The Kingdom of Self vs. The Kingdom of God
Since the introduction of sin in the Garden of Eden, there have been two kingdoms—the kingdom of self, and the kingdom of God. Two trees in the garden represented these two kingdoms—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life represented God’s life bringing to us all that we need to live and walk with God. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a way for man to set God’s life aside and proceed on his own, thus entering Satan’s realm, the kingdom of self.
With this in mind, we can better understand the nature of sin. We have a tendency to define sin for our own convenience. We see it as the terrible, evil things that the world and backsliding Christians do but fail to understand that sin is simply acting apart from God. Anything that we do in the kingdom of self is partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and is therefore sin. The knowledge of good and evil would seem to be a good thing but when we operate in that realm apart from God, we are sinning. In so doing we elevate ourselves to the place reserved for God, just as Adam and Eve did, thus stepping out of God’s kingdom into the kingdom of self. In essence, we make ourselves our own god and push the true God aside.
The word tells us that anything that does not come from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). Faith is our relationship with God in Christ. So, anything that we do outside of that relationship on our own is sin. Sin is acting independently of God not just abstaining from a list of evil deeds.
Christ died so that we may live in Him
Paul wrote that Christ died for all “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). Christ died so that we may no longer live for ourselves. Or, we could say He died so that we could leave the kingdom of self and live in His kingdom of life. The self-life cries out for the meeting of its needs and it will master any person who does not put it to death. Jesus was speaking to His disciples about the things that the self wants – food, clothing, security, etc. and ended by saying, “Fear not little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32-34). Notice how Jesus contrasts the desires of the self and the kingdom of God. Self will elevate itself by crying out for the things that satisfy it while robbing us of the blessings of God’s kingdom.
We must die to self in order to live in Him
Jesus puts it very bluntly: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24, 25). Do we want to follow Jesus? Then, first, we must be willing to deny ourselves. The word translated “deny” in this verse means to renounce or leave something behind. Jesus used the word when predicting that Peter would deny Him three times (Matt. 26:34). Peter renounced Christ by denying any knowledge of Him. We are to deny self in the same way. We are to renounce it and leave it behind as we take up our cross and follow Christ. This does not mean that we will instantly be perfect but only that we will truly be following after Christ instead of going our own selfish way.
In this same statement, Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The word for life in this context is the word “soul.” Our soul is our self-life. It is the very part of our being that was elevated and made king when the first humans set God aside and ventured out on their own. Jesus said we must lose our self-life. This does not mean that we become spiritual zombies without a mind, but that our self-life is put to death and replaced by His life. The process of following Christ is really one of death and resurrection. Our fallen, rebellious self must die so that Christ’s life may replace it.
Paul put it plainly when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). When Paul uses the pronoun “I”, he is talking about his fallen, corrupt, rebellious self-life. In Greek, it is the word “ego.” Our ego must be crucified so that Christ may live in us. When our self-life is put to death, we enter into a life of faith in which Christ lives His life in us.
The apostle also uses the word “corrupt” to describe this fallen, selfish part of our nature that needs to be crucified. He says, “…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 5:22, 23). This corrupt nature, this old spiritually dead self-life, must be put off, dispensed with, rejected, denied, or crucified. It must die because it cannot be reformed and will not die of its own accord.
The death of the flesh is our responsibility
Notice that this crucifying of the fleshly nature is our responsibility. Paul told the Galatians, “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24, 25). We are the ones doing the crucifying in this passage. The word “crucified” here is in the past tense, meaning Paul is speaking of a past event in the life of one who belongs to Christ. The one who belongs to Christ, the one who knows that he has been bought with a price and cannot function outside of the will of Christ, has crucified his flesh. The self-kingdom must not be appeased but rather defeated and destroyed through the power of the cross.
The flesh must die along with its passions and desires. Now here is where many of us depart company with the Lord. The passions and desires of the flesh are not just the actions we deem as evil such as adultery, murder, and drunkenness. It is the more subtle desires of the flesh that keep many from truly following Christ. The flesh desires food, clothing, a nice house, a classy car, friends, leisure time, a rewarding career, a popular ministry, a wife, husband, and many other things. It has its own standards of conduct concerning such things as cleanliness, work ethic, habits, etc. and it holds everyone in judgment based on its standards. Many marriages have collapsed because of the collision of two fleshly self-lives. Others settle into a state of compromise where one partner’s soul is dominated by the other’s stronger soul. Unless those self-lives are dealt with through the cross, some marriages are doomed.
We are willing to crucify the adulterous and murderous passions of the flesh, but what about our desire for these other things that are socially acceptable? Perhaps we can get an answer from the rich young ruler who wanted to follow Christ. Jesus said to him, “Sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me” (Matt. 19:21). The man walked away sad, as do many of us. Perhaps we can get help from the person who wanted to see to his father’s funeral. Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Luke 9: 60). Another wanted to go say goodbye to his family and Jesus responded by saying, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). To his disciples He used those startling words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross…” (Matt. 16:24). Take up his cross – well again, we are faced with the death of self.
The self-kingdom is strong
None of us wants to hear such words because our self-kingdom is strong and fights for its survival. It cries out in desperation for its life and pleads for its desires. It will not go down without a fight and if we attempt to appease it, it will win the ultimate war. Its king, the god of this world, whitewashes it and makes it respectable. He even uses it in the arena of religion and the church. The serpent doesn’t care if our actions are nice, socially acceptable, or even church related. As long as Christ does not initiate them, he promotes them because his realm is the kingdom of self.
