If we believe in Him the Kingdom of God is His gift to us by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Kingdom of God.” It was preached in 1963 and published in 1992 by Crossway Books.
For the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Romans 14:17)
What is the kingdom of God to you? Is it church membership; an occasional attendance at God’s House, perhaps Easter Sunday morning only or perhaps once or twice in addition? Is the kingdom of God to you doing good; is it not doing this but doing that; being nice and respectable? Is that it? Do you think the Son of God did all He did just for that? Let such a suggestion be ridiculed out of our minds once and for ever! That is not the kingdom of God.
No, “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness . . .” So the first test always to apply to anything that offers itself to us as the kingdom of God is that of size. If the thing that is offered to you as Christianity is a little thing, it is not Christianity. Christianity is the biggest thing in the universe; it is grand, it is glorious! It is the kingdom of God so it has to be great. It raises big and profound questions; not just little niceties about forms or ceremonies or rituals, or what you do and do not do, and your nice, compact, little life! For the Christian life is never small and neat, it is big, it is vast, and it starts, you see, with this great question of righteousness.
So what is the difference between being punctilious about what I do and do not do, and all these little observances that make me feel so good; what is the difference between that and Christianity? It is that instead of looking at these little matters, and all the minute details of the law, it says, “Wait a minute! Lift up your head, look into the heavens—God! righteousness!” In other words, it tells me to stop thinking about myself in the way that I have been doing, and to look up in the direction of God and of heaven and of my relationship to Him. It is not my morality, not my ideas as to what is right and what is wrong; it is not how I think that men and women should live. No, we are all silenced. “Stop it,” says Paul; “God!” The word “righteousness” immediately lifts us into the presence of God, for God is eternally righteous; indeed He is righteousness, it is one of the attributes of His holy eternal character, a part of His holiness, a part of His glory. He is essentially right and upright and good and true.
So, it comes and puts a question to me like this: I say I go to church on Sundays; “All right,” says the Apostle, “but what I want to know is, what is your relationship to God?” That is righteousness. And so often we find we have never thought about that at all, because what alone mattered was what we were doing, and what we had been brought up to do.
Indeed, there are so many people who call themselves Christians, but who have never really faced the question of how do they stand before God. They have assumed, like the Pharisees, that if you do this, that and the other, you are all right. They have never thought about God; they have never considered their own relationship to Him. But this is what righteousness makes us do. It does not start with us and our behaviour and our ideas and our worships and our rituals and all the paraphernalia. It says, “There is God and there are you; and you have got to meet Him. You will have to stand before Him, face Him, and give an account of your life lived in the body.” So we know nothing about righteousness until we have faced that old question of Job’s: “How should a man be just with God?’ (Job 9:2). You see, we can go through life and never stop to think of that. We live from day to day; we live on our own activities, on our own goodness and we are nice and self-contained and we have never faced this question. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrew 9:27), and God will judge us in a holy, righteous manner, because “it is He that hast made us and not we ourselves” (Psalms 100:3); and He has put certain powers into us and He expects certain things from us.
When the Apostle Paul visited Athens, the theme of his preaching was righteousness. We read about it in Acts 17:16—34. There he was, in Athens, and he saw the place cluttered up with temples, and to his amazement he saw a temple with this inscription on it: “To the Unknown God”. “Ah!’ said the Apostle in effect, “here it is. They have got as far as this. They realise that their gods do not explain enough, so there must be a God behind their gods—‘the Unknown God’. But they don’t know Him.” So this was his sermon: “whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” “He is not,” Paul continued, “a God who is worshipped in temples made by hands, because He has given life and being to all things; He cannot be confined to temples. He isn’t only in certain buildings, He is everywhere. I want to tell you about this God,” he said, “because the matter has become very urgent. In the past He has winked at the times of this ignorance but now He commands all men everywhere to repent. Why? ‘Because he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the whole world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.’
The world will be judged in righteousness which means that, having made us in His own image; having endowed us with faculties and powers and propensities sufficient to enable us to live in accordance with His holy law and His way, God will demand that of us. Men and women were made by God to be companions; they were meant to walk with God in a life of obedience to His holy will. There is no sin, no evil, no darkness, no foulness anywhere. It is walking in the light with God as God is light. That is the life of righteousness and every one was meant to walk like that. And the question is, are we walking like that? Because we shall all be judged in those terms and according to that standard.
Nothing matters but this. Our Lord put it like this to the Pharisees. He said: “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). That was His indictment of them—that they justified themselves before men. In popular esteem, the Pharisees were very good men; they fasted in the week; they gave a tenth of their goods to feed the poor; they “made broad their phylacteries”; they stood in the market places and showed their wonderful goodness. They were great teachers of the law, in their wrong sense, and people admired them. They said, “What wonderful men!” But look again at our Lord’s comment on them: “God knoweth your hearts!”
