Jesus here was referring to the fact that we don’t need to worry about anything, that He’ll take care of our every need when we are first seeking after His kingdom and righteousness. This is a profound and powerful principle that I believe we too often either are unaware of or know, but do not put into practice.
Often, we accept Christ’s salvation, but fail to re-prioritize our lives and show true repentance. We fail to put off our old self and old ways and fully embrace the new life that we’ve been given. Like a traveler on the interstate, we see God’s kingdom like convenient rest stops along life’s highway that we seek after only when we are in need. As long as things are going well, we stay on life’s highway along with the rest of the world and take along with us only the gifts and essentials that we like for ourselves which He has freely given us.
We fail to seek after His kingdom first and take on His kingdom’s culture. Rather, we tend to just mix in some of it’s principles and practices so that we look good enough to be labeled a Christian to the world, but don’t fully become engaged in His kingdom. We pull the parts of God’s kingdom into our lives that we need or desire as long as we can agree with them and see them as beneficial. We mix in a little of His kingdom culture into our own, but fail to allow the Lord to transform and renew our mind as He desires to do.
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Because we fail to take on His culture and allow Him to renew and transform our mind, we limit His ability to work in and through us. We bring forth our will in our lives and not His.
As an example, in God’s kingdom culture, sin is sin. He doesn’t make it difficult to understand or confusing as we, of course, tend to make it. James 2 says that if we stumble in just one point of God’s perfect law, we have broken all of it. God, however, has not poured out His judgment on us, but made a covenant with us through which we receive His mercy instead of the judgment which we deserve. Jesus who was without sin, took on the punishment of our sins that we deserved. He now responds to our sins with mercy. We are expected to extend the same mercy to all even as God does for us. When we fail to take on the kingdom culture, we often show simultaneously favoritism and judgment as we consider some sins to be tolerable and some totally unacceptable based on the worldly culture that we are used to operating within. Instead of extending mercy, which triumphs over judgment as occurs in the kingdom culture, our worldly culture extends judgment and withholds mercy.
Don’t get me wrong, sin is still sin. Both judgment and mercy acknowledge sin for what it is. They are simply two different responses that we can choose when faced with other’s sin. Extending mercy is not sugar coating, ignoring, nor sweeping under the rug any sin. Mercy acknowledges the fullness of sin and the wrath and consequences deserved as a result of it in the same way in which judgment does, however these reactions produce very different fruits.
When we respond to sin with judgment, we ostracize others from ourselves and from God and also ostracize ourselves from God. James 4:11-12 informs us that there is only one Lawgiver and one Judge and we’re not either, only God Himself is. It also states that when we judge someone, we are not keeping the law, but breaking it. So when we react in judgment, we sin ourselves and end up in the same boat as the person that we’re judging.
However, when we respond to sin with love and mercy, we reconcile with others and God. Our response to sin should be aligned with the kingdom culture and not our worldly culture. In the kingdom culture, we are honest about sin and it’s consequences, but as a result, choose to respond to sin with love and mercy and not judgment. Love and mercy enable us to remain constructive in God’s kingdom, constantly building it up, whereas judgment causes us to become destructive to the work of the Lord.
In Matthew 9, Jesus was judged by the religious people (the Pharisees) because He was eating with sinners. Jesus, exposing to them the kingdom culture, challenged them to go and learn what it meant in Hosea 6 where God declared that He desired mercy and not sacrifice. How often do we sacrifice people with the sword of our tongue and with our judgmental hearts and thoughts instead of having a desire to extend mercy to them even as the Lord does to us?
As a disclaimer, God does send us through seasons of lovingly discipline us in order to reconcile and restore us to righteousness when needed – this is not to be confused with judgment. Again, the fruits of these are completely different and God’s discipline is a form of mercy and not of judgment. The time will come for judgment, but the judge is God Himself, not us; and the time for judgment and wrath is being saved for the last day and not during the duration of the last days which we now live in.
