I’ve shared before that God’s righteousness is not defined by rule-keeping but by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. He defines what righteous living looks like, not the religious nut-jobs thumping people over the head with their Bibles. And when our lives demonstrate Jesus’ nature, filled with His righteousness, peace, and joy, everyone can know that the Kingdom realities of heaven have manifested themselves on the earth.
Paul says it this way in Romans 14:
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of rules about food and drink, but is in the realm of the Holy Spirit, filled with righteousness, peace, and joy. 18 Serving the Anointed One by walking in these kingdom realities pleases God and earns the respect of others. (Rom.14:17-18 TPT*)
This passage sits in the middle of Paul’s dealing with relationships with weaker brothers and sisters and how showing kindness and not causing them to stumble is demonstrating God’s other-centered, self-giving love. Conversely, if we’re flaunting our freedom and causing offense, we’re not letting Love rule our hearts.
15 If your brother or sister is offended because you insist on eating what you want, it is no longer love that rules your conduct….” (Rom.14:15a TPT*)
The kingdom of God is the realm of Holy Spirit-empowered righteousness, peace, and joy. These qualities are not esoteric, hyper-spiritual, or impractical. Walking in these gracious qualities not only pleases God but also gains the respect of others. This is the definition of true spiritual maturity. It’s what being fully human looks like. We love and think and treat others like Jesus does.
Paul is really telling us how God has related to us from the beginning. Think about it. We’re the ultimate “weaker” brother or sister! Throughout history, God has always graciously dealt with humankind at our developmental level, not His. He progressively brought us out of our orphan-hearted religious ideas about Him, to where Jesus could finally come and explain Him.
4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Gal.4:4-5 NASB*)
18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18 NASB*)
As I said in my book, Sonshift, God deals with us like a good father does his own children. When they’re toddlers, he protects them and communicates with them at their level. His commands may seem terse—mostly do’s and don’t’s—without explanation. This is because the child is not ready to understand more mature relational concepts. But as his children grow, he can begin to relate to them differently, eventually as adults. With this maturity comes freedom and greater authority because they’ve taken on his nature.
Likewise, only when humankind had reached this kind of maturity were we ready to understand God as He really is. This is why we should not read the Old Testament indiscriminately, as if Jesus never happened. Jesus interprets Scripture for us. Whatever is like Jesus is like God, whatever is not like Jesus is not like God, no matter how He might’ve been understood or depicted in the Old Testament.
I said all that to say that this is exactly how God wants us to relate to others. We’re not to be condescending, but gracious (while understanding our own shortcomings). We allow people to be where they are at. We don’t let our freedom cause them to stumble. This is what other-centered love looks like. This is also how any relational progress is made.
While Paul is specifically addressing food and drink in Romans 14, you could apply this principle to a whole host of debatable things that Christians seem to think are so important.
When I think about this, I think about the problem I personally have with the afore-mentioned “religious nut-job” brethren, who are always argumentative, against everything, and causing needless strife. I must be just as gracious to them, genuinely loving them and letting them be where they are (even though they drive me nuts), as I would people I look up to. Hopefully, they’ll extend the same grace to me.
As Paul told us all:
4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Rom.14:4 NIV)
Apparently, the Holy Spirit’s job is already taken. 🙂
How do we know these kingdom realities are at work in us? That’s actually pretty simple. It’s when the fruit of the Spirit is manifest in our behavior (see Gal.5:22-23) and our lives are marked by Jesus-defined righteousness and grace. And when we have those very practical things operating in our lives, everyone else will know it, too.