What Is The Kingdom Of God?

Dallas Willard Part 4 of 25

Dallas agreed to teach separate two weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Denver, 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 a “committed” group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.


Introduction: Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise


I’m just wondering if you might know the first verse of this hymn and we can sing it together. Let me go over the words:


Immortal, invisible, God only wise

In light inaccessible hid from our eyes

Most blessed, most glorious, the ancient of days

Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.


Part of my talk yesterday was about thinking magnificently of God. This hymn helps us. We’ll just try the first verse and see how it goes. [Singing]


[1:25 or so, someone walks in front of camera.]


Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light

Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might.

Thy justice like mountains high soaring above

Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.


To all, life thou givest, to both great and small

In all life thou livest—


You almost want to stop and soak that up. “In all life God lives”—this is about his kingdom, is our theme for this session—


In all life thou livest, the true life of all

We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree

And wither and perish, but naught changeth thee. [2:44]


Shall we try that last one? Those of you who are nearer can help me out. [Singing]


Great Father of glory, pure Father of light

Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight

All praise we should render: O help us to see

’Tis only the splendor of light hideth thee.


And now, almighty Lord, we ask that you would help us this morning, and that you would quicken our minds and our spirits to hear what we need to hear as we think of the gospel of your son Jesus, and how he came into the world and gave himself to us to bring us into your kingdom. And so we dwell on that thought, and we anticipate great gifts this day. In the honor of Jesus we say these things and wait before you. Amen. [4:27]


There’s a wonderful story about Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day was a great saint, a Catholic, who lived in the last century, died not too long ago. And awhile before her death, Robert Coles, whom you may know, visited her one last time. And she said, “It will soon be over,” and added,


“I try to think back. I try to remember this life that the Lord gave me. The other day I wrote down the words, ‘A Life Remembered.’ I thought it would be a title, and I was going to try to make a summary for myself. Write what mattered most. But I could not do it. I just sat there and thought of our Lord, and his visit to us all those centuries ago. And I said to myself that my great luck was to have had him on my mind for so long in my life.”


Obedience To Christ


Now, we want to do a little bit of a summary, but we have a lot to cover in this hour, so I’m going to hope not to be too distracted. And we will have a good long question session as Gary mentioned.


So, how are we to look at what we’re doing here? I want to say that the real issue to Christ is obedience to Christ. This is what is omitted in so much that is called spiritual formation today. Spiritual formation is not about spiritual formation. And when you get involved in it that’s one of the things that you really have to remember, or you’ll just wind up doing some weird things. It’s not about spiritual formation; it is about inward transformation into Christlikeness. And that’s what we’re after, and this is what among other things keeps us out of legalism and bondage to practices and comparisons of ourselves with others on how we are doing the things that go into spiritual formation.


And it’s too bad, because you see, spiritual formation essentially involves practices. Spiritual disciplines, which we’ll talk about more later, are essential to spiritual formation as a process. [8:00] Because character is not changed by talk. It’s a strange but important thing to know: character is changed by action. And of course change of character then changes action, but it’s what we do that begins to shift who we are inside.


As I have said, spiritual formation without regard to any specifically religious practice is the process by which the given spirit or will is given a definite form. And the word “form” in formation. You’re getting a definite form; you take on a character. And it’s very important to understand that everyone gets a spiritual formation. Everyone we deal with, ourselves, they are expressing in their lives the spiritual formation that they’ve had, whether it’s a president or a government official or businessman or surgeon or a bag lady or a bag gentleman, they’ve all had character formation. It’s like education; everyone gets an education, it’s just a question of which one. You don’t have to go to school to get an education; you’re going to get one wherever you are. [9:42]


I was reading Elane’s little biographical statement; I think you all have it. And she was talking about her education, and why she had made a certain turn. And she said, “The education I was thinking about did not answer the one question, and that is how to live.” And that’s where we are today.


Forming The Inner World


Now, spiritual formation for the Christian is basically the spirit-driven process. Spiritual formation has two main connotations: one is, it is something that is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Right? Now, you have to be engaged; it won’t do it for you. But as you act, then the Holy Spirit acts with you and in you. And your thoughts become different, your feelings become different, your body behaves differently, your soul begins to work the way it’s supposed to. And the second connotation is, it is formation of your spirit. And that’s your will, and your will solidifies into character, and then your character gets farmed out to your body and your social context. Now we have to break that down; this afternoon I think we’re getting into that. Spiritual formation is primarily the formation of the will, but you have to understand that the will solidifies into character. Character is basically what you do without thinking, but it also expresses itself in what you do after you think. [12:09]


So we have to keep both levels in mind, but the idea is to get you where you just do the things that Jesus would do and say because of who you now are. That’s who you are. It’s your identity. Now we’re back to identity, and then power comes with that, through your life in the kingdom. The kingdom is not in word, as Paul said to the Corinthians, but in power. It’s not just words, it’s power. So spiritual formation for the Christian refers to the spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner world of Christ himself. And that happens in the status of disciple. Spiritual formation in Christ is what comes from the process, and then just a little more here in the way of summary, and we get to dwell on this a little more in the second hour this morning.


“You are the light of the world.” We get to be that, because that’s what God appointed us for. You remember what I said about why Adam and Eve didn’t know they were naked? Because they glowed. And actually I’ve watched people glow in Christ. I remember I started preaching in jailhouses and streets, and I still remember a man in what they call the workhouse in Cleveland, Tennessee, how as I came week after week to preach, he started—his face became different.


