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The Culture of the Kingdom

When Heather & I were first married, we had to opportunity to travel to Australia to volunteer at a Christian camp near Sydney. We spent about 4 months there and it was a very unique experience. Of course, we experienced all stereo-typical Australian things – we saw kangaroos and koalas and wallabies, found didgeridoos and boomerangs in the local tourist shops, we took in a show at the Sydney Opera House and – all the classic Australian things. We even started to pick up an Australian accent. We saw and experienced all the things that you’d expect to see and experience in Australia.

However, we also experienced a lot of things we weren’t expecting. Despite the fact that Canada and Australia have a lot of similarities – the same basic language, roots in the British Commonwealth, all that stuff – we were surprised to find just how different the Australian culture was from ours. We really did experience a certain amount of culture shock. Let me give you just a couple examples.

Now this first example was compounded by the fact that Heather & I were both brought up in very sheltered, conservative homes, but we found the Australian culture to be very liberal and sometimes  even abrasive. For example, it was very common for good Christian leaders to use language that we would never use. What we would consider crude or even swear words were quite common place. As timid, polite Canadians, it was a bit shocking to hear the abrasive stuff that came out of their mouths. So that was a bit of a culture shock.

The other example would be that even the camp itself was run very different from the camps we were used to. One of the weirdest things I remember was that the counsellor or cabin leader didn’t actually sleep in the room with the kids – (at Camp Little Red, the counsellor sleeps in the tent with the kids of course), but in Australia, we slept in a room down the hall, leaving the 8-10 kids alone in their room. It sure seemed like a wrong way of doing things, but that what they did. The counsellors would get all their kids into their rooms and then all the staff would gather and hangout at the party room for a couple hours before bed while the kids did who-knows what alone in their rooms.

They just did a lot of things very differently than how we would do them.

And I know that many of you have probably experienced that too, as you’ve traveled to different parts of the world. Different cultures simply do a lot of things differently. It can seem backwards or even wrong to us – but it’s normal and proper to them. And certainly, if you’ve ever made a big move to live among a different culture, you know that it can be difficult to adopt that new culture because our old culture is just so ingrained in us.

And I think many Christians experience that as well. There can be an element of culture shock when we are introduced to the kingdom of God and sometimes it can be very difficult to adopt this new culture.

You see, the Bible teaches that when we accept Christ as our Saviour – we are also accepting him as our King. And having a new king means becoming part of a new kingdom. This idea is conveyed throughout the New Testament, but Paul talks this specifically in Colossians chapter 1…. He writes in verse 11:

May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. 13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Colossians 1:11b-14

So in other words, Pauls says that since we have put our trust in Jesus as our Saviour and king, we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son – the kingdom of light –  the kingdom of God.

Now of course, we aren’t physical transported to another place – we still live in the world, but we’ve become subjects of another kingdom. In fact, in Philippians 3:20, Paul says…

“But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.” Philippians 3:20

As citizens of heaven, we have a new King – we have a new set of laws. A new set of rights and responsibilities. A new set of cultural expectations.

One topic that Jesus repeatedly taught about was the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Heaven. About 25% of all his parables begin with “The Kingdom of Heaven is like….” And then he goes on to give us many different illustrations to help us understand what the kingdom of Heaven is like…

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed….

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field…

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast in some dough….

The kingdom of heaven is like a net cast into the sea…

And Jesus give us all these parables about the kingdom of Heaven. And he does that because the kingdom of heaven is so radically different from the kingdom of the world. As you read through some of Jesus’ teachings, you get a glimpse of how different the kingdom of God is. It almost seems backwards and upside down.

  • Jesus says in the kingdom of God – the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
  • In the kingdom of God if you want to be great, you have become the least – the servant, the slave of everyone else.
  • In the kingdom of God, you’re to love your enemies and do good to those who hurt you. In fact, if someone slaps you on one cheek, you’re to turn and let them slap the other cheek too.

That is not how things are in the kingdom of this world. I think most people around here live by the rule: If someone slaps you on one cheek, you slap them back harder, right!?

The kingdom of God is very different from the kingdom of the world.

