Old vs New Testament Series
Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of Heaven had come to men. What does that mean? How do we experience it? And why do so few people enter the fulness of it?
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
In this piece (Part 4 of our series on the differences between the Old and New Testaments), we are exploring the nature of the kingdom of heaven and the way we can have a living experience of it.In our next piece (the fifth and final part), we look at the practical application of the kingdom, and explore common questions on how Old Testament truths transfer to the New Testament - for example tithing, the sabbath day and more.
1 - THE CHRISTIAN WALK
We were all born into this world with its norms which govern us without our ever even realising it. Our thinking patterns are so imbedded, and so perfectly natural to our nature that we never question them. But when we read the Bible something peculiar happens. Take this passage for example:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” – Matthew 5:38-40
Words like these are so foreign to our thinking that they clash against our entire sense of intellectual reason. But most of us never admit that we feel uncomfortable with portions of the Bible. Instead, we ignore those bits and adopt a generally Christian approach to life, and it all goes fairly well until we are ‘slapped on the right cheek’ or ‘sued for our tunic,’ or worse. In the heat of the moment, offering a second cheek borders on the ridiculous. Instead we do what comes naturally to us – we fight, we insult, we make law-suits, we do whatever needs to be done to get out, or to get even. This is our human nature, a nature that cannot agree with words like:
“love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44
We know these words are impossible to live by, so we make peace with the fact that we will do our reasonable best. But the world looks at the contrast between our words and our actions and they laugh. And if that really is all the Christian life amounts to, then they may have a point. Are we just like the rest of the world except that we have more rules to follow and try harder to be good people? Absolutely not! What we are born into, what we are given when God redeems us is so infinitely beyond that. Paul describes it as:
“the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and... the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.” – Ephesians 1:18b-19a
We have been redeemed so that we could “taste the heavenly gift” and “the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:4, 5). And if that is true, where are these in our experience? That is the question posed by this piece. 2 - THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
In Part One of this series we discussed that when Jesus’ came to earth, God’s Kingdom came with Him:
“if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Matthew 12:28
“Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17
Heaven is the seat of God’s throne. It is the place where He dwells and the realm where His glory, His righteousness and His will permeates all things. Nothing is tainted, nothing is corrupted by evil or decay. It is a place where light infuses everything, life flows through everything, hope never fades, and love is the nature of all its creatures. All God upholds finds it's perfect expression there, without limit, without challenge and without end. This is the realm where the infinitude of God’s power is on full display. This is also the realm that God will welcome His children into at the end of all days.
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool.” – Isaiah 66:1a
We do not have to wait until we get there to taste the goodness of heaven, we can “taste the heavenly gift” now. We do not have to wait until we die to know “the powers of the age to come”, it is waiting for us now. Nor do we have to wait till then to experience God’s presence, He is calling us to enter it now.
God is the treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven. God’s presence there is what makes it all it is. He is why it is glorious, why it is beautiful beyond description. But the mystery of the New Testament is that God comes to us. He comes and makes His home within us – He is here! If we could even begin to comprehend the meaning of that one statement our entire lives would be changed forever.
When we become children of God, because of the presence of God in us, we have access to the kingdom of heaven. Through fellowship with God we experience the reality of an entirely different plane of existence. In that place the only economy is the will of God. All things are done according to His pattern of perfection, of love and of righteousness. Everything functions differently there to how it does on earth. In short, the kingdom which God has called us into looks absolutely nothing like the kingdom which God has called us out of.
3 - THE WORLD
The world is the domain of Satan. His character is what governs its norms because all are under the power of sin and therefore under his influence.
“the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” – 1 John 5:19b
For that reason he is called the ‘god’ of this world because all men follow him and all will worship him:
“ the god of this world has blinded the minds of them who believe not” – 2 Corinthians 4:4
“and all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon... that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan” – Revelation 13:3a-4b, 20:2
We were born into this domain of Satan. We were children of this world. We adopted the norms, the belief systems and the habits of this world – because they were already imbedded in our carnal nature. By ‘carnal nature’ we mean the human nature we inherited through Adam (as we discussed in Part 2), a nature that always gravitates towards sin.
