For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The Community of the Kingdom
In the previous chapter we found that the basic meaning of church is a corporate gathering with Jesus Christ as its real and living center, fulfilled under the principles of unity and mutuality. Such a gathering, however, is only the neuralgic center of a much wider context, which we may call church life or also the community of the kingdom. The church is also a gathering for mutual edification and an organic community of disciples of Christ. A community called to incarnate and express the Kingdom of God on earth.
The kingdom of God is, at the same time, the revelation of God Himself (His person, life, character and power), as well as the sphere in which He exercises His sovereign authority and where He is obeyed.
Jesus Christ made the kingdom the central matter of His teaching and preaching, thereby defining the life, character and mission of His church.
In the New Testament it is also called the kingdom of the heavens (basically in Matthew's gospel), referring to its origin and nature. Since God is Spirit, His kingdom is also in Spirit. It therefore possesses an entirely different nature to the kingdoms of this world. The principles and laws that rule it are completely antagonistic to the principles of the world. To see it, it is necessary to come to the same sphere from which it proceeds; to enter it, and to possess its very nature. This leads us to consider the eternal purpose of God again.
Expressing His authority
The book of Genesis, in expressing the Divine purpose, tells us that God created man (male and female) in His image, and then told them: "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion..." (Genesis 2:28). As we may notice, His desire was to have a man to carry His image, and also, that this man would represent His authority on earth. That man, according to the New Testament, of which Adam and Eve were a figure, is Christ corporately expressed through His church.
However, due to the introduction of sin, this purpose was relegated and hidden until the day in which the Son of God descended from Heaven bringing with Him the original plan of God. Then, the words of the ancient prophecy began to be fulfilled: "I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world." (Matthew 13:34-35).
Due to the fact that Adam had ceded the dominion of the earth to the Serpent when he fell under its authority, the kingdom of God became hidden out of this world since the beginning of time. God had created man to be His channel of expression in the visible orb. That is why God equipped him with a spirit capable of perceiving Him, touching Him and understanding Him. It was a portion that belonged to the invisible and spiritual realm. Through his human spirit, man was to have fellowship with God and the heavenly realm, and would then be able to express God's authority on the earth. However, man's human spirit was only an empty vessel that had to be filled, since man was yet an incomplete being.
That's why God put the tree of life, which contained His own Divine life in the Garden of Eden. If man would eat of its fruit, the Spirit of Life would come to dwell in man's human spirit, uniting Him to man, saturating him with Divine life. Then the man, living by means of that Divine Life, would be able to express God's kingdom on the earth.
But Adam sinned, eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil instead. Instantly his human spirit withered and died, irrevocably ripping itself from God and His kingdom. Next, man's soul (which should not be confused with man's spirit) was dominated and overcome by sin. It then began to expand and be converted in the vital energy that sustains the human nature. Man would not live by Divine life any longer, but merely through his human soul, which means, through man's own "ego" or natural human energy. The consequences were disastrous, because without an activated human spirit, man is not able to perceive, nor even experience the Divine life. And without that Divine Life, man cannot see, nor enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, because it is impossible for the natural man to know or to be subject to God and His Will.
From the fallen soul and its efforts proceed the kingdoms of this world, its civilization, its science, its order and culture, from which God finds Himself completely excluded. His place has been usurped by Satan, whose rebellious seed beats in the heart of the whole human race.
In the book of Daniel, the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar saw the kingdoms of man represented by a great image and its glory was sublime. His vision certainly represents the human perspective of things. Daniel, however, saw it represented by four bestial and merciless creatures, which shows us the heavenly perspective of things. The human race, lacking true spiritual life, is unable to understand facts from the heavenly point of view. That's why a new birth is required to first enliven our human withered spirit.
