The Sunshine of the Kingdom
(From "In Quest of a Kingdom" by Steve Bray)

     To pass from the Old Testament into the New Testament is indeed like passing from darkness to light. The early disciples, because they were raised under the bondage of trying to fulfill God's laws while still possessing a self-centered nature, would have found new hope in Christ's teachings about His indwelling life. The kingdom of love with its natural service to God and man, once it was established within their hearts, would be turned into a spontaneous expression of a new inward nature. They would not need to strive to produce the life. Jesus Christ Himself would reveal His holy Kingdom-life of love through them.

     "Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes... I will put my Spirit {with a nature of divine love} in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws {which will be the natural response of the new nature}... I will save you from all your uncleanness..." (Ezk. 36: 23-29 NIV Emphasisadded)

     The idea of a "kingdom" was not strange to the Jews. They had the promises of God in the Scriptures. They were therefore expecting God to inaugurate His kingdom of peace and righteousness and prosperity. "He shall break in pieces the oppressor." (Ps. 72: 4) "The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose." (Isa. 35:1) "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed." (Isa. 40: 5) Passages like these were given throughout the Old Testament dispensation. While they could not comprehend how the Lord would introduce His kingdom {they looked at everything from a temporal or physical perspective}, they knew the kingdom would be recognizable when it was established.

     The people of God earnestly listened to Jesus when He came preaching about the kingdom of heaven. He said the kingdom was at hand. He Himself was a visible expression of the Kingdom-life that was to spread over the earth. And His parables were used as pictures to help explain the different aspects of the kingdom.

     Of course, there will always be people who cannot understand the meaning behind His teachings. God has chosen to hide the secrets of His kingdom from everyone who tries to approach Him in the pride of their own independent intellect. Jesus said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes." (Matt. 11: 25) We will therefore need to be very careful in how we approach God and His truth.

     God will only reveal the mysteries of His kingdom-life to those who come to Him as dependent little children. There will need to be a real turning from the "pride of life," which is the independent nature that Satan fostered on the world, before the door to God's kingdom will be opened. Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as {dependent} little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18: 3)

     It is commonly thought that the rich young ruler only needed to surrender his money and his possessions to enter the kingdom. But this mammon alone is not the main issue. God requires people to give up everything that will prevent them from living by a real childlike trust in Him. God will not permit any of man's independence and self-sufficiency to enter into His kingdom. Unless the believer is truly converted {including a real renewing of the mind} and becomes childlike in his dependence upon God, he will not see the kingdom of heaven. The rich young ruler was unwilling to place himself in a position where he had to live wholly by faith in God.

     The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews said to Christians, "There remains therefore a rest for the {called-out} people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works... Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest..." (Heb. 4: 9-11 Emphasis added) We are to make every effort to enter into this rest where we live under the control and power of the Holy Spirit. It is a place where we die out to the independent and self-sufficient ways of the flesh. It is in this state of weakness in self, where we begin to live by total trust in God, that we are enabled to perfect the power of His Spirit in our lives. (2 Cor. 12: 9)

     God delivered His people from their bondage in Egypt for the purpose of taking them into a special life of promise.  However, they had to pass through the desert wilderness before they would be prepared to enter into their promised inheritance. They first needed to be stripped of all their resources. The resources they had taken out of Egypt would need to be depleted before they would be in a condition to enter into the land of promise and partake of its glorious fruit. This lessons teaches us that the independent and self-sufficient people of this world will never taste the heavenly inheritance that Christ is now offering to His followers.

     We cannot afford to overlook this spiritual principle. God's called-out people cannot by-pass the desert wilderness and go directly into the life of promise after their new birth. There needs to be a real stripping and emptying process that takes place before they will be in a position to be "filled" with Christ's Spirit. "Blessed are the poor in spirit {those who have lost hope in their own strength}, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5: 3)  "Blessed are those who {continue to} hunger and thirst after righteousness {as they go through a breaking down process while passing through this dry and barren land}, for they will be filled." (Matt. 5: 6) If they do not turn back to their old carnal ways {of self-effort, and trying to find spiritual fulfillment from the temporal realm} and quench the Spirit during this time of testing, the Lord will fully establish His Kingdom-life within their hearts in "due time." (1 Pet. 5: 6, 10)

     Once we have laid down our old independent way of life and have come to God like dependent little children who are prepared to follow wherever He leads, the Lord will begin to reveal the secrets of His Kingdom. Again, there are many people within the church who have not been enabled to understand these teachings about the kingdom of God. It is their pride and sense of self-sufficiency that causes God to hide the mysteries of His kingdom from them.

     Then His disciples asked Him, saying, "What does this parable mean?" And He said, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.' " (Luke 8: 9-10)

     We can depend on Christ to reveal the mysteries of His kingdom to those who have fully entrusted themselves to Him. Everyone who remains self-sufficient will be weeded out as the meaning of His teachings is hidden from their view. The ways of the Lord will not sound reasonable to self-sufficient people. The true disciples of faith, however, will be prepared to respond to His revealed light no matter how difficult His teachings may sound.