You see it comes to this. This is the question of righteousness. I have got to stand before God; but look at what I have done; what about my sins, the evil I have committed? It is there and what can I do about it? I must do something, because God knows it all; nothing is hidden from Him; it is in my record, and so I must get rid of it. But not only that, he sees my heart also. He does not only see my deeds, He sees my thoughts, my desires, and my imaginations. He sees the depths of my heart, the very vitals of my being and He is going to judge me according to these things. Man was made perfect; in his heart, his mind and his soul, and he was meant to be perfect in his conduct. That is righteousness. Clean without, clean within, and we have seen that our Lord tells us to seek that as our first priority.
This is what the kingdom of God is about and the moment you realise that, there is not much point in talking about your church attendance, is there? There is not much point in telling me what you eat and what you do not eat; or what you do and do not drink. There is not much point in telling me how much better you are than prostitutes and drunkards; for what does it matter? “God seeth the heart, and that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”
It was because he had some such conception of righteousness that even Isaiah under the Old Testament dispensation was able to say, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). And the same was true of the proud, self-satisfied Saul of Tarsus who thought he was righteous as regards the law, and excelling over all his countrymen in his obeying the commandments of God as he saw it. But it was when he really understood righteousness, that he said, I really now count it all as dung and as loss, “that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith’ (Philippians 3:9).
Once you understand righteousness as defined by God, all your goodness becomes vile, it becomes manure and refuse; it is ugly, foul and festering; it is putrid. “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink but righteousness.”
The question of righteousness is this therefore—‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23). How can I stand before God? What do I do about my past sins? I cannot stand before God unless I am pure and clean, unless I am like God Himself. And the moment you see this, all this fiddling about vestments and the type of wine you use, and a thousand and one of your pettinesses, they are all utterly ridiculous, they have got nothing to do with it!
That is the problem; and here is the answer that a soul gives when it is awakened to that problem:
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
I need to be cleansed from guilt and from the power of sin—
“Create in me a clean heart, 0 God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalms 51:10). That is what I need. I must positively be made righteous. And thank God that is the message of the kingdom of God, that Christ came from heaven to earth and did all He did in order to give me “the double cure”—to cleanse me from the guilt and power of sin. “God,” says the Apostle Paul, “hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21)—“We are ambassadors for Christ,” he says earlier, “as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” And what is the ambassador’s message? It is this “. . . that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Corinthians 5:19—20).
Now to “impute” is to put something in a book, in a ledger, and God, you see, has got your name in His ledger. Oh, yes, it is there. I do not care what your name is; He has an index; your name is there; He opens it at your name and there is the record of everything you have ever committed, is imputed, put to your account in the ledger. It is under your name and you have got to answer for it. But God has taken your account and has put it to His account. That is what imputation means. God made Jesus Christ “to be sin for us.” He died to bear my punishment. That is what killed Him. So my guilt has been imputed to Him and it has been taken away from me and therefore I am freely forgiven.
But then there is my other problem, this power of sin, this evil nature. I want a new nature, I want to get rid of the thought of sin and the life and the desire of sin. Before I can spend eternity with God, I must have a clean and a pure heart and a righteous nature. I cannot produce it. What nonsense it is to attempt it! The moment you try you will see your own blackness and darkness; you cannot. You cannot change yourself but, thank God, God can— “. . . that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
For when He imputes our sins to Him, He imputes His righteousness to us. This is marvellous! Out of my ledger goes my sin, put to His account; then His goodness, His righteousness, His purity are put into my account under my name! To put it another way, here am I with the black cloak of my sinfulness and I cannot stand, in such a cloak, before God who is light. What God does is to put over my cloak the cloak of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, His perfect spotless life of obedience, His holy nature. I am in Christ, I belong to Him. He is the new man and I am in Him and God sees me in Him clothed with His righteousness—
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
‘Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Nicholaus von Zinzendorf
tr. by John Wesley
This is Christianity: not your little, goodness and mine; not what I am doing and what I am not doing. Not how much better I am than somebody else; not how much better I am than I once was. No, you forget it all and look to Him. You see His perfect spotless righteousness and you know that if you believe in Him it is given to you and you are clothed with it.
“Peace”—“righteousness and peace”. It follows inevitably, does it not? How can people be at peace when they are worried about their souls? How can they have peace when they know they are damned? Or when they are afraid of death because they know that it is followed by judgment? How can men and women have peace when they are striving, only to find how unworthy they are? It is impossible. But the moment they believe this blessed truth of the kingdom of God and in Christ as God’s way of righteousness, then everything is changed immediately. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” It is an end of all my futile struggles.
Go back to Luther. There it is all in a perfect picture: the striving, and the agony and the restlessness and the pain and all the futility! Then, suddenly he saw it—“The just shall live by faith” and peace came into his soul. What he could never do, Christ had already done for him. And when he saw it peace flooded his soul. As the hymn writer has put it:
O happy day that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Saviour and my God:
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.
‘Tis done, the great transaction’s done;
I am my Lord’s, and He is mine;
He drew me, and I followed on,
Charmed to confess the voice divine.
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
Edward Henry Bickersteth
I am no longer filled with a craven fear of God. He is no longer to me some tyrant waiting to pounce on me and to damn me and to hurl me to hell. He is my loving Father who loved me with an everlasting love, with such a love as to send His only Son to die on the Cross for me. And the moment I realise that, I am at peace with Him.
