WORTHY OF THE KINGDOM

by Thomas W. Finley


Chapter 5-3 (contd.)

THE JUDGMENT UPON THE BELIEVER’S WORKS

We have seen that the unbeliever can pass out of the judgment of eternal death through believing in Christ. Once the person becomes a believer in Christ, he is never again in that danger (Jn. 5:24; 6:40; 10:27-29). However, the Bible makes it very plain that a future judgment awaits every believer. Paul told the Corinthian assembly:

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).

The issue at that judgment is not our faith in Christ, but our deeds after we have come to faith. The verdict upon us will not be in the realm of eternal death or life, but the verdicts will cover a range of other possibilities. We will study this matter in more detail in future chapters.

BECOMING A CHILD OF GOD (Sonship)

Starting the Christian life is simply a matter of being born again as a child of God. This is a matter absolutely related to the grace principle. One of the greatest chapters in the Scripture concerning our salvation by grace, apart from works, is Chapter Three of Galatians. There we find the simplest statement of a profound truth: "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26).

GROWING (Maturing) AS SONS OF GOD (Discipleship)

Becoming a member of God’s household (Eph. 2:19) simply involves being born into it as a son (Gal. 3:26). Today, a couple may bring a new baby home from the hospital. The start of life was fairly simple for the child. The development of that child over the maturing years, however, will not be simple. Much feeding, nurturing, training, educating, discipline, and experience will go into that process. Who can tell ahead of time exactly how the child will develop? Some will be more responsive to the efforts of their parents than others. Some will give themselves diligently to their school work, while others will hardly study or maybe even drop out. Some will be respectful and obedient to their parents and those in authority, but others will demonstrate a rebellious attitude. Some will be generous and others will be selfish.

So it is with the children of God. Each individual will respond to the maturing process differently. Our maturation is not automatic: It requires our cooperation with the Lord (2 Pet. 1:5-10). Yes, we are to "grow in grace" (2 Pet. 3:18, KJV), but this is not positional grace, it is experiential grace. It is the grace of God’s life supplied to us by our constant seeking, dependency in faith, and cooperation with God (1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 12:8-10; Gal. 3:5; 2 Tim. 2:1; Heb. 4:16; Jas. 4:6-10; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).

Perhaps someone will quote Philippians 1:6 as a "promise" that God will automatically mature us in readiness for the future day of Christ. In this verse Paul declares to the Philippian believers: "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in your will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." Professor John Hart of Moody Bible Institute states that the "good work" in this verse has an accepted interpretation other than the sanctification of the believer. Professor Hart, along with a number of other Bible teachers, point out that, according to the context, this "good work" refers to the Philippians’ participation with Paul in the work of advancing the gospel.[1]

Although every believer is equipped with God’s life within, nothing could be clearer from the New Testament than that believers vary in their degree of cooperation with God and their subsequent maturity and actions. Many are seen as "still fleshly" (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Some that should have progressed have not (Heb. 5:12). Some have regressed to the law (Gal. 4:9-11,21). Instead of persevering, some fail miserably (1 Tim. 1:19; 2 Tim. 4:10; Rev. 2:4-5; 3:2-3; 3:15-19). In fact, much of the exhortation and admonition in the New Testament is given precisely because the saints were not progressing! If the saints’ continuance in holy living were automatic, then there would have been no need for the apostles to write many convicting and prodding words!

The teaching that all true believers basically continue onward and upward with God, except for an occasional slip here or there, is not in accordance with the record of God’s truth or with our experience. We all know genuine Christians who are languishing or have given themselves over to the world or the flesh. We will not examine all of the applicable Scriptures on this subject, but there is a considerable amount of good reading available on the topic.[2] The point is that the maturing of a believer requires the individual’s cooperation with God.

