As believers living after Christ’s ascension, Alistair Begg teaches, our citizenship in God’s kingdom is not defined ethnically but by faith in Christ. No longer residing in a temple of stone, the Lord now dwells in His people, the Church, and showers His blessings on us through His Spirit. As recipients of His grace, it is therefore our privilege and duty to announce the good news of God’s kingdom to the ends of the earth.
I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Galatians chapter 3—Galatians chapter 3. We’re going to read a brief section that begins at the sixth verse. We break into Paul’s argument here, where he is saying to the Galatians that it really is quite inconceivable that, having begun as a result of all that God has done by his Spirit, they should then try and continue living their Christian life as if it depended on themselves. And, by way of illustration, he turns to one of his favorites.
“Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.” That’s a very important phrase, isn’t it? “Those who believe are children of Abraham.” Who are the children of Abraham? Paul tells us—he’s a Jew of the deepest dye—he says that the people who believe are the children of Abraham.
“The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham.” And then he tells us what that gospel announcement was, which takes us back to Genesis 12: “‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through [Jesus Christ], so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”
To pick up our theme from where we left it this morning: we had begun to look at the work of the Spirit of God. (For those of you who are desperately keen to get to the book of Revelation—we’re on track—I think we’ll be there by the eleventh, if not before.) We will deal with the perfected kingdom as it comes our way and then we will take a well-deserved rest; at least you will enjoy a well-deserved rest, and who knows—we might even come back and just pick it up where we leave off in the book of Revelation and see if we just can’t reduce the congregation significantly as a result of those particular studies.
We left off this morning by beginning to consider the work of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the most neglected member of the Trinity: even though we would refer in Trinitarian terms to God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, many of us are fairly clueless about who the Spirit is and what the Spirit does. And so, we have taken just a moment or two to underpin—to underscore—what the Bible makes clear, and we spent time this morning trying to recognize that it is the work of the Spirit of God to create new birth: that when a person is born, they have no control over that, no jurisdiction over that. None of us were born as a result of application; we were born, and we knew nothing about it until we emerged kicking and screaming to be a nuisance to our parents—and a joy to them, in part.
And in the same way, many of us came to faith in Jesus Christ: it had happened to us before we realized what had hit us, and we look back on it and we said, “What is it that has happened to me? Now I like the Bible. Now I actually love Jesus. Now I find myself singing the songs. And now I want to tell others about Jesus too.” Well, what had happened was that the Holy Spirit had brought us to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit not only brings new birth, but the Holy Spirit also equips those who have come to faith in order that they might serve the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, the work of the Spirit within the life of the Christian is to enable us in order that we might serve him. In Ephesians 4, where Paul speaks of the gifts of the ascended Christ to the church, he says that, in part, God has given pastors and teachers in order that they might edify the saints—teach the saints, build them up—so that the saints, the believers, might do the works of ministry.
So, the whole idea of church is not that people come and watch while others minister, but rather that, having been brought to faith in Jesus Christ, each one finds their place. And it’s surely appropriate that we would ponder the fact that here, with the ability to kick a football or a soccer ball, someone is ushered into a realm of ministry. And so it is with the ability to arrange flowers and to teach and to encourage and to help, and the list is almost endless as we think about the privilege and responsibility that is given to the people of God. But right to the very heart of what the Holy Spirit equips us to do is to become bold in telling others about Jesus, and as I said this morning, “Spirit-filled Christians are evangelizing Christians.”
In Acts 4—from which Voddie Baucham preached a couple of Sundays ago, with great impact—we were reminded of the fact that the people came, and they were marveling at what Peter and John had to say, and they actually asked them, “By what power are you doing this?” And they, of course, were able to say, “Well, the power that enables us to do this, fearful and ignorant as we are, is nothing other than the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Spirit-filled Christians are also using the gifts that God has given them for the benefit of the body and, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12: “To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
So, what does the Holy Spirit do? He brings new birth, he equips us to serve Christ, and he produces holiness.
