Life in the Kingdom 1

Dallas Willard Part 5 of 22

Dallas agreed to teach two separate weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Atlanta, a cohort of 40 students, mostly in ministry positions. He rehearses many of the themes from his speaking ministry elsewhere, so there is little new to be heard, but with more time with the group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.


Anybody who doesn’t believe in a tight mind/body connection doesn’t appreciate coffee! [Laughter] There is of course a very intimate connection. You have to be careful with how you work it but—a very intimate connection.


In this section, if you are looking at the second sheet that you have from the outlines that says Wednesday? We are going to get there! [Laughter] I believe that this transparency is page 11 in your notebook and would you look that up and see if you can get ahold of it? It’s the one on Practically Speaking-Three Gospels are Heard. Any luck? [Right before the What is Spirit?] Thank you!


Now, the central point of emphasis in coming to grips with spiritual transformation is the message and we are going to later talk about VIM—vision, intention and means as we move along and we become more direct toward practicality but the capstone is the VIM. Now, that’s why I talked to you about the spirit and now, we want to translate that into the Kingdom of God and understand the Gospel that Jesus preached in terms of the message of the Kingdom of God. [1:57]


I want to just call your attention to the Gospels, which we are more likely to hear than the one, which Jesus preached. Now, if you ask a New Testament scholar, what was Jesus’ message? He would tell you without hesitation—the Kingdom of God. Not really! The message of Jesus is the accessibility of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was very old news by the time Jesus got here. It had been worked out in the blood history of the Jews. They did not know the Kingdom of God until they had been ground to pieces in their efforts to be a political unity nation. They had been crushed by the Babylonians and spit out on the banks of the Euphrates and all of their dreams of being a nation were crushed and they thought, “Where is God?” They found out that God was in Babylon. Huh? He’s not just in Jerusalem; He’s in Babylon. “There by the rivers we sat down and we rested. Those who made us captives required that we sing them songs.” “Oh, sing us one of those songs of Israel,” and Israel had been developing their songs for quite awhile by that time and they had some beautiful ones but to sing them was heart wrenching to them because their hopes had been crushed. They didn’t know about the Kingdom of God. They thought there was a kingdom in Jerusalem. That’s where God was, and they put their hopes in that and of course, they wound up worshipping the wrong thing. God didn’t want them to have that in the first place. It was never His intention that they would be a political unity but they fought that battle endlessly. They are still fighting it in Acts 1 and Jesus is getting ready to leave and they are still saying, “Are you going to do it now? Are you going to do it now? And what a battle that was. [5:02]


They discovered the Kingdom of God. Now, Jesus comes and He says, “Repent for the Kingdom of the Heavens is at hand.” Now, we have a whole industry devoted to the thought that Jesus is going to come back and set up His Kingdom and this time, He ain’t going to mess around. He’s coming with an atomic “cattle-prod” and people are going to line up.  Well, I don’t know but that’s not what Jesus was talking about. When He said it is at hand, He was saying, “It is here. It is now available. You can reach it. You can live in it,” and then He goes on and plays that out. [6:01]


I am so thankful that Jan read the verses she did this morning about the Kingdom—What’s the Kingdom like? What’s the Kingdom like? What’s the Kingdom like? See, Jesus taught that way because He has to edge up to it and He’s going —the Kingdom is not going to be “like” what the people listening to Him thought about it and His parables are often just scandalous. The parable of the hours is enough to make you mad. It’s unjust. He is redefining justice. The Kingdom is not like anything that people have identified. The first passage you read changed my life as a young “would be” minister about the farmer who goes out and sows the seed. He goes to bed and it just keeps growing and if I hadn’t learned many years ago that I don’t have to make it happen, I would have been out of business and everyone would have been thankful about that. But what I realized was I simply give the word of the Kingdom and the King with His word and then everything takes care of itself. It doesn’t mean that everyone will come in. It just means that what is right will be done. [7:44]


Now, perhaps the most common Gospel in our circles here—I am being presumptuous, forgive me—is that you will be forgiven, you will be in Heaven in the afterlife if you believe that Jesus suffered for you sins. This is actually one theory of the atonement and it is presented as if it were the Gospel. Well, I’ll tell you forgiveness of sins is good news. That’s good news! I look back over my life and boy, I thank God that I don’t get what I deserve.  That’s good news but it’s not the Gospel. [8:32]


Q: How do you think that this shift happened; that it came from one explanation of atonement to the full gospel of Jesus’ message?


Dallas: Well, the claim to be in the forgiveness of sins business is very early. It starts very early when the people identified as Christians have become a group that now claims to be able to hand out salvation and that’s been the problem all along is the desire to control. We get it in a special form because of the controversy between liberal and fundamental Christianity and in that form, the claim was that “I can give you correct doctrine and that will arrange for your forgiveness.” So, in the older form of the sacraments of the church administered by a properly ordained priest was the way that you controlled forgiveness of sins and all of us read a little bit in history about the power of the Popes over the Kings when the nation states, especially when they were emerging and that power was ex-communication. In other words, I control this now and I’ll send you to hell and people today, they look at that and say, “How could that be?” But they don’t understand the background and so with the reformation there was a great breakthrough but then slowly, that degenerated into another form of assessing the means for forgiveness and that’s the thing that drives this entire system and we learned in the battle between fundamentalism and liberalism that the really important thing was what you could eat and what you believe determines whether or not you were to be forgiven.


