Last week we examined how a church could fail in its commitment to follow Jesus and the results of that failure. This week we are going to look at an institution that, by its very nature, fails to follow Jesus…the kingdom of this world. We could call this institution…this group…many things. They could be referred to as the “children of the devil”, as Jesus says in John 8:44 Alternatively, they could be referred to as those “according to the flesh”, as Paul does in Romans 8:5ff. We find another phrase used, those under the “dominion of Satan”, in Acts 26 , and in Col 1:13, those under the “domain of darkness”.
Paul, in Eph 2:1ff., combines all these thoughts in his description of those who are outside the kingdom of God. He says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. The characteristics of this people…this “kingdom” that Paul describes…are that they are “dead in trespasses and sin”,walking in the way of the world, under Satan’s control, living according to fleshly desires and thinking, and destined to suffer under the wrath of God.
So you may ask, “Bob, why are we even talking about this? Of course these people are not going to be following Jesus. They stand opposed to Him, to His kingdom, and to His people!” And, of course, you’re right. But there are two reasons why it is profitable for us to examine the nature and outcome of the “kingdom of this world.” The first is that much of the contemporary Church has embraced the idea that we are called to fix the broken systems of the world. They go so far as to say that the presentation of the gospel is incomplete if it does not include a commitment to, and proclamation of, such things as ending “white privilege”, affirming and fighting against “systemic racism”, validating the premises and concepts of “group identity and responsibility” over individual identity and responsibility and demanding that the gospel message include a call for “social justice” as they choose to define it.
While it would take weeks to unpack what these terms mean and how they are used, suffice to say that the worldly foundations and philosophies upon which these ideas are based stand firmly against those found in God’s Word. They deny individual sin and responsibility, promote the destruction of God-ordained institutions and safeguards, deny reconciliation in Christ, and promote the idea that one’s problems or inequities are always someone else’s fault…the result of outside oppression.
Beloved, our calling… our mission…to the “kingdom of this world” is to rescue, not repair. It is a fool’s errand to think we can fix the world’s systems. Col 1:13 says simply, ”For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” It is a rescue where they are removed from the dominion of Satan and, through the grace and saving work of Jesus, are transplanted into the kingdom and family of God. The book of Revelation makes it clear that this world, and the dominion of Satan in this world, is destined for destruction, not renewal. In the midst of God’s judgments of war, disease, famine, terror, destruction, and death, at the sounding of the seventh trumpet in Rev 11:15, we read this, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. 18 And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”
The kingdom of this world will become the the kingdom of our Lord, but it will not be through blanket redemption or transformation. It will not come through our best efforts to reform. It will be through conquest, the destruction of systems and powers that oppose God, and the outpouring of His divine wrath. Rom 1:18ff communicates the same truths, and here we also find our second reason for our study this evening; it gives us insight into the inevitable destiny and decline of the “kingdom of this world” so that we are not surprised by what we see unfolding around us. We read, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,9 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,1 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
Again, I would love to take weeks to dive into this passage more fully, for there is such a wealth of truth to be found. But let us, at least, touch upon the highlights. We see clearly that those choosing to remain in the kingdom of the world are without excuse and justly subject to God’s wrath…God has put the knowledge of Himself inside them in the form of His image, exposure to His Word, and the indwelling conscience of every man. Added to that, He has made his presence, power, and nature clear in His creation. But what is their response to His grace and goodness in revealing Himself? “They did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
Beloved, isn’t this what we have seen, and continue to see, as we look at the unsaved world around us? When we see protests and rioting, do we see thankful hearts, honoring God? When we listen to the words of self proclaimed pundits and spokespersons, do we not find futile speculations and darkened hearts and minds? And do we not find men and woman worshiping at the alters of self fulfillment and the elevation of God’s creation over God Himself?
At this point in the biblical narrative, we come upon something that we always want to be on the lookout for when we study…repeated phrases or words. And here we find such a phrase. And it is a phrase that is chilling… and heart breaking…in its effect. It is the phrase, “God gave them over”. In this case, God’s judgment is found in His “giving them over” to the very things they are chasing. And in doing so, He withdraws His protecting hand from the consequences. It is found three times in this passage; first in vs 24, then in vs 26, and finally in vs 28. In vs 24, because of their hardness of heart and continued rejection, God gives them over to impurity…uncleanness… a dishonoring of their bodies. It speaks to the casual sexual encounters that permeates our culture. Sex without meaning…hearts and lives broken as people try to tell themselves that sex is just sex. It requires no commitment… no intimacy…no fidelity… it is merely a pleasant exchange between consenting parties. Again, all we have to do is look around and see this philosophy and behavior permeating every aspect of our society.
But truthfully, we know it doesn’t work that way…it was never designed to work that way. Instead, it leads to feelings of shame and rejection… to self-hatred and guilt…to self protection and fear of true intimacy. So, in trying to deny that reality…they must “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”. And in doing so, God gives them over to the dishonor of their desires.
The next step in the downward spiral of “the kingdom of this world”…a society in rebellion against God and pursuing self imposed blindness… is found in vs 26, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” Where the first step is a “sexual revolution”, the next step is a “homosexual revolution”.
Beloved, God’s Word is clear that homosexual behavior is a perversion of God’s design. This is not a “homophobic” statement; it is merely a statement of God’s truth. The world routinely seeks to pervert and undermine the Word and principles of God. It was the tool Satan used in the Garden…“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Satan wishes to pervert and subvert all of God’s truth…to pervert our understanding of marriage, to pervert our understanding of family, to pervert our understanding of ourselves, to pervert our understanding of justice… of truth…of law…and, most importantly, our understanding of our God.
The last step…the final thing to which God gives them over in verse 28 as they continue their rebellion, is a “depraved mind”. “Depraved” in the original Greek, is literally “not approved…not standing the test” It speaks of a mind that does not work properly. It is like a computer that delivers the wrong answer…it’s findings can not be trusted nor relied upon. It describes a kind of insanity. And this, too, is what we see when we look at, and listen to, the world around us. Our fallen world speaks of “gender fluidity” denying the truth that stands plainly before them. The “kingdom of this world” tells us that truth does not exist...it is merely a social construct. They proclaim that the concepts of right and wrong are individual, not absolute; that they only exist as I determine they exist for me. But no one lives that way…and no one can. It is insanity.
This brokenness of thinking leads to a brokenness of behavior, “to do those things which are not proper”… things that do not fit with the reality of God’s design. And see where it takes them…to”being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” These are much the same as the list we looked at last week, because they are being practiced by the same kind of men. As we said last week, this is the inevitable result of rebellion against God…of failing to follow Jesus…whether we are speaking of an individual, or a church, or a society.
So, am I saying, as we close our time together, that we as Christians…as followers of Jesus…should ignore the world and have no part in it? That it is irredeemable and unworthy of our attention and efforts? To quote the Apostle Paul, “May it never be!” Beloved, we are the very hands and feet of Jesus in the world. We are to carry His compassion for the lost… and to the lost. We are to be “salt and light”, bringing the truth of God and the compassion of God, to a dying and desperate world. We are to bring healing and relief to the sick and food to the hungry. We are to bring hope to the hopeless and clarity to the confused. But we are to do it out of love for God and for His image-bearers, not in false hope of reforming the society that surrounds them. We can “do justice” but we can not ensure justice. We can feed the hungry but we can not eliminate poverty. We can manifest reconciliation and love for all races and peoples, but we can not end racial injustice and hatred. …not in a broken and sin-filled world. May God give us wisdom to see the difference and compassion for the hurting and the helpless. May we become…like Jesus.
Let us pray.