Let’s first clear up three important confusions among God’s people!
First, the Church of God, the living organism, that Jesus is building is neither the Kingdom of God, nor the Kingdom of heaven. Second, the relationship that God has with the church is not a kingdom relationship. Third, God never assigned the church to build a kingdom.
God assigned the church to be the body of Christ and to work in enemy territory as ambassadors of God to attract “living stone” and teach and train them to become disciple-making disciples.
Let’s analyze why the church is not the kingdom of God!
A kingdom requires a king ruling over subjects from a specific place, using laws to govern the relationship between the king and his subjects.
The Kingdom of God came into existence when God created angelic beings and established his throne in a place called heaven, at least once referred to as ” . . .the mount of assembly on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.” (Isa. 14:13). According to Jesus in Matthew 5:34, heaven is God’s throne! We know from the Bible that the Kingdom of God existed before God created time, space and this universe, referred to in the Bible as the foundation of the earth. Turn to Job 38:4-7 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”
You see God’s throne-heaven-already existed when God laid the foundation of the earth. God had already created the “morning stars” of which Lucifer was one, and the angels. Notice who the angels are. Turn to Hebrews 1:14 “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
God also created a throne on earth, and put Lucifer on it. Listen to Lucifer’s declaration as he thought about launching his initial rebellion against God’s sovereignty. “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High . . .” (Isa. 14:13-14).
This rebellion, launched millions, even billions of years before God created Adam and Eve, resulted in a cataclysmic destruction throughout God’s universe, and especially on earth, the location of Satan’s throne. Twice Jesus described Lucifer, aka Satan as the “ruler of this world. Turn to John 12:31 “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” Now turn to John 14:30 “I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me.”
Notice though the Satan, as ruler of this world-this age-is a prince, not a king! He still has a throne, even though his time on the throne is limited. According to the Bible, his limited time drives Satan destructive actions.
How would you like to say with absolute and truthful conviction: “The prince of this world operates in this world to which I am assigned as an Ambassador of God, but he has no part in me?”
Jesus revealed the way to accomplish this amazing victory!
Jesus-as a human-replying upon none of his power as Satan’s creator and sovereign, defeated the devil in a classic confrontation in a wilderness near Judea. Luke reports this confrontation in the fourth chapter of his gospel. We must understand this confrontation because it reveals how we defeat Satan’s attacks. “Then Jesus, being filed with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness . . .” That’s the first key to continual victory-being filled and led entirely by God the Holy Spirit. The Greek word translated “wilderness” could also be rendered “lonesome.” That’s usually when we appear to Satan to be the most vulnerable-when we are lonesome. Consider a definition of lonesome: ” . . .dejected because of a lack of companionship.”
This emotional state descends upon all of us from time to time, and that’s when Satan attacks relentlessly. ” . . . being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days he ate nothing, and afterward when they had ended, he was hungry.” The Greek word translated tempted-peirazo-means to test, endeavor, scrutinize and entice.
Those adjectives describe all of Satan’s schemes. He tests our resolve. He endeavors to distract us from God’s purpose in our lives. He watches us closely, constantly seeking to learn something about us that he hopes will provide him an advantage over us. His ultimate objective is to entice us to deny and sacrifice the advantages we have as children of God. Notice how natural Satan’s attacks are. Jesus was hungry and Satan’s enticement appeared to be both reasonable and logical. You’re hungry, the enemy said, and if you’re really the Son of God command that these stones be made bread. Filled with the Holy Spirit, did Jesus have the power to turn stones into bread? Absolutely! But Satan’s proposal was not to the power, but to the misuse of power. Notice the brilliance of Jesus’ reply: “It is written that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God [Deut. 8:3.].
“Then the devil taking him up on a high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world-remember those human kingdoms established in rebellion to God-in a moment of time. And the devil said to him, “All this authority I will give you, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if you will worship before me, all will be yours.” Thus Satan proposed a shortcut. Consider Satan’s logic. “I know you have to face the scourging and the cross, and in the end, you will have authority over all this, but why go through all that when there is an easier way-just worship me and its yours.” Jesus replied: “It is written Satan, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve.” [Deut. 6:13].
Satan was not finished. “Then he brought him to Jerusalem, set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you,’ ‘and’ ‘In their hands they shall bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone.'” [Psa. 91:11].
Turn to Psa. 91 and notice how Satan misquoted and mis-applied this vital passage of scripture, how he took it out of context. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, him I will trust . . . Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the lion
Why is this important? You must understand that Satan has no new tactics. He always attacks first your current pain. They he focuses on your anticipation of future pain. All the time, Satan challenges you to prove to him a truth he already knows-that God is sovereign-but that he refuses to surrender to. How can we always defeat every attack? With the inspired and written word of God!
So where is Satan today and what perspective motivates his attacks upon God’s children?
Turn to Rev. 12:12 “Therefore, rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short. In other words, Satan’s time on his throne is limited.
For millions of years, those were the only two thrones in existence, God’s throne-heaven and Lucifer’s throne on earth, making it a territory of the Kingdom of God.
Almost 2,000 years after the creation of Adam and Eve, God called a man named Abram out of a human designed kingdom called Ur of the Chaldees, formed hundreds of years previously by a rebellious human named Nimrod. All human kingdoms are designed, developed and deployed in rebellion to God, but remain under his sovereign control, though God allows Satan to deceive the leaders and the subjects of these human kingdoms.
God first promised Abram the following: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:2-3). Later, God expanded his promises to Abram, land, resources and millions of descendants to the covenant God was establishing with this man.
