I’m afraid I may mess with some sacred cows on this post, but I’ve been wanting to write about this for quite some time. When Jesus declared the gospel he didn’t say the sort of things we say today about the promises of going to heaven when we die, the need to say a sinner’s prayer, or even the imperative to “ask Jesus into your heart.” As true as all of these things may be they miss the essence of the gospel, which of course is the Kingdom. Notice Jesus’ declaration of the gospel:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17)
With only eight words, that’s a pretty concise message. But what the heck does it mean? First off, most of us evangelicals have grown up with a narrow, parochial understanding of repentance. We’ve been steeped in the doctrine that this Greek word, matanoia is limited pretty much to the idea of turning from sin, often with tears and time spent at an alter. Although there’s an element of truth in this, it’s not even close to the full meaning of the word. And the resulting problem is that the whole affair becomes focused on sin and getting released from sin, rather than on receiving the Kingdom.
In the original Greek, (in which the Gospel of Matthew was written), metanoia meant changing one’s mind or heart about someone or something, and in the context of Jesus’ declaration it meant that we are commanded to look at the whole world with new eyes. He, the King, has arrived on the scene. He has redeemed the entire cosmos, (Col. 1:20), and nothing can ever be the same again.
My experience over these past few years is that seeking the kingdom involves a continuous, lifelong process of rethinking everything, asking continuous questions and receiving an ever-refined prescription for my fuzzy, clouded vision and silly ideas about God and his world.
But here’s where it gets interesting: Some of that rethinking has been in regard to my evangelical heritage. I’ve realized that much of what I received when I came to Christ was not a kingdom, (I spent about twenty five years with no understanding of that), but ideas and notions I inherited from a feeble Americanized evangelical church.
It feels great to be on the journey, the quest for the Kingdom as it is. But the moment I stop questioning, the journey comes to a screeching halt. In order to receive the kingdom we have to first lay down our notions of what we’ve always believed. We must repent and rethink everything.
After two exciting weeks of teaching in Romania I’ve returned home to Maryland and am enjoying time with family and friends. My schedule in the coming months will be pretty full of travel, but I expect to do it from this side of the ocean rather than from Europe.