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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. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
It was that “I never knew you” that shook me up so badly. Jesus was making this startling statement to men and women who had just listed their resume of church activities. These really nice folks were in grave danger of falling victim to a false sense of security, based on their really good church and community involvement and activities.
This is worthy of our attention, no doubt. Yet recently the Holy Spirit has shown me what I was missing in Jesus’ warning. For the past seventeen years I have read these three verses as a warning against missing heaven and going to hell—a very real place, by the way, where Jesus says, many times, people who end up there are shocked.
But I have been missing Jesus’ emphasis first on “enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus spoke over and over again about the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God—(both the same.) He began his ministry with:
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has arrived.” (Matt. 4:17)
And after his resurrection Jesus finished his earthly ministry with this:
He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
All during his earthly ministry he seemed compelled to talk about the kingdom:
The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:42-43, Bold added)
“… because that is why I was sent?” I thought Jesus was sent to provide a way to salvation for those who would surrender and place their trust in him—and not in themselves. You may recall when God told Joseph to name the baby “Jesus,” he said:
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matt. 1:21)
And when John the Baptist saw Jesus he exclaimed:
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
Yet, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
I can hear him saying, “Yes, I will do those things so that you will have the chance to go to heaven when you die, but I am compelled, I am motivated to show you how to go to heaven … now!”
And so am I.
As the story progresses in the book of Acts, the disciples are imprisoned. But when the angel freed the disciples, he gave them these instructions:
“Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” (Acts 5:20)
This new life? Yes, this new life in the kingdom … now.
Now I see Matthew 7:21 in a new light, the light Jesus intended:
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.
He is saying that we will not enter “this new life” unless we are living within and for the will of our Heavenly Father. Not perfectly, mind you. This is not a salvation issue, although of course one must be saved to even see the kingdom. It is about “Life in the flow of the Kingdom among us, now.”[i]
What does this new life look like? It can be captured in the presence of the Holy Spirit within us:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and Spirit-control. (Galatians 5:22-23, slight paraphrase)
This is indeed a new life. A life perhaps you have yet to experience. But you can have it. You can start to live it … now. Yes, you can start to have heaven on earth, now.
Next Week: How to do the will of the Father so that we can enter the kingdom now?
[i] Dallas Willard