Now, there’s a reason that he is referred to as the Holy Spirit, and the mark of the presence of the Spirit in the life of an individual is an increased interest in and desire for holy living.
Now, this little diagram here is simply a reinforcement of what I’ve been saying to you for a long time. And some of you who are visual will get it now in a way that you haven’t got it through your ears, and I’ll leave it up there for a moment or two. The diagram summarizes the work of God in the life of the Christian—the three tenses, if you like, of salvation. That we have (past tense) been saved from the penalty of sin, hence the cross; we’ve been saved from the penalty of sin. The believer has nothing to fear on the day of judgment. Why? Because the day of judgment has been brought forward in time when Jesus, by his death upon the cross, bore our sins, and Christ has faced punishment in our place.
In the present tense, we are being saved from the power of sin. It’s an ongoing ministry. None of us will ever be sinless this side of heaven, but God is at work within us, enabling us to say no to what is wrong and to say yes to what is right. And indeed, Paul says in Romans 8 that it is by the Spirit that we are able to put to death the misdeeds of the body.
So, we have been saved from sin’s penalty, we are being saved from sin’s power, and then one day we will be saved from sin’s very presence. Only after Christ returns will we be saved from the presence of sin.
I remember the first time I heard this it was a terrific help to me, because I often wondered, “Well, why is it that I still sin, and if I sin does that mean that I’ve sinned myself out of the love of God? And, you know, if I sin seven times or ten times, presumably, I’ve done it so much now that I presumably wasn’t saved, and so I need to go and try and be saved again.” I used to get myself in all kinds of spiritual and theological knots. It was a great liberation to me when somebody opened up just this very simple diagram for me, and they said, “Here are the three tenses of salvation: we have been saved from sin’s penalty, one day we will be saved from sin’s very presence, but in the meantime we are being saved from sin’s power.
Now, at the heart of all that we’ve been doing is our focus on the kingdom of God, and to that we need to return as we wrap today up. During the last days, the kingdom of God is spreading as a result of the work of the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is working through the proclamation of the gospel. That is why, for example, we go to the Sudan. We go to the Sudan—we may use sport as a vehicle but is in order that by that vehicle we may bring others into the sound of the good news. We may tell them that Jesus died to be the Savior that they need, and we will trust that the Spirit of God will convict them of the fact of sin and then convince them of the truth of what we’re telling them and will enable them, then, to become childlike and to trust in Jesus.
This kingdom of God we have described as being God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule, and to that we’ve returned in each segment. So that here in the proclaimed kingdom, in this era where the kingdom news is being proclaimed throughout the world, we need also to understand these three facets.
First of all, God’s people—who now are God’s people? Well, I tried to read as carefully as I could from Galatians 3, and Paul is making clear there in Galatians what Peter makes perfectly plain in his first letter. And I’m only going to ask you to turn to one verse of the Bible tonight, and it’s in 1 Peter 2:9, and it’s known to some and will be new to others. And if you’d like to find it in the pew Bibles, you’ll find it on page 858—page 858. 1 Peter 2.
And before I read this to you, let me tell you that Peter is writing to the scattered believers of his day; he’s actually writing to a primarily Gentile audience—a primarily Gentile audience. And he does something that is very, very striking: he uses terminology that had previously been the property of the Israelites alone. We should know this by now because of our studies, and as soon as we hear what he says, we will immediately find ourselves attaching it to bits and pieces that we remember from the “partially fulfilled kingdom.” And look at what he says to these primarily Gentile individuals: “You are a chosen people.” Do you remember Deuteronomy 7? God comes to Moses and he says, “You know this group that I’m putting together? I didn’t choose you because you were a particularly bright group or a particularly large group—in fact, there is no external dimension that has caused me to choose you. I have chosen you because I loved you, and because the Lord loved you, he chose you.” And Peter says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.”
