Am I a Kingdom person? Dr. Morris H. Chapman has been challenging Southern Baptists to ask themselves this question. I think we would agree that it is a penetrating and challenging question that will help to ensure that we are focusing on those things that are on the heart of our Father.
As I have been studying the concept of the Kingdom of God in Scripture, I have isolated three primary issues that are at the heart of Kingdom thinking. God is looking for a people that will embody His name, embrace His mission to the nations, and obey His Word. Let's focus together on what it means to embody His name.
In His great high priestly prayer, Jesus declared: "I manifested Thy name to the men Thou gavest me out of the world; Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me, and they have kept Thy word" (John. 17:6). Jesus had conducted Himself in such a manner that when people saw Him, they would recognize His family resemblance. When Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father, He responded: "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father?'"
When I left for college, I was prepared for the "father-sending-his-son-to-college-speech" that most of us have heard or given at one time or another. I was expecting words of warning with a list of "do's" and "don'ts." My dad made only one request. "Son, you bear my name. Don't take it anywhere I wouldn't take it and don't associate it with anything I wouldn't associate it with." That single piece of advice radically impacted my life. Whenever faced with a challenging situation, all I had to ask myself was how would my father respond?
You can actually restate the "Am I a Kingdom person?" question in a slightly different manner. "Do my actions, words, deeds, and interpersonal relationships reflect my heavenly Father's character?" Before you respond in anger to the person that takes advantage of you, ask yourself if it is worth your Father's reputation.
To embody the Father's name means that we make a commitment to allow the Holy Spirit to produce the character of the Father through us. It is a commitment to personal holiness. This is precisely the point Jesus was making when He declared that Kingdom citizens are salt and light. Salt refers to a holy lifestyle, and it is this holiness that gives credibility to our witness. When we have a consistent and godly lifestyle, it gives us greater confidence to give our testimony and declare our faith in the marketplace.
When we think of salt, we immediately think of a condiment that enriches the flavor of food, but salt had many uses in Jesus' day. Thus the reference to Kingdom persons as salt may have triggered several different thoughts in the minds of those first century hearers.
Before the day of refrigerators salt was used as a preservative. We know about curing country ham in salt. Jesus was challenging His disciples to be a preservative in the midst of a decaying world. If you want to know why we are witnessing so much moral decay in our society, we must conclude that we don't have enough salt where it is needed. If you are concerned about moral decline in your local government or school, apply salt - get involved!
Salt was also used as an antiseptic to purify or disinfect a wound. Perhaps you have waded into an ocean with an open wound. When salt is used as an antiseptic, it may well cause pain or discomfort as it fights the germs of infection. Indeed, the world may plead that we be more tolerant or understanding, but we cannot disinfect a dying world if we compromise with sin.
Salt was also used as a catalyst for fire. An outdoor Palestinian oven was called "earth" and a common fuel was dried dung. To make the ovens burn better, the bottom was lined with salt plates and the fuel was sprinkled with salt. The followers of Jesus are to live in such a manner that they ignite and accelerate spiritual fires at school, work, or play.
We are most familiar with salt as a seasoning. Christians are to be the spice of life. Our Kingdom lifestyle should exude such flavor that it creates a hunger and thirst for the gospel. Salty living means that we must embrace a lifestyle that is consistent with the character of our Father. Savorless Christianity is as useless as flavorless salt. We must embrace a Kingdom lifestyle to enforce the credibility of our witness.
When we talk about personal holiness, it means that we must allow God to manifest His character in us. That is the ministry of the Holy Spirit who manifests His fruit in the followers of Jesus. Holiness is not simply an issue of avoiding sinful behavior patterns; it also means that we practice righteousness. We must develop sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and of righteousness. As we learn to listen to the Holy Spirit, He will confirm those actions that reflect the Father's character. He also convicts us of sin, which, in turn, should prompt the sensitive Kingdom person to confess that sin and turn away from it. Our concern for our Father's name and the advance of His Kingdom mandates that we avoid sin and live in such a manner that people see our family connection.
Let's try a few exercises. You have a choice piece of gossip about a certain individual. Someone in your hearing starts talking about this same person. What do you do? Do you share your gossip to win the favor of those participating in the conversation or do you speak a positive word on behalf of the person who can't defend himself?
You are at work. No one is watching. You need some typing paper at home, and you are in the workroom where there is a large volume of paper. You know that no one would ever be aware if you took a ream of paper. You could actually rationalize your behavior on the basis that you're not paid what you are worth, and therefore you deserve the paper. What do you do? Does the Father's reputation enter into your thinking process?
Colleagues from work whom you have been trying to get to know invite you to attend a movie with them. You know from the previews that it is a movie that is clearly inappropriate for viewing by a Christian. What decision would best reflect your Father's character and advance His Kingdom?
What positive actions can you take that will influence lives and so advance the Father's Kingdom? Think about issues such as how you treat your family, how you respond to your critics, how you use your free time, and your involvement in your community.
How long has it been since someone asked you about your salty lifestyle? Can you imagine what would happen in our Convention if each one of us made a commitment to embody our Father's character?
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC national EKG strategist.