Maturing as a Christian may also be viewed as the process of discipleship. By following Christ in obedience, we grow into His likeness. As you read the verses listed for this related matter, this view becomes clear. Discipleship involves finishing what we have begun in our Christian life (Lk. 14:26-35). Yet, this concerns our works--our doings. We must be willing to "hate" our family and even our own life (v.26). The disciple must be willing to "give up all his own possessions" (v.33). Although the Lord wants us to realize the cost of discipleship ahead of time (Lk. 14:28-29), this matter is not settled once and for all. We can be in the process of discipleship, and yet "become tasteless" (Lk. 14:34).

Following the Lord in discipleship is not an irrevocable decision. Rather, it is a thing that we Christians must come to grips with every day as the Lord tells us: "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Lk. 9:23). Let us be reminded, however, that we must not try to follow Christ out of our own energy. This matter of following the Lord is achieved by grace supplied by God through our seeking after it. We should be encouraged that every day, and even every hour, we can "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy [forgiveness for our failures] and may find grace [spiritual supply and strength] to help in time of need." (Heb. 4:16) Our cooperation with the Lord always begins with our seeking after Him and His supply of grace. This supply of spiritual life, the life of Christ, is one we appropriate through our contact with Him in prayer, meditation on His word, and worship to Him in praise and singing. Yes, God expects us to grow up, but He generously supplies the means for us to do it if we are willing to come to Him for this supply (Gal. 3:5; Heb. 4:16).

RECEIVING ETERNAL LIFE

"Whoever believes may in Him have eternal life" (Jn. 3:15). "And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 Jn. 5:11-12). When we receive Christ by faith, we receive the eternal life of God and are thus born again (Jn. 1:12-13; Jn. 3:6-7).

ETERNAL LIFE IN THE COMING AGE

All believers already possess the eternal life of God and shall not lose it (Jn. 10:28). This life is God’s life realized in the Holy Spirit (Jn 6:63). Today, our experience of the Holy Spirit is limited, and is likened to a down payment in Scripture. "That (Spirit) is the guarantee of our inheritance--the first fruit, the pledge, and foretaste, the down payment on our heritage--in anticipation of its full redemption and our acquiring (complete) possession of it, to the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:14, AMP). What the verses cited in the table under this matter tell us is that there awaits a greatly increased measure of the experience of this eternal life in the coming 1,000 year Kingdom age as a reward to those who diligently follow Christ in this age. As previously discussed, the Kingdom of Christ is characterized by the presence of eternal life. To gain entry to His Kingdom ensures us of the experience of eternal life there. To miss participation in the coming Kingdom involves missing this magnified experience of eternal life.

ELECTION ACCORDING TO GRACE

The verses noted here on the table show us that God chose us to participate in His plan of redemption before we were even born. This choosing is clearly a matter of grace, a gift (not works), and pertains to our position in Christ. It is related to salvation by grace through faith.

CHOOSING ACCORDING TO THE BELIEVER’S PREPARATION

In contrast to our election by grace is our being chosen according to our preparation. Someday, Christ will make a judgment and choose those believers who will participate in His coming Kingdom. This is not a matter of grace, but of preparation on the believer’s part. The parable of the marriage feast in Matthew 22:1-14 addresses this matter. Space does not permit a full exposition of this parable here, but the reader can find this exposition elsewhere.[3]

The Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a wedding feast in the parable (v.2). God’s chosen people, the Jews, rejected the call to the Kingdom for the most part (vs. 3-6), and consequently God destroyed their city, Jerusalem (v.7). The call then went out to all (the Gentiles--Matt. 22:8-9; Acts 10; 11:17-18). When Christ returns to set up His Kingdom, He will judge all the gathered believers (Matt. 22:10-11; Matt. 16:27; Lk. 19:15; Ps. 50:3-6). That future judgment will be based upon our deeds, not our positional righteousness. We are clothed, initially and positionally, through Christ’s redemption, based upon His work (Lk. 15:22; Gal. 3:27). But our deeds after conversion will be the basis of the wedding garment (Matt. 22:12). This is seen in Chapter Nineteen of Revelation where "the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints" (Rev. 19:7-8).

Although all born again Christians receive a call to participate in the Kingdom, depicted by the wedding feast, only a few will be qualified by having the proper garment. The others will be cast into the "outer darkness", a region outside of the joyful feast. Sadly, the Bible records that "many are called [to be in the feast], but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14). More will be said about the "outer darkness" in a subsequent chapter.

