Living a Life Worthy of the King.
We cannot enter the eternal kingdom unless we live a life worthy of the King. Some of us will be bothered by that statement because of the way we have come to think about God’s mercy and grace. Yet Scripture emphasizes both God’s grace and obedience. Let’s begin with grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
“But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11).
Many others could be cited (Luke 12:32; 18:9-14; Acts 20:24; Romans 3:21-25; 5:1-2, 15-21; Galatians 5:4; 2 Timothy 1:8-12). We do not earn salvation. It is a gracious gift from God due to his mercy.
Other Scripture, however, makes it unmistakably clear that obedience is necessary to enter the kingdom. Listen first to Jesus himself:
“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).
“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:47-48).
Paul, better known today for his strong emphasis on grace, also says specifically that we will not enter the kingdom of God if we live sinful lives:
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5).
And he concludes his list of the works of the flesh with the warning that “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). It is worth noting that Paul is addressing Christians in these passages, warning them of the necessity of obedience and exhorting them to live godly lives.
Instead of focusing on the “grace set of passages” and downplaying the “obedience set of passages,” or vice versa, we need to accept and heed them all. Though we may struggle to understand them properly, the passages all come from God do not contradict one another.
The Scriptures above that say salvation is by grace do not change the fact that we must live lives worthy of the kingdom and will not enter it if we fail to do so. By the way, neither do the “grace verses” eliminate the need to repent of sins, put our trust in Jesus, and be baptized in his name, as we noticed in a previous post.
The Scriptures above that say obedience is necessary for entering the kingdom do not change the fact that we are saved by grace. And the previously mentioned Scriptures on the necessity of repentance, faith, and baptism do not change it either. We can never earn salvation. God mercifully made it available to us.
Repentance, faith, and baptism are not works that earn salvation. They are ways of responding to Christ to receive his gifts and pledge our total allegiance to him. Obedience and good works are not meritorious and do not earn salvation. Rather, they are ways we express our faith and love for Christ (Romans 1:5; 16:26; John 14:15). Just as the King’s mercy on his servant should have caused that servant to show mercy to his fellow-servant (Matthew 18:32-33), so God’s mercy on us should transform us and cause us to be like him in every aspect of our lives. If it does not, the process has broken down somewhere. Either we did not truly grasp God’s mercy, did not respond to it genuinely, or later rejected it. In any case, if it does not change us, we will not be saved (Matthew 18:34-35). It is imperative that we obey our King.
We will not be able to do this, however, without the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit whom God has given us. The Spirit is one of the prominent characteristics of the better days of God’s kingdom in both the promises (Isaiah 32:15; Joel 2:28-32) and in the fulfillment (Acts 2:1-4, 33, 38-39; 5:32). One of the primary purposes of the Spirit is to transform us and help us obey him (Ezekiel 36:27; Galatians 5:22-23). We must learn to live in the new way of the Spirit (Romans 7:6). This means complying with the good desires he gives us (Galatians 5:16-18) and allowing him to renew our minds (Romans 8:5-8; 12:2). By the power of God’s mighty Spirit, we can be transformed so effectively that Paul even says the essence of God’s requirements (literally “the righteous requirement of the law”) might be fully met in us who live according to the Spirit (Romans 8:4). This is God’s new and better way for us to obey him.
Still, we will not be perfect. “All have sinned (past) and fall short (present) of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We will continue to depend on God’s mercy throughout our Christian lives. But it is unthinkable that we should try to take advantage of it (Romans 6:1). John gives us a healthy, balanced perspective on obedience and mercy in his first letter. He says his purpose in writing it was so that we would not sin (1 John 2:1), but he is equally clear that we will in fact sin and so need to be ready to confess them (1 John 1:8-2:1). But if we are genuinely born of God, live in Christ and trust Christ to protect us from the evil one, the regular, consistent pattern of our lives will not be sin (1 John 3:6, 9; 5:18, note the word “continue” in NIV).
When we come under the rule of Christ, we will not be perfect and will always depend on his mercy. But his mercy, coupled with the power of his Spirit, transforms us and leads us to lives of submission, obedience and service, worthy of the King.