An unfortunate grey cloud has swept across Western civilization, a cloud the Bible refers to as a lukewarm church. The radical, life-changing message of Christ has been watered-down and transformed into something quite hum-drum. We must all pray that we can recapture the pure, undefiled magnitude of the gospel. Let us re-examine the gravity of what Christ means to us and how almost unbelievable the possibilities are to modern man. For, to reduce Christ’s message to a neatly packaged form of religion is to defile the very words that came out of His mouth. Somehow we have ignored the spiritual essence and weight of what Christ’s new covenant with man actually entails. We will speak of this enlightening mystery of God-made-flesh, we will search the depths of God’s message of love, and we will embrace the most precious gift known to humankind. Let us not underestimate the raw, unbridled power that Jesus makes accessible to you and me and the invitation to enter into a whole different realm of reality and way to live.
Every religion on earth has a similar construct: live well and do the right things, earn favor with God, and He will bless you. The pillars that hold religion in suspension over our lives are almost identical across the board. Do this, this and this; don’t do this, this and this. And then God will do this and not that. Every religious system is based on our logical construct of cause and effect. The echoes of if/then burn our ears: if you will do this, then God will do that. Let’s face it, it makes perfect sense. But alas, along came a man who stated for all to hear that we have the order reversed! Christ said with His sacrificial life, “You can’t do it, but I can.” Jesus flipped the entire human understanding of God on its back: there is no sacrifice we can make to please God, so He provided His own; we are unable to clean ourselves up well enough to approach God in any way, shape or fashion; so God steps up and offers us the peace offering of Himself. That God would condescend to us is mind-blowing. Instead of working our way up to Him, He came down to us! He became mortal so that we could become immortal; He became flesh so that we could live in the spirit; He paid the price that we could not; and He became our sin so that we could become His righteousness. God made a transaction with man: He traded your humanness for His divinity!
The sum of all that has been written concerning Jesus is literally an entire library. For me to restate what has already been much more eloquently stated in other books is beyond the scope of this work. However, I want to focus on the spiritual nature of Christ’s message and what that means to us today. I don’t want to state a case for the Biblical Jesus, the historical Jesus, the social reformer Jesus, or the rebel Jesus; I want to present the Jesus that invites us into a spiritual life. If you doubt that Jesus was historical, Biblical (in the context of Old Testament prophecy), or, in fact, the actual Son of God and indeed God Himself, then I have a list of helpful and insightful books I can share at request. I suggest you read an appropriate, apologetic work in conjunction with the four gospels in the New Testament and make a decision as to whether He was who He said He was or not. The following message that I am going to share with you assumes that you either already believe that Jesus is the Son of God, or that you are at least willing to suspend your disbelief long enough to hear the words that follow. As you will glean from this offering, nobody can convince you of Christ’s authenticity. The only way to know for sure is to have Him reveal Himself to you by His Holy Spirit. There is a chance that if you haven’t met Him yet, that He will be made known to you by my words serving as a conduit or a meeting place if you will. Know this: no one knows or is drawn to Jesus unless God, by His Holy Spirit, shows them the reality or draws that person to Himself. No amount of proofs, arguments, theories, or pleading will bring a person to Christ; only a person whose heart is open can hear the voice of God, and that heart is opened by the Almighty Himself. My goal is to give you audience with Him so that He may open your heart, or in many cases, to reopen your heart to hear His voice. As He speaks, please listen.
I do not want to make light of all that Christ has done for us. But because the scope of this work is dedicated to the spiritual life, I want to deal with the upper reaches of His message. The reason for this objective is quite simple: in our society, very few ascend past the lower levels of this magnificent gift to man. How can I make that claim? Christ makes that claim for us in Matthew 7:13-14 by calling it the “narrow way”. Paul complains of this as well when he accuses some in the church of still “drinking milk” instead of “eating solid food”. The focus of what follows is what I would consider the other half of the gospel. What do I mean? I mean that most Christians accept the fact that Christ is the Son of God and depend on Him for their salvation, but as mentioned, very few actually decide to go “all-in” and pursue the gift of walking in the Spirit. I will clearly show that Christ expects us to heed His invitation to enter into the kingdom of God as a present reality…not just something afar off.
Here is the foundation upon which we stand: Christ became the ultimate and final sacrifice to cleanse us from sin; through faith in Christ, we are justified before God the Father; because of His sacrifice, all condemnation is done away with; by His resurrection from the grave, He conquered death; by His conquering of death, we are promised the same in the form of eternal life; and Jesus ushered in what is called the “Kingdom of God”. I am addressing in a practical and modern way what it means to live in the kingdom of God as a true disciple. As we will discover, the kingdom of God is a clear and present reality and not just an eschatological concept of the future. We today have made the same mistake that the people back in Christ’s day made: we assume and pursue a kingdom that is one of a physical, religious, or political nature. Shame on us for being so profoundly shallow and not diving head-first into what He paid such a high price for!
