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Today I want to focus on Jesus’ first statement:
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. (Matt. 7:21, bold added)
Jesus is not mincing words: “If you want to have this new life I have come to bring you, you must be doing—living in—the will of my Father.” This is indeed a new life. A life perhaps you have yet to experience. But you can start to live it … now. Yes, you can start to experience at least a taste of heaven on earth, now.
But what is doing the will of the Father? What does it look like? Because I want this new life Jesus has to offer. This “Life in the flow of the Kingdom among us.” (Dallas Willard)
“Life in the flow of the Kingdom among us” is a much clearer word image for me than, “to enter the Kingdom of heaven.” I picture a river flowing. A broad river that has a strong current, with many white-water rapids along the way. This is the current of our sorry culture. It is sweeping us along, and if we do not swim counter-culturally we will flow right by that narrow gate about which Jesus warned:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)
I can flow right along with the current of the culture—that is easy to do. It is a strong current. It takes no effort. No proactive counter-cultural living required. Or I can seek that narrow estuary that leads to life in the flow of the current of the Kingdom. Once I enter that narrow estuary, it leads to a broad, deep, wonderful flowing river, full of life, teeming with positive energy, and, as the Holy Spirit says,
How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. (Eph. 3:18)
But before all you performance, can-do, “Give me a list and I will do it,” types try to jump on a list of activities, please understand that to do the will of God we must first know God—know him not as “God,” but as “My loving Heavenly Father.” This is exactly what Jesus was warning against in Matthew 7:22-23:
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!’
These folks are mistaking their resume list of activities for doing the will of the Father. And why? Because they do not know him. They may know plenty about him, but they do not know … him. I can hear Jesus saying, “You did all those things because they made you look good, or feel good, or satisfied your checklist religion. But you never took the time to get to know me.”
The great enemy of the modern church is this “check-list sense of religion.”
Jesus might even add, “Perhaps you stayed so busy with activities as a way of avoiding actually getting to know me?” We all know it is far easier to serve God than to know him.
So how to know God? First, it is all about surrender. Surrender my claim to any rights before the Father. Surrender any claim to my performance-based religion. Yes, surrender my very Self. And why? Because I can see clearly that I am in spiritually poverty without Jesus. This is what the first Beatitude means:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3)
You must recognize you are spiritually bankrupt without Jesus. That you bring nothing—not one thing—to the table. You can only bring your Self—your surrendered Self. Jesus says that when you do this the kingdom is immediately yours: “theirs … is … the kingdom of heaven.”
This is not an easy step for us can-do, performance-based men and women. But it is a critical first step, without which there are no future steps into the flow of the Kingdom among us. You will either surrender to the white-water rapids of the culture’s current, or the flow of the Kingdom’s current.
Your choice. But you cannot have it both ways.
Next Week: And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 18:3)