(Previous devotionals in this series can be found at www.seriousfaith.com)
The kingdom of heaven is very exclusive. That’s not very popular into today’s feel-good, relativistic age; but it is no less true even if the whole world finds it distasteful. There is only one kingdom of heaven, only one way to get there, and only one person who makes it possible. Frankly, rather than finding that to be “intolerant”, I find it comforting.
God did not complicate things. We don’t have to search every religion and find the best version. We don’t have to wonder if we’ve got the “right” truth, or done enough to earn our salvation, or wait through endless cycles of lifetimes until we become good enough for salvation…. we just have to believe the simple and exclusive truth that God has revealed.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (NKJV)
Thank you Lord, for not complicating it. It’s amazing (not really) that the world hates God for saying there is only one way. You would think that mankind would be grateful that the Lord has provided and shown us the exact way to eternal salvation. But the very sinful pride that made it necessary that Jesus should come to earth and die, is the same sinful pride that spits and curses at the truth of the Gospel.
The kingdom of heaven… so far we have discovered:
- The kingdom of God belongs to those who repent. True repentance is a compilation of sorrow, remorse and contrition concerning personal sin followed by a change of heart, purpose, motivation and intention. In short, it is the authentic exchange of my way for God’s way after acknowledging that I have violated God’s way. God is right; I am wrong (where I do not agree with and conform to God).
- The kingdom of God belongs to the helpless in need of rescue; the “poor in spirit” (Matt 5.3). Repentance springs from the heart of those who are not only truly sorry for their sin, who realize the necessity of turning way from sin, but also realize that they are helpless to change their predicament unless God does it for them.
- The kingdom of God belongs to the persecuted, those who suffer solely because of their relationship with Christ (Matt 5.10). The world hates Jesus, and they will hate those follow Him. We don’t have to go looking for persecution, it will find us when we serve the Lord.
You are great in the kingdom of heaven by doing what God commands
Matthew 5:19-20 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (NKJV)
Any violation of God’s law (apart from Christ) makes us “least” or outside of God’s Kingdom (Gal 3.10; Rom 3.23) and we have all occupied the place of “least” at some time in our life. By teaching and DOING God’s commands you will be called “great in the kingdom of heaven”. All of us have the opportunity to do and teach… we teach ourselves, our family & friends and those we share the Gospel with.
To understand what Jesus was trying to say, remember who Jesus was talking to. The Pharisee’s had perverted and transformed God’s Law into a works-based, man-derived system of “do’s and don’ts”. They looked good on the outside, but were rotten and sick on the inside (Matt 23.25). Jesus destroyed their entire “religion” by proclaiming that “doing” what you hear from God is true religion… not simply have a head knowledge or “looking good” on the outside. “Doing” and “teaching” imply a sincere life of Godliness, not just an outward conformity without inward transformation. It has been said that:
Many people will miss heaven by less than one foot.
In other words, what we know about God never gets from our head to our heart. Head knowledge alone produces “religion”. When the knowledge of God descends to the heart, it results in action and change. We become “doers”, not just hearers. (James 1.22)
Our righteousness has to exceed head knowledge, surpass external compliance and issue from a truly repentant heart that understands man has nothing to offer towards salvation (poor in spirit). Only then will we be part of the kingdom of heaven… and a great part at that!
Many people will not enter the kingdom of heaven despite a life of religious activity
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (NKJV)
These verses should cause us to constantly evaluate our life and ask “Am I simply doing religious things of my own making, or am I doing the will of the Father in heaven?”. It is scary to think that someday we may stand in front of God and have Him say “depart from Me, I don’t know you.”. However, God does not leave us without a way to tell; He reveals how to know the difference between false works of human pride and true works that glorify God.
Good works, “miracles”, ministries and religious activity
will deceive many into a false sense of salvation.
Only those who do the will of the Father
in Heaven will enter the Kingdom.
How can we know God’s will?… the Bible and prayer. Learn to examine everything you are doing “for God” and evaluate whether or not you are doing it because it is God’s will (which always points to and glorifies Jesus) or are you doing it for “self” reasons:
- For recognition: am I doing this to be noticed and acknowledged?
- For approval: am I doing this because I need the approval of men to feel “good” or loved?
- For admiration: am I doing this because I want people to see what a good or great person I am?
- For salvation: am I doing this trying in some way to prove that I’m good enough for God to save?
- For emotional need: are you lonely, unloved or hurting; and doing this will soothe those feelings?
