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About the Author
Alan Andrews, former U.S. director for The Navigators, is general editor. Other authors are Dallas Willard, Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, Keith J. Matthews, Bill Hull, Keith Meyer, Peggy Reynoso, Paula Fuller, Bruce Demarest, Michael Glerup, Richard E. Averbeck, and Christopher Morton.
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The Kingdom Life
A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation
By Alan Andrews
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2010 The Navigators
All rights reserved.
The Gospel of the Kingdom and Spiritual Formation
Element 1: The gospel of the kingdom is the realm of God's active goodness in forming us in Christ as we follow Him. The kingdom of God is grand, majestic, and full of beauty. We come to understand the kingdom by repenting and simply becoming apprentices of Jesus in His kingdom.
Description: Jesus said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15, NASB). God invites us to repent, believe, and follow Him in discovering the beauty of His kingdom. We are privileged to step into eternal life as we enter the kingdom of God (see John 17:3).
The apostle Paul said, "For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13-14, NASB). The kingdom of God is the realm of God's action, His resurrection life, and His mission. We are invited to be His followers and learn from Him as He is active in us and around us. We are called to enter into eternal life that begins the moment we enter the kingdom through Christ to be conformed to His image. We are His apprentices.
In Him are hidden "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). The complexity of the kingdom is the vastness and infinite beauty of God's realm that we will be discovering for all of eternity. The simplicity is that we discover all of the complexity of the kingdom by simply following Jesus. As we follow Him, we are also formed in Him.
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There is a deep longing among Christians and non-Christians alike for the personal purity and power to live as our hearts tell us we should. What we need is a deeper insight into our practical relationship with God in redemption. We need an understanding that can guide us into constant interaction with the Kingdom of God as a real part of our daily lives. — Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines
To enter into the fullness of human life as God intended it — and thus become the kind of persons we would expect from looking at Jesus and His teachings — requires us to live our lives in the kingdom of God. Constant and whole-life interaction with the kingdom of God is the spiritual atmosphere of steady progression in Christlikeness. The New Birth — the birth "from above" — is precisely birth into the kingdom of God (see John 3:5). The apostle Paul described it as being "rescued ... from the domain of darkness, and transferred ... to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13, NASB).
That is the beginning of new life in Christ. At that point we are in the kingdom. It has claimed us, but it is not yet in much of what we are. That is where spiritual growth or formation comes in. Jesus therefore directed us continually to seek the kingdom — which can be thought of as God in action, more than anything else — and to seek the kind of rightness or goodness characteristic of that kingdom. That is, we are called to intensely look for it everywhere. Then, Jesus said, everything else that we need will be provided (see Matthew 6:33).
You will notice that the emphasis here is upon what we are to do. Like many other key passages in the New Testament, we are called to well-informed action in the process of our own spiritual growth. The agencies of the kingdom — especially of the Word and of the Holy Spirit — are also essential. But we can trust them to do their part. What we must attend to is our part. The chapters that follow are designed to help us do that. They help us understand the relationship between living in the kingdom of God and spiritual formation. They help us understand what Christian spiritual formation is and how it develops. What is the nature of the changes involved, and what brings them about? In this first chapter, I want to pay special attention to several points about the kingdom of God that we must get right in order for spiritual transformation toward full Christlikeness to progress as it should.
Let us begin by noting that ifwe do not preach the gospel of the kingdom of God as Jesus did but preach some other gospel — of which there now are several — we cannot truly progress in the formation of character into Christlikeness. That is because the message preached will have no essential connection with constant spiritual growth. We need to announce (preach), teach, and manifest the good news that Jesus Himself announced. That good news is of the availability of life now in the kingdom of God by placing our confidence in Jesus as the Lord of all (see Matthew 4:17,23; 9:35; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43; Romans 10:9-10; 14:17). Unfortunately, this is not the gospel generally given out by Christians today, and that is one reason why spiritual transformation into Christlikeness is not the routine or normal course of Christian life.
Here is an actual statement about what it means to trust Christ, by one of the most well-known evangelical ministers of our day:
When you trusted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, here is what you did. You placed your trust in Jesus' death at Calvary, who bore your sin and your iniquity and your wickedness and your vileness on the cross, and as a result God punished Him for your sinfulness and made it possible for you to be forgiven because He is your substitute.
That is all. This very fine and influential Christian minister then proceeded to try to elaborate his view of atonement and of what it means to trust Jesus Christ into an account of our identification with Christ that would include a transformation into actual Christlikeness. But the facts of Christian living today simply do not bear out the connection he wished to make. Transformation through identification with Christ is not forthcoming for any but a vanishingly small percentage of those who have "placed their trust in Jesus' death at Calvary." Or else we must say that they did not actually so place their trust — an alternative that almost no one would be prepared to take.
