The In-breaking of the Kingdom of God in the Context of the Kingdom of this World

The life of the Christian disciple is characterized by “transformation”. This transformation equates with the initiation and fulfillment of the Kingdom of God in the believer – “…Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”.

Often, the life of discipleship is articulated in terms of “formation”. The unfortunate presupposition that quite often accompanies this term is the idea that we are striving for a kind of “this worldly” stability of life that is able to be programized or formalized – “taught rather than caught”. But, it must be pointed out that the Pharisees were “fully formed” disciples of the Jewish faith. The Pharisaical way was focused on “arrival” and “establishment” instead of “journey of fulfillment toward ever greater fulfillment”. Jesus did not repudiate their orderliness of life, but the stagnation of the orderliness. It had no “trans” in it. The Christian life, therefore, is not about “getting it together” or “arriving” as much as it is about the journey in which we arrive and yet never arrive; a life of having our thirst quenched and yet of thirsting all the more.

Our life in Christ is, therefore, an ongoing journey of “forming” and then “de-forming” and then “re-forming” again in a manner that exceeds the previous “form”. The classic hymn “From Glory unto Glory” by Frances R. Hav­er­gal, penned in 1873, articulates the dynamic beautifully. Here are some select stanzas:

           “From Glory unto Glory!” Our faith hath seen the King.
           We own His matchless beauty, adoringly we sing;
           But He hath more to show us! O thought of untold bliss!
           And on we press rejoicing in blessèd hope to this:—

           To marvelous outpourings of ‘treasures new and old,’
           To largess of His bounty, paid in the King’s own gold,
           To glorious expansion of mysteries of grace,
           To radiant unveilings of brightness from His face.

           The fullness of His blessing encompasseth our way;
           The fullness of His promise crowns every brightening day;
           The fullness of His glory is beaming from above,
           While more and more we realize the fullness of His love.

           “From Glory unto Glory!” O marvels of the Word!
           “With open face beholding the glory of the Lord,”
            We, even we (O wonder!) “are changed into the same,”
            The image of our Savior, to glorify His Name.

            The things behind forgetting, we only gaze before
            “From Glory unto Glory,” that “shineth more and more,”
            Because our Lord hath said it, that such shall be our way,
            (O splendor of the promise!) “unto the perfect day.”

            O, let our adoration for all that He hath done
            Peal out beyond the heavens, while voice and life are one;
            And let our consecration be real, and deep, and true.
            O even now our hearts bow, and joyful vows renew!

            “In full and glad surrender we give ourselves to Thee,
             Thine utterly, and only, and evermore to be!
             O Son of God, who lov’st us, we will be Thine alone,
             Our being and possessions, shall henceforth be Thine own!”

             Now onward, ever onward, “from strength to strength” we go,
             While “grace for grace” abundant shall from His fullness flow,
             To glory’s full fruition, from glory’s foretaste here,
             Until His very presence crown happiest new year.

Our journey of salvation is in Christ under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit progressively manifesting more fully the glory of the Father. The great saints of the Body of Christ term this journey as “ongoing conversion”. Over and over again, we are formed and de-formed and re-formed, which is, in essence, the meaning of being transformed!!

What is more, we are contagious! This Mysterious Christian life is taught mostly by being caught and fostered. The best witness is an invitation to “shared life”. A “shared journey of salvation” is the most effective teacher. This is the key to Jesus’ “discipling” of his Apostles. I will never forget the day, when, I asked my spiritual director, an Eastern Orthodox abbot, to teach me about Eastern Orthodoxy. He said, “You will learn more if you just commit to worship, eat and hang out with us for a good long time. Books and discussions have their place within this context of lived faith.” He was, of course, right. I pass this wisdom on to you…

A good physical expression of this wonderful “likeness-bearing” journey to which we are called is the spiral. The spiral expresses the dynamic interplay of line (directionality) and circle (cyclical revisiting). The line prevents the circle from producing endless repetition (stagnation) and the circle prevents the line from becoming the recurrence of error. The spiral is wisdom vs. stagnation and uninformed/destructive directionality.

Let me list some of the recurring experiences of the Christian disciple.

Kingdom of God                                Kingdom of this World

Stability & establishment                  Dis-establishment

Security                                             Risk in trust and vulnerability

Reality & truth                                   Dis-illusionment and dis-enchantment

Integration & personal                       You/we first              

Self-fulfillment                                  Self-emptying          

You can, I am sure, identify with these spirals at several different points in your life. “Get used to it” in a manner of speaking! The spiral never ends in this life. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. What this work will look like beyond the event of physical death is wrapped in mystery. As the Apostle Paul and John proclaim in their epistles:

2 Corinthians 3.17-18 – Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

1 John 3.2 – Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

The Christian life is immersion in the “Living Tradition” which is the dynamic in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. It involves being transformed: being dis-established with regard to the Kingdom of this world and established with regard to the Kingdom of God. This Christian life is the manifestation beginning here and now in the midst of the Kingdom of this world of the Kingdom of God.  Transformation and manifestation. Let us, therefore, with confidence and boldness immerse ourselves in the “Living Tradition” – to the in-breaking and out-breaking of the Kingdom of God in our lives!!

Romans 8.1-11 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.

Fr. Thomas