Attending Friends University and engaging in the Christian Spiritual Formation (CSF) program has been one of the most formative experiences I have undergone in my life. Ultimately it was this decision that brought me into a relationship with the Friends Church. Since that time I have had some incredible opportunities to see the power of God at work in the church. These include attending Friends Summit 2014 in San Diego, Spring Invasion in Mexico, and reGENERATION conference in Tulsa. All of these have been unique formative experiences. They have also helped to open my eyes to a bigger picture of the church. I have also had the opportunity to know some amazing men and women of God within the Friends denomination. I am encouraged to get to be a part of such a community. However, as I am continuing to learn, the Kingdom of God is not limited to a denomination, race or nation. The concept of the Kingdom has been continually discussed in one of the CSF courses that I’m currently taking. The course is taught by Dr. James Bryan Smith and is called “Living as an Apprentice of Jesus.”
Each person has their own view of what the Gospel means. One of the most troubling results of this is that some individuals have an incomplete view of the Gospel. They base their thinking off what they want to think or what they have been told to believe. As a Christian, our aim is to continually pursue Christlikeness in our own lives. Extending this desire into every portion of our lives will ultimately help to find the gospel-centered life that Jesus promised and wants us to experience.
Perhaps one of the most common misconceptions about the Gospel is a focus on Jesus’ death so that we can go to heaven when we die. This is not a false gospel, but it is an incomplete picture. Often times this perspective leads to lives that are motivated by guilt, fear, and shame. These are effective motivators, but they are not ones that we have been made to live out of. Another downside of this perspective is that it can lead to just managing our sin filled lives until we get to heaven. This is another unsatisfactory view of how life is to be lived as a Christ follower. It seems like this version of the Gospel settles for less than what the Savior came to offer.
A more full picture of the Gospel (and one that I think Jesus wants us to have) is that he lived and died so that we can die to the sin and death that entangles us, and live a life on earth that is truly full of abundant goodness. In this, we realize that Jesus’ Kingdom is one that is both here and now, and will be completely experienced in heaven. This can be a tough reality to come to grips with, but it is certainly good news to realize that a foretaste of eternity in Heaven is easily accessible if only we seek it. Jesus’ Gospel is the story of God, which we as Christ followers are pursuing. The more that we chase His way of life, which is far better than any way of living we can imagine, the more we get to experience the life he offers. Jesus’ Gospel is for all peoples for all time. This is the beautiful thing about His version – it transcends all cultures and applies to all peoples of Earth. In other words, it points to His sovereignty and grandeur. How can we settle for anything less than this?
While studying the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven in the New Testament, it is fascinating to note just how often these phrases are discussed. In fact, they are referenced about 110 times! This includes mentions in all four gospels, as well as Paul’s letters, and Revelation. Amidst these citations there are several illustrations, teachings, and parables on the Kingdom. One of the many notable phrases, which was repeated, is that the kingdom is near! Jesus mentioned this in Matthew 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus began with this teaching, and continued by comparing the kingdom of heaven to leaven, a grain of mustard, treasure, a merchant, a net, a master of a house, and a man who sowed good seed. It is interesting to note all the different things that it is likened to, and then to see how Jesus used each of those illustrations to teach us something about the Kingdom. This reveals the brilliance of Jesus in his teaching. He tried in so many ways to relate the truths of the Kingdom to his followers even when they didn’t understand. It also reveals that there is a lot to understand about how the Kingdom works, and how we can learn to apply its realities to our lives.
The Kingdom of God is to be sought with complete abandonment. In a foundational teaching from Matthew 6:33 Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Christ states that the kingdom of God and his righteousness is the first thing his followers should pursue. This verse can be very helpful in directing the ways that we make decisions and live our lives. However it was not only Jesus who proclaimed this message, Paul did as well. One example, out of many, is found at the end of Acts. We are informed that while Paul was in Rome for two years he was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance (Acts 28:31).” Paul provides another confirmation that the Kingdom of God is something to be treasured, proclaimed, and seized today.
As the class learns about what it means to live as an Apprentice of Jesus, we are excited to have a role in this Kingdom that is readily available. We long to establish lives with God in his Kingdom, where God’s will has its way in our lives. Ultimately, God’s mission is to build his character in his people to do his work. This mission has been given to the Church, the body of his sons and daughters. As members of the Church pursue lives that seek and surrender to the way of Christ they are formed into his image. When this occurs, the contagious virus of Christ’s good news can be spread. As this message of sacrificial love is passed across cities, states, and nations, God’s creation might be redeemed through the blood of Christ. This leads to the beginning of the life that Jesus came to offer. This is the beginning to life in the Kingdom of God!
I have seen these types of messages and teachings given within the Friends Church. Examples of these messages include the events listed previously such as Summit and Spring Invasion. Other displays occur on Sunday mornings at Northridge Friends Church. Pastor Manny Garcia has a rich perspective in spiritual formation and has spoken on the newness of life that Jesus offers and the availability to start this way of living immediately. We have also discussed this concept within the young adults group at the church. I have learned so many important concepts since entering into the CSF curriculum at Friends University and engaging with these opportunities in the Friends church. These experiences have pushed me closer in relationship with Christ, thus giving me a better understanding about how life on earth can best be lived out.
In a culture of varying gospel messages I am encouraged and uplifted to hear about the new way of living that Jesus came to give. No longer do we have to wait until heaven to experience a good life that is easily accessible now. As the good news of a Kingdom that is here and now, and fully realized in the future spreads, Earth will catch glimpses of Heaven. Just as Jesus modeled in his Prayer in Matthew 6, this is a beautiful image to embrace.
– Austin Schmidt, Friends University