Kingdom Conspiracy: Thinking It Through, Part 5 (Light)

KingdomConspiracy2We’re discussing Scot McKnight’s latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church.

(Mat 5:14-16 ESV) “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Very properly, many who argue for kingdom works speak in terms of being salt and light. Amen. But notice this. We’re light because we are very visible. Like a city on a hill, our light can be seen for many miles.

And we are light because those who see our light — our good works — will credit God with the good works. We shine “so that [others] may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father.” No one will give glory to God unless we do our good works in the name of God. If we do them through secular organizations, without giving credit to God, then the secular organization will receive the glory and we’ll not truly be the light of the world.

Jesus’ point is clear enough, I think, but he is reiterating a point earlier made by
Isaiah —

(Isa 42:6-8 ESV)  6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,  7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.  8 I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.

God called Israel to be “a light for the nations” to bless people — and ultimately so that God would be glorified — and no one else. God does not want us to go good works in the names of powers and principalities who compete with God for the loyalty of mankind. These are idols, and serving them is idolatry.

(Isa 49:6-7 ESV)  6 [The LORD] says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”  7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Again, God declares that Israel will be a light for the nations so “that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” The goal isn’t merely to provide light. It’s to save the world.

And in the saved world, kings and princes will prostrate themselves before the LORD as the true king of the true kingdom.

Once again, if we do good works in the name of earthly kings and princes, we’re doing good, but we are hardly doing kingdom work. In fact, we’re bringing glory to those who wrongly claim the throne of God.

So, no, it’s not true that all good is kingdom work, or that all good someone might do serves to further God’s mission. It’s just not true.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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13 Responses to Kingdom Conspiracy: Thinking It Through, Part 5 (Light)

  1. Ray Downen says:

    That Christians should be generous and sharing can’t be denied. Jay does well to point out that our charitable deeds should be done IN THE NAME OF JESUS. A problem arises. As CITIZENS, we do well to support the party of patriots, and our support of that party is not in a real sense supporting and promoting Jesus and His Way. I think we should support the party even though it is not directly preaching the gospel. And I think we are serving God by seeking good things for every citizen of this nation. I surely agree that our first financial call is the church of which we are a member. It deserves more than only our attendance. Yet our charitable giving just as decisions about personal spending needs to be personal rather than institutional. We will be judged (by Jesus at the end) as individuals rather than as members of congregations.

  2. Gary says:

    Jay, to take your thinking to its logical conclusion no Christian should be a member of any type of service club (Kiwanis, Rotary, etc.), engage in or support fundraising by groups such as Boy Scouts or vote for or in any way advocate for any government assistance whatsoever to anyone in need. (Even when I was a child the county I lived in maintained a poor house.) I doubt you really advocate such extremes in practice but, according to your own words, Christians who do good works under the auspices of secular organizations are engaged in idolatry. Really?

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    “When Jesus said that even giving someone a cup of cold water in his name would bring a reward to the giver he was not referring to the words spoken to the recipient. Jesus was referring to doing good works by his authority.”

    I don’t understand that at all. If I don’t say by whose authority I’m acting, what is the point? How is my giving a cup of water in the name of Jesus — silently — any different from giving the water in the name of Krishna — silently? In what sense do I need the authority of Jesus to give water?

    This sounds very much like the rightwing reading of Col 3:17, which takes “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord” as being about authority — which is not the point at all.

    Gary also said,

    “As long as we are motivated in our good works by our faith in Christ then Jesus’ promise applies to us even when we help others under the auspices of secular organizations.”

    I would agree if our mission were limited to making this world a better place. But it’s not. And if Jesus is not preached, if the borders of the kingdom aren’t extended, if the lost aren’t brought into the kingdom, these good works will serve the damned as they die and go to gehenna. For some reason, Acts is all about preaching the gospel, not good works done secretly in by the authority of an unmentioned Jesus. That’s the mission.

    When good works are done in Acts, they are done in the vocalized name of Jesus —

    (Act 3:6 ESV) 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

    (Act 4:8-10 ESV) 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead– by him this man is standing before you well.

    Gary also wrote,

    “Good works are not required to be part of a church’s ministry in order to be Kingdom works.”

    Entirely agree. In fact, I’m not sure I see a clear distinction between a body doing good works and a hand doing good works. We are part of Christ’s body all the time, whether or not on some deacon’s organizational chart. The key is not how we’re organized, but in whose name we act.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    according to your own words, Christians who do good works under the auspices of secular organizations are engaged in idolatry. Really?

