From the Renovaré Newsletter Archive

The selection below is from a May 1999 Renovaré newsletter. Download a PDF of the original newsletter.

Dear Friends,

Today, I want to share with you on the theme of the king­dom of God. I do this in one sense as a fol­low-up to our recent REN­O­VARÉ Per­spec­tive, but even more impor­tant­ly as a way of prepar­ing for our Hous­ton Con­fer­ence where we will deal sub­stan­tive­ly with the theme of the king­dom of God. (I do hope you are com­ing to Hous­ton June 30-July 3. If you can­not be there, we will miss you, but, of course, God will be with you right where you are and will guide you into increas­ing life and joy in the king­dom of God.) In this pas­toral let­ter let me be a bit auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, trac­ing my ear­ly jour­ney in try­ing to under­stand the king­dom of God.

HUN­GRY FOR GOD

As a teenag­er I was hun­gry for God. More than any oth­er thing I want­ed God and I began seek­ing after the king­dom of God. In my seek­ing I would come upon pas­sages like Matthew 11:2, The king­dom of God is com­ing vio­lent­ly and the vio­lent take it by force.” Now, I did not ful­ly under­stand that pas­sage, but, even so, I became a vio­lent per­son,” vio­lent in the sense that I would not let any­thing stop me from seek­ing after the king­dom of God.

Like Jesus taught I was pre­pared to sell every­thing I had to get the king­dom of God. So I would ask every­one I knew:

  • What is the king­dom of God?
  • Where is the king­dom of God?
  • How do I enter the king­dom of God?

I kept look­ing for some­one, any­one to teach me about the king­dom of God, but I could find no one … no one. In those years I couldn’t even find any books that would teach me about the king­dom of God.… Well, I did find one book — Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Dis­ci­ple­ship—and as a teenag­er I clung to it like a drown­ing per­son clings to a life pre­serv­er. I read that book ragged, for it spoke to me about life in the king­dom of God. Beyond that sin­gle book, how­ev­er, I found lit­tle to help me. But I kept on seek­ing, seek­ing, seek­ing, and in time I learned some things about the king­dom of God. Let me share with you some of those ear­ly open­ings onto truth.”

SAL­VA­TION AS LIFE IN THE KING­DOM OF GOD

The first insight I received was that Jesus and his first apos­tles were preach­ing a sal­va­tion that is dif­fer­ent from the kind of sal­va­tion that is preached today. They were talk­ing about life in the king­dom of God, and they were speak­ing of it as a present real­i­ty. For them the age to come” had been cat­a­pult­ed back into human his­to­ry, and they lived in the life and pow­er of the king­dom of God, and, indeed, as we are to live now. Now, I know that there is a future dimen­sion to the king­dom of God in its final con­sum­ma­tion when Christ returns, but the stress of the apos­tolic mes­sage is always upon the king­dom as a present real­i­ty man­i­fest in our midst.

Now, once this idea was opened to me, I saw the whole of Scrip­ture sat­u­rat­ed with it. The king­dom of God is at hand.” The king­dom of God is in your midst.” The king­dom of God has come nigh unto you.” The king­dom of God is with­in you.” And on and on.

This became a pre­cious real­i­ty to me as a young teenag­er, and it con­trast­ed dra­mat­i­cal­ly with the kind of sal­va­tion I heard preached all around me. That sal­va­tion spoke only of men­tal assent to cer­tain beliefs, per­haps recit­ing an enclosed prayer — all of which some­how tripped the celes­tial lever and I would be guar­an­teed heav­en when I died. I saw that such teach­ing offered me lit­tle more than a fire insur­ance pol­i­cy,” an easy tick­et to heav­en, but it said noth­ing about my liv­ing here and now.

To be sure, heav­en is an impor­tant mat­ter. And Jesus’ teach­ing on the king­dom of God most cer­tain­ly includes heav­en. But the stress of Jesus is always upon the king­dom as a present real­i­ty, so that death sim­ply becomes a tran­si­tion from the life that we are expe­ri­enc­ing now to the greater LIFE that we shall experience.

In this sense faith in Christ and life in his way is almost entire­ly this world­ly. You see, heav­en is not a goal; heav­en is a des­ti­na­tion. The goal for the Chris­t­ian is life in the king­dom of God. It means being tak­en over by a new life and pow­er out­side our­selves. It is the trans­for­ma­tion of the inward per­son­al­i­ty and life under God.

