‘Tis that look that melted Peter
‘Tis that face that Stephen saw
‘Tis that heart that wept with Mary
Can alone from idols draw
~ Miss Ora Rowan
Jamal Jivanjee interviewed me about the message I delivered at the Momentum 2011 Conference. I’m publishing the interview here in three parts. This is Part I. The title of the post is fitting as you will see.
Jamal: At the beginning of the message you quoted the following line from C.S. Lewis’ work ‘Prince Caspian.’
Aslan to Lucy: “Every year that you grow, I will get bigger in your eyes.”
Can you elaborate how this statement reflects our own spiritual growth in the Lord?
Frank: Let me first thank you for inviting me to do this interview. I have grown to appreciate you much, and I am thankful for our friendship.
Regarding your question, I believe that Lewis’ words on the lips of Aslan is an excellent metaphor for spiritual growth. When we grow in Christ, He becomes greater and more glorious in our eyes. This is because we are getting to know Him better. And in knowing Him better, we love Him more.
Those who do not love Jesus of Nazareth haven’t been awakened to see exactly who He is. One of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ to our hearts. That revelation has a starting-point in a person’s life, but then it grows, deepens, and becomes more solid.
Jesus taught us that the greatest of all commandments is to love God. In one of his epistles, John said, “We love Him because He first loved us.” Our love is ignited when the love of God in Christ touches (or melts) our hearts.
The author of John’s gospel calls John “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Jesus loved all of His disciples (and all people), for He is Love enfleshed. Yet John had such an awareness of Christ’s love for him that he saw himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
In the same way, if our eyes are opened to see the epic greatness of Jesus Christ, then something happens inside of us. First, it wipes everything else off the table. That which competes for our devotion suddenly bows at the sight of His peerless worth.
Second, desire and affection for God in Christ are awakened within us. Our love for Him rises to new heights. That love is not provoked by duty, guilt, or shame. It’s rather drawn out by a fresh glimpse of His beauty and majesty. John’s words, “We beheld His glory . . . full of grace and truth,” take on a new meaning.
So to my mind, our progress in Christ correlates with fresh apprehensions of Him. Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:17ff. seems to capture this idea.
In short, my motive in delivering Epic Jesus (and putting it in written form) is to stir the hearts of God’s people to see just how uncommonly incredible their Lord is. That He is so much more than we have imagined. (I speak from my own experience here, as well as from observation.)
For me, this is the basis of everything. The greatness of Christ in the face of the diluted and piece-meal way that He is often presented today is a passion of mine, and it’s one of the things that provoked Len Sweet and me to write Jesus Manifesto.
Jon Zens, who heard “Epic Jesus” live, said that it should have been titled, “Christ is All, But There’s Still More . . .” I think that describes the Lord rather well.
Personally, I can’t help but weep when I’m struck with His greatness. (I almost lost it at one point while giving the talk.) As A.B. Simpson once put it, “Preaching without spiritual aroma is like a rose without fragrance. We can only get the perfume by getting more of Christ.”
Jamal: In the message, you gave a complete definition of the term ‘Kingdom of God’. Here is the definition that you gave:
Kingdom of God: “the manifestation of God’s ruling presence.” Jesus Christ is the ruling presence of God.
Can you elaborate on this a bit more and also share why you think there is so much confusion about what the ‘kingdom of God’ actually is?
Frank: To my mind, the confusion exists because Scripture never defines the kingdom of God. It only illustrates it. Therefore, it’s open to be defined by anyone’s theological or political agenda.
Today, the kingdom of God is commonly defined and understood as Act. That is, for many believers, the kingdom is about humans doing something, usually performing supernatural acts or engaging in social justice. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who view the kingdom as Being in the sense of a particular religious experience or being in a place like heaven.
Right or wrong, my understanding of the kingdom is that it is embodied in Jesus Christ. Jesus is both Act and Being. Consequently, each word of my definition points to this reality.
Let’s break the definition down. The kingdom of God is the manifestation of God’s ruling presence. The word “presence” points to the fact that the kingdom cannot be separated from the King. So the kingdom is the Being of God. The kingdom has a face. It is the face of God in Christ. (It is for this reason that some of the early church fathers called Jesus the autobasileia, which means the self-kingdom.)
The words “ruling” and “manifestation” have in mind the Act of God, namely His reigning and His image-bearing, respectively. This throws us back to Genesis 1, where God gave humans the task of bearing His image and exercising His rule in the earth.
However, the part of the story that’s commonly left out is that the only way that the first humans could ever think to fulfill the commission of image-bearing and ruling was by God’s own life. They had to have divine life deposited within them. In other words, they needed the Being of God to accomplish the Act of God.
This is where the Tree of Life comes in. Adam, Eve, and their descendants were to eat from the Tree of Life, thereby receiving God’s own life within them. And this life would enable them to fulfill the commission. (The Tree of Life contained God’s life in accessible form.)
Recently, I read a book by one of my friends who is a noted scholar. It’s all about the meaning of the gospel and brings back into view the Lordship of Jesus. The book discussed the matter of ruling and image-bearing also.
Strikingly, however, there wasn’t anything about the indwelling life of Christ to carry out these two tasks. And there was nothing about the eternal purpose of God. While there was a great deal about Jesus as Lord (which was quite good), there was nothing about Christ as our life.
These two themes (the Lordship of Jesus and the indwelling Life of Christ) are inseparably linked in both the gospels and the epistles, and they are the centerpiece of God’s eternal purpose. Without the indwelling life of Christ, the Lordship of Jesus becomes something quite external (more on that later).
In From Eternity to Here, which you graciously reviewed sometime ago, I sought to develop these themes in detail by tracing them chronologically from Genesis to Revelation. In one section of that book, I argue that Jesus is the Being of God (He is God’s Person and God’s Life) and as such He fulfills the Act of God (manifesting God’s ruling presence in the earth).
But the wonder of the gospel is that Jesus has come to reproduce Himself into all who repent and believe upon Him so that we too may bear His image and exercise His rule (Act). And that can only happen when we live by His life (Being) with others (“let them have dominion”).
This is the storyline of the gospels, and it puts us on a collision course with the meaning of the kingdom of God and the church.