Some recent reading has me wondering how literate we are when it comes to the fulness of the gospel. Certainly when I first received the gospel, and for many years afterwards, it was all about how Jesus died for my sins and that I needed to be forgiven. Trusting in Jesus to save me and accepting his Lordship would secure my eternity in heaven. Now, I’m sure that’s a familiar part of the gospel, and even an essential element of it, but it’s not, of course, the whole gospel. I can see that I received the gospel in part, and because of that it could easily become much less than fulness.
The whole gospel announces the coming of King Jesus as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy to lead a ‘new exodus’, a new rescue, but also to establish a new Kingdom which stands in contrast to the kingdoms of the world. This Kingdom is enacted and birthed through the death and physical bodily resurrection of Jesus, the first born from the new regime, the very first glimpse of what new creation will look like. We’re all subsequently able to participate in Kingdom life through what Jesus has done…partially here and now, and fully when he returns to consummate the new heavens and the new earth at the appointed time.
We live in the period between the establishing of the Kingdom and the consummation of the Kingdom as new heaven and new earth. Everything we do in the here and now (including repentance and faith, pledging allegiance to Jesus and the Kingdom, and working to make known its reality) builds towards the fulness that God will bring. For a season we still live with decay, death and things that are contrary to God’s perfect future, but we are infused with the idea that another world is possible, that the Kingdom is coming and will come.
The implications for this are huge. It’s not just the case that we become ghettoised as we wait for pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die, but we take our place in new creation as those who are eagerly awaiting the fulness of our salvation, which includes bodily resurrection and participation in the new heaven and earth, but in the meantime, mission! We also see things not as they appear, but through the lens of the coming Kingdom. We work to spot and point out the manifestations of the future Kingdom in the here and now. We pray and work for its coming. Our ‘evangelism’ is in announcing the Kingdom and pointing it out, as well as inviting people to partake in it. The King of this Kingdom is not just an arbitrary judge of suitability for heaven entry, but is the one who counts us all as part of the creation he intends to renew and re-establish. That involves transformation for us into the likeness of Jesus and our grafting in to the world-wide body of Christ, and the acceptance of the commission to be ambassadors, sign posts and messengers of this Kingdom.
The good news is not just that I can be forgiven and have eternal life, but that the King has come, he is establishing his Kingdom, he will come again and bring it to fulfilment, and that everything we do in there here and now in allegiance to him points to the fact that all are invited to participate in the whole salvation story of God. That, to be honest, should shape our lives a whole lot more than sometimes it does and maybe because our message is about ‘sin management’ and ‘life insurance’ rather than a transfer from the kingdom or darkness to the Kingdom of light. As NT Wright says, Pledging allegiance to Jesus and his Kingdom isn’t about accepting a new divine lodger. Rather, its about handing over the ownership of the whole house, all that we are, with the real possibility that he may well want to come in and ‘move the furniture!’
Churches should be colonies of joy; celebration; life; alternative economics; holistic values of goodness; righteousness, peace and justice; places of transformation; and places of deep communion.
They should be places where there is no doubt who reigns (Our Father who is in heaven) and whose name is honoured (hallowed be your name). They should be places of fervent prayer and action for the outworking of this coming Kingdom and its establishing in real time (thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven). It should be a place of feeding, nourishment and provision (give us today our daily bread), and places of radical grace, restoration and forgiveness (forgive our sins as we forgive others). They should be places of sanctuary and support, strengthening and empowerment (lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil). Only then will he be known to have the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever! Amen!
For those of us whose churches aren’t quite all that, we’ve much joy ahead of us on the way towards being a Kingdom community awaiting our hope!