Nevertheless, there is no human or angelic power able to raise the human spirit from the dead. Religions are merely the pale effort of the human soul to recover that lost dimension. Its memory lies engraved in the very depth of our being. But our mind, will and emotions can never become spiritual by themselves. We may be able to construct, invent, dream, feel the most profound emotions, practice the most rigorous self-denial and everything will turn out to be in vain. Finally, we would have failed to produce even one little ounce of spiritual reality, because the road to it has been shut by a power that we will never be able to defeat: death.
Daniel, however, saw a new day coming on the dark night of our fallen human race; the eternally closed door was to be opened from Heaven itself and the kingdom of God would descend to mankind.
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His first words were: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near". It's meaning? Daniel's prophecy had begun to happen.
Let us recall that story a little: In Nebuchadnezzar's vision, the great image of the human kingdoms was totally demolished by a small stone that later grew to become a mountain that filled the whole earth. Daniel explains that this figure represents the advent of an eternal and unshakable kingdom, brought by God Himself from Heaven to earth (Daniel 2:31-45). The expression that the prophet here uses to define God is very important: he calls Him "the God of Heaven". In fact, this name for God is characteristic in the book of Daniel. The reason for this is found in the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. Since at present His people have lost possession of Canaan, God does not have His own testimony on earth and can only be called the God of Heaven. This is a principle that runs through the entire Old Testament.
Canaan represented the fullness of the blessedness and spiritual life in the kingdom of God (land that flows with milk and honey). While God's people possessed Canaan, He could be called God of Heaven and earth; but, when that possession was lost, He is only called God of Heaven.
Therefore, in the figure of Israel and Canaan, we find a fundamental principle: To manifest His government on earth, God requires man; but not any kind of man, He requires a man that would first fully possess the life of the kingdom.
In chapter 7 of Daniel we find a vision that completes Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Here, as we have seen, the point of view is heavenly. After the appearing of the four beasts that represent the successive reigns of man, Daniel sees God's throne and the arrival of the Son of Man, to whom all the dominion and authority is given on the earth. This last One is the same stone that strikes the image in chapter 2 and then grows to become a mountain that fills the whole earth. The explanation of its growth is given thus: "Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the most High, His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him" (Daniel 7:27). Also read: "Until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom" (Daniel 7:22).
The prophet identifies the Son of Man with the people of the saints of the Most High and sees in them only one identity (compare verse 14 with verse 27). Truly, Daniel is seeing Christ and His church, the heavenly new man according to God. It tells us that when this man possesses the kingdom of heavens, the kingdoms of this world will come to their end on the earth and Satan will be completely expelled.
Recuperating His original plan
The Lord Jesus began His ministry with the great eschatological announcement of the kingdom of God. Through Him, this kingdom became present in the world to totally destroy the power of darkness. Here, on the earth, God had a Man whose Spirit was alive and in profound fellowship with the heavenly realm. He was One who carried in Him the Divine life and therefore, was in absolute subjection to God's authority. This hit the very heart of the realm of darkness. That system was incapable of receiving Him or understanding Him, because everything in Jesus proceeded from another realm, closed off from the fallen human nature, But Jesus had come to invade, dislodge, and destroy the realm of darkness. Since He as a Man was found in complete possession of the kingdom of God, Divine authority was now in action on the earth. Demons were being cast out, the sick were healed, the poor and brokenhearted received comfort, sinners were forgiven, while Satan's fortresses were falling down and retreating in defeat.
However, something even deeper and more transcendental was about to happen. Christ was to initiate His church, the community of the disciples called to incarnate and definitely establish the kingdom of God on earth.
To achieve that, He gathered twelve men to Him during the span of three years and taught and transmitted the way of life of the kingdom through His Word and example. All the weight, the glory, the power and the authority of the kingdom of God were dwelling in Him. Nevertheless, our Lord came with the mission of incorporating all men into the sphere of the kingdom of God. Therefore, we ask ourselves: what exactly is that realm? Well, it is the sphere of the perfect will of God, His purpose and His authority. It is the territory of the Spirit and the life. It is the ambiance of the work of God on earth. Outside His kingdom, God cannot be known nor experienced. However, to become part of His kingdom, man has to be enabled to possess a kind of life that is way over and above his natural possibilities. The sermon of the mount is the best example of this truth.
