How to enter the Kingdom

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by John E. Werhan

The Kingdom was established after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Peter opened the doors of the Kingdom to the Jews on the day of Pentecost some 50 days after Jesus’ death (Acts 2) and to the Gentiles with the household of Cornelius (Acts 10). The Kingdom is not a physical kingdom but a spiritual kingdom with our Lord as King sitting at the right hand of God.

The Kingdom of God is not something that is in our future but is here today.

To understand what one must do to enter into the Kingdom it is imperative to consider Jesus’ teaching on this topic. In the third chapter of John’s gospel he records the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. Jesus explains to Nicodemus what he must do to enter the Kingdom, which is truly applicable to all from that point until his coming in Judgment.

Nicodemus knew that Jesus’ teaching was authoritative.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:1-2.)

Jesus authoritatively taught the necessity of an individual being born again.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Jesus made it plain that one must be “born again” if they were to enter into the “kingdom of God”. Thayer defines the word “again/anew” as, 1) from above, from a higher place 1a) of things which come from heaven or God 2) from the first, from the beginning, from the very first 3) anew, over again. In essence the individual must be born from above.

Nicodemus was somewhat confused.

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4).

He had the mindset of the physical, whereas Jesus was talking about the spiritual. Knowing that an individual cannot be literally born a second time from his mother’s womb, Nicodemus was asking for more information to the meaning of being born again. If it was a physical rebirth no person could fulfill the requirement to enter into the Kingdom of God.

Jesus explains the meaning of one being born again.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6).

Jesus makes it clear that to be born again one is to be born of water (baptism) and the Spirit (spiritual rebirth – See: Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 19:1-7; 1 Peter 3:21). In verse six of John 5 he makes it clearer that he is talking about a spiritual birth, not a physical rebirth.

Jesus then noted the essentiality of being “born again of the water and spirit”.

Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).

Jesus plainly teaches that for any individual to enter God’s Kingdom they must be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38) and be added by God Himself (Acts 2:47). Have you been born again as taught in the inspired text?

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J. Randal Matheny

Servant of the Lord at GoSpeak
Randal and his wife have lived and worked in Brazil since 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. Randal's a lefty, a chocolate lover, an author and a poet.

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9 thoughts on “How to enter the Kingdom

  1. Your quotes are a bit selective. You missed this verse:

    John3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”

    Jesus suggests that Nicodemus as a teacher of Israel should have understood what Jesus meant from the OT – yet you muddle the timeline by suggesting that Jesus expected that Nicodemus would understand His teaching as referring to Christian baptism, which was not established in the future till after Jesus resurrection. How does that work?

    The OT does, however, speak of being “born” of water and the Spirit:

    Ezek36:25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

    Of course, the water applied is both figurative (a washing done by the Lord) and “sprinkled” so I can see why you missed it.

    The NT teaches that Jesus baptizes with the Spirit (Matt3:11;Mark1:8). That is the baptism which corresponds perfectly to salvation and that is the only washing that can make us clean. Water baptism is not itself that spiritual washing – it can only “remove dirt from the flesh” (1Pet3:21) – but rather it is a sign or symbol that points us toward the true cleansing that only Jesus can perform (again, typically described as pouring or sprinkling – Isa52:15; 1Pet1:2; Acts10:45; Acts2:17).

    Abraham remains the covenant father of the true faithful in the NT (Gal3; Rom4:11-16) and those passages teach that he was clearly justified by faith alone, even before he received the sign of the covenant. You take a big risk to teach adding works like baptism as essential when we, just like Abraham, are saved by faith in Christ alone.

  2. It amazes me how people believe baptism is a work we do. Baptism is done to us and for us. My nephew was kidnapped. My nephew was baptized. In either sentence, my nephew was not the doer. It was done to him.1 Peter 3:20-21 clearly explains that baptism does not remove the dirt from our skin, but an asnwer of a good conscience.Colossians 2:11-13 says you are buried with Him in baptism, in which you are raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,” Saul after the road to Demascus prayed 3 days but was told in Acts 22:16 “to be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” If prayer could wash away his sins, why was he told this after 3 days of prayer? Faith without works is dead! James 2:20-24

  3. Charles,

    You said, “Abraham remains the covenant father of the true faithful in the NT (Gal3; Rom4:11-16) and those passages teach that he was clearly justified by faith alone, even before he received the sign of the covenant. You take a big risk to teach adding works like baptism as essential when we, just like Abraham, are saved by faith in Christ alone.

