The kingdom of heaven is an important but also largely misunderstood topic within Christianity as well as the unbelieving world. The failure to understand and teach the gospel of the kingdom fully has led to a lot of confusion and has also contributed to the rejection of the Messiah by the Jewish people. This article is by no means a complete look at everything that is to be understood about the kingdom, but it does hope to answer some common questions and clear up some fundamental misconceptions.
The Unrighteous Will Not Inherit the Kingdom of God
In order to get into the ideas I want to focus on, we need to take a look at some of the many scriptures that tell us sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God, including:
1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 – Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5: 19-21 – Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Matthew 5:20 – For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
There are many others. The reason I list these is to give a general idea of the kinds of things that we are told will prevent us from the kingdom. In order to understand this idea better however, we should first understand what the kingdom of God is.
What is the Kingdom of God?
Is the traditional view of heaven the kingdom of God? Is the kingdom of God something to be established in the future? What about the scriptures that state things like, “the kingdom of God is at hand?” In trying to answer these questions, many traditions and doctrinal errors have come about. I’m not getting into these ideas in-particular at this time, but instead want to focus on what is true.
In Jesus’s day, ideas about the kingdom were misunderstood even then. For example, we read in Luke 17 about a time when the Pharisees “demanded Jesus when the kingdom of God would come.” They expected the Messiah to restore all things, liberate them from the rulers of this world, and establish a new kingdom. How did Jesus answer this question?
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. – Luke 17:22
Side note: When speaking of the kingdom, Jesus often spoke in parables. You can learn some about the reason why Jesus taught in parables in this article. To read the parables of the kingdom of heaven for yourself, go to Matthew Chapter 13.
The confusion regarding the nature of the kingdom comes from not really knowing the scriptures or the will of God. In reality, the kingdom of God/Heaven is both now, reigning our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, and futuristic with the kingdom is established on earth at Christ’s return. If you continue reading Luke 17, you will learn some of what to expect in the coming of the physical kingdom at the return of Christ.
Back to the issue of sin. We know that there will be no sin in the eternal kingdom of God that is established at Christ’s return (Revelation 21:27). So, the question we should really be focused on in this present time is, do sinners enter the kingdom that is “at hand?”
And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. — Matthew 10:7
A Look at the Spiritual Kingdom of God
As mentioned earlier, one of the fundamental misunderstandings that kept the Pharisees from accepting Jesus as Christ is still going on today. Mainstream Christianity fails to make known the fullness of the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus Christ – the gospel that teaches us that we have indeed been freed from the rulers of this world and the kingdom has been established. The rulers I refer to are that of sin which keep us in bonds to the prince of this world, Satan (Ephesians 6:12).
“The kingdom of God is at hand” for both Jews and gentiles, bringing peoples of all nations into communion with God through the sacrifice of the Son, by whose stripes we are healed (Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 53:5), forgiving us of our sins and providing the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit – by whom we are given the earnest of our inheritance as sons of God (Ephesians 1: 13-14).
Through the Spirit, we are made to know the hidden wisdom and truth that is in Jesus Christ, writing the laws of the kingdom on the fleshly tables of our hearts rather than on stone, changing our natures so that we can live more abundantly in peace, love, patience, and all things that pertain to godliness in this present world with the Lord as our master and ruler, freeing us from the bonds of sin (2 Corinthians 3:3, 2 Peter 1:2)
We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24) We cannot abide in the kingdom of God and in the kingdom of this world at the same time – though we live in this world in the flesh, those who walk according to the Spirit are of the kingdom, even now. But, this should not be taken to an extreme legalistic view (more on that later).
How do We Enter the Kingdom of God?
We are told that in order to inherit the kingdom of God, we must be “born again” (John Chapter 3).
The way in which we are born again is by receiving the Holy Spirit with faith as a child. Despite what some teach, once we receive the Spirit, we are not freed from sin totally at that point. We might find some things taken away in that instant, but for the most part it is a continual pursuit.
What then is the remedy for our sin as we strive to “enter in at the straight gait” if we do those things we are told prevent one from entering into the kingdom? Are we not dwelling within the kingdom through the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us?
Here we see the problem with taking things in a very legalistic manner. Consider this: we are told that we cannot serve sin and righteousness. Does that mean that if we have one sin we are servants of sin, all in all? I tend to think of it like this – if we serve anger we cannot fully serve peace. If we serve lies we cannot fully serve truth. If we serve addictions we cannot fully serve self-control. Get the idea? One area of our life might be bound in sin, and to that extent we are not experiencing the fullness of the kingdom of God in that particular case. The good news is, God is faithful to His promises, and He will cleanse us from all sin in His perfect time and perfect way (2 Peter 3).
Meanwhile, while we yet strive to seek the Lord in writing more of His laws in our hearts through the Spirit, it is our faith in Jesus that allows us to enter into the kingdom. Just as the faith of Abraham counted him as righteous before God, so does our faith in the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:9, Romans 4). Even so, an “imputed righteousness” is not the same as actually performing righteousness. We need to keep that in mind and continue pushing forward.
Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. — 1 John 3:7
Though all sin is not yet under our feet, we can count it as such – but that does not mean we yield to sin. We walk on, seeking the Lord to change our natures from righteousness to greater righteousness, from glory to glory until we measure up into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
So then, do sinners inherit the kingdom of God?
When asking ourselves the question, “do sinners inherit the Kingdom of God” we want to be careful in approaching this idea in a legalistic, letter of the law manner. The kingdom is “not by word, but by power.” I will touch more on this idea in the next article within the, The Severity of Sin and the Mercy of Jesus series entitled, “No Sacrifice Remaining!? A Look at “Willful” Sin.”
On a final note, though I believe that Jesus promises perfection, I do not think it is wise to ever claim that we are without sin. There is always room for growth, and there is none good like Jesus is good – but by Him and through Him we have the Light that shows us the way into the kingdom of God, repelling the darkness from us as we strive to be more like Him day by day until the Day is revealed and the kingdom fulfilled all in all.
This article is Part 2 of the series, “The Severity of Sin and the Mercy of Jesus.” Check out Part 1, “The Wages of Sin is Still Death.”and Part 3, “No Sacrifice Remaining!?” A Look at “Willful” Sin.