So, we have a special form of it now and that is one reason why the spiritual life disappeared by in large is because that doesn’t—that’s not involved in having the correct doctrine so turning that loose is a big deal. It is very threatening to people because they think that incorrect doctrine is like eternal aids and if you have it, you are in bad shape. [11:36]


So, all of that is very scary and very serious. There is no doubt about that but it’s simply a problem with human beings that they want to seize control of things. They want to play monopoly and not just economically but in other things, they want to have control of them. [12:00]


Correct doctrine is very important because what you believe will determine how you act but then we developed a form that really didn’t do that. I mean if you believe in the Virgin Birth, you are in a different world. If you profess to believe it, you may not be much of anywhere. Suppose you are told you must believe this or we won’t have fellowship with you and so on. Well, you know, confession gets done on a lot of different basis. Profession can be done to save your life, your reputation or your business and that is true in the world; not just Christian religion but all kinds of religions profess stuff you don’t believe because that’s the only safe thing to do. It’s not always done that way but profession and belief are different. If you believe the fundamental truths that are communicated by the church historically through the ages, you are in a different world. Belief is really important but then you have to deal with that in terms of life and so profession tends to creep in. Well, that’s very important, okay? It’s not the Gospel. [13:33]


Second one—Jesus died to liberate the oppressed and you can stand with Him in that battle. It’s very important. He did die to liberate the oppressed. He lived to liberate the oppressed. Liberating the oppressed is very important. That’s why forgiveness of sins is very important. Now, the advocates of these two Gospels tend to think that the other one is right. [Laughter] And so there is a lot of battle around that and right now the evangelical churches are in a process of trying to recover their reputation with reference to number two. The liberal churches are not much interested in number one. And actually, it turns out that the people who accentuate number one usually do more for number two than anyone else if you just look at the statistics and that’s a deep and interesting issue that is worthy of some discussion.

Number Three is actually more widely practiced than we think. You do what your church says and it will see to it that you are received by God—“fix you up with the spirit in the sky” as the song says. [“Fix you up with the spirit in the sky,” is that what you said? – Laughter] You know that song? [I don’t know that song.] Who is the author of that song?  [Norman Greenbaum] “Fix you up with the spirit in the sky” and of course, that’s even non-Christian religions do that. So, and that is what many people can practice and it’s a sort of “fall back” position because, you know, serving your church is a good thing. It’s a good thing; not a bad thing. Trusting your church to save you is different but these all three are good things. They are not bad things. [15:58]


One common thing they have is they do not grow your character in to Christlikeness. They don’t do that. They don’t have a tendency to make disciples so that’s a huge point now for us to say because if you are interested in discipleship, you want a Gospel that has a natural tendency to produce disciples. Now this affects our evangelism, witnessing, and all kinds of things. Do you evangelize for disciples? Many people have never if you wish, received an invitation to become a disciple of Jesus. Many, many people, sincere people, people in our churches and many of them are sort of—they’ve hit a wall, they want to be faithful to their church but it just seems to kind of go around and around and lead no where and so, it becomes a real challenge to think of how it might be to live as a faithful follower of Christ if you wish on the basis of one of these Gospels. [17:30]


Now, like for number one, there is a whole system of theology and one part of the church that says, “Well, we are so grateful for the forgiveness of our sins that we have become disciples” and if you look at those churches candidly, I think you would see it doesn’t work that way. They don’t become disciples; some do and some don’t. Some do in any church because after all, this is God’s business and not just our business and He reaches people in ways that goes beyond sometimes what we say. Thank God! Because we are not rally, I think, bright enough to handle all of this and we have to be faithful within what we have been taught and I’m not scorning that and I am thankful. God sees our hearts and He works with us on the basis of what is in our heart and I often say to people because I really believe that you are not saved because you are right; if you are right, it’s because you are saved. Being saved by being right is really heavy stuff. It’s hard on us. Being right is a big deal and I don’t think we need to focus there. We need to be concerned about having true beliefs and we test them by putting them into practice and finally taking them to God but many people “right” becomes a huge social burden and “being right” becomes a huge social burden and so, we need to think that in all of this, what we are doing is with God. God is working with us far beyond what we understand. [19:34]


And still we have to think about it and particularly we have to think about this question that is put into print here. I want to come back to this one. But does the gospel I preach have a natural tendency to produce……so what is the content? Is this an invitation for life?—that could produce a disciple because now we are being introduced to something and that has an order and a progression. It’s leading somewhere. Then we look at the other Gospels that we are apt to hear and say, “Well, do they have a natural tendency to produce disciples or only consumers of religious goods and services?” And I am afraid that they tend to do the latter.


