Do you think you have a kingdom heart? When Jesus began preaching, he said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Shortly before Jesus went to the cross, he said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Speaking to the Colossian church, the apostle Paul wrote, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13). And to church at Ephesus Paul wrote, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
There are three important things to notice about those verses. First, the gospel is directly connected to the Kingdom of God. Second, when one repents and believes the gospel, they are conveyed (transferred) into the Kingdom of God. Third, they are defacto citizens of that kingdom. Therefore, when a person places their faith in Christ, they become citizens of the Kingdom of God. So, to be a Christian is to be a member of Christ’s kingdom.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that promotes a profoundly unhealthy understanding of the individual. Individualism has become the guiding virtue of contemporary society. That’s why commercials appeal to one’s sense of autonomy. Remember Burger King’s tag line, “Have it your way!” The false prophets of our day understand this. That’s why they appeal to people with lines such as, “Your best life now” – the emphasis on the word “your.” We love our autonomy and believe that we are the rightful sovereigns of our own life. One of the axioms of the occult is, “Do as thou will shall be the whole of the law.” Of course, one should not be surprised to see this in the world (the kingdom of darkness). However, people who believe they are Christians have an obligation to live differently.
One of the contemporary challenges churches face is preventing this individualism to become an unstated principle guiding how the church does ministry. One of the ways this happens is when the church has no real emphasis on spiritual authority. There are several ways one can either acknowledge or deny spiritual authority. The idea of Christians being accountable to one another is one expression of spiritual authority. In many churches’ accountability is simply absent from church life. People attend church. They listen to sermons and attend Bible studies; but when those things are finished, everyone goes on their way. If someone has sin in their life, it is usually ignored. It has almost become axiomatic in church life that speaking to people about their personal life is seen as improper. However, it must be recognized that Jesus taught something very different (Matthew 18). His ethic was one of the Kingdom of God. In His kingdom it is not the individual who is sovereign but the King – King Jesus (Luke 6:46). As such, every person is subject to His rule and authority. To be a sovereign individual is to deny the rule of Christ; and as such it is to live out the ethic of the kingdom of darkness.
For the church to counter the individualism of the kingdom of darkness it must begin to live under the rule of Christ. If His rule is recognized, then spiritual authority must be recognized. All authority is derived from God. Spiritual authority begins with the Trinity. From the Trinity the Father sends the Holy Spirit. It must be noted that the Holy Spirit fills both the individual believer (via the new birth) and also the church as a whole (1 Cor. 12). The church body is indwelt by the Spirit of God. It is the Holy Spirit who moved men to write the Bible (2 Peter 1:21). As such, the rule of Christ is expressed to spirit filled believers who understand that the Bible is their rule for life. Said in another way, the Holy Spirit leads believers to live a life of obedience before God. In a culture saturated with individualism, nothing written in this paragraph gives offense. Someone living as their own spiritual authority will recognize the truth of what is said here. They will happily read their Bible, listen to sermons, pray, and do ministry. They will also appeal to the Spirit leading them. It is not uncommon to hear people say, “The Lord said to me,” or “The Lord is leading me to do….” And while those things do happen, God does speak to people, the testimony of Bible is that Christ speaks to His church as whole. The rule of Christ is seen in His leading and, if you will accept it, commanding His church.
A couple of examples are helpful to see this. First, in Acts 13 the church that was at Antioch was praying together, one assumes during a time of worship. The Bible informs us that, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (v. 2). In contrast to contemporary prayer services where people are focused on their health needs (and very rarely their walk with Christ) the church at Antioch was seeking the will of God as a body. While we are not told the exact content of their prayers, we can assume what the Holy Spirit commanded was an answer to their prayers. They were not seeking to find answers to their personal problems (although there is nothing wrong with that) but were seeking to know how they can fulfill the ministry to which they were called. Also, it should be recognized that Barnabas and Saul did not hear from Christ apart from the church. While Christ may have spoken to their hearts, they did not have a personal call to be missionaries that did not involve the church. Their call came through the body as it was led by the Spirit of God. In other words, Christ’s authority over their calling and ministry was expressed through the church body. They heard the call and they (together) affirmed the call on Barnabas and Saul. As such, their missionary journey was a ministry of the church at Antioch.
