As a minister my greatest challenge is to convince the people that I love and serve that the biggest problem in their life (whether they will believe it or not) is a theological one. Our biggest challenge in life is not our suffering, or how to cope when things don’t go right. Our biggest problem is our sin.
Our greatest challenge is the way we naturally put God’s stuff in the highest place of honour, in place of God. We elevate the gifts above the giver. John Calvin once said, “our hearts are idol factories,” and I think he is right. Every object good or bad seems to have a sick way of weasling its way into our heart and becoming ultimate. The problem is that these things can never foot the bill; they never cease to fail. Ask the average person, “what is the meaning of your cell phone and what sense of identity or value does it mediate to you?” and they will look at you like you’re nuts. But if you ask, “how would you feel if you lost your cell phone?” and it will come pouring out: the idol of knowledge, the need for the appearance of wealth, the addiction to constant connection or amusement or distraction. It turns out that a cell phone is no longer a thing, it is a source of identity. We don’t just use a cell phone, it uses us! Our identity is produced by it.
With this in mind, I think there is a good reason that God’s salvation is described in the Bible as a kingdom. Think about it! The Bible never talks about salvation like it’s a deal you work out with God! The Gospel is not a plea bargain that Jesus brokered on the cross. On the one hand it is crowned with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15:1-9) but that’s not it. The first century church considered the Gospel to be the story of Jesus coming as the anointed Messiah (the Christ). God’s salvation is not just about you and getting rid of your sin. It’s also about bringing the whole world into tune with it’s Creator! It is hard for us to grasp this but God’s salvation is not just about making you happy, or even making you saved!
The English word “evangelism” is based on the Greek word that stands in it’s place (euangelion). It is a word that until the time of Christ was used exclusively for the announcement of a regime change. An ‘evangelist’ until the time of Christ was a person who announced that the old kingdom had fallen and a new kingdom was beginning to rule. No wonder the gospel writers used this word! The Kingdom of God subverts the kingdoms of humanity. Jesus comes to announce that, “the Kingdom of God has come near,” (Mark 1:15) and what did that look like? It looked like reconciliation (The story of Zacchaeus : Luke 19:1-10), a change of behaviour (Luke 3:10-14), people being healed (Luke 4:38-41), and a new sense of community was ultimately established (Acts 4:32-37). The Gospel of Jesus Christ completely subverts the established order.
God’s salvation is bringing your life in line with the kingdom that God is establishing on earth as we speak. That’s why obedience to the commands of Jesus is so important. His will for you is that you be baptized (Acts 2:38), that you put sin to death (Col 3:5), that you embrace a newness of life (2 Cor 5:17), that you show the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) in keeping with your repentance. Is He the King or not? But salvation is bigger than that. It’s also about restoring justice, serving those in need: widows and orphans! God’s salvation is not just about you, its about God.
Jesus is king and you don’t enter into a relationship with a king so that your needs can be met (thought they will be). You don’t enter into a relationship with a King to make you happy (though He can). You enter into a relationship, you submit to and pledge allegiance to a King because it is his due!
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Our greatest problem is that we are out of step with the way the universe works. We are restored when we recognize Jesus as the King of everything and either He is the King and you come to him unconditionally, or He isn’t the King and he can’t help you anyway.