    I wrote,

    “Once again, if we do good works in the name of earthly kings and princes, we’re doing good, but we are hardly doing kingdom work. In fact, we’re bringing glory to those who wrongly claim the throne of God.”

    Not all secular good works are done in the name of a competitor for the throne of Jesus, but many are. To harken back to the 60s, if I join the Peace Corps and do good works in the name of the United States of America, and if the rules prohibit me from honoring Jesus as I do good works, I am truly doing good works. But the honor goes entirely to the USA — a nation-state.

    If doing good works in the name of Jesus brings worship and honor to Jesus, doesn’t doing good works in the name of the USA bring worship and honor to the USA?

    Perhaps we would see it more clearly in the context of another nation. Imagine that a Chinese Christian volunteers to do good works in the Congo on behalf of the Chinese nation. Is this Chinese Christian doing kingdom work — digging wells, planting gardens, other good works — all to the glory of the Chinese nation-state?

    It’s not so easy to answer, is it? Jesus is in no way glorified. The world — the realm of the lost and separated from God — is bettered, but not in a way having any eternal significance. In fact, the good people of the Congo are being made loyal to China — which like all nation-states, craves the loyalty of people and finds loyalty to God competitive with the loyalty the state demands. Hence, Chine is very wary and distrustful of Christianity, because it creates a loyalty to a power that is not the state.

    In the United States, if you can’t see this dynamic in the federal government, you’re blind. The nation is constantly seeking to win loyalty and votes in competition with Christianity — indeed, going out of its way to pit Christian values against government-provided benefits. This is true of Obama-care, when the government pushes churches to grant benefits contrary to their Christian beliefs — making the government seem more generous than the church. And on and on it goes.

    The efforts by the government to marginalize Christianity are all about creating loyalty to the government — or to a party — in preference to loyalty to Jesus by the government being kinder and more generous than the church.

    Now, to the extent a Christian is allowed to honor Jesus in fact while in the government’s employment, the problem is substantially resolved. But this is exactly why so many in power are pushing to prevent government employees from acting in the name of Jesus — so that the good works provide loyalty solely to the government and the government in no way furthers Christianity.

    When this happens, the good work done using government resources ceases to be kingdom work. And if we’re not careful, we’ll all volunteer for government service, never mention Jesus, and spend our volunteer hours building loyalty to a government and not to the King of the Universe. We’ll be serving a power and principality, not the Messiah.

    The lines aren’t easy to draw, but we cannot go on pretending that all good work is Kingdom work. That plays into the hands of the Enemy.

  5. Larry Cheek says:

    Amen, Amen, Amen JAY! Very basic, All of history is filled with men and nations demanding this servitude. There are many stories in the Bible displaying the exact context of men and nations competing for glory and honor and worship that was to be God’s.

  6. Gary says:

    Jay, I’ve greatly appreciated your policy of keeping politics out of this blog. The good that you do here would quickly dissapate if Pandora’s box is opened and this becomes just another forum on the Affordable Care Act or some other political issue of the day. I could debate the merits of the ACA with you but that’s not what I come to this blog for. The internet is full of those type of discussions. Your contribution is much more important in my opinion.

  7. Gary says:

    According to Paul in Romans 2:10 all who do good will receive “glory, honor and peace” from God. I’m not able to reconcile that truth with what you set forth. I see ample evidence in Scripture that good works do matter regardless of who does them and what they know about Christ in this world. In Revelation 20:12,13 we find that those who are raised from the dead will be judged “according to their works.” The good works and alms of Cornelius rose before God as a memorial for him well before he knew the gospel of Christ. (I simply can’t see your point Jay that Cornelius was somehow an exception because he was helping Jews as if helping Gentiles would have been a matter of indifference to God.) Jesus highlighted a Samaritan in Luke 10 as a model of Kingdom benevolence and compassion in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (And Jesus does not tell us the religion or ethnicity of the traveller in need nor does that matter.) I’m all for a renewed emphasis on good works in the church. I have long thought that we could benefit from Catholic teachings on good works (always eating the fish but throwing the bones out as Howard Norton once put it). But I can’t disregard the affirmations of all good works that I find in Scripture. Good is good no matter who does it and it is significant to God. I want to hold up all good works that help this world become more like the world that Christ will usher in at his return.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    In Revelation 20:12,13 we find that those who are raised from the dead will be judged “according to their works.”