    Now let me share with you a lesson that Jesus was trying to share with Nicodemus – a lesson on humility.

    I challenge you now, as I believe I have challenged you in the past, to show me where God’s word ever says that I, you, Abraham or anyone else is saved by faith alone.

    Unfortunately you are wrongly accusing the writer of the article of doing to very thing that you’re doing yourself…adding to God’s word; for I believe I will be waiting for quite some time before you can show me where God’s word actually says what you have attempted to make it say.

    I would encourage you to read Proverbs 30:5-6, and along with that I would finish by saying:

    Your quotes are a bit selective. You missed this verse:

    Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:21-24 – NKJV)

  4. “…a lesson that Jesus was trying to share with Nicodemus – a lesson on humility.”

    But would it have been humbling for Jesus to ask him what device you play mp3s on? Again, did Nicodemus have the information to answer Jesus or not? The context says that Jesus was not expecting Nicodemus to interpret the future so much as the OT.

    “show me where God’s word ever says that I, you, Abraham or anyone else is saved by faith alone.”

    Easy. The thief on the cross. He believed and was saved without anything but that faith. Some of you probably suppose he was saved under the “old covenant.” But Jer31:32/Heb8:9 say that the old covenant was established with Moses at Sinai when God brought Israel “out of the land of Egypt.” It is also called “the Law” and the NT makes clear repeatedly that NO ONE was ever saved under the old covenant (Heb10:4; Gal2:16, 3:11).

    Rom3:20″For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.”

    Gal5:4″You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”

    Have you ripped all of Galatians out of your bible?

    Of course, it’s a bit silly to even make this argument. The thief was not a lawkeeper in the first place. But Heb11 teaches that even the “lawgiver” Moses was not saved by the law but by faith, because he “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.” According to the scriptures, Moses was a Christian. As Heb11 says, he and the rest of the OT believers only saw “from afar” and did not have the detailed picture of Christ that we have in the NT, but the promise of Gen3:15 was enough for them to be saved by faith in Christ.

    What you seem to miss is that circumcision was hardly “optional” for Israel in the OT. God went on a rampage when Moses neglected to mark his son (Exod4:24) and being uncircumcised meant being exiled in a time when exile usually meant death. (Gen17:14). God told Abraham to be circumcised and he obeyed, but as I noted above, the Spirit inspired Paul to make VERY clear that it was the faith that saved Abraham, not the obedience that followed from his faith.

    (Even the OT makes clear that it was never physical circumcision that saved, but that mark was meant to point to the need for heart circumcision – Jer4:4; Deut10:16, 30:6. Yet still some reach for the mantle of the Pharisees and merely replace circumcision with baptism.)

    Now as Martin Luther put it, “we are saved by faith alone, but true faith is never alone.” James and Galatians can co-exist in my bible. Paul repeatedly taught salvation by faith alone…and that such faith would motivate obedience even as he taught that such works didn’t save. Naturally, there were haters in his time who accused Paul of teaching license…here’s how he responds to them:

    Rom3:8″And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.”

    Many on this site deny the teaching of Acts10. Jesus washed Cornelius and the gentiles clean with his very Spirit. What God has called clean, you would be foolish to call unclean. The racist Jews of that day saw that clearly and invited them – as clean – into the church with water baptism. Yet some would claim these gentiles were still unclean until they were washed by men with mere H2O. It would be laughable if it weren’t mocking God and the sufficiency of Christ.

    To repeat, Abraham is “the father of ALL who believe” (Rom4:11) and, while it’s true that he obeyed, scripture makes clear that he was saved when he believed – BEFORE he obeyed (Rom4:9,10). If Abraham is not your covenant father, on that basis of faith alone, the scripture teaches that you don’t have Christ either. “Let God be true and every man a liar.”

    1. That’s what I thought. Senseless rambling and debating with yourself about topics and questions that I never asked.

      You failed to quote one scripture, one single scripture that says a person, any person, is saved by faith alone; but you did manage to quote the doctrines and commandments of men which is very typical of your circular logic that comes from a closed spiritual mind.