Later God explained that his covenant with Abram, whose name God changed to Abraham, along with changing his wife’s name to Sarah, would pass through Isaac, Abraham’s promised son, not Ishmael, Abraham’s son with Hagar. Throughout the centuries, God continued to reveal various details of this covenant. For example, it would continue through Jacob, not Esau.
Ultimately, God was establishing one family of people-the Israelites-to be his own special nation on earth through whom he would do his work. He sent 70 of them, all Jacob’s children, grandchildren, etc. to Egypt and promised to build them into a nation there. (See Gen. 46:2-4). After 430 years in Egypt, God brought the Israelites out-truly a great nation of people. At Mount Sinai, aka Mount Horeb, God proposed the following to the Israelites. Turn to Ex. 19:5-8: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites . . .The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said.”
That’s the second and only kingdom God has ever established. First, he established the Kingdom of God, with heaven being God’s throne. Next he established the Kingdom of Israel.
Long before establishing this second kingdom, long before even establishing the universe, including earth, God designed and established the church-not as a kingdom, or even as kingdom builders. God designed the church-the ecclesia-to ultimately personify one of God’s greatest and most amazing gifts-the riches of his grace.
Turn to Eph. 1:3-14 and then Eph. 2:4-7. “Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the one he loved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purpose in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment-to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
The KJV renders verse 10 this way: “That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.”
So Jesus continues to work on earth! Please note two things! First when Jesus described the work that he would do in the future, he did not mention building a kingdom. Jesus said: “On this rock I will build my church-ecclesia-and the gates of the grave shall not prevail against it.” Second, in Hebrews 10:5, we read the following: “Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me . . .”
What happened to the body? Turn to 2Cor.5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Now turn to 1Peter 2:21-24 “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps. Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth . . .who himself born our sins in his on body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness-by whose stripes you were healed.”
That human body became all the sin of the world. When Jesus resurrected, he did not come out of the grave with the body he took to the grave. Turn to 1Cor. 15:35-38 “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come? How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined . . .”
So, in order for Jesus, the Christ, to complete his work on earth, what kind of body did God prepare? We know that God prepared a human body for Jesus in the first stage of his work-being a sacrifice for sin. Now, as he builds the church, what kind of body does he have? Turn to Eph. 5:23, 30 “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy (See Eph. 1:4), cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (See Eph. 1:4) V. 29-30 “After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-for we are members of his body. For this reason-to become one-a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church.” So the body of Christ today is not a human body. It’s a spirit body, composed of former humans-now children of God-born from above-because as Jesus told Nicodemus: “That which is flesh is flesh and that which is spirit is spirit.”
Therefore, our relationship with Jesus is a far more intimate relationship than a king with his subjects. Thus the church is a unique entity on planet earth. It is the spiritual body of Christ, operating in disguise in enemy territory-the Dominion of Darkness-as the instrument God uses to add to the church those who are being saved.
Thus, what should the church be doing?
Well, what the head is doing, of course. What, then, is Jesus doing? Building his church, making the church holy. Cleansing the church by the washing with water (a type of God the Holy Spirit) through the word, so that the church can become without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Did God-the Elohim-provide a strategy and tools the body can use to accomplish these objectives?
Absolutely! God the Father provided a specific set of spiritual gifts. God the Holy Spirit manifests another set of specific spiritual gifts to accomplish specific objectives throughout the life of the church. God the Son provided another set of spiritual gifts-the five components of the system called the gift of grace.
Turn to Eph. 4:7 “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men . . .It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers . . .” These gifts-members of the body of Christ-describe persons God has positioned in the church to serve as a team that demonstrates the gift of grace. But why? ” . . . to prepare God’s people-His children, the church-for works of service (the ministry of reconciliation) so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ .”
Then we will no longer be infants-babes in Christ-tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work.'”
There you have it! The first step in how the people of God become an effective group of called ones. We must identify and learn from those gift-apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teach-that Jesus gave to the church to equip the saints. Furthermore, this strategy identifies the way each individual member of the body of Christ can identify God’s plan for each of us personally.
Next, each of us must identify the motivation spiritual gifts, the ones God the Father provides for each of us when he knits us together in our mother’s womb. Turn to Rom. 12:6-8 “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; it if is teaching, let him teach; it if is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do so cheerfully.”
We do not have to do anything about the manifestation gifts. God the Holy Spirit manifests one or more of those gifts in one or more children of God during specific opportunities for the common good.
So let’s ask:
Am I an apostle-one sent, usually to plant or raise up congregations of fellowship where living stones can be transformed to effective disciple-making disciples?
Am I a prophet-one who has been entrusted with an in-depth, detailed understanding of the nuances of God’s overarching plan for the world, for the church and for the nation of Israel, whose principal role is to help God’s people stay on task.
Am I an evangelist-one who specializes with profound spiritual abilities in cross-cultural gospel preaching.
Am I a pastor-one who helps to shepherd a local flock of disciple-making disciples.
Am I a teacher-one with a unique affinity and ability to teach God’s people the clear, unadulterated word of God.
Please understand, these are not positions or titles of authority. All authority in the Body of Christ resides in the head. We are members of his body, committed, cooperative, communicative and contributive in serving the body according to the way each of us are spiritually gifted.
Only the Nicolaitanes among us try to make these terms titles of rulership in an effort to lord it over God’s people.
Those who do it identify themselves as gentiles and not children of God born from above. Turn to Matt. 20:25-28 “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Next: Introduction to our motivation gifts