“through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” – Romans 5:12b
The trouble we find then comes when we are called to God. Suddenly all that was normal and acceptable and second nature to us in this world, are confronted by the norms and nature of an entirely different kingdom. And these two kingdoms are opposite poles, at war with each other. So when we seek to enter God's kingdom, we soon discover that we also want to resist it. And a war begins to rage inside of us.
4 - OUR SOLUTION vs GOD’s SOLUTION
Our solution to calm this storm is to wrestle with our carnal nature. We try to hold back our sinful urges. We attempt to reign in our thoughts and rebuke our desires. We try to discipline ourselves into godly submission. We think that if we can manage to exercise enough self-control, that we will win this battle – but none of us ever do. We never will because it is impossible to. In fact, that is not even what God expects us to do.
God does not want to redeem our carnal nature. He does not want to fix it or polish it up. God doesn’t even want to make it a tiny bit better than it is. That nature is fallen, it is “sold under sin” (Romans 7:14) and it was condemned to death when Jesus hung on the cross (see Part 3).Even if the old nature could be redeemed, it would still be useless to us in our pursuit of God and His kingdom. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is a spiritual kingdom, and our old nature is carnal – it is of the earth – and therefore bound to the tangible physical world. It cannot access the spiritual realm.
5 - THE SPIRITUAL REALM
The best way we can describe what we mean is through the illustration of sound waves. There are sounds that our human ears can hear. And then there are sounds that go higher than our ear drums can receive. We have equipment that can read their presence, but we cannot hear them with our human ears. They are no less real than the ones we can perceive, the only difference is that our receivers (our ears) cannot recognise those sounds. There are also sounds lower than we can hear. Elephants and whales communicate this way, we could be in their company and not even know they are doing it since our ears can only receive a certain band of frequencies within a much broader spectrum of possible sound.
This is much like it is with the spiritual realm. Things that exist in spiritual form are just as real and as tangible as the physical ones are – except that they are only manifest to those who can receive the spiritual spectrum of experience.
“All flesh is not the same flesh, but there... are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies... There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” – 1 Corinthians 15:39-40a, 44b
Our human bodies are created to interact with the physical world through our five senses. And our soul interacts with the physical world through its 3 faculties: our intellect (designed to comprehend the world), our emotions (to connect with it) and our will (to affect it). Our carnal nature is the sum of body and soul, and it is perfectly designed to function in the natural world. But that same nature is useless to the spiritual realm.
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God... nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” – 1 Corinthians 2:14
In order to discern spiritual things, we need spiritual faculties. So for us to interact with the kingdom of heaven (which is a spiritual kingdom), we need a new spiritual nature - one perfectly designed for that task. That is why God’s solution in redeeming us from our carnal nature is to replace it with a new, better nature. Therefore we need to have a spiritual birth, as Jesus says:
“unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5b
Just as we were born into a physical body, able to experience the world around us, so we must be born of the Spirit to experience the kingdom.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’” – John 3:6
How does this spiritual birth happen? You may recall that in Part 1 of this series we discussed how God’s solution to our sin was to place us “in Christ”. That way, His righteousness could be imputed to us. Here we find another facet of that truth. Jesus is the heavenly Man, He is God therefore He is Spirit.
“God is Spirit.” – John 4:24a
When God places us in Jesus, we are transformed from earthly (or carnal) creatures, into heavenly (or spiritual) ones.
“The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit... The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” – 1 Corinthians 15:45b,47-49
In Christ, His nature is imputed to us and we become heavenly creatures. We call this process being born of the Spirit, and only after we have this spiritual nature can we worship God “in spirit”.
“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” – John 4:24
This new birth is not something that gradually happens while we are raised in a Christian home. It is a spiritual transaction that happens in the blink of an eye. One moment we are creatures of this world, the next we are creatures of another world. If it were not instant then there would be a period of time when we belonged to both God and Satan – but that is not possible.