There never was, nor ever will there be a higher norm of life than the life therein described. What's more, Christ stresses that whoever is unable to comply with His kingdom's demands is in mortal danger. Facing those demands, even the proud Pharisees are disqualified. Such demands, all things considered, are impossible for natural man to fulfill. His commandments are the expression of a form of life infinitely superior, a life that proceeds only from the realm of the Divine Trinity.
That is why Jesus tells Nicodemus that to enter into His kingdom it is necessary to be born from above. To be begotten of water and the Spirit. Until this happens, it is not possible for us to live under His government and authority.
This is an extremely important matter. Man was created to live under the government of the Divine life. To achieve that goal, man was given a human spirit that, as we have already seen, died due to sin. So man now urgently needs to be quickened. The fallen soul, with its mind, will and emotions is unable to live under the government of God. In fact, man's soul cannot touch nor perceive God by itself. Our mind cannot know God by itself, our will is unable to obey Him nor our emotions able to feel Him. He is found beyond the sphere of our soul (our self, ego, me). And the mere exterior effort to comply with God's commandments is not sufficient. All those who have tried to do so have become confused and discouraged. "My words," said the Lord Jesus, "are Spirit and are life." Which means that they are to be understood, lived and obeyed inwardly by a power superior to our own human soul. It is the power of Christ and His life in us.
The above explains the immense transformation of the disciples after the death and resurrection of the Lord. Before this event, the Bible tells us that their hearts were hard and they understood very little of what He spoke and did. Suddenly, after Pentecost, they were transformed into the apostles that would turn the world upside down. What had changed them? What was it that so transformed some hard, egotistic and even cowardly men, into humble, courageous and daring witnesses of Christ? The cross and the resurrection had done their work. With His death, Christ had put an end to sin and the flesh, completely destroying the old fallen human race. The evil tree was cut down and totally uprooted. And, as the old man died, Satan lost his base of action on earth, to become completely defeated and overcome. What's more, the whole old world built by man, with its systems, kingdoms, works, cultures and religions was destroyed together with its author, the old man, on the cross.
Nothing survived the devastation... nothing, except Jesus.
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit" (1 Peter 3:18).
In Jesus' human spirit there was an indestructible life, untouchable even by death. And when everything was finished, that life, stripped of everything else, victoriously stirred in the most profound bosom of death, from whence it slowly and irresistibly began to return. The most immeasurable power that has ever been exercised during the whole history of creation took hold of Jesus and brought Him out from the cold entrails of death, after breaking all its chains, and raised Him up.
Death was finally defeated and made impotent in the face of such colossal strength, being absorbed and undone forever by the irresistible power of that life that brought Christ unscathed from the dead. But something else happened that day, because when Christ died on the Cross, He was also carrying us in Him. And when He descended into the depth of death, He took us with Him, naked and bereft of everything.
Finally, when He rose victorious, forever destroying the power of death, He was still carrying us with Him. And that is the way in which, resurrected among the dead, He brought us up in His resurrection life, which we had lost at the beginning in the Garden of Eden. The Lord Jesus paid with His own blood the right to rescue us and to bring us back to our eternal vocation. Because He is now the resurrected Lord who can give life to our human spirit, withered from the beginning, save our souls and, in the final day, to resurrect our mortal bodies with the power of His indestructible life.
This was the event that transformed the apostles. Christ sent His Spirit on them and the power of His resurrection entered into the most profound part of their being. Beyond their soul, even into the deepest part of their heart, to the place where their human spirit laid dead and forgotten for countless ages, and He woke it up. The power of His resurrected life reached down into their human spirit, once killed by sin, which no other power could raise to life again, and coming inside them, gave life through His unstoppable strength.
