Traditionally, Christians have often made a distinction between the “visible” and “invisible” Church. It was a way of differentiating between the Church the world sees, which presumably includes people who are Christian in name only, and the true Church that only God knows, which includes all true disciples. The notion that the true church is invisible is useful as a way of reminding us that no human is in a position to ever judge who is and is not “saved.” But if it is interpreted to mean that the kingdom of God is invisible – that no one can really tell when it is or is not present – then it’s completely mistaken.
There’s simply nothing invisible or ambiguous about the kingdom of God. It always looks something like Jesus, dying on Calvary for the people who crucified him while praying, “Father, forgive them.” When God reigns, it always manifests Calvary-quality love. The kingdom is present whenever people are getting their life from Christ alone and therefore are increasingly looking like Jesus, doing what Jesus did, and obeying what Jesus taught.
When people refuse to retaliate, choosing instead to return evil with good as Jesus and Paul taught us, the kingdom of God is present. When people love their enemies rather than fight them, bless those who persecute them rather than curse them, and pray for those who mistreat them rather than trying to get even, the kingdom of God is present. When people choose to serve rather than to be served and to be killed rather than to participate in killing others, the kingdom of God is present. When people choose to put the interests of others before their own, to forgive even after multiple offenses, and to invest their own time and resources in serving others, the kingdom of God is present. When people befriend the friendless, feed the hungry, house the homeless, serve “sinners” rather than judge them, and work to bring healing into people’s lives and relationships, the kingdom of God is present. And when we choose to live in a way that ascribes worth to animals and the earth rather than simply using them as a means of gratifying ourselves, as the Bible commands (Gen. 1:26-28), the kingdom of God is present.
This is what God’s LIFE looks like when it is manifested “on earth as it is in heaven,” for this is what Christ looked like when he came down to earth from heaven. While this kingdom doesn’t draw attention to itself with the world’s customary fanfare, it most certainly is visible. One can’t help but notice it, for in a self-centered, angry, violent world such as ours, this sort of Calvary-quality love can’t help but stand out.
The Calvary-quality love that sets the kingdom apart is impossible for non-kingdom people to replicate with any consistency. Indeed, as long as a person clings to the “natural” fallen way of doing life, believing life can be found in false gods, they will not find kingdom LIFE attractive or reasonable. Nothing could be more unnatural, painful, and impractical than serving those who intend to do you, your tribe, or your nation harm! It’s only “natural” to look out for oneself, defend one’s self interests, fight for one’s nation, and kill if necessary to keep from being killed--which is why most people instinctively live this way. It’s why the history of the human race is largely a history of cyclical, mindless carnage.
But to those who have become sufficiently disgusted with the emptiness and perpetual conflict of this supposedly “natural” way of living, Jesus’ radically different way of doing life sounds like LIFE, and it is attractive. Only those who know they are sick long for what the physician has to offer. Only those who have given up trying to get life on their own hunger for the LIFE that comes from God. And when they begin to receive this LIFE, it begins to transform them into the self-sacrificial, loving image of Jesus.
In the dark, violent, self-centered world in which we live, this kind of transformation doesn’t stay hidden for long.