A TALE OF TWO KINGDOMS

(August 3, 2017) Dr Jim McClure, renowned theologian, challenges churches to their responsibility to alert people to the demonic activity around them that is cloaked in what appears to be ‘nice.’

In 1859 Charles Dickens wrote a book that he called, A Tale of Two Cities.  It is set in the conditions that led to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror and the two cities are London and Paris. It begins with the famous sentence: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.’

In many ways Dickens’ opening sentence well describes the world we are living in today. What a wonderful world this is! As we live in the 21st century, there are many things for which we can be grateful, so many benefits that we can enjoy, so many wonderful things we could not have imagined 20, 30, 40 years ago – comforts, appliances to make life easier, quick and easy travel to any part of the world, advances in medicine which have discovered cures for deadly diseases, technological advances that have brought convenience, pleasure, and medical inventions that have given sight, hearing and mobility to millions of people.

But there is also a sinister and darker side!

Solid moral values, which have stood the test of time, have been turned discarded.  In the name of ‘political correctness’ decency, sound ethics, common sense and free speech have been sacrificed. The value of human life has cheapened, violence and aggression both internationally and locally, have engendered a spirit of fear, and confidence in the law and justice system to protect has diminished.

This tension in the world, in which two opposite sets of values and worldviews contend against each other, is not coincidental, nor is it something that is just a phase we are going through as we live in the 21st century.

1. Two opposing kingdoms
While in recent years there has been an ongoing effort to redefine what is right and wrong and what is good and evil, this conflict has actually been taking place throughout human history and it has involved two kingdoms.  On the one hand there is God’s Kingdom; on the other hand there is Satan’s kingdom.

In John 10:10, Jesus set out the opposing agendas in this way. He said, ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’

(i)  The kingdom of God

This is sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the kingdom over which God rules, where his sovereign authority is accepted and where his values are central and final. The phrase occurs 100 times in the New Testament and is referred to in 10 different New Testament books. The message of God’s kingdom dominates the message of the New Testament.

When Jesus stood on trial before Pilate, he told him, ‘My kingdom does not belong to this world.’ Then ‘Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born for this, and I came into the world for this: to testify to the truth’’’ (John 18:37).

In fact when Jesus began his ministry he declared, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near! Repent, and keep believing in the gospel!’ (Mark 1:15). Jesus constantly proclaimed his kingdom. His parables largely were about the kingdom, the Sermon on the Mount was an exposition of kingdom living, the first sermon Jesus gave in Nazareth was his kingdom manifesto. And at his ascension, Jesus took his rightful pace as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

But on the other side there is a malevolent and menacing kingdom.

(ii) The kingdom of Satan
This kingdom opposes the kingdom of God at every opportunity. In John’s gospel we read that Jesus described the devil three times as ‘The prince of this world’ (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul describes Satan as ‘the god of this world.’ This means that Satan has a powerful grip on the world and he relentlessly uses his destructive influence to corrupt and control all people. Satan wants to saturate world cultures with distorted values that stand wholly in opposition to God’s. He wants people to reject all that is good, all that is godly, all that holy and right and pure and beautiful and virtuous.

We are greatly mistaken if we underestimate him; Satan is powerful indeed as he seeks to deceive and pressure people to follow his corrupt and distorted directions.  He exercises a significant influence on the moral standards, views, objectives, feelings and expectations of all people.

Using his power to persuade and distort affect, to a greater or lesser degree, everything we do as humans,  he is constantly scheming to bring down Christ’s kingdom. We need really to grasp this biblical truth – Christians are at war!

Paul issued this reminder, ‘… take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:11-12).  And, according to the scriptures, at the head of these forces of evil is Satan who, with wicked power and clever cunning, daily pits his forces against God’s kingdom and all who belong to it.

In 1 John 5:19 we read a striking statement John addressed to Christian, ‘We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.’  That control is seen in the spirit of depravity, deceit, distortion and destruction that is sweeping through the world today. The prophet Isaiah preached about that same defiant attitude that was widespread in his day.  He wrote in Isaiah 5:19 ‘Woe … to those who say, “Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so we may see it. Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it.”’ He was referring to people who mock God and scorn his ways.  This is also much evidence of that today!

Isaiah then continued in verses 20-21, ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.’  What a clear picture not only of Isaiah’s day but also of today – what a topsy-turvy world we are living in.

2. The world today
Isaiah’s account of inverted values in Israel over 2700 years ago also provides a clear description of what is happening in many countries today. Notice that he said, ‘Woe, to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.’  I suggest that Satan’s agenda has always been to invert values that are for our good in order to destroy us individually and collectively. Today we see this happening in various ways, for example –

(i) Sexuality is being corrupted
In the name of open mindedness, all kinds of depravity and sexual deviation are being redefined, ‘regularised’ and resolved to be acceptable.  Those who have been pushing this programme worldwide have been very influential in persuading politicians, educationalists, prominent industrial leaders and other influential people to change the traditional definition of many words and thereby rendering them meaningless. Words such as husband and wife, father and mother, boy and girl have been reinterpreted in ways that makes them incomprehensible.

