Barnes and Nobel has a way of firing me up. I just finished searching the Christian life section of one store here in Charlotte looking for a book, any book about the Kingdom of God. There were exactly zero. I checked with the clerk to be sure I wasn’t overlooking something. “I’m sorry, we don’t seem to have anything like that”, she replied. “And how many books do you have about ‘Heaven’?” I asked. “It looks like we have about one hundred twenty different titles in stock.” Those of you who know me realize that this is one of my hot buttons. Why the big deal, you might ask? Because the Kingdom is THE message of Jesus, and because this unhealthy fixation on heaven guts the power of his message. Take discipleship, for example:
In the late eighteenth century when the gospel of the Kingdom was replaced by the “good news” of the “minimum requirements for heaven”, spiritual transformation was relegated to the optional, a laborious pursuit meant only for the serious-minded. Well-intentioned believers could rest in the assurance that, “I’m saved by grace. I know where I’m going when I die.” Well… if that’s the point of the gospel, then there is absolutely no need for the troublesome work of discipleship!
Heaven-oriented Christianity has little in common with the rugged call of Jesus to follow in his steps as disciples. Having bought the ticket, it only remains to hold on to our faith until the hour of death. On the contrary, Kingdom-centered faith recognizes the task before us: to become more and more like Jesus, and to bring His influence to bear on everything around us.
“Conversion is the miracle of a moment;
Discipleship is the labor of a lifetime.”
– E. Stanley Jones
Discipleship belongs to the Kingdom like food belongs to the living. Jesus’ gospel begins at the ground-zero of each converted heart and spreads into everything we touch until the world shines with His glory. It’s not enough to be saved – we must be changed! Conversion is no longer seen as the end-point of the message, but the doorway into a life of grace that moves every follower into a lifelong process of spiritual transformation. In a world torn apart, the only hope for the nations will be seen when believers become disciples and begin to walk as Jesus walked. (1 John 2:6).