What Is the Kingdom of God?
The deeper cause of the obvious fact that transformation into Christlikeness is not the routine or normal course of Christian life is our failure to understand what the kingdom of God is and what it is like to live in it. If we are to seek it in all we do, what exactly are we seeking for? What would it be like to find it in what is around us and in all we are doing? In order to answer these questions we have to return to the source of the idea of the kingdom of God, which is the historical experience of the Jewish people, recorded in the Old Testament. What the kingdom of God is stands out most strongly and clearly in the Psalms.
Psalm 145:8-13 gives us some helpful perspective:
The Lord is gracious and merciful;
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
The Lord is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works.
All Your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord,
And Your godly ones shall bless You.
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom
And talk of Your power;
To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts
And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations. (NASB)
The basic teaching about God in the Old Testament is His dominion over all creation forever and His immediate presence to all who call upon Him. Of course, this is a vast subject that had to be worked out in detail through a slow historical process, and there were many misunderstandings that had to be resolved. But at least within the covenant community of Israel, the idea arose that God's knowledge and power are immediately available to those who call upon Him. The theological doctrines of the omnipresence and omniscience of God translate into real life — a reality you see constantly throughout the Psalms and other parts of the Old Testament. Consider that marvelous verse, 2 Chronicles 16:9: "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong in behalf of those whose hearts are blameless toward Him" (AMP). There you have both omniscience and omnipresence.
We also see this in the Twenty-third Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" (verse 1, NASB). Psalm 23 is a kingdom psalm; it's about what life is like in the kingdom of God. But the reality of the kingdom of God is His presence to all — to everyone and everything on earth immersed in His loving care. We can think of many wonderful verses, such as Psalm 55:22: "Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken" (NASB). Peter picked this up in 1 Peter 5:7: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." Psalm 34:15 says that "the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry" (NASB). In Psalm 73:28 we read, "But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works" (NASB).
A God of Active Care
At the center of biblical teaching, then, is the idea of an all-loving and all-powerful God who is in action, for us and with us. He is not passive. He is not distant. He is not indifferent. "He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber" (Psalm 121:3, NASB). All of these teachings are about the nature of a God who is in action. If you compare the pagan classical thought of Aristotle, Lucretius, and others, you will find variants of God in which He is aloof or He doesn't care or He can't act because He's limited. It is characteristic of the biblical teaching about God to fly in the face of such views — no doubt because of the experiences of God's ancient people — and to portray an active God who is not only at work in the universe but is always moving toward those who are open to receive Him.
Now the Jews had many problems in coming to understand all of this. When we look at their history not as a series of accidents but as planned out by God — from the Exodus to the wilderness wandering to the period of the judges to the assumption of the monarchy (which God said He didn't want in the first place) to all of the difficulties that the kings went through and the nation experienced and then finally to the Exile — we get a sense of their great discovery (especially in the exile from Jerusalem) that God is still God no matter what happens to you, and that wherever you are, God rules from the heavens. The idea of a "God of heaven" emerges in Daniel, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. You get from those Scriptures the notion of the "kingdom of the heavens," and after a few centuries, the fruit of this idea is harvested in the gospel of Matthew. Matthew used that phrase — "the kingdom of the heavens" — over and over to express the fact of the direct, immediate availability of God to those who call upon Him and especially, of course, to His covenant people. It is the favored way in Matthew of expressing the message of Jesus — the good news.
The idea that God is God of the "heavens" — that is, of the surrounding atmosphere — is a primary part of the revelation of Jehovah to His select people, from Abraham on. The texts of Genesis and following make this clear. For example, even those who from afar knew of Israel's experience with God understood this. Rahab told the spies sent into Jericho how she and her people had heard of them and how "our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath" (Joshua 2:11, NASB). What God had done in Egypt and in the wilderness was widely known. In the final song of Moses he said, "There is none like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to your help, and through the skies in His majesty. The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deuteronomy 33:26-27, NASB). That was a vital part of God's revelation: not just to Israel but to the whole world. But it took the harrowing events of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile to bring to the Jews an understanding that God was not bound to a special place (Jerusalem, cp. John 4:21) and that He was still present and in action where there were no visible manifestations in the surrounding heavens. That is the lesson of the interbiblical period, which ripens in meaning until it comes out of the mouth of John the baptizer.