      A person is saved by faith alone you say; yet you turn around and say that “true faith” is never alone. Huh??? How can a person be saved by faith alone if a faith that saves is never alone? Can’t you hear the absurdity in what you’re saying?

      I have attempted many times to start a dialogue with you but your incessant rambling and refusal to follow simple requests make it nearly impossible to do so.

      The liar is found in those who add to God’s word (again, see Proverbs 30:5-6) and to say that God’s word ever says faith alone has saved or will save anyone is adding to it.

      Faith only in Jesus, and faith that is alone are two different things. I believe in one while you believe in the other.

      As a matter of fact, I’ve said it before in our conversations and it bears repeating, the only time the words “faith” and “alone” appear together in the scriptures is in James 2:24; and these are words just so happen to deal with the way that father Abraham was justified before God.

      Stick your finger in your ears all you want my friend, the Bible says what the Bible says; and I say unto you please listen (Galatians 3:26-27).

  5. Charles,

    Belief and obedience are textually equivalent, as seen in these 2 verses:

    John 3: 36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

    Hebrews 3: 18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19[So] we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.

  6. “You failed to quote one scripture, one single scripture that says a person, any person, is saved by faith alone.”

    So what works did the thief perform to earn his salvation? Paul says clearly that “one is justified by faith APART FROM works of the law.” (Rom3:28) “And to the one who DOES NOT WORK but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness APART FROM works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.’ ” (Rom4:5-7) “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by WORKS of the law OR by hearing with FAITH?” (Gal3:2)

    I quoted several of these scriptures already – it seems you failed to read them. For Paul, it’s one or the other. For purposes of his argument, he does break apart faith and works in order to show that believing the promises of God by faith is what saves us, just like the thief on the cross and just like Abraham. Salvation is a gift – even if you deny it. If salvation were at all by works, it would be something earned rather than a gift. (Rom4:4)

    So Paul states that Abraham was declared righteous/justified by faith alone, PRIOR to obedience. James seems to say that Abraham was not justified by “faith” but by works (which happened decades after Paul claims Abraham was counted as righteous by God). Logically, both cannot be true. You need to cut Paul’s writings out of your bible if you want to keep James.

    The problem is that you are misreading James, who agrees with Paul but is writing from a different viewpoint. Paul is writing to those like you, Eugene, who deny Christ by their pride in their works. James is looking at one who “says he has ‘faith’ but does not have works.” James says, “I will show you my faith by my works” and that is all he is saying about Abraham. James even quotes the same verse as Paul, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” That is to say, Abraham was “counted as righteous” when he believed (decades earlier, in Gen15) but he also showed his faith by offering up Isaac in obedience (in Gen22). Abraham’s faith was a true faith, not mere intellectual assent (as exemplified by James’ example about the demons) and not the dead/false faith that James is addressing. But even James admits in 2:23 that God counted Abraham as righteous and called him a friend decades before that example of obedience, so it’s a mistake to interpret James use of the word “justified” in the same sense as Paul typically uses it.

    To sum up, James had issues with demons and those “without works.” And Paul agreed in 1Cor5 when a man was shacked up with his step-mom, which appalled even the pagans, that such open disobedience meant the man should be removed from the church (in spite of his claimed faith and baptism) until his repentance. They were on the same page.

    Which gets back to the main point, the writer of this article includes in that number of knaves those who believe Acts10-11 when it describes baptism as a “pouring out…falling (from above)” [“the Holy Spirit FELL upon all those who heard the word…the gift of the Holy Spirit had been POURED OUT on the Gentiles also… Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be BAPTIZED with the Holy Spirit.’ “] They were not immersed in the Holy Spirit, but they were baptized by pouring…such that Peter was reminded of the baptism of John…which must have been by pouring also. The NT even repeatedly contrasts baptism with immersion. Israel is “baptized” by the literal waters of the Red Sea (by sprinkling at most) in 1Cor10:1 but it’s the Egyptians who are immersed; Noah’s example corresponds to baptism in 1Pet3:20-21 but the flood waters at most sprinkled or poured on him, while the ungodly were immersed, but again, not described as “baptized.”