I think it can be very difficult for Christians to live in this world as citizens of heaven. We live within the culture of this world. We’re surrounded by native world-lians – and naturally, they are all living according to the culture of this world. And we, at one time, were one of them – living the exact same way they are. We are native world-lians too!

The difference is that we no longer belong to the kingdom of this world. We’re the odd ones out. When we accepted Christ as our Saviour and King, we were transferred from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God.

And because of that, we have the freedom and the privilege to live differently. And I want to pause on that note for a minute.

Sometimes I think there’s this idea that living different from the world is a burden. Like it’s an unfortunate side-effect of being a Christian. “Yes, you can have eternal life – but your life on earth is going to be a drag…”

That’s how “Christian Living” is painted sometimes. If you want to live like a Christian, you’ve got to stop doing everything that makes you happy and start doing everything that makes you miserable.

But that’s just not the case. I love how Romans 12:2 puts it:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

Now most times I wouldn’t compare cultures – saying that one is better than the other. There are certainly many aspects of Canadian culture that I appreciate, but I’m not about to say that Canadian culture is better than Australian culture. For the most part, it’s just different.

But when it comes to the kingdom of God vs the kingdom of the world – there is a clear winner. The Kingdom of God – which operates according to the will of God – is good and pleasing and perfect because God is good and pleasing and perfect.

It just kinda makes sense that if God is the way the Bible describes – if He is all-knowing, if He is all-powerful, if He is completely good, if He loves each one of us like crazy – then wouldn’t it makes sense that living life the way He prescribes would be good and pleasing and perfect?

That sure makes sense to me. So even though the kingdom of God is very different from the kingdom of the world – and at first glance it can seem backwards and even wrong accord to the world’s way of seeing it – but life in the kingdom of God is good and pleasing and perfect.

Now that’s not to say that if you follow God, all your troubles will disappear – you’ll never experience pain, and your life will be perfect. That’s not what I’m saying and that’s certainly not reality. The fact is that we must live out our lives in a sin-filled world and because of that, no one is immune to pain and hardships. That’s just a part of life.

But everyday, everyone of us makes choices. Choices that cause joy or cause sorrow. Choices that help or choices that hurt. Choices that build up or tear down. And those choices are largely influenced by the kingdom in which we live.

Earlier I gave you the example of someone slapping you on one cheek. That kind of stuff is gonna happen no matter if a part of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of the world. In a sin-filled world, you’re gonna get slapped! But what happens next is dependant on which kingdom you’re part of.

If you’re living according to the kingdom of the world, you’re gonna slap ‘em back. If you’re living according to the kingdom of God, you’re going to turn the other cheek.

And what this verse in Romans 12:2 is saying is that when you act according to the will of God in this, when you choose to follow God’s will, that choice will be good, pleasing, and perfect. It may not seem the best in the moment, but when you look back on it, you’ll find it was a good decision. You’ll find that you will be pleased with your decision in the long run. You’ll find that there is no better way than God’s way. His ways are perfect. Again, that’s not always clear in the moment, but when we choose to live according to God’s will and God’s ways – we will find that those choices were good and pleasing and perfect.

And so it’s a major advantage for us to live in the kingdom of God – to live according to God’s will for our lives. It’s not a drag. It’s doesn’t steal our joy. The reverse is actually true.

When we constantly make good and pleasing and perfect choices, that naturally leads to a joy filled life! Life can be sweet despite the hardships we all go through.

But on the flip side of that, when we live according to the kingdom of the world, we miss out on so much of God’s goodness for us. We suffer the consequences of those choices that are not good or pleasing or perfect.

A few years ago when we were pastoring in Mirror, Heather & I had the privilege of taking a group of people down to Mexico City for a short term missions trip. (Similar to what Jake did over the Easter break.)

As part of our preparations, the missionaries that we were going to work with sent us a list of several cultural differences that we’d want to be aware of so that we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves, get into trouble, offend the Mexicans we were staying with, or just generally be confused about what’s going on.