Now I think “light” primarily refers to truth, love and power. So I think that’s what—it isn’t just our faces glow. We might go to a good cosmetician and get some help with that. But it’s primarily truth, love and power. That’s the light. Now, “You are the light of the world.” And the outcome of spiritual formation is expressed by Paul here in the letter to the Philippians, after the wonderful passage, the great kenosis passage where he talks about how he emptied himself and came among men in human form, and went to the very depths of human degradation by death on the cross. [15:22] And one of the things about the death on the cross, it was a terrible, terrible thing. They cut Paul’s head off because he was a Roman citizen, and you couldn’t crucify a Roman citizen. It was a terrible way to die, and he came all that way down.


And now Paul says to the Philippians: “Work out your salvation.” Not work to it; you don’t work to your salvation. Work it out. Your salvation is incorporation into the life of God. That’s your salvation. And you get it, and now then you work it out with fear and trembling. Now, those words are actually familiar words in the Bible to characterize a quality of respect and awe. You know, the Proverbs tell us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It doesn’t say it’s the end, but it’s the beginning. The beginning of wisdom. And sometimes people have a hard time thinking about that. “You mean, I’m supposed to spend my days cowering in a corner?” No. Think about it this way: do you all fear gravity? …I’ve got some yeses and I’ve got some nos. Kind of depends on where your standing, doesn’t it? In some places I fear gravity with trembling. And actually, if you’re just walking down the steps here, you fear gravity. You respect gravity. You wouldn’t necessarily want to see it disappear, would you? Because you’d disappear too. You fear the Lord in terms of what he is, and his greatness. You respect that. And what the Proverb is saying is you begin to get smart at the point where you recognize you’re dealing with God. That’s when you begin to get smart. And you can go on from there.


“Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Well, we’ve already changed the world, haven’t we? “That you may become blameless and innocent, children of God above the reproach in the midst of a twisted and misdirected generation, among whom you shine as stars in the world.” Now, that’s the outcome of the process that we are talking about here. And it doesn’t take any special financing or education, you just keep company with Christ and learn from him. [19:24]


Knowledge And Reality


Now, that has been the substance of Christian teaching through the ages, and you see people that we know walked into this. We have great names that stand out in the ancient church, people who gave their lives and became absorbed in the kingdom. Anthony of Egypt, for example, deserted everything to follow Christ, went into the desert, lived a life of solitude and prayer. There were some tremendous experiences he had with God, and some things not so good. And before long, the rulers of the country were coming trickling out into the desert to talk to Anthony. Isn’t that interesting? Well, that’s because he realized this thing about being the light of the world. He didn’t intend to do that; he didn’t do it in order to get important people to come and talk to him. But the world is desperate for knowledge and reality. And so many ways in which that is expressed, but one of the things that has happened in our time is that the teachings of Christ that has been inherited through his people down through the ages, and many parts of the world have been displaced out of the domain of knowledge.


And today it’s very hard to get people to understand this, because it’s now become a part of the air they breathe. And so when the government wants to work with some religious organizations, they call them “people of faith.” They don’t call them “people of knowledge.” You notice that? See, that’s just a symptom of the displacement that has occurred. And the church has very largely cooperated with that, because of their misunderstanding of faith, and they have given up knowledge. [22:14]


Now, I don’t have a lot of time in these sessions to work with you on this, but I challenge you to take your concordance and follow “knowledge,” and you will find that knowledge is the fundamental gift that comes to us from Christ, is knowledge. And there are so many verses, I just mention—take 2 Peter, first chapter, and watch in the first eleven verses the role that knowledge plays. And you will see that this is simply a disaster [quote on “The historical displacement of the content of Christian tradition out of the category of knowledge and into the category of mere “faith” has destroyed the standing of the Christian teacher in contemporary society. Nothing is more important today than the recovery of the church as the unique purveyor of essential knowledge in response to the four great questions of life.”]

It is a social calamity, because it has destroyed the standing of Christian teachers in contemporary society, and nothing is more important today than the recovery of the church as the unique purveyor of essential knowledge in response to the four great questions of life. You remember what those are.


Now, a part of the problem is that now, no one thinks there is any knowledge at all about the questions. They just think everyone is irrational, and they make a great leap, and then when they’ve done that they try to live in the leap. And this makes for a society that is irrational and lives by power.


So now our task is to try to do something to restore this, and this is why there is such a thing as the Renovaré Institute. The Renovaré Institute is designed to help people restore knowledge to the great questions. And that’s why you have assignments and exercises and you have to write, and that sort of thing. It’s almost like school, isn’t it? It is! That’s what it is. And that’s the way it should be.


Three Stories


So now, this kind of summarizes and helps us keep before us what we’re doing, and we have competition, the three stories that are generally available to people in our culture. The theistic story; that’s basically the one that Christianity brings, and that’s still the framework of our society and our culture, it’s just that for the most part, it isn’t represented as knowledge, but as “tradition.” [Theistic is reality is a person, with his activity and its results.]


Then, competing with that, you have a scientistic story, the idea that it’s the sciences alone that bring knowledge. And the sciences do not deal with the great questions, except sort of behind their back. And still, you go on the university campuses and you will find that there is a kind of background assumption that what is to be known is known in the sciences. And where that comes out is basically a materialist theory of you and of reality. [Scientistic is reality is matter (the “natural world) and its complications (NOTE:  not scientific, but scientistic]


And then you have the “nirvana” story, as I call it; sometimes we call it New Age. It’s actually the oldest-age story on human record. [Nirvana/New Age: reality is non-differentiation. Individuation and separateness are illusion. “Enlightenment” sees through the illusion.]


