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 Works versus Faith (Part 12) – The Kingdom of Heaven (Part 1)

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PostSubject: Works versus Faith (Part 12) – The Kingdom of Heaven (Part 1)   Wed Jan 27, 2016 10:30 pm

Works versus Faith (Part 12) – The Kingdom of Heaven (Part 1)

I am going to break this one into parts because it is going to be lengthy.  I would like to cover one of the most misused, misinterpreted, and misapplied verses in the Bible.  Matthew 7:21 reads, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  It is easy to see how this verse can be misinterpreted to mean that there will be some apparent Christians who aren’t really Christians who do not make it into Heaven because they failed to do the will of the Father in Heaven.  I will come back to this verse and cover it in detail, but the misapplication really derives from a misunderstanding of the Kingdom of Heaven.  There are other verses just like this one that appear to be saying that one must do works to make it into Heaven.  But that is not so.  The following statement is true: One must do works to make it into the Kingdom of Heaven.  What is often not recognized is the distinction between the Kingdom of Heaven and Heaven itself.  Heaven and the Kingdom of Heaven are not synonyms.  We will explore this topic in this study.  I’ve witnessed that many Christians who know that salvation is by faith alone apart from works stumble when covering the passages we will be looking at.  

Let’s look at some other similar verses.  But before we do, let me just add this aside: It is easy to read through the Bible and draw conclusions from a cursory read through.  But one shouldn’t make doctrine based on a quick read of the Bible.  Bible doctrine is not simple.  You will inevitably come across verses that complicate your basic understanding.  There are 4 layers to Bible interpretation: The first layer is the most general.  This is where anyone can pick up the text and understand the basic stories and commands.  The second layer is the interpretation of the application of those stories and commands.  To get to this layer, one must study it more carefully, match up Scriptures, and apply them to one’s life.  The third layer is where Jesus’ parables and doctrine lie.  To get to this layer, one must make sure that the verses they studied and the doctrine they understand do not contradict other verses of the Bible.  I put the parables of Jesus here because Jesus said Himself that parables are not given to the world because they are concealed to them and are only for believer’s understanding.  It is this layer that many people do not get to and create incorrect doctrine based on a surface layer understanding of the Bible.  The fourth layer is the layer that is not found in our English Bibles.  It is the understanding of Hebrew and Greek words in the original Bible manuscripts and this includes hidden codes that God included in them.  My point is that if any biblical understanding contradicts a passage, knowing that there are no contradictions in the Bible, one must adjust one’s understanding and search out the Truth to resolve these apparent conflicts and then God will lead one to Truth and understanding.  Much prayer should also be included in this search.  God says in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

Back to the topic:  There are several passages that involve the Kingdom of Heaven that appear (from a quick reading) to imply that a Christian can lose his or her salvation and that salvation is by works instead of faith.  1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God.”  Some use this passage to say that homosexuals do not go to Heaven.  But if they read this passage carefully, they may see themselves on this same list.  Sexual immorality includes any form of sex outside of marriage of one’s own spouse.  Jesus said that if someone even thinks salaciously of another person’s spouse that such a person commits adultery in his or her heart.  This list includes thieves.  Some innocent looking Christians don’t give Uncle Sam his full tax payment; or to God His tithe; or they might steal pens, paper, and time from their boss.  This list includes the greedy.  This one is often overlooked by those who use this passage to say that Christians can lose their salvation.  Greed covers almost everyone in all churches.  A lot of pastors are greedy.  Pride and self-ism permeate our churches.  Is this passage really saying that people who are greedy will not make it to Heaven?  This list also has slanderers.  So will those who talk bad about others and spread gossip about others really lose their salvation?  