     On hearing it, many of his disciples said {from a position of pride}, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"... From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him {in His way of life}. "You do not want to leave too do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him {with a heart of childlike humility and dependence}, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6: 60, 66-68 NIV)

     The gospel of the kingdom will therefore always begin with Jesus' statements: "Come unto me" and "Follow me." It will require a real faith in God before we will be prepared to turn from the self-directed ways of this world. But there is no other way to follow Jesus in the way He requires. "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has {from His self-originated form of life} cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14: 33)

     God has provided man with a free will. But He did not give us the right to live independently of Him. Jesus, as the Son of Man, demonstrated how God had planned for man to unite his will with the divine will. "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me..." (John 6: 57)

     God planned for His children to fully yield their will to His good, plasing and perfect will. As each child shared with Him in His life and will, He would keep everyone "perfect in one." (John 17: 22-23) Each one of us would be enabled to eat the spiritual food from heaven that sustains the "eternal life" within the soul as we walked in union with God's will. Like Jesus, fully sanctified Christians can say, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work." (John 8: 34) If we therefore hope to enter into the Kingdom-life of God, which is the Paradise of God that needs to be revealed within the eternal soul, it will be necessary to die to the flesh-life that asserted itself at the Fall.

     "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men... I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes {the flesh-life} shall inherit all things {the Kingdom-life of heaven will be revealed within his eternal soul}, and I will be his God and he shall be My son." {He will walk as Jesus did}. (Rev. 21: 6-7)

     For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them {in the same sense that God walked with Adam in the Garden of Eden before the Fall}..." Therefore "come out from among them {the fleshly ways of the world} and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." {He will then receive you into the Kingdom-life of promise.} (2 Cor. 6:16-17)

     "To him who overcomes {the flesh-life} I will give to eat from the tree of life {the Son's eternal life}, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." (Rev.2: 7)

     Like Abraham, we can be credited with Christ's righteousness from the moment we are "fully convinced" that God is able to fulfill what He has promised to do in our lives. (Rom. 4: 20-24) If we physically die while pressing forward in our faith {while we are expectantly waiting for God to do what He has promised}, we can expect to go to heaven and share with our Lord in His eternal life. On the other hand, if we turn from the faith that expects to be delivered from the self-seeking nature through a participation with Christ in His life of perfect love, we should expect Him to turn us away from this Kingdom-life on the Day of Judgment. People who refuse to be saved from their self-seeking nature have effectively rejected the truth that is in Jesus Christ. (Rom. 2: 6-8) They reveal how they do not want to be saved from their fallen life and enter into His Kingdom-life.

     Even though Jesus requires complete submission to His teachings, He knows the heart will remain defective in Christians who still have a carnal nature. They will find themselves on occasions stumbling into sin. It may be a temper that rises up, or some unkind and unloving words may be expressed when their will or plans have been crossed. God is faithful in exposing the remains of the carnal nature. But He still expects them to continue to walk in the light of all known truth. For those who are willing to fully yield to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit during this time of testing, there is a provision for being taken into the life of promise and being cleansed from all unrighteousness.

     "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light {by continuing to respond to all known truth} as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another {with God}, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin... If we confess our sins {if we stumble in our journey during the time of testing}, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. "(1 John 1: 6-9 Emphasis added)

     Many have tried to enter into the kingdom of God by simply setting out to obey the teachings found in our Lord's Sermon on the Mount. While these teachings describe the Kingdom-life, the remains of an inner carnality will prevent the attitudes of the heart from always being in complete conformity to God's high standard of love. Any remains of the self-centered nature will keep these followers of Jesus separated from the Kingdom-life of promise. The only way to become "filled" with our Lord's life of love - God's glory - is to be fully sanctified by the Spirit through our belief in God's Word. "Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all..." (Rom. 4:16)

     Many Christians seem to think the kingdom-teachings found in Christ's Sermon on the Mount are for some future dispensation because the commands are too difficult to be fully obeyed by human effort. While we do agree that it is impossible for Christians to become perfect in love through human effort (Matt. 5: 48), these teachings need to be obeyed in this age of fulfillment.

     Christ never intended for people to use the flesh as the means for displaying the life found in His kingdom. While there are some Christians today who attempt to be holy to God through their efforts to keep His laws, they will inevitably be required to sear over their conscience when it comes to some of Christ's kingdom-teachings. The works of their flesh will simply not have the power to love in the self-sacrificing way that Jesus requires.

     "Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect {in love} by the flesh {trying to be righteous by human-effort}?" (Gal. 3: 3)

     "It is the Spirit who gives life {the Kingdom-life of perfect love}; the flesh {human-effort} profits nothing {It cannot produce divine life}." (John 6: 63)

     Christ spent three years teachings His disciples about "life" in the kingdom of God. But their corrupt inner nature prevented the responses of their heart from always being in harmony with His teachings. The carnal nature has a natural opposition to the selfless life that is found in God's kingdom. They could set their will to obey the Lord, but their inner nature was still corrupt. This is why Jesus said they needed to wait until they were clothed with power from on high. The fire needed to come down from heaven to purify their hearts before the temple of their bodies could be filled with God's life of love. Only then could the Lord reveal His Kingdom-life of perfect love - His glory - through them.

     "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power." (Mark 9:1)

     Every Christian who strives to fulfill God's laws through their own efforts will end up becoming like a self-righteous Pharisee. They will set up certain outward standards to live by - standards that fall far short of perfect love - which they then use to judge others with a critical spirit. These people will remain far from Christ's Kingdom-life of perfect love.

     People who are still behaving like "mere men" will not display the "light of life" from heaven. They will have a carnal nature that reveals the remains of self-centeredness. "For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" (1 Cor. 3: 3 Emphasis added) This is the old way of life that will need to die before Christ's Kingdom-life can be found. (Matt. 16: 24-25) There needs to be a real participation with Christ in His divine nature before it is possible to become as "one" with each other in love. (John 17: 22-23)