Keys to the Kingdom

Reading The Myth of a Christian Nation (Gregory Boyd) affirmed my belief that Christians should not put their hope in politics because politics tends to corrupt religion. What I really loved about Boyd’s book though is that he reminded me that the hope of the world lies in a kingdom that is not of this world. So I am taking a deeper dive into scripture to remind myself of all the things Jesus said about the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ was sent to proclaim the good news of this kingdom and he promised to give us the keys!

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 16:19

The kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven were mentioned frequently in the New Testament, 68 times and 32 times, respectively. Mark and Luke used the phrase “kingdom of God,” while Matthew wrote exclusively of the “kingdom of heaven.” Some people think that the terms have different meanings. Got Questions Ministries notes that Jesus used the phrases interchangeably and both phrases were used in parallel accounts of the same parables.

I searched the gospels and made a list of seven keys to the kingdom.

  1. You must be born again.
  2. Repent and believe the good news.
  3. Receive the kingdom of God like a little child.
  4. Understand your spiritual poverty.
  5. Do not pretend to be righteous.
  6. Practice what you preach.
  7. Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.

1. You must be born again.

When Jesus said you must be born again, Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus was saying. Nicodemus was thinking in anatomical terms and Jesus was speaking in spiritual terms. Flesh gives birth to flesh and the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:3 and 5)

2. Repent and believe the good news.

The dictionary defines repent as “to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” True repentance is more than just remorse. It means completely turning away from your sin and surrendering your life to God.

Although being born again means believing in Jesus and surrendering your life to him, believers must continue to confess their sins and repent because even those who are born again struggle with sin. We may even struggle with unbelief.

The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news! (Mark 1:15)

3. Receive the kingdom of God like a little child.

Little children are innocent. They have not yet been conformed to “the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2). The world places too much value on money, possessions, power and social status. Children have none of these things. They have not yet become jaded and cynical. Because children are powerless, they are more trusting. They are more humble because they have not yet convinced themselves that they have all the answers.

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:15)

4. Understand your spiritual poverty.

The first of the ten Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount is blessed are the poor in spirit. Billy Graham said that if you want to understand what this means, substitute the word humble for the word poor. When we approach God with a humble spirit, we understand our true spiritual poverty. We see how much we need God.

Jesus also warned that wealth makes it nearly impossible to enter the kingdom of God. It is not that there is anything inherently sinful about financial success or wealth. The rich are more likely to become overly proud and self-satisfied. Solomon said, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” Wealth can easily become an idol. You cannot serve both God and money.

Of course, those who are actually poor may be tempted to envy those who are rich. No matter how much material wealth you have, it is important to store your treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (James 2:5)

5. Do not merely pretend to be righteous.

Jesus called out hypocrites for the impostors they are (Matthew 23). God sees our hearts and is not impressed with outward displays of piety. On the inside, hypocrites are unclean. On the inside they are full of greed, self-indulgence, wickedness. “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, pay attention to your heart. Pay attention to the words of your mouth. Focus on your own sin and stop worrying about everyone else’s. Clean the inside of the cup and dish.

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 5:20)

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. (Matthew 21:31)

6. Practice what you preach.

When asked to name the greatest commandment of the Law, Jesus said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And the second greatest command, he said, is “love your neighbor as yourself.” Nevertheless, Jesus said that we should not set aside any one of the least of the commandments because if we do, we will be least in the kingdom of heaven. We should take sin seriously and do whatever we can to not stumble or to cause anyone else to sin.

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. (Matthew 5:19)

And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. (Mark 9:47)

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. (Galatians 5:19-21)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:22)

7. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness

I thought about putting this one at the beginning of my list because Jesus said “seek first his kingdom” and how can you find the kingdom of God unless you seek it? Like repentance, seeking God and his righteousness does not stop when you become a Christian. I seek God because I understand my spiritual poverty. I know that I do not always practice what I preach.

Many people are too busy worrying about day-to-day life to seek God’s kingdom. Jesus said we should not worry about the things we need for life, like food and clothing. Life is about more than food; we are not just physical beings. Make seeking God and his righteousness your first priority and he will take care of everything else.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

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I find it hard to even define the kingdom of God. Got Questions says “broadly speaking, the kingdom of God is the rule of an eternal, sovereign God over all the universe…More narrowly, the kingdom of God is a spiritual rule over the hearts and lives of those who willingly submit to God’s authority.”

Gregory Boyd says that “in seeing the kingdom, people see what God is like.” Simply stated, the kingdom of God looks like Jesus. So if we want to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, look to the example of Jesus.

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Photo by Jason D on Unsplash

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