So, now, just notice that each of these questions, these stories, has a response to who is well off, or blessed. It has a response to who is a genuinely good person; often that reduces to nothing less than just “tolerance,” as it’s understood in that system, and then how does one become a genuinely good person. Well, you know, we’ve picked that up mainly from our poets and our song leaders. For example, if you listen to John Lennon’s songs—take “Imagine,” for example—you’re told how to become a good person. Namely, follow John, and believe what he believes. [27:32]


What Is The Kingdom?


Ok, now that’s the summary, and we have to keep the continuity. And today in this session we are spending our time talking about the kingdom of God. In your notes you have a lecture for What is the Kingdom of God, and How Do I Live There? Well, this is actually more on what it is than on how I live there, but that is what we do later on in the day, is talk about how we live there.


Ok, so now if you have questions about that, please keep them before your mind and we will get back to them shortly.


All right, what is the Kingdom of God? You have on your sheet, What is the Kingdom? A government. Every person has a government; it isn’t just God, but God’s kingdom is the place where we flourish as human beings. And your kingdom is an illustration of a kingdom, and actually one of the best ways of coming to understand what a kingdom is is to think about your kingdom. Now you’re given a kingdom by your creation, and that’s where Gen. 1:26, which is on your sheet ties in. [Gen. 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.] Tell me now, what is the image of God in human beings? Having dominion. What is that? That’s kingdom. Or, if you like queendom, you can do that. Or persondom.


So, you’re made for kingdom. And God’s kingdom is where your kingdom flourishes. So let’s just get some wording here on what the kingdom of God is. The kingdom of God is God reigning; it is the range of God’s affective will. It’s where what God wants done is done. [30:16] So that’s its basic nature. It is not political in its basic nature. It has tremendous implications for the political and the social, but it comes simply from the nature of God.


You go into a Greek Orthodox Church and look up into the dome, and you will see Christ looking down. And you may see the word Cosmocrator, ruler of the cosmos. That’s Jesus, that’s God. The kingdom of God is the range of God’s affective will. Now, nearly everything automatically falls under that, except, most prominently for us, human beings. Human beings have the option of living in the range of God or not. And we’ve chosen not to. There is an instigator of that, because apparently this issue of who’s the ruler predates us. And so now some angelic beings decided not to be ruled by God, and that was an unhappy choice for them, but they’re still trying to do that and the main way in which they do that is by influencing human beings.


This makes us ask the question, “What is supposed to come out of human history?” Human history is a very short period of time cosmologically: very short compared to dinosaurs and cockroaches, very short indeed. We have a little time here, maybe 40,000 years, in which there has been an earth where it was possible for human beings to develop and inhabit and create a story, and it makes you wonder why there should be such a thing. We live in a cosmic shooting gallery. It is in itself a miracle that human history has lasted this long. And we live at the mercy of the rocks that are flying around, if that’s all there is to it, and you wonder—it must be that God has something special in mind for human history. What is supposed to come out of human history? Now, I’m not going to try to dwell on that question long, but I want to get it before you. What’s supposed to come out of human history? [33:22] And something very special, no doubt, that might have to do with people.


So this idea now is God has a kingdom. He is working in that kingdom, he has made a place in that kingdom for human beings in human history, and he wants to bring something out of that for his purposes, no doubt for eternity or in the long run. So now his kingdom comes back into the world, and our kingdom is there running amok, and you might judge that just from looking around you, perhaps looking in your own life, and you’ll see how my kingdom has not been integrated in God’s kingdom.


“Repent, For The Kingdom Of The Heavens Is At Hand”


So when Jesus comes, what’s his message? “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand.” Ok, now we have to stay there a while. Matthew 3, when John the Baptist comes, what is his message? “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand.” When Jesus moves into his ministry back in 4:17, same message, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand.” And then that is picked up by Jesus and developed; the next session we’re going to talk about the Sermon on the Mount, as we call it, because it is a proclamation of kingdom. That’s what it is, and we’ll see how that works.


But the important thing to see just for the gospel is that it runs all the way through the New Testament, the message of the kingdom. And that is two things: you have a kingdom, God has a kingdom, Satan has a kingdom. Lots of kingdoms buzzing about. And when you see things internationally or in families or communities where there’s a big confrontation or conflagration of big trouble, it’s always kingdoms clashing. Right? So the little child comes in and it has a kingdom pretty quick; there’s a kingdom. And what is his kingdom? The things that are under the range of his will.


See, the key to kingdom is will, what is under the range of my effective will. [36:22] Where what I want done is done. See, that’s the source of human problems, and that, comes out of not thinking rightly about God. And so the message is, very naturally, “Repent.” Now, repent—every one of those words in that message get distorted so you can’t get it, you have to go back at what was happening around Jesus to see what it meant. Repent is a word, metanoeti. It’s an imperative form, and it means basically “Think about your thinking.” Think about your thinking, because your thinking is what has ruined you, and it’s what makes you impact the lives of others, and so on. And you look at the great misleaders—you know, many of the people we call leaders, we should call them misleaders because that’s what they’re doing. Well, Hitler was a great misleader. What was his problem? His thinking. And then you go back and look at what he said, and you say, “This is terribly wrong thinking.” See? So you have to think about your thinking. Metanoeti.


Now when you think about your thinking, you may break out in fits or pound your forehead on the floor, or something like that. And that is often an appropriate response when we discover what our thinking has been like. But that’s not a part of it, because many times the people who repent most effectively and stronger are people who are quite calm. They just simply see, “This is wrong,” and they walk off from it. You find people who quit cocaine cold turkey that way. They just walk off. They suffer, and all that, but they’ve accepted that. That’s repentance, and that repentance comes out of a vision, and the vision is life in the kingdom of God, not in my kingdom. I offload my kingdom. Now, it’s God’s kingdom, and my kingdom is effective in God’s kingdom.