ENTRY INTO THE PRESENT KINGDOM OF GOD

In the parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-32 the Lord Jesus rebuked the chief priests and the elders (Matt. 21:23). This parable compares the submissive son to the tax-gatherers and harlots, and the rebellious son to the leaders of Israel. Jesus commended the tax-gatherers and harlots as a son doing the will of the father (v.31). Jesus stated that, accordingly, "‘the tax-gatherers and harlots will get into [are getting into--present tense, Greek] the kingdom of God before you’" (v.31). What was the "will of the Father" in application to that generation? "The will of the father" was to believe John the Baptist (vs. 31-32). Entry into the present Kingdom (Col. 1:13) comes through faith. Therefore, Jesus pointed out that one must be as a child, coming to Him in simplicity, to receive this Kingdom and enter it (Mk. 10:13-16).

When Jesus chastised the scribes and Pharisees, He condemned them for not allowing people to enter the Kingdom which was then available: "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in" (Matt. 23:13; see also Lk. 11:52).

ENTRY INTO THE FUTURE KINGDOM OF GOD

Although the present Kingdom of God is entered by faith, entry into the coming Kingdom of the millennium is based upon works. Some Scriptures have already been developed to show that entry into the future Kingdom realm is dependent upon the believer’s doings. In a later chapter this matter will again be taken up in more detail.

God will render a righteous judgment as to which believers will be worthy of participation in the coming Kingdom and which will not. The Thessalonian believers are an example of worthy ones according to the Scripture:

"And this is a cause of our mentioning you with pride among the churches (assemblies) of God for your steadfastness--your unflinching endurance and patience--and your firm faith in the midst of all the persecutions and crushing distresses and afflictions under which you are holding up. This is positive proof of the just and right judgment of God to the end that you may be deemed deserving of His kingdom--a plain token of His fair verdict (which designs) that you should be made and counted worthy of the kingdom of God--for the sake of which you are also suffering" (2 Thess. 1:4-5, AMP).

HEIRS AS CHILDREN OF GOD

The Greek word used for "to inherit" is kleronomeo. Kleronomeo "strictly means ‘to receive a lot’ (kleros, ‘a lot’, nemonai, ‘to possess’); then, in a more general sense, ‘to possess oneself of, to receive as one’s own, to obtain.’"[4] The verb and its derived noun (inheritance) do not often carry our English meaning wherein one becomes an heir upon the death of a relative. The verses noted here tell of the inheritance, the possession, that we receive as believers simply by virtue of our being children of God. No other conditions are attached.

FELLOW HEIRS WITH CHRIST IN HIS COMING KINGDOM

Christ has been made "heir of all things" (Heb. 1:2). When He returns, He will set up the Kingdom on the earth and inherit (possess) it (Lk. 19:11-12; Heb. 1:6-9). We have an opportunity to be fellow heirs, co-possessors of His coming Kingdom, but such a possession is conditional for us. Romans 8:18-20 speaks of the glory of that coming Kingdom. These verses are preceded by Romans 8:17, which speaks of the condition whereby we might inherit this Kingdom. The Greek text may be rendered as follows with only a slight, permissible change in the punctuation:

"...and if children, then heirs--heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together."[5]

This rendering is by Greek professor Zane Hodges who makes these pertinent comments: "Under this rendering of the text, there are two forms of heirship. One of these is based on being children of God. The other is based on suffering with Christ. This distinction is crucial for understanding the New Testament teaching on this subject."[6]

Christ’s enduring obedience included suffering (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8; 12:3). As a result, He was given the highest position by God and will rule over all (Phil. 2:9-10; Heb. 1:9; 12:2). Our sharing of His rulership will also require obedience and suffering (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26; 3:21).

Conversely, a disobedient life will cause us to forfeit the Kingdom inheritance (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5). According to the context, these warnings of disinheritance are addressed to Christians, as indicated in the passages cited below.