OBE­DI­ENCE IN THE KINGDOM

A sec­ond open­ing that came to me dur­ing those ear­ly days was that this is not some warm, cozy club, but life in a king­dom” (or queen­dom” if you pre­fer). In the king­dom of God there is a sov­er­eign ruler and he is obeyed. Indeed, the king­dom of God means sim­ply the reign or gov­ern­ment of God; it is the place where what God says is done. This is no smörgås­bord spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, no pick and choose faith. It is not even a par­tic­i­pa­to­ry democ­ra­cy in which I cast my vote on how I should live. For exam­ple, God’s descrip­tion of the best pos­si­ble way to live — we call it the Ten Com­mand­ments — is not some­thing I can take or leave if I want. Nor can I opt for only Com­mand­ments Six and Nine and leave the rest. It is to be obeyed — all of it. God is in charge and what he says goes.

Some today like to refer to the king­dom of God as a kin-dom,” empha­siz­ing Jesus as our friend. True, Jesus is our Friend — the very best — but he is only our Friend if he is first and fore­most our Lord. Jesus him­self makes this unmis­tak­ably clear when he says, You are my friends if you do what I com­mand you” (John 15:14). We know Jesus as Lord in order to be in a posi­tion to expe­ri­ence him as Friend.

This point is pow­er­ful­ly illus­trat­ed by an expe­ri­ence in the life of Dr. Gra­ham Scrog­gie, one of the great ora­tors of a past gen­er­a­tion. Dr. Scrog­gie was speak­ing at one of the great Keswick Con­ven­tions in Lon­don on the Lord­ship of Jesus Christ. And he spoke as only the great ora­tors of anoth­er gen­er­a­tion could speak: his log­ic com­pelling, his rhetoric mag­net­ic, his dra­mat­ic appeal mas­ter­ful. He fin­ished that mar­velous address on Christ, the Lord,” and, after the throngs had left, he noticed a young col­lege stu­dent in the cen­ter of the vast audi­to­ri­um all alone. He went to her and asked if he could help.

Oh, Dr. Scrog­gie,” she blurt­ed out, your mes­sage was so com­pelling. But I’m afraid … I’m afraid that if I see Christ as Lord that it will mean changes in me that I don’t want. He may ask me to do things that I’m afraid to do.”

Wise­ly Gra­ham Scrog­gie turned in his Bible to the tenth chap­ter of the book of Acts, to the sto­ry of Peter in the upper room of Simon, a tan­ner, in the city of Jop­pa. There God gave Peter a tri-fold vision of a great sheet com­ing down from heav­en filled with ani­mals unclean to Jew­ish reli­gious tra­di­tion. Three times God said to Peter, Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” And three times Peter respond­ed, No, Lord!”

Look­ing direct­ly into her eyes, Dr. Scrog­gie said calm­ly, You know, it is pos­si­ble to say no’ and it is pos­si­ble to say Lord’ but it is not real­ly pos­si­ble to say no, Lord’.” He added, Here is my Bible and a pen. I’m going into anoth­er room and pray for you, and I want you to take this pen and strike out either the word no’ or the word Lord’.”

He did this, and when he sensed that the mat­ter had been set­tled, he reen­tered the audi­to­ri­um and slipped up behind her. She did not know he was there. She was weep­ing qui­et­ly and tears were falling on his Bible. Lean­ing over her shoul­der he saw the word no’ crossed out and she was whis­per­ing over and over, He’s Lord, He’s Lord, He’s Lord.”

THE KING­DOM IN MYS­TERY FORM

My new under­stand­ing of the impor­tance of obe­di­ence to God dove­tailed per­fect­ly into a third insight that came to me in those ear­ly days so long ago now. That insight was the fact that the king­dom comes to us in mys­tery form — not mys­tery in the sense of strange,” but mys­tery in the sense of hid­den. God just took the king­dom and tucked it away.

Now, I have often won­dered why God did this. Why did God hide the king­dom from peo­ple? Why, for exam­ple, did Jesus express­ly say that he spoke in para­bles for the pur­pose of hid­ing the truth from peo­ple; The rea­son I speak to them in para­bles is that see­ing they do not per­ceive, and hear­ing they do not lis­ten, nor do they under­stand.’ … For this people’s heart has grown dull … so that they might not look with their eyes, and lis­ten with their ears, and under­stand with their heart and turn’” (Matt. 13:13).

