The kingdom of God is holy—meaning “separate, set apart, consecrated.” It looks like Jesus, nothing else. We can’t simply equate the kingdom with everything we think is good, noble, and true. Nor can we align the kingdom with any nation, government, or political ideology. The kingdom Jesus embodied and established is one of a kind.
The proof of this comes from the words of Jesus himself. When Jesus was on trial, Pilate asked him if he considered himself to be the king of the Jews. Jesus responded, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest.”
The difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world is measured by the kind of power they trust. The kingdoms of this world place their trust in whatever coercive power they can exercise to make things happen. We can think of this kind of power as the power of the sword.
In contrast, the kingdom of God refused to use coercive power over people, choosing instead to rely exclusively on whatever power it can exercise to serve others. I have often referred to this as the difference between power-over versus power-under. This is the transforming power of humble, self-sacrificial, Christlike love. Exercising power under others is about impacting people’s lives by serving them, sacrificing for them, and even being sacrificed by them while refusing to retaliate, as Jesus did.
We can think of this kind of power as the power of the cross, as the cross is the ultimate manifestation of the character and power of God.
In a violent world filled with people vying for power over others—sometimes even in the name of the church and in the name of Jesus—the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated offers people the peacemaking beauty of Christ.
The power of this distinctive, self-sacrificial beauty is lost, however, whenever the kingdom of God gets blended with power-over attitudes and practices that are of the kingdom of the world. The kingdom of God stops looking like Jesus when it starts trying to control, coerce, and manipulate through the power that looks like Caesar. This means that the kingdom for all practical purposes simply ceases to exist.
We are called out of this world to be a holy, separate people. We’re called to be nonconformists, resisting the “pattern of the world” as we’re transformed into the image of Christ. This holy nonconformity isn’t just one aspect of who we are—it actually defines us. It’s how we manifest the beauty of God’s character and his kingdom.
Out from the wellspring of abundant life that we receive from Christ, we live in revolt against everything in our own lives, in society, and in the spirit-realm that is inconsistent with the cruciform revelation of God.
—Adapted from The Myth of a Christian Religion, pages 21-24