We have a similar list in Galatians 5:19-21.  The list is a little different.  It reads, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”  We have some things on this list that were not on the other one.  Impurity?  That covers a whole lot.  I quoted the NIV, except I inserted the word “flesh” for “sinful nature” because the original Greek text says “flesh” and that distinction is important to understand our new identities in Christ.  The King James has “uncleanness” for “impurity.”  The ESV also has “impurity.”  Witchcraft would include reading horoscopes and signs; and playing with Ouija boards.  I’m trying to mention only the “surprises” and common sins that are on the list.  The list includes discord, but we are aware that many churches suffer from discord—are we to assume that all of those members will not make it to Heaven?  Anger is on this list.  Anger itself is not a sin, but can become one.  Paul said don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  How many of us have built up anger that we express in arguing which gives birth to sin and cussing?  Does that mean that those who express their anger will not get to Heaven?  Paul includes, “and the like” as if to say, “If there’s anything I missed...” or “etc.”  Again it says that people who live such lifestyles will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

If one looks closely, many things throughout the Bible are listed in sevens or threes—just throwing that out there.  The third passage that is similar to the previous two is found in Ephesians 5:3-5, which reads, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.  For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God.”  This list includes using foul language and talking about others.  How many are guilty of that?  Notice that all three passages use the word “inherit.”  These passages are talking about our rewards, namely, inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven.  

Also note that all three passages use the full clause “Kingdom of God,” but none just say “Heaven.”  An astute reader will find that the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are used synonymously in the New Testament.  There are plenty of examples, which I won’t go into, where say, Mathew and Luke might say “Kingdom of Heaven” and Mark, speaking on the same event would say, “Kingdom of God.” We will define Kingdom of Heaven soon.  To understand this, we have to have a full understanding of what the Bible says regarding eschatology.  

To complicate things, the Kingdom of God has more than one meaning.  It has 3 meanings in Scripture.   One meaning is that the Kingdom of God represents God’s Heavenly agenda played out on Earth through His chosen people.  A second meaning is that it represents God’s Kingdom on the New Earth.  The third meaning is that it represents God’s Kingdom on this Earth, but during the Millennium time (the 1,000 years Christ rules on this Earth).  All three still has the same basic meaning:  The Kingdom of Heaven is God’s agenda played out on Earth today by those who answer His calling, and will be manifested in the future during the Millennium, which will yet be fully manifested during Eternity, after the Millennium.  Christians are called to manifest the Kingdom of God today to unbelievers who do not know God.  The righteousness we show them is a shadow of the Millennium Kingdom, which is a shadow of the eternal one.  

To complicate things further, the Kingdom of Heaven is not Heaven, but Heaven includes the Kingdom of Heaven.  The same can be said of our Capital.  The Capital of the United States is not the United States of America, but the United States of America includes the Capital of the United States.  The Kingdom of Heaven can be likened to the Capital of the United States.  In both the millennial time and during Eternity on the New Earth, Heaven’s capital city will be Jerusalem.  During the Millennium, the capital city of the world will be Jerusalem, which will be where Jesus establishes His Kingdom.  During Eternity, we will be on the New Earth, and the capital city will then be named the New Jerusalem, and it is this city that is technically the Kingdom of Heaven.  But surrounding the New Jerusalem will be the rest of “Heaven.”  Those inside can go outside the gates of this city into the rest of Heaven.  But not all outside the New Jerusalem city will be able to go from outside, where they reside, to inside the Holy City.  Access into the New Jerusalem is based on whether or not we received the reward to enter it, which is based on our works here today.  To prove all of this, we have to look closely at Scripture and compare Scripture to Scripture and resolve any apparent contradictions.  Understanding the Kingdom of Heaven will automatically enlighten one’s understanding to many other difficult passages that few interpret correctly.  

