Tuesday, October 12, 2021

On the Subject of Being Subject

As this world moves deeper into secular materialism and post-rationality with each passing year, the tremendous practical and material benefits of the Christian faith become increasingly evident in contrast to the chaos, confusion and despair that follow logically from any worldview in which God is absent or unknowable.

One nine year study of over 21,000 believers showed we live on average seven years longer than those who do not know Christ. To quote the Handbook of Religion and Health (2001), faith has been correlated with “well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction.”

Sounds like great advertising, right? Wrong. Definitely wrong.

Material Benefits

Now, the writers of the Handbook are not engaging in mere puffery; anyone who has lived among believers for a few years and observed how we handle the trials of life can provide numerous personal case histories of grace given and received to back up the data. There are genuine, measurable, practical benefits to belief.

That said, Alex Bunn and David Randall, who have written about the health benefits of the Christian faith, conclude their observations with this telling statement: “While it is striking that faith appears to be associated with improved health outcomes, the Christian faith is not to be judged by its material benefits.” However wonderful they may be, if the benefits of the Christian faith in this life become the focus of our testimony to the world, we have absolutely and completely missed the boat.

But if faith in Christ is not to be promoted on the basis of what it can do for us here and now, what is it all about?

First, the Kingdom

Well, first and foremost Christianity is about a kingdom, and therefore about a king. The importance of the kingdom to the mission and life of the Christian cannot be overstated, a claim which is trivially easy to demonstrate.

Daniel saw an indestructible kingdom destined to break in pieces and bring to an end every other kingdom in history. Subsequently, the greatest king of his day was forced to learn the lesson that the rule of heaven is not just future but now: “His kingdom endures from generation to generation.” It is this kingdom that Jesus and his disciples proclaimed, this kingdom all future disciples have been tasked with heralding to the world, and this kingdom the saints will one day possess.

The very first request found in the Lord’s Prayer reads as follows: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The second phrase — “your will be done on earth” — expands on and explains the first. This plea precedes our petitions regarding all personal concerns: daily bread, forgiveness or spiritual protection. In the same way that the first commandment (the love of God) is the greatest of all the commandments and informs all the others, so also the first request in the Lord’s Prayer provides the overarching context in which every other request may be made. It is in the measure which we are concerned about the kingdom that we can have confidence in the Lord’s corresponding concern for meeting our daily needs. That is what he plainly stated.

This is also emphasized in the Sermon on the Mount. What is to be the most pressing concern of the disciple of Christ? It is the kingdom. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The kingdom comes above all else. The Great Commission, given on the authority of the king, is to teach men to observe all his commandments. Christ is to rule in every and all respect.

When the Lord Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days offering many proofs of his resurrection, what did he come back to discuss? Why, it was the kingdom, of course. Which explains why the very last question we have on record from the disciples to their Master is this: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

The Christian faith is first and foremost about a kingdom and its king.

The Heavens Rule

The kingdom is everywhere in the teaching of Christ, but what does that mean exactly? What does it mean that God will be king? Well, it means that he will rule. It means, to restate the obvious, that his will shall be done on earth just as sweepingly and incontestably as it is currently done in heaven; that all will be in conformity with his good pleasure; that this earth and everyone in it will be subject to Christ. It means that your life, my life, and every other life on this planet will one day be lived with heaven as our frame of reference, Christ as our model, and the word of God as sufficient and final in every matter.

There is no getting around the fact that becoming a follower of Christ means submission to the will of another. When Christ called his disciples, it was to do his will. He would give the instructions, and they would become whatever he would make of them. They were agreeing to submit from the get-go. Even when Jesus tells his followers he will give them rest for their souls, it is by taking up his yoke. Right before the offer of living water comes the demand “Give me a drink.” Salvation requires no works, but it does demand submission of the will to the rule of Christ.

Because the kingdom is not just a future hope but also a present reality, it is insufficient for believers to think about and refer to Jesus as Savior, teacher or brother, though all these are true and wonderful. His closest friends called him Lord because it is only through Jesus that the rule of God on earth was, is and will be realized.

Being Subject

The heralds of the kingdom are the subjects of the kingdom, and being subjects, it follows that we are to be in subjection. And it should be obvious that we cannot effectively preach subjection to the rule of Christ unless we ourselves are subject in all our daily choices.

Moreover, to the extent that there are measurable, practical benefits observable to the world in the way we choose to live, these all start from the place of subjection; from putting the kingdom first in everything. The so-called Christian who refuses to be subject to Christ in what he eats and drinks will likely live little longer than the comparably self-indulgent secularist. Would-be followers of Christ who refuse to make him Lord of their homes and family relationships will see their marriages fail and their children become delinquent at similar rates to those who have no faith at all. Professing Christians who fail to follow the commands of the Lord will find themselves just as anxious, lonely and subject to depression as others who live the same way and don’t know Christ.

And that makes sense. After all, the material benefits are not the message we preach. They are not the substance of the faith. They are mere side effects of living as subjects of Christ. That is the real message: acknowledge Christ as Lord and the promotion of his kingdom as our primary object in life. Every good thing believers enjoy follows from that.


  1. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart will be also." Matt 6:21

    So many of us can't seem to get our heads around this reality, "Salvation requires no works, but it does demand submission of the will to the rule of Christ." Very well said.