And Peter and Paul unite to make clear that the Gentiles don’t have to undergo the ritual requirements of Jewish law in order to be full members of God’s family. “Who are the children of Abraham?” Paul asks. The children of Abraham are “those who believe.” The true Israelite or member of the people of God is not someone who is simply physically descended from Abraham—someone who outwardly obeys the Jewish law.
The fact that Paul makes this so clear should, I think, be a help to those of us who stumble over it. Don’t turn to this, but let me quote you Paul—Romans 2:28: “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.”
Now, what Paul is saying there to the Jews is just absolutely dramatic, and that’s why he then immediately says, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew?” If this is the way it’s going to be, is there an advantage? And then he goes, “Oh yes, there is a phenomenal advantage, because to us was given the promises, to us has been given all of this heritage, to us has been given an understanding of all of these pointers leading forward from promise to fulfillment.”
And his heart is passionate for his people. Hence in Romans 9 and 10 and 11, he is agonizing that his own people—that Jewish people—might be converted, and in the course of that he says in Romans 9:6, “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” “You mean I’m not Israel just because I’m Israeli?” No, you’re not. “Nor because they are … descendants are they all Abraham’s children.”
Remember in John, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “You know, you guys are stuck on the fact that you’re the children of Abraham. I want to tell you something: you’re the children of the devil.” They did not like that. “You do what your father does. If you were the children of Abraham—if you were really the children of Abraham—you would understand what Abraham did.” What did Abraham do? Abraham trusted in the promise of God. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.
Now, we can’t delay here, because we need to get on with our evening, but don’t misunderstand Paul and don’t misunderstand me either. The fact that the people of God, the new Israel, comprises all who are in Christ does not negate the apostle’s passionate longing for his own people, the Jews, to come to faith in Jesus Christ. But let me go out on a limb (which I’ve done before) and say to you that I think that Paul himself would be very surprised—shocked, concerned—at the unthinking willingness of evangelical Christians to transfer to the national state of Israel the promises of God, which are not tied to ethnicity but which are tied to humble, childlike, believing faith in the Messiah. And to go further out on a limb, one of the reasons that we are so unable to speak to the issues of contemporary Palestine and contemporary Israel is because unthinking Christians have made their beds so tightly with nationalistic Judaism (which, if you’ve been to Israel, is largely godless) that to speak into the life of the searching Arab is almost impossible. Now, you’re sensible people, and you’re going have to think this out for yourselves.
Second to the end, a word about God’s place. Some wrote to me last week, saying, “I think you’re wrong on that church business.” Thank you for your letters. I appreciate your honesty. I don’t think I am, otherwise I wouldn’t have said what I said. In fact, let me say it to you again: What is God’s place—now? The Lord Jesus is the true temple—the Lord Jesus is the true temple. Our approach to God in worship is not now a physical approach to an architectural structure. It’s not. Our approach to God now in worship is a spiritual approach to the living stone. Who is the living stone? Jesus. Where may Jesus be met? All places, all times, for all people. He doesn’t live in buildings made by hands. Paul to the Athenians in Acts 17: “God does not dwell in buildings made with hands.” What a dramatic thing for a Jew to say! All of his whole life had been looking back, was directly related to the temple. And here he stands up, and he says to the folks, “You shouldn’t be looking for the temple, at least a physical structure.” Why? Because Jesus is the true temple.
“Oh, but Jesus has gone into heaven. He’s at the right hand of the Father. He’s ascended to the Father.” But God continues to make himself known in his fallen world. Where? How? If his temple is no longer a building, what is it? His temple is a people. “We’re the people of God, called by his name, rescued”—whatever it was, I can’t remember the song—“and delivered from shame. One holy race, saints every one, because of the blood of Christ Jesus the Son.” God lives in us as individuals—1 Corinthians 6—we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. And God also lives in us as the Christian community. And the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and [the] prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the … cornerstone.” We could say more but we won’t.
