Dismantle Church — Part4
Have you ever been in a situation where the one thing you hope to see is already happening or has already happened, but you aren’t aware of or ready for it? If you are able to perceive it you will be surprised with joy. For example, you may have watched videos of people serving in the army coming home to surprise their families; the loved ones, especially the children, get ecstatic with joy. They run and cling to them.
But what if the family ignores the person’s presence but continues with their daily chores? What if the child says, “I am waiting for my dad to come for Christmas to do all that fun stuff,” but ignores him right there? That would be the most heartbreaking situation one could experience. (John 1:11)
I think the Church today is oblivious to our glorious reality in Christ because the illusion of Sunday show business is perfect.
God has come to make his dwelling among us, but sadly, we have no knowledge of his presence. We fail to understand that Christ redeemed us to the household of our heavenly Father as His sons and daughters to be co-heirs with Christ to our inheritance in the heavenly places. I wish we could behold the New creation and joyfully walk in it.
In response to one of my earlier articles, where I discussed the kingdom of heaven coming down, a friend replied, “There is no heaven here. Heaven is on the other side.” By that, he means we reach heaven after we leave our earthly life. Most believing Christians today would say that is true. Heaven is where we go after we die or when Jesus returns; he takes us there. So, it is not surprising that many Christians even believe that Jesus is building mansions for them there. Thanks to the KJV translation.
We have got many great songs, books, and sermons giving us a fuzzy picture that heaven is somewhere above the clouds where God, angels and those dead in Christ dwell. I hope you remember these lines from a famous hymn. “When Christ shall come, With shouts of acclamation, And take me home; what joy shall fill my heart!”.
So, like the Gnostics, the Church seems to believe our salvation or eternal life is outside this sinful material world which is doomed like a sinking ship. One famous evangelist said, “The only purpose in my life is to go to heaven and take as many people as possible with me.” Hence, our only duty is to rescue people from this doomed world to imaginary heaven.
Well, there is some truth about our place with God for those who died in Christ but is it the heaven Jesus came proclaiming?
Unfortunately, an unbiblical understanding of heaven and earth has shaped most of our faith and distorted the truth. For example, during evangelistic preaching, why do we often ask this question, “Do you know where you will go after you die?”. It is definitely a powerful question, but, is the gospel about what happens to you after death?
We ask that question because, when we hear the term ‘salvation of our soul’, we think like the Gnostics of a non-material entity that goes to this imaginary spiritual existence outside the earth where it lives forever. We don’t think salvation as the redemption of a complete person, my mind, body, will, emotions, behaviours, life etc., which Apostle Paul calls this redeemed soul, New creation, our “inner man”.
When the Church got influenced by such non-biblical ideas about heaven, hell and life after death, we even changed the gospel to fit the narrative. Therefore the gospel has become about believing in Jesus, who died on the cross to pay for my sin and guarantee a place in heaven after I die. This understanding ignores the central truth of the gospel, which is the bodily resurrection of Christ. Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1Corinthians 15:14)
The explanation I got about the resurrection early in my life was that “Jesus defeated death and rose again, so that if you believe in him, even if you die, you will live forever in heaven.” Though there is an element of truth here, this interpretation presumes Jesus’s resurrection has no power to transform my present life.
Neither Jesus nor the apostles preached this gospel. Instead, Jesus proclaimed the gospel by saying, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Our hope in Christ is not about going to heaven but about New creation breaking into our lives in the present as the risen Christ is making all things new. This understanding should be of utmost importance to Church because without which, as Paul said, our faith is in vain.
In his book, Surprised by Hope, NT Wright states, “Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life — God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever. And when we come to the picture of the actual end in Revelation 21–22, we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace.”
Since we misunderstood Jesus’s resurrection, the coming of his kingdom, and the marriage of heaven and earth that God is bringing about in Christ, the gospel has nothing much to inform us for this life except to prepare people for heaven. Isn’t it absurd that you wait to die to go to heaven when heaven has come to us to make us God’s dwelling place?
Paul, writing to Romans, says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16). The power of the gospel is about the knowledge of the glory of God that has come to restore my whole being into the image of resurrected Christ and our calling to reign with him in this age and the age to come. (2 Corinthians 4, Romans 8:29,30, Ephesians 1:17–23, 2Timothy 1:10)
But sadly, we have bought into a gospel that neither knows nor walks by the power of resurrection; therefore, we made churches as incubators to prepare us for a life after death.
The Marriage of Heaven and Earth
The creation narrative in Genesis is about the creation of the heavens and the earth. It is about God, who is the Spirit creating the physical realm to dwell amidst it. These are not two separate realities but a union of them.
Unfortunately, today we read it as a science text. Genesis 1 is not much about how God created the planet but why he created it. It is about the creation of God’s dwelling place, shown in the image of the garden where God rested. It is where the heavenly (spiritual/unseen) and the earthly (physical/visible) overlap.
John, in his gospel, borrows that same Genesis language because he is writing about the beginning of the New creation, about God coming to dwell among his people. (John 1)
We see this union in the creation of Adam also. God made Adam by uniting the earthly and the heavenly together as He breathed His Spirit into him. That is why Adam was in the image and likeness of God, unlike animals and trees, which God also created.
But when Adam and Eve rejected God, the Spirit of God left them; the glory of God left them; therefore, death entered. Not just Adam, who got separated from heaven, but the whole creation, which was under his authority, got separated from God and the garden. God sent them out. The earth was cursed bearing thorns and thistles. (Genesis 3:17–19, Romans 8:19–23)
On the day of resurrection, the last Adam, Jesus, did not merely come back to life like Lazarus, who Jesus raised a week before. Instead, the Spirit of God raised Jesus as an imperishable New creation, in whom the heavenly and the earthly unite again forever. We see this marriage of heaven and earth in Revelations 21 and 22.
At the end of the Bible, we don’t see the description of different heaven and earth; instead, we see heaven coming down to earth, which resembles the garden. Our glorious hope is the marriage of heaven and earth in Christ, not escaping this doomed planet to another spiritual reality. If you observe, Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in the ‘garden of God.’” What does that mean?
When Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, the curtain in the temple, which symbolises the gate of the garden in Eden, opened. The last Adam, the Christ, enters the dwelling place of God, which the first Adam left when he rebelled. Through Jesus, the repented thief entered the dwelling place of God. Likewise, today, as the body of Christ, we enter the garden to be seated in heavenly places; therefore, we are a New creation. (Ephesians 1:3) We don’t have to wait till we die to enter it.
Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelation 21:1)
Let me pause and ask you. Are you disappointed or confused when I say the New creation has already come, yet you still see sin, evil and death? I was also confused. I thought, what then is the big deal about heaven? Let’s understand this better.
Now and Not Yet Kingdom
The complete consummation of the marriage of heaven and earth that God will reveal to us at the end of time is glorious and beyond our comprehension. But with Christ’s first coming, the kingdom of heaven has already come. Jesus compares it to a mustard seed, yeast etc., to illustrate that the kingdom of heaven is already present, and God will reveal its fulness to us at the end of time. Some call this now and forever or now and not yet kingdom. For lack of a better term, let us say, now and not yet kingdom.
Here are the words of a song nicely depicting this mystery.
The present is the yet to be
unwrapped and gifted mystery
of future days that all can see
Unfolding in the now.
What in the future, by and by
is present now will testify
Amen, I say the groom is nigh
and coming not yet now
Not yet now.
The author of Hebrews reminds us that we have already come to the heavenly Jerusalem in Christ which is coming down from heaven in Revelation 21. (Hebrews 12:22–24)
When Jesus proclaimed, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” he meant, in him, the presence of God has come to us to dwell among us to reign in us and through us. In other words, Christ restores the way to the garden. Therefore, even while we are still in the perishable bodies, we can partake in the new life in Christ and his kingdom if we repent and enter it in obedience.
When we fail to understand our new reality in Christ will fail to obey the call of Christ, because the body of Christ is of the kingdom of heaven, it is not of this world. Only when we live in the New creation by putting on our new self, do we become His Church to reign with Him. The carnal Sunday show business is not of Christ.
To put on the New self.
In the previous chapters, we had seen that by our redemption in Christ and our obedience to him, we are born into the household of God by the Spirit of God as His sons and daughters. Through Christ, our Father has made us a new being, born of the Spirit, with a new identity as His sons and daughters, a new household as His dwelling place, a new purpose to serve as kings and priests in the heavenly kingdom, our new inheritance. At the end of time, God will also give us new imperishable bodies. When we see him, we become like him. (John 3:1–8, Romans 8:1–11, Ephesians 1:3–10)
This newness is of the New Creation that God blessed us with in Christ Jesus. We begin to walk by the Spirit as a New creation by dying to our old self and its reality. (Ephesians 4: 22–24) Baptism symbolises this truth. “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) . “that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12: 1,2, 1 Corinthians 15:50)
Therefore, Paul pleads with the Galatians by saying, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16–26) When I put on the new self, the spiritual, intellectual, relational, sexual, social, and economic areas of my life reflect Christ and bear the fruits of the Spirit — bringing heaven’s rule into our lives both individually and corporately. But otherwise, we naturally reflect our carnal self.
Paul asks the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) In other words, he is asking, “Do you not know you are the New creation, the dwelling place of God?” (Revelation 21:1–3)
The marriage of heaven and earth is the New creation God has blessed us in Christ. Jesus came proclaiming this gospel that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. He calls us to die to our sinful nature to partake in His divine nature. (2 Peter 1:3–15)
Yes, we can never be sinless while our old nature still exists, but when we let the Spirit transform us by renewing our minds, to put to death the deeds of the body, we will live in the newness of life. (Romans 12:2, Romans 8:13) Christ calls us to bring our old self in subjection to the new, that God may be glorified in us.