Another example is seen in chapters two and three of the book of Revelation (actually seven examples). Jesus calls upon each church and speaks to them about where they are spiritually. As He addresses the churches, He tells them what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong and therefore where they need to repent. It is instructive to note that Jesus demands they repent, or He will “remove their lampstand” (Rev. 2:5). To the church at Thyatira He even threatens those who are involved in some form of sexual immorality because of a woman referred to as Jezebel. He threatens, “I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev. 2:23). It’s worth noting that Jesus calls those who are committing sexual immorality to repent publicly. Jesus is not having a private conversation with each man or woman involved in the sin. There is biblical warrant to assume that He is trying to bring conviction on their hearts. But when Jesus address the sin, He does not shy away from calling out the entire church and making everyone one involved in the sin accountable to the church. In short, Jesus is expressing His spiritual authority in the church body and, one can assume, He expects the church to act on what He commands. And that is really the point. When one recognizes spiritual authority, they recognize that it comes to the church and through the church as a whole.
Many of the things Christ commands His church has nothing to do with addressing sin in the body. Much of it has to do with fulfilling what we call the Great Commission. Christ said that He, Himself would build His church (Matt. 16:18); and He would do so on the profession of faith as evidenced in Peter’s confession of Christ. Before he ascended to the Father, He gave the command that the gospel would be preached to all the nations. In Matthew’s account of the Great Commission is added the important dimension of making disciples of all nations. Acts 11:26 informs us that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” The mission of the church, according to the One who created it, then, is to preach the gospel, make disciples of Jesus (followers who obey), and to do these things throughout the entire world until every nation and tribe has the ability respond to the gospel (Matt 24:14). The church that recognizes spiritual authority understands that these things are not an accessory to church life, but the very reason the church exists. To fail to do them is to deny the authority Christ has over His church. To relegate them to secondary importance is to turn the church into a bastion of rebellion against Christ. He is the authority of the church, and He mediates his authority through the Word, the Holy Spirit, and through the elders who help the church understand the Word and encourage them to obey the Spirit. His authority is not optional, it is essential for church life.
In the beginning of this article the reader was asked a question: Do you think you have a kingdom heart? The question gets to the heart of the issue. A person with a kingdom heart has placed the rule of Christ at the center of their life. This means that they listen to Christ, follow Christ, obey Christ, and seek to make Christ known. It also means they understand that the most important thing Christ is doing in the world is not through an individual (they or anyone else), but through His church. As such, while they seek to listen, obey, follow, and make Him known, they do so as a member of the Body of Christ, His church. Such people have learned that individual, lone ranger Christianity is imply a falsehood. They have surrendered their autonomy to Christ (take up your cross daily and follow me), and humbly submit to His spiritual authority in all things.
Why does this matter? If the church is to successfully fulfill the great commission, it must learn, teach, and uphold this vital component of church life: spiritual authority. A Christian who recognizes no spiritual authority but themselves, is essentially living a life of denial. How does a Christian fail to recognize spiritual authority? There are several ways this can be done. First, they live a life of lone ranger Christianity. While they recognize Christ as their Savior, they have at best a loose association with the church. In other words, they put their lives and things they want to do in life, above the commands of Christ. Note again that the great commission is a function of church life – it is the very reason it exists. To not actively be a part of the great commission in the context of the church is to deny the command. Note again, in Antioch the prayers of the church revolved around the Great Commission (see also Acts 4:23-31). And the calling of Barnabas and Saul happened while the church was praying together.
A second way a Christian fails to recognize spiritual authority is to do what is right in their own eyes. It was during the time of the judges that the phrase was coined. Judges 17:6 somberly tells us that, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” While they did not have a king in the manner of the surrounding nations, God made it clear that He was their King (1 Samuel 8:7). The way God sought to rule His people was first through his Word as seen in the law, and second through the judges, priests, and prophets which would lead the people to obey the law. Though those things were still in place, the people become a law unto themselves. In other words, they lived according to what they thought was right despite what God declared to be true. There are many Christians who know the Word but still allow their own judgment and even the judgment of the world to guide how they live (see Proverbs 3:5-7; 14:12).
A third way a Christian fails to recognize spiritual authority is to fail to apply the gospel to their own life. The number of people who live the gospel is far smaller than those who claim belief in the gospel. Jesus said that, “the Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). This does not mean that He is not sovereign over the nations, history, and the church, but that His rule begins in one’s heart. The gospel is not something to simply believe. The gospel is and was always meant to be lived. That’s why Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to help those in need, and to be earnest in prayer, praise, and worship. It is also why we are commanded to repent. Repentance is not a once in a lifetime act. It is a daily surrender to the will of God, renouncing sin, self, Satan, and the world. It is an acknowledgement that in my flesh I cannot successfully obey, follow, or serve Christ. It is the confession that I need Him to fill me with His Spirit. It is looking away from a life of self-reliance to embracing a Christ centered, Spirit filled life that happily embraces the rule of Christ.
A kingdom heart is a Jesus filled heart that desires to do all His will.
Do you have a kingdom heart?