A Sermon on The Kingdom of God
Jesus went around preaching the kingdom of God. He said that the last one is born again, they cannot see it or enter it. But what is the Kingdom of God? In this sermon, I explore what light Romans 14:17 sheds to the questions about the Kingdom:
for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
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the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 14:17)
I would like to speak to us from this passage today because I believe that through it, God has answers for us. Specifically, God wants to answer these questions:
- What is the Kingdom of God?
I know there are a lot of people in here who are just genuinely curious about what the Kingdom of God is, on an intellectual level. I cannot promise I will answer all your questions, but this verse gives us a lot of insight into what the kingdom of God is.
- I don’t get it
Yes, that is a question, even though there isn’t a question mark at the end of it. There are many of you who don’t get church. You are here because you are curious, or somebody has dragged you here. You don’t get why other people raise their hands during worship, even when the singing is off key. You don’t get why people pray, and why people are touched by communion, and why people enjoy reading the Bible. You assume that people are faking it, but sometimes you feel left out, like everyone is in on something, and no matter how hard you try, you just don’t get it. I think there is an answer for you in this verse.
- I am bored
This is also a question. Christianity promises a personal relationship with God – why don’t you feel God? Christianity promises conviction of sin – why don’t you feel convicted? Christianity promises to make the Bible exciting – why is it so boring for you? Others seem to really get into worship, but why is it that you just don’t feel anything?
- Why do people fall away?
This is a heavy question that has been on my mind a lot in the last couple years. I can’t get a full answer here, but I think there are answers in this verse that will bring us closer to understanding why people fall away.
Let’s pray, and then let’s listen to the word of God together.
I. RELIGION AND CHRISTIANITY
the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 14:17)
“The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking.”
Martin Luther has rightly said there are only two religions in the world: one religion of grace, and many religions of works. What Paul is saying here is that Christianity is not a religion of works.
There are two types of works religions. There is legalistic righteousness and moralistic righteousness.
Legalism is concerned with the righteousness which is ceremonial only. Ceremonial righteousness is completely arbitrary, outward and cultural. It concerns such matters as hairstyle, musical genres, the shaving and styling of hair, certain types of dress, certain types of hats, clothing, undergarments, and the like.
Ceremonial righteousness has nothing to do with loving one’s neighbor. It’s just an elaborate show that is meant to make one holy, or to please God. Legalistic righteousness is not the kingdom of God, although they are often seen together, and often confused for each other.
Moralism is doing the right things, but for the wrong reasons.
It is trying to be generous, while inwardly being greedy.
It is trying to be kind when hating.
It is trying to be chaste when we lusting.
It is trying to be honest when being deceptive.
It is trying to be content while coveting.
It is trying to be pure while loving impurity.
In sum, it is doing right because we have to, not because we want to.
What is it that drives the moralist? The carrot is human praise, and the stick is human disapproval, or discipline. A moralist is a hypocrite, who does and says what he thinks is right, even when he secretly wants to do what is wrong.
Rightly did Isaiah prophecy about such people, “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” (Mat. 15:8).
Oh God, may we not be found in this company!
Be Born Again
But the Kingdom of God is not eating or drinking. It is not a religious show of legalism, or an ethical show of moralism. It’s not a performance that we put on. It is a new reality that begins in the heart.
Religion operates on the assumption that we are basically good, and if we protect ourselves from the world we will stay pure enough for God. But Jesus explained that the evil is already within you, and proceeds from your heart to your mouth and in that way defiles you (Mk. 7:14-23)
You may think you are an innocent white lamb, drifting through this dirty world and looking to religion to rinse your feet when you step in the mud. But you are not.
You are a sinner. Within you is a dark fountain of evil within you that spills out “evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.” (Mk. 7:14-23) It’s not this world’s fault!
This old world creaks and groans under the weight of humanity, crying out against the heavy burden inflicted upon it by your sin, and mine. (Rom. 8:22)
Every Disney movie made in the last ten years tells us, Look within. Feel the truth. Trust your heart. But the Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all else and desperately wicked – who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).
Every religion will tell you to work harder, be better. But Christianity is not about a performance. It’s not about eating and drinking or any other outward thing. It’s about a death and a new life. It’s a matter of spiritual surgery. It’s about getting a new heart.
700 years before Jesus came, God gave a promise to His people. He said, “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.” (Ezek. 11:19-20)
Through the death, resurrection and power of Jesus Christ, God gave His people new hearts. And He has been doing that ever since. He can do that for you, right now, today, if you are ready.
