I love traveling internationally, collecting immigration stamps from other countries in my passport. Maybe you’ve caught that bug too, or you dream about it. I know this is a distinctly first-world privilege, as so many around the world have little realistic opportunity for such travel. But permit me to describe it. For citizens of the USA, like myself, we have the opportunity to drive to neighboring countries like Mexico and Canada, but for the most part people around the world arrive in another country via air travel. Once inside the terminal, travelers follow the hallways to an immigration room, often packed with people waiting in lines, holding their passports. When it is finally your turn, you walk to the passport control officer at their desk, and hand them your passport and perhaps other paperwork, such as an immigration form. That officer reviews your documents, scans your passport into a computer database, and if everything is in order, they pull out their stamper and give you their seal of approval! It is an exhilarating moment, as they look at you, hand you back your passport and say, “Welcome! Enter in. Enjoy your stay.”
Your next stop is luggage retrieval, then customs, where more officials make sure you’re not bringing anything illegal into their country. Once you get the all-clear, you are free to enjoy your vacation, mission trip, relocation for work, or whatever brings you to that nation.
Though you have gone through this process of planning, packing, travel, immigration, and customs, and though you have approval to experience the wonders of that country, you are still you. You are still a citizen of your country. You haven’t changed.
As we continue our study in Colossians 1:9-14, we learn that entrance into God’s country is not like that. What is it like?
Imagine with me a country that says, “You can come here, but you need to be different. You will have to learn our language, our customs, and all about us, before you can set foot here.” Before you go there? How does that work?, you wonder. Well, once you arrive, before you get that all-important passport stamp, you have to pass their stringent test to show you are worthy to enter. It is both a written and oral test. You have to speak in their language, answering questions written in their language, all about their history, government and culture. You must be wearing their clothes.
While that sounds intimidating, it is a very wonder-filled country, or so you have been told, and you really want to go there, so you get to work. You download a language-learning app on your phone, and you use it every day. Then you search online for clothing styles from that country, and you have them shipped, at great cost, to your home. You attend classes to learn their history, culture and customs. You discover online practice tests, also not cheap, but you take them anyway because you do not want to fail. You work hard at this.
Then the day arrives. You’ve invested a lot of time and money, you’ve purchased your airline tickets, you’ve packed. Collecting all your travel bags and your documentation, including your passport, you embark on the journey. Many hours later, you arrive. As you file along with the other passengers from your flight, your passports in hand, you learn that they don’t want to see your passports at all. Instead, they immediately usher you into a series of private rooms where they begin your test. It is grueling. The test goes on for a couple nerve-wracking hours, and finally it is over. There you wait for the official tester to return with your result. Did you pass? Or did you fail? If you fail, you will never pull out your passport, as they will immediately funnel you to the departing flights terminal where you will fly back home.
I know some countries in the world are quite difficult to get into, but nothing like that. Is that what God expects of us to get into heaven? To do a whole bunch of work?
Hear this: entrance into the Kingdom of God is a very different scenario from the one I just described. We cannot put in the work to transform ourselves into citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Read Colossians 1:12-14. There we see how God has done the work to make it possible for us to enter his Kingdom.
As Paul says, God rescued us! God made it possible for us to be transformed from people who are part of the dominion of darkness into people who have entrance in his Kingdom of Light. He did this, Paul writes in verse 14, through redemption, by forgiving our sins. Paul is talking about Jesus. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God made a new hope possible for all humans. The new hope is that we can experience both abundant life now in his Kingdom, and eternal life in heaven.
The Kingdom of God, therefore, should not be understood simply as a place where we go after we die. Notice how Paul describes it in verses 12-14. Read them again. Do you see all the present tense activity?
We are qualified now.
We are rescued now.
We are transformed now.
We have redemption now.
We should be becoming new now.
Always growing, learning new things, bearing new fruit, becoming more alive in him. God had done this! We experience this now!
So put verses 9-14 together, as we have seen in the blog series this week, and we have a powerful statement about the kind of relationship that God wants to have with us, and the astounding benefits of that relationship. God not only want us to know his will, but he also wants us to have the power to accomplish his will, and that will bring great abundance and rejoicing in our lives. Furthermore, God has gone to great lengths to make this possible!
We have, then, significant motivation to cultivate a relationship with God. He is so good. Life connected to him is an adventure for sure, and it is full and alive and done side-by-side with the living and all-powerful God.
What steps will you take this week to make space to connect with God more? Who can you talk with about the goal of having a deeper relationship with God?