I am hoping that one day the disciples of Jesus will clue in to the truth that the Kingdom of God does not operate in the same manner as the world. In fact, that sentence doesn't come close to conveying that the Kingdom is a thing of light and the world a place of darkness. The contrast is so great that we can compare it to that of night and day. We say we know this but we don't always believe it and so we don't always live it. We are so busy with the rules we have placed on Christianity we miss the heart of the matter, yet the Kingdom is all about the heart.
We need to get this instilled in us that the Kingdom is about the heart and then the actions. The actions without the heart is useless. Jesus spent a great deal of time teaching that everything begins with the heart because the Kingdom of God begins in the heart of man. Adam's disobedience was a thing of the heart. Jesus' obedience was a thing of the heart. Salvation is a thing of the heart. Discipleship is a thing of the heart. It is from a transformed heart that we have transformed actions. The Church is not about conforming to rules and people's expectations. It is surrendering ourselves, our will, our life to Jesus to allow the work of transformation to take place. Listen now, the Spirit has transformed our hearts; he has not told us to conform.
This is important to understand because it changes how we see ourselves, see others and understand the grace of God. Jesus told a short story to illustrate an important understanding of the Father's heart:
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. (Matthew 21:28-31)
Although it is simple, read it through a couple of times. This is the Father's heart. This is why we have such hope. This is describing our salvation and the entire premise of how it is possible for us to have fellowship with God. In ourselves we would hold the first son's disobedience against him. Even though he did what he was suppose to do we would still count his beginning against him, reminding him occasionally just so we don't forget. I don't know about you but I am eternally grateful that our Father does not think like this. Jesus went on to explain to the priests and elders:
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him." (Matthew 21:31-32)
Every single person on the face of this planet is a sinner and has sinned against God and neighbours. There is no one who has not come from a bad beginning. The real question is what we did after that sin, when we woke up one day to the reality of who we are, what we have done and what God was offering us. Did we say "no" again and continued in our rebellion or did we say "yes" and became an obedient child? If the answer was "yes" then we were changed; we became a new creation; we were transformed by the grace of Jesus and what we were ceased to be. That's the part that is hard for us and others to understand, accept and walk in. We are no longer what we were, we have become something new. The enemy will try to convince you otherwise, he will come at you with all kinds of accusations and you must remind yourself of this truth : you have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb; you are no longer defined by your mistakes.
Now for the other important part: what is true for you is true for others, and that is where so many people struggle. If we are able to accept this truth for ourselves, we may still struggle with applying it to other people, especially if we do not like what they were before Jesus. We have a low tolerance for other people's sins, mistakes and faults often because we are not completely confident that we have changed. It is a messy thing when this is going on in a church because it can set off all kinds of divisions. Rules and religion start taking priority over the truth of love, grace and forgiveness. This truth is one of the important keys in understanding the Father's heart and understanding the purpose of the Church. The Church is partnered with God in the business of restoration. We must be a people of love, forgiveness and grace because that is who Jesus is and we are his disciples, being transformed with his character.
My last point is that this love, forgiveness and grace must be extended to those "sons" who disobeyed, walked in disobedience, disobeyed, walked in obedience and so on. We must maintain a heart of forgiveness even for those who have fallen in their walk. Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive those who offended him and Jesus basically told him to infinity. There is no end to forgiveness. That is what we are bad at in the Church, deciding to live by the rules instead of the heart. Rules are easier, less messy, something one does not have to think about. The heart is a very messy business, far from easy and something we must constantly be aware of. It helps a lot when you keep in mind what we were before Jesus; what we were saved from; how much forgiveness we received. It helps to remember that we and all the other disciples are no longer defined by the mistakes we have made but instead by our relationship with Jesus Christ.