God, you see, hid the king­dom because he wants us to seek it — Seek first the king­dom of God .…” God desires that we desire him. He wants with­in us an inward dis­po­si­tion of heart to turn toward him. When Jesus said that hear­ing peo­ple will not hear and see­ing they will not see,” he was under­scor­ing the fact that often peo­ple sim­ply do not hear or see to the point that they will turn, that they will change their behav­ior. Their hearts are not pre­pared to turn.

What would you do if I told you that the sheet of paper you are now read­ing will explode with a blind­ing flash in five sec­onds? … Didn’t you hear me?! Oh, you heard me all right, but you didn’t hear me to the point that it changed your behav­ior. You knew, of course, that I was not seri­ous about the paper explod­ing, but I am dead­ly seri­ous when I say to you that change is the key. We are to hear Christ to the point that it will change our behav­ior. This is why God wants us to seek him.

Then I under­stood: The king­dom of God is veiled to us because God does not want us to see or under­stand until we have an inward heart dis­po­si­tion toward God. With­out this inward heart dis­po­si­tion the knowl­edge and pow­er of the king­dom will hurt us rather than help us. It is only when we desire God with all our heart that we can be trust­ed with the life of the king­dom of God.

The moment I grasped this idea I cried out, Oh God, give me an inward heart dis­po­si­tion toward you; search my heart, change my heart, win my heart, rule my heart, so that I may ever desire you.”

POW­ER IN THE KINGDOM

Then, as I stud­ied and prayed and sought after God, I received a fourth insight that became very impor­tant to me, though also very trou­ble­some. I came across pas­sages of Scrip­ture like 1 Corinthi­ans 4:19, For the king­dom of God does not con­sist in talk but pow­er.” Slow­ly I began to see that life in the king­dom of God is some­how intri­cate­ly con­nect­ed with this thing called pow­er. I would read, for exam­ple, that Jesus went through­out Galilee, teach­ing in their syn­a­gogues and pro­claim­ing the good news of the king­dom and cur­ing every dis­ease and every sick­ness among the peo­ple” (Matt. 4:23).

What I began to see — slow­ly, very slow­ly for I actu­al­ly did not wel­come this real­i­ty — was a pat­tern of procla­ma­tion and demon­stra­tion, procla­ma­tion and demon­stra­tion. Jesus pro­claimed the pres­ence of the king­dom and then demon­strat­ed the real­i­ty of its pres­ence by heal­ings and oth­er works of pow­er and love. I noticed that Jesus del­e­gat­ed this same author­i­ty to the first Apos­tles; Then Jesus called the twelve togeth­er and gave them pow­er and author­i­ty over all demons and to cure dis­eases, and he sent them out to pro­claim the king­dom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1). He even com­mis­sioned the Sev­en­ty— ordi­nary dis­ci­ples like you and me — in much the same way: After this the Lord appoint­ed sev­en­ty oth­ers and sent them on ahead of him … [say­ing] cure the sick who are there, and say to them The king­dom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:1, 9). Then I came across that absolute­ly shock­ing word of Jesus, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).

I could not get around it: this busi­ness of the king­dom of God is con­nect­ed with pow­er. But as I told you, this teach­ing was trou­bling to me, and it was trou­bling because, as the old adage puts it, pow­er cor­rupts and absolute pow­er cor­rupts absolute­ly.” Pow­er is a dan­ger­ous thing and I had seen it destroy peo­ple or at the very least cause them to do very unkind and unlov­ing things to others.

So, all this trou­bled me … until I under­stood that God was intent on mak­ing us into the kind of peo­ple who could receive his pow­er in such a way that it would be used only to bless and nev­er to curse. Once again, you see, I was struck by the impor­tance of the for­ma­tion and ref­or­ma­tion and con­for­ma­tion and trans­for­ma­tion of the human per­son­al­i­ty into the like­ness of Christ. I saw that in the king­dom of God I must be pre­pared to go through the char­ac­ter changes nec­es­sary to han­dle pow­er for the good of all. You too.

Well, these are small insights into life in the king­dom of God. May God meet you and refresh you as you con­stant­ly seek first his king­dom and his righteousness.

Peace and joy,

Richard J. Foster

Text First Published May 1999 · Last Featured on Renovare.org May 2022

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