And the spirit of that corporate man, resurrected by the Divine life, came to be God's dwelling place forever. He became united to Christ to such an extent that he could never again be separated from Him. That is why the New Testament occasionally talks about the human spirit and God's Holy Spirit without making a distinction between these two (for example, we can read this in Romans chapter 8).
And God, finally, had obtained a human race that participated of His very own life and nature, in accordance with His eternal purpose. From that moment on, the disciples began to live through that Divine life, governed by it, and not by the natural life of their souls.
This is what the Bible calls "the regeneration of the Holy Spirit" and also to be "born again". Through this means, a decisive change occurs in the human nature which, being forgiven and liberated from sin by the objective work of Christ on the cross, is renovated and annexed to the Divine nature in the spirit, by the work of the Holy Spirit of God.
Here is the heart of the gospel of the kingdom of God, which our Lord Jesus Christ brought to us. This is not theology, but life and experience. It is an immensely practical matter.
Before knowing any other thing, the believers must know and experience this fact. Salvation is not a merely legal and exterior matter. Neither is it an apparently right way of living that is merely tacked upon us outwardly, without even minimally affecting us inwardly. Those that think in this way have not understood the marrow of our faith. A Christianity of such ilk easily becomes a vain and powerless religion. Thus Christian life mutates into a rigid and stifling legalism. It becomes a futile intent to use the power of our human nature to keep the laws and commandments that only the Divine nature can accomplish. "My words", said Jesus, "are Spirit and are life". His words are addressed to men and women whose human spirits have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. His words are given to those that participate in the Divine nature and live by means of His uncreated life.
Participating in a New Covenant
This fundamental experience was found in the heart of the first community of disciples. They considered themselves the people of the new covenant, agreement, pact or contract with God. In the central moment of their meetings as a church, the disciples took the Lord's table where they remembered and renewed the event of the new covenant in their hearts, which makes the existence of fellowship possible. Because the new covenant sealed in the blood of Christ is what allows us to come into the kingdom of God and His eternal purpose. Such a covenant had been announced by Jeremiah:
"Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah--not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord, But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
And by the prophet Ezekiel: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them" (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
The new covenant was to be established due to the evident failure of man to live under the laws of God. Facing this fact, God responds with a new covenant, its foundation being completely opposite to the first. The old was based on the human capacity of obeying and keeping the divine commandments, and therefore was exterior and insufficient. Over and over Israel verified the bitter reality: no man can please God or keep the law of God by means of the effort of his fallen nature.
Due to this, the kingdom of God was never able to be manifested to Israel and merely remained as a promise for the future. Before the kingdom could come, a new covenant between God and men had to be established, radically resolving the problem and thus becoming the foundation for the manifestation of His kingdom on earth. And Christ established the new covenant with His death and resurrection.
Such covenant, as we have seen, involves five essential promises: the forgiveness and purification of sins (which keep us subjugated to the power of death), the regeneration of the human spirit, the renovation of man's heart (the central axle of human life), the union in spirit with Christ (by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) and, as a final consequence, our living through His Divine life.
Through His death, Christ inherited us and sealed this covenant with His own blood. Without Him, we could never be His disciples, much less could we be able to keep His commandments. From Christ alone flows all our experience as the community of the kingdom of God.
What transforms us into disciples of Christ and subjects of His kingdom, is the possessing within us the same Divine life of Christ the Lord. However, as we have noted in previous chapters, once the Divine life has made His dwelling in the human spirit, a long process of transformation is initiated which will extend into the soul (the psychological life) and finally into the body (biological life). God's objective is that finally the totality of our being comes to be enlivened and governed by His Spirit.
In this process the brokenness of the soul becomes vital. Due to sin, the soul has abnormally overgrown to the point of becoming the ruling organ of man. From birth we learn to live and depend on its power to do everything. The soul is the seat of our personality, where we are conscious of ourselves. (self consciousness). Our soul also gathers the faculties of the mind, the emotions and the will. In our soul our identity is found, which we also call the self, our ego, our "I". Through the body, the soul can be conscious of the world, while through the human spirit, it can be conscious of God. Since the will is also found in the soul, it therefore has the power of final decision.