What A Kingdom Is Like


Now that’s how it was meant to work. We were meant to live in the influence and presence of God, because it is a personal presence: it isn’t just a law, like, “The force be with you,” or something of that sort, you know. It’s a person. A kingdom is a personal thing; a queendom is a personal thing. There’s so many things that come out of that. For example, kingdoms work by words, and so you see Jesus working by speaking. How was the world created? By speaking. See, that’s how kingdoms work. It’s a personal interaction—that’s why there’s such a thing as prayer. [40:08] See, prayer baffles many people. They can’t understand, “Why would there be an arrangement like that?” Well, it’s kingdom stuff, and kingdoms work by speaking. [40:18]


So, Jesus comes, and he announces the kingdom, and then what does he teach about all the time? The kingdom! What’s it like? Well, the kingdom of God is like leaven. That’s a good one. It teaches you something about the kingdom: the kingdom works like leaven—yeast. You put a little bit of yeast in a bunch of dough, and pretty soon it’s all over the place, right? You didn’t see anything happening, it just [spreads out]. That’s the kingdom. That’s how the kingdom works. The kingdom is like a seed, a mustard seed. A little bitty seed. Put it in the dirt, it grows up, becomes a large plant, and birds come and rest on its branches.


What’s the kingdom of heaven like? Well, it’s like—there’s a man who had some work, and he went out into the marketplace and found people waiting for jobs. And so he said, “Come work in my vineyard and I’ll pay you a day’s wages.” He came back after coffee and there were some more people there. He said, “Hey, come on!” It went on until just one hour was left, he’d had a nap and a cookie, and now he comes out again, and there are still some people there. It’s 5:00, one hour’s left, and he says, “Come on, come on!” And this is such a wonderful teaching, because the man pays them all the same. And those who are working their human kingdoms get mad about it, and they say, “Listen, we bore the heat of the day. We’ve been out here, and you’re paying these guys the same amount that you paid us? What do you mean?” Well, he had offended their sense of justice. But the kingdom of God knows that justice will never do justice to justice. You got to have something more than justice. He did justice; he paid them what he promised.


The kingdom of heaven works with love and mercy and takes care of justice too. [43:15] The guys who couldn’t get work until 5:00, they had hungry babies at home. The kingdom is aware of that. In all the teachings about the kingdom, Jesus constantly teaching about the kingdom, and the kingdom rings in the ears of his closest disciples and they keep thinking, “Government? I wonder if I could be the Secretary of State, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let’s have Mama talk to Jesus about that.” Those old human kingdoms come back in there. And you know, we’re still troubled by this. There are many people today who think that the kingdom of God is the Millennium. They think it’s a literal human government. It’s a government all right, but it’s not human. It’s the one that destroys human governments.


You go back and look at Daniel 2 and you see there the stone cut out without hands that rolls down out of the heavens and smashes the idol and crushes it, and human government, which is based upon individual human beings always, always. And people try to take advantage of it. I mean, you go around the world and see what is the problem with human government? You don’t have to go to Zimbabwe to find out. Stay close to home, and you’ll find that human government is troubled by individuals who are pushing their own government. You might even find a church somewhere in which that happens. You might, you know, if you look real hard. And that’s why often in our churches you just have mad people, because they’re not deferring to God’s government, his presence.


God’s Kingdom Among Us


Now Jesus comes into the world to make the kingdom of God available to everyone. I mean, if you think about diversity you haven’t seen diversity until you get with Jesus. Then you learn what diversity really is. That was understood in the early church. Augustine even points it out, takes pride that in the church there is—everyone is welcome, and everyone is loved in the church. [46:27] Jesus comes, now, in a lowly form. He does not go to seminary; he doesn’t study with a rabbi—very interesting. He breaks the mold, and in many respects, they say, “Oh, you’re not doing the right thing,” and he says, “Well, you know, you can’t put new cloth on old britches. If you do, when you climb over the barbed wire fence, it’ll catch on that new piece of cloth and it’ll tear the old britches away. And the hole will be bigger than it was to start with.” Don’t you just love Jesus, and the way he teaches? “You put new wine in old wine bottles, the bottles can’t expand, and they’ll burst.” See, he’s doing something new, and see, he walks among human beings, and associates with disgusting people. What about that?


Jan does such a wonderful job with her Ignatian treatments, and one she does is in Luke where Jesus is having a party with a bunch of Republicans and sinners…and they’re having a good time over there, and the Pharisees are standing over here, and guess what they’re doing? They’re grumbling. They’re grumbling. That’s what Pharisees do, is they grumble, grumble, grumble, grumble. That’s why Paul wants us to get off of grumbling. Jesus comes among people and when he says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” what is he talking about? He’s talking about him. Where was the kingdom? At hand. At hand, see. To be at hand meant it’s right there. It didn’t mean it’s about to come—it’s already here.


Luke 17, people say, “Where’s the kingdom of God? Where’s the kingdom? Oh, there’s a big racket going on over there, maybe that’s the kingdom of God!” Jesus said, “Oh, forget it, fellas. The kingdom of God does not come with observation. The kingdom of God is among you already. It’s right here. Right here. God is here.”


See? God is here. Now, you want to know God? Count on it. That’s how you know it. If you have trouble counting on it, look at Jesus, he’ll help you. The kingdom of God is present in Jesus Christ. So he didn’t seek authentication from any of the authorities. This wild man Baptist, the Baptizer, didn’t hang out at the Temple. But he was the testimony of the Old Testament prophet who also walked in the kingdom of God. See? You get a religion, and then you get priests, and you’d better find a few prophets, because if you don’t, the institution will seduce you. And it will have paid employees which do that. You better have someone coming out of the wilderness like Elijah. I want to start a society of Tishbites. Elijah the Tishbite—we don’t even know what a Tishbite was! Where’s Tish?


