Thursday, July 07, 2005


OBEDIENCE AND THE KINGDOM with Dale Williams and Keith Giles

(A theological debate on issues of obedience as it relates to the breaking in of the Kingdom of God in the lives of Believers)

I've been trying to write an article/column these last 2 days about the connection between the Kingdom of God and our obedience to His will.

The article is still very much in the formative stages, and so I asked my good friend Dale Williams to take a look at my article and critique some of my logic. Dale is a seminary graduate, whereas I am a total layman, although an uncommonly intelligent and handsome one mind you.

So, our two perspectives on this issue are valuable, if nothing else, as examples of how difficult it can be to rightly divide the word of truth.

Since the article itself isn’t finished yet (due to this ongoing debate and clarification session) I’ll summarize my article thesis briefly and then allow everyone to read what Dale and I have been discussing along these lines.

THE CONCEPT: As I read Jesus’ instructions to his disciples that they should pray “..thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven..” I took phrase this to suggest that A) Earth is a place where God allows a strange effect to occur where His will isn’t always automatically done, and His kingdom doesn’t always come, and that B) If the followers of Jesus align their will with the will of God, then the Kingdom of God is allowed to flow into their lives with their “Yes” to Him. This is expressed in our obedience to Christ and to the Word of God.

Dale’s response to me is as follows:

DALE: I hear your desire to articulate the in breaking of the kingdom in our lives through obedience. My reading of the Lord's prayer and God's will are different than you expressed it. I would not be
comfortable saying that the earth is a place where God's will isn't done. You don't exactly say that. You say "automatically," but it is an easy slide into home for the average Joe to take the mystery of
God's permission of evil and human freedom to an extreme that sees God as uncertain and semi-sovereign - he is king over most things, but absolutely over all.

The Kingdom move is to see God's coming as forceful and mysteriously secret - it is like a mustard seed, beginning small and over the long run becoming larger than most things, unavoidable. Another thing I see about the kingdom is that it is coming. Heaven is coming to earth. Yet, it is only those who believe that see it and its effects.

(KG’S NOTE: “Heaven” and “Kingdom” are synonymous in our discussion. The coming of the Kingdom of God to Earth has already begun-as Jesus proclaimed in his Gospel and on the sermon on the mount- and the Kingdom of God will continue to advance, with our without our permission).

DALE: The presence of the kingdom, yet being seemingly unnoticed by the masses has interesting ramifications for the believer. It is the believer who is responsible for receiving the kingdom when it comes and stepping into its flow. The kingdom comes and illumines the believer in various ways and it is almost a natural move to obey. 

That obedience is risky, but it isn't necessarily difficult. It is risky because the rest of the world may not see the need or significance for loving your enemy or praying for someone with aids or sharing your life with a social outcast (co-worker or whatever). 

You might come across as foolish. It isn't difficult because you have received the kingdom and the king by implication. And, moreover, the experience of receiving mercy is the resource we draw from to extend mercy - to extend the kingdom, God's sovereign mercy to a world without hope and a church endlessly striving for affirmation and approval from others.

I like your desire to connect obedience to living in the kingdom. I like your use of the petition in the Lord's prayer for the kingdom, and I think you could be more subversive (you “subversive 1”) if you
were to talk about the coming of the kingdom restoring our fallen world through the ministry of the kingdom already at work, progressing to a consummated kingdom in heavenly glory.

People struggle to see the kingdom in the midst of suffering and you see it when you are actually there in the homeless motels and the children's ministry and in your home when you love your wife through those horrible circumstances. (NOTE: My wife and I had recently done through a miscarriage). God's will is continually breaking into your life and mine and it is the eyes of faith that see this prayer being answered, even if it is small.

One day the presence of the kingdom will not be small and those of us persevere by the power of the
Spirit will rejoice with our conquering king when there will be no more suppression of the truth that God is King and there is no other!

I hope my sermonette provokes thought rather than negativity. You write in a conversational tone, which I admire and hope wins the hearts and ears of many at the River and everywhere else you minister.

KEITH: Thanks for the feedback. I do appreciate all of it.

I realized right off the bat that I would be running into the idea of God's sovereignty and free will before I ever got off the ground.

My hope was to keep it more conversational and remain theologically sound and yet avoid the details of such lofty discussions as free will and sovereignty. Maybe I can't avoid it in this context, or maybe I can with more thought put into it.

The basic idea is still that Jesus is teaching us to pray that "God's Kingdom come and will be done", which suggests to me that if we don't pray and cooperate, for us it will not come or be done. Of course, it WILL come, whether we want it to or not. But, for us individually, if we don't pray and ask for God to have His way and His will, then His Kingdom will not break into our lives. (Again, please correct me if I'm misunderstanding this).

This seems to be tied very tightly to the concept of obedience to God and His Word. There are so many scriptures which connect the idea of obedience to our love for God and our discovery of His will for our lives, etc.

Maybe I have a personal hang up with obedience in general. I've always wanted to write another article on how Obedience is Worship. Without obedience you have no real worship, you just have singing and clapping.

So...I'll keep plugging away at this article until I can articulate what I'm thinking without trampling over a dozen other theological daisies...or tulips.

DALE: Now, I think you are bent toward obedience. That isn't to say that I am not a friend of obeying God (of course). But I think how  obedience is worked out under the rubric of the kingdom of God is different. If it was not then the pharisees would have been crucified and leaders of the church. The place where we see obedience is in the life and work of Jesus Christ. He obeyed. We
have not. He was faithful and we become faithful by being united to him by the Spirit in baptism and as we receive God's grace in the word, service (worship may be included here - Rom 12), and communion.

The issue of God's kingdom and will not being actualized apart from our petition for it to come and be done is sketchy theologically. On the serious side of things, it is more rationalistic than faith based to believe that we are the necessary aspect for bringing the kingdom of God.

It is the scandal of the gospel that we - imperfect people being perfected through Christ by the Spirit for the Father's glory - receive God's favor and grace, and even more staggering is the fact that God chooses to use us to further His kingdom. When the kingdom becomes something that we can control it ceases to be God's and becomes at best some kind of hybrid and at worst ours.

I believe you are right that obedience is imperative. It is not optional and Jesus teaches the people of God in such a way that he more regularly presupposes obedience than directly says to do x or
y. In his parables the commands are implicit and it requires already possessing the kingdom in order to reason the response God requires.  In that sense, obeying God may not always be obvious - loving your enemy, resisting judgment because you are guilty too, being blessed when you are persecuted, praying for the kingdom instead of taking over your city for God.

It is true that God uses our prayers to usher in the kingdom, yet it is as this kingdom ushers through the one's who pray that it seems to come. The promise of the prayer is that God will bring his kingdom and will. So the emphasis seems to be on the faithfulness of God to deliver what he wills. It is a wonder and a grace that we get to participate and follow our God. God using us is not mechanistic, but relational. God reveals himself and his will we pray and do likewise. This is the proper place to put Wimber's insight from Jesus in John's Gospel - we only do what we see the Father doing already. The kingdom move is one where the kingdom has already come and we flow along with that kingdom ministry. So that means that we cannot pray down the kingdom. God graciously gives it to needy people and those who recognize its coming carry a tremendous responsibility to administer it so that the mercy and love of God touches lives through lives...

That is where I am coming from.

KEITH: I'm trying to see the subtle distinctions that you're presenting, and I think I get it, but then I keep asking myself questions like, "Can we, in our own lives, miss the will of God, and the breaking in of the Kingdom, because of our disobedience?"

Maybe it's not as simplistic and formulaic as I'm trying to make it...and I'm really not wanting to force it be that simple least I don't think I am.

Maybe I am.

I think you're saying that it's not as simple as saying, "If we do the will of God, and agree with the Word of God (in action), then the Kingdom is free to break through into our lives" I correct? I guess I'm having a hard time accepting that this statement isn't true. Or, is it true in part but we need a "But" or an "If"...?

DALE: You read me correctly: if we do x and y then result z will happen. I do not think that is a Kingdom perspective. That does not require us to believe or obey - undermining your point precisely!

KEITH: Scripturally, we have a ton of precedence to argue that obedience and action is expected of those who believe and trust in Jesus. When we, in obedience to God, become not just hearers of the Word, but doers, then we are blessed (James 1:22). "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them" (John 13:17). "For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." (Romans 2:13)...(see James, 1 John, the Gospels, etc., etc.).

DALE: I think those passages capture the paradox and illuminate the kingdom. The doers of the word are blessed because they hear and do. They are not blessed simply because they do the word. Their
faith is not more genuine because they are obedient. They are obedient because they have faith. They have experienced the power and grace of God and they must/cannot help but do what the word of
God proclaims. The true disciple listens and does. One cannot separate the two. And the righteous (the Romans passage), who are declared so by God because of the substitutionary death of Christ
(not by their own effort/discipline), also hear and obey the law. It isn't obedience that makes them kingdom people (the righteous), but God infuses ordinary rebels with the Spirit, bringing them into the kingdom and as members of Christ's kingdom they gladly live out the orders and ways of the King. They do not obey unwillingly. Rather, true followers of Christ delight in the law and meditate on it day and night because it is God's law.

And the John verse is cool too. The knowing of "these things" is not divorced from doing them. The blessing is the doing. You are blessed in the doing, not just as a reward, but as a life - blessed
is the man who keeps the law of the lord (Psalm 1). In living in God's kingdom you are blessed. There is a condition here, but I believe John's Gospel is not laying down the law as much as it is
proving/displaying who the true disciples and disciple (Jesus) was/is. Interestingly, toward the end of the Gospel the disciples scatter and Jesus brings them back personally. It wasn't their obedience. It was the word of the women - preaching he is risen.

And then it was the presence of Jesus himself - the king had returned and touched them at the point when they returned to life "as usual" (disobedience?). But, after those resurrection appearances
you get the book of Acts and the rest of the NT.

KEITH: I think we're going round and round on this one. I'll keep studying and praying on it and we can talk on Monday over coffee about it more.

I appreciate all of your input and loving correction.

DALE: I do not think we are going round and round. I think we are at the point where two pieces of iron clash, sparking with the hopeful result of a sharper edge for applying the kingdom to those who we get to share it with. Our thoughts must be challenged and refined. We are not God and his thoughts are higher than ours, which is a call to ponder and wrestle with what we can know and teach. I love it!

KEITH: Ok, I think I'm beginning to get it. (Stop me if I'm not...)

So, are you saying that, in my simplistic formula-version, I'm leaving out the "Obedience-as-love" elements? Because I'm not attempting to argue or teach that obedience by itself is a button we push to get the Kingdom to appear. Maybe I need to go further to state things that I believe are implicit? If so, thanks for pointing this out to me.

DALE: I would say that your desire appears to argue for an obedience that demonstrates we love God and desire his kingdom. I would not say that the Lord's prayer presses the issue of obedience and
conditionality regarding the coming of the kingdom. The Lord's prayer is a prayer for the church, members of the Kingdom of God. In the past (the OT) the Kingdom was only anticipatory - a future hope of restoration and vindication. Yet, when Christ came out of the desert preaching the Kingdom in Matt 4 he preached a message of nearness and presence (or in our Vineyard terms: "already"). The
Lord's prayer is a prayer for people who have the kingdom and desire its consummation ("not-yet").

KEITH: Of course, I do agree that we need to be in love with God and our obedience is a response of love and spontaneous and exuberant in nature. It isn't simply "Do this because you're supposed to" it's more like "I have written the Law on your heart".

DALE: Yes, the law in the believer's heart is essential to think about when we consider obeying God as believers. With the reception of the renewed heart the desire becomes, "Your kingdom come and your will be done." But how it comes and when it comes is not something we can predict or guaranty. We should expect the kingdom because we are part of the kingdom as adopted sons, not because we deserve it. If we were to receive the kingdom only when we were obedient when could we even call people to expect the kingdom, especially if James is right when he says failing at one point makes one a lawbreaker?

