Living for the city of God

Rev Canon Terry Wong // March 3, 2019, 11:39 pm


Photo by Christian Becker on Unsplash

In Romans, Paul makes a strong distinction between our physical and spiritual worlds. “Walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4)

Paul was not referring to two metaphysical locations. The realm of the flesh is a regime of laws, norms and conventions that shape our way of life.

Life according to the flesh means accepting the world’s values: Power, wealth and status as goals, and death as an end, to be delayed as long as possible.

In contrast, walking in the Spirit recognises the presence and Lordship of Christ. Death is not final and the highest good is fellowship with Him and our fellow men. Love becomes the key currency in the realm of the Spirit. 

On opposite ends

St Augustine in his magisterial City of God described it in his own terms.

There are two commonwealths: The city of man, an earthly city, and the heavenly city, the city of God. Both exist in this world but they have divergent values.

The city of man rests in temporal powers, its hopes limited to the temporal horizon and its loves seeking finite goods.

The city of God hopes for eternal life; and its love is directed towards God and His creatures.

Whether you are a businessman, pastor or politician, you can choose to live for the city of man or the city of God.

We should not think of two cities existing in two different locations, as if the earthly city is Singapore or Jakarta. They do not operate on different planes of existence but are intermixed in this life and as St Augustine explains, will be untangled in God’s final judgment.

So whether you are a businessman, pastor, teacher or politician, you can choose to live for the city of man or the city of God.

One may be a pastor but live for the city of man. Another can be a politician but live according to the Spirit and this is evident in his daily life, relationships, heart attitudes and so on. You can be in Singapore, London or Tokyo. Your office may be in the church or in a stock exchange.

It is not your location or profession. It is about Who and what is directing your life, what you are “walking according to”.

Heeding the call of the city

The globalised city culture will, of course, dictate, and calls us to live for the city of man.

At every turn, in almost every page of a secular newspaper (or every swipe of the screen) and on almost every corner you turn into, the Man calls out to you and the Man in you connects with him. 

A change begins to happen when God’s love breaks through and we realise that there is another Man whom we can live for and follow. That is the day we became a Christ-ian. The Kingdom of God (a realm) breaks into our lives. 

•     We begin to think beyond our earthly temporal existence.

•     We begin to be conscious of a Presence and that we are not alone when we are alone. 

•     We begin to set aside the best day of the week (Sunday!) to gather in worship, rest from our money-making labour and acknowledge He is the source of everything. 

•     And in spots of time during the week, we take time to read His Word, spend time with His people and even talk about Him to those who live according to the city of man. 

In a globalised and hugely successful city like Singapore, life can get heady and our monies can buy us all sorts of goods that the whole world can offer (almost). From crystal meth to sex of all variants, pounding tables in boardrooms to pounding music in night clubs, life throbs on furiously. Many have to choose between two cities.

We live in this city. And we need to pray for this city. 

This article was first published in the weekly service bulletin for St Andrews Cathedral under the “Vicar Writes” column. More articles can be found on the St Andrews Cathedral website here.

Reflection and Discussion

  1.  Who and what directs your life? Have you been walking in the ways of God or are you drawn towards the ways of men?
  2. Pray for a breakthrough of the Kingdom in your life, and ask God for a greater measure of transformation and empowerment.
  3. Desire the same for our city, Singapore, and pray that change into reality. 
About the author

Rev Canon Terry Wong

Rev Canon Terry Wong is the Vicar of St Andrews Cathedral. He writes weekly for the weekend service bulletins.