Jesus walks among us. And then all kinds of people come to him. Matthew 11:11, so important to understand that verse. It’s John the Baptist is in the background, and John really had trouble understanding this also. He knew what to say, but he didn’t know what he was saying. That’s not a bad place to be; I mean, I’ve been there a few times. John the Baptist thrown in prison sends people to find, “Are you the one, Jesus?” Because he too had thought in terms of a revival of the Davidic kingdom, and what David did was he really beat up the enemies of Israel, and they had a few people in mind for him to beat up on. And you know they were pretty sure he could do it. You know, if you can take a little lunch from a boy and feed thousands of people with it, you could probably get elected President of the United States. [51:47] Just think what a welfare program you could do; you wouldn’t even have to tax people for it, you’d just stand there in the Oval Office and—“Ok, here’s a basket, take it out.” That’s Jesus; that’s the kingdom present in him. See, if you’ve got the power, you can create matter, if you know how. And he knew how.


So Jesus comes among us and he says, “Now, among those born of women, none is greater than John the Baptist.” Matthew 11:11. “But he that is least in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than John the Baptist.” Now let me ask you a question and see how you’re doing with this. Is there anyone in the room here that is greater than John the Baptist? …Why are they greater? Because of the kingdom. And they are working with the kingdom in a way that John the Baptist himself didn’t know how to do.


You remember it was said, “John did no miracle.” They were comparing John to Jesus. And when Jesus sent his message back to John the Baptist in prison, he said, “Tell him this: the blind see, the gospel is preached to the poor. Blessed his he that is not offended in me.” What was Jesus doing? He was telling John, “Here’s what the kingdom really is. It’s the action of God.” And you can judge for yourself, John, whether or not I’m the one, by looking at what I do.


And this is a battle that Jesus fought out in his teachings. He asked the question once in a confrontation, “What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?” and then Jesus, who really knew the Scripture, quoted Psalm 110 to them, where David calls the Messiah “Lord,” and no Jewish man is going to do that to his son. And Jesus is pushing the old wine bags, the old cloth away, saying, “See? The Messiah is not going to be a Jewish king. Do you understand what that’s about? He’s not going to be a Jewish king. He’s not going to have a political reign.” Now, you got folks today that are still expecting him to come back with an atomic cattle prod and straighten everybody out, because they still think it’s a political deal. Well, it has implications for that, but it’s not political in its nature; it’s political in its effect. [55:14]


You know, it’s funny how sometimes the perversions of truth catch some of the truth. And Marx was absolutely right, about the withering away of the State. He was wrong about the problem, but right about the outcome, and actually Marx knew the Bible and he knew the prophecies, and probably understood Daniel 2, except the stone cut out without hands was not going to be the proletariat. It was going to be Jesus and his kingdom.


So Jesus makes the kingdom available to everyone. Now it moves in. So what is the kingdom of God? Acts 1: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom unto Israel?” Blah de blah de blah…well, he didn’t bother to scold, and he doesn’t scold very much. He just says, “Well, you know, it’s not for you to know. You’re looking for position, but I’m going to give you power instead of position. Now please understand about the kingdom of God, it is power without human position. You will receive power.” See, human beings only think of power in terms of position—“give me the position and I’ll get the power.” The power you get will be human power. And it always is misguided more or less. When you act in the power of God, it’s right, because he’s in charge.


So Paul acted in the power of God. You remember he went to Cyprus, and there was this guy out there trying to mislead the governor, and Paul finally said to him, “You confused, misguided fellow. Why are you resisting the power of God?” And he said, now, something very interesting. “The hand of the Lord will be on you, and you’re going to go about for a while, blind.” A lot of interesting things in that. Paul knew someone else that had that happen too, do you remember? He knew that experience. He said, “The hand of the Lord will be upon…” he didn’t say, “My hand will be upon you.” My hand is not safe. People often ask me when I talk about anger and getting rid of it, “Well, Jesus got angry, and went into the Temple and whacked a bunch of people around, and did violence to their business, and all that.” Well, you know, I can trust Jesus with things I would never trust myself. When he did it, it wasn’t just his hand. If I did it, very likely I would get into it too much, and it would turn out to be just my hand. “The hand of the Lord.”


Teachers Of The Nations


So, Acts 1, Jesus after his resurrection came back and what did he talk with them about? That their sins would be forgiven and they’d go to heaven when they die? No. Verse 3, check it. He talked to them about the Kingdom of God. God’s reign. And now he’s getting ready to break out of the Jewish mold. He was very careful to stay mostly within that because here were people who were already prepared well enough that he could work with them and then they could go to the world. They will need power, because they have nothing else. They didn’t have any equipment, they didn’t know what they were doing—Jesus standing here and saying, “Well, now it’s time, I’ve been given authority over everything in heaven and earth”—power, kingdom. “Go ye therefore to all kinds of people, to all nations”—the standard meaning is Gentile—“go to all nations, make disciples. I’ll be with you. Surround them in Trinitarian reality, and teach them to do everything that I said.” Teachers of the nations. That’s what you are called to do, is to be a teacher of the nations. [1:00:07]


Now we’re ready to go, and then, there he goes. And the apostles and the leaders are kind of walking backward into the future; they had no idea what’s going on, you know. They’re hiding in that Upper Room, and then they hear something, and then they remember, “Jesus said he was going to send the promise of the Father. What’s happening here?” They heard a sound from where? A sound from heaven. Now where did they last see Jesus going? Heaven. He’s so careful to make the connections, because he knows we’re all a bunch of boobies, and we need to have the connection made.


