There are two interconnected storylines in Scripture. The first storyline is God establishing his kingdom, through Christ, according to his covenant promises. The second storyline is man’s search for hope, security, and identity. Ultimately, man’s search for hope, security, and identity can only be satisfied by God establishing his kingdom through Christ according to his covenant promises. However, in our sinful flesh, we eschew God’s kingdom, Christ, and covenant promises and venture out to find our hope, security, and identity elsewhere. This is the story of Adam and Eve. This is the story of Babel. This is the story of Israel repeated ad nauseam. This is the story of every man and woman in history, save Christ of course. This is frequently the story of the church in any given age. And, this is your story and mine. God calls us into a hope, security, and identity in his kingdom established through Christ according to his covenant promises, but we opt to purchase from the world what is freely offered by God.
In his essay, “The Inner Ring,”  C.S. Lewis deftly pulls the covers back on how this world works and what it is that we long for. The world is made up of a series of interconnected, disconnected, and concentric rings of belonging, and we can, if we are willing to venture a bit of honesty, frame the stories of our lives by our desire for and pursuit of finally, perhaps, belonging to what we imagine to be THE inner ring. Lewis says it this way, “I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.”  We imagine this illusive inner ring will finally provide us with the hope, identity, and security for which we so desperately long. We want the inner ring to do the work of God, to announce to us the good news of the kingdom, or a kingdom, to which we belong. However, as Lewis points out, these rings are terribly problematic and asking so much from them is a fool’s errand. As it turns out, upon finally arriving on the inside we find there is yet another, more-inner ring. Or, we find that the ring has changed or moved and suddenly we are no longer in it.  The inner rings of the world are, in fact, too much like a magician’s linking rings, which behave in inexplicable and unpredictable ways to offer any real hope, security, or identity at all.
Lewis, in his typically even-handed way, admits it is not the existence of inner rings per se that is the problem.  Indeed, as is the case with any good, modern “idol,” the inner ring in-and-of-itself may be a welcome or even necessary part of life. The limits dictated by our finitude mandate that we can only be in deep relationships with a relatively small number of people, thereby creating a kind of inner ring. Organizations need some kind of leadership, which is a type of inner ring. A certain type of inner ring may be of functional necessity. Even Paul, while lamenting the divisions that had grown up in the Corinthian church recognizes that brutal necessity of certain divisions (1 Cor 11:17–22). Likewise Jesus had his twelve disciples and then within the twelve there were Peter, James, and John. As Lewis writes, “It is necessary, and perhaps it is not a necessary evil. But the desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous.”  The issue is not the existence of so-called inner rings, but our desire and willingness to spend our lives in order to gain from an inner ring what is freely promised in Christ: hope, security, and identity.
Mark writes in his Gospel, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14–15). The gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God, the rule and reign of Jesus over all things being established by his conquering all of his and our enemies through his own sacrificial death and resurrection. The king’s job is to reign over and save his people (1 Sam. 10:1). When the king does this his people live in the kingdom with a certain hope, a sure security, and a true identity. Jesus has done this.
All of our pining to be part of the illusive inner ring, is about finding hope, security, and identity. In our deceived minds, the inner ring is a little kingdom about which we believe three lies. First, we believe if we gain access, it will change our future. This is false hope. Second, we believe if we gain access, we can stay in. This is false security. Third, we believe if we gain access, we matter. This is false identity. The world assures us that the inner ring will provide what we seek, and we, too happily, conform to its way of thinking. When Jesus announced the kingdom of God is at hand, he called his hearers to repentance. Repentance is a change in direction, both the direction of your thoughts and the direction of your actions. You can’t really have one without the other. Jesus calls his hearers not to conform to the ways of the world but to think and move in a different direction.
Why did Jesus call his hearers to repentance—a change of mind and direction? He knew the outcome of the ways of the world. He knew what the yield of the inner ring really is. Lewis sums up the true fruit of pursuing the inner ring writing, “Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”  He continues, “As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion; if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.”  As John says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a). He takes everything we have as the price of entry into the inner ring we so desire to be part of, but once we are in we find that we are on the outside of a more-inner ring but now with nothing left, and all that remains is our destruction.
When Jesus said, “…the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), he was calling his hearers, which of course now includes us, to a change in both thought and direction. Jesus was letting us know a new order has come, and we no longer have to live according to the old order. We no longer have to conform to how the world says things work. We no longer have to pursue the illusory inner ring with its false hope, false security, and false identity. Rather, by faith, we can live under the reign and rule of Christ our King with a certain hope, sure security, and true identity. In other words, we can live the abundant life Jesus came to give (John 10:10b). We can live in the freedom that only comes through Christ and is only found in the kingdom of God. This is a life that is utterly different from life in the inner ring and the pursuit thereof. This is a life of freedom. This is a life of hope, security, and identity in the kingdom of God.
 C.S. Lewis, “The Inner Ring,” in The Weight of Glory: and Other Addresses, (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001), 141–157.
 Ibid, 146.
 Ibid, 143–45.
 Ibid, 148.
 Ibid, 149.
 Ibid, 154
 Ibid, 154.