Then as ministers, we are apt to wind up in the position of trying to get people to consume the goods and services. So often, the minister finds him or herself in a position of basically trying to get people to do things they don’t want to do. There is, I think some element of that can’t be eliminated and I think it’s going to be there just because of the human condition but it ought to be something that is moving toward helping people do what they want to do. For example, wanting to do what Jesus said rather than kind of looking at it out of the corner of our eye and thinking, “Well, I can’t do that” or “that will ruin my life. If I just did that, that would just ruin my life.” “Just think of giving to Him that asketh of Thee. “Do you know my relatives? Come on, God!” So, you don’t get into “What would that be like and how would it work?” [22:13]


Just think of it as a rule that you are just supposed to keep. How do you wind up with that and so you don’t get in the position of the disciple who says, “Well, this is something I must learn how to do.” Learn how to do that along with all the other things I am learning how to do.


So discipleship I think naturally emerges when we begin to think in terms of the Gospel that Jesus preached and I have given you a bunch of verses here and in an attempt to say what salvation is in that context. See, because this—we have a big issue about “being saved,” right? That’s something worth thinking about but what does it mean to be saved and you can cut that down to just forgiveness. Being saved is justification as we say theologically. That’s it. Well, where did regeneration go? Is that part of being saved? Could you be justified and not regenerate? Don’t you think those are good questions?  [23:55]


Q: I guess that’s part of the question that I have is when I think of salvation and “being saved,” I think of being picked off of the garbage heap or being saved before you get to the incinerator and that kind of thing and so something can be saved and then the use for it is a separate term for salvation. Is that fair? [24:23]


Dallas: Well, I think that you are in a position of having to sort this all out. A good place to start is just to go back to your Biblical sources and see how the word salvation occurs and I recommend that in all the stuff we are talking about. Go back to your Biblical sources. What does it mean? You will find that if you do this work, that the basic meaning of salvation is deliverance–deliverance. It is used in many contexts. [25:02]


One of the most colorful ones is the case where Saul has made this stupid thing of “anyone who eats anything today in the day of battle will be killed.” So, Jonathan and you all know the story but I’ll just sketch it briefly.  Jonathan just gets a “cuppa bear” under his saddle blanket and says, “Let’s go up and get these guys.”  Right? And really they didn’t have much in the way—I don’t know if they had any arms at all because the Philistines had been stripping them of things like that but they managed to get up to where the Philistine’s were and soon, they had arms because they took them away and there was a great bout and Saul, himself finally woke up and they went into battle and won the battle. And it turned out that Jonathan had come upon some honeycomb and had just taken a bite of it and now, Saul was going to kill him. Now, you remember the language. “You can’t do that to Jonathan who this day has wrought such great salvation in Israel.” See, that ‘s the basic idea of salvation. [26:31]


When you read the Psalms and you see it talking about salvation, that’s what it is talking about is deliverance. When you read Peter in Acts 4:17 and he says, “There is no name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,” he is answering a question. The question was, “In what name did you heal this man?” He is referring to deliverance. Now, if you pinch salvation down to forgiveness, you will never understand the scriptures. It is all about deliverance. Of course, forgiveness is deliverance also, right?

So, now, we have a real job if we are really going to really do anything about the stuff this whole session is about, and that is understanding salvation in such a way that it includes transformation of character. Can we do that? That’s the great challenge. [27:49]


The greatest barrier to the practice of spiritual transformation in our churches is the soteriology that reigns in the churches. It does not include that. Now, when you look at what Jesus is saying, you listen to Him, you think about the Kingdom of God and living in the Kingdom of God and what is the Gospel? Well, put your confidence in Jesus. Live with Him as His disciples NOW in the present Kingdom of God. Then a lot of things fit together. Jesus’ saying in Matthew 6:33—“Seek first the Kingdom of God.” That sounds like a program for life. “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” We will talk about what that is in a moment. That’s the Gospel. When He presents the Beatitudes, that’s Gospel. That is saying that all kinds of people can come. Everyone is welcomed and that was a real kick in the shins for the people who thought they were in charge of the Kingdom of God in that day.


Q: This is kind of a personal question but how did you come to this kind of realization knowing that you probably grew up in one of those other three Gospels above in the combination. Was it something that so suddenly came to you or over time; what was the catalyst that changed? [29:51]


Dallas: Well, the catalyst was trying to preach the Gospel and noticing that I spent a lot of my time trying to get people to come to here me and Jesus spent a lot of time trying to get away from people. [Laughter] Now, I am making allowances for the fact that I am not Jesus. There must be some difference there and that’s when I began to study what He said and what He did. Now, I had been taught that that was irrelevant and that was for the millennium but then I have to study the whole New Testament, put it in the context of the prophets and the Law and then gradually I began to understand really, what He was preaching—life now in the Kingdom of God through faith in Him and that the reality of what He was talking about was manifested in His presence and that is why He had to try to get away from people and He spent at a lot of time trying to do that. [31:04]


And then of course that works out through—as far as I can tell, it is still going on, so now, issues come up you know? How do you evangelize with this? What kind of decisions can you call people to on the basis of this Gospel? And if we are used to another way of making decisions, then we may have trouble with this.


