Home > Christianity, Exposition, Living, Theology > Position in the Kingdom before the Presence of the King

Position in the Kingdom before the Presence of the King

Earlier today, March 9, I posted a series of tweets as I drove from my house to my girlfriend’s to spend some time with her family, as her mother had just broken both her tibia and her fibula (Hint, hint; nudge, nudge. Prayers, please.). While I made my way over there, I began to think about the nature of our position within the Church before we meet Christ either after death or in the air. Over and over again, I hear many people expound and proclaim that they are a “child of God,” “a bride of Christ,” a great minister, just a servant, and so on. Which of these characteristics is correct? Are they all? How should we understand these terms?

I have touched briefly before on the subject of identity in Christ. I spent pages upon pages going through Scripture and connecting dots for you on some of the implications of Ephesians 5:1, 2. In particular, how it is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that our identities in Christ our secured and that (at least) two of our identities, and what seem to be the two major ones, are being a child and a priest of the Lord. You can read that post here. A friend of mine, after reading through the post, offered up some suggestions, which include the nature of adoption as sons into the kingdom, into which suggestions I will have to do a large amount of research because he is far more brilliant than I am. Anyway, that is neither here nor there.

What I want to address is the attitudes and the positions that we ought to take as children and priests of God, specifically prior to our meeting with the Lord in eternity. My brief thesis is that we, as bondservants of Jesus Christ, are merely tools, cogs in the machine, or instruments for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Through the epistles, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, in their openings, make mention of two things quite often:

  1. They are apostles, and they are bondservants.
  2. They are (1) by the will of God.

These things are important. Each of these men claim that they are given the authority of one entrusted with a mission, i.e. an apostle, by the will of God and that they are willful slaves, i.e. bondservants, of the Most High by the will of God. How can somebody claim to be a willful slave by the will of God except through a dear knowledge of God’s sovereignty and pleasure with his children, thereby mixing the predestination of God and free choice of men within the span of less than ten words? But again, neither here nor there.

Now, a bondservant characterization is the one that I want to key on. A bondservant is a former slave that, after having been granted or having earned his freedom, forsakes it and submits himself willingly, freely to his master for life. This, especially within the Christian paradigm, is such a beautiful picture of the submission to the sovereignty and glory of God that it brings joy to my heart. It must also bring to mind Christ’s call to forsake all things and follow him (Luke 9:57-62). Nevertheless, the picture here is one of ultimate submission to the glory of Jesus Christ. We are called to forsake all things for the sake of the glory of God and for the sake of the Kingdom of God, which are nearly, if not wholly, synonymous (Matthew 18, 19).

Track with me here:  if God, who is far more concerned with the state of our souls and our hearts and our spirits than he is with our material possessions and standings in the world, calls us to forsake all of our material possessions, does it not stand to reason that he will call does call everybody to forsake our possessions that concern ourselves? This is a clunky rendering, but let me unpack it really quickly. He calls us to forsake the worldly conceptions that we have concerning ourselves:  our self-sufficiency, our self-preservation, our self-entitlement, our self-centeredness; our neediness; our pride. We are called to forsake those things, which are a product of the Fall, and to lose ourselves, all of us, in the Dance of the Son, in the joyous glory of the Lord on High.

Brothers and sisters, I love you dearly. But read me very carefully:  this life is not about you. The Bible is not about you. A relationship with God is not about you. If you think any of those things, you are misguided and must repent.

This life is all about making known the glory of the Lord and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Bible exists to proclaim the manifestation of the glory of God, of the glory of Christ, of the gospel.

And, perhaps most importantly, as it relates most inter-connectedly with our salvation, our relationship with Jesus Christ does not revolve around us. God does not need us. God is, by definition, self-sustaining, and therefore he does not need anything, much less a bunch of hard-hearted, incompetent, adulterous children who blaspheme the name of their Great Redeemer. If you continue in the false thinking that our salvation is for our sake ultimately, you are an idolater and do not understand the gospel. Repent from the false thinking. I will only need to point you to Ephesians 1:3-14, wherein Paul explains on multiple points that we are saved “because of the good pleasure of the Lord” and “to the praise of his glory,” to Ephesians 2:1-10, wherein Paul explains that we are saved that, basically, God can show off the riches of his grace upon his vessels of grace for all eternity, to 1 Peter 2:4-10, wherein Peter explains that we are saved in order to proclaim the praises of God and offer up spiritual sacrifices to God, and to Ezekiel 36:16-38, wherein the prophet Ezekiel proclaims that the Lord says that it is for His sake that he will act, raise up his people from their graves, and turn their heart of stone into a heart of flesh (And does this not sound awfully a lot like the Gospel?), among countless other passages in Scripture.

