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Now and Future of the Kingdom
“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones… May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 5:23-24, NIV).
A confusion seems to muddle the distinction between the “change” and “glorification” of the bodies, souls and spirits of the redeemed at the “end of time” marked by the explosive visibility of Christ’s Second Coming and holiness and sanctification.
A review of Scripture reveals an association of glorification with the Second Coming, while the call, even the command, to be holy and perfect is expressed in the present tense and coupled with our earthly existence. The opening quote from the first letter to the Thessalonians above is one example of many.
Others to ponder include, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, NIV); “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16, NIV); “But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life” (2 Timothy 1:8b-9a, NIV).
Confusion can also result from the way we use the words “holy” or “saintly,” as in the mocking phrase, “Holier than thou.” In the Kingdom language, holy is never associated with “superior.” Quite the contrary, actually.
Consider this often quoted passage, Philippians 2:6-8 (NIV): “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross!”
In most versions these verses are arranged as a canticle or prose song. We gasp at the marvel of our God doing such a thing. It eloquently describes holiness in human form on earth. So we view these words as applicable only to God. Consequently, we tend to almost consistently omit the crucial introductory verse in our recitations and writings, verse 5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:” Verses 5 and 6 are one sentence. That means the verses that follow are not so much in praise of Christ as they are an elaboration of the often repeated instructions for us: “Be holy because I am holy.”
We can glean from this the revelation of holiness not being a personal ascent to God. Instead, Christ “made himself nothing” and lost no holiness in the process. “He humbled himself and became obedient to death.”
Christ did pound away at our need to die to self with direct statements and metaphors. This is more literal than we like to view it, as our fallen natures cling “for dear life” to our egos. There is no limit to the imaginative deception of this corrupt nature. It will even clothe itself in religious piety and a holy façade in great charitable works and fiery exhortation and praise in the name of Christ to keep itself alive. Forgotten are those terrible, predicted words of Christ when our facades and images are stripped away: “Go away; I never knew you.”
Because this religious posturing is the most despicable profaning of the sacred, Jesus told the Pharisees, “Prostitutes are entering the Kingdom before you!”
All of us who pursue the Kingdom are in grave danger of this. And if we don’t think so, we are even in more danger than we think. The danger persists until we have made ourselves “nothing” and “obedient,” like Christ.
Here’s some evidence from Jesus’ words: “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers’” - (Luke 18:11a, NIV). Deceptive prayer, this is. He “prayed about himself” and he gave God the credit by thanking Him that he is “not like other men.” Jesus held the Pharisee in contempt. And who among us can claim to never have thanked God that we are not like other people who do evil things? Many little children have not prayed like that. Not incidently, Jesus did remark that the Kingdom cannot be entered unless we are like them. So Jesus tells us to pray we are not led into temptation to think and pray like that, or to teach our children to. It is a great temptation, isn’t it?
Our natures are fear dominated. In Exodus 33:20 we learn that “No one can see God and live.” Precisely the point. So we approach His mountain and ask a Moses to tell us what God is like. We study the Bible well, do charitable things that make us feel good (our reward), attend services with frozen smiles and thank God we are not like the others cursing their lives on the streets, despairing in prison cages because “justice” was done, drunks who deaden their pain daily, those who “reject” Christ and are thus condemned to hell. We are fearful that we are not “not like the others,” that we are nothing. Like the Pharisee, we thank God for that. But in Deuteronomy 32 we are told how “basely” we treat our God. That means we use Him like He was our servant.
“No one can see God and live,” yet Jesus said the pure in heart will see Him. Paul said to die is gain. The Scriptures teach in direct and indirect ways that holiness is made perfect in love. That God is love. And “by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10, NIV).
If holiness was a matter of personal achievement, no one could attain it. There is a passivity needed, the dying of the fear of “being made nothing.” When we are nothing and “God is our all,” there is no satisfaction in human “justice,” only God’s. No satisfaction in “being right,” only in God’s perfect ways. There is satisfaction in forgiving others who violated the parts of our natures clothing our holy nothingness, since we can watch them grow in grace and God’s nourishing love.
This love is so vital that Jesus needed to drive it into our hearts by use of literary hyperbole or deliberate exaggeration like a splash of cold, unexpected water on our sleepy faces: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26, NIV). If we understand this, we are not using our own minds, which we are told to make into nothing. Instead, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16b).
Plunge my heart into nothingness in preference for the heart of Christ? Kill my mind so, upon its ashes, the mind of Christ can live? No hesitation in deciding. It’s a matter of love. Fear of hell is self-serving and is not redemptive. Real love, not the gushing, sentimental, needing-a-return kind, is redemptive.
The majority of people in this world cannot read even a simple sentence, let alone the Scriptures. The majority also do not have the mental acuity of reason to understand a complex idea let alone the ego serving prattle of many of our philosophers and theologians. The majority have no eloquence of words that could “inspire” public audiences with grand prayers. But every human from cradle to coffin knows and hungers for love, the kind that only God can give through His holy people who are nothing, because He is everything to them.
The majority of people in this world are in pain, desperation, loneliness, affliction, bondage, really suffering in anxiety for their “daily bread.” Are we to thank God we are “not like the others – the robbers, evildoers, adulterers”? Jesus pointed to the man in the shadows, repeating his prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus said that was the one who is justified in God’s sight. That’s the holy and perfect one. We pray that he be kept that way “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…[God] is faithful and he will do it.”
But our stubborn natures must die before we are born into the Kingdom while still on earth. The more resistant and self-clinging the more suffering and hotter the sanctifying fire must be. Like Augustine and others lamented, why did I take so long to learn this in my heart, although my brain knew of it ever since I learned to read proficiently? At last, I really want to be made nothing, though my dying nature still kicks in rebellion. God help me and be merciful to me, and all who I am like. I pray that before I die on this earth, my nature gives its final kick of resistance.
Christ reigns in His kingdom, and right now His kingdom is within us. He will continue to reign “until all His enemies are made His footstool.” Let my fallen nature lie dead beneath His feet, that I may fully share in the power of His resurrection. “We love Him [only] because He loved us.”
Anything more is just making something out of nothing. And only God can do that.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © March 29, 2003
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