Every human is created with a desperate, insatiable, non-negotiable need to experience life at its best. Though most aren’t aware of it, every human hungers to be loved unconditionally. This means they are starving to experience profound worth, significance and security. We feel fully alive to the extent that we have this; desperate and empty to the extent that we don’t.
God created us with this craving for life at its best as the means of inviting us into the dance of His own eternal triune love. And the only way we experience this life is by accepting the invitation, submitting to Christ’s Lordship, and participating in this eternal dance. The Kingdom of God is this eternal dance brought down to “earth as it is in heaven.”
When we’re not getting life from our relationship with God, we inevitably try to get it from people and/or things in our environment. We become addicted to idols, which are anything we use to derive our ultimate worth, significance and security other than God.
In modern western culture, the most popular idols are things like power, sex appeal, wealth, and accomplishments. Historically, in most other cultures religion has been a primary idol (though it continues to play an idolatrous role in some religious sub-cultures in the West). Religious idolatry occurs whenever people try to find their worth, significance and security in how they impress a god, others and/or themselves with the rightness of their beliefs, rituals or behaviour – in contrast to all who are wrong about these things.
Life in the fallen world is a veritable feeding frenzy on idols of one sort or the other. Like sharks fighting over raw meat thrown overboard, empty people have to compete in this world for whatever morsel of worth, significance and security they can get from their chosen form of idolatry. This is why idolatrous living is always accompanied by anxiety, strife and other “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5).
It’s also why ‘the flesh’ (our fallen, sinful nature) is the source of all conflict and violence in the world. Whether we’re talking about celebrity gossip, political fighting or wars between nations, the root of all hostility is idolatry. People are desperately trying to get life from something other than God.
Another reason ‘the flesh’ always produces anxiety is that, even when we are successful at feeling like we got the life we hunger for, we know it’s just a matter of time before we’ll hunger for it again. Like vampires, we must always come back to suck more life from someone or something.
We also know we may lose our source of life at any moment. One single unfortunate accident, and our power, sex appeal, wealth and accomplishments may be gone. Even if this doesn’t happen, we all know, even if we rarely acknowledge it, that aging and death will eventually steal our source of life from us. So that life in ‘the flesh’ is permeated with anxiety and emptiness. It’s total, diabolic, bondage!
Life in the Kingdom begins when we revolt against this bondage and the powers that fuel it and commit to getting life from Christ alone. As the Holy Spirit works in our heart, we begin to wake up to the futility and folly of idolatrous living and begin to see that our core need for worth, significance and security can be found in Christ alone.
To the extent that we dance in the Kingdom, we are free from idolatry. We are free not because we have enough will power to say ‘no’ to the temptation to suck life off of our sex appeal, wealth, accomplishments or religion, but simply because we don’t’ need them anymore. We’re getting our life from Christ.
We may of course continue to enjoy, in appropriate contexts, having sex appeal. We may be blessed with, and continue to enjoy, a certain measure of wealth. We may continue to feel good about using our talents to accomplish various things. And we may even continue to appreciate aspects of a religion we’ve been taught to practice.
But to the extent that Christ is our life, we no longer need these things to feel fully alive. If and when we lose these things, we certainly feel a sense of loss. But this loss will not fundamentally change our core identity or our sense of being fully alive. That remains because it is found only in the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ.
To the extent that we are free from idol cravings, we are free from the “works of the flesh.” We no longer need to compete in the foolish idolatrous feeding frenzy of the world. We no longer need to compete to acquire or fight to protect our power, sex appeal, wealth, accomplishments, or religion. We know that the one thing that matters, life in Christ, can never be improved on by our effort or lost by misfortune.
For this reason, the person who is being caught up into the Kingdom is empowered to put off all strife, malice, hostility and anxiety (Eph 4:29-31). So too, the person who is being caught up into the Kingdom is empowered to live in love as Christ loved them and gave His life for them (Eph. 5:1-2).
Only when we are free from needing life from others are we enabled to overflow with life to others, ascribing worth to them regardless of what they think about us or how they treat us. And because a person who gets their life wholly from Christ is free from all the idols that subtly make us anxious and miserable, a Kingdom person is positioned to experience a pervasive joy in their life that nothing in this world can ever give.