I may or may not have turned you on your head. If I did not, great, you could have skipped all that unless it is a blessing to read over for you (It always is to remind me). If that truth did knock you over, take heart:  it is the most freeing news. The Truth will set you free, and the Truth in Christ that the Lord saves for His name’s sake and for His glory is so freeing to the instruments that he pleasingly uses that those instruments can joyfully go and face persecution and suffering, knowing that they are bringing joyful glory and praise to the Sustainer of the universe, and joyfully go and plead with men, knowing and experiencing what Paul proclaimed, “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We can rest in our failures, knowing that even there Christ is glorying and expressing his ultimate power.

But why is that the case? Why is Christ most glorified when we are weak? It is because we are no longer standing in the way.

Our pride is gone. Or do we not realize how much of an affront pride is to the glory and character of God? When the Lord responds to Job, after telling Job to prepare himself like a man the Lord asks him if he has the same power as himself or if he has a voice that thunders like the Lord’s. To gauge Job’s power, the Lord tells him to do the following,

Disperse the rage of your wrath; look on everyone who is proud, and humble him. Look on everyone who is proud, and bring him low; tread down the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together, bind their faces in hidden darkness. (Job 40:11-13)

Did you catch it? As one of the defining characteristics that God makes about himself here, he includes to “look on everyone who is proud, and [to] bring him low.” This seems significant, to put it lightly. Now, this is an aside to the presumptuousness of Job’s complaints against the Lord. Nevertheless, it is not insignificant that he includes this particular characteristic in a moment of self-definition.

But why? Why is pride such an affront? The Lord, who existed before anything began and who is wholly self-sustaining, willfully created all that exists. In fact, he made the stars and told them to go in this way or that and to make this route across the sky, and they complied. He told the planets to take this route around the sun and to not transgress this path, and they complied. He told the sea the raise this high, to come this far onto the shore, and to come no further, and it complied. He told the mountains to be raised up, the valleys to brought low, and they both complied. But when he looks man, insignificant in size–in fact, he looked at the man, Adam, and Eve, and told them to not do one thing:  to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they said no. Pride, I know better than He who sustains all things. I can do better than what He who sustains all things has promised. I am better than He is worth far more than everything that ever was, is, or will ever be created. Do we see how disgusting it is?

There are a countless number of passages that deal with pride in the Scriptures. James sums it up sufficiently,

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

But he gives more grace. Therefore He says:  “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:1-10)

The last paragraph is huge. Because God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, we submit to God. And, in drawing near to God, he draws near to us–what a blessing. But, within the drawing near to him, we must cleanse our hands and purify our hearts. In doing this, we lament, mourn, weep, allow our laughter to be turned into mourning and our joy to gloom. How are those connected? Coming to God means to forsake what we have and what we are–but we cannot forsake what we are not aware of, to do so is simply to lose it. So, we come to God and acknowledge our sin, our pride, our horrific affront to his glory, knowing what the cost of such a blasphemous lifestyle and subversive action was:  the crucifixion of Christ. We know how low we are, and therefore we humble ourselves. And in humility, we are lifted up; and, simply conjecture here, but doesn’t being in the presence of the Lord joyfully constitute being lifted up?

I hinted above at how we seek the humility in Christ that is absolutely necessary to walking as a believer. Succinctly, the larger and greater and more perfect view we have of the holiness of God, the justice of God, and the perfection of Christ, in addition to the larger and greater and more perfect view we have of the nature of sin, the utter depravity of humanity, the hopeless state we had, as well as the relationship between the two perspectives, the more humility will be produced. That will necessarily happen as our view of God and his attributes increases and our view of humanity and its fallenness increases. (Cf. Colossians 3)

However, before one can seek that humility, one must know Christ and him crucified. Just to be absolutely clear, seeking humility does one no good unless one knows Christ as he is, which is as the Son of God crucified and resurrected and returning. As a result of–rather, in conjunction with–this understanding, the Lord declares an individual to be righteous, to be as he ought to be (Romans 3). The righteousness of Christ, upon the saving faith in Christ as Lord, is imputed to the sinful individual, who now wears this righteousness as a cloak, so to speak. A better picture would be if the sinful individual were to remove his skin and slip into the skin of Christ. That is the process that happens when a believer first comes to a saving faith in Christ; God no longer sees the individual as he is but rather as Christ is. For this to have occurred, the following needed to have taken place:  when Christ underwent the crucifixion, he bore the full wrath of God while wearing the sins of God’s elect, who is the collection of every believer in God’s promised Sacrifice. So, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner and the sinner’s nature is imputed to Christ. And we take heart from this:  we know that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for our salvation because he was raised from the grave and is waiting to return and finally and wholly redeem the children of God.

