyond the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees here as on page seven, we see that the main thing that comes into our hearts is something that spreads out and you have the commandment, the great commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And I've used this little diagram here to just lay out the different parts, because the secret of transformation is change in all of these parts. The spirit is basically the will, but the will doesn't work alone. It works off of the mind. And there are the thoughts and the feelings. And of course the body has a life of its own. It's already running. And one of the things that has to be done when we come to Christ is we have to train our body, through grace, so that instead of a natural expression of what is wrong, there is a natural expression of what is right.
This comes down to things like what do you do when people curse you. Everyone who drives a car in our culture has the experience. And sometimes our families, the cursing goes on there. Well, how do you change that? So that you're able to bless those who curse you? And you have to get to your body, because if your body doesn't change, you will have already cursed them back before you think about what you are supposed to do. See, that's, our body is that part of our personality that takes over feelings, thoughts, and choices and begins to run on its own.
And that's a good thing by the way. See, you want, that's what your body is supposed to do. One reason why you have a body. So, for example, most of the things that we wind up doing, we come to a point where we don't have to think about them to do them. See, if you're riding with someone in a car, you don't want to be riding with someone who has to think about everything. Where's the brake? What do you do with that? Right, and so on. You want someone who just does what needs to be done. See, that's in their body, right? And you find people who can even do their make-up while they drive.
And the social dimension. See, the social dimension has such a pull because we don't live inside of our bodies. We live around our bodies. And the social dimension is one that largely governs what we do. And there's a lot of evil in it. So, for example, especially rejection and attack. Watch people attack one another and reject one another. It's pitiful how this starts with children, how children suffer on school grounds. Because they attack and withdraw and form little cliques and they're not loving, they're hateful, and they like to see others suffer. If you've observed children, you'll see as they grow up, they pick these things up, and they, they actually will cause suffering just for the fun of it. Right?
And then we grow up into a larger world. And then all this stuff that's in our family comes out and it's against us. We have to begin to change that. One of the main functions of the body of Christ is to provide a social context free of attack and withdrawal. And I pause ’cause I hope you'll think about that. One of the things that should happen in the fellowship of Christ's people is there should be no attack and no withdrawal. Now, of course, love would take care of that. And then from those people that should move out to the families and to the community. And anger, and wrath, and killing, and contempt, all of that would go.
Now, you say, well, you've got to have your mind changed to do that. You've got to have your body changed to do that. See, all of this goes together. And at the center, there has to be the choice to actually do it. And now, as grace comes into all of these areas, they're transformed. See, it's so much as shown by what we can even bring ourselves to think about. Just before coming over, I had the television on as I was getting ready in the hotel room, and there was a discussion about virtual child pornography. I don't know if you know what that is. I hadn't ever heard of it before. But now, apparently, it is possible to make anything you want by images without any people being involved. Now here is what the discussion of that was about: should that be forbidden, since there are no actual children involved? And this was a serious discussion on the part of learned people. Now see, that is something one shouldn't even be thinking about. And you can dig into that: why would one be thinking about that? And what kinds of feelings are involved here? As if somehow if there were no children involved actually, you were just doing this by making images with machines, then there's nothing wrong. See, it's what we can think that has to be changed. What we can think. It's what we wouldn't think.
Same way with feeling, contempt. Now, I submit to you, that contempt would have no place in the life of anyone for anyone who had fully received Christ into the feeling area of their thought. See, contempt is sort of the bedrock of aggression among human beings. And you watch human beings, if they get ready to destroy someone, they will normally develop a hearty dose of contempt for them. And that goes on in our most elevated levels of society.
Well, Jesus' teachings deal with all of these things, and he addresses the process of change, and his teaching is if you make the insides good, then the fruit will take care of itself. If you have a good tree, you have good fruit. He said a good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit. So, when we think about grace now, and Kingdom, and life—and please hold those together in your mind—what we're talking about is the transformation of all of these dimensions that are marked by the circle diagram there on the left on the page. So you're going to be, going to become the kind of person who simply thinks good things, feels good things, good things are in the body, good things are in the social context.
Now then, when you think about that, then suddenly you say, “Oh, I remember. 1 Corinthians 13. Love suffers long, and is kind. Love envies not; does not vaunt itself; is not puffed up; does not behave itself unseemly; seeketh not its own.” That's what it's talking about. Now if you decide you're going to do that, then it's going to be a disaster. Because, you see, it's not telling us to act lovingly. And if you say, I'm going to act lovingly, you'll just get madder and madder. You can't do that.
