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Friday, September 7, 2012

Kingdom-Minded: Living for Something Bigger Than Me

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As I've really begun to understand God's grace and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God over the past few months, I've discovered, probably more than anything else, a sense of FREEDOM that I never had before. I don't know if I can adequately explain the previous disconnect in my thinking or how exactly the shift in my thinking has so drastically changed my perspective, but it has a lot to do with recognizing that as Christians, as we are being transformed to look more like Christ, we are not so much being made into something completely new and foreign as we are being RESTORED to God's original design for us. I guess you could say I've come to believe the Christian life is less about striving to overcome my identity and more about learning to fulfill it as God intended, and that makes transformation seem a lot less overwhelming to me and a lot more exciting!

Along these same lines, I've realized that the Bible is not filled with arbitrary commands for Christian living but rather glimpses of how we can represent God's King-dom (that is to say very simply, His governing rule) in our lives. This frees us from the misconception that we need to know every individual instruction directed at believers, because the point is not to memorize every single principle but to live in a way that shows God, not SELF, is on the throne in our lives. Old Testament Law and New Testament principles are not an end in themselves but are a means to an end. The goal is to reflect God's Kingdom to the world around us. 

Clearly, this shift in perspective doesn't change the fact that transformation is a lifelong process that comes with challenges and trials.  But understanding God's original design for humanity and that our transformation is actually a restoration of that design, and understanding as well what it means to represent His Kingdom here on earth, come together give us a bigger picture for the Christian life that makes it not only less overwhelming but also more meaningful and exciting.

As these shifts in my thinking have been taking root and I've been finding more freedom in my understanding of the Gospel, I've oddly found myself feeling weighed down by a lot of what I hear in messages from Christian leaders. This can come in the form of sermons, Facebook posts, books, blogs, magazine articles, etc. For a while I couldn't put my finger on a reason, but I am finally realizing that I feel weighed down because many of these messages, while they convey Kingdom principles and challenge the listener to live by them, don't really acknowledge the Kingdom. More often than not it seems the greatest motivator we are given for Christian living is along the lines of it making us more like Christ, building our character, etc. And that's all well and good and true, and granted that in and of itself brings glory to God, but it seems as though that kind of thinking essentially puts ME back at the center of the story, and it's become abundantly clear to me that that's not where I belong. 

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It's also become clear to me that I quickly lose heart when I imagine myself at the center of the story. I need something bigger than myself to live for. When Christian living becomes challenging and I find myself struggling, I quickly lose motivation if the greatest aim I'm aware of is my own personal development, because at best that feels anti-climatic and at worst it feels rather hopeless. But when I begin to realize that Christian living is more about representing God's Kingdom to the world around me, then it becomes invigorating, even with all its challenges, because it's serving something much more epic than my own personal story. This doesn't make Christian living less challenging, but it does make it feel a lot less burdensome and a lot more meaningful, and that gives me a lot more motivation to press on when things get difficult. 

I just think our purpose as the Church is a lot more significant than many of us recognize, and I think if we really understood the Gospel of the Kingdom we would be living lives of greater freedom and purpose, and the messages we relay as Christians would be less about what Christian living is intended to do for our own personal lives and more about what it is intended to do for the sake of the Kingdom of God!

I actually composed the above thoughts a few days ago, but sometimes it's such a labor to articulate my thoughts, I have to take some time away from something I've written and come back to it later with a clearer mind to see if it even makes sense. In the meantime I came across the following paragraph in Chuck Colson's book How Now Shall We Live, which succinctly described almost exactly what I was trying to say in my first paragraph...
Christ's resurrection is only the beginning of the story of redemption. At Pentecost, the risen Christ sent forth the Holy Spirit into the lives of believers, to work out his purposes in their lives. Today as well, all believers receive the power to become children of God, to be transformed and restored to our true nature, people created in the image of God. And we live as the community of hope, in eschatological expectation, knowing that Christ will return and establish his rule over all. God's redemption, then, does not change us into something different so much as it restores us to the way we were originally created. 
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Yes. You may have already read my final thoughts on Facebook, but here they are nonetheless:

The more I read the New Testament, the less I believe Christ's provision of salvation is intended primarily to draw me to a personal, individualized, private holiness, and the more I believe it is intended to draw me into right, restored relationships in ALL aspects of life ~ with God, people, creation, possessions, etc. The restoration of those relationships to God's original design is only possible when I'm submitted to God as the ruler of my life instead of trying to rule my own life, which is exactly where salvation ought to lead me. Thus, salvation should have effects that extend FAR beyond self.

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