6 - A CHANGE OF KINGDOMS
We will us an analogy to make our point here easier. Let’s say a man is born in Germany and is therefore a German citizen, who speaks German and in all other ways is fully German. But this man loves the United States and wants to become an American. So he watches endless American movies until he can perfectly mimic the accent. He learns the cultural norms of American people and studies a book on the American Constitution. Over the course of a few years he gradually ‘Americanises’ himself. He may do this so well that others actually believe he is American – after all the outward evidence is there. But is he? No. He does not enjoy the privileges of American citizenship because those only come as a matter of legal standing, not as a result of cultural habit.
Countless sincere, precious people are attending church, reading their Bible’s and saying a prayer before bed time, believing that this is what makes them Christians. All the while deep inside there is a niggling doubt that they have done enough good deeds to qualify them as God’s children. But truly being God’s child is a matter of spiritual position, not cultural habits. Those habits are perfectly good, but the point is that they are not what turn us into Christians. We have to be placed in Christ, transplanted into the Kingdom of God, and given a spiritual nature, and only then are we its citizens. Only then can we enjoy the rewards of His Kingdom.
“Now, therefore, you are... fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” – Ephesians 2:19
Many of us have been frustrated and disillusioned with the gospel, thinking it is empty and dry simply because we tried to find Him with our old, carnal nature. And that nature could never find Him because it has no faculties suited to the task. God hides Himself in the heavenly realm, and once we have a new nature that is able to search for Him there, we very soon discover how sweet His words and His presence truly are. God's Spirit can now communicate with our spirit and show us the things of God.
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” – 1 Corinthians 2:12
So then it becomes critical for us to know if God has already placed us “in Christ” or not. And how can we tell? Those who have been spiritually born will know the moment, the day, the hour, and the very place they stood when it happened. But if there is doubt, there is a way to be sure.When we are born of the Spirit two things happen simultaneously: We are placed in Christ and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. His presence in us is the assurance that we are also in Christ.
“Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
“Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” – Romans 8:9b
This is something we can test for ourselves.
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” – 2 Corinthians 13:5a
If God’s Spirit is within us, we are aware of it because He gives us an unwavering certainty that if we were to die this instant we will go to heaven. We do not need to calculate how many good deeds we have done, or if we repented of that last sin. We won’t need to convince ourselves of the answer. We simply know that we know, that we belong to God. This is the witness of His Spirit within us.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” – Romans 8:16
“In Him (Jesus Christ) you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance...” – Ephesians 1:13-14a
But for some of us there is a frustration here. We have prayed the sinners prayer many times, yet that niggling doubt remains. And because we keep trying and nothing changes, we begin to wonder if it is all a lie, or if it is just us that are denied access. Neither are true. So let’s have a look at what may be causing the trouble.
7 - A DIVINE EXCHANGE
The soul is the seat of our old carnal nature and it is active from the moment we are born. This is where our human desires sit – a combination of our mind, our will and our emotions. This is our sense of self, it is what governs us. Our soul is the place we determine our course, and we stand as masters of our own destiny. Its desire to control our lives is a deeply ingrained survival mechanism. The soul will never give up its position of control – we want to rule our own lives, period.
But this carnal nature is fallen. So our soul, our sense of 'self,' is the thing that constantly desires the forbidden fruit, leads us into sin and away from God. This self-lordship is the nature of the kingdom of Satan. It is the domain of those who resist God’s authority over them because it is the domain of those who are governed by their souls. The soul does not trust God, it does not even like God.
“For the sinful nature is always hostile to God.” – Romans 8:7a
The trouble is that in order to become a Christian, our soul has to surrender itself to God. This it will never do by nature. So it takes an actual intervention on God’s part, a small miracle, to make us even search out a God who would rule over us. The fact that we look for Him is evidence that He is stirring us – because we will not look for Him of our own.So then for salvation to take place, we need to abdicate our self-lordship and hand the reigns of our lives over to God. This can be extremely difficult, and more so the older we get.Some of us fear God’s character, believing He will harm us if we get too close. Others believe the Christian life is suffocating with all its rules. And still others are scared that surrender will cost us earthly riches and pleasures. And finally there are those of us who will not offer up the beliefs we hold contrary to God’s truth.Unless our heart is ready to surrender authority to God, our ‘sinner's prayer’ is empty. We must believe in our hearts what we confess with our mouths or God will not respond.
