Unfortunately, Americanized Christianity is often so different (in fact, it is sometimes opposed) to the Christianity we see lived out by the first century followers of Jesus.
Just read the biblical book of Acts. Some of the things that happened in that book were certainly limited to the first century because the Apostles were still alive. They had authority and power from God that did not get passed down to anyone else. Yet, the effectiveness in evangelism, the power to radically influence their culture, the power of prayer, and so much more show the church and Christianity as it was meant to be.
What did they have (or understand) that we are missing?
I believe that one of the primary mindsets that so many are missing today is what it means to follow Jesus. Americanized Christianity has reduced “being saved” to a prayer. Supposedly those who have prayed a prayer sometime in their life to get saved are Christians regardless of the fact that they bear no fruit of a Jesus-follower. They don’t spend time in God’s Word and they don’t intentionally conform their lives to its teachings. They don’t desire to regularly spend time with God in pray. They don’t tell others about Jesus. On and on we could go with the sort of fruit that a believer naturally produces in their life.
One mindset that Jesus drove home among His followers is this: the Kingdom of God/Heaven.
John the Baptist’s ministry was all about the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 3:2)
Jesus began His earthly ministry talking about the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 4:17)
Jesus talked often about the Kingdom of Heaven in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3, 10, 19, 20; 6:10, 33; 7:13, 21)
In fact, the word “Kingdom” is used 128 time in the Gospels (in the New Living Translation). It is a major theme in the teachings of Jesus.
So, what does it mean? Was Jesus talking about the Kingdom in Heaven that will be the future reality of believers? If that is your understanding, you are missing a huge blessing.
The teaching of the Kingdom of Heaven is, in part, future: There will certainly come a day when Jesus reigns as King in a visible way over planet earth and in Heaven. But, it’s not simply a future reality.
The teaching of the Kingdom of Heaven is present: The Kingdom of Heaven exists right now. King Jesus is building His Kingdom. He is claiming the allegiance of men and women, boys and girls on planet earth. Anyone who repents of their sin and self-centered ways and, by faith, receives the free gift of forgiveness that He offers while giving their full allegiance to Him becomes a soldier in the Lord’s army. They enter the Kingdom at that moment.
“One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘When will the Kingdom of God come?’
Jesus replied, ‘The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, “Here it is!” or “It’s over there!” For the Kingdom of God is already among you.'”
One of the clearest objectives of a soldier is submission to his/her commander. Obedience must also be instant and complete.
This is why Christians must study and conform to the truths God has given us in His Word. We are soldiers. His Word is our manual. We no longer live for ourselves but for Him. He expects complete compliance.
This is why we must also pray. If we are in the Kingdom, then we are in enemy territory (Ephesians 6:10-12). Prayer is our way of staying in communication with our Superior Officer who can send whatever we need to the front lines to help us.
This is why we must also share the Good News of forgiveness offered by Jesus. Sharing the Gospel is our way of bringing other people into the Kingdom. We realize that the enemy will one day be destroyed along with all who follow him. So, we tell others about how our Commander loves us so much He sacrificed His life so that we could come into His incredible Kingdom and enjoy Him forever.
Is life a battle? Yep! But, if you’re in the Kingdom of God, you’re on the winning side. The final chapter of earth’s story has already been written. We win!
So, live as a worthy soldier of the Cross today. You’re a privileged member of the Kingdom of Heaven.