Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Are You Going to Inherit the Kingdom of Heaven?

There’s a lot of confusion regarding Christianity. Calling oneself a Christian seems to be something thrown out there without much thought. People give it more thought to identifying themselves with a certain college when it comes to sports than they do about religion. Are you a Hawkeye? Oh yeah! Definitely! Are you a Christian? Yeah, I guess so.

It’s probably because to say you’re not a Christian you would get questions like, “What, you don’t believe there’s a God?” or “Are you an atheist?” Or some people might think you believe in some other religion like Islam, Buddhism, etc.

However, in America most people refer to themselves as Christian. Even if they don’t believe in it necessarily, it’s easier to say, “I’m a Christian” because to do otherwise would make you different or stand out. Even politicians identify as Christian, but only to get the vote or to sway their constituents to follow some objective they’re trying to promote. Take Hillary Clinton for instance. She says that as a Methodist she follows Christ’s command to care for the least of these by how she cares for children and the poor.

Many people wouldn’t bat an eye at someone like Clinton claiming to be a Christian. To care for children and the poor are Christian-like attitudes and beliefs. But like Satan in the Garden of Eden, he used God’s own words but then twisted the meaning. Gen 3:4-5 – “’You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Or how about when Satan confronted Jesus, he actually tried to twist God’s words to the one who is the Word Himself!

Matthew 4:3-10
3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

This is not to say Hillary Clinton is the devil, obviously. But a lot of people take pieces of the Bible to support something they believe or promote and then take it out of context. God’s Word is consistent from beginning to end. If a certain Scripture is used to support a policy to help the less fortunate, such as providing welfare, but then ignore far weightier matters such as abortion, then God’s words are taken out of context. Jesus confronted such people in His day by calling them hypocrites.

Matthew 23: 1-7
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

Then Jesus provided seven examples that were preceded by the words, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!”:

1 You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.

2 You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

3 You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

4 You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

5 You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

6 You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

7 You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

Being a Christian is so much more than claiming to be one, just like the Pharisees who claimed to be children of Abraham. Jesus said in John 8, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants…If you were Abraham’s children then you would do what Abraham did…You are doing the works of your own father…You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies…The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

In writing the Galatians, the Apostle Paul told them, and by extension the rest of us, what it looks like between those who follow Christ and those who do not follow Christ. Those that follow and identify with Christ are the ones who will inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5: 19-24
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Does this mean that if you have ever done any one of those things that you aren’t a Christian and won’t go to heaven? No, of course not. If you have surrendered to Christ and asked Him to be your Lord and Savior, you receive grace and forgiveness. You begin to change from the first list (the flesh) to the second list (the Spirit). You begin to identify with God’s characteristics more and more every day. You also begin to hate and have a struggle with the flesh. Even the Apostle Paul after his conversion said in Romans 7, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it…For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am!”

The Apostle Paul hated sin and the acts of the flesh. He knew of the struggles but wasn’t bound by them. He identified with Christ and surrendered his life to live like Christ. Think about this, when you grew up in your home, you identified with your family and your attitudes and demeanor were like that of your father and mother. It’s like that with Jesus. When you switch allegiances from following the devil, you leave behind the acts of the flesh and begin to identify with God’s family and begin to identify with Him, which is the fruit of the Spirit.

But which list do you and your heart and attitude identify with? If you haven’t made a conscious decision to follow Jesus, to surrender your will to His, then you likely identify with the acts of the flesh. Here’s the list of the acts of the flesh and what each means:

Sexual immorality –  porneia. This word is also translated as “whoredom,” “fornication,” and “idolatry.” It means “a surrendering of sexual purity”, and it is primarily used of premarital sexual relations. From this Greek word we get the English word pornography, stemming from the concept of “selling off.” Sexual immorality is the “selling off” of sexual purity and involves any type of sexual expression outside the boundaries of a biblically defined marriage relationship (Matthew 19:4–5).