And the kingdom of God is God’s rule and his blessing—God’s rule and his blessing. And God is at work in each of his children’s life. None of us is declared righteous by observing the law. The law actually makes us conscious of sin, but, in Christ, he changes all of that. He fulfills the law, and he fashions our hearts to take the shape of the law of God, so that as Moyter says so wonderfully, helpfully, and kind of school-teacher language, “The law of the Holy God is not a ladder of merit whereby sinners seek to come to God to win His favor and climb ‘into His good books;’ His holy law is rather His appointed and required pattern of life for those who by redemption have been brought to him already”—who already belong to him, and are already in his “good books.” “The law of God is the lifestyle of the redeemed.” “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. The testimony of Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The fear of the Lord is clean.” You find all of that in Psalm 19.
Now, here’s our famous chart, and you always know we’re at the end when we come to this. You know all of that; you’ve learned it off by heart already. The kingdom of God: the pattern in the garden, spoiled as a result of the fall; promised to Abraham’s descendants, partially fulfilled in the Israelites; prophesied as the prophets stand on the stage of history, reminding us that Israel will always have a remnant; the inclusion of the nations as a result of the work of Israel. Remember Jesus Christ is the new temple, the new creation, the one who establishes the new covenant. He is the King of Kings; he ushers in great blessing. And the present kingdom: Jesus Christ—the new Adam, the new Israel, the true tabernacle, the true temple, the new covenant, the one who establishes rest. And what we’ve been trying to say today is that here in this time where the kingdom is proclaimed, the new Israel equals Jew and Gentile believers together in Christ. The new temple: the individual believer and the church, not in terms of an architectural structure, but in terms of a people. And God’s rule and blessing is established in his new covenant and as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Now, I’ll just leave that up there and don’t worry about that. And let me say a word to you as I conclude: Christian experience in the light of all of this is quite wonderful and simultaneously quite challenging. God is so good: he grants to us forgiveness, he adopts us into his family, he gives us fellowship with one another, he gives us a certain hope of heaven. But Peter, within just a few verses in the opening chapter of 1 Peter says, “I want you to recognize that now for a little while you may suffer grief in all kinds of ways.” And then he goes on to say, “However, you have within you an inexpressible joy,” reminding us of the reality of living the Christian life; we know frustration, we know heartache, we know disappointment, and we know groaning. And while we live here below, on earth, every so often we get a little taste of heaven.
At our pastoral team meeting, I think it was, the other day, we were talking about heaven and saying, “You know, why is it that we don’t have more of a longing for heaven?” And then we began to ask one another, “When do you ever think about heaven?” And someone said, “Well, I think about heaven every so often when perhaps we’re singing, and it’s as though the curtain is pulled back a little bit and I get a glimpse of what it would mean to love and praise God in that way.” Someone else said, “Well, I think in an experience of suffering we get an inkling of the wonder of what heaven will be.” And so it is that living our lives on earth we get a little taste of heaven, but our salvation is far from complete.
Our bodies tonight are subject to decay. Every so often, someone becomes unwell; somebody could become seriously unwell. We never want to minimize that, but the fact of the matter is, isn’t it a phenomenal miracle how many of us are not unwell? I mean, it never ceases to amaze me that all of us are so well. I mean, think about your lawn mower, think about your coffee maker, think about your car, think about anything that has moving parts—and I know some of you are masters in coaxing things along. You still got the refrigerator you got when you were married in 1927. Shame on you, husband! But you’re very proud of it: “Look at that. Look how well that’s working.” Well, that is a minor miracle, but it’s nothing compared to the miracle of the fact that neurologically, physiologically, we’re working. The double-circulatory system works; the heart, the muscle of the heart pumps and pumps and pumps, and God is so good to sustain our life. Of course we’re going to get sick. Of course we’ll be unwell. Of course bits will fall off of us and be removed from us—it is inevitable! We need to plan for it, and Christianity does not make us immune to decay, does not make us immune to the impact of gravity, to wrinkles, to gray hair, to broken legs, to cancer, and we continue to face the struggle with sin. We continue to encounter opposition to our faith. The Christian life is, in Scottish terminology, a surfet, whatever—because the Christian is involved in “a continual and irreconcilable war.”