Think About Your Thinking
Now, a problem arises in how to move our understanding of the kingdom of God beyond the covenant people and deal with the kind of ethnocentricity that comes from being publically marked out as God's special people on earth. Being chosen by God is a huge burden to carry. One reason the world is chronically angry with the Jewish people is that they are God's chosen people. They are the chosen people, and they stand in the midst of the earth as a chosen people. Those not chosen have trouble getting over that fact. They resent it and resent the Jews. But God's intention with Israel always lay beyond Israel, for He said, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6, NASB). This calling lies in God's word to Abraham: "In you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:3, NASB). Israel is not for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of the world, as today the church is not for the church, but for the world.
We must come back to this outward movement of the kingdom of the heavens, but for now we must be clear that Jesus emerged into world history from among this chosen people of God. He didn't come to the Greeks or to the Egyptians. He came to a people that had been prepared by their experience to understand what the kingdom of the heavens and the kingdom of God are all about. As we have seen, if you read the Psalms with an eye to the kingdom, you'll see they invariably are testimonies to the nature and reality of the kingdom. They are excerpts from the lives of people who loved that kingdom, though often in misguided ways. At the center of the Psalms, you see the beauty of kingdom life. Jesus came after a period of time when all this had been slowly developing. The interbiblical period plays a crucial role in driving home the message that there is always a kingdom of the heavens, even in the absence of a place and a political kingdom through which it rules.
There is a kingdom of the heavens, a present governance by God, and understanding of it had matured to a high point (with still a ways to go) when John the baptizer came to speak in Matthew 3. His message was "Repent" (verse 2, NASB). One can hardly say that word today because of misunderstandings and false images. When we hear the word, we are apt to think of some man walking back and forth on the sidewalk with a placard that reads, "The end is near." But biblical repentance is a very important and instructive concept, and we cannot let it go. I like to translate metanoeite this way: "Think about how you have been thinking." Or "Get a thought about your thoughts, a thought beyond your thoughts." Think in the light of the fact of God's immediate presence and availability through Christ, so that you can now live in the kingdom of the heavens. Psalm 23 can be your daily existence. And that is open to everyone. "Whosoever will may come." Reconsider your way of thinking about your life — your plans, your fears, your hopes — in the light of that.
Opening the Doors of the Kingdom
The great change that Jesus brought in His person and His gospel was the openness of the kingdom to everyone, and first of all to those who were the rejected, the unacceptable, within Israel. That is the heart of His gospel. Jesus was bringing the kingdom of God to those whom the authorities — the religious leaders, scribes, and Pharisees — thought were hopeless and should be shut out. And so on page after page of the Gospels, we find Jesus sitting down with publicans and sinners, fellowshipping with them, and offending the authorities (see Luke 15:1-2).
With the doors of the kingdom wide open, the gospel of the kingdom of God came as a power into the world and began to do what Daniel said was going to happen. You will remember that in Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a great idol or statue. At its top was a golden head (Babylon) and at the bottom clay and iron for the feet and toes (the Roman Empire). And then, all of a sudden, a stone cut "without hands" struck the idol (verse 34, NASB). It smashed the idol, became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. It was a kingdom that would "endure forever" (verse 44, NASB). That stone, Daniel told the king, was the kingdom of God. "The God of heaven will set up a kingdom" (verse 44, NASB). That was the vision of the kingdom of God that came to Daniel even in exile. There the Israelites had begun to understand the true nature of the kingdom of God — "cut out without hands" (verse 34, NASB). It is independent of all human government or arrangement.
Excerpted from The Kingdom Life by Alan Andrews. Copyright © 2010 The Navigators. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: The Journey of TACT — Alan Andrews with Christopher Morton, 11,
Part 1: Process Elements of Spiritual Formation,
Chapter 1: The Gospel of the Kingdom and Spiritual Formation — Dallas Willard, 31,
Chapter 2: Communities of Grace — Bill Thrall and Bruce McNicol, 63,
Chapter 3: The Transformational Process — Keith J. Matthews, 87,
Chapter 4: Spiritual Formation from the Inside Out — Bill Hull, 109,
Chapter 5: Whole-Life Transformation — Keith Meyer, 141,
Chapter 6: Formed Through Suffering — Peggy Reynoso, 167,
Chapter 7: Participating in God's Mission — Paula Fuller, 197,
Part 2: Theological Elements of Spiritual Formation,
Chapter 8: The Trinity as Foundation for Spiritual Formation — Bruce Demarest, 227,
Chapter 9: The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Formation — Michael Glerup, 253,
Chapter 10: The Bible in Spiritual Formation — Richard E. Averbeck, 277,
Epilogue — Alan Andrews with Christopher Morton, 305,
About the Contributors, 331,