1 Peter 4:7-8
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
We see here that we are called to love each other deeply and in doing so, that love covers a multitude of sins because love motivates us to extend mercy. Mercy is just one of the kingdom values that we’ll be taking a look at over the next several weeks as we’re learning to take on the kingdom culture.
A starting point that cannot be overlooked, however, is to first emphasize the need for a relationship with Jesus by accepting His free gift of salvation through faith. Without this relationship, we are hindered from being able to be renewed and transformed as only He can do. We cannot take on the kingdom’s culture without a healthy relationship with God and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The kingdom’s culture stands in dark contrast to the worldly culture that we live in before salvation and can’t be understood or lived out in power without this relationship and the enabling and empowering of the Holy Spirit.
Learning and cultivating the kingdom culture in our lives requires a revelation which comes only through relationship that cannot be gained through religion or ritual. This is why so many of the religious people in Jesus’ day, even leaders themselves, did not perceive Jesus as their messiah. They were practicing the text law of God, but did not understand the heart of God behind the law because of a missing relationship.
We find revealed through the example of these people, some interesting realities that we must acknowledge.
One is that we can fully know the text word of God without knowing the living word of God who spoke it. John 1:14, referring to Jesus, says that the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. Those entrusted with the text word of God, who knew it and studied it thoroughly, did not recognize it when it stood before them face to face in the flesh. They adamantly denied who Jesus said He was and even put Him to death because of it. However, how often do we misunderstand and use the text word of God to deny Him and His works in the same way?
Another reality that we see presented through this is that we can be obedient to the text word of God and yet still be completely disobedient to God. This is one of those facts that sort of twists the way in which we think. In fact, I believe that obedience with the wrong motive and attitude is the worst form of disobedience. Jesus called the teachers of the word and the religious leaders in Matthew 23:27 hypocrites and whitewashed tombs. He said that they looked clean on the outside, but that they were full of death and uncleanliness on the inside. Again, the ones whom He was speaking to were ones who lived their lives committed and dedicated to follow the commands and decrees of the law with full obedience.
These ones may have been able to keep the letter of the law, however, they completely missed the spirit and the heart of the laws that they were so sure to remain obedient to. They adhered to the words of a God who they did not personally know, therefore replacing God with his word. They somehow transitioned to worshiping the text word of God instead of the one true God Himself.
Remember also that Satan tempted Jesus by requesting that He put into action the perfectly quoted word of God. If I were to ask anyone if it is Satan’s will and a temptation of his for us to live out the word of God, we would immediately answer ‘No!’. However, we see that this is exactly what he had done with Jesus. He did the same to Eve in the garden, quoting the word of God. We should not be ignorant of the fact that Satan still today causes us to fall into sin and turn away from a healthy relationship with God in the very same way – with the text words of God. It’s critical for this reason for us not only to thoroughly know God’s word, but also to maintain a healthy relationship with Him and to remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit as He speaks to us, teaches us, and leads us.
The word of God is inerrant, meaning perfect and free from error. It is also useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work as revealed in 2 Timothy 3:16. However, we must be cautious not to forget the the word of God is also God-breathed and alive and active as revealed in Hebrews 4:12. Knowledge of and acting out the word of God can never replace a personal relationship with God.
Even now in the natural, you can imagine how beneficial it would be to have a close relationship with someone who authors a book. When you read the text of their book, you would by far be able to comprehend and interpret what they are saying compared to someone who had never met the author. In fact, you could probably audibly hear them speaking the words from the pages and recall some stories that they might make mention of. If someone were to come to you and quote the book text perfectly, but apply it in the wrong way or take a meaning away from it that is inaccurate, you would be able to immediately recognize and refute it because of that personal relationship that you have with the author.
Scripture is no different. When we have the Holy Spirit, who authored the scriptures dwelling within us, He is able to use it to speak to us with proper interpretation and apply it to our lives personally today even though the words may have been written thousands of years ago. We also then can understand that the same God who spoke to these men over the course of history still speaks to us today because of our personal relationship with Him. 2 Corinthians 3:6 reveals to us that the letter of the law itself kills, but that the Spirit gives life. We simply cannot accept His word alone without the Spirit!