Ok, go back to our basic verse: “The Kingdom of God is not meat or drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Now how does that work? It works by the transformation of all these dimensions. And then go over to the little diagram on the left, you'll see the arrow coming out of their actions. So what comes out of the transformed self is precisely loving deeds, righteous deeds, peaceful, joy. All of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, kindness, meekness, faithfulness, self-control. And, how is that? You say, "I'm going to control myself." No, you're not.
Now let me try to pull this together by just saying something in general that affects the whole idea of righteousness and the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and so on. If you want to keep the law, don't try to keep the law. Become the kind of person who naturally keeps the law.
That's what Jesus is talking about, see. So, for example, “Thou shalt not kill.” Ok, you want to obey that? Don't just try not to kill people. Become the kind of person who wouldn't kill people. Right? Am I communicating? Ok. See. So if you, and I'm sure that this is something that is deeply concerned on all of us here, I'd like to do what Jesus taught. Now let me say: there's not a single thing that Jesus taught that you cannot learn to do. There's not a single thing that Jesus taught that you can learn to do, that you can do without learning. Ok, I'll say it again, because there's deeply ingrained in us the idea that to do what Jesus taught is impossible, even though he said, “Here's the man that built his house on the sand: he heard what I said and didn't do it. And here's the man that built his house on the rock: he heard what I said and did it." Even though he said that we as a people of Christ are appointed to go, and make disciples and teach them to do everything he said, still many people say (and their theology supports it), that you cannot do what he said.
Now I want to go back: there's not a single thing that Jesus taught that you cannot learn to do. Grace will come in there and help you become the kind of person who would do it. There's not a single thing that Jesus taught that you can do without learning. You have to learn it. It will not happen with effort. That's why we must go deeper than asking ourselves, "What would Jesus do?" For one thing, what Jesus would do is he would become the kind of person who wouldn't need to ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?” They'd already know. In fact, they would do it without thinking about it.
Living in the Kingdom of God, walking in the Kingdom of God, means that we take grace into every dimension of the self. And that means we take the Kingdom of God into every dimension of the self in such a way that what we do is done by the power of God. That is what is called “resurrection life”. Resurrection life.
One more thing and we'll quit. See, God has very high objectives for you. So high that actually we don't understand what our life is now. That's why it says in Colossians 3 that you are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God. And John in 1 John 3, says the same thing: beloved, now we are called the children of God, and such we are, but he goes on to say we don't know what we are, we only know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. Ok, so when you look in the mirror, you don't really see what, when you look at another person's outward, you don't see what they are.
So let me just say this now, and you can take it home, and you may want to write it on your bathroom mirror, and think about it, and see if this wouldn't give us some guidance: God's intention for you is that you would become the kind of person that he can empower to do what you want to do.
God's intention for you is that you would become the kind of person that he could empower to do what you want to do. And if you are faithful over small things, he will make you in charge over great things. That's his hope for you and for me. See, we are not bodies. We are spiritual beings, with an eternal destiny in God's universe. Right.
So what we have here in this little time on earth is very small compared to what he has in mind for us. If we answer that call and trust Jesus Christ, then he is prepared to show us how that our whole life can be an eternal one. So I like to use the phrase that what we're doing now is "training for reigning". Training for reigning. And when you take your whole life in to that, then the wonderful verse in Romans 5:17 where he says, “Where, if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through one Jesus Christ.” Will reign in life through one Jesus Christ.
Now go back and think about our verse: the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. That's what our life is meant to be: a life free of fear, free of anger, free of contempt, free of the will to harm, full of power to do what is good, to overcome all evil that comes against us, in one way or another to know the triumph of God in those circumstances. That's what it means fully to live in the Kingdom of God.
Now we'll be talking more about that later as we go on through the hours together, and we'll try to be very specific about many of the points that we've talked on in general this evening. But that's the message that I want to leave with you for tonight.
Is there anything to do but say a benediction and go home? Someone speak to me? Then let's stand for a benediction.
Now, as you go from this place, may the consciousness of God acting with you be present in everything you do so that you will know what it is like to live in the life of the Kingdom of God. So may that grace go with you and that life move in you and bring you where God wants us to be in the fullness of the life of the Kingdom.
In Jesus' name I give that to you. Amen.
From RENOVARÉ Perspective, Vol. 13, No. 2, April 2003: