When Jesus speaks to Nicodemas of entering the kingdom of God (John 3:5). it involves not only begin witness to righteousness. peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14: 17) but manifesting power of the Spirit to advance the kingdom of God in face of opposition (Matthew 11:12). Man lost that witness in Eden and opened mankind to Satan’s influence. In a real sense, the title deed to earth was handed over to Satan who became prince of the world in the words of Jesus (John 12:31). So it was that even as a messenger of God, John the Baptist is said by Jesus to be less than the least in His kingdom. “Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).
John the Baptist did not have power to destroy works of the devil or heal the sick though he lost his life for righteousness. Thus it is Jesus warns about cost to enter the kingdom of God. As the kingdom advances, the world and Satan (and the established church at times) enter a crisis and the kingdom of God suffers violence. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force” (11:12). Only those who forcefully reject the world and self enter the kingdom, a cost leaving many sidelined. There are reasons for this. First of all, most who profess Christ are not literate as to scripture. They do not delight in study and meditation on the Word and are not aware of a distinction between initial salvation and entering the kingdom of God in order to become an instrument used by God to destroy the works of the devil.
Secondly, many sit under false prophets of whom Jesus warns who teach ‘cheap grace,’ not the gospel of the kingdom Jesus came to preach. There’s very little teaching today as to the kingdom of God. Thirdly, people are often told God sanctifies without their cooperation. It is common to hear said, “You get everything God has when saved” despite such not being found anywhere in scripture. Paul says we must participate in the process of sanctification: “Therefore, having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). “Therefore we are debtors – not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to your flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:12,13). We must cleanse ourselves of fleshly deeds with help of the Spirit.
Entering into the kingdom of heaven has requirements as we see in Jesus’ teachings on the mountainside and in parables. Entering is so costly Jesus says only those willing to forsake all shall enter in: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). There is also cost including a willingness to undergo trials and persecution. Paul speaks of going through much “tribulation to enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Jesus speaks of this as related to His death: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24). So it is for all who would enter the kingdom!
Jesus extends warning of cost to include family: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother ….and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-35). It isn’t that God intends lack of love and harmony in the family. To the contrary, His commandments include children showing honor and respect to parents as well as all having love for each other. But entering the kingdom often results in division. There are certainly instances when members of families labor together so as to advance the kingdom of God. Nonetheless what Jesus says is true and division exists in my own blood-related as well as extended family as a result of the gospel.
In addition to accepting trials if not persecution, another expectation with the kingdom is joyful obedience to the ways of God. It is possible to obey in a legalistic manner, but that is not what Jesus seeks of those who’d be in His kingdom. Paul calls us to offer ourselves to God as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). This means to live as one dead to self yet alive in Christ, grateful for being transformed into Christ-likeness by whatever means is according to the will of God. Jesus makes no allowance for entering into the kingdom of which He is King short of obedience to the will of the Father in heaven: “Not everyone that says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). The matter of obedience is a fully settled issue.
The will of God can either be the will or law of God. David uses the two interchangeably: “I delight to do Your will, O my God: Your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8). Paul has equated knowing the will of God with that written in the law: “Know His will and approve things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law” (Romans 2:18). The will of God is also used for His perfect will such as wishing none to perish but “that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Obedience requires knowing the will of God so as to be able to walk worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:9,10). We need divine influence on our hearts to be hungry for righteousness and then respond by meditation on the scriptures so God might cleanse us by “washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26).
Head knowledge will never suffice for life in the kingdom. The will of God is to be received eagerly and planted deeply in the heart by Holy Spirit so a desire to obey the will of God is birthed, not out of obligation but in gratitude for what God has done. To this end, God has placed His Spirit in those who believe as was foretold centuries before Jesus’ incarnation. Looking forward to the new covenant, God said through the prophet, “I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27). The indwelling Spirit causes a person to walk in godly ways, not merely as an obligation but as a privilege that is embraced by those who have experienced reconciliation with God and enjoy living in His grace.
Another matter regarding the kingdom is persevering prayer. Our role model is Jesus who practiced intimate communion with the Father as an example to follow. His decisions were always guided by His Father in heaven, at times with all-night prayer as prior to choosing the Twelve. So it’s to be with us. Not only in the study of God’s Word but also in prayer do we find God’s will revealed and are shown ways to hallow the Father’s name. Paul not only commands that we cleanse ourselves of filthiness of the flesh. He prays the spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Such a prayer would not be necessary were sanctification automatically assured without effort on our part as the teachers of false security known today as eternal security would propose.
