Note: The following thoughts are observations and reflections from my life, my study, my talking to other pastors, my reading the Word, and my observing the church in America through conversation, reading, news, etc. They are not aimed at any one person. All, some, or none of it may apply to you. Take what, if any, does, and discard the rest—receive it as an invitation, not a condemnation . . .
I observed recently a person who was aware of someone near them that was frustrated and having a hard time emotionally. While the person who was aware of it was not actually doing anything unkind to the person having the hard time—they also weren’t seeking initiative to bless that someone else, or ways to show love to that someone else (and they were in a position to do so with a little cost and effort to themselves). In fact, they weren’t doing anything at all. That led me down the following road of thought . . .
If I were to say about someone, “that person is not doing what is right,” I think that many people would automatically assume the person I was talking about was actively doing something wrong. I don’t think, however, that this is the issue with many Christians. I think the issue is often that while we may not be doing “wrong” things, we are also not doing the right things. We are sort of existing, maybe even self-focused. Christian victory often seems to be seen as avoiding bad things and surviving through the day, week, year, and life instead of actively advancing the Kingdom and doing the works of Jesus (in love, service, witness, power, etc.).
James 4:17 says: So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. Avoiding bad things is not enough. We are to be doing good things. This is not legalistic earning of salvation or love—it is the fruit of a repentant, redeemed life born again of the Spirit, in surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, and committed to following Him in the truest, most simple sense of the word “follow” (to “follow” means to do what they are doing and to go where they are going—at least that’s what it seems to me).
For example—it is not enough to simply not be mean to someone. Jesus says we are to love them, and that is an active word. We are to be the ones to seek reconciliation. We are to be the ones to reach out. We are to be the ones to initiate love, and the first to forgive. We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus—His fragrance in their life.
Jesus said in Matt 25:41-45, "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' “ There is nothing in there chastising and warning them about doing bad things . . . it is all about not doing the good things!
Jesus told us that we, as believers, would do greater works than He, and that the signs that would follow us as we fulfill His commission to us would include healing the sick and casting out demons. While I recognize that all of our situations are different, and that we can’t minister to every need around us, and that we need to follow the Spirit’s leading and work where God is at work—the reality is that the New Testament is as much, if not more, filled with what we ought to be doing as born again believers as it is about what we shouldn’t be doing.
I am in the middle of a personal study on the Kingdom of God that I believe will transition in the near future to possibly the most important series I have ever taught. I have to come realize that if we were to ask most western Christians what the Gospel is, a large number of them would probably reply with an answer limited to sin, the cross, repentance and forgiveness, ending in salvation and heaven. This, however, is not the Gospel that John the Baptist declared, Jesus taught, or the Apostles carried forth with. Their’s was the Gospel of the Kingdom—the cross and salvation was the entry point to it. They taught a message of the Kingdom of Heaven (or of God) coming down and forcibly advancing—of the King’s dominion/rule (kingdom) coming over those previously under Satan’s dominion (the prince of this world). Jesus would tell His disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons and to tell the people the Kingdom of Heaven was there. He would say that if He cast a demon out of a person by the Spirit (or finger in other translations) of God that the Kingdom of God had come upon that person.
I can’t even begin to capture the Kingdom message in this short post, but I will put up links to the audio teachings when I start it. Suffice to say that the Kingdom message is a message of a forcibly advancing Kingdom warring against a demonic kingdom that holds the world in its sway. That is what was taught, and what we are told to preach. The Kingdom is what Jesus declared and taught during His ministry, it is what He taught in the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension to start the book of Acts (1:3), and it is the last thing we find recorded Paul teaching on from under guard in Rome at the end of Acts (28:30–31).
I believe that the problem with the Gospel as we have watered it down to is that there is no concept for Lordship outside of Kingdom. We seem to have watered it down to saying the right prayer and getting saved so we can go to heaven. When that is the high mark of the message it leaves us “getting saved” (having achieved the high point) and then waiting around for the rapture or heaven, doing some Christian “stuff,” and hoping we don’t mess up too bad between now and then. But in the Kingdom message we find Lordship—submission to a King, and serving that King in a war with another kingdom. Christians should be the army of a forcibly advancing Kingdom in war, but too often we seem to be defensive, passively accepting demonic attacks with maybe a prayer thrown their way, or just trying to hold on to ground we have rather than seeking to expand the ground. We defend instead of taking the offensive, and the hosts of hell love it when we take up the castle mentality.
Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. Gates do not attack—they are attacked! This is not a verse about hell’s gates marching around and not being able to destroy or take the church—this is a verse about hell not being able to withstand the church’s attack! If we are to bear the image of Jesus in this world, and to this world, we need to be a people advancing—a people initiating—the people who are first and strongest in love, service, power, initiating, forgiving, looking for ways to bless others (including our enemies), etc.
The only way a person can sit still and truthfully say they are “following” someone is if the person they are following is also sitting still . . . and I can guarantee that Jesus is not sitting still in this time in history, with billions who don’t know the reality of hell and the awesome message of salvation, the Father’s love, and the advancing Kingdom of God. Jesus is on the offensive, and if we are following Him we will be to. Yes, of course we need quiet time—time to grow intimate with our Father and learn His voice—Jesus modeled that for us also. But, the bulk of His recorded ministry time is ministering and advancing from a place of intimacy with His Father—doing what He saw the Father doing, and saying what He heard the Father saying. These are all verbs . . . and, in His Words, if we are worthy of Him, we are to take up our cross daily, deny ourselves, and follow Him.