Notice that each of these reasons originates from “self”. In our Scripture, we can see the pattern: “didn’t we prophesy?”, “didn’t we cast out demons?”, “didn’t we do many wonders in Your name?”. The focus is on what the person did, not why he did it. If these acts were truly for God’s glory, then God would not be rejecting them. So they had to be motivated by selfish desires instead of the glory of Christ.
As humans, we have primary needs that are part of how God created us. We have a need to feel loved, to be secure, to be a part of something, to feel wanted, needed and have a purpose in life. We have the need for unconditional acceptance and approval. We have the need to have our existence validated and confirmed as important, worthwhile and meaningful.
I use to minimize and dismiss those needs thinking it was all just a bunch of “feel-good, self-esteem nonsense” that too many weak and pampered Christians gave too much attention to. I have grown to learn that these basic human needs have very powerful influence in our life and that we can’t ignore them just because the world has perverted it into something God never intended. Yes, there is a very unGodly religion of “self” in the world that is rooted in a prideful pursuit of self-love, self-adoration, self-promotion and self “esteem”. The pursuit of elevating “self” as worthy apart from God, is the original lie that Satan told Adam and Eve.
However, we are worthy in Christ; we are valuable in Christ; we are meaningful, purposeful and wanted in Christ. Those God-given needs are fulfilled fully and perfectly in our relationship with God, through Christ (in increasing part now, and in whole when we die). Now why did I get off on that?
Much religious activity is done to earn the unconditional love,
acceptance and approval that every human longs for,
but can only be found in our position and relationship with Christ.
Think about what these people had done according to our verses. They had prophesied, cast out demons, and done “many wonders”. They were trying to earn God’s love, earn His acceptance, earn His approval. Obviously they were interested in God, or they would have been out probably doing other non-religious things. Why bother with religious activity if you aren’t searching for something that religion offers? (ie, salvation, purpose, hope, etc.).
I think there are two reasons people get to this point: 1) they have been taught incorrectly (ie, parenting, church, society, etc) and are blind to the truth, or 2) their pride will not allow them to consider their true nature (“poor in spirit”) and so they believe that only by “performance” can they obtain what God offers. Either way, good works, even in Jesus name, can be done to fulfill our own personal needs, rather than for the sole purpose of glorifying Christ and obeying the Father’s will.
All of that to say this: examine and evaluate your “good works”. Are you doing them because without a doubt it is God’s will and glorifies Christ? Or are you doing them to fulfill some deep emotional or personal need that can only be satified by Christ? While our verse primarily applies to distinguishing the “saved” from the “unsaved”, (and that works cannot save) there is no doubt an application for Believers that many true Christians are still doing “good works” for “self” reasons… attempting to fulfill what can only be found in a relationship with Christ (unconditional love, acceptance, value, purpose, etc).
The kingdom of heaven will be missing many people who performed great works in “Jesus name”, but were done for “self” reasons, not Christ-reasons. Doing the will of God makes us a great part of the kingdom and instead of hearing “depart from Me, I don’t know you”, you will hear “well done, enter in, my good and faithful servant”! (Matt 25.21)
Father in heaven, Help us to realize that the only way into the kingdom is to truly do Your will. Empower us to evaluate and examine our good works to see if they are rooted in “self”, or done for the glory of Christ. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Contemplation: Have you ever examined why you do what you do? As a Christian, do you feel lonely, unloved and valueless? Do you scurry about involving yourself in religious work in order to soothe those needs? Is your value based on what YOU are? On what YOU do? On who likes you, accepts you or approves of you? Or is your value based on who CHRIST is? What CHRIST did? On whether or not Jesus loves you, accepts you and approves of you?
Application: The basic needs of love, acceptance, worth and purpose are powerful forces in our life. Very much of all that we do, good or bad, originates from these deep needs. For the mature Christian, those needs are met in and through Christ, so that we may be FREE to live a life for God, never having to earn His love or rely on the fragile approval of other people. But many Christians have not discovered or been taught that these needs are found only in Jesus and so they live in the endless pit of peformance and approval constantly striving through religious activity to find the worthiness they long for that can only be found in Christ. Examine your “good works” and see if they are “self” motivated, or “Christ” motivated.
Lest I stray too far from the foundational meaning of Matt 7.21-23, let me clarify that these verses speak primarily of the fact that good works, even if done in God’s name, cannot save you. It is possible to be involved in intense religious activity and be deceived about salvation. Only belief in Christ and trusting in His shed blood will cause you to be known by the Father. This is the basic meaning of these verses. The rest of my comments are an “application” of the verses, not an exposition.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?