Another key concept for salvation in this age is God’s kingdom. We meet the term in the Lord’s Prayer, but it goes back to OT prophecy.
Scholars like to debate whether the Kingdom is anything done that’s good or whether the good must be done in the name of the King, that is, Jesus. And yet if we were to read the scriptures carefully, we’d see the kingship of Jesus written all over the NT. There is no Kingdom without a King. If we don’t acknowledge Jesus, it’s just not Kingdom work — plain and simple.
Remember that “Christ” and “Messiah” refer to Jesus as the king of Psalm 2. Every reference to “Jesus Christ” is to “Jesus, the King” or “King Jesus.” And where there’s a king, there’s a kingdom. And there’s no kingdom without a king. Hence, over and over, Jesus is referred to as King, implying “King of the Kingdom.”
(Isa 9:6-7 ESV) 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Going back to Isaiah, God had his prophets promise a kingdom that would follow the destructions of Israel and Judea. After the Exile that began with the Babylonian Captivity, God would establish his Kingdom to be ruled by his king, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ.
This kingdom would last forever and it would be marked by “justice and with righteousness” (mishpat and tsedaqah). Interestingly, we encountered those same words back in Gen when God described his purpose in electing Abraham and his descendants —
(Gen 18:19 ESV) For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
So these words, that are used over and over in the prophets to describe God, here describe God’s people and in Isaiah describe God’s Kingdom.
Therefore, God’s Kingdom is a place of righteousness and justice because it’s a place where God’s people become like God — by doing things like feeding their enemies.
This is salvation — in this age. We’re saved from what? Well, from being unlike God. From being fallen, broken, futile people. From living lives of vanity.
To make the point more, uh, pointedly, I want to repeat this from Mark Love, because he’s a better storyteller than I am —
Let me start, though, with a scene from last night at Starbucks. I was sitting uncomfortably close (within my introvert perimeter) to a young couple having a very passionate conversation about God. She was a winsome evangelical. He was a skeptical something-or-other. She was giving this her all, because it seemed to me, they were serious about each other, but she could only marry a Christian. This was an all-or-nothing moment for her and she was pulling out all the stops. And she was getting creamed.
She was not getting creamed because she lacked the intellectual ability or because he was a better debater. She was getting creamed because she had a story that’s tough to defend. It wasn’t just that he disagreed with her. He was offended by her view of God.
Her story was predictable. All of us are sinners, and it takes only one to make us unacceptable to God. And there’s hell to pay, literally. God can’t simply forgive us our mistakes. He has to have a victim before he can forgive, a blood sacrifice. So, he sends his own son to die for us, to appease his otherwise unappeasable wrath.
For the young man, this made God a monster. It failed for him precisely at the level of being moral. God really can’t forgive me for a mistake unless someone dies? With all that’s wrong with the world–disease, war, hunger, slaver–God is obsessed with who I sleep with? He kept telling her that he was a good person who cared for others and took care of the earth and cared about global issues of justice. God was going to send him to hell for pre-marital sex? (He did seem a little pre-occupied with sex).
Now, I won’t take time to dissect the particulars of her story or the problems with his critiques. I want to look at the starting place in her story. Her story had as its center the problem of individual sin. Everything flowed from that premise. As a result, her rhetorical strategy began with isolating him in his sin and warning him of the grave dangers to him personally.
Familiar story? Indeed. For a long time, this has been the Christian story among American evangelicals, and it’s a better story than “God will damn you because you were baptized the wrong way.” And because it’s better than what many of us were weaned on, we assume that it’s the best version of the gospel. It’s not.
Now let’s try on a story that doesn’t begin with the individual as the issue. What if she had started this way: we live in a world that is totally screwed up. Sex-trafficking, poverty, disease, environmental disasters. We’ve made a hash of it. (He agrees).
And being a really good person isn’t the answer. We’re both really good people and know a lot of other really good people and we fix some things and some don’t get any better and some get worse (He agrees). Even science, which makes our lives better in so many ways, also threatens to wipe us from the face of the earth (He agrees).
And my question is, where is God in all of this? (And he agrees and hopes you have a satisfying answer). The Christian story says that God has revealed his power in a story of selfless love, which is the opposite of what the Bible calls sin and identifies as the root of this whole mess. God’s solution to the problem is not power as “control over” the contingencies of this life.
Rather, the Christian view of the world is that God suffers with us, joins us, endures with us, and works for justice through paths of faithful love. Love, not as an emotion, but love as a way of always acting for us. And ultimately, this is the power through which all things will be made whole.
The death of Jesus on a Roman cross is a demonstration that there is no power or circumstance that places us outside of his love. And his resurrection from the dead says to us that the powers of sin and death don’t have the final word. And the church is a group of people who live by the power of this selfless love, which the Holy Spirit gives to us, and who live in resistance to all other powers that would shape life in distorting or unjust ways, who live as a sign of God’s future where all things will be made whole.
This takes more than just good people or moral people. Christians hardly have that market cornered, but it takes people who share a commitment to this way of being in the world. And when you live this way with others, you learn to recognize the unmistakable ways that God shows up, like those moments of power when we learn to forgive each other the way God lavishly forgives us. And when I live in this story, I find myself being transformed by the love God.
The way this world gets on you and in you and contaminates you and weighs you down with shame and guilt and condemnation is defeated. And this transformed way of life survives everything, even death. (There’s lots more, but this is a blog).
Maybe he buys it, maybe he doesn’t. But the point is a different starting place makes a huge difference. By moving the primary issue from the individual to creation and history, the story unfolds in a different way.
And you might tell it differently than I did. For instance, Paul doesn’t tell it precisely this way. But he’s starting with a different audience. I was starting with the young man at the Starbucks. This variety of audiences is one reason the Bible doesn’t tell the story only in one way. If the Bible doesn’t, why should we? And I’m convinced that if we place ourselves inside of a different story, it will change the ways we do things as well.
My point? Change everyone’s story by telling a far better story. Re-tell the gospel in terms of how it impacts the world and history and the church. Everything will change.