Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as both the most challenging and the most joyful place to live your life.
Jesus says the kingdom is so awesome that to get in is worth any effort (Matthew 6:33), to get in is worth any price (Matthew 13:44-46).
But who gets in ? What barriers can keep us from experiencing it ? First, in Mark 1:15, Jesus said:
“The Time has come.
The Kingdom of God is at Hand.
Repent and Believe the Good News!”
This is an invitation to the Kingdom… and it is offered to you!
The first step is to understand what it means to Repent and Believe the Good News.
Already got that first crucial step down ?
Great! Now we are going to look at who actually experiences the Kingdom and what kinds of things can keep us from it. We are going to steal a lot of these ideas from an old theologian named William Barclay in his book “The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer for Everyman”. The following are all based on the actual teachings of Jesus.
WHO EXPERIENCES IT ?
Those who truly struggle to obey !
This one sounds crazy but Christianity that serenely and unquestioningly accepts the will of God without struggle is NOT the kind of faith that Jesus had. Jesus Christ sweated blood in the agony of the battle to accept the will of God for his life. See Luke 29:41-44. God will call you to things where it is difficult to obey – so if my prayer is “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done in my life as it is in heaven” chances are I am going to struggle with it! There is no shame in the struggle and it is not a sign of a lack of faith
Those who see themselves as desperately wretched
It is the poor humble person who in their helplessness and trouble put their whole trust in God. The kingdom is for the one who recognizes the obligation to do the will of God, but who also recognizes his utter inability to di it without the help that God can give. If I think I am doing just fine, I will hear the gates to the Kingdom close behind me. See Romans 7:21-25.
Those who are child-like in their humility and trust
Jesus said the Kingdom of God belongs to those who humbly and completely trust their heavenly Father the way a young child would a loving parent. See Matthew 18:2-4.
Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake
If you are actually going to live out your faith and take a stand for Jesus and his values, sooner or later it will cost you. You may not experience hard-core persecution, but unpopularity, ridicule, and loneliness can be part of the walk of faith. Jesus did not promise us an easy life, he promised us a holy life that ends in joy. We need to be bold and honest about the great gift of the gospel we have been given.
Those who choose the law of love over the rules of self-justification
If Christianity was just about obeying rules and being upright, then once you had completed your check list, the law of God would have no more claim on you. God would need to leave you alone in your free time. But the Kingdom is about love, and a characteristic of love is that you never exhaust it, you can never fully satisfy its demands. This doesn’t mean you should be driven by guilt, but it does mean there is no square inch of your time that does not belong to God. You need to experience rest and Sabbath, but you also need to see your entire life as God’s possession. And to realize that loving your neighbor is a major part of being a Christian. See Matthew 5:17-20
Those who produce fruit in keeping with repentance
We don’t have to be good enough for the Kingdom or to try to earn our way there. But a natural response to truly recognizing what God has done for us is to be about the business of our heavenly father out of love for Him. According to Jesus these things include:
- Sharing the Good News of the gospel with others
- Feeding the hungry, and providing water for the thirsty
- Inviting the Stranger in
- Clothing the naked,
- Looking after the sick,
- Visiting the prisoner
- Defending the weak
- Enjoying the Party! – According to Jesus, the main image of the Kingdom of God is not dutiful labor, it is a joyous party. A key practice is self-forgetful parties and gatherings where we celebrate the gifts of God and the gifts of each other’s company. We are to play our part to make sure such gatherings happen, to include others (the stranger) in the festivities, and to enjoy them without a shred of guilt!
Often when we purse these activities, we find over time, that a new awareness of the Kingdom of God sneaks up on us. It is as if we can not grasp it directly, only indirectly as we seek to live out our faith in practical ways.
Do you see yourself living out at least one of the descriptions above ? Did anything here convict you ? If so, stop and take a moment to have an honest discussion about it with God in prayer.
WHAT BARRIERS CAN KEEP YOU FROM EXPERIENCING IT ?
Profession of faith without the actual practice of faith is probably one of the most common faults within the church. (See Matthew 7:21) Sometimes we are more interested in the ideas of theology and doctrine than in actually living them out. Our faith can’t be just in our head or in our words. We must do it, or as James says “Faith without works… is dead.”
An Unforgiving Spirit
A merciless man can have no fellowship with the merciful God. A heart of hatred has automatically shut itself off to the love of God. There is no place in the Kingdom for any one who nourishes a grudge in their heart against someone else. (See Matthew 18:23-35). We must try to reconcile, and even if that is impossible, we must forgive and let go of hatred on our side.
Money make entrance impossible but it makes it harder for two reasons. First, possession of many material things tends to fix a person’s interests and thoughts to this world. Second, riches can become what someone has called “a rival salvation.” They tend to give a false sense of security. We can trust more in our finances than in our God. (See Matthew 9:24 and Mark 8:36). The same two snares can come from a career or a cause. We can think it is so important (read: what We are doing is so important) that we become too focused and obsessed with the things of this earth. In Colossians 3:1-2 Paul says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Lack of Sabbath
God is not a task master who tells you to produce more bricks with less straw (Exodus 5:4-9). In fact, that is exactly the kind of lifestyle the Kingdom of God was mean to deliver us from! If you are so busy, so frantic, so hurried that there is not time for rest… if you are so burned out that you feel… burned out… something has to change. A quick test for burn-out is this – if everyone seems gross to you, or if you have no true desire to just hang out with anyone, or if nothing that used to be truly enjoyable feels that way, or if you greatest fantasy is to escape – you are probably burned out. One of the ten commandments is to honor the Sabbath which includes time for worship and deep rest. If you are running too fast or you are too fried you wont be available to God’s Holy Spirit. Like dirty window panes, your soul will lose sight of the Kingdom. See Matthew 11:28-30.
Do any of these barriers have your name on it ? If so, what is a practical, small step you could take to put it aside ? Have an honest conversation with God about it and ask the Holy Spirit to do a might work in you – ask God to help you take the steps to a more healthy faith.