Life In The Kingdom Of God
By Kim Butts
"People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them" (Mark 10:13-16).
There are many unique things about Jesus and His remarkable kingdom. Often, His actions would astonish even His closest disciples as He patiently taught them how they (and we) are to function in the kingdom of God. Young children, although they were cherished, were not considered to have a significant role in the religious community. Yet, Jesus continually taught the importance of the faith and relevance of children to the kingdom. Therefore, those of us with relationships to children should be very intentional about raising them to understand the things of God to which they are entitled and enabled by Jesus to be a part of. We are to teach them in the ways of God because neglect of such teaching is to "hinder them." Jesus said, in speaking about finding one lost sheep, "In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost" (Matthew 18:14).
Perhaps the most difficult struggle most parents have is how best to train up their children to honor and serve the Lord. They consult books, talk to other parents, hope that they are getting what they need in Sunday School, and then allow themselves to be filled with guilt and worry when their children wander or turn away. "Jesus is the answer" is not a trite phrase or a simple song – it is truth. In our desire to raise godly children, we often miss the mark by neglecting to teach them how to live in the kingdom of God. Perhaps that is because we don’t have a good grasp on the kingdom ourselves.
How Do We Live Kingdom Lives?
The Word of God has much to say about the kingdom. Here are some basic kingdom principles for every believer to embrace in order to live lives that will impact others for Jesus, and while we look toward the eternal kingdom. There are many more, so spend time as a family digging into the rich soil of Scripture and mining the precious truth together. Teach these principles to your children and live them out in your home. As Jesus clearly shows by teaching through parables, it is important to teach your children about the kingdom in ways they can easily understand. It is critical that they not become confused about living the kingdom life so that it does not become a legalistic list of things we must "do." Instead, the kingdom is filled with truth about what kind of people we are to be, and how we are to live like Jesus. The kingdom is not a list of rules – the kingdom is a lifestyle that honors God:
The kingdom of God is within you – "Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, "Here it is,"or "There it is," because the kingdom of God is within you’" (Luke 17:20-21). The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom. It does not exist in a physical place that can be seen with the eyes. Instead, it dwells within all of us as disciples of Jesus Christ. God’s eternal kingdom has been prepared for us since the creation of the world, as Jesus made clear in the parable of the sheep: "Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world’" (Matthew 25:34). Loving God allows us to live in His kingdom according to His example. As we seek to live as Jesus did, we will take on more and more of His likeness so that people will see Jesus living in us. As we read the Living Word of God, and as we apply it to our lives in practical ways, His kingdom will be seen clearly through us. It will be a lifestyle of those who live in the world but who are not of it.
Seek after the kingdom and the righteousness of God – "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33). Jesus spent much time teaching about the importance of keeping the first thing first – God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Teach children to pray and to continually seek the face of God. Teach them to listen, so they are able to identify the voice of God. Instruct them how to live righteous, holy lives that bring honor to Him. Your example is the best teaching, so for the sake of your children, be attentive to the direction and correction of the Holy Spirit as you live out your life on a daily basis.
Love the Lord your God – "Jesus replied: ‘"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment’" (Matthew 22:37-38). God must be front and center continually. His greatness and glory are worthy of our worship and adoration. William Law stated in Advice to a Son, "First of all, my child, think magnificently of God, magnify His providence; adore His power, pray to Him frequently and incessantly. Bear Him always in your mind. Teach your thoughts to reverence Him in every place for there is no place where He is not. Therefore, my child, fear and worship and love God; first and last. Think magnificiently of Him!"
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’" (Hebrews 12:28-29). It is important for families to understand that God’s kingdom is unshakeable and permanent. It is for now and forever. With such a promise, we should be the most thankful people on earth. Worship is the expression of our reverence and awe before God, who jealously expects His people to put Him first, and to love Him above all other relationships or things.
Love your neighbor – "And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’" (Matthew 22:39). We must live in community with others, and demonstrate care, concern and love for them in such a way that the Jesus in us is attractive to others. Acts of selflessness can heal selfishness, a chronic condition in most children as well as many adults.
Serve and care for the poor and marginalized – "For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me" (Matthew 25:35-36). Jesus was fervent about the "least of these" and spent much time teaching His disciples about the importance of giving and sharing what they had with those in need. The disciples left all they had to follow Jesus, and spent three years learning how to love and care for the people who were down and out. These were difficult lessons, since in Jewish culture during that time, it was believed that those who were prosperous and in positions of leadership were favored by God. Jesus was showing them that those who had nothing were the responsibility of those who had more.
Be a disciple – "He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it’" (Luke 11:28). "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). How often do we, as believers in Jesus, leave Him out of our day to day decisions, conversations, thoughts and activities? Every aspect of our lives must be under submission to the Father – home, work, school, etc.
Guard your heart – "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23). The heart is the key – it is the doorway to God. Most of life for the average believer is not generated from our hearts, which is perhaps why the Church is failing to engage our culture. The life of disciples comes from our hearts rather than from our circumstances. It is so important to train our children to keep their hearts with all diligence, because what their lives will amount to comes directly from that wellspring.
Make disciples – "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). Your primary goal as a parent, after you have become a disciple yourself, is to train your children to live in the kingdom as disciples of Jesus Christ. Beyond that, you must seek the face of God for your part in fulfilling the Great Commission. Every person you are with should be able to see your Lord in your face, your words, and your actions. If there is nothing significantly different about you, there will be nothing to attract lost people to a Jesus lifestyle. Encouraging your family, your church family, and others to live in the kingdom, loving God and demonstrating the righteousness of Jesus to others will please Him and bring Him glory. We must be prepared to live the paradoxical life of the upside-down kingdom: love your enemies, the last shall be first, etc. in order to draw the lost to Christ and teach them to obey His commands.
Normal Christianity involves doing the work of Jesus Christ on earth while becoming His hands, feet, face and heart to a desperately needy world. Are you living in the kingdom? Are your children? Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and everything else will fall into place.