Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Three Phrases that (Don't) Mean the Same Thing

I spend a lot of time in this blog writing about the Kingdom of God. As I've mentioned before, the Kingdom of God is a central concept in Christian thought. Unfortunately, most Christians don't spend a lot of time thinking about the Kingdom of God.

Most Christians, at least in America, assume that the phrase "Kingdom of God" simply refers to people who are Christian and/or the place where Christians will go when they die.

Evangelicals spend a lot of time talking about whether or not someone is "saved", "truly Christian", or less commonly, "in the Kingdom". They tend to use the terms interchangeably, as though they meant the same thing. I believe that the reality is more complex than most Christians realize.

First, let us consider what we mean when we say that someone is a Christian. Most people would agree that a Christian is someone who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he was crucified, that he was raised again, and that, through his death, he made peace between God and man.

That's the gist of it. Some people would define it a little differently, but at the end of the day Christianity is a belief system. Whether or not someone is a Christian is based on what they believe.

I've talked before about how religion relates to the Kingdom of God. I agree that religious beliefs do matter; that believing in Jesus and his work on the cross is an important piece of the puzzle. I just don't think it's the whole picture.

There is so much more to God's Kingdom than simply having the right beliefs. If we want to see God's Kingdom come, we must also concern ourselves with love, justice, mercy and forgiveness. There are many misguided Christians out there who actively work against God's Kingdom. At the same time many people who aren't Christian are, without being aware of it, actually helping to build God's Kingdom.

Next, I want to think about what we mean when we say that someone is "saved". Most Evangelicals use this term to refer to the final judgement. A person who is "saved" will not be condemned, but instead they will receive eternal life.

This idea is also related to the Kingdom of God, although in a different way. This question is concerned with who will inherit God's Kingdom.

In the present age, there are many people working to build God's Kingdom, but the work is far from finished. Most of the time our world can be a terribly cruel and unjust place. We try to make things better, but the task is so daunting that it can often seem overwhelming.

The Bible looks forward to a time when God's Kingdom will be fully established; when love, justice, mercy and forgiveness will be the rule rather than the exception; when everyone will be able to experience peace and joy in God's Holy presence.

The question is, who will inherit this Kingdom? Once the work is finished, who will be allowed in, to enjoy the blessings of the Kingdom? This is a difficult question, and not one that I am comfortable answering. It is not my place to say who will be let in and who will be kept out. That is for God to decide.

I feel confident saying that people who are Christian, and who are working to build God's Kingdom, will enter into God's Kingdom as long as they remain faithful till the end. Beyond that, I do not know. I suspect that God may decide to expand the guest list quite a bit, and I think that there will be more than a few surprises when the time comes.

So in the end I can't be certain what will happen, or who will be in or out, but I trust that God will judge fairly. I believe he will show mercy to everyone who asks him, and that he will be found by everyone who seeks him.

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