Now you might ask yourself why didn’t he just disappear? He could have done that, but he wanted them to know where he went. Where did he go? Into heaven. What’s the next move? A sound from heaven, and power begins to manifest itself, and it turns out there are Jews from all over the known world right there to observe this phenomenon, and the explosion begins, and the promise of God to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all the families and nations of the earth, takes off like a rocket. That’s the kingdom. The kingdom of God is not in word but in power.


And later on, for example, talking to the Romans in Romans 14:17, he’s talking to people who are having a church fight about what they’re going to eat. Ah, give us a break, folks! Jesus got more criticism for dietary laws and rituals and Sabbath than anything else. And you think, oh, God help us, what are we thinking about? God help us! And Jesus says, “Look, the kingdom of God is not in eating and drinking, but in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” That’s church, see.


Acting With The Kingdom


Well, I’ve run out of time to talk about this, but I hope you get the message. The kingdom of the heavens is at hand. Right there where you are. When Paul said to the Greeks in Athens, “In him we live and move and have our being,” he was doing nothing but taking the message of Jesus and putting it in the world for everyone. See? And that’s what we do today, is we bring that, and we bring it in ourselves. Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the gospel and told them, “If people listen to you, good; if they don’t, tell them that wipe off the dust from their feet and it’s going to constitute a recording that will be played on the day of judgment, and tell them that nevertheless, the kingdom of God came close to you. How did it do it? In those people. You’re a person of the kingdom, God is acting with you. The kingdom of God is moving with you.


Well, I must stop now, and—oh, let me have another minute. Because, you know, this really all comes out in the Lord’s Prayer, as we call it. And the old version we’re all familiar with saying is wonderful. But sometimes the words don’t say much, so I’ve reformulated it here, and this is printed in the Divine Conspiracy and so on. But once you get the idea of the kingdom then this is how you pray:


“Dear Father always near us”—Our Father who art in heaven. Heaven is near, not far away. Not much later. “Dear Father always near us, may your name be treasured and loved, may your rule be completed in us—may your will be done here on earth in just the way it is done in Heaven. Give us today the things we need for today, and forgive our sins and impositions on you as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us. Please don’t put us through trials, but deliver us from everything bad. Because you are the one in charge, and you have all the power, and the glory too is all yours—forever—“ and then how do you say Amen? Well, I suggest, “Which is just the way we want it.” [1:05:39]


Now, if you get into the spirit of it, you can also substitute for Amen, “Whoopee.” You try it! Now be sure and do it in the solitude of your cell at first, but you might even be able to do it in public after a while.







You’ve been talking a lot about power, and every time I hear it, it seems to be in a different context. Is it transformation, influence, miracles, results? Can you define power?


[1:06:33] Power is the capacity to effect change. That’s the nature of power.  Paul will use the word energy also, and Paul also, once you understand this, you’ll see Paul is absolutely power-mad. And he’s always referring back to the power that raised Christ from the dead, and he is saying, “That’s what’s going on in you.” Right?


Eph. 3:20-21, where “He is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all things you can ask or think by the power that is manifested in the resurrection of Christ from the dead.” So, that’s power. Now, human beings, when they start exercising power, will invariably turn to force, and not all power is force. You know what it is to force something, right? But you learn in life that some things that can be pushed can be pulled, and some things that can be pulled can be pushed. Right? And so you learn not to always push. Pulling is more like influence. Now, God has all power, and so he can push anything he wanted to push, but he doesn’t want to, because he knows that what he’s aiming for in human character and the outcome of human history is something you can’t push, you have to pull it. And so he pulls, and he woos, and he influences, and he waits, and then he puts us in a position that gives us this thing called prayer, where we get to do the same thing.


See, a lot of people try to put prayer in the category of pushing. It’s not in pushing, it’s pulling. And it doesn’t work like we want it to work sometimes, so we have to rethink this whole issue of how persons and kingdoms work in order to understand prayer. But that’s the basic idea. Power is the capacity to change things. And then there’s different kinds of power.


Would you say a little more about your sentence, “The people of Christ have always accomplished the most when they have had the least”?


[1:09:30] Well, first of all, it’s historically true. Think of the church in China, and what has happened there. But it’s true with the guys standing there listening to Jesus say, “Go to all nations.” And you know they were a cynical bunch still, right there. And you can just hear a couple of them leaning over, and one looks at the other, saying, “Yes, in the light of our recent successes in Jerusalem, we’re ready to take on the world.”


These guys were realistic, you know. Now, why is that? It’s because when you don’t have anything else to count on, you wind up counting on God. And someone was talking to me yesterday I think about being in some other countries where they’re very poor, and remarking on how happy they were. And there is an element here of when you don’t have a lot to do, you know how to live with people. You learn how to live with people. You take joy. And you watch that in families, and for example you watch how older brothers and sisters take care of the little ones and learn to love them, and the little ones love them. You get a different family structure than one where every kid has his own room, maybe his own bathroom, his own iPod, his own TV, his own…so they go in the room. And just walking around on the streets, being ignored by multitudes of people who are talking to someone about nothing important far away. Don’t you feel that? I mean, it used to when we saw people standing around talking to themselves we thought they were unbalanced, but now they’re just talking on their telephone.


So it’s a matter of what you’ve got to trust, Jan, and that’s the bottom line. What have you got to trust? And when religious institutions tend to create something to trust other than God, now that is what happened in Israel. In the book of Judges, they just had to wait for God to raise up some person to deliver them, and they finally said to Samuel, the last of the judges, “We want a king.” That is, “We want someone we don’t have to wait until you raise them up to take care of us.”


