I am appalled at how we use “names” or “titles” to distinguish or separate ourselves from one another. Even within Christianity itself, people identify themselves according to their own denomination or even by what church they attend to distinguish themselves from another church within the same denomination. It’s ridiculous. I asked a pastor friend of mine once, why these churches within the same denomination on the same side of town didn’t work together to do an outreach to that part of town? His response shocked me. He said, it was because there were simply too many egos involved. People, he said, would argue over who got what people and who would get the credit for what.
EGOS AND TITLES VS. LOVE
When we are more concerned with our egos and titles, rather than working together to demonstrate God’s love to those around us, there’s something very wrong at what we are doing. I mean, does it really matter whether we call ourself “a Christian,” “a Messianic,” “an Orthodox Jew,” “a Conservative Jew,” “a Baptist,” “a Nazarene,” “a Lutheran,” “a Pentecostal,” “a Catholic,”or some other man-made title? It should be remembered, as I said, that all religious titles are just man-made entities used to distinguish one group from another. Personally, I really don’t believe what name a person uses to describe themselves matters.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT
What does matter is whether or not the individual is in God’s Kingdom. I believe we could eliminate a lot of division between denominations, religious branches, and groups if we would just focus on what’s really important – on whether we are entering and actively participating in the kingdom of God.
Let me give an example of what I mean. A few years ago, Moore, Oklahoma, was devastated by a couple of tornadoes, tearing down homes and businesses. People from all over the United States came to lend a helping hand with food, supplies, labor, etc. People in Texas didn’t say, “Well, those people in Oklahoma are not part of our group in Texas, so as a result, we are not going to help them.” No, all divisions, and even competitiveness between states in sports, were all put aside. All that mattered was that there were Americans who were in trouble and needed help.
What would happen, for example, if people in God’s kingdom took on that same mind set. What if they could put aside their church and denominational differences and work together simply because they saw other Kingdom people in trouble or they saw some need around them? Can you imagine the impact that would have when people, outside of God’s kingdom, could witness that kind of love and unity at work – rather than the division, conflict, fighting and criticism that is often seen?
WHAT I AM NOT SAYING
Now let me be clear what I am not saying here. I am not saying that all religions are equal, nor am I advocating that people should just believe or do whatever they want. God is King, and as such, it is He who sets the standards for what is right or wrong, not us. A kingdom is a monarchy, not a democracy. Consequently, in a kingdom, people do not have the right to choose or vote upon which laws they want to follow and which ones they can simply ignore. In a religion people can, but in a monarchy, they cannot. The word of the king is law, and it is up to the citizens of that kingdom to follow and adhere to the laws of that kingdom.
KINGDOM VS. RELIGION
Contrary to what many people have been taught, God really is not interested in establishing a religion on this planet. This world all ready has way too many religions as it is. For example, God did not give His commandments, judgments, and decrees to Moses simply so that they could be used to formulate a religion, but people did turn them into a religion. Nor did Yeshua/Jesus come to this earth, teach for three-and-a-half years, die a gruesome death on a cross, and then rise bodily from the dead, so that people could turn His teachings and life into yet another religion, but people did. But contrary to people’s consistent turning of God’s work into religions, God’s central focus and desire is on establishing His Kingdom here on earth – not on us continuing to take His kingdom efforts and using them to formulate yet another denomination or religion.
THE PROBLEM – THE NEED FOR CONTROL?
You see, religion takes us away from the kingdom, not towards it. Throughout Yeshua’s/ Jesus’s years of ministry, He proclaimed THE KINGDOM of God, NOT the RELIGION of God. Man’s deepest need is found in God’s KINGDOM, not in the formation of another religion. For example, Yeshua/Jesus began His ministry proclaiming,
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the gospel (or good news). (Mark 1:15)
What was the focus of the gospel? The kingdom of God – NOT the religion of God. You see, people enjoy formulating something into a religion, because then they can control it. They can decide what to believe and what not to believe. For example, how many branches and denominations of Christianity have decided which parts of the Bible is “for today” (i.e., what they’ve chosen to believe and practice) and which parts aren’t? The fact is, there is no where in the Bible where human beings are given the right to decide what part of the Bible they will accept and what part they can reject. But when people turn something into a religion, then they can take that right upon themselves.
When it comes right down to it, it’s a control issue. We like control. What we don’t like is the idea that someone other than ourselves has any control or power over us at all. We want to be the ones who control our own lives, our own beliefs and values, and even our own destinies. But the idea that there is a real God out there, who objectively exists outside the minds and imaginations of people, who wants us to turn over the control and right of our lives into His hands, even to a loving, benevolent God, is not acceptable to the majority of people. If we give God the control of our life, then He will have the right to indicate what our values and beliefs should be, how we should live, and even how we should treat others, etc., and deep down inside, that just goes against our natural human beliefs and desires. Am I saying that giving our lives to God is bad? No, I am saying it goes against our natural, carnal human nature.
