The Kingdom of God is His kingship, His rule, His authority. When this is once realized, we can go through the New Testament and find passage after passage where this meaning is evident, where the Kingdom is not a realm or a people but God's reign. Jesus said that we must "receive the kingdom of God" as little children (Mark 10:15). What is received? The Church? Heaven? What is received is God's rule. In order to enter the future realm of the Kingdom, one must submit himself in perfect trust to God's rule here and now.
-- George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom
I have blogged before on the semantics of practical soteriology, and I mentioned then that I am in love with a phrase indicative of "getting saved" that I first encountered in N.T. Wright's Following Jesus -- salvation means embracing the yoke of God's sovereignty. Replace "embracing" with "accepting" or "submitting to," if you like, for either would work just as well, but I prefer the term "embrace" because it more accurately connotes a regenerated will and desire to accept and submit.
The main problem I see with fuzzy salvation semantics is that they don't do the reality of discipleship justice. You can see from my previous post that I don't think "asking Jesus into one's heart" makes one any less saved than some other, more precise words of acceptance. But I do admit that the focus of such phrasing isn't precise enough.
When a person "gets saved," he does not, theologically speaking, bring Jesus into his life. Rather, he gets into the life of Jesus. He does not get Jesus into his heart so much as he enters the heart of Jesus. (This is why I believe the little New Testament phrase "in Christ," so common as to be commonly missed, holds the key to what it really means to be a Christian.)
Such imprecision is partly the result of a misunderstanding of the kingdom of God (or perhaps no understanding of it all, an ignorance or avoidance of the concept). As long as Christians continue to believe that God's kingdom is still "out there" or is yet to dawn or has no present reality in this age, they will always be attempting to "make Jesus king" rather than living like He already is.
This is a call for a theocratic discipleship. Following Jesus is not about adapting His ways to our lives; it is about living our lives with the quality of His ways. It's about living incarnationally, with the reality of Christ's Lordship ever-present and overflowing in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Theocratic discipleship is about living the kingdom life now, not making do until the kingdom comes.
We do still await the consummation of the kingdom, that glorious day still to come. But we live now in the day of the kingdom's inauguration. Believers are members of God's kingdom now.
Embracing the yoke of God's sovereignty means abandoning all that hinders or hurts our relationship with God. It means having no other gods but God. It means that God is in control and we are not and we like that just fine -- no, not that we are just fine with that, but that we really, really want it that way, would not have it any other way. Christianity is not effective tools for spiritual growth; Christianity is new life.
Embracing the yoke of God's sovereignty means praying "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" not just with hope that it will be true, but with faith that it is somehow true already and the love of it being so. It means not just praying that God will do that, but living like God is doing it in you.
In the Old Testament days of Israel, obedience to the Law was the mark that one was a part of God's kingdom. Obedience to the Law was not committed grudgingly or mournfully; those that loved the LORD, loved His Law and delighted themselves in it. But in the light of the New Testament we know that obeying the Law was not what made those believers citizens of the kingdom. Instead, obeying the Law was the sign of their status within the kingdom.
In the same way, we must discard the notion that following God's commandments or "doing" Jesus' commands in the Sermon on the Mount will somehow get us into the kingdom. (Even if we don't believe that propositionally, many of us live like that is true.) The Sermon on the Mount is actually a great picture of the quality of life inside the kingdom. It's not the way in -- it's what being in looks like.
Not that no effort is exerted on our part. But I am frequently sobered by just how dang impossible living the Sermon on the Mount is. Still, Jesus tells us that we are to be perfect as He is perfect. And if all things are possible with God, I trust that God's sovereignty will make a way for fruit in my life where my own efforts will not.
Embracing the yoke of God's sovereignty means trusting God to bring about the right kind of life in my humble following of Him rather than trusting my own attempts at applying God's Word to my life.
The good news is that God's kingdom is at hand. Repent (change directions) and submit to the King, and you will see the kingdom brought to light in your life.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
-- Matthew 11:29-30