What is the Kingdom of God Like?
I'm a pastor. I invite people to follow Jesus. It's my vocation, calling, and passion. Before becoming a pastor, I was a missionary on the college campus. I invited people to follow Jesus. There is nothing I want more than people to follow Jesus.
Over the last few years there is something that has significantly changed in the way I think about this calling and vocation. Not so long ago I would have said that I'm primarily concerned about people believing in Jesus. Getting folks to believe was the key step. I spent countless hours trying to convince people to place their faith in Jesus.
Belief and faith were the primary and central requirements that I was completely focused on.
Get folks saved, this was the key. There was nothing more important than that. Sure, I wanted people to grow in their faith and all the like, but seeing folks get saved was what mattered most.
I am someone who holds to what is known as “Reformed Theology.” One of the key beliefs we hold is that God is sovereign. Those of us who hold this theological system are what's known as “monergists.” That's a fancy way of saying that we believe that God is the one who does the saving of people.
It's confession time: For most of my life in ministry I didn't really believe any of that.
I would have said that I believed it. Often, I would argue for that position as being “biblical.” However, the way that I carried out ministry proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I believed that I was absolutely responsible for getting people saved. I didn't trust that God could do it without me. God needed me.
Something has significantly shifted in me over the last few years. I believe more deeply than ever in the mystery, magnitude, and greatness of God. I am more convinced than ever that God is more gracious, merciful, and good than we can even imagine. I am also convinced that I am not responsible for saving anyone. God indeed does that. He saves people. He changes people. In his radical grace and mercy he moves in people's lives.
So, if I don't have the responsibility to save people, what is my job as pastor? It is to help people follow Jesus. It is to make disciples.
To follow Jesus is exactly what it sounds like. We are to live like him. His life marked by grace, kindness, truth-telling, sacrifice, suffering, and joy is to be the life that we live. In his wisdom he commissioned his first disciples to make other disciples. In his wisdom he gifted some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. The responsibility of us all working together is to bring his people to maturity. What is a mature faith? It is a person who looks like Jesus.
Could you imagine a world where all the Christians lived like Jesus? Engaged the world like Jesus? What if people were living lives that were different enough from the rest of the world that people knew we were Christians by our love?
What if those of us who are pastors focused all of our attention on helping people actually live like Jesus? If that's the case, where do we turn for help in doing this? I think we can look to Jesus and what he's recorded as saying in the gospels.
I write all of this as an introduction and invitation to a new series of blogs on the parables. I have been spending quite a bit of time in them recently because they are fascinating and they are life giving.
The parables almost always seek to answer one question: What is the kingdom of God/heaven like? I'm beginning to see that they are also almost always pointing to how one is to live into the narrow way. I have been surprised to see an emphasis on living and acting in the parables as opposed to faith and belief. So often I expect Jesus to say, “Believe...” but he instead calls people to a lived a life. (This is not to devalue the need for faith. Jesus often says, “Your faith has healed/saved you.”)
What is the kingdom of God like? It is like a narrow way that leads to life.
Over the next few weeks we will explore that narrow way in the parables.