Jesus didn’t apparently have a problem with evangelizing and bringing people to a place of decision. They decided to be His disciples in groves and then He discouraged them. “If you don’t hate your other or father or brothers and sisters and your own life, then you can’t be my disciples.”


Now, I don’t think He was saying, “I won’t let you.” I think He was saying what a good teacher might say to a student, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee that if thou canst not do decimals and fractions, thou canst not do at all.” It means they can’t “cut it.” It has to be the most important thing in your life and if it isn’t, you will waver and you will be double minded as James says and it won’t work and so, a lot of people—when He said that, they left. He was always saying things that made people leave and so, that message is what is in the scripture. That’s what He preached—the Kingdom. That’s why we have all the parables. That’s preaching the Kingdom and His work was three fold and you see that in Matthew. His work was to proclaim and that’s like putting up bumper stickers, “The Kingdom of the Heavens is at hand.” It’s a light bulb and then He manifested the Kingdom and finally, He taught. The teaching requires understanding and when He sent His people out, at first He didn’t send them out to teach it, just to proclaim and manifest. That’s the easy part. Teaching, well, that gets better as you go along and so now, this gives you an idea of salvation—participating now in the life in which Jesus is now living on earth. That’s why it’s in the Kingdom of God and He is now living on earth and so, you know, you’ve learned different ways of helping people understand that. You say, “Aren’t you worried about missing out on the most important thing that is happening in human history?” That helps people start thinking. Well, what’s that? You are in a position to give them a good answer. [34:48]


So, now, this is a way of thinking about the Gospel and I believe that it is a way that brings us into a path of discipleship. Remember, a disciple is not an advanced spiritual condition. It might grow into that but when it starts especially, it’s not advanced at all and just to help us, we can look at the condition of His disciples when He wasn’t with them. These people were not advanced. They were still so oblivious to things and James & John had their Mama come to Jesus to make arrangements. [Laughter] Then the other guys got mad at them. That’s not real Phi Beta Kappa spirituality. [Laughter] It took a lot of teaching to get them beyond that, didn’t it? But they got beyond it. So, being a disciple is something where you have committed to a path of learning but we will go into that a little later. Of course, that involves forgiveness and Heaven afterwards and much more. It involves what Paul calls in Galatians 3, “the blessing of Abraham.” [36:34]


Q: Can you elaborate on what you said about manifested..[can’t understand what this person asked]


Dallas: In His actions and around Him, there were events that were caused by the presence of the Kingdom. For example, in healing, in the nature miracles and so on, there were manifestations of the Kingdom and He manifested the presence of the Kingdom by His deeds that were not of human capacity. Sometimes catching fish, calming water, turning water into grape juice. [Laughter]


Q: Can I ask a follow up to that question? If this is our pattern for how we would manifest?


Dallas: It will happen. Accept the Kingdom in light of the Kingdom, then when your character grows to the point in which you can stand it, then things will begin to happen but you have to understand that character is more fundamental than manifestation and not everyone can stand manifestation.


Q: Was eating with sinners a manifestation of the Kingdom?


Dallas: Oh, well, it was but not of that particular kind of way but that was more in the way of proclamation and teaching in my opinion. [38:35]


  1. So, now, let’s move into this issue of what the Kingdom is and I think that in trying to teach this, one has to really fit the descriptions as squarely as one can. Maybe I should just do a little more on this. I don’t want to come down too hard on this but perhaps it will—hmmmm…wrong thing—better—that’s why they are called transparencies! This is on page 29 if you are numbering the pages.


So, this is a contrast and it’s in connection with number one on the list of The Three Gospels. The conservative synonym for the Gospel is one that promises us heaven after death on the basis of believing the right things about Jesus. Now, let me be clear. I actually think that probably works. It’s just that it leaves out a lot of stuff; not that that’s wrong. It just laves out what is on the right side here—discipleship, special religious efforts and so on. They are nice but not necessary and we appreciate people who do that. Ordinary life, work, play, family community—one is supposed to be Christ like or at least do right but it is not necessary and maybe not possible. There is no natural bridge from faith as understood here and through obedience and abundance, so that’s a way to practically pick the problem of making the connections. [41:08]


Now, with Jesus’ Gospel of Kingdom life up above now, faith—what is faith? Faith is confidence in Jesus and His present Kingdom and it naturally leads to seeing my whole life as the place of redemption. So, now I am living in interactive relationship and to discipleship as learning from Him how to lead my life as He would lead it if He were I. That’s what I am learning. I am learning how to lead my life in the Kingdom of God with faith in Christ. So, now, anything like that is over simple and I apologize for that but I hope it makes an important point in a way that you can take it in.