“if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life” – John 3:36a
Believes (Strongs G4100)
To think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in.To trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith
Jesus is the Word manifest in the flesh. We cannot think we can believe in Him as a person but reject His teachings. So to “believe in the Son” is to believe in all He represents about God, eternal truth and ourselves. We need submit our own beliefs to His higher wisdom if we are to be His.Naturally we must also believe that He is God manifested in the flesh, that He died on a cross to save us from our sins, that He was resurrected and therefore can offer us eternal life and that He is the only way to the Father.
By this absolute confidence (or faith) in Jesus Christ we are saved.
“He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” – Hebrews 7:25
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” – Romans 5:1
In the book of Acts, Philip is lead by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel to a man who then asks if he can be saved and baptised. Look how Phillip replies:
“If you believe with all your heart, you may.” – Acts 8:37
But those of us who are very strong take longer to come to surrender, sometimes many years. We would rather trust in our own strength. Only when our best-laid plans have failed and we know our strength can’t save us anymore, when we have done all we can and spent ourselves in a futile attempt to succeed – only then do we look up to God and understand that His power alone can save us. And when our hearts are in this place, they echo our prayer for salvation and God hears us.
“from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard” – Daniel 10:12a 8 - ALL THINGS MADE NEW
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
Once God transplants us into the kingdom of heaven everything changes: not only are we given a new nature but also our citizenship, the laws that govern us and the economy we work in have all changed.We now have access to the heavenly realm through our new nature which has been brought to life by the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Just as God breathed life into Adam and he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). So Jesus breathes on us again, and we become living spirits in the second birth.
“And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ” – John 20:22
When we pray now, our words are heard in heaven. We experience God in ways we never expected. A burden is lifted off us – guilt, shame, self-loathing, anger, un-forgiveness, depression – weights that we had no idea had tugged so heavily on us. Our new life is light, free, and full of beauty. There is a peace that finds home in us. When we read the Bible it excites us and we see other people in a new light, with a kindness that was not in us before. And for all we have gained, the lure of sin reduces so much we hardly think of it. For the first time life is satisfying and we are full.
“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” – John 10:10b
This is a beautiful season of grace where God makes it effortless for us to have our first taste of His kingdom. Our new nature loves God and all His goodness. Our minds are constantly set on Him and life is good.
But if we are not careful to preserve our gift of freedom, in time we discover that we are not immune to our old lives. And right here is where most of us struggle. We need an understanding of what is going on or we will never enter into the truest and richest experience of the kingdom. And this is the main point in this piece:
9 - GROWING IN SPIRIT
Though we are saved, we still live in a world that is governed by the darkness. We may have tasted something of God’s goodness but the world has not suddenly become a godly place.
“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” – John 17:15-16
Even though we have been born with a new spiritual nature, the old nature is still within us. If we are careless about this fact we will do our spiritual progress tremendous harm.
Let’s use another analogy to help us here: Let’s say we have a young man with a drinking problem. When he is drunk he also has a weakness for the ladies and over a few years leaves a wake of destructive relationships. Life gets continually more complicated until one day he discovers he is going to be a father. He can’t cope with this so he refuses to acknowledge the child. A month later he hears the mother of his child aborted it. His guilt spirals him to rock bottom. In the darkest place he has ever been he reaches out to God and finds salvation.
A year goes by without him even wanting a drink. There is so much joy in his life, so much relief when God unburdened him that the thought of going to a bar actually makes him feel ill. When his friends get drunk it disturbs him and he avoids them.
But then one day he finds himself walking past a pub on the far side of town and he remembers sitting there with the first and only woman he ever truly loved, before his downward spiral. His memories of her are warm, and though he has a niggling feeling he shouldn't do it, he goes in. The smell inside brings with it a flood of fond memories, but the man leaves without a drink.
Then a week later he gets the news that his dear father has passed away.In his pain, the comforts of the bar and its memories call him back. When he goes there this time, he does not leave until midnight. And before he does he sees a woman almost as blonde as the one he loved, the one he wishes he were with now. When the morning comes, shame floods him again and he is overcome with guilt.
What has happened here?