Until you have a new heart, you are not in the kingdom of God, even if you go to church. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). Some of you think that because you have been baptized with water, you are born again. But have you been born of the Spirit? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” (Jn 3:3).
Until you are born again, you are not a citizen of the kingdom of God and you will always feel like a foreigner and a landed immigrant within the walls of the church.
The kingdom of God is not about human efforts to keep holy and impress God. It’s not about eating and drinking, but about a new inward reality.
Righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.
II. THE KINGDOM
The first thing we need to notice here is that the righteousness joy and peace are not detached. The Kingdom of God is not about seeking righteousness joy and peace at all costs and in whatever way one may seek to find it. But it is about a connection with the Holy Spirit that is made possible through the death of Jesus Christ. And once we are in this relationship, it is about purifying our motives to more fully abide only and truly in the kingdom of God.
But this is only possible by being born again.
A. Righteousness in the Holy Spirit
What is righteousness?
There is not one kind of righteousness, but many types of righteousness. The three main of which are these: self-righteousness, worldly righteousness, and religious righteousness.
Righteousness is living by a code of ethics. By this definition, there are many people who are righteous who are not moral. There are self-righteous people, and worldly-righteous people.
There is a depraved sort of a man who will make use of a woman’s body, but will not allow the relationship to progress beyond a certain point of emotional intimacy. He will not marry her and won’t even let children enter into the picture. If children do come along, he makes it very clear: “either get an abortion, or I am gone!”
When asked for a reason, he will callously say « that would cramp my style. » What he is saying, in effect, is that his own code does not allow him to follow God’s rules for sexuality. He is a self-righteous man, though he is far from the law of God.
And in a lesser way, there are many people in the world – and many in this room – who beat to their own drum. You will not let anyone tell you what to do, not even God.
But this is not the righteousness of the Holy Spirit.
There is also a worldly righteousness. This is adherence to a code which has been put up by the philosophers and ethicists of this world, but is completely alien to the law of Christ.
A disturbing example of this is Dr. Kevorkian, who received the Order of Canada for his pioneering work both in the killing of thousands of unborn children in Canada, and the legalizing of the atrocity of Abortion for generations to come. Now, Kevorkian was a man of principle. He thought, suffered, and worked tirelessly according to the righteousness of his creed. He was a righteous man and even a prophet of his time – but not according to the righteousness of God.
And in a lesser degree, there are many people in the world – and in this room – who live their lives according to some form of worldly righteousness. Sure, you’ll come to church. But when it comes to sex, money, time, sin and heart-matters…well, these matters are too private and too important to base on one man’s interpretation of an ancient book. You’re far too sophisticated for that! You look to science and psychology and philosophy for answers. Good for you.
But that is not the righteousness of the Kingdom of God.
A Christian has been reborn. They have a new heart. So why, then, do they still sin? Is there really a difference between a Christian and non? Both sin, both try to do good.
St. Anselm said, “If I could have all of Hell, but no sin or all of heaven with sin, I would prefer Hell over heaven.” That is a difficult saying. Let me say it again. … This mentality is completely foreign to a non-believer. But to someone who has a new heart, it makes perfect sense. We have been reborn inside, and so we hate sin. Although we still feel dragged into the fight, we feel that sin is no longer “us,” but is our enemy within.
This is why Paul could say, “it is not the same, but sin in me,” (Rom. 7:17). He is not trying to hide from his responsibility as someone who sins. He is only saying, “that is not me. That’s something that I hate, that is trying to take over my life.” As he goes on to say, “Wretched man that I am, who will save me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). Sin is no longer Paul’s identity, but Christ:
This is not the identity of someone who has not been born again. Such a person will enjoy as much sin as they can get away with, without receiving negative consequences or a bad repuation.
A normal person loves sin, but hates the consequences, but a Christian hates both the sin and the consequences.
And since we have been set free from sin, we continue in our new freedom. (Rom. 6)
Since we have been called citizens of the kingdom of God, we joyfully act as God’s own special people. (Philippians 1)
God has given us a promise. “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psa. 37:4) what we find is that after we have been born again, God makes us desire holiness and love. Then he begins to satisfy the deepest desires of our heart by allowing us to grow in our faith, and serve him more and more. This is a joyful righteousness of Jesus Christ.
The righteousness of the Spirit leads to peace in the Spirit – but worldly righteousness leads in another direction.
B. Peace in the Holy Spirit
There is also a peace of the world that is not the same as the peace of Christ. This peace consists of detachment, desensitivity and death.