Now, let’s approach this issue of the Kingdom of God and try to make a statement about it that will both be helpful, I hope. What is the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is wherever God’s will is done—His Kingdom is present. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer as we call it—“Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” That’s what it means for His Kingdom to come—it means for His will to be carried out.


Have you found that or have I “frusticated” you? [Laughter] Now, the Kingdom of God is over everything but not everything God permits is in His Kingdom. Eventually everything, but He allows things to be done that are not His Will. He allows that! The things that are done that are not His Will are not a part of His Kingdom. Nature, generally speaking is a part of the Kingdom of God and that is one reason why it is so refreshing to go into it. There are some things that don’t look like God and it may well be that the failure of human responsibility for the earth, which is what we were put here for is responsible for a lot of bad things.


When you come to earthquakes and tsunamis and so on, that’s a little harder to see but on the other hand, your tax dollars are being spent by people who are trying to learn how to control earthquakes. Did you know that? That’s a part of what goes into the human image is being responsible to try to control things. There isn’t anything that human beings won’t try to control. There isn’t anything. [44:58]


The range of God’s will has some limitations under current conditions and preparedly there are spiritual beings that are opposed to the will of God and then human beings are often opposed to the will of God. If you are understanding Kingdom stuff, you will want to understand that you have the Kingdom or a Queendom if you interested in that distinction and that’s the range of your effectiveness. [He points to student and his stuff evidently.] This thing here is in the range of his world. That’s a part of his Kingdom and you don’t want to pick it up and walk off with it. See?  So, Kingdom is essential to response to personality. You can’t have a person without a Kingdom and it is meant to be very comprehensive but it’s also meant to work under the Kingdom of God. That’s one reason why money is so important is because it is an extension of your effective will. You have money; you can walk up to the window and get somebody to give you a hamburger. They will be happy about it and you will be happy about it—IF you have money or as we say, credit. And, that’s all a part of your Kingdom. Now then, there is a thing called credit rating and that affects your Kingdom because it affects what is within the range of your will. Money, in the form that we are most familiar with it, where you carry it in your pocket and so forth, that is Kingdom stuff. God has made arrangements for this to happen. If you didn’t have money, then if you had pigs and you wanted cabbage, then you would have to find someone who wanted pigs. If you have money, they don’t want pigs but they will take your money because then they can get something else. So, all of this is really important and the understanding of money is one of the things that we most lack understanding of in our—often many people think it has nothing to do with religion but it does because it has to do with the Kingdom and everything that concerns the range of our effective will is really important and is really important that all of that come under the range of God’s will. [48:24]


So, Kingdom stuff now, the Gospel of Jesus is that life in the Kingdom is available to us NOW! We can experience the Kingdom and live in it. Now that’s where the idea of life that we started talking about last time because that’s how we experience the Kingdom of God is in our life and things are moving that are not of us.  It’s supposed to be God so God is dwelling in our life and our will is harmonized with His and we are able to live in the Kingdom. That’s what it means to live in the Kingdom. So, when we read, “Seek first the Kingdom of God,” well that means align yourself with what God is doing.  Make that your main business and then these amazing things that He says and everything else will be provided in alignment with the Kingdom.


So, now we look at Christ and we realize that He brings the Kingdom with Him and when we align ourselves with Him, then we begin to experience the movement of the Kingdom in our lives and things happen like we stop being fearful and someone comes along and says, “Well, you know, perfect love casts out fear.” Wow! That’s a “load off,” isn’t it? Because fear basically dominates human life and Jesus knows that and so one of the things that He said most often is, “Fear not. Be of good cheer.” Well, what do we have to cheer about?—the presence of God in our lives. [50:40]


There is a wonderful verse in Galatians 3 about the blessing of Abraham. I wonder if you know that passage because–Paul here says in verse 13 and 14 of chapter 3, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law having become a first curse for it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” He stepped in our place. Christ died in our place in order that—now, this is another one of those places where you want to think about how you are going to finish the sentence, okay? “In order that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”


Now, ask yourself what was the blessing of Abraham? [Blessed to be a blessing?] Blessed to be a blessing! All right. Let’s see if we can put some content in that. What did Abraham believe God for? He believed God for a B-A-B-Y; a baby. And God said, “By faith, is now the basis upon the child he gave to Abraham.” The blessing of Abraham shows up in Genesis. Abraham was so blessed that he was scary and his neighbors, especially, Abimelek, didn’t know what to do with him and so, in Genesis 21, you see Abimelek coming to him sort of defensively and saying, “We really want to be with you because God is with you,” and in Genesis 21:22, “Now it came about at that time that Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his army spoke to Abraham and saying, “God is with you in all that you do.” That’s the blessing of Abraham. That language shows up again in Genesis 28:4 where Isaac is sending Jacob away and among the other things he in verse 4 of Genesis 28, “May He also give you the blessing of Abraham. So, to you and to you descendants with you that you may possess the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham.” The blessing of Abraham may come upon anyone who puts their faith in Jesus! [54:16]


Is this prosperity Gospel? Well, it depends on how you interpret it. It doesn’t guarantee you a new Audi but it promises that God will be with you—that’s the blessing of Abraham. That’s life in the Kingdom of God. How do you come to it? Well, the only way I know or recommend would be to trust Jesus Christ and begin to put into practice the things that He said to do because you trust Him and learn about the interaction with the Kingdom of God.


