The good news of Jesus is much more than just “here’s how you get to heaven one day when you die.” Jesus came preaching that the kingdom of the heavens was near. In fact, as God’s king, Jesus came to make it possible for all those who trusted in him to be welcomed back into God’s kingdom right here and right now. We’ve been invited to repent of our rebellion against this universe’s true King, and to instead follow him into life to the full.
Jesus offers life to the full; eternal life. But he defines eternal life as knowing the Father and the Son. That means that life to the full begins this side of the grave. Rather than worrying about surviving in this world, Jesus calls us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Our Father in the heavens, said Jesus, loves us and knows all that we need.
If we once come to realise that life in God’s kingdom truly is the best life, the life we were made to live; if we come to realise even a fraction of how much God loves us, then seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness first will make more and more sense. We’ll start to see how living in God’s kingdom gives us the fullest life possible.
But how do we actually go about seeking God’s kingdom? We suggested last weekend that it includes living moment by moment as Jesus would if he were us. How would Jesus live in complete compatibility with God’s will if he were in my circumstances?
We have to ask ourselves if we are willing to trust God enough to actually do what he says. Do I actually believe that it is better to give than to receive? Do I actually think forgiving someone 70 times 7 times is the right way to act? Do I actually love my enemies? Do I take Jesus seriously when he says that my holiness should surpass that of the Pharisees – some of the strictest legalists of Judaism back then? When my enemy curses me, do I bless them back? Do we bow to God’s will, or do we assume that what God says and Jesus taught is just a little bit out of teach with “reality”?
Seeking the kingdom of God means choosing to live in obedience to the king. I can hardly say that I am seeking the kingdom of God first if I refuse to obey the king when it doesn’t suit me. In that case, I would really be seeking my kingdom first, since my will would trump God’s will in certain conditions.
In Romans 7:21ff, Paul wrote that he had discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. [That is, I want to do what God wants.] But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
Seeking the kingdom of God doesn’t come naturally to sinners. But there is hope. Paul continues: Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus sets us free to seek the kingdom of God. But we need to actually seek it. As a member of San Churros, I get something for free on my birthday. But I don’t think I’ve ever actually taken the offer up – which makes the offer all but meaningless in my life!
Taking up God’s offer means offering our bodies, which were in slavery to sin, to God. And it means allowing God to renew our minds, which continue to naturally want to follow the well-worn tracks of sin. If we, as citizens in and through Jesus, are to live lives worthy of God’s kingdom, we need to be trained in godliness. Just as one doesn’t drift into physical fitness, one doesn’t simply drif into spiritual maturity. One doesn’t wake up one morning and find that one naturally thinks and acts like Jesus. One has to work out to get fit, and one has to train to be godly. (And being godly doesn’t merely mean knowing the right thing to do. I usually know the right thing to do, and then don’t do it! It means doing it naturally, as a matter of instinct. And instinct is something that needs developing.)
The goal of being trained in righteousness is that we naturally do what is right. It’s one thing to trust that God loves us and wants what’s best for us. It’s another thing to actually choose to live that out. And it’s another thing to actually act to live that out. There are various means at our disposal to train us in godliness. But the best example of a godly lifestyle is found in the only One who trusted God perfectly, and actually acted on that trust: Jesus. If you want to learn how to play footie, don’t do what I do on the footie field. Copy the best player on the best team. If we want to be godly, the best example is the God who became one of us. In apprenticeship to him, we can learn the essential rhythms of a life that seeks God’s kingdom and his righteousness first.
Seeking the kingdom of God first does involve effort. But it isn’t an effort to enter the kingdom. It’s an effort to grow into the people that God has already declared us to be. And it’s an effort simply to let God work in me by his grace. I can’t cool my core body temperature – but I can go and stand under the air-conditioner. I can’t transform my mind, but I can let God transform it (Romans 12:1-2).