    The logic behind equating a missionary to Kenya who has been baptized as Acts10 says, by pouring, with the demons or pagans listed above as biblical examples boggles the mind. Werhan says those who obediently accepted baptism by pouring or sprinkling and continue to live lives of submission to Christ will not see the kingdom because the water hit them wrong. (Or even someone who accepts Christ and then dies before they can be baptized.) The level of disobedience described by Paul and James is nowhere near in view. They are not being disobedient to Jesus, they are at most being disobedient to YOU.

    You stake your salvation on your “obedience” in being immersed and that’s a really iffy proposition in a number of ways. Paul’s question in Gal3:2 above is answered in Acts10:47 – the Spirit is received by faith, not works…even while works are an appropriate response to grace (Ezek36 even says that the Spirit will “CAUSE you to walk in my statutes.”) But remember that James and Paul are united in saying that just getting that one “work” correct won’t cut it since you have chosen to rely on your works:

    Gal3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
    James2:10For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

    1. I’m still waiting for that verse that says by “faith alone. Stop adding the word “alone” and start giving the scripture that actually says itself.

      You said, “James is looking at one who “says he has ‘faith’ but does not have works.

      Exactly! What good does faith alone do any person according to James and the rest of the New Testament? It does absolutely no good! Because faith alone has never and will never be a faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). By your own definition a faith that acts is a faith that is not alone! So you can sit there and double speak all day with the little saying that says, “a person is saved by faith alone, but a saving faith is never alone” but all you’re saying is that faith alone is a contradiction of terms that can never exist when it comes to salvation.

      I wish you would learn to distinguish between the works of Moses’ law and the works of faith that lead to righteousness. Abraham was justified before the works of the law of Moses was given. That’s the works that Paul is talking about! Try reading your prove-nothing “proof-texts” in context with Romans 3:20 – Romans 4:3. Abraham believed God and he was justified by faith, absolutely yes. And do you know what that means? That means he moved – he moved by faith at the promise of God! (Romans 4:18-22)

      And by the way, have you ever stopped for one second and thought that maybe, just maybe, that one of the reasons Nicodemus was having a hard time understanding any talk about being born-again by water and the Spirit was because the group that he belonged to had outright rejected the very baptism that was being preached about to them! And submitting to John’s baptism had nothing to do with a person earning his or her salvation – but to reject it was to reject the grace of God that led up to the very remission of sins that they were being baptized for.

      If a person rejected the baptism of John while it was in force they rejected the righteousness of God and they were lost – not because they failed to earn their salvation but because they failed to believe God.

      If a person rejects the baptism given by Jesus (which was given after the thief on the cross – Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38) they reject the righteousness of God and they are lost – not because they failed to earn their salvation but because they failed to believe God.

      You can sit there in your supposed “faith filled piety” but Ananias would say the same thing to you that he said to a man who knew that Jesus was the resurrected Christ – “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16) I don’t think Paul argued with Ananias about he couldn’t do that because that would make him earn his salvation – no, Paul listened because he believed God, because he knew that a faith that saves is a faith that listens.

      Reject the word of God and you reject the possibility of enjoying the blessings of the kingdom of God. That’s the whole point of John 3 from verse 1 to verse 36!

  7. Tom,

    Belief and obedience go together. Faith without works is not a real faith. We are justified by a real, living faith and not a dead “faith” that shouldn’t even be described by the word “faith” (which is James’ point in James2:24).

    But if they were really “textually equivalent,” Paul’s argument would not make sense. He would not keep making the point that it is faith “apart from” works that saves us, even while it still remains true that the Spirit works within us to conform us to the image of Christ and provide evidence of that internal faith (i.e. “cause us to obey” as Ezek36 puts it).

    But the point of the main article is that you need to obey the immersionist teaching about baptism (even while there’s no way that Nicodemus would have understood that as the point Jesus was making) in order to be saved. Even if you believe and plan to be baptized by immersion the next week but die before your baptism, the author suggests that without the magic waters of baptism, you cannot enter the kingdom.

    If you are saved by faith alone, being cleansed by God and renewed by His Spirit as described in Ezek36 is all you need. You can rest in Jesus’ work alone. If He baptizes you with His Spirit, you are pleasing to God. But if you accept the article and need a certain specific work of obedience before you can earn forgiveness, you had best get everything right because if you claim to be justified by your lawkeeping, you are obligated to keep the whole law.

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