The man has a new spiritual nature which has been governing his life since his salvation. That nature loves the things of God and delights in pleasing Him. And while his new nature is strong in the Lord, his old nature is subdued.But by walking into that bar the first time, he fed the old carnal nature, and so he revived it. That nature had never stopped loving sin. In his mind, he visited the way his life was before the Lord saved him, and he longed to go back there. The result was that when he got the bad news about his father, there were two natures awake inside of him. Weakened by his sorrow, he let his soul win and rather than seek the comfort of the Lord, he chose the bar and the old life.
In spiritual terms, this man has just awakened a raging storm between the two kingdoms now active inside his two natures. We can think of it like two lions in a cage. If only the one lion is fed, it gets stronger and subdues the other. But remove his food and feed the rival instead, and the weaker one grows until he subdues the first.
This is the struggle of the spiritual walk. If we feed the worldly desires within us, we are feeding the carnal nature which will lead us back into all the unrighteousness we had before we were saved. Why? Because the old nature was never sanctified, it can never be made to serve God. It hates God. If we do not subdue it, it will take over.
“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another.” – Galatians 5:17
How do we subdue the carnal nature? Not by wrestling with it, but by feeding our spirits instead. We give it the food from heaven, the desires of the kingdom of God. Then our spirit will grow to such strength that it will silence the sinful-self. Feed both natures and all you have is a raging war that will not stop until one wins.
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” – Romans 8:13
After our initial period of grace is cut short by our fist lapse back into sin, some wrestling between the two natures is to be expected. The spirit is still growing in strength. It takes time for it to mature enough to overpower the soul.You may recall how John the Baptist experienced God's Spirit in his mother's womb. After that the Bible says his spirit grew in strength.
“So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” – Luke 1:80
But if we neglect to feed our spirits, the soul will grow strong again and run freely into the sins it did before. Here then is the most critical thing we should know if we are ever to have a rich experience of the kingdom of heaven:
10 - DEATH AND RESURRECTION
No one comes into the kingdom of God without making a personal choice to be God’s. This freedom of choice is critical because it also means that each of us have inherently made a choice to reject the world (whether we thought of it that way or not). We can only be in one kingdom. To enter the kingdom of light means to escape the kingdom of darkness. We must die to one life so that we can live to the other.
“He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:25
The marvel of the Christian walk is not that God has saved us from hell. No, the marvel is in what God has secured for us. It is not in what we leave behind, but in what we enter into.God has come to exchange all that He is, for all that we are. This is an immeasurably unbalanced trade. This doesn't mean we become gods in our own right (God forbid we should ever think that!) It means that in Christ we are allowed to share in the inheritance of Jesus, we are allowed to partake of all that is His. His power, His Spirit, His nature, His love, His joy, His authority – He invites us to share in the experience of all His fullness.God has come to offer union with Himself. This is the mystery of His goodness and our unfathomable treasure in Christ.
“But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” – 1 Corinthians 6:17
But in order to experience these heavenly riches, we have to be loosed from our earthly entanglements. Think of a man raised in his parents’ home. When he marries, he must leave the old life behind so he can make a new life and become one with his wife. The two cannot be fully joined if they do not leave their old lives behind. This is an image of our union with Christ, we must leave so that we can cleave.
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” – Ephesians 5:31-32
To the extent that we are willing to forsake our old nature, our old kingdom, our old desires, and our old ways – to that extent we will be free and able to enter a living experience of the kingdom of God. The two are indirectly proportional. As one increases the other decreases.Our choices determine which side wins out. We make these choices every day in even the tiniest of decisions. How do we spend our time? Where do we direct our thoughts? What do we elevate in our hearts? All of these are constantly feeding one of our natures.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” – Romans 8:5-6
The only reason we struggle to let go of the world is because we place such high value on it and so little value on the heavenly kingdom. But we should remember that this world embodies all that rejects God and His righteousness.
“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” – James 4:4
So then, to enjoy God’s goodness we need to put to death the things of the flesh. And this is why we are baptised, to declare our choice to be joined with Jesus in death, there leaving behind the carnal nature with all its desires, and be raised to life in the newness of the spirit which longs for all God has for us.