We have the opportunity and privilege of taking on the kingdom culture because of our relationship with the King. God personally reveals to us and teaches us about His kingdom so that we not only read the text of scripture, but also properly understand and apply it. This keeps us from getting things mixed up as we see occurring with men and women throughout scripture.
As another example, we find in Isaiah 1 that although Israel was obedient in following God’s word, they were still completely missing it. They, again, were following the text of His word, but missing the true heart and purpose of His word. Listen to what God had to say to them:
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Now in scripture, God had called Israel in the old covenant to perform these sacrifices and to bring forth these offerings and to assemble for these feasts and festivals. Yet, God said that by doing them, that they were sinning and disobedient. He said that He hated them with all of His being, despised them, and that they were a burden to Him. This was because they were missing the point and the true heart of what these rituals were intended for. They were just going through the motions that they knew God required of them, but with wrong motive. They also weren’t applying the heart behind these rituals and practices to other areas of their lives. God’s desire for them was that they do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, to take up the cause of the fatherless and plead the case of the widow. In Isaiah 58, we see this same rebuke from the Lord in regard to fasting. It wasn’t just the act of fasting that God desired, but that they set the oppressed free, feed the hungry, and clothe the needy.
In fact, in the kingdom of God, I believe that it is far less important in what we are doing and far more important in what we are being. David was just tending sheep, but he was a brave man and a warrior with a heart after God’s own heart. Gideon was thrashing wheat in a wine press hiding from the Midianites, but he was called a mighty warrior. For what we are being, we will eventually do. 1 Corinthians 4:5 reveals that at the time of our judgment, God will bring to light and expose the motives of our hearts. The Lord is more concerned with the motive behind our actions than the actions themselves. Some actions fully display their sinful motives for all to see, but many do fruitful good works, which give an appearance of godliness who will actually be cast away from the Lord because of their motive and lack of relationship with God. Jesus said:
22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
In His kingdom, we receive from Him by grace and not by works so that our only valid boast can be in the Lord. One who pridefully boasts in their giftings, their ability to be used by the Lord, or anything that they possess has obviously forgotten that everything that we have, even our very own lives, came from the Lord. We are merely stewards of all that He has given us.
We also must repent for just going through the motions of what we believe that God has required of us and performing works, even good works which bear good fruit, with wrong motives and start embracing our relationship with Him and take on His kingdom’s culture. We need to throw off our old values, attitudes, goals, and practices and replace them with His. We need to make it our absolute first priority to see His kingdom come on earth even as it is in heaven. Jesus set the example for us through His lifestyle, preaching, and demonstration of the power of God. He brought heaven to earth and in John 14:12 said that those who believe in Him, would do the same works and even greater! If we are believers, then we need to start cultivating in our lives the kingdom culture and begin to see these great works firsthand. After all, 1 Corinthians 4:20 reveals to us that the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power!
If you are hungry for a relationship with God and if you are hungry to see His work continue here on earth even as it is in heaven – to take on His kingdom’s culture, then I encourage you to come forward to the altar. We’re going to cry out together this morning for forgiveness for not embracing His kingdom culture, for not allowing Him to renew and transform our minds and ask that He begin to reveal His kingdom to us and that He use us to bring His kingdom on earth even as it is in heaven. We don’t want to miss anything that God has called and planned for us to do.
This morning, we honestly admit that we are sinners. We are in desperate need of a savior. We thank you, Jesus, for taking on the punishment that we deserve and accept your sacrifice in faith for our sins. Holy Spirit, reveal to us what the kingdom’s culture is like and cultivate that culture in and through our lives. We thank you that despite our shortcomings, that you are still willing and waiting to use us in mighty and powerful ways. We declare this morning that we are Yours! Come, Holy Spirit, and fill us and use us. Show us Your will and empower us to fearlessly and faithfully live it out. You setup the divine appointments and opportunities and we’ll make the most of them. Thank you for the might works that you have prepared for us and may you receive all of the glory, honor, and power!