As discussed in Lessons on Prayer, we pray for various reasons such as requesting God to undertake, strengthen or comfort. We pray for another reason as to entering the kingdom. We only enter with a “limp” like Jacob after wrestling with God: “Except you be converted and become as little children you shall not enter into the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3). The tense of Greek translated “become” is something being accomplished, not completed. One must “become” humble as little children who submit to God’s authority and rule on a continuing basis. The attitude of a child to which Jesus refers is that of having a spirit of eagerness to not only hear but submit in obedience.
Thought of operating in one’s own strength must be eliminated. Zerubbabel was trying to stir people to rebuild the temple following exile and was instructed by God, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). This looked toward to the later coming of the kingdom. Only that done through the power of Holy Spirit has merit: “I know that whatsoever God does, it shall be for ever: nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it: God does it, that men should fear before Him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14). All who pray must come to realize that only by the power of Holy Spirit is the kingdom of heaven ever going to be manifested on earth to the praise of God’s glory.
The kingdom is totally independent of man’s will. The kingdom is God’s authority to rule, and to enter requires not only obedience, prayer, humility and a willingness to suffer, but even losing one’s life if such should be required. In fact, the price to enter the kingdom of God is exactly that, namely one’s life. This will not take place apart from the grace of God translated from the Greek charis as God’s divine influence on one’s heart reflected in life (Strong’s Concordance #5485). Paul reminds us that “all things were created by Christ and for Christ” (Colossians 1:16) so we’ll not forget our destiny is having been created for life in the kingdom on earth and not merely in heaven.
If we fail to seek first the kingdom of God and seek another kingdom, we’ll find that other things are subtracted instead of added. This was explained by Moses centuries before the birth of Jesus in what is known as harmony of Scripture. “If you do not carefully observe all the words of this law that are written in this book [books of Moses]….the LORD will bring upon you and your descendants extraordinary plagues” (Deuteronomy 28:58,59). Blessings are replaced by curses for failure to obey (28:15-68). False teachers have people believing Calvary removed all curses of judgment. Be not deceived. God cannot be mocked. Each of us reaps according to that he has sowed (Galatians 6:7,8). God has never changed His mind about this: “I am the LORD, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6).
When we obey the ways of the kingdom of God, we are obeying what is natural. Kingdom ways fit what is best for us and were prepared from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34). Kingdom ways are the ways we were created to think, feel, and act in all of our life. Our nature is created to be allergic to sin. John tells in Revelation how he was given a little book to eat: “It was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.” So it is sin goes down easily, yet then turns against us. Sin is unnatural for those created in the image of God. As an old saying expresses it, one who spits against the wind spits in his own face. We must take thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ lest we find ourselves off a narrow road that leads to life (Matthew 7:14).
Before reviewing principles concerning the kingdom of heaven, I believe it fair to say that today’s church is full of blindness with its worship of created things instead of the Creator. Most refuse to free themselves of all that prevents entering the kingdom. “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2: 15). The influence of the world causes most to be like a rich young ruler in Matthew 19. He wanted eternal life in the age to come without paying the price to enter the kingdom in this age. We are warned by Jesus that only those who overcome the world, self and the devil in this age will later walk in robes of white. All failing to overcome have their names blotted out from the book of life (see Revelation 3:4-6).
As we turn to teaching about the kingdom, let us remember that all unrighteousness is sin, even though not all sin leads to death (1 John 5:17). We’re admonished in both OT and NT scripture that being “blameless” still applies as wages of sin continue to be death (Romans 6:23). Blameless is not being sinless, something only Jesus achieved. Being blameless is to not willfully do that known contrary to God’s will. The psalmist prays as to being blameless when saying, “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of the great transgression” (Psalm 19:12-13).
David recognizes there are secret (unrecognized) faults in need of cleansing. However he prays to be kept from presumptuous sins, those of which he is aware, yet might presume a lack of consequences for disobedience. By not allowing the latter to gain dominion (rule), he will be “blameless” and innocent of transgression leading to death. Paul exhorts us to live a “blameless” life by grace extended to us (1 Corinthians 1:4-8) and writes how he and Silas and Timothy lived “blamelessly” during time with others (1 Thessalonians 2:10). It is by dying to self and living blamelessly that one finds the door open to the kingdom of God, a lifestyle referred to as seeing oneself as crucified with Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).