I suggest that that is what is means to “seek first the Kingdom of God.” “Seek first the Kingdom of God” and the kind of righteousness that comes with that and everything else will be added; if it’s a new Audi, that will be added too but probably not. So, that’s the message of the Kingdom and I would say the only saving advice is, “Trust Jesus!” Put your confidence in Him.


That’s what John 3:16 is about. “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son into the world that those who believe—well, what does believe mean?—well, to act as if it were true—and when you do that, you come in contact with the realities that you are believing in and then that gives you guidance and that’s what we are doing here is trying to put you in touch with realties. Of course, I know that you are already in touch with those realities but to give us a better understanding of how to interact with those realties. That’s what all instructions should do whether it’s driving or how to wire a house or how to work a computer. The instruction puts you in touch with realties and there you go because now, you know what to do to interact with reality. The reality in question here is the Kingdom of God or as Matthew usually puts it, the Kingdom of the Heavens and what the Jews have learned in their experience was that the Kingdom is here. “Our Father who art in Heaven”—where is that? Here! So, that’s what that is saying is, “Our Fathers always here; our Father always near us.” Love our Father way off and far away. [57:19]


Now, it’s a good practice to affirm the presence of God, and I will usually do that several times at least everyday. I like to start my day by saying, “God is here.” He always is. And then we go from that and the blessing of Abraham then follows with faith in the God of Abraham.


All right. Well, maybe you have some questions about the Kingdom? We want to really make a point of understanding what it is and what the Gospel of the Kingdom is and begin to live there and to bring others into that and as we do that, then we begin to find out the reality of what we are talking about with the Kingdom of God. [58:29]


Grace comes with the knowledge of God. Grace is God acting in our lives to accomplish what we can’t accomplish on our own. Grace is for ordinary life. If we had never sinned, we would still need grace because of what we are. [Not positive of this last sentence.]    An automobile that has gasoline in it still needs gasoline. It isn’t just the ones that don’t have any gasoline that need it and in the area of spiritual transformation, now, the understanding of grace is something that we have to be very careful with. There are many, many illustrations.


I like the way it is used in 2 Corinthians 9 where it is talking about giving again. “He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; he who reaps bountifully shall also reap bountifully.”  God is able—this is verse 8 in 2 Corinthians 9, “God is able to make all grace abound to you that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance of every good deed.” That’s pretty comprehensive, isn’t it? Note the “every’s” and the “all’s.” [1:00:04]


Grace is not a consolation prize. We are apt to—that’s often communicated when people are talking about Paul’s thorn and Paul says, “My grace is sufficient to you.” And that’s a language that is often used for things that you are going to have to “get by” with but really isn’t what is needed and wanted. The grace is not a consolation prize. It is the main course. And that verse is a good illustration of it but there are many others and you have to train yourself to read the scripture where grace is mentioned in a way that you don’t see a kind of deficiency that is being made up. Remember, grace is God acting in your life to accomplish what you can’t accomplish on your own. And, frankly that’s just almost everything. The temptation is to think, “I can do it on my own” and in a matter of speaking I think at that point, God says, “OK, lots of luck” [Laughter] and because we are going to settle for much less than we are meant to have if we do it on our own. [1:01:36]


So, grace is not just unmerited favor. Is it unmerited favor? YES, it is unmerited favor but that doesn’t tell you much if all you know is it’s unmerited favor. It is God acting in your life and it is to accomplish the things that you can’t accomplish on your own and that is actually your whole life. That’s the whole thing and discipleship puts us in a position to learn what that means.


So, now we will embark on this later but every place I am, I am watching for the action of God. That’s why it is important to say, “God is here. God is here.” This is an old lesson you may have memorized. Many people have memorized the passage in Proverbs 3:5&6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” That’s the proper attitude that was learned by the Jewish people and then that carries over even more richly into our life because of the knowledge that comes to us in Christ about what our life is supposed to be. [1:03:33]


So, now, what is the Kingdom of God? OK; we can put it in one way. In Romans 14:17, we want to look at. In Romans 14:17, Paul is talking about a church situation where they are having a fight over what to eat. Sounds like home, doesn’t it? [Laughter] Never fight over what to eat and he says, “Look, guys, the Kingdom of God is not in meat and drink; the Kingdom of God is in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit and that is, the quality of righteousness, peace and joy that can only be ascribed to the Divine presence. That’s what the Kingdom of God is.