Under the term ‘marriage equality’, which is being forcefully promoted largely through TV and radio, many countries have passed legislation to secure the right to marriage for same-sex couples in the belief that this is the ‘progressive’ thing to do!  Recently the union three men in a relationship was legally recognised as the first ‘polyamorous family’ in Colombia, where same-sex marriages were legalised in 2016. The legalising of ‘same-sex marriage’ has seen the beginning of legalised bias against Christians which has resulted in a stifling of their witness and to their persecution and prosecution for living out their convictions.

Furthermore, words that once had only one obvious meaning have now been deliberately muddled! For example:

(a) Gender is being redefined
The word ‘gender’ once defined the male or female division of a species. It doesn’t any longer according to some people who argue that, regardless of our body type, we can choose to be either male or female. This has led to the dangerous craziness of men using women’s toilets and schoolboys using girls’ shower facilities.  Recently a homosexual couple refused to put the gender of the child that they were rearing on the birth certificate as they wanted the child to choose its gender!  And in Victoria the government wants this social engineering foolishness taught in all schools, even to very young children.

(b) Biblical teaching on sexuality is being misrepresented
In 2012 a new ‘version’ of the Bible was published – ‘Queen James Version.’

The anonymous ‘scholars’ who produced this ‘version’ maintained that the Bible has for centuries been misrepresented and that, if correctly translated, actually approves of homosexuality. Consequently they modified the wording of the biblical texts and reinterpreted them to make them say the opposite of what the original languages clearly state.

Regrettably some conservative Christian leaders have jumped on that particular bandwagon and now state that God’s word does not actually condemn homosexuality. Even some well-known and respected evangelical leaders have succumbed to the pressure and now no longer believe or teach that homosexual practice is decidedly wrong.

(ii) Human life is devalued
Once God’s good values are replaced by distorted human values, the worth of human life is diminished. Here are a few brief examples:

(a) Abortion.  The womb should be the safest place on earth but the wholesale murder of children in the womb by abortionists exceeds by far what the practice of child sacrifice was capable of.  Bizarrely the killing of unborn children is considered as an aspect of ‘Family Planning.’  According to the World Health Organization around 40-50 million abortions take place every year.

(b) Violence.  The despising of human worth is seen on a worldwide scale in the murderous groups who, in the name of their god, spread international terror on unsuspecting people. It is also seen on the streets as drug related violence and as gangs of youth spread fear among home owners, shop owners and anyone attending to their own business.

(c) Euthanasia. The supporters of euthanasia tell us that intentionally terminating a person’s life to end their pain or suffering is morally right and is a compassionate, merciful and loving thing to do.  In recent years governments around the world have passed legislation to enable this to happen. The government in Victoria plans to have such legalised killing here by 2019.
Quite apart from being aware of the biblical teaching of the preciousness of human life, we need also to be alert to what has happened in some countries where euthanasia is lawful; from the first step of legalising the practice it has then been argued that it is morally right to kill other people who may be considered a burden on society. Some have even contended that older people have a moral duty to seek euthanasia!

Once you depart from that the moral values laid down by a holy God, the end result is evil disguised as good.

(iii) Mocking of God and showing hostility towards Christians
Just as Isaiah spoke about the people of his day mocking God, that same contempt and mocking of God is seen today.  God is still being decried and rejected by people whose minds Satan has darkened.  A survey taken about a year ago shows that atheism is now the fastest growing religion in the world!  In rejecting God and his values in their lives, people throughout the world are snubbing their nose at God and are convinced that belief in God is both unnecessary and foolish to life in the 21st century.

The spin-off of this argument is that Christian beliefs are being maligned, mocked and dismissed as irrelevant, persecution against Christians is on the rise throughout the world, and Christians who refuse to deny or compromise their beliefs, even in countries that were established on Christian principles, are increasingly being prosecuted on the charge of violating anti-discrimination legislation. Christian morals are derided in the media, Christian beliefs are mocked, and Christian witness is often silenced on the basis that what we say or do may cause offence.

It was recently reported that the Department of Education and Training in Queensland has stated its opposition in public schools to ‘preaching or advocating a cause or religion with the object of making converts to Christianity.’ The examples it gives include giving Christianity-themed Christmas cards, Christmas tree decorations and making beaded bracelets to give to friends ‘as a way of sharing the good news about Jesus.’

Someone has rightly stated, ‘The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.’