I think the "stony heart" person (non-believer) mocks God's kingdom and never expects God to do anything. The believer has a new heart and capacity to see God's mercy as not only possible, but likely since God has had mercy on such a person. The kingdom (in the presence of King Jesus) came to all the disciples when the least expected it - whether or not they were obedient was not relevant to
the biblical writers to tell us. And Paul encounters the kingdom of God while clearly disobeying God - ethnic cleansing!

It is a humbling thing for people like us, pastors who read the Bible and pray (hopefully on a regular basis - smile!), to see the Kingdom of God come in mercy to someone who is not a relatively good,
conservative, contributor to society. I do not wish to suggest that you see God ministering only to the South OC Republicans. It is worth noting that many of our friends would be quite disturbed if one
of our pastors were a Democrat! Could the kingdom come to one of them? (laugh!) I do not either myth that Jesus was a liberation theologian or on Bush's campaign committee!!!

My point is simple. It is God's desire to give his children the kingdom. This is a sovereign choice and one that flows from his love for his children and all whom he will call to faith, which involves
abiding in the ways of the kingdom.

KEITH: But, with this clarification, isn't the point I'm attempting to make still true? That when we, as lovers of God and those hopelessly captured by Christ, agree with God and say "Yes" to His will and His kingdom, it begins to flow into our lives and break into the world around us?

(This is the key point where either we both go "Ah-ha!" or one of us goes "No! You still don't get it!")

DALE: I think the above statement is true, but in what ways the kingdom breaks in and around us and how frequently is completely up to God.  We cannot obey enough to ensure the presence of the kingdom because if we have delivered by our sins and given the Spirit we are in the Kingdom! That is one of the pastoral counseling tips we can glean from the beatitudes - the desire for righteousness and/or the making of peace is our "blessedness" we are not apart from the kingdom, but
it is ours and will be ours and we will see God.

KEITH: What then is the point of Jesus instructing His disciples/followers to pray that the will and Kingdom of God be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven, if it's not so that we will have an imagination for an adjustment of our pattern of life to coincide with the pattern of the Kingdom? And if this is the purpose, or part of the purpose, then isn't obedience a "no-brainer" in the success or failure of such an adjustment or pattern of life? A pattern of simple, loving, obedience...("If you love me, you will do as I command")

DALE: I think obedience is a "no-brainer" and thus the emphasis of the kingdom message is on God's mercy and sovereignty over all things, even the believers heart. There is nothing beyond the scope of God's sovereign rule. He may not bring the Kingdom in the way we expect, but the reasons cannot be due to limitations with his will. Rather, it is a mystery that resolving may only lead us into endless
speculation. We have more certainty into the fact that God's will is being done: Christ came as the fulfillment of OT prophecy, Christ died was crucified by wicked men at the ordination of God (Acts 2 somewhere), God inaugurated his kingdom at the first coming of Christ and this kingdom continues through the ministry of the Spirit and the church until the final consummation of the kingdom. When we pray for the kingdom in the Lord's prayer I think it is a scary prayer because we are not only praying for the good to come for those who love God, but we are also praying for the righteous judgment to come upon rebels of Christ's kingdom and the end of mercy for the world.

Oh, I got sidetracked a little...I think the point is that we get aligned with God and his will through praying of the prayer and it is right for us to pray for the kingdom because we are part of that
kingdom coming to the world as well as recipients of God's kingdom.

I see our petition as request and our part in response can be described with the following words:
waiting, expecting, trusting, faith.

In saying all of this, I am not suggesting that their is no law (antinomian), but manner the believer relates to God and experiences the kingdom is more gracious and paternal in character, since after
all he is our Father.

KEITH: Wow. Thanks for taking the time to articulate all of this. Even if it does mean that now my article is essentially toast. (Crap!)

And it was going to be so pithy and cute too.

Oh well…

I suppose I can still write my article, but with slight modifications, of course.

Thanks, Dale.


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