All we have said before reveals that the soul is the decisive element in the dealings of God with man. Since the soul is truly our identity, only with our soul can we express the government and the life of the Holy Spirit in our life. But, since our soul was born and grew separated from God due to sin, He has to save our soul in order to fully save us.
It is at this point that the difficulties begin with many Christians. Although inwardly regenerated, their soulish (or psychological) life still continues being too strong, dominating and independent. They are unable to perceive this, because it is impossible for man to distinguish by himself between his soul and his spirit. Consequently, they seek with all the fervor of their soulish strength to live the Christian life trying to please God. Even worse, inside Christianity they find many willing teachers to encourage them in their futile quest. After all, it is an ancient error among Christians to confuse the soulish life with the life of the Spirit.
This is why modern Christianity is dominated by all kinds of merely human activities, purely soulish in nature. Sadly, God is absent from all that activity without a destiny, because it sprouts from a human nature that has never been subjected to God's Holy Spirit.
It is useless to apply all kinds of trainings, equipping and psychology to the human ego, self, or "I". The self cannot gain even one inch of spiritual stature in this way. It will merely become stronger and more egocentric than ever. Prouder, more religious and resistant to the Divine life.
God's way in His dealings with man is completely different. He does not equip nor strengthen our soul (our mind, will and emotions) to live the Christian life as disciples of the Lord. On the contrary, He weakens it and breaks it to the utmost.
Frequently you hear it said in Christian circles: "The Holy Spirit enables us to do God's will", which is the evangelical version of the Catholic expression: "Grace enables us to please God". This sounds profound and spiritual, but in reality it is not, because in both versions it underlines the idea of the "human self" taking charge of everything, with the supposed addition of the divine strength. But that is not the way in which God's kingdom functions. Because God, being Omnipotent, does not need our help to fulfill His work. In the old covenant, man tried to do things for God; in the new covenant, God comes to work in the place of man. The difference is certainly incalculable.
But for this to succeed, God first needs to weaken and radically break our natural life, so that the Spirit can take control of our being, because it is the Spirit and not the soul from whence His Holy Spirit operates. The soul, being the seat of our identity, has to be brought to the place where it learns to live by means of the Divine life and not by its own natural activity.1 The soul has to come to be under the full control of the Holy Spirit, which means, under the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ, its Lord.
God's kingdom is a kingdom of the Spirit. The community of the kingdom is "...the general assembly... the spirits of just men made perfect..." (Hebrews 12:23). All of us, God's children, carry in our human spirit a perfect life, completely holy and just. That life cannot be perfected any more than what it is, because that life is the supreme life of the Son of God, holy and glorious beyond any comprehension. How glorious the day will be when our eyes will be opened to see that reality! In that day all our efforts and struggles to live the Christian life will cease. We shall immediately see our own uselessness and at that point we shall begin to live through the Divine life that dwells in us.
In this way, the kingdom of God will be manifested with all its authority on earth, because, as the apostle tells us: "...much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:17).
1. In regards to this, Theodore Austin-Sparks has wisely said: "Whether we are able yet to accept it or not, the fact is that if we are going on with God fully, all the soul's energies and abilities for knowing, understanding, sensing and doing will come to an end, and we shall- on that side- stand bewildered, dazed, numbed and impotent. Then, only a new, other, and Divine understanding, constraint, and energy will send us forward or keep us going. At such times we shall have to say to our souls, "My soul, be thou silent unto God (Psalm 62:5)… But what a joy and strength there is when, the soul having constraint to yield to the spirit, the higher wisdom and glory is perceived in its vindication… So that unto fullness of joy the soul is essential. And it must be brought through the darkness and death of its own ability to learn the higher and deeper realities for which the spirit is the first organ and faculty." (What is Man? By T. Austin-Sparks).