Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from a 2018 message shared at a gathering of house church pastors in China. This is the final part of a multi-part series focusing on discipleship from the point of view of the end times. Here are links to parts one, two, and three. As Christians, we live in the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom at the very same time. Although our bodies are here on earth, our true and inner person has been raised to heaven with Christ. We must understand our position, and live in light of our real identity. When we understand that we have already experienced resurrection, then we are empowered to daily take up our cross and follow Christ.
An Incorruptible Life
“Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being;’ the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” 1 Cor. 15:45-49
God created Adam, who just like us, existed in space and time. Christ is the first fruits. Through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and re-creation, he is the first man to enter the heavenly space prepared for us. He ventured into that space for our sake. This new creation is not abstract. When we rise from the dead, we will truly “bear the image of the man of heaven.” The contrast between Adam and Christ is more than we can imagine.
The resurrected, heavenly life which we ultimately possess is the basis of our living. The ultimate basis of life is not corruptible Eden, or the imperfections of Adam, flesh, and death.
Today, the resurrected person lives in Christ, is hidden in Christ, and belongs to heaven. But at the same time, those of us who are resurrected humans are still in the present, and still have an earthly form. One day, God will give us a heavenly form. The resurrected, heavenly life which we ultimately possess is the basis of our living. The ultimate basis of life is not corruptible Eden, or the imperfections of Adam, flesh, and death. Instead, the basis of our life is incorruptible and spiritual. Our life is based on the New Jerusalem, and the eternal perfections of Jesus. The practice of discipleship is not an added element of the heavenly life; it is its very essence.
Which kingdom do we live in? The present, earthly kingdom — or the kingdom of heavenly life above? Even the most beautiful woman will see decline; even the most powerful man will experience corruption. But Jesus said that those who are in God’s kingdom are greater than all of those in the Old Testament, because now Christ has opened the heavenly space. No longer do we live solely in the present moment. We also live in heaven with Christ. Because of his resurrection, our ultimate future has already begun now, even while we are still on this earth. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” We imagine the place must be an abstraction, or that his words were a parable. But Christ is for real. He really did go away to make a place for us.
We live in reverse order from Jesus. Where he went from death to resurrection, we proceed from resurrection to suffering; from resurrection to the cross.
I watched a few interesting Chinese dramas from a decade or so again: Lurk, a show about the Chinese Communist Party infiltrating the Kuomintang; and No Regrets Tracking, about the Kuomintang infiltrating the CCP. In Lurk, the main character, Yu Zecheng, works for the Kuomintang, but is actually a secret agent for the CCP. In his life as a secret agent, there are many tense moments and difficulties. At any moment, he might die. Because he is a secret agent, his loyalty, allegiance, and identity belong to the CCP. Although he works for the Kuomintang, his loyalty to the CCP creates great tension in his life.
In No Regrets Tracking, even though Feng Jingbo, the main character, is a KMT agent, his life was full of peace. He even had children. Through the years, one by one, he severed his ties to the past. After a decade, the secret agent had forgotten he was a secret agent, and became an outstanding teacher and model worker. Because Feng lived in the present, he was happy, and had no tension or conflict in his life.
Which kind of person are you? Which kingdom do you live in? Are you living a cruciform life?
A Cross-Shaped, Resurrected Life
We are not legalistic. We preach gospel- and Christ-centered messaged. But a gospel-centered, Christ-centered life is one of sacrificing yourself for the Lord. Because the only thing prepared for our Lord was the fruit on the tree of Calvary, so Christ is the only thing prepared for us in this world. The death, resurrection, and eternal glory of Jesus has been prepared for you and me.
Jesus was a disciple. We are also to be disciples, following the model of discipleship he exemplified. Jesus said to the Father, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” So we also say, “Lord, may it be according to your will, not ours.” Christ lived a cruciform life. He endured suffering, going from death to resurrection. The Father gave all life to Christ – and he became the life-giving Spirit, the One who gives life to us. Now, we live in reverse order from Jesus. Where he went from death to resurrection, we proceed from resurrection to suffering; from resurrection to the cross. Why?
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While we wait the coming of that kingdom, our lives will be cross-shaped, and characterized by suffering. All the suffering we endure as we are disciples and make disciples are manifestations of that resurrected life.
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Under Adam, it is impossible for us humans to bear the cross. But we are not in Adam. We have the heavenly life of the Risen One. This resurrected life is present with Christ. Every morning, when you open your eyes, the first thing you do is look to heaven and worship God alongside the festal gathering of angels. From there, you go on and live your life, because the resurrected Lord and the resurrected life live in you through the Holy Spirit.
Even while we are in this earthly kingdom, we await the final coming of the last kingdom. While we wait the coming of that kingdom, our lives will be cross-shaped, and characterized by suffering. All the suffering we endure as we are disciples and make disciples are manifestations of that resurrected life.
Are you willing to be a disciple? Are you willing to make disciples? This is not just a matter of being willing, but a proof and manifestation of a life which belongs to the Lord.
Muxi Zhang is a pseudonym for a China ministry veteran who has in-depth and extensive ministry experience.
Pray for Chinese Christians striving to live a cross-shaped life of following Christ and making disciples.