Genesis 12:1-3 “The Lord had said to Abram: Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Hebrews 11:12-15 “And so from this one man (Abraham)… came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country- a heavenly one.”
Hebrews 11:39-40 “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
Matthew 4:17 “From that time on Jesus began to preach: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Matthew 6:9-10 “This is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Revelation 5:9-10 “And they sang a new song: …You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Forgive me for the abundance of Scripture at the beginning of this, but I want you to know the basis for what I’m about to say. By reading these Scriptures in this particular order, you can clearly see that God’s purpose for man has always been to embrace heavenly culture while relinquishing the aspects of human culture that hinder us from becoming like God. While the space allotted for this article can’t do the subject justice, allow me to steer your thinking in this direction for a moment.
Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus didn’t die for our sins so we could go to heaven one day. He died for our sins so heaven could come to us! The good news of the Kingdom of God is not that we can experience this heavenly kingdom in the sweet by and by. The good news is that the Kingdom of God can be experienced in the nasty here and now! Jesus came to earth as an ambassador of heaven to reveal to mankind the character and ability of God and to invite mankind to participate in this Divine life. He came to show us what the heavenly culture is all about.
Culture is defined as an integrated pattern of knowledge, beliefs, values and behavior that is learned, applied and passed down to succeeding generations. Basically, a culture is an environment that accepts or rejects people or ideas based on their compliance to its core values and beliefs. So when Jesus arrived on the scene, teaching the core values of heavenly culture and demonstrating various aspects of this culture by healing the sick and liberating the oppressed, the religious culture of the day naturally rejected the environment he produced everywhere he went. This is what is called culture clash.
Once the cat was out of the bag, war was inevitable. The powers behind human culture began to adamantly oppose the Power behind the heavenly culture. This was a knee-jerk reaction to the direct hit they took when Jesus opened up his mouth to contrast heaven’s culture to the religious culture that dominated Israel at that time. Jesus did this with pinpoint accuracy in his famous Sermon on the Mount discourse by saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. He then finished this list of Beatitudes by saying that those who are persecuted for righteousness sake are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven also. Jesus didn’t say that the humble would go to heaven one day. And He didn’t say that those who are persecuted would be blessed one day when they got to heaven. He said that the Kingdom of heaven presently belongs to those who are humble enough to receive it and bold enough to proclaim it in the midst of a culture that opposes it. In essence, Jesus said that the blessing equals access to the resources of heaven in the earth. Only the humble can receive this new heavenly culture into their lives and only the courageous can thrive in the midst of a culture that seeks to shape everything in its reach.
Then Jesus topped it off with a series of “you’ve heard it said…, but I say to you” statements. Or in different vernacular, “your culture says this is acceptable behavior, but my culture says otherwise.” It was this obvious confrontation with the existing culture that got Jesus into trouble. But fear didn’t deter Him from his purpose, love compelled Him to make the culture of heaven perfectly understandable, clearly undeniable and absolutely obtainable if people were willing to repent.
The message of repentance always preceded the message of the Kingdom of heaven because you can’t have one without the other. John the Baptist preached it, Jesus preached it, Jesus’ disciples were told to preach it and they did. To repent means a total change of mind and lifestyle. What Jesus was telling people was to relinquish what they believed so they could grasp the principles of truth that govern heaven’s culture and to turn from how they lived so they could live by the Divine life of heaven. Ultimately, the Kingdom of God is not something that you just receive and make a part of your life. It is a divine exchange: your thoughts for His, your emotions for His, your will for His, your priorities for His, your way of life for His. If you are unwilling to have your culture challenged by the culture of heaven, then you are limiting your ability to access heaven’s resources in your life and you are missing out on a portion of heaven’s culture, which is a reflection of who God is. We must all seek His Kingdom first.
Jesus also told Nicodemus that the only way a person could see and enter into the Kingdom of God was by being born again of the Spirit. Once again, the Scripture doesn’t say anything about going to heaven but that’s how it is commonly interpreted. It makes for a happy ending to a fairy tale, but it isn’t in the Bible. Guess what? When you were born again, you didn’t go to heaven. But heaven came to you in the person of the Holy Spirit. You began to gain access to the culture of heaven as you were made aware of a new set of truths that you hopefully began to apply to your life and then share with others.
Before you write me off as a heretic, understand that I do believe that heaven is a real place, not a planet somewhere in the corner of the Milky Way, but a spiritual realm outside of the finite world we live in. God rules and reigns there as His absolute truth prevails and His will is carried out to perfection. The atmosphere there is 100% God: love, joy, peace, wholeness, freedom, etc. And people go there when they die in the Lord. But getting people to heaven was never the goal, otherwise we would already be there. Getting heaven into the lives of people on earth is the intended purpose of the gospel. Put simply, the Kingdom of God is the culture of heaven, whether in heaven itself or in our lives here on earth.
When the Pharisees challenged Jesus’ authority to teach about the culture of heaven and demonstrate its authenticity, He made this remark: If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. On another occasion, He said that the Kingdom of God is in your midst. Obviously, Jesus did not believe that the Kingdom of God was synonymous with heaven. God’s Kingdom is the essence of who God is and what He wants. Upon the arrival of Jesus to earth and the fulfillment of His purpose in coming here, mankind now has full access to know God for Himself to the degree that he is willing to surrender his culture at the foot of the cross.
Human culture is not evil in and of itself, but when it is not submitted to Christ, it is bound to be influenced by demonic spirits who blind the minds of people to keep them from seeing the light of the truth. The deceptive power of culture is evidenced by the fact that people generally don’t question what they believe or why they believe certain things. They just take it for granted that the people that have influenced them in their beliefs and values have spoken the truth to them.
In fact, if your beliefs have not changed in a number of years, then you probably are caught in a web of religious pride that keeps you from progressing in God. God has given us the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, which will take all of eternity to accomplish, yet somehow you have arrived at the totality of truth and no longer need this ministry of the Holy Spirit? Maybe you need to lay your religious culture at the foot of the cross and ask the Lord to purify your beliefs, values and way of life. You might be surprised to hear what the Spirit may have to say. Heaven is waiting for your arrival and exploration. But you will only go as far as you are willing to repent of your earthly cultures of limitation.
John the Baptist was the greatest of all the Old Testament prophets because He was privileged to help usher in the Kingdom of God by his prophetic proclamations, which prepared the way for Jesus to begin revealing the culture of heaven. Because people began to repent, heaven began to be unveiled through the ministry of the Messiah. And yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist because of the distinct privilege to receive and enter into the firsthand experience of heaven while living on the earth. All the Old Testament saints saw the day when the heavenly culture would be revealed to mankind but they never walked into its fulfillment. But God has planned something better for us: heaven on earth as a way of life! Why wait until you get to heaven to experience its glory? We already have this “treasure in earthen vessels,” the very Spirit of Christ living inside of us. Heaven has come to the earth so make room to receive more and more each day!
Do yourself a favor and re-read the Scriptures at the beginning as they will most likely make a lot more sense to you now. God bless your pursuit of heavenly culture. Your citizenship is in heaven. So live like it. You will love it!