    Give me an example of Christians being rewarded or blessed for good works not done in the name of Jesus. After all, we are counseled,

    (Col 3:17 ESV) 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

    (1Co 10:31 ESV) 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

    (1Pe 4:10-11 ESV) 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies– in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

    (Mat 5:16 ESV) 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

    Over and over, we’re told that our good works should point others toward God.

    You asked about —

    (Rev 20:12-13 ESV) 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

    — “According to what they had done” doesn’t really tell us what it is that saves and doesn’t save. You’re reading your interpretation into the words, creating a logical circle.

    A little context —

    (Rev 2:13 ESV) “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”

    (Rev 3:8 ESV) “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

    We then find several verses damning those who wear the wrong name —

    (Rev 13:16-17 ESV) 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

    In Rev, there’s a pervasive theme of whose name we wear — the name of the Messiah or the beast — Christ or Caesar. And so when we get to the end, we have to figure that “according to what they had done” – in context – refers to, among other things, whose name they wore. After all, good works done by a pagan worshipper of Aphrodite will not get the pagan into the new heavens and new earth.

    I don’t buy works salvation, and therefore I don’t accept the notion that John is declaring all good people saved. The choice of the name we wear matters at the core of the spiritual battle that Revelation describes. And I’m concerned that some teach a doctrine that makes the name unimportant.

  9. Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    The good that you do here would quickly dissapate if Pandora’s box is opened

    I agree. I’ve not questioned the ACA itself but the policies of the administration in dealing with Christian organizations. I find it instructive about government in general — not just the current administration — that they go out of their way to impose their own values on Christian organizations. Should the government coerce, through a system of punitive taxes, Christians to provide abortions for their employees? Or should we require Catholic organizations to pay for birth control at the risk of severe financial penalties?

    But this is not purely Obama or the Democrats. The Republicans can be even more cynical in their dealings with the church. In the Bush II second presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee urged Christians to vote Republican to preserve marriage as a heterosexual institution. A constitutional amendment was repeatedly promised. Literally the day after the election, Bush disavowed any intention to push for the promised constitutional amendment, saying there was no need until the courts began to approve gay marriage.

    Many evangelicals leaders were upset at the obvious deceit — bait and switch. And I suspect this is one reason that evangelical support for Republican Party is in decline. (And you’ll notice that I’ve expressed no opinion as to the wisdom of such an amendment — just the fact that deceit is deceit, regardless of the political party engaging in the lies.)

    I believe the church has no business being a special interest group within either party. Vote the best you can, but expect no salvation and no City on a Hill or Thousand Points of Light from the politicians or a nation-state.

  10. Gary says:

    Jay, all good works that Christians do because of their faith in Christ are done in the name of Jesus because they are done under Christ’s authority and as the body of Christ continuing his ministry in the world today. I suppose nuns who wear habits have an advantage in this regard because their garb is a constant reminder to the world of their motivation for their good works. I do go out of my way when possible to mention my church where I am a member. For those we have occasion to help repeatedly they will know over time that we are Christ’s disciples. But not every occasion lends itself to words. I keep $1bills on me to have something to give to the many homeless I cross paths with each week in this large city. I try to look at them as if they were Jesus in disguise in keeping with Matthew 25. I can’t buy that the only occasions of compassion and benevolence that matter to God are those acvompanied with words. The words said do not come up in Matthew 25.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    I can’t buy that the only occasions of compassion and benevolence that matter to God are those accompanied with words.

    I’ll give you the best verse against my point of view —

    (1Ti 5:24-25 ESV) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.

    Now, Paul is dealing with ordination, and the fact that the good works of good men will not always be obvious. Good people often do good work without claiming credit — but people do eventually figure out who the good guys are.

    And this is one reason why, in a recent point, I expressed this in terms of preference and emphasis, not an absolute line. It is better to give Jesus overt credit when possible, but sometimes the option isn’t available. Good works are still good works even if not done overtly in the name of Jesus. Sometimes we just have to hope that our works do not “remain hidden.”

    Nonetheless, this is a concession to a broken world, not a strategy. It’s clear enough from Paul’s words that he’d rather the good works be conspicuous when possible.

  12. Gary says:

    I agree entirely Jay. That is a very helpful clarification.

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