We see this truth reflected in the corporate expression of the church in America. It is not my place to judge individual shepherds or churches but it is my responsibility to speak out concerning the fleshly direction we are pursuing in our churches. The question we all need to ask ourselves is who is initiating what we are doing? If we are initiating things then we are not being led by the Spirit but by our flesh. Jesus said of Himself, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). We should be able to say today, “I can do nothing on my own because I seek not my own will but the will of God.”
Too often our churches are simply expressions of the self-kingdoms of people who use the church for their own goals. How tragic to enter churches and see the flagrant displays of fleshly entertainment and clever showmanship. Most of our churches have the flavor described in 3 John 9, 10 where one man takes control of the church and rejects the ministry of the body and the equipping ministries. The saints are not ministering and the churches are not being built up spiritually.
We are sacrificing true spiritual growth on the altar of the self-kingdom. We do not see the power of God because the foundation of His power, the unity of the body of Christ, is abandoned. The ministries of the many are sacrificed so that one man can elevate himself and display his gifts week after week. The gifts of the Spirit are gradually drifting into oblivion because they are pushed aside for the sake of one person and his selfish vision.
This is only possible by the Spirit of God
For those of you who are still reading this message, and I suspect that number is small, there is wonderful good news. This destruction of the kingdom of self does not happen in our own power but through the power of God. I am not recommending a dreary life of trudging along in desperate but defeated attempts to control the flesh. Nor am I suggesting we replace our compromising, program-oriented, religion with one that simply sets higher standards of religious conduct. To the contrary, I am exhorting believers to avail themselves of the power of the Holy Spirit to bring to us His supernatural ability to live holy, righteous lives. We are to seek His kingdom and His righteousness, but He has promised to provide the power and ability to accomplish it to His glory. Or, as the Lord put it to Zechariah: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).
Paul prayed, “I bow my knees before the Father…that according to his riches in glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19). This crucifying of the flesh, this destruction of the kingdom of self, comes as we are “strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner being.” The Holy Spirit has been given to provide us with the power to do what God calls us to do. He calls us to a destiny and then He provides us with the power to walk in the reality of that destiny. God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or thing, according to the power at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). God is able to do far more than our minds can comprehend and this ability is according to the power of the Holy Spirit within us. It is not by religion that this will be accomplished but by the power of the Holy Spirit who has been poured out for this very purpose.
Paul says, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” By connecting with the Father in faith and allowing His life to flow from Him into our hearts, this miracle of power is possible. This life is not a result of clever human ability but of God’s supernatural power bringing to us all that is necessary for Christ to make His home in our lives.
Notice also that God does all of this “according to his riches in glory” (Eph. 4:16). Earlier the apostle had prayed for the Ephesian believers, “that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe” (1:18, 19; NKJV). God’s “riches in glory” are His heavenly provisions for holy living in the lives of His saints. His power in us releases these riches into our lives, producing His glory and manifesting His life for victory over this world and its self-exalted god. His riches in glory, dispensed to us freely, provide all we need for a supernatural life of holy living and righteous conduct.
The early church was moved by resurrection life
The early church shook the world with this supernatural living as they walked in a realm of power that translated into their daily lives. This was not a new religion they were experiencing but a Holy Spirit-empowered way of life that transcended earth and released heaven. These first followers of Christ were not driven by the principles of a new standard of religious life but by the power of resurrection released into their lives by the Holy Spirit. They were glad to die to the flesh that this new power for living would transform their lives with restoration, healing, wholeness and power for ministry. They changed the world and gladly died in devastating martyrdom because they possessed this power of a holy life that transcended this earthly realm.
God has given to me and others the revelation of the restored church described in the fourth chapter of the letter to the Ephesians. But, He has also revealed that that restored church awaits our commitment to holy living that destroys the kingdom of self and welcomes the kingdom of God into our lives. That glorious chapter begins with the words, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility, and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:1-3). It is obvious from this passage that no victorious body life will come forth until we are determined to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. This walk of destiny demands the denial of self, the defeat of the self-kingdom, so that the kingdom of God may come into our lives releasing us to fulfill the corporate promises of God.
Unity comes when together we die to self
Unity is impossible without the ongoing death of our self-lives. True humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance are not characteristics of the corrupt fleshly nature. These are expressions of the fruit of the Spirit that come forth in the gardens of our hearts as we allow God’s word to be planted in us. These qualities are supernatural and spiritual and come forth only in God’s power into the lives of those who have crucified the flesh that a new life can come forth. Religion will try to fabricate these qualities so that the self-life can take credit for its behavior, but, be assured, this fabrication is merely the external remaking of the fallen nature of our souls. The kingdom of self is merely a counterfeit of God’s purpose for the church. Paul prophesied that the time would come when religious people would “be lovers of self…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). They would be “lovers of self,” enthroning self as their god while taking on the external appearance of godliness, spurning the power of God that brings true godliness.
Brethren, it is quite possible that we are in those days of self-made religion. Throughout the church I see the fabrications of man-made religion empowered by fleshly ability rather than the power of God. Our church services are entertainment centers where self is glorified rather than denied. The word of God is watered down to a weak, baby pabulum that keeps us alive but does not empower us and set us on fire with the passion of our holy God. We have conformed ourselves to a world that worships self and blatantly espouses the principles of its god. These are the days when sincere believers who desire holy lives of power must take a stand for God’s kingdom and His righteousness.
We must stop compromising and start rising into the fullness of His purpose for our lives. Paul wrote, “The Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20). The power of God produces a walk that is worthy of God’s calling on our lives. It is time to stop talking and start walking. God bless you all as you hear His word and obey.