Thursday, January 03, 2013

Integrity Matters: Looking Like--and Being--Citizens of the Kingdom

Most, if not all, of the scenarios and situations Jesus covers in the Sermon on the Mount are probably familiar to you. You've heard them taught. You've likely read them repeatedly. But all too often the nearness of a particular subject matter can gauze it from careful notice.

So let's do ourselves a big favor at this point and alert our brain to its natural tendency.

Let's settle back a little deeper into our chairs.

Let's listen up.

Let's be willing to do the hard work of connecting these teaching points of Jesus with actual, real-time events in our own lives, situations we may not have brought around here lately for any kind of scriptural scrutiny.

Because if we do, we may find we're not only missing the mark; we're also missing some prime opportunities for letting God make a kingdom impression on people who know us and see us and aren't yet convinced he makes that much difference in a person's life.

You see, one of the great challenges today is that many people who have been made citizens of the kingdom look, well, like citizens of the world. Yet King Jesus is making a new people who live like his people. They are changed to be agents of the kingdom because they live differently--that's a mark of being a kingdom citizen. And it changes us. It changes the things in our lives. Jesus is unapologetic to connect who you are in Christ with how you live for Christ. Those things matter.

Things like our anger.
You may or may not be the type of person who's easily upset or incited to high-volume reactions toward people who cross or challenge you. But none of us are immune from situations where the volatility of our tempers are put to the test and often found wanting. Whether from a line of questioning we don't particularly like at home, or an overeager driver at a four-way stop, or a policy change at the office that adds an extra layer of paperwork to an otherwise manageable process, we can feel the fire rising up our necks at any minute of the day.

But a person under submission to the King knows that "everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment" (Matt. 5:22). And even with biblical allowances for being bluntly honest, direct, and holding others accountable, even with the reality of such things as justice and fairness, we cannot allow unchecked anger to simmer in our hearts if we expect to stay sharply subversive and spiritually on point. Controlling our anger proves we're different from the pack.

Things like our authenticity.
Far too much of life is spent coordinating our public personas so they don't reveal certain private aspects of ourselves that we'd much rather stay under wraps and undealt with. Everyone has their skeletons, we surmise, and most people become fairly adept at dancing around them well enough so others don't notice.

But Jesus says his people must be the kind who, for example, cannot worship devotedly on Sunday if they've been unkind or offensive toward someone through the week. "If you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (vv. 23-24). Being the same person both inside and out proves we're different.

Things like our purity.
Not a man alive can honestly say he's never had an unguarded sexual thought or allowed a casual glance to morph into a cagey stare. And heaven knows, except for the awkward embarrassment of being caught looking, our society basically accepts this crude behavior as being part of what it means to be a guy.

But in Jesus' way of seeing things, "everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (v. 28). While we may never be able to extinguish entirely the temptation to let our eyes and imaginations wander, servants of the King allow him to transform their minds until they see their lust for how evil, demeaning, and ungodly it really is. Being a person who maintains a pure heart and honors his wedding vows--in both action and attitude--demonstrates that we're different.

Each of these are areas where we tend to rationalize our self-righteousness and excuse our behavior as being better than most. Sure, we try our hardest and do our best, but who can really keep from getting angry now and then, or being a bit hypocritical, or entertaining certain thoughts we wouldn't want others to know about? And yet Jesus, by bringing these matters to our attention and showing us a different way of handling them, declares that his kingdom is governed by a whole new value system. No, it's not the model that's on daily display in the homes, businesses, sports bars, and nightspots of our worldly culture. It's sadly not always the model that frequents our churches and youth retreats and Christian college groups either. But it's the model that's meant to define what kingdom life consistently looks like. It looks good on us.

And what looks good on us ultimately looks good on him.
- Ed Stetzer, Subversive Kingdom

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