The Buddha taught that the source of all pain is desired. Therefore, if we remove desire, we will end all suffering and pain. Simon and Garfunkel said the same thing poetically: “if I never loved, I never would have cried.” This sort of peace requires that we turn off the noise – or turn up the music – that we retreat into ourselves, or into the woods. That we silenced the kids, or don’t have kids. It requires that we do not let ourselves really love people or become too involved in the emotional turmoil around us. Because, after all, “a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.”
Sometimes Christians are accused of being too heavenly minded to be of any worldly good. Sometimes this is true. But it is not the Christian religion that teaches us to cut ourselves off from the pain and suffering of the world – that is Buddhism/Hinduism and the New Age.
More than that, the peace of the world requires that we harden ourselves. We will never be at peace while our consciences are tormenting us over our sins. We need to learn to forgive ourselves, to not be so hard on ourselves. After all,
“no sense crying over spilled milk!”
“let bygones be bygones”
If we go far enough down this road, we will find ourselves in the state of those whose hearts are seared, “as with a branding iron” (1 Tim. 4:2) we will forget how to blush (Jer. 6:15) and finally, at the end of it all we will no longer despise what is evil (Psa. 36:4). We will have our peace, but at a high price.
The only final peace of the world is death. I’m not talking about suicide. I’m talking about giving up. I’m talking about not carrying anymore, not trying anymore, not even thinking anymore. Just drifting away. As the song goes:
“Give me the beat boys and free my soul, I want to get lost in your rock ‘n roll and drift away.”
But the Bible says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18). Now that’s a funny word, “dissipation.” Do you know what it means? Well, do you know what it means to dissipate?
When smoke comes up out of a hot furnace, it surges upwards in fast hot tight pillar. As it gets higher, it slows. Then it spreads out. Dreamily it rises higher and wider turning an ever whiter shade of pale until it disappears altogether, and is no more.
Beginning to think that I’m wasting time
I don’t understand the things I do
The world outside looks so unkind
I’m counting on you
To carry me through
Oh, give me the beat boys and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll
And drift away
Some find this kind of peace in false religion. Some find it in alcohol. Some find it in music. Some find it in work. Some find it in fiction. Some find it in nature, and I found it in video games. Are video games enherently wrong? No. But it’s amazing how you can be playing and an hour, two hours, three hours…a day, a week can go by. And you haven’t love, and you haven’t cried. And you haven’t been touched by this world but just drifted away…
It is a coping mechanism, and it helps people survive this chaotic world.
Just as a side-note: this is not the same as the meditation of Christ. Christians meditate too, but not in the same way. We do not let ourselves go and drift away into oneness with the nothingness of the cosmic “ohm.” Rather, we read our Bibles. Bibles have words on the pages. Words make us think. And force us to question, digging deep into our own soul and thinking clearly about the world.
The Meditation of Christ is exactly the opposite from eastern meditation.
It also has an air of religion. It allows one to almost float over this world, untouched with hardships and pain. But does this religion make one a better parent? Does it make the world a better place? Are you a better friend for protecting yourself from real love? And as a sort of religion make us more holy, or less holy in the Sovereign God of Love?
This is not the peace of Christ.
If we are to have real peace, we need to have two things settled.
First, we must recognize that the principal enemy of our peace is God himself. David wrote:
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer. (Psa. 32:3-4)
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice. (Psa. 51:8)
God loves you just like you are. But he loves you far too much to leave you that way.
When his beloved children run, he lets lose the hounds of heaven after them, to torment them and to make their lives so miserable through guilt that they come crawling back to the only source of real life in the universe.
We have two options. We may try to silence our consciences by ourselves – either by trying to bribe it with good works, or by simply ignoring it. Or we can turn ourselves over to God. We can be born again, as I mentioned before. Once we have done this, we cannot try to hide our sins from God, but must return to Him again and again, to receive forgiveness and cleansing for sins.
If you have a guilty conscience, it is God who has caused your problem. You cannot fix it on your own and religion is a crutch. You do not need a religious bandaid of legalism or moralism. What you need is a cross. You need a Savior. You need Jesus Christ.
Oneness with God
St. Augustine has said that we were made for God, and our hearts are restless until we rest in him. Many of us feel daily the restlessness of being detached from our Savior. We can’t put our finger on it, but we know something is missing. As Bono sings, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
Why is that song so popular? Why does it resonate with so many different types of people? It’s got to be more than just good music! Why do so many thousands – maybe millions – forget what they are doing and bob their heads and tap their feet along with this line?
What you are looking for is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Until you find that, you will spend the rest of your life trying to fill that aching pit in your soul, or ignore the pit, or trying to fill the pit with all the good things God has given us in this life.