I mean, think about how often in America, for example, we focus on having things done “our way.” For example, there was Frank Sinatra’s renowned song, “I Did It My Way.” or Burger King’s theme song, “Have It Your Way.” We even feel that the most American thing that we can do is pull ourselves up by our own “bootstraps” and to do things ourselves. Consequently, we are taught and trained within the American culture to be completely independent and self-reliant.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT?
Some may wonder, What is wrong with that? Shouldn’t we want to be “independent and self-reliant”? Of course, the problem with this is that in being “independent and self-reliant,” we are the ones in control, not God. Many American Christians may question this by saying, “We believe in God; We go to church.” But when you begin to really dig down at how they view themselves, you discover that most American Christians view themselves first and foremost as “Americans, who happen to be Christians, seeking to live the American dream until they die, and then hope after they’ve died that they will go to heaven.” However, that’s a whole different mindset than viewing yourself as “a citizen of God’s Kingdom, serving the needs and desires of your king, until the time of your king’s return or until you die and enter into His Presence.” The latter is a Kingdom mindset and perspective of oneself, which is not the dominant one held by most people.
The values and beliefs of America and the American dream are NOT, in fact, synonymous with Kingdom living. In fact, in many ways, they are in direct contradiction to one another. And during my own lifetime, I have noticed that the contrast between the two have been growing larger and larger. In viewing our own self-identity, the question we each need to ask ourselves is, Whose values and beliefs am I embracing: the values and beliefs of my nation or God’s?
Does this mean I ignore my country? No, it means that we realize that as believers, we are first and foremost citizens of God’s kingdom, and secondly, citizens of the nation where we have been born and live. For example, I’ve heard people say that God is on America’s side or that He is on this party’s side or even that God is on the side of some team. But this is not the correct perspective. The correct question is not whether God is on the side of the United States (or any other nation, party, or team), but whether the United States (or any other nation, party, group or team) is on the side of God? It is God who sets the standard of what is right or wrong, not our birth nation, party, group, or team we happen to belong to.
THE BIBLE – NOT SIMPLY A RELIGIOUS TEXT?
Also, the majority of people view the Bible as just another “religious text,” or just a “list of do’s and don’ts.” However, this really is a gross misrepresentation of the Bible. In fact, the Bible is God’s Kingdom Manual. It is in His manual that He presents and discusses all aspects of Kingdom life and living, including His own identity, character, and revelation of Himself as our Creator and King, a description of His kingdom, as well as His laws and guidelines regarding all aspects of Kingdom life, such as agriculture, politics, social values and norms, relationships (between men and women, family dynamics, working relationships, and other social interactions), and yes, there are even some religious aspects to kingdom life and living.
SO IS YESHUA/JESUS IMPORTANT TO THE KINGDOM?
Now some may wonder, Is Yeshua/Jesus important at all to God’s Kingdom, or is He just something that Christianity added? The answer to this question is He is absolutely central and important to the kingdom! Why? Because He came to teach us more about the Kingdom, to correct erroneous ideas about it and its teachings that were being taught at that time, to proclaim to all God’s invitation to come into His Kingdom, and to provide the way into the Kingdom through His death and resurrection. It is only through Messiah Yeshua/Jesus that we have access into the Kingdom and to the person of God Himself.
As a result of Yeshua’s/Jesus’ faithfulness, even to the point of dying on the cross, God has set Him as ruler over all that He, God the Father, has created, both in heaven and on earth. This is what Yeshua/Jesus meant when He said prior to His ascension to the right hand of Power:
All authority (or “power” KJV) has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28: 18)
Notice that “all authority has been given” to Him “in heaven and on earth”? But “given” to Him by whom? God the Father, the Supreme King over all that He has created. Many ministers argue that Yeshua/Jesus was not given “a promotion in status,” since He was already God or “Lord.” However, those who argue this position are only looking at Yeshua/Jesus in His Divinity, not His humanity. As a human being, more specifically, as the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua/Jesus only had authority over those who resided in His own country, Israel. However, after His death, burial and resurrection, there is a change in His authority. Prior to His ascension, we learn He now has authority over all of God’s creation, both in heaven and on earth, and it is only after receiving this authority from God the Father that He now sends His disciples out to all nations.
Shi’mon Petros (Peter) likewise refers to God’s choice of setting Yeshua/Jesus in authority over all things in his sermon in Acts 2:36:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him [Yeshua/Jesus] both Lord and Christ [Messiah] – …
Notice, again, it was God who made Him “both Lord and Christ [or Messiah].” The term “Lord” was commonly used by Caesar since he had control over an entire empire, involving many different countries. It is also used of God, for God rules and reigns over all of His creation, including all the nations and peoples of the world. The word “Lord” means “Owner” or “Master,” and since God is the Creator, He likewise has the right of ownership and control over all that He has created. However, God has also given to us as individuals the right of free choice. We have the right to choose Him or to reject Him.