Therefore, because Christ’s righteousness was imputed to us, his mission was also imputed to us. And so what Christ said makes sense, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (John 14:12). We don’t just do what Christ did. We are now what Christ was, and therefore doing what Christ did becomes a part of us–at battle with our sinful nature, but nevertheless it is a part of us that gains more and more preeminence as we repent and understand the Lord more fully.

Nevertheless, and this will directly address our position in the Kingdom–I promise–, Christ is the firstborn. Among many brethren, but still the Firstborn. Christ was the firstborn from the dead so that in all things he may have preeminence (Colossians 1:15-18). So what are we? We are children and priests of God, yes (Ephesians 5:1, 2). We have been adopted as sons into the family of God (Romans 8). We are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are bondservants (Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1:1; cf. Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 18, 19).

That position of bondservants provides the color to those relationships, at least for this present life. Yes, we are absolutely children of God. We are literal, begotten children of God (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-5). Nevertheless, we are in a state of submission to the Lord, as a bondservant, in the same way that Christ was for his earthly ministry, as revealed in the High Priestly Prayer (cf. John 17). Jesus joyfully submitted himself to the will of the Lord for his whole ministry, not counting his life as more than others (cf. Philippians 2). In the same way as Christ, we joyfully submit ourselves to the Lord, knowing that we are being used as instruments for his glory.

We are instruments for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Let’s flesh this out, though. Does a sparrow die outside of the sovereign will of the Lord? No, Jesus tells us not. And we are worth far more than sparrows; so nothing befalls us outside of the sovereign will of God. So, if all things are working to promote the glory of God, with which he is most concerned, aren’t all people instruments of the advancement of the Kingdom? Yes. However, we are joyful instruments. Joyful submission. It is such a blessing to joyfully submit to the will of the Lord, not to be like Jonah who begrudgingly brought a message of repentance to Nineveh knowing the mercy of God but to be like Christ who joyfully undertook the ministry of the Kingdom of God and the advancement of the glory and the salvation of men, at the cost of his life.

So, how do we become better instruments for the advancement? Or, how do we become more joyful instruments? Simply put, all we do is yield. Does a hammer decide that it will suddenly be harder or larger or more efficient? Does a crowbar suddenly decide to give more force or be stronger? No. It just “lets” the tool-maker change its nature. So, we, who have free will to a degree, choose to yield to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit; a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. Our flesh can only produce self-centered notions about how to become a better instruments. It will create a leadership complex, taking the glory; it will take the glory from the Father without exception. The only good tree is that which abides in the vine, Christ. And so, the only way to become a better instrument is to allow the Spirit, which resides in us, to promote and cause sin to be repented of and to increase holiness in thought, action, and general living. In such a sanctification, God gets all the glory. He will only get all the glory. There is no exception:  either we submit to the Lord for our sanctification, which accompanies every believer, and thereby joyfully glorify God in all that we do (Colossians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31), or we try and strive to promote more efficient spirituality in our flesh, which, if we are in Christ, is something for which Christ paid on the cross because we are pridefully seeking to promote our own holiness and not trusting–being faithless–with the God who promised to finish the work he started in us.

There is one last point that I want to go over with you. Whence is our worth? Is our worth in how efficiently we promote the Gospel? Is our worth in how grand of a believer we are during our life? Well, let’s look at this quantitatively. The time that we spend on earth is incomparably smaller than eternity. So, what seems to matter more would be knowing God and enjoying his fellowship and trying to bring people into his kingdom because that is where we will spend the most of our time, anyway. Now, I agree with the conclusion but not the justification there. Our justification for our worth or our value comes from our identity in Christ. If we find our identity in what we do or how well we do, e.g. ministry, then we are an idolater in great need of repentance, for then we are creating our virtue by how well we keep the mission of Christ, in other words doing exactly what the Old Covenant Jewish people did concerning the Law. That is not the Gospel, and you will lose sleep and assurance because you will continually fail and therefore doubt your salvation.

Our identity is found in the fact that Christ has bought us at a great price, himself, imputed his whole righteousness to us including his mission. From that point, God has declared us to be as we ought to be, and therefore there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). In fact, for all of you teachers (like myself), pastors, preachers, interns, etc., keep in mind Ephesians 4, which pretty explicitly says that our specific mission will have no more use when we are dead, because our understanding of Christ and our unity in the faith will both be perfected. And for those of you who are stuck in a pattern of comparing yourself to others who are “more spiritual than me,” take your eyes off of them. Look to Christ (Colossians 3:1-8), and use the gifts that the Lord has given you according to the grace that he has given you (Romans 12:3-8).

We have a great freedom in Christ. It is a freedom to joyfully glorify the Lord and a freedom to joyfully flee from the bondage that our depraved and rotten nature has wrought in us from the Fall. Rest in that freedom.

Be blessed, my brothers and sisters.

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  1. March 9, 2012 at 9:31 am

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