“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life... knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” – Romans 6:4, 6
So then through the death of one nature, we are raised into a new nature. And in the process we are saved from 3 things:
The grip of Satan and a share in his fate of hell.
The self-lordship of our carnal nature which loves to sin.
The kingdom of this world and its ways that are governed by the laws of darkness.
Leaving these behind we can enter into:
The fellowship of God and our inheritance in Christ.
The freedom and joy of a life lead by our spiritual nature which loves to do good.
The kingdom of heaven, its power and its glory.
But what does an experience of the kingdom of God look like? What are we truly gaining if we leave all that we have known behind?
11 - ABIDING & THE SECRET PLACE
The kingdom of heaven is not seen or touched in this physical realm. It certainly can affect the physical ream, its effects can be seen, but it is entered into by the heart - the spiritual nature which walks with God. However unseen His presence may be, it is so real and so near that our spirits can feel Him with us. This can be any moment, anywhere – even every moment, everywhere. God is in us, therefore with us where we are, and everything we see is filtered through Him. This is called abiding in God and is always permeated with an awareness of His love.
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.’ – 1 John 4:16b
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.” – John 15:10
In this place of abiding, we see and experience the physical world through a heavenly looking glass. This means that our interpretation of things, our emotional response to things, the value of things to us all changes completely. Everything is understood and measured by its eternal value, not its earthy value. And while our bodies are here, interacting with this world, our hearts are infused with the love, the power, the joy, the peace and the hope of heaven.
Possibly our jobs, our routine and most of our lives look very much the same as they did before salvation, yet inwardly everything has changed. The presence of God sweetens it all.
Our world does change however. The web of complex relationships, and the circumstances our sins have woven around us, all untangle one piece at a time. Because our view of everything has changed, our choices change. We do the things God desires and the end result is that our lives become easier, simpler and richer.
When we walk through life with God this way, seeking first His will and His kingdom, even the impossible becomes possible through prayer.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” – John 15:7
And while this abiding life with God is fully satisfying, there is still a deeper and richer experience of the kingdom of heaven. It is found in what is called the Secret Place.
“Secret Place of His tabernacle” – from Psalm 27:5
“the secret place of thunder” – from Psalm 81:7
“the secret place of Your presence” – from Psalm 31:20
“the secret place of the Most High” – from Psalm 91:1
This does not happen while we are out in the world going about our lives. This is reserved for the prayer closet, the times when everything else is shut away and the only thing we know is us and God. Then Jesus said, we should “pray to your Father who is in the secret place” ( Matthew 6:6).These encounters are far more rare and substantially more intense. But the casually curious will never experience them. We must pursue God relentlessly and we must strip away our carnal ways if we want to know this place. This is what Jesus meant when He said:“
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” – Matthew 11:12
John the Baptist completely cast off the love of this world that He could gain the kingdom. Nothing else was dear to him. He did not care what he wore or what he ate, he cared only to know his God. And for that reason Jesus said of him “among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).Those who are willing to pay a price, to suffer loss, to abandon the world that they may gain God – they know the treasure of His intimate presence.
“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.” – Philippians 3:7-9a
These men understand Jesus' parable and the value of the kingdom of heaven.“
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44“
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” – Matthew 13:45-46
This Secret Place is the rich reward of the faithful. What they experience is the very throne-room of heaven, the true Holy of Holies that the earthly tabernacle was only a picture of. This is the place where God's presence is manifest. Just as Moses communed with God's presence, we have entrance into it through the blood of Jesus.
Those who press into the Secret Place have had a taste of the glories of the next life. They know the love of God and it fuels their entire existence. They walk amongst men with the authority of heaven but they will never abuse that power, because having witnessed God's majesty they have a reverent fear of Him. But the most exquisite of the many wonders they find in God cannot be spoken of. God keeps the deepest treasures of His beautiful heart tucked away, reserved for those who have proven their faithfulness.
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” – 2 Corinthians 12:2-4
This life of experiencing the glories of heaven, all the while walking the earth, is there for any who dare to pursue it. Come to God in surrender and hunger for Him relentlessly until you find the way into the Secret Place – He is there waiting. And may God then make us able to comprehend:
“what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory.” – Ephesians 3:16-21a