The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, they cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
In previous articles we have discovered that the kingdom of God is different from every other ‘kingdom’. The two verses quoted above reveal another – major – aspect that makes the kingdom different: it is a spiritual kingdom – it’s “in the Holy Spirit.” The essential nature of the kingdom is spiritual, which means there is nothing natural or human about it. It’s vital we realise this: the kingdom of God must not be equated with any man-made systems or philosophies. No nation, government, political or social ideology represents the kingdom of God. Jesus made this abundantly clear when he told Pontius Pilate: ‘My kingdom is not of this world…my kingdom does not have its origin here’ (John 19:36). Since the kingdom is spiritual – and God is spirit (John 4:24) – it requires a spiritual experience to enter the kingdom and to live in it. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes into the equation; as the third Person in the Trinity He puts the kingdom of God into effect in us, and He empowers us to express it.
Jesus said that in order for us to enter the kingdom of God we must have two births: a natural birth and a spiritual birth. He called this spiritual birth being “born again”; it’s a term widely used by Christians to describe the means by which we become believers. We often stress that when we are born again our sins are forgiven and we begin a new life, and that we are guaranteed a place in heaven. That is all wonderfully true; however, Jesus mentioned the new birth only once and He placed it in the context of entering (or seeing) the kingdom of God:
I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he can’t see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
So, every Christian has been born twice! My natural birth was in October 1952; a new person who had never lived before came into the world. My spiritual birth was in April 1966; when I received Jesus as my Lord I was born again and a new person – a new me – came into being! That is what actually happened; in the moment I became a Christian the Holy Spirit came to live within me and made me what the New Testament calls a “new creation”:
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
A new creation! Not the same sinful person patched up, constantly trying their utmost to attain to the required standard: but a brand new person. Somebody who has been born – again! This is marvellous: when the Holy Spirit enters our hearts He comes to live the kingdom of God in us. Now I must admit I had little or no idea that I’d entered the kingdom of God at that moment when I was born again. I became a Christian because I did not want to go to hell. But the fact is that much more happened to me than I realised: I became a citizen of God’s kingdom! And if you’re a Christian then you also are a citizen.
Why a New Birth?
It’s important to ask why God requires us to have a spiritual birth so we may enter the kingdom and live in it. The answer is found in Romans 14:17 – “the kingdom of God is righteousness…” God is righteous and holy, and therefore His kingdom is essentially a righteous, holy kingdom. Righteousness is the hallmark of God’s kingdom:
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. (Psalm 89:14)
Your throne, O God is forever and ever, and righteousness is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; that is why God, your God, has anointed you above your companions with the oil of joy. (Hebrews 1:8-9)
Therefore, only righteous people can live in God’s kingdom. And that is our immense problem: every human being is naturally born unrighteous, we are sinners by nature:
There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10)
Without God’s intervention we stand no chance at all; we cannot make ourselves right with God. It’s utterly impossible for us to change ourselves. But in order for us to be part of the kingdom we have to get rid of our sin and become righteous. We have to become new creations; we must be born again by the Holy Spirit. That’s the amazing miracle of the new birth that Jesus talked about! The Holy Spirit takes away our sinful nature and lives in us with the righteousness of Jesus. And so, we now qualify to live in the kingdom of God as fully righteous citizens:
God made the one who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Corinthians 5:21)
God’s purpose in saving us isn’t just to get us ready for heaven one day. His salvation plan flows from his kingdom plan; our new birth by the Holy Spirit launches us into God’s kingdom purpose – to fill the earth with a people just like Jesus!…