For example, you would have seen or heard about embassies, consulates or chanceries. Do you know entering its territory is technically entering that representing state? Many of these are jurisdictionally considered sovereign territories of the state they represent. However, they are in the host country, the embassy delegation functions according to their state’s law and are immune to the local laws of the host state.
Paul used the same image when he said, “we are ambassadors for Christ.” Christ calls us to walk by our new citizenship of the kingdom of heaven even while we are in this world. He taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Isn’t it silly that when God makes us ambassadors of his kingdom, we seek mere visas to go there after we die? In that scenario, we still want to hold to our old citizenship and be ruled by it. This is not what Christ has called us to. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
When Christ calls us to repent and enter the kingdom, He asks us to renounce the rule of the host kingdom and enter it to live as citizens of heaven, totally immune to the patterns of the kingdom of darkness.
That is why, when you visit an embassy, you will notice that things are different. Do we as the Church walk in righteousness and justice to show the world the kingdom of heaven where God dwells? Christ blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ so that we live as we ought to live in heaven as citizens. How tragic it is when we call ourselves followers of Jesus and still live by our carnal nature. (Matthew 7: 21–23)
To reign with Christ
Like I used to, many Christians have a vague idea of what reigning with Christ might be. They think that when Christ comes, he will reign from Jerusalem, his global capital, and we will be like his ministers reporting to him worldwide. But, thankfully, that is not what the Bible says.
Christ is reigning, and his kingdom has been flourishing like a mustard tree since His resurrection. He calls His people to reign with him. Now the question is, are we reigning with Christ?
The kingdom of heaven is not here to maintain peaceful relations with the kingdom of darkness, which Christ defeated. All authority in heaven and earth is Christ’s. Therefore, he is here to redeem it and subdue it.(1 Corinthians 15:24.25) Christ, the Prince of Shalom, will reign for eternity. (Revelation 11:15, Habbakuk 2:4)
It is essential to understand, as Paul said, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, and He has not called the Church to dominate people, politics or cultures but persuade people to enter the kingdom of heaven that has come near in Christ through the Church.
John in Revelation introduces Jesus, the last Adam, as “the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” He made this Church as a kingdom and priests to His God and Father. (Revelation 5:9,10)
Sadly many Christians think that will happen sometime in the future. Jesus, before His ascension, charged his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations because he is given all authority over heaven and earth just as we see in Revelation 5.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18–20)
We need to note that the charge Jesus gave the Church aligns with the charge God gave to Adam before he rebelled, Noah after the flood, Abraham, and Israel at Mt Sinai. Jesus, the last Adam, fulfils the command God gave to Adam. In Him, we share this command as co-heirs of the kingdom of heaven. (Genesis 1:28, Genesis 9:1–7, Genesis 12:1–3, Exodus 19:1–6)
It is to fill the earth and subdue it. It is to bring all things under the rule of Christ. What does it mean to reign with Christ as his priests? It is to go and make disciples as ambassadors of Christ to reconcile all things to Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:18,19, Colossians 1:20)
Historically in the Roman empire, ambassadors were those who lived and showed what Roman life was about to those who were not Romans but wanted to have an alliance with Rome. So Paul is saying that Christ made us his ambassadors to live and show what life in the kingdom of God looks like.
As we go and live by the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we persuade people to enter the New Creation — the household of God and teach them to observe all that Christ taught us. In doing so, we fulfil God’s purpose in filling the earth and bringing all things in subjection to Christ.
The kingdom of darkness will not give up its power easily. As Christ did not triumph with might, but through the cross, the Church is called to endure the cross to fulfil this calling. That is why Christ said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)
Today Satan has successfully made the Church forget our new life and calling by creating a pseudo kingdom of Sunday show business and its “when I die, I will go to heaven” gospel. Therefore we gave up our calling to reign with Christ in extending his will here on earth as in heaven.
When we reject our calling to live in the New creation and reign with Christ, we will continue to live by our carnal self. Paul warned those Galatians, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:21) Dismantling this carnal church is crucial to rebuilding on Christ.
Is the Church of Christ surprised with joy for the presence of Christ amidst her with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places? Then our world finds hope in the New creation that has come near through her.
Note: Here, I explored this biblical idea from the scripture. I will attempt to write another series on how we can apply this in our daily lives to walk in the New creation. Please share your comments and questions below to help me in the following series.
For further reading
Book: Surprised by Hope — NT Wright
Book: Living in the Christ’s Presence — Dallas Willard
Video: The New Humanity (Bible Project)
Video: The Royal Priests of Eden (Bible Project)