Thoughts of the Kingdom of God: Qualifications for Admission to the Kingdom

After looking at the difficulties of entering the kingdom of God and some of the acts that disqualify people from entering we have to ask, what is it that qualifies people for entry? Paul, in writing to the Christian people of Colosse, told them it was God the Father who had qualified them and then added some description of what being in the kingdom meant, “And giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-14, NIV).

This short passage, more a “praise” than a teaching, gives us a remarkable amount of information about the kingdom of God. It tells us we have to be brought into the kingdom by an act of God the Father that removes us from the kingdom of darkness by buying us out of our corruption by the forgiveness of our sins. There is much more to consider in this passage but what is of equal importance is what is left out. What is missing is any reference to any work of ours or of our church. It is not in the power of any profession of our faith or sacrament of a church to bring us into the kingdom of heaven. It is an act of God mediated through the Holy Spirit.

Who are some of the people who will receive the inheritance of the kingdom of God. Jesus said many things in his teaching about who would possess and occupy the kingdom of God. For example, “Looking at his disciples, he said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God’” (Luke 6:20, NIV). In another place he said to his disciples, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28, NIV).

Who were these disciples who were to become greater than John the Baptist? At the beginning of his recounting of the Parable of the Sower, Luke tells us of some of them. “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (Luke 8:1-3, NIV). It was not that these women were buying their way into the kingdom of God, rather it was that they were living testimonies to the power of the kingdom through their being freed from spiritual evils and by the curing of their physical diseases who had been selected to enter the kingdom.

There are many other descriptions of the kinds of people who will be chosen for entry into the kingdom of God. One rather obvious category is that of people who place a priority of finding entry into the kingdom. Jesus told his disciples, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33, NIV). It seems unlikely that anyone would be received into the kingdom of heaven who at some level did not seek entry.

Luke 12:22-34 contains Jesus’ instructions to his disciples that they should not worry about food or clothing or even their lives. He says to them, “But seek his [the Father’s] kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” And then, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:31-32, NIV).

We should not think we come into the kingdom of heaven being all that we are meant to be. There is an example of that on two levels in Matthew 18:1-4, see also Luke 18:16-17 and Mark 10:14-15 (NIV). “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” Another time, “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14, NIV).

We are to have been given or be able to attain the capability of having the faith of little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. We acquire that quality of character through the changes worked in us by grace so as to become among the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It is, of course, one of the great paradoxes of Christianity that we become among the greatest by becoming lowly.

There are other keys to entering the kingdom of heaven. Righteousness is one of them. Jesus told his disciples, “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19-20, NIV).

In Matthew 21:23-32 (NIV) Jesus, while teaching in the Temple, told a parable concerning two sons. One son said he would not obey his father but did. The other son said he would obey his father but in actuality did not. Next there was a test of the hearers’ understanding. “Which of the two did what his father wanted? ‘The first,’ they answered” thus showing they understood that righteousness came from obedience and not just from saying the right things. Turning to the chief priests and elders who were listening to him, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.’”

Repentance, righteousness and obedience are all things that bring people close to the kingdom of God. However, love seems the highest attribute given to those who would enter the kingdom of God. A teacher of the law asked Jesus which of the commandments was most important. Jesus, as usual when asked a question, gave him an answer that was not exactly what was asked. Jesus began by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 which commands that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Then he went on to quote Leviticus 19:18 that commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The teacher of the law responded to Jesus by acknowledging that these commandments were more important than religious practices. “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” (Mark 12:34, NIV).

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People of a Higher Reality

In a previous post I wrote that Christians are a people of a higher reality. I think I need to explain what I meant.

We can start with our physical reality. This we share with everyone. The evolutionists tell us we are physically descended from primates. I prefer to think we are descended from our ancestors and ascended from primates. It seems to clarify our actual situation. In any case, we are told by atheists, materialists, humanists and secularists that our existence and lives can be entirely explained physically. Fortunately, Christians, and most of the rest of the human species, are not deceived by this claim.

Most people think there is a spirit, a soul or something else immaterial in us. We have, it is thought, a ghost in our electro/chemical/mechanical machines. Further, this ghost is thought to be associated with our minds. The federal government has begun a Brain Mapping Project to learn all that can be known about the function of our minds. I suspect that for some people it is also an attempt to exorcize the ghost and thus justify the materialist explanation.

Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again, not physically but spiritually, if he was to understand the things of God. It is this, let me call it, spiritual enhancement that allows Christians to be in more complete communication and relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is not that the Godhead does not speak to non-Christians but that their ability to hear and understand is very limited. This is why unbelievers find it hard to get much out of reading the Bible while people like John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, Matthew Henry and many others get so much out of it they can write multivolume commentaries.

Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in The End of Christendom, “I am certain that in eternity when we understand, and no longer see through a glass darkly but face to face, we shall find that all our efforts to convey the reality of our existence are just so much children’s scribble in the light of what it really is.” Muggeridge perfectly expressed my problem in conveying to you the higher reality in which we Christians live. Nonetheless I think I must make a stab at it.

We are told in the book of Revelation of millions and millions of Christians surrounding the throne of God and singing praises to him. These are the people the Son has made for the Father and presented to him as a love gift. We who are still on earth are brought by Christ and the Holy Spirit into this saintly multitude and so become members of the family of God. A part of our higher reality is that we have relatives all over the world and throughout the past. These are our spiritual brothers and sisters to whom we are linked by our relationship to Christ.

Another higher reality for Christians is being able to know the truth of things. Truth, which contemporary philosophy denies even exists, allows us to embrace (symbolically) the lovely woman Wisdom. It is evident those who have help in acquiring wisdom have a better chance of understanding the world we live in. Although, I must admit, Christians have not done as well as we should have in this regard.

Since we have access to truth, we are free to know the untruths in human ideologies. Whatever the social or political pressures to conform to the “spirit of the age,” we are internally emancipated and thus cannot be enslaved by the culture around us. We are not citizens of the city of man but those people who live in the city of God. In this we too are people of a higher reality.

Charles Spurgeon wrote concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, “I trust Him to curb my temper, to subdue my will, to enlighten my understanding, to check my passions, to comfort my despondency, to help my weaknesses, and to illuminate my darkness.” Each Christian has his or her own list of the help needed from the Holy Spirit and each of us receive help as we are made able to incorporate it into our individual lives.

If you want to send a humanist into orbit, tell him or her that Christians are better people than non-Christians. The truth is we cannot legitimately make that claim, but we can say with certainty that each of us is a better person than we would have been without the help of the Holy Spirit. That is, other than our personal relationship with the Trinity, perhaps the best aspect of our higher reality. We are better than we could possibly be if we only had our own efforts to aid us.

If there is a reformation of American Christianity, it will be, in part, because many Christians enter and live in this higher reality. This extra-life is one of God’s many gifts that we receive as a result of his grace and love.