This truth led me to write Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals (Crossway, 2010). It is also a truth on full display in Ed Stetzer's most recent book, Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation (B&H, 2012). I asked Ed to answer a few questions about the kingdom of God and how it shapes our identity as Christ's followers.
Trevin Wax: What are some ways Christians commonly misunderstand the nature of God's kingdom? Why is it important that we get this right?
Ed Stetzer: It seems that for some, the kingdom of God is a new theological playground where many new ideas are being developed. For others, kingdom of God teaching is suspect - liberals talk about that. Well, they may be right, liberals did talk about the kingdom (often wrongly), but you can't talk about Jesus and not talk about the kingdom. The Gospels show Him talking about it 80 times.
As a new believer, I was taught that all that "kingdom stuff" was for the next age (or the age after the next one, or something like that). Well, the reality is that the kingdom is here, now, and we need a biblically driven idea of what it is, how we are a part of it, and why we serve in it.
Trevin Wax: You use the phrase "rebelling against the rebellion" as a way of laying out our posture as citizens of God's kingdom. How does this phrase help us understand our identity?
Ed Stetzer: Many Christians don't see that the world is in rebellion against its legitimate King. Now, it is an illegitimate and illegal rebellion.
So, we live in a rebellious world, but we are not of it. Colossians 1:13 tell us that we have been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God. So, we live in a rebellious world, but we are not part of the rebellion. We bow before the real King and declare subversively, "He is Lord." We are the rebellion against the rebellion.
Trevin Wax: I love how you take us to the Sermon on the Mount, where we get a vision for what a kingdom life looks like. How does the Sermon change the way we relate to others?
Ed Stetzer: Just yesterday, I met with our Pastoral Apprentice Team to start planning our way through the Sermon on the Mount. We sketched out the Beatitudes and already were starting to see how our kingdom ethics shape how we relate to the world around us.
The Sermon on the Mount is the kingdom's ethical guide. It describes how kingdom citizens live.
The ethical teachings of Jesus point to how God always saves a people and puts them on display - in this case, more through our actions than our customs, as in the Old Testament.
For example, the seemingly random admonition to not take oaths is pretty amazing. Some take it to mean that you should not swear in a courtroom (and for the record, I don't - I "affirm" rather than "swear"). But the point of the whole passage is missed if we focus on oaths.
The point is that citizens of the kingdom are so different, so radically honest, that they always tell the truth. They don't need to "cross their hearts," raise their hand, or place their hand on the Bible. They are (and everyone should see) uncommonly honest because they have chosen to live their new life in Christ as those radically changed by the gospel.
Trevin Wax: How is the church's mission connected to God's mission to bring Himself glory?
Ed Stetzer: God has always been concerned with His glory. He created us to give Him praise.
I get that that does not sound good. It sounds like God needs our affirmation. But that is only because we think of God in human terms. No human should want the praise of everyone. And that is the point. God is not like us. He is rightfully worthy of all our praise.
As such, God uses us to proclaim His name so that men and women might hear, repent, and be born again so they may join in His praise.
Trevin Wax: Who is the book geared toward?
Ed Stetzer: This is a book geared toward regular laypeople. Pastors will find it encouraging and I think helpful, but it is for their church. There is also a small group curriculum (with optional videos) if small groups want to start the study together.