In addition, though, as the Supreme Ruler over His creation, God has the right to decide who will rule and reign over His kingdom, and He has already made that choice, the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus. Rav Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] communicated this same idea this way:
Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [Heb. Yeshua HaMoshiakh] is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
I used to think when I was growing up and I heard ministers say, “Won’t you make Jesus the Lord of your life?” that each time a person said, “Yes,” it was like each person was casting a vote for Him, and if we got enough votes, then Yeshua/Jesus would then be Lord. But then, in my late thirties it hit me as I read Acts 2:36 and Philippians 2:9-11 that God has already placed Yeshua/Jesus in the position of being Lord. There is no vote. The decision has already been made. He is Lord over all of humanity right now, whether a person happens to believe this or not. Our belief in (or denial of) His Lordship does not change His position as “Lord,” rather it determines our relationship to Him and to His Kingdom.
WHAT IS “SALVATION”?
Salvation entails more than simply having membership in the “right church or synagogue,” or regularly attending services or giving your tithes. It also entails more than carrying your Bible around or knowing facts from it that you use to quote at people. Instead, salvation involves an inner transformation that occurs when one willfully and heartfully gives their life completely over to the Lordship of Messiah (Christ). Rav Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] communicates this in Romans 10:
that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (non-Jew); for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for “Whosoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)
In the Bible, God’s Kingdom Manual, the heart and the mouth are continually connected, for it is taught that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45; Matthew 6:34). As a result, we must not only “believe in our hearts,” but we must also “confess Him with our mouths.”
WHAT ABOUT THE TORAH?
Does belief in Messiah Yeshua/Jesus do away with or in any way annul God’s Torah, His commandments, judgments and decrees? Absolutely not! The Torah is God’s revelation of Himself and describes kingdom life and living. It is, in essence, the Constitution of God’s Kingdom. I’ve got friends who were not born in the United States and became citizens or who were students from other countries who came to the United States to study. Both of them have told me that even though they obey U.S. laws, it did not automatically make them U.S. citizens. Instead, the U.S. has a specific program that people have to go through to become U.S. citizens.
In like mannet, just because someone obeys God’s commandments, judgments, and decrees, it does not make him or her a citizen of God’s kingdom. God has a special program that people have to go through to become kingdom citizens: they must willingly and heartfully accept the gift of Messiah Yeshua’s/Jesus’ death on the cross for their sins and His resurrection, as well as His Lordship over their lives (see above under “What is ‘Salvation’?”). Consequently, there is no conflict between one’s faith in the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus and obedience to the Torah, God’s commandments, judgments, and decrees.
IT’S OUR DECISION
Consequently, then, in closing, it is our decision whether-or-not we are going to acknowledge and submit to whom God has placed as the authority over all of our lives or not. If we accept the gift of His death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, as well as declare our loyalty and allegiance to Him as “Lord” and to His Kingdom, then we are “saved” and become a part of His Kingdom. Believers in the first century understood the connection between making Yeshua/Jesus Lord and swearing their loyalty and allegiance to Him and to His Kingdom. However, that political aspect has been forgotten in today’s world. So once we are “born again” into His Kingdom, then we need to demonstrate and walk out His Lordship over our lives each day by submitting to God’s kingdom teachings and expectations – found from Genesis 1 to the end of Revelation – and to the leading of His Spirit.
But as long as we continue to reject His offer of salvation, then we are outside of God’s Kingdom, since to reject Yeshua/Jesus is to reject whom God has placed as Lord over us, and this is, in fact, then, to reject God Himself. For example, Yeshua/Jesus said to the masses:
He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but in Him who sent Me….And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. (John 12:44, 47-49)
We cannot reject Yeshua/Jesus and then expect to be accepted by God in His Kingdom. We must accept Yeshua/Jesus as Lord to be accepted by God into His Kingdom. In addition, note, it is what God the Father told Yeshua/Jesus to say that’s recorded in Scripture and that will be used to judge each individual on the day of judgment – not which church, synagogue, or denomination they happen to belonged to. God will want to know if we lined up to His teachings or didn’t we? And these teachings not only include what is in the New Testament (Heb. B’rit Chadasha) but also what is in the Tanakh (or “Old Testament”).
Again, we are the ones who must choose whether we will accept or reject His Lordship over our lives. This is why Yeshua/Jesus told Nicodemus,
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name (or person) of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)
God gave us the gift of His Son. We choose what to do with that gift. In fact, the word translated “believes” doesn’t just mean “to mentally acknowledge,” but it entails us “trusting,” “being reliant upon” and “submitting and obeying” Him. In other words, it’s not enough just to submit to Him “mentally,” but we must completely, totally, and willingly bend our knees and submit to Him each day from our hearts. Merely going through the motions will not do it. Also, this is not just a one-time decision, but it is a decision we must make each and every day.
Also, note that “he who does not believe has been judged already.” Why? “Because he has not believed in the name [or person] of the only begotten Son of God.” But for those who do believe, John writes,
But as many as received Him [Yeshua/Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
WHAT IS YOUR DECISION?
So what is your decision? Will you accept His sacrificial gift and His offer of the Kingdom, or will you reject it? The choice is yours to make. The choice is not what religion is right or wrong, or what denomination to belong to, or even what title to call oneself, but on whether you will accept God’s conditions on what it takes to enter into His Kingdom. God tells each of us, as He told the children of Israel at Mount Siani:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants. (Deuteronomy 30:19)