The One-Two Punch
The one thing I want you to be certain to do is finish reading this column and brush your teeth every evening.
I trust at least two things strike you about this opening sentence. First, it’s a rather odd way to begin. Second, why would I tell you there is one thing I want you to be certain to do and then ask for two things? Truth be told, I am following in the footsteps of Jesus, hoping to better understand our calling to follow in His footsteps. He said, Seek first that which is first, not first and second, but first, the kingdom of God. That would have made perfect sense, had He stopped there. But He didn’t. He said seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. That’s two things, or is it?
The Devil over the past several centuries has been trying to pull us off both sides of the horse. He gave us pietism, which was a one-two punch to the church. Pietism first, and most clearly, is a view that sees the Christian faith as being merely about our own personal sanctification. It denies, implicitly, that Jesus has overcome the world, that His reign has implications in every sphere of reality. The second punch is slightly more subtle — pietism casts a shadow on piety. If we buy into pietism, we fail to press the crown rights of Jesus (we fail to seek His kingdom). If we reject pietism, on the other hand, we tend to reject piety as well. We become consumed with power politics and cease guarding our hearts. We want to change the world out there while all the while the world in here is in desperate straits. We fail to seek His righteousness.
We will succeed in both realms only when we come to understand that there is only one realm. The world will not be changed until we are changed. The kingdom comes as His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We must in turn come to realize that the world out there is changed precisely because of changes in here. Western civilization is not fleeing from its God-honoring roots because Christians are insufficiently politically active. No, we are losing the battle to make known the reign of Christ in the world because we will not have Him to rule over the church and its members.
The kingdom and the righteousness are one because both are Christ. We are seeking the kingdom when we are seeking after Him. We are seeking His righteousness when we are seeking after Him. We miss this, I fear, because we miss what sanctification really is. We think of it first as a doctrine rather than a calling. We would rather talk about what it means than avail ourselves of its means. If, however, we escape this all too prevalent weakness, we usually fail in another way. We measure sanctification by how many sins we commit and how frequently. That is, we take the law of God, a righteous and compelling set of dos and don’ts, and see what we do and what we don’t do. Out pops our sanctification score. Sanctification, however, is far more about what we are than what we do. We don’t seek to stop sinning in order to be more like Jesus. Instead, we seek to be more like Jesus, and we end up sinning less.
We are called, then, to seek Him, remembering His promise that when we see Him, we will be like Him (1 John 3:1–4). We are to look for Him in His Word, remembering again that they are one. Both our Bibles and Jesus Himself are wisely called the Word of God. We are to look for Him in His body, the church. There He who is invisible to us becomes visible, because it is His body. We are to look for Him at His table, where He meets with us, where He feeds us. We are to look for Him in prayer, remembering that He is about the business of interceding with the Father for us.
In all of these places where we find Him we also find this — His grace. As we see Him in the Word, our sins are exposed. When we see Him in the church, there too our sins are exposed. When we see Him at His table, our sins are exposed. And in each case, our sins are covered. Sanctification, oddly, comes to pass as we become more — rather than less — aware of our sins. We find both His kingdom and His righteousness only as we confess that we have foolishly sought to rule in His stead, only as we confess that our own righteousness is as filthy rags. Our Father in heaven knows that we have need of these things. And even as He provides rain for the flowers and food for His beasts, so He has provided an alien kingdom and an alien righteousness, both in His only begotten Son.
Though I do indeed hope that you finish this particular column, and though I do hope you practice good oral hygiene, my true desire for you and for me is this single goal: that we would seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Praise His name, He has promised that we will find whom we seek.