If we are concerned about our spiritual formation and that of others, the vision of the kingdom is the place we must start. It is the place where Jesus started. That was the gospel he preached. He came announcing, manifesting, and teaching the availability and nature of the kingdom of the heavens. “For I was sent for this purpose,” he said (Luke 4:43). That is simply a fact, and if we are faithful to it, if we do justice to it in full devotion, we will find our feet firmly planted on the path of Christian spiritual formation.
The kingdom of God is the range of God’s effective will, where what God wants done is done.1 It is, like God himself, “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 103:17; see also Psalm 93:1–2; Daniel 4:3; 7:14). The planet Earth and its immediate surroundings seem to be the only places in creation where God permits his will to not be done. Therefore we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and hope for the time when that kingdom will be completely fulfilled even here on earth (see Luke 21:31; 22:18). The kingdom is in fact already present (see Luke 17:21; John 18:36–37) and available to those who seek it with all their hearts (see Matthew 6:13; 11:12; Luke 16:16). For those who seek the kingdom, it is true even now that “all things work together for their good” (Romans 8:28, PAR), and that nothing can cut them off from God’s inseparable love and effective care (see Romans 8:35–39). That is the nature of a life in the kingdom of the heavens now.
The vision that underlies spiritual transformation into Christlikeness is the vision of life now and forever in the range of God’s effective will. That is, we partake of the divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 3:1–2) through a birth “from above” and participate by our actions in what God is doing now in our lifetime on earth. Therefore, we can say, “Whatever we do, speaking or acting, we do all on behalf of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17, PAR). In everything we do on earth, we are permitted to do his work. What we are aiming for in this vision is to live fully in the kingdom of God here and now, not just hereafter.
This is a vision of life that cannot come to us naturally, though the human soul-depths automatically cry out for something like it. From time to time, our deepest thinkers, visionaries, and artists capture aspects of it.2 It is a vision that has to be given to humanity by God himself in a revelation suited to our condition. We cannot clearly see it on our own. And that revelation has been given through his covenant people on earth, the Jews, with the fullest flowering of the covenant people being Jesus himself.
Jesus was prepared for through centuries of rich—though often painful—experience among the Jews. Through him the Jews have fulfilled their God-given responsibility and blessing of being a light to all the peoples of the earth (see Genesis 18:18; 22:18; Isaiah 42:1–6; 60:3). Through them all the nations of the earth are blessed—and will be even more blessed in the future.
Dallas Willard and Don Simpson, Revolution of Character: Discovering Christ’s Pattern for Spiritual Transformation (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), 74–75.
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