And if when you went home today, you smelt your mum’s cooking, and as you came into the house, you said, “Aha, it’s my favorite!” And you went into the kitchen, and perhaps it was roast beef, and you went to get a little bit of it, she whacked you on the fingers, she said, “Not now—wait.” And you said, “Oh no, just give me a little taste.” And she said, “Okay, then, but just the corner.” And so, you took the corner, and as you walked out of the kitchen, you ate it. It was the daftest thing you could’ve done, because there was then a delay of twenty minutes and you couldn’t get the taste out of your mouth. It had given you such an expectation for the reality when it would come in all of its fullness.
That’s what Paul is saying in Romans 8: “We have the firstfruits, and as a result of the firstfruits there is something within us that says, ‘I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but it’s going to be fantastic, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve had a little taste. I have the taste in my mouth. I still groan inwardly. I’m longing for the world to come. I’m living in the in-between period. I’m not promised ease; I’m actually promised tribulation. But I’m going to continue to follow Christ. That’s why I’m being baptized. That’s why I’m reassessing where I’m involved in ministry. That’s why I’m asking how to invest my life for the kingdom of God in the remaining years that he is granting to me.’”
And we get ready to walk out of here into a world in which we will proclaim the gospel to a world that actually does not want to hear. We’re going to go out and live lives marked by purity in a world that is increasingly dirty, lives of integrity in a world that is shady, lives of reality in a cardboard world. We go out as citizens of heaven, living for the time being here as strangers, but we’re not going to have to live away from home forever. One day, Jesus will return, and he will take us to join him in the perfected kingdom—and that will be the focus of our final studies in this series.
Father, I thank you so much for the Bible, and I pray that in this mad dash through this material tonight that the simple truth will dawn on our hearts of your amazing grace: that you save not those who are good and try their best, but you save those who believe, who become like little children and call out to you, “Lord Jesus Christ, be my Savior, friend, and King.” And we marvel that you take the likes of us and give to us the Holy Spirit so that, although we are fearful and not the brightest and the best, still your kingdom is to be proclaimed throughout the world, so that Jew and Gentile, and rich and poor, and intelligent and silly, and young and old, every aspect of humanity, may be touched with the glorious news of the gospel. Thank you for giving us a little taste so that we might look forward to the reality when you perfect everything, on the day when we see you and are made like you. We bring our lives to you tonight. We bring our offerings to you. And we pray that, as we crown the worship of this day in the testimonies to which we listen and the songs that we sing, that you will pull back the curtain just a tiny bit more, Lord Jesus, and create within our hearts a longing to see you face-to-face, for we pray in your lovely name. Amen.
 Galatians 3:6–7 (NIV 1984).
 Galatians 3:8 (NIV 1984).
 Galatians 3:8–14 (NIV 1984)
 Ephesians 4:11–12 (paraphrased).
 Acts 4:7 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 8:13 (paraphrased).
 Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom (Exeter, UK: Paternoster, 1981), 47.
 Deuteronomy 7:7–8 (paraphrased).
 Romans 2:28–29 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 3:1 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 3:2 (paraphrased).
 Romans 9:7 (NIV 1984).
 John 8:44 (paraphrased).
 John 8:39–41 (paraphrased).
 Galatians 3:6 (paraphrased).
 Acts 17:24 (paraphrased).
 Wayne Watson, “People of God” (1999). Paraphrased.
 1 Corinthians 6:19 (paraphrased).
 Ephesians 2:20 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 3:20 (paraphrased).
 Alec Moyter, Look to the Rock (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996): 41.
 Psalm 19:7–9 (paraphrased).
 1 Peter 1:6 (paraphrased).
 1 Peter 1:8 (paraphrased).
 The Westminster Confession of Faith 13.2.