Many of us have accepted Christ in faith that He was who He said He was and have believed in His message, but many of us stop at that! We walk through our lives barely even aware of the length, width and depth of what Christ has purchased for us. Yes, He purchased with His blood our redemption; yes, with His sacrifice He has fulfilled God’s mandate of the removal of sin; and yes, with His victory over death we have the promise of eternal life. But most of us take this unfathomable gift from God and tuck it away like an admission slip into heaven for when we die. We say with our lives, “Thank you God, I appreciate you punching my ticket, see you on the other side!” Oh my friends, what an awful way to live. We want to walk in victory, we want to claim salvation, but we walk no different than before receiving the gift or we resort back to trying to live a good life on our own efforts. After receiving the greatest gift to humankind, we never get around to actually opening the gift! Let us commit to opening this gift, let us be determined to explore the promises so freely given, and let us learn to access the unplugged, spiritual life that awaits all who would enter. For to not enter into the spiritual life that was purchased for us is to effectively reduce Christianity to just another religion! Religion cannot bring us freedom, religion cannot promise us peace, religion has never promised us joy, and religion can be just another form of slavery.
Before we progress any further, let me get some heavy lifting out of the way. I am sure there are some already getting their “feathers ruffled”; I am sure some are offended by my wholesale defilement of the word “religion”. Let me clarify by defining what I mean by religion and then showing the contrast between it and the spiritual life. For my purposes, religion is defined as an outward effort on our part to gain God’s favor: a set of rituals, rites, and “checking of our collective boxes”. This is in stark contrast to the inward partnership between you and God that I will refer to as the spiritual life. As stated previously, one should expect an eternal and infinite God to express Himself in the finite world (for more on this: God’s Signature), but we in our humanness can easily rely upon the outward expression and ignore the inward source for true communion with God. We substitute the Creator with the creation. We can worship the blessing instead of the One from whence all blessings flow. Religion can be an expression of our love affair with God, but the expression without the love affair is what I call religiosity. The inward working of the Holy Spirit produces everything beautiful and can become an outward expression in the form of a song, a poem, a painting, a sermon, a religious manifestation, but we must not confuse the expression and the Source. Religion without the Spirit is dead.
Let me give you an example. A seed in a simple understanding has two parts: the outward shell and the inward life-giving substance. Everything within the seed is the viable, living part of the seed. Without the inward potential of the seed, it is useless. We find many references in the Bible to seeds, Jesus uses seeds to represent the gospel in His parables, and I am leaning heavily on what is already stated in the Bible. When a seed is sown in good ground, watered, and bathed in sunlight, it bursts through the shell and begins to grow into a plant. A shell of a seed is of no use without the life inside. Likewise, religion without the life inside is of no use. Does the shell serve a purpose? Of course! Without the protective shell, the seed cannot be disbursed, cannot be protected, and cannot be sown. Religion in many ways is the transport system, the protection of the Message, and the shell to be cracked so to speak. So I don’t have a problem with religion as an expression of the eternal; I have a problem with religion taking the place of the eternal. It is an undeniable fact that we are guilty of replacing one with the other as evidenced in the Bible, as taught by Christ, and by the evidence of our lack of producing spiritual fruit corporately. To deny this fact is to be either in denial or just not paying attention!
When our Savior walked the earth, He spent very little time talking about His death and atonement for our sins. He rarely even breached the subject of washing our sins in His blood. He spent the majority of His time announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God and teaching about the kingdom life in words and in deeds. Jesus in His own words states plainly that He came to earth to announce the present kingdom of God. Below are a few of these statements:
- As recorded in Matthew, Christ began His ministry proclaiming the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Then later in chapter 4, verse 23, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”
- Similar verses are recorded in Mark. Mark 1:14-15 says, “Now after John (the Baptist) was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
- Luke 4:43 says, “but He said to them, ‘I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.’” Now, I don’t know how much more plain this can be. His purpose for being sent was to preach the kingdom of God!
- In the book of John, Jesus “cuts to the chase” with a religious leader of the time named Nicodemus and defines the exact nature of the kingdom of God. John 3:3-8 says, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’
Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’
Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, you must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’”
The full implication of Christ’s work in the earth is immeasurable. But if we simply take what He says about His primary work, then we would have to surmise that it is the introduction to the world of the kingdom of God. He walked our tiny planet and preached the kingdom of God, His life demonstrated the power of the kingdom, His death on the cross cleansed us from sin so that we may enter the kingdom, His resurrection from the grave showed us that the kingdom cannot be quenched and that death is swallowed up by life, and His ascension back to heaven released the power of the kingdom. In the next chapter, we are going to explore the exact nature of the kingdom of God, but here we must admit that God’s plan for us is to invite us into the kingdom. For in this kingdom we find newness of life, we see a bridge between the finite and the infinite, we sense a road being paved to true relationship with an eternal God, and we stand in awe of the message.
For the conclusion of this article: The Unplugged Gospel: God is Spirit