And that’s a part of a large story, it didn’t take God by surprise of course; he knew it was basically wrong, but he said, “Well, ok. Give them a king. Tell them what the king will do to them. There’s going to be taxes; he will come and take your daughters for his household, and he’ll take your sons for his army,” and so forth and so on. See? But that was important, because actually they had to learn about the kingdom of God. And they had to learn that the kingdom of God was not associated with a place and an institution.


And so God allows the institution of Israel to grow up, build a big wonderful city, an amazing Temple and all of that, and then—whacko. It’s gone. And you’ve got other kings hauling all the goods off, punching the eyes out of the king, first killing his sons in front of him so he would see that, and then punching his eyes out, and leading him off to Babylon.


Now, what’s the effect of that? The effect of that is they discovered that God is in Babylon. That’s what they learned. The Exile, as we call it, is a lesson in the reality of the kingdom, and it is in exile that they begin to discover, as Daniel says over and over, that there is a God in heaven! And they had thought gods were local. See, that discussion with the Samaritan woman that I talked about yesterday, that’s on a par with I Kings 20, where you have the Armenians saying, “Well, they beat us up today, but you know, their god is localized—let’s move the battle over here. Their god is a god of the hills; let’s get them down on the plains, and their god won’t do anything to help them.” See, that kind of perversion of God, that has to be worked out.


Now they build a big temple, a big city, and they say, “Wow, aren’t we great?” and they were. But they were also blind, and the God, which enabled them to build a big city, they forsook. And God wipes out the city, and sends them as slaves to Babylon, and Nineveh, and places like that, so that they can learn that God is still there. That is the basic message—“The kingdom of God is at hand.” Where is the kingdom of God? Anywhere you are. If you can just get your kingdom out of the way, then he’ll move in. If you’re in charge, he’ll let you.  Lots of luck.


So now, that’s crucial. They people of God has always been at their strongest when they’ve had the least. Because they’re trusting the right thing.


Given Jan’s question, this might be more of a statement, but I think it was in Richard Foster’s book “The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Dealing with Money, Sex and Power,” he said obviously the number one teaching of Jesus was the kingdom, but the second most talked-about topic was money, and how should we approach a practical curriculum of Christlikeness in dealing with the issue of money with the body of Christ, and how so many times people have to work to support a lifestyle, and they really don’t have the option to take care of widows and orphans because of propping up their own—I guess you could say kingdom, that they have control over with money.


[1:16:33] You got it right. I can’t improve on that. There’s nothing wrong with money; just don’t trust it. Don’t love it. Use it. Money is real kingdom stuff. When you understand that your kingdom is a matter of the range of your effective will, then you realize money extends the range of your effective will.


Now, the question is are you going to use it for yourself, or are you going to use it for the glory of God? And if you don’t know the reality of the kingdom, you’ll probably use it for yourself to secure yourself. Like when you enter the kingdom, if you do it in an orderly and informed way, the first two steps are prayer and giving. That’s how you engage the kingdom, is in prayer and giving. And giving is kingdom life. That’s why the poor widow who put in two mites gave more than all the rest of them.


Now you know, you have to watch Jesus’ words, because if you don’t you’re apt to just think, “Well, more pretty words. Isn’t he sweet? He said the little lady gave more than… Of course, well, you know, must be something there, but couldn’t possibly be true.” No, it was true! Because that gift was done with the action of God. She did give more than all the others, see? That was kingdom work. You give a lot of money; if it’s not kingdom work, forget it. It will probably not have much good effect. Giving and prayer are the first two orderly ways that you begin to engage the kingdom.


I’d like to look at your talk from the perspective of education, particularly theological education. And one of my jobs is to help professors do a better job of teaching; that’s in my job description. And traditionally we tell them that they need to write objectives based on Benjamin Bloom: cognitive, affective, and however many secular objectives, and that category, but when you were talking about repentance, it sounded an awful lot like a secular term we use called metacognition—It is.—which means to think about your thinking— That’s exactly what it is.—to analyze your learning style so you can be a better learner. Very good. But I wonder if to move beyond just having people trying to get over seminary experiences and not growing, but dying in the process, if we need to rethink how we teach. And like what we’ve heard about not just learning what the rabbi knows, but becoming who the rabbi is, and how do we do that? One example I look at is Wayne Grudem and his systematic theology, which is quite unusual—after his presentation  of each chapter he has old hymns, like we sang, and memory verses. Wayne is a person who’s had a different experience. Right. So, I’m wondering—you know, and all of us here at one capacity or another, are teachers. And if we ought not to think about that in terms of our lesson planning, in terms of getting people to make a commitment, a personal commitment, and to reflect on what’s going on rather than just collect more information.


[1:20:35] Well, first of all, the idea of having objectives is really fundamental stuff. The question is what are the objectives, and there’s the further question, are the real objectives the ones I stated?


Now, a person who’s teaching in an institution is under a lot of pressure from the institution, often not said, but just present in the lives of those around them. And for example, in most of our schools, the real objective is to turn people into scholars like themselves. So something called scholarship as divined by the profession winds up setting the real objectives, and if you don’t have those objectives at least explicitly stated, then you will be in trouble with your crowd.


So now then, the individual has to decide, what am I really trying to accomplish with my students? What am I really trying to accomplish with my students? Am I trying to make someone in my image? Am I most highly complimented when one of my students goes off to study to become like me? Or do I have in view routine obedience to Christ? Now, you know if you are talking about a seminary, you might think that would be the objective. It could be. It would certainly stir things up if that were explicitly stated. And very likely your seminary would be in trouble with the accrediting association. And so you’d have to know what you’re doing and be ready to do that in cooperation with God.