Without an understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven, one would likely interpret Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to be that Jesus is preaching that it takes works for one to get to Heaven.  In Matthew 5, he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Does this mean that only those who are humble will make it to Heaven?  I know a lot of prideful Christians.  Jesus is referring to the New Jerusalem and equally so, to Jerusalem during Jesus’ future Millennial reign on this Earth.  Only the humble will have access to that holy city.  Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.”  There is that word again: “inherit.”  And note that it says that they will inherit the Earth: that is, the New Earth.  “They will” denotes that it will be sometime in the future.  We will see how they will inherit it later on in our study.  Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”  Note it does not say, “They will be sons of God.”  It says they will be called sons of God.  This simply means that they will be recognized by others as obvious Christians.  Jesus continues, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Please note that in all instances Jesus never just says, “Heaven.”  He always says the Kingdom of Heaven because He is not talking about Heaven in these verses.   We said that “inheritance” means reward.  Jesus concludes in Matthew 5:12, saying, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  This time Jesus just says “Heaven,” but this does not contradict anything we’ve stated.  Indeed, we will be rewarded in Heaven for our patient endurance of persecution in Jesus’ name.  We are always rewarded for our Kingdom and righteous work and patient endurance through suffering.  It requires works to receive rewards, but it requires only faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross to receive salvation.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:20, “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.”  This verse is often explained as: Christians have the righteousness of Jesus through faith, so our righteousness automatically surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law because it is His righteousness and not ours, so we get a free pass to Heaven, while the Pharisees’ plight is Hell because they rejected Jesus.  That sounds almost fully correct, but is that what this verse is really saying?  Others use this to say that works are required.  We have to have enough works, they say, that add up to more than the Pharisees and teachers of the law to even have a chance to make it into Heaven.  Is that what this verse is saying?  Notice that every time it seems like it takes works to enter Heaven, the verse does not just say “Heaven,” but always specifically says, “Kingdom of Heaven” in every instance.  Jesus says in Matthew 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  We have to be more righteous than the Pharisees and we have to change and be like little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Changing to become like little children sounds like works to me.  That is something that does not come by simply believing alone—though the prescription to this is to change by submission to the power of Jesus’ grace that changes you and not by the power of your flesh and self-determination.  Christians are to change using the power of grace in Jesus Christ, not their own power.  The flesh will never change.  We are not called to change the flesh.  We are called to change the soul through grace (Jesus’ power) and to make our soul come under the same obedience that our new natured spirit is.  

Of a rich person, Jesus says in Matthew 19:23, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”  Here, it seems Jesus is saying that few rich people will make it to Heaven; but, as you should know by now, we will prove that Jesus is not talking about Heaven when He speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is true that few rich people will make it to the Kingdom of Heaven.  God will look at whether or not a person has accepted the full payment of Jesus on the cross for access to Heaven; but He will also look at our hearts and our deeds in this life to determine our access to the Kingdom of Heaven.  The disciples (who didn’t know much at this time) perceived Jesus to be talking about Heaven.  We see this from their response.  Verse 25 says, “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”  Verse 26: “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  The disciples unknowingly changed the topic to Heaven when they asked, “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus answered concerning Heaven: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  To make it to Heaven is impossible, which is why our works won’t get us there.  The only way to get to Heaven is for God to do it for us, which is by the finished payment of our sin through the Cross that He provided and freely received by faith and grace.  

I should address Luke 17:20-21.  It seems Jesus throws us a curve ball in this passage.  It reads, “Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.”  Many incorrectly interpret this passage as saying that the only definition of the Kingdom of God/Heaven is that it refers to the heart of the believer.  By interpreting this passage this way, they then allegorize most other passages concerning the Kingdom of Heaven, as if this is the only passage about the Kingdom to be taken literally.  That the Kingdom is in us (Christians) is certainly one aspect of the Kingdom.  But that is not an all-inclusive definition.  I should point out that the Church and the Holy Spirit indwelling believers were still future events at the time Jesus spoke this to the Pharisees.  This passage could have been fulfilled at the time of Pentecost, but other Kingdom verses and predictions have clearly not yet been fulfilled.  I’m not sure what to make of it, but notice that Jesus addresses the Pharisees with this answer, and then Luke makes it a point to let us know that He then turned to His disciples to continue teaching, which incidentally, is about the coming Kingdom, which some then allegorize because of the few preceding verses.  

The Kingdom cannot be allegorized in Scripture because it is a literal place.  In John 18:36, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.  But now my kingdom is from another place.”  Jesus says that the Kingdom is another literal place that is different from planet Earth.  Jesus also says that the Kingdom is a particular time period.  In speaking of the end times, in Luke 21:31, Jesus says, “Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the Kingdom of God is near.”  The establishment of the Kingdom on this Earth will take place at a particular date in the yet future.  The Kingdom is not just a fluffy feeling in our hearts that can be allegorized throughout Scripture.

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Works versus Faith (Part 12) – The Kingdom of Heaven (Part 1)
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