“Having therefore, brethren,” says the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrew 10:19). For the moment you see that you are made righteous by Christ and clothed in His righteousness, you can go to God with confidence. He is your Father, He is waiting to receive you and you can pray as you have never prayed before. The way is clear, it is a new and a living way that has been opened. You are at peace with God and at peace within; you have found rest for your soul.
As Augustine put it from his own experience—“Thou hast made us for Thyself and our souls are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” Thank God for it. Peace with God, peace within and peace with other people, seeing that they are exactly the same as we are and have the same need. We no longer compare ourselves with others, for what is the point of saying that I am better than my neighbour, if we are both damned and lost? Peace with neighbours, because we are together at peace with God.
That is the kingdom of God. Have you found this peace? Is your soul still restless? Are you still struggling with the philosophers and trying to read and understand; are you waiting for a book that is about to appear which you think will help you? Are you proposing to do this or that? Oh, the restlessness and the futility of it all! Stop, it will never bring you anywhere. Say to Him, before you go any further,
Not the labours of my hands
Can fulfil Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears for ever flow;
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Tell Him that and you will find rest for your troubled soul. And Paul’s last word follows of necessity—“Joy in the Holy Ghost.” A Christianity which does not make you happy is not worthy of the name. But as long as you are just moral you will never be happy; you will never know the joy of the Holy Ghost. But the kingdom of God, the faith of the New Testament, is vibrant with joy. Look at the people on the day of Pentecost, who were baptised with the Holy Spirit. They were so happy that people thought they were drunk! They said, “These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13). Why? Because they were elated, exalting and triumphant; they were glorying in Him. That is Christianity.
The exhortation of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians is, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). If you are not rejoicing, you are not a Christian. Not the joy that the world gives because that is no good. It comes and goes, it is fitful, changing with my changing mood. If I hear a threat of war then it has gone and we are all in a panic. No, the joy of the Holy Ghost is the joy of men and women who know their sins are forgiven, the joy of someone who, as John Bunyan pictures it in Pilgrim’s Progress has been carrying that terrible load of sin, and then suddenly sees it tumbling down the road; the Cross has got rid of it.
These things do not need to be argued over. If you know your sins are forgiven you must be a very happy person and conversely if you are not happy it is because you do not know that. If you are still trying to make yourself a Christian you have not got the joy of the Holy Ghost, and never will have. Christianity as something to be attempted by man is of all things the most impossible—the Sermon on the Mount is there at the very beginning to tell us how impossible it is. Go out and imitate Christ, if you like to talk about such things; but you will be the most miserable wretch on earth. The imitation of Christ has never given happiness, never! It is of all things the most depressing. Monasticism was depressing, the Jews’ religion was the same and a false Christianity is depressing, since it produces miserable people. All they know is that they must not do this and that so they try not to and try to be better, yet they are miserable and always worrying about themselves and their little souls and their sins. Misery, wretchedness, is the antithesis of the kingdom of God.
But not only are my sins forgiven, I know that I am in this new relationship. I am not only forgiven, I have become a child of God, even as I am; He has adopted me into His family. And if you do not feel that you are happy because of that, then you do not know anything about Christianity. When some great honour comes to you, you are full of rejoicing, and you tell everybody, do you not? So then, if you have really believed that in Christ you are in the family of God, you must tell the whole world about it and you must be filled with rejoicing. You are a child of God, you have His Spirit in you—”joy in the Holy Ghost.”
And perhaps one of the most wonderful characteristics of this joy is this fact that it is something which makes one entirely independent of circumstances. The trouble with the worldly joy, as we have said, is that it comes and goes. It varies with the wind, depending entirely upon international conditions and many another thing, whereas the joy of the Holy Ghost is independent of everybody and everything.
“Not only that,” says Paul, “but we glory in tribulations also” (Romans 5:3). Even though everything is against us, we still rejoice, because our joy does not depend upon what is happening to us, but upon the great facts that we have just been considering. Throw us into prison, He is with us; He has said: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrew 13:5), and He does not.
That is why His people, His saints and martyrs and confessors have been able to sing even on the scaffolds. They sang as they were thrown to the lions in the arena; they sang as they were burnt at the stake at the time of the Protestant Reformation. They have done it ever since, and they go on doing it.
Take those magnificent words that were written by the Apostle Paul when he was actually in prison. This is the sort of thing that the Christian can say and testify because he has the joy of the Holy Ghost: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:11—13). That is the joy of the Holy Ghost! It does not matter where you are; if you cannot attend a place of worship, you still have it and nobody can rob you of it. They can cut your tongue off but they cannot take your joy from you. They can blind you but still you see Him with the eye of faith. “A joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
And finally what makes it so wonderful is that it is “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). “To me to live is Christ,” says Paul, “and to die is gain”; for it means “to be with Christ which is far better” (Philippians 1:21,23). This joy cannot be quenched, it cannot be removed, it cannot be destroyed. It does not matter what people may do to you; they can even kill you, but when they do, they simply usher you immediately into the presence, into the glory, unto Him who loved you and whom you now love in turn. It is the joy of the Holy Ghost.
That and that alone is Christianity. This is the kingdom of God, not meat and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. (75-86)