inward kingdom? yes and no

I read a good booklet yesterday which generally was helpful, yet fell into what I think is the error of seeing only an inward kingdom in Jesus’ coming, now at work among his followers.

First of all, I think I get the drift. Jesus is Lord, and we are to live according to his lordship and kingship in our hearts. That is important, and essential. Indeed from the heart is how we live.

I get the impression though that in people’s minds theologically, what is present today in Jesus is some kind of inward kingdom. Something akin maybe to the invisible church, which I agree with others does not exist in scripture. The church is visible, and God’s kingdom present in Jesus is as well. Even though who empowers it, and indeed makes it what it is- is not seen.

Yes, Jesus must be king of our hearts. But that rule is present not only inwardly, but outwardly within a community, the community of the redeemed. We live out this new rule in the here and now, in tangible, down to earth ways. One example, not lording it over each other like the rulers of the earth, but being servants to all, even as Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

I think this bent plays out in an emphasis again and again on inner piety, which tends to skirt, or underplay outward piety, or good works- which Protestants automatically are suspicious of. Yes, we must work out of a heart of love, but there must indeed be good works. People see our light shine by our good works, and then glorify our Father in heaven.

Our kingdom is not from this world, but it is present in Jesus in and for the world. It is a direct affront to the ways of the world simply by being what it is, by living out that calling from God in Jesus. What we in Jesus are called to, together, in the way of Jesus for the world.

2 comments on “inward kingdom? yes and no

  1. Jack Brown says:

    I read an article once that used the phrase “subjective” and “objective” kingdoms–pointing out that the ultimate goal of the church is the “objective kingdom,” i.e. the outward-working, justice-seeking, servant-oriented kingdom expression of the church in the world. But the author made a good point that the objective kingdom cannot exist without the “subjective kingdom,” i.e. the inner working of the Spirit in our lives to mold us in the image of Christ so we can carry that image into the world in all we do. I think of the inner work as foundation, and the outer work as the logical outgrowth of that foundation. Not so much a dichotomy, but as a continuous cycle of inner renewal leading to outward expression.

    I think you’re completely right in pointing out that too much of what the contemporary church produces is about the “inner kingdom”–as in “How can I be a better Christian,” “How can I experience more joy,” etc. I agree with you that to only see an inner kingdom is an error, but at the same time I think others fall into an error of doing works merely in their own strength and for reasons that are somewhat self-serving. I think in some extreme cases, doing good works becomes another expression of the inward kingdom, when we do it simply to feel like a better Christian and feel happier about ourselves and our relationship with God.

    One of the questions James Lipton always asks his guests on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” is this: “What is your favorite word?” If I were asked that question, I would say my favorite word is “balance.” I pray for balance in our understanding of the kingdom–to know the journey of the inward life in a way that leads us out into the world to serve, and for a journey of the outward life that is always reminding us of our need to turn to Jesus for the strength, heart, and love we need in all of our kingdom expressions.

    Appreciate your blog, Ted!

    • Certainly good points, Jack. You have insight and a perspective helpful here. I agree so much that balance is indeed a key here as in other places. I do think we’ll be thought of as not balanced sometimes because of our theological views, in my case pacifism. Not to bring that latter subject into this discussion. Sometimes we may have to really hammer home a point which by itself forever could get us off track.

      Thanks! I most certainly appreciate your blog, also.

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