Well, you know, you need many ways of identifying it and talking about it and so the New Testament supplies that but you know, what you eat and what you drink doesn’t make that much difference but righteousness, peace and joy of the character that can only be ascribed to the presence of God in your life; that’s big. That’s big! You can put that on Romans 14:17 and 5:17. Romans 5:17 is one of those passages that we don’t spend much time in because it is puzzling and scary. Well, we like the first part of the chapter. When we get over to sin reigning unto death and so on. Paul is putting this business of reigning into proper perspective. If you are on your own, sin is likely to reign. Well, original sin but you know there is a lot of un-original sin that reigns and probably sometimes I would like to see an original one. [Laughter] Maybe not!? They all seem so un-original. [1:06:16]


In 17, he gives us this wonderful contrast—“If the transgression of the one, through the transgression of one death rate”—that’s a Kingdom–reigning is Kingdom stuff. “Through the one much more those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.” How do you feel about reigning in life? The ordinary person is more like “raining on life.” Reigning in life—see, that—you are reigning! Can you say that? I am reigning! [“I am reigning!”] I am an unceasing spiritual being. I am reigning through Christ. It’s Christ reigning that makes the difference that brings me into a position—what does reigning mean? It means “directing things;” directing things in a certain way. [1:07:49]


This is not in your book but is a wonderful picture that comes with John Wesley and Wesley was extremely effective in presenting the Gospel of the Kingdom and especially to people who were on the bottom of the human pile and he had a man in a state of depression who came to him once and he said, “I hear you preach to people. What do you preach?” And here was Wesley’s answer, “I do preach to as many as desire to hear every night and morning. You ask what I would do with them. I would make them virtuous and happy.” Now, can you beat that? “Easy in themselves and useful to others wither would I lead them to Heaven, to God, the Judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant. What religion do I preach? I preach the religion of love; the law of kindness; the love to light by the Gospel. What is this good for? To make all who receive it enjoy while in themselves. To make all who receive it enjoy God in themselves. Make them like God, lovers of all, contented in their lives and crying out about their death in calm assurance, ‘Oh, grave, where is thy victory?’ Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through my Lord, Jesus Christ.” That’s reigning–reigning! Reigning in life through One, Christ Jesus!”  Sounds like good news to me! I know you can’t see it so if you want to, you can look at it here later. I’ll put it back here.  [1:10:06]


That’s the Kingdom of God. That is life in the Kingdom of God! That’s why I say, “If you live in the Kingdom of God, this world is a perfectly safe place for you to be.” Now, a person who doesn’t know that, it’s cold comfort to tell them, so we want to tell people that when the elephant is not standing on their foot. When the elephant is standing on their foot, you have them. You listen to them. You moan with them. But we want to get the word out before the elephant gets there and we can do that.  And, it’s really good news! Shall reign in life by one, Christ Jesus. He brings us into His Kingdom and He takes us and teaches us and allows us to know the reality of God’s love. [1:11:29]


I’m not doing so well here on time but you’ll just have to let me—don’t pay any attention to that. [Laughter]


Now, what ‘s The Sermon on the Mount about? It’s really important to take this seriously and one of the unfortunate things about the Gospel that often gets heard is that it doesn’t get heard. It doesn’t manage to see the Sermon on the Mount as something that is vital and relevant to our lives. There are many reasons for that. One of the worst is that it keeps trying to be legalistic about it.  It says, “Blessed are the poor.” “Well, I don’t want to be poor!!!” He wouldn’t tell you to be poor.


He gives you a lot of instructions about things. He gives you some deep teaching about things like, for example, Matthew 5:20: “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee, you will not enter the Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of the Heavens and people read that and say, “Oh, well, I won’t go to Heaven when I die.” It’s not enough for you to go to Heaven when you die. I’m going to Heaven now and it is telling us that unless we get beyond the righteousness that consists of “do’s” and “don’ts,” we will not make contact with the Kingdom of the Heavens.  Entering the Kingdom of the Heavens is to live in the interactive presence of God and He doesn’t do that on the basis of “do’s” and “don’ts.” He just doesn’t do it and that’s what Jesus is saying and then He goes on to illustrate. “Thou shalt not kill.” “I don’t kill anybody.” Well, congratulations! Who would you have liked to kill and who would you be happy if they were dead? [Laughter] You see, it immediately shifts to the level of the heart and if you keep trying to do what He said without going there, it will be miserable. Maybe I can just start on this for a few minutes and then we will have some question time and a break. [1:14:39]


The emphasis, I like to place here and this is in your notes. It is page 20 by my numbering. I am coming to the Sermon on the Mount and you see, I want to begin with the heart because that is what it is about. The Sermon on the Mount is about the heart. The Sermon on the Mount expresses what a person who has been redeemed from the inside will characteristically act and it shifts the whole basis of action as well. It’s the picture of the heart that Jesus gives.