When this life is over, the good things of this world will be gone.
And then there will be nothing left but the pit.
God wants to save you from the Pit.
You must be born again.
Your sins have made a separation between you and your God (Isa. 59:2). But when God has erased our sins through Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to have a genuine personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.
And because of this relationship, we have hope. A hope that does not disappoint (Rom. 5:5).
We hope that the terrible injustice of this world will one day be put right by the judgment of a righteous God. The rapist will not always run free. Hitler will have his day in court.
We hope that the pain and suffering of the afflicted will not go on forever, but will end in relief and release.
We hope that all of the striving and effort of our lives, indeed, of all of human life will not be swallowed up finally by the unending appetite of the grave. We believe that that is not it.
We believe that life goes on after death. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:56). Therefore, we even laugh in the face of death! “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). For, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”
And this victory gives us joy.
Joy of the World
We do not have a joy of the world. Ours is not an empty giddiness and laughter in the face of life’s difficulties. It is not an empty promise that “it will all work out in the end.” We do not try to escape reality by not thinking about death, and all the dangers around us. And we do not try to medicate the pain of sin by reveling in sin.
We rejoice in God alone.
Joy in the Holy Spirit
We rejoice because we have been born again. He has engraved His laws upon our hearts (Jer. 31:33), and we delight to do His will (Psa. 40:8).
We are not self-righteous because we know we are sinners. We are not worldly-righteous, because we hold to a higher standard. And we are not religiously righteous because we serve God from the heart, and place no confidence in our own efforts (Phil. 3:3).
We rejoice because we have been cleansed of our guilt, made right with God, and given hope.
Because of God’s peace, we do not float above this world. It is the eastern religions that teach their adherents to be too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. But the healing, peace and hope of Christ empowers us to take on anything. We are not driven by guilt or obligation, but moved by compassion, we reach out and we act.
And so we are, like the Apostle Paul, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” We are sorrowful because this world is a dark and terrible place. But we are rejoicing because our hearts are full of light and life and power.
And our God is good.
Repeat and Summary
So what is the Kingdom of God?
The kingdom of God is not an outward show of religion, or Legalism. It is not doing the right things for the wrong reason, or moralism. It is a hard transformed by the power of Jesus Christ!
It is a heart transformed that desires to live according to the righteousness of the Spirit.
It is a restored relationship with God, that gives us peace and oneness with the Divine.
It is a new reality that gives us joy and power for each new day.
Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God, or enter it.
Be Born Again
Are you in the kingdom of God? Some of you are not. That is why you don’t get it. That is why it doesn’t make sense. When everyone else is seeing the kingdom of God, and feeling a real connection to God through Jesus Christ, you just feel nothing. You might think the problem is the church. If only the church was more interesting, more flashy and exciting you would enjoy it. But that wouldn’t fix it. Then you just complained that the church is too trendy and modern. The problem is within you. You are not born again, and so you cannot see the kingdom of God. The matter how hard you squint your eyes, all you see is a bunch of ordinary people singing ordinary songs in ordinary building. You must be born again.
Or have you been born again, but you have been forgetting your Lord? Jesus said “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Mat. 6:24). Do you hat church? Do you despise worship, Bible reading and prayer? Maybe your problem is that you are trying to serve two masters. Are you trying to love God, while also living according to the righteousness peace and joy of this world?
Choose you this day whom you will serve. If it is the Lord, choose Satan, the world and your flesh, choose that. But if it is God, choose Him with all your heart.
Don’t Fall Away
And this I think is the answer to the last question. Why do people fall away? As I think back over my life in the church, I think it’s probably accurate to say that at least half my former Christians friends have fallen away. Strong Christians, weak Christians. Men and women, boys and girls. All sorts of people. So what is it that makes people fall away?
The answer is that you cannot hang in indecision forever. If you do not make a choice – a final complete choice – between God or the world, God will make it for you. Jesus said I wish you were either hot or cold – but because you are lukewarm, I will spew you out of my mouth (Rev. 3:16). And God has designed this old world in such a way that we cannot drift along indecision forever. Sooner or later, we will have to make a choice. And in those moments of crisis, it will become evident which kingdom we truly wish to belong to in our hearts.
This is not what I wish for you. It is not what I want to leave you with.
But I want to challenge you that in the Kingdom there is a righteousness that is not heavy, but freedom. There is a peace that is real, and that opens us up to love. And there is a joy that knows no limit.
If you are not there now, or if you are not experiencing this fully, make a decision now that you are not going to be satisfied with second best.
Be born again, and then live 100% sold-out to the lordship of Jesus Christ.