"On the contrary you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that your brethren. Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:8-10).

In this passage, Paul was warning the believers who were doing unrighteous things. He was warning them, essentially saying, "You who are practicing sin (i.e. defrauding your brother--v. 8), don’t you know, don’t you realize that persons who practice sin shall not possess the Kingdom of God"? That the Kingdom of God referred to here is the coming millennial Kingdom of Christ is proven by a later reference to the Kingdom in First Corinthians. "Then comes the end [of the 1,000 years], when He [Christ] delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father" (1 Cor. 15:24) (see note 11 for Chapter Two). There is a parallel passage on disinheritance in Galatians:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outburst of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).

The church in Ephesus received a similar warning:

But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph. 5:3-5).

This has been a long chapter, and yet only some of the verses related to the two principles have been highlighted. This is evidence of how pervasive these principles are in the New Testament. Perhaps an illustration of the two principles will help to clarify this crucial matter in the reader’s mind. Have you ever been to a nice country club for an outing? If so, the club may have had a cloak room at which to check one’s hat and coat. The attendant takes your garments, gives you a check stub, and then puts away the hat and the coat. Let’s imagine that, for the sake of easy retrieval, the attendant puts all the ladies’ hats on one shelf and all the men’s hats on another shelf. A man’s hat on a lady’s shelf would be out of place!

These two principles are like the two shelves. There are lots of passages in the New Testament that belong on these two "shelves", but each passage needs to be placed on the proper one! Otherwise, we will get confused, even about the principles themselves! If one were to look at a shelf with both men’s and women’s hats on it, one might say at one time it is a shelf for men’s hats, and at another time that it is a shelf for lady’s hats. This has happened in the field of Bible doctrine over the centuries. Most teachers have tried to tie everything to eternal salvation. Since they see only this one shelf, the reward verses are also placed there and grace is confused.

On the other hand, some have seen the matter of reward (or recompense) for Christians, but have tried to transfer the term of "grace" from the other shelf to at least partially apply to the matter of reward. Some have not allowed "scary" recompense verses to enter the cloak room at all, thinking that surely these are not "hats" belonging to Christians, but only to false believers! All of this confusion is because neither believers nor teachers have a clear view of these two very different but very important principles. And both principles apply to every believer.

This chapter has probably been thought-provoking for the reader. These principles help us see how balanced and wise our God is. He knows that we were helpless to save ourselves (Rom. 5:6) from the condemnation of sin, so He accomplished this for us through Christ’s redemption. This is His mercy and grace. Yet, He is still a God of justice and expects men to be responsible for their actions. Thus, every man is accountable to God, and the Lord, "the righteous Judge" (2 Tim. 4:8), "will render to EVERY man according to his deeds" (Rom. 2:6). JUSTICE, not grace, will be active in the coming judgment. The principle of grace does not do away with the principle of reward for the believer.

Believers are not exempted from recompense. They have received a stewardship (Lk. 19:13) and are highly responsible as God’s stewards (1 Cor. 4:2; 9:17). Our life in this age is thus a test of our faithful stewardship and our enduring obedience. A recompense that is commensurate with the deeds in this life awaits every believer (2 Cor. 5:10). This recompense has to do with the coming millennial Kingdom of Christ, however, and not with our salvation in eternity with God, which is secured by grace.

It is hoped that by now our reader has a greater interest in cooperating with God in light of these things. The next chapter will highlight some very significant items related to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to prepare us for participation in the coming Kingdom. Before reading the next chapter, therefore, why don’t you take some time now to pray, asking the Lord to enlighten you and grant you grace so that you may cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] John F. Hart, "Does Philippians 1:6 Guarantee Progressive Sanctification?" Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Spring, 1996): 37-58; .

[2] See especially Chapters Ten, Fourteen, and Fifteen of Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (Miami Springs: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992).

[3] G. H. Lang, Pictures and Parables (Miami Springs: Conley & Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 1985), pp. 301-310.

[4] W. E. Vine, p. 325. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc.

[5] Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1981), p. 127.

[6] Ibid.