I won’t read through them all, but I want to share with you a few important ones that could have caused issues for us had we not had the heads up. So here’s the first one:

  • Mealtimes are different in Mexico than what you may be used to. Breakfast is first thing in the morning, but the main meal of the afternoon isn’t until 2 or 3pm. The last meal of the day is anywhere from 7pm to 11pm or later).
  • Avoid food sold by street vendors, especially hot dogs wrapped in bacon. This is tasty but toxic. (Three of our guys ignored this advice and spent a couple days sick in bed.)
  • Don’t flush the toilet paper. Put it in the bucket by the toilet. (Apparently Mexican plumbing was never built to handle toilet paper and so it was alway tossed in the garbage can rather than in the toilet.)
  • Cheek kiss (men to women, women to both sexes). When you first meet someone, it’s just a handshake. Generally you let them initiate the kiss if you’re not sure. Mexicans generally greet everyone when they arrive and personally say goodbye to everyone when they leave.

And of course, this is just a sampling of some of these cultural differences. You can imagine what type of choices we might have made – choices that would not have been good or pleasing or perfect – had we not been made aware of these cultural differences.

And in a similar way, as Christians, I think we often end up making those choices in life that are not good or pleasing or perfect simply because we are not aware of the cultural differences between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. We’re so used to living in the kingdom of the world that we continue living that way even once we have been transferred into the kingdom of God. We continue living like everyone else around us instead of adopting the new cultural practices of the kingdom of God.

That, by the way, was Israel’s major downfall. In the Old Testament, God had claimed the Israelites to be His own people – his own kingdom – and God had shown them how they were to live as his people. God had revealed his will for them – which was good and pleasing and perfect. They were to be holy – or set apart – or radically different – from the people around them. But of course, you know the story. Instead of being different, instead of being holy – over time, they became just like all the other nations around them.

Greg was talking about the year Jubilee last week. God designed the year of Jubilee to be a giant reset button for the kingdom of Israel to make sure that no one ever became stuck in poverty or slavery. No other nation on earth had anything like that. It was a very unique and very good practice that God wanted to the Israelites to live by. But as Greg mentioned, there was no record that they ever carried it out. Instead of being different, they lived just like all the other nations around them.

And in the end, we read in 2 Kings 17:15…

They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and they despised all his warnings. They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves. They followed the example of the nations around them, disobeying the Lord’s command not to imitate them. 2 Kings 17:15

Israel ended up being just another kingdom of the world – rather than being the kingdom of God.

And we face the same choice. God has graciously invited us into the kingdom of God. We read earlier:

13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Colossians 1:13-14

Through Jesus’ death & resurrection, we have been forgiven of our past choices that were not good or pleasing or perfect – and we now have the freedom to live differently. To live the way God intended us to live.

And I would expect that most of us want to live that way. We want to live a life where our choices are good and pleasing and perfect. We want a life that brings us joy and satisfaction.

But when we live by the world’s expectations and we operate by the world’s standards and we are no different from the worldly culture in which we live – we miss out on so much of God’s goodness for us.

And so for the next several weeks, I want to lay out some of the cultural differences between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. Much like that list from our friends in Mexico, I want you to be aware that there is a different way to live now that you’ve been transferred into the kingdom of God. Kingdom living is very different from worldly living.

And many of these differences are not immediately obvious. It’s quite possible that some who have been Christians for years are still living in certain ways like you did when you were still part of the world. Not that you’ve necessarily done that out of disobedience – but perhaps you simply didn’t know that there was a better way to live.

As I’ve been preparing for this, I’ve found there are many areas in my life where I haven’t adopted the culture of the kingdom of God and so I’ve been working to remedy that – because I believe that God’s will for my life is good and pleasing and perfect – even if it seems at first to be backwards to what I might think. God’s ways have proved to be right in so many areas of my life that I want to adopt God’s ways in all aspects and all areas of my life.

By no means have I mastered this. Much of the content that will come out in these next few week are things that I’ve been trying to learn and apply to my life and so I think we’re going to be learning together.

But I’m excited for the process. I’m excited to see how God will change our lives individually, how he will shape us as a church, and how we will use us to change our community as we learn to adopt the practices of His Kingdom.

Table of contents for Kingdom Living

  1. The Culture of the Kingdom
  2. Thy Kingdom Come

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