So, now, you need to be able to put into consideration with your work everything that matters. So obviously, you’re a human being, you live in a world where there are a lot of different factors, but when it comes to a class, then you should have some clear objective and suit your method to that. The question is what is the objective.


Now, you will find many churches that will spend two years and a half trying to work out a mission statement. And you might say, “Well, why don’t you just try out Matthew 28:19-20?” and that actually is the best church growth program that has ever hit the face of the earth. But he goes through making disciples. Now suppose an educational institution had that as its objective: they wanted their students to come out as disciples making disciples. And then leading the disciples on. Sounds good to me.


So you’re raising a very challenging issue, of course. I don’t mean to be light about it, because in many ways this is the problem. If you have churches and institutions that are turning out Christians who are not disciples, that’s just pretty much the end of the world as far as Christ’s purposes are concerned.


Some of us walked away yesterday with a question. Would you say that this is a redefining of the gospel, or would you say that this is an expansion of it, when we talk about that the gospel isn’t just forgiveness of sins? But I think that sometimes what’s left out of the dialogue is where the place of the cross is, of justification, etc. So that was a question kind of left open-ended. Imputed righteousness, and I think we definitely agree that it’s been an over-focus that we’ve limited it to that, but in this larger discussion where does that still fit in? Where the cross fits in? And what happened at the cross.


[1:25:34] Well, a lot of different ways it does fit in. it is a way of putting the death and life of Christ on the earth map. You have to think about that, because the purpose now is to reach all nations with the gospel that God has a kingdom and that he receives people in that kingdom and gives them life. Now, that is primarily—and if someone wants to say “altogether,” then I just want to hear them explain that, and that may be right; in fact I believe “altogether,” if you give more time to explain it—but it is mainly through Christ, the person.


How is Christ to be presented? That’s the problem. If you’re God, and you want to send your son, and you want him to be preached to all nations, how are you going to do it? That’s the problem that the cross solves. Now, something was going on between the Son and the Father at the cross. Now the question is what, and that’s where the theory that what was going on was God had a big beating in him and he got it out at the cross. And because of that, you don’t have to take a beating.


Now I understand that some people equate that with the penal substitutionary death of Christ. That’s a bad mistake. That’s just one way of understanding it. You cannot eliminate the substitutionary death of Christ. He died for us. Now what your theory is, ok, you can worry about that. But when you’re thinking about atonement or resurrection or any of these big issues, you want to always distinguish the fact from the theory. And the tendency is to identify the fact with some theory, reject the theory, and throw out the fact. Keep the fact, and let the theories chatter about. Don’t worry too much about them, unless they wind up throwing out the fact, which is exactly what happens in many cases.


Christ died for our sins. That’s it. And it had some effect on God’s dealing with us. I have no doubt about it. But I couldn’t tell you what that was, because I’m not a privileged person with reference to the secrets of the Trinity. I do believe for sure that it meant that God was now going to deal with people in a different way because of the cross.


But here’s another function of the cross: “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our lord Jesus Christ whereby the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.” The cross is for me. The cross of the individual is not their flat tire or their unpleasant relative. That is not the cross. The cross is self-denial. The cross is joining Christ on the cross of self-denial. I will do the will of God. That’s the cross.


Even Calvin gets this a little confused in his writings. Sometimes he’ll talk and start a long train—“Your cross is your troubles.” No, no, your cross is what sets you free from your troubles. You take the cross, and your troubles will be something that you can then “count it all joy, brothers and sisters, when you fall into all kinds of troubles.” Those aren’t crosses; those are opportunities to know the kingdom. That’s what a trouble is, if you have the cross on you. “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and I now live by the faith of”—not in—read the Greek. Again, these prepositions. “The life that I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Right?


So now then, I quoted or misquoted 2 Cor. 5:15 today, so I’d better get it right. “Therefore, he died for us all”—this is 2 Cor. 5:15—“he died for us all that they who live should no longer live for themselves”—that’s the cross—“but for him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to flesh, even though we knew Christ after the flesh, we don’t know him anymore”—that’s vessel. What is the reality? It is the reality of the risen Christ, and be risen with him. You go to the resurrection for yourself through the cross, just like Jesus did. See, the way most people think about the work of the cross, it has no bearing on the spiritual life. And if it doesn’t, then you need another theory. Because the cross is central to our life, because it takes us off of the vessel and puts us onto the treasure.


I love George Fox’s old way of putting it. His words: “taking people off of men and putting them onto Christ.” And that’s the absolute essential thing, and that’s what the cross does, because on the cross, among other things, you saw the best people in human terms kill the best man by judicial murder. They murdered him through the judicial system, an innocent man. And everyone involved knew he was innocent. But you had a bunch that were intent on their own kingdoms and they knew that he sounded the death knell of human kingdoms. And Caiaphas, you remember, said, “Don’t you know that one man must die for the people? We gotta get rid of this guy because they’re going to come and they’re going to take our job away.” Wow, what exalted motives! And the scriptures even tell us Pilate knew that they delivered him for envy, and then Pilate, that old rascal, cooperated with them.


So the cross is central, absolutely central to the redemptive work of Christ on earth. And it affects how God deals with the world. That’s the fact. He died for us. That’s a fact. Just don’t let your theories make God look little, and if you aren’t careful with what the way some people understand the atonement, you get a God who never forgives, he just gets paid off. And actually by a little bookkeeping that looks very suspicious. Maybe Enron could have learned something from that.


So you don’t want God to turn out looking bad. Don’t believe anything bad about God. Believe everything good. And one is that, as I talked yesterday, his righteousness does not consist in seeing to it that everyone is appropriately punished. That is not the righteousness of God. That is not what the cross revealed. The cross-revealed a God whose righteousness is his love. And then comes grace.

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