The Impact of Understanding the Kingdom of Heaven on Evangelical Missions
We’ve all been there. A room full of hungry people with an impassioned preacher sharing his heart about the importance of asking forgiveness for sins, declaring Jesus as personal savior and ensuring eternal life. Meanwhile, the humbled crowd sits there quietly, knowing that closing their eyes, raising their hand and saying a prayer is the cost of admission for a meal, clothing and maybe medical care. This is a common scene in every corner of the world and across every denomination and is repelling people from, rather than bringing people towards God.
I just don’t understand how we got here…. It’s like the evangelical movement and consumerism had a love child. As a result, Christians learned how to put on a good show and record the number of those saved from eternal damnation. Soon the counting of salvations became the core measuring tool of effective evangelical missions. I would venture to say this was not what Jesus had in mind when He said to His disciples,
“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (Matthew 10:7)
I think the problem boils down to a doctrinal misunderstanding about salvation and the kingdom of heaven. N.T. Wright says,
“So many people – I myself thought this when I was younger – assume that when Jesus talks about inheriting the kingdom of heaven, he means going to heaven when you die. So people have said, ‘There you are, in Matthew, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven, the place will go when we die. And at the end of the Gospel, he dies so that we can go there’.
That is completely wrong. Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew’s Gospel in Chapter 6, ‘Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven’. The phrase kingdom of heaven is not about a place called heaven, which is somewhere else, where God is king and where we’ll go one day. It is about the establishment of the rule of heaven, in other words, the rule of God here on earth.”
Inviting people into the kingdom of heaven isn’t about saving souls from the fiery pits of hell, but giving the gift of God’s presence today and throughout eternity. If we truly understood this, evangelical missions would be forced to change its approach. We would have to stop using high pressure tactics and fear to keep our number of daily salvations at an impressive level and move into the uncomfortable world of life on life, relational evangelism.
Is it time to redeem evangelism by pouring out our love for Jesus through action? What does this look like in a ministry? It looks like worship. It looks like love. It looks like joy. Or as Isaiah says,
“With joy you will drink deeply
from the fountain of salvation!
In that wonderful day you will sing:
“Thank the Lord! Praise his name!
Tell the nations what he has done.
Let them know how mighty he is!
Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things.
Make known his praise around the world.”
(Isaiah 12:3-6 NLT)
It is intentional, overflow living that starts and ends with worship.