That’s why I use the language there from Luke 6, “a good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit. A bad tree cannot bring forth good fruit. Make the tree good and the fruit will follow.” He gives us this teaching in many ways. When He is giving a lesson to the Pharisees, He talks about how they clean the outside of the cup. Don’t do that. Clean the inside. Now, most people when they are washing dishes know that if you clean the inside well enough, you probably got the outside as well.  But, if you just clean the outside, the inside usually won’t get clean. [1:16:29]


Jesus uses lots of metaphors to shift the emphasis to the heart. There is a spiritual side of the person and that’s where we live in the Kingdom and of course, that’s all caught up in the teaching of love but it has to express itself in various ways and Jesus uses teaching of various kinds. “Let your ‘yes’ be a ‘yes and your ‘no’ be a ‘no.’” Now, actually that’s quite an accomplishment—quite an accomplishment. We are trained in so many ways of saying yes instead of no and no instead of yes and you have highly fake people in political and other settings that we call “spin doctors.” A spin-doctor is one who can give a great big “yes” but it’s a “no.” Putting the “spin on” and Jesus said, “don’t do that.” Well, but, in order to not do that, you have to have a different attitude toward people and that’s why He says, “If you say more than yes and no, that is just say, well, it’s this way or it’s not that way.” He says, “If you go beyond that, it comes from evil.” [1:18:05]


What is the evil that it comes from? Now, see, that’s where you want to concentrate. What was it in the heart that made me say, “Yes.” What was I trying to do with the people I was speaking to? I was trying to manipulate them, wasn’t I? Jesus said, “Don’t do that.” Your desire to manipulate people is the desire to bring them under your control.” Don’t go there. Now, sometimes that will mean that you don’t say anything. Sometimes, that’s the most helpful thing you can do for people is to say nothing. People come fishing for reassurance. Do they really need my reassurance or do they need something better than that? Sometimes, just by being silent, I can let them begin to move to something else. The ability not to say anything is something that most people come by with great difficulty and the ability to not say anything is often a major step towards being able to say the right thing. Of course, people like us, we’re almost paid to say stuff. Paid to say whatever—we talking machines. You have to be very careful with that. That’s the kind of thing Jesus is getting at. [1:20:06]


See, when He talks about murder and all of a sudden changes the topic to anger and contempt. You ask yourself, “How many people would be murdered if it weren’t for anger and contempt?” Think about mass murders. Mass murders are always predicated on contempt. Sometimes anger is involved but contempt is always involved. So, how can you be a person who lives without contempt? See, that’s the question. Can we do that? Yes, we can. How? Well, hang around with Jesus and you will learn. You will get your thinking straight about people. Your habits and emptions and feelings that are running rampant in your body will change.


Contempt, as it’s practiced, especially in group settings is basically a bodily thing and that’s why the language that is used in it will often have references to the body. A great study for us all is to think about the language of contempt—even such little things like saying, “Dung!” Well, we don’t say that. Put it in Latin and it doesn’t have the same language. So, we use language that is, as people say, off color to express contempt—sometimes for people; sometimes for our situation.


You see, when you begin to think about these things and you don’t just wind up saying, “Oh, don’t say that word.” The word is not the problem but it creates problems of its own. The problem is the attitude. Contempt is a terrible, terrible thing and Jesus gets right into it and He starts out with murder and says, “Well, shake my hand. You didn’t kill anybody.” And then He begins to get into the stuff that really matters.


That’s the Sermon on the Mount. That’s what is going on there and of course, you just kill it if you start by keeping the words and say, “Wow, I’ve heard many people say, ‘Well, the reason or the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to make absolutely sure you are a sinner.’” If Moses didn’t do it, just give Jesus a shot and He will wipe you out. Right?  The point is to get you to crawl to the foot of the cross and ask for forgiveness. Well, that’s not a bad idea in itself, but then there is a good deal more, even to Moses than that. This is an introduction into God’s ways. He is teaching us how to live more or less perfectly in parallelism and union with God. So, I mean, it’s a very old story.


Joshua 1:8—I hope you have all memorized that one. “This book of the law will not depart out of your mouth. You shall mediate therein day and night and you may observe everything that is written there. Then you will make your way prosperous and you will have good success.” Why? Because you are lined up with Him? No! That’s how you find the Kingdom of God. You seek it? OK; let’s find it. That’s one way. That’s how the grace of God comes to us. There are few manifestations of grace greater than the law. You just have to understand what to explore and you have to get out of the business of trying to merit some but that means you begin to live with grace in your whole life.


OK; so that ‘s a start on this and we will pick up there when we come back after lunch because it is now time to take a break and again, if you want to read the Wesley thing, it’s right here or copy it if you would like.


Gary, say a word to us. [Will you say the blessing?]


“Lord, we are thankful for food and for the whole arrangement. We are thankful for good appetites and we are thankful for this place to be in and we acknowledge your grace in the food in which we are going to receive. Bless our conversations with one another and we see one another as a grace as well as the food. Give us strength to do your will and guide us in your ways, in Jesus name, Amen.

Listen to all parts in this Renovaré Institute: Atlanta Cohort series