The Foundation of the Kingdom of God Is Love
The primary operating praxis and character of the kingdom of God is love. Love is not characterized by cultural conquest, withdrawal, exclusion, or political agendas. The rule and reign of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit compel a praxis-oriented life of love. The person and work of Christ make properly ordered love possible and provide an image of what love looks like in practice. God is the author of love, and his rule over all of life is an extension of his love. To help his followers understand the dynamic reign and rule of the kingdom of God, Jesus sums up what it means to be properly human by teaching that the greatest commandment for us is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). The Bible gives God’s instruction for how to love him well and people made in his image. Scripture teaches us what it means to be faithful stewards over the whole creation. People of the kingdom are people who hunger to practice the art of well-ordered love.
The good news of the gospel is that the hostility of the heart toward God and disordered love toward others are transformed into new affections with a new disposition toward God and all that he desires for his creation.1 As Christ commands, the primary motive and direction for life in the kingdom of God is love. But to love God is easier said than done. Love for God is the dispositional center of affection, volition, intellect, satisfaction, joy, and goodwill in relation to all that God is.2 Love for God is a life oriented around an uncompromising commitment to love the things God loves. Properly loving one’s neighbor predisposes one to a commitment to seeking the good of the other. David Jones explains it this way:
Love for our neighbor is beneficent affection for persons like ourselves. Love acts for the good of others out of affection for them, which influences the perception of what truly serves their interest and how it may be carried out in the diverse circumstances of human life.3
To love in this way requires that we understand what it means to love ourselves within a context of intimacy with God. To “love your neighbor as yourself” demands that we love ourselves well. To love oneself well is to do what is necessary to sustain one’s life and to fulfill one’s responsibility to preserve one’s human dignity, holiness, chastity, property, and reputation and to bring glory to God the Creator.4 As such, there is nothing sinful about one’s desire to pursue one’s best interests. Our best interests are to function in concert with God’s best interest for his world (Deut. 10:13; Matt. 6:33; 1 Pet. 3:10–12).5 Sin, however, corrupts what we believe to be our self-interest and leads us to treat others in ways that undermine both their dignity and ours. With love-oriented motives the direction of life in the kingdom becomes more clearly understood as willfully obeying the guidance that God gives about what it means to be truly human. It is an obedient love that submits to God’s authority, desires to be guided by his instruction, and determines to carry out his will prudently.6 Jesus says that those who love him will obey what he commands (John 14:15). This type of love is not an autocratic, coerced love—if there is such a thing—but a love characterized by willful reciprocation out of gratitude because of God’s pursuant, liberating, and transformative love first shown to the people of the kingdom (1 John 4:7–21).
The means that God has given his people to properly love him and their neighbors include God’s revelation in creation, his Word, the church, and so on, all working through the empowering presence and operation of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus teaches about the connection between love and obedience, he is quick to remind the disciples that the Holy Spirit will be present to help, comfort, and counsel an obedient love in the kingdom (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7). The praxis of the kingdom of God depends entirely on the activity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and as such guarantees that the goals and ends of the kingdom will be accomplished.
People of the kingdom are people who hunger to practice the art of well-ordered love.
Praxis as the Pursuit of Holiness
The application of loving God demands a life of hungering and thirsting for righteousness. The whole redemptive story is a story of God using the holiness of his people to accomplish mysteriously his redemptive will for the world. Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of heaven in the Beatitudes explains the normality of desiring holiness for those in the kingdom: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). There is a great satisfaction that comes when one’s life is desperate for holiness because by this one fulfills what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. Righteousness is living out what it means to be truly human. Not to be a person desperate for righteousness is to set oneself up for the disordered love of self, neighbor, and creation. Unrighteousness provides a platform for the proliferation of sin and brokenness. As such, the church of Jesus Christ is a community of Jesus-followers committed to doing what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8).
Praxis as Loving Others Properly as Image Bearers of God
For followers of Jesus Christ, loving the other has a specific orientation. If we are to love others well we must see people as more than material beings needing material solutions. This materialist assumption is a child of atheism that seeks to sever human beings from their souls. Anthony Hoekema argues that God preserves all of his creation and that every human person is therefore dependent on God daily for his or her existence. Because of the uniqueness of being soul-constrained beings in distinction from the rest of creation, we cannot love others well without sharing the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of the effects of the fall, every human being sins against the holiness of God the Creator by using God-given capacities in the service of Satan.7 The only remedy for this soul condition is the liberation, redemption, and rescue of this fallen state by God’s sovereign intervention through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through the teaching of the gospel to bring those we love to repentance and faith in the person and work of Christ. The full restoration of human dignity is achieved through the human person’s union with Christ. The praxis of the kingdom of God, then, requires the regular practice of evangelism.
By extension, the primary forms of love for people in the kingdom of God are what Jesus called the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23).8 Jesus’ identification of these weightier matters is derived from the Old Testament emphasis that justice, mercy, and faithfulness comprise the essence of all that God is calling his people to be and to do.9 This triad is summarized in Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [mercy], and to walk humbly with your God?” It reminds us that believing the good news of salvation in the work and person of Christ is the beginning of living a life of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
In sum, love is the foundation, orientation, and greatest application of kingdom praxis. Love is the first principle of the kingdom that governs all other principles.
- David Clyde Jones, Biblical Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), 38. By gospel I mean “the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.” See John Webster, “Gospel,” in DTIB, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer et al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005), 263–64.
- Ibid., 44.
- Ibid., 50.
- Ibid., 56.
- Ibid., 59. The way of love is a way of life. Cornel West says, “Love and service are a vocation, not a profession.” Cornel West, Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2008), 152.
- Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 7
- Jones, Biblical Christian Ethics, 77.
- Ibid., 78.
Anthony Bradley is a contributing author to The Kingdom of God edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson.
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