By Cailey Morgan
What does it mean to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom?
We’re in the middle of a series on Gospel, Kingdom and Justice. In some ways, Gospel is the biggest picture—the story of God with us throughout history and the reality that He is for all who will receive Him. Kingdom zooms in a little to explain that God is King, so living out the Gospel (aka, living in His presence with Him) means we are citizens of His Kingdom: the realm in which what God wants done gets done.
In coming articles we will dive into Justice—an even sharper focus on one of the key ways that the Good News of the Kingdom is enacted on earth and in heaven. But today, let’s look at one of the ways the Tangible Kingdom Primer describes God’s Kingdom on earth:
“We believe that whenever you see a group of people who find a rhythm or balance among communion, community and mission, you will always find the Kingdom. It will be tangible!”i
“Communion represents ‘oneness’—those things that make up our intimate connection and worship of God. Community represents aspects of ‘togetherness’—those things we share with each other as we live our lives together. And mission represents ‘otherness’—the aspects of our life together that focus on people outside our community.”ii
I can quickly give mental assent to this description of the Kingdom. It’s chock-full of missional-incarnational-community language that I’ve been steeped in as an apprentice of Cam Roxburgh over the years. But a life of communion, community and mission—living as a citizen of King Jesus’ realm—is not just a proposition I give a nod to, or a neat box for explaining a spiritual truth.
Choosing citizenship means action. It means intentionally striding toward the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14). And it means shedding all other attachments and allegiances in order to squeeze through that hole in the wall.
The authors of the TK Primer explain it this way:
“Nothing good ever comes easy. For sure, nothing of God’s Kingdom comes without resistance from our personal kingdoms or the world’s kingdom. Nothing of the Spirit of God comes without a good ol’ fashioned bar fight from our flesh….
God’s ways are natural, but they aren’t easy—especially at first. New ways of life must be formed in us through hours, days, and years of intentional practice. The future of your own faith and the incarnational presence of your community is ultimately about letting the Spirit of God re-orient everything about you.”iii
A Picture of Citizenship
This citizenship process is difficult, but not impossible. In Acts 2, we get a clear and beautiful glimpse of what happens when God’s people surrender to His Spirit and His Kingdom way; the Good News that God offers Himself to all is proven when He empowers those who say yes to respond by offering their all.
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:37-47).
The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Wow. Yes please, Lord! So how does the Kingdom advance in this passage? Notice what begins to happen when hearers of the Good News let the Gospel take over in their own lives. It infiltrates every area of their devotion and action, and soon other people start to notice. And then those other people begin to surrender their all to living in the Good News of the Kingdom and the Spirit-led cycle continues.
Peter shows us the need for clear preaching and admonition, but this movement exploded because people believed what he said about Jesus with not only their minds, but their hearts and voices and wallets and calendars and homes and refrigerators. That’s evangelism.
Devoted. Everyday. Everyone. Everything.
I’ve read and prayed through this passage so many times over the years because it’s this type of abundant life that I covet for my family and my church and my neighbourhood. But when I opened again to Acts 2 the other day, God’s Spirit nudged me to consider whether I myself am living as a devoted citizen of God’s Kingdom. The conversation went like this:
Spirit: “All the believers were together.”
Cailey: “You mean, like, in the-same-place-spending-time-together type of together? Or emotionally together—like a shared purpose?”
Spirit: “All the believers were together. Every day they continued to meet together.”
Cailey: “I can dig it! With a few people. I’m kind of introverted, as you obviously know.”
Spirit: “All the believers were together.”
Cailey: “Like, the ones I get along with?”
Spirit: “Nope. All.”
Cailey: “How about the ones I know I can trust?”
Spirit: “Nope. All. Trust Me.”
Cailey: “How about the ones who have the same core value statements?”
Spirit: “They had everything in common.”
Cailey: “You mean like they lent each other their stuff?”
Spirit: “Yes. And they shared their pain. And their joy. And their love for the place where I planted them. That’s why they sold property to give to anyone as they had need.”
Cailey: “As in, when they could afford it they gave offerings to support people who were trying to get back on their feet.”
Spirit: “No. I mean they sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”
Cailey: “What if they don’t deserve it?”
Spirit: “What do you deserve?”
Cailey: “Touché, Lord. But what if they misuse the gift?”
Spirit: “If you’re asking that question, it wasn’t a gift.”
Cailey: “I don’t think I can do this.”
Spirit: “That’s why you have them! And Me!”
The Gospel news of God’s presence, His reign, and His constant, all-out search has been the reality since the beginning of time and is the reality today. Yes, one day we will have fully-realized heavenly life when the darkness of sin and separation from God no longer seeks to block out the warmth and light of Christ and the radiance of His Bride (us living together in the unity of the Spirit). But the Kingdom is already among us, as Jesus declared and His people have been declaring for twenty centuries.
When we—the citizens of that Kingdom—submit ourselves to the reign of the King, aligning our will with His, our very lives will point to this Good News, and our “evangelistic” declaration of truth will no longer be a hollow and awkward statement of beliefs, but a simple and natural explanation of why and how our lives are marked with contagious and brilliant Light. Sounds like good news to me!
Next week, we’ll jump into Advent by taking a look at some of the Old Testament promises and prophecies about Jesus, and the strong thread of a Kingdom of Justice that winds its way throughout history and Jesus’ teachings while He was here on earth.
ii. Graphic and quote from Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, The Tangible Kingdom Primer: An Eight-Week Guide to Incarnational Community (CRM Empowering Leaders: 2009): 201
iii. Ibid: viii.