“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” — Matthew 7:21-23
This passage should perk your ears because it discusses the entry requirements for the kingdom of heaven, that sacred state where the soul enjoys peace, joy, and validation (Romans 10:17). It is the one true sanctuary of the human soul that seems so evasive in our day and age. The kingdom of heaven is not something far away in space or time. It is near, ready to be experienced by you and me. We just need to enter it. How do we do that?
Ironically, some extremely religious people will be shocked to learn they will not be admitted to the kingdom. These pious and devoted members are doing great things for God–amazing ministries like prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles. But in their preoccupation with good works, they overlook one important requirement–they never knew Jesus Christ. Beneath the pomp and flash lies a nominal faith bereft of substance. At the gate of the kingdom, Jesus says He will send away such people in disgust, likening them to those who “practice lawlessness”. Instead of praise and honor, they are treated as rebellious, godless, idol-worshipers, exposed for giving such unbridled freedom to their lusty ambitions and vanity. Invoking the Lord’s name does not miraculously add validity to their endeavors.
It is possible to undertake powerful, positive ministries in the name of the Lord without knowing Christ. I do this a lot. Such behavior reveals an ugly side of pride and self-reliance, and a contempt for the unnoticeable tasks He has for me. Tasks which appear insignificant from my vantage point, but are hugely important from His.
There is a connection between knowing Christ and doing the will of the Father in heaven. They are related, and collectively they form the key requirement for entering the kingdom of heaven. The common denominator is submission–willingness to do whatever God asks.
To do God’s will, we must first know what it is. We do not learn it from parents, Sunday School teachers, or peers. Knowledge of God’s will is obtainable only through quiet, meditative, and methodical reading and handling of the Bible. We learn from the Word the many forms of submission. We can invite Christ to abide with us (John 15:5), to settle into the throne of our soul (Ephesians 3:17). We can capture our thoughts in obedience to Him (II Corinthians 10:4-5) and share His mind (I Corinthians 2:16). We can offer Him the members of our body–our mind, hands, mouth, will, emotions (Romans 6:12-13). We can present ourselves as a pleasing sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). We can follow Him where He leads, not knowing where He’s going but finding contentment through the strength He provides (Philippians 4:11-13). We can make Him the very essence of our life (Colossians 3:4). We drift and stumble off the path from time to time, but we can cease hiding and come to Him in full disclosure (John 3:19-21), recognizing our desperate need for Him. The Father fully knowing and child fully known, reunited in knowledge. And in that knowledge, we discover life–the state of existing in the kingdom of heaven (John 17:3).
Paul speaks of the connection between knowing Christ and submission in his letter to the Philippians. He calls us to share Jesus Christ’s humble and willing attitude by which He offered Himself to do God’s will (Philippians 2:3-11). He discredits our vain pursuits, demonstrating their uselessness compared to the simple value of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). Like two laborers in a field, we share a certain camaraderie with Christ when we do the will of the Father as He did. We have “fellowship” with Him when we share in His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Jesus knows the ones who have this kind of attitude. They intimate friends of His. When they show up, He opens the door and welcomes them in to the kingdom.
Submission to God’s will is the key.
He may ask you to do a simple thing, trivial by our standards. A kind word to a spouse, for example. How many times are spouses neglected at the altar of Christian duty? It may be children who seem content and self-sufficient, but below the surface need their daddy’s attention. It may be going to work with thankfulness and joy on an otherwise dreary day. A kind word in the hallway. An appreciative email.
There was a time and place when I was heavily involved in serving the community. I took great pride in volunteering my time and energy for a good cause, certain I was doing God’s will and accumulating all kinds of spiritual merit badges. But when my marriage needed attention, I had to release my vice-grip on community service. It was not easy letting go of something that gave me so much validation to take on routine tasks for someone without any material needs. But the path Jesus led me down was filled with quiet evenings together with my spouse–date nights, movies, making dinner, washing dishes. We should never despise the ministry we’re given, no matter how small. It should not matter if people notice it. God honors things the flashy world will never recognize.
Sometimes I think we get all whacked out because life seems mundane and we’re fearful we’re not racking up enough worthwhile accomplishments. We want to leave a legacy, shake the earth, make a noise for God. We sense the church in decline so we want to do big things to get God back on the good side of people. God does not need our expansive ministries. He is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything (Acts 17:25). Every beast is His, the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), so we should not presume that He needs us our single cow as a burnt offering. He’d rather have us be fair and kind, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:6-8).
When the Lord leads us to some great ministry, we should be wary of the many forms of selfish ambition. Jesus is not looking for compulsory obligation or pious devotion. Don’t jump in because you have an intense desire for validation. When visiting Mary and Martha, Jesus praised the quiet Mary, not the busy Martha (Luke 10:38-42).
If you want to experience the spiritual rest in the kingdom of heaven, be quiet, get to know Jesus, and read His word with a submissive heart. Discover God’s will…what pleases Him, what He likes, how He wants us to treat each other. Be willing to conform yourself and your ways accordingly.