2000 years ago Jesus foretold that this would happen to his followers. He said, ‘If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.   Remember the word that I said to you … If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you… because they do not know Him who sent me’ (John 15:18-21).

Just before Jesus received Judas’ kiss of betrayal, he prayed for his followers, saying to the Father, ‘I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one’ (John 17:14-15).

3. Living as citizens of God’s kingdom
It is not easy to live as Christians in the modern world.  As citizens of God’s kingdom (Ephesians 2:19) we are constantly being enticed to adjust our views in order to fit in.

(i) Resisting compromise
The way of compromise is very appealing for many Christians. Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry by offering him the kingdoms of the world and their splendour as an alternate to his mission that would lead to suffering on a Cross. Dr William Barclay has written. ‘What the tempter was saying was, “Compromise! Come to terms with me! Don’t pitch your demands quite so high! Wink just a little at evil and questionable things – and then people will follow you in their hordes.” This was the temptation to come to terms with the world, instead of uncompromisingly presenting God’s demands to it.’

Many Christians respond to Satan’s cunning by keeping silent when they should speak up and by modifying the kingdom values they hold to avoid confrontation or conflict. But a really serious and committed follower of Jesus Christ will hold fast to his pledge to God and will refuse to yield to compromise!

Many of the values we are expected to embrace today are called ‘progressive’, but when we scratch their surface, we see that they are actually regressive. The new morality they acclaim is nothing more than the old immorality given a new name. (It is notable that increasingly the adjective ‘progressive’ is attached to deviant attitudes and aggressive legislation to give the appearance of something that is good.

(ii) Holding fast
The challenge before us to live as evident followers of Jesus in the 21st century is compelling and unavoidable.   But the temptation is to take the easy way, the way of least resistance, the way that won’t bring any problems our way.   When we are tempted to take that way, we need to hear what the writer of Hebrews wrote: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful’ (Hebrews 10:23). ‘HOLD FAST’ – what a great motto for all Christians!

These are times when Christians have to hold fast, to ‘nail their colours to the mast’ and to refuse to be tempted to follow the way of least resistance.  It has been so from the early days of Christianity – as Peter and John discovered. We read in Acts 4 that when the local authority commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus, they replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. ‘For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard“’ (Acts 4:18-20).  For them compromise was not an option!

When Jesus described his followers as ‘the salt of the earth’ andthe light of the world’ (Matthew 5:13 and 14), he was indicating that we have a critical obligation to counter the corrupt influences in the world.  What a momentous challenge this is!

Paul expressed it this way, Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. …. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:10 and 12).

He draws attention to the fact that ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood.’  People are not our enemy! Satan is our enemy! But Satan can and does use people to advance his mission. So in seeking to fulfil the charge to be salt’ and ‘light’ while at the same time being strong in the Lord’, we must never cease to love the people who may be opposing us or are hostile to us. However, loving the people does not mean that we moderate what we believe to avoid offence.

(iii) Christian distinctiveness
When there is no observable difference between a Christian and non-Christian, the fundamental contrasts between the two opposing kingdoms are blurred.

When Christian lifestyle and values are indistinguishable from the society in which we live, there is something seriously wrong. James boldly stated, ‘Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God’ (James 4:4).  James was warning about ‘worldliness’ – worldly values, pursuits, goals and practices that are opposed to God. We cannot serve Christ and Satan! We cannot live transparently as Christians while accepting the worldly standards of deviant political correctness. We cannot endorse both the principles of God’s kingdom and the standards of a fallen world.

The Baptist theologian, Dr R Albert Mohler, has commented, ‘If you can’t tell the difference between the church and the culture, it isn’t that the church has been victorious over the culture; it’s because the culture has been victorious over the church.’

When we fail to ‘hold fast’ to our Christian principles and beliefs, we enfeeble the mission of the church and hinder the kingdom-centred proclamation of the gospel that Jesus proclaimed.

Paul presented us with this challenge, Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will’ (Romans 12:2).

God loves the world he created, as John 3:16 tells us, but because anti-God forces are very active in today’s world, allegiance to Christ will prove costly! But it is only when Christians –

  • Readily recognise that we are in a battle
  • Boldly declare our allegiance to Christ
  • Willingly live in an uncompromising relationship and commitment to him and
  • Hold fast to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) Jesus gave us

– that the world will see the glory of Jesus Christ and the power of his gospel to transform lives and the manifest presence of God’s kingdom in the world.

I recommend that you read  Australian Prayer Network Newsletter 2/8/17 link: http://ausprayernet.org.au/newsletter/LastSixNewsletters.php especially Andrew Bolt‘s Herald Sun article.

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Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.

 

His new book, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, has just been released and is available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: jbmcclure@gmail.com

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