Impurity –                  This word in the Greek is akatharsia, which means “defiled, foul, ceremonially unfit.” It connotes actions that render a person unfit to enter God’s presence. Those who persist in unrepentant immorality and impurity cannot come into the presence of God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8; Psalm 24:3–4). It is impossible to maintain a healthy intimacy with God when our bodies and souls are given over to impurities of any kind.

Debauchery –            or sensuality. The habitual and unrestrained indulgence of lust and sensuality. There are several places in Scripture where the word debauchery is used to indicate what we would today call "partying." It encompasses several aspects of unholy living, including but not limited to sexual immorality, drunkenness, crude talk, and generally out-of-control behavior.

Idolatry –                    According to Webster, is “the worship of idols or excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.” An idol is anything that replaces the one, true God. The most prevalent form of idolatry in Bible times was the worship of images that were thought to embody the various pagan deities.

Witchcraft –               or sorcery. The Bible has a lot to say about witchcraft. Witchcraft and its many cousins, such as fortune-telling and necromancy, are Satan’s counterfeits to holy spirituality. The Bible expressly condemns all forms of witchcraft. There are only two sources of spiritual power: God and Satan. Satan has only the power that God allows him to have, but it is considerable (Job 1:12; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 20:2). To seek spirituality, knowledge, or power apart from God is idolatry, closely related to witchcraft. First Samuel 15:23 says, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” Witchcraft is Satan’s realm, and he excels in counterfeiting what God does. When Moses performed miracles before Pharaoh, the magicians did the same things through demonic power (Exodus 8:7). At the heart of witchcraft is the desire to know the future and control events that are not ours to control. Those abilities belong only to the Lord. This desire has its roots in Satan’s first temptation to Eve: “You can be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

Hatred –                      or enmity. Biblically speaking, there are positive and negative aspects to hatred. It is acceptable to hate those things that God hates; indeed, this is very much a proof of a right standing with God. “Let those who love the Lord hate evil” (Psalm 97:10a). However, the hatred that is negative surely has to be that which is directed against others. Hatred is a poison that destroys us from within, producing bitterness that eats away at our hearts and minds. This is why the Scriptures tell us not to let a “root of bitterness” spring up in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). So heinous is the position of hate before God that a man who hates is said to be walking in darkness, as opposed to the light (1 John 2:9, 11). The worst situation is that of a man who continues professing religion but remains at enmity with his brother. In addition, the act of murder itself was certainly condemned, but hatred is a “heart” sin, and any hateful thought or act is an act of murder in God’s eyes for which justice will be demanded, possibly not in this life but at the judgment.

Discord –                     or strife. You can look in the world today and see no shortage of strife which can be defined as a vigorous or bitter conflict, discord, or antagonism toward someone else or others. Strife could include being in a quarrel, struggle, or clash with others or another person and might even include an armed conflict but is not limited to being in competition or rivalry with someone else or with others. Strife sometimes includes a bitter and even violent disagreement even with those who are in authority.

Jealousy –                   Jealousy has been defined as resentment against a rival or a person who has been more successful.  It could be an uneasiness born from a fear or suspicion of unfaithfulness or a rivalry of another person or thing.  A workaholic may be jealous of someone else’s success and so is driven to a compulsion to work as hard as humanly possible to gain an advantage over a co-worker.   If we put something or someone above our desire or love for God, God will be jealous over that thing or person because we value that over Who we should value most and that is God.  Jesus said that we should “love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, mind, soul and strength”.

Fits of rage –              or fits of anger. Rage is an uncontrollable anger that results in someone temporarily losing control, risking great harm to themselves, to others, and to personal property. Rage can lead to fury or violent anger that is displayed publicly or privately. Rage is described as the behavior of the ungodly and it’s a fruit of the flesh from which nothing good ever comes.  Someone that is easily provoked into a fit of rage had better examine themselves to see if they are actually in the faith because they should be showing fruits such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”.  Rage is nearly the opposite of self-control.

Selfish ambition –    or rivalries. It means to be self-seeking and always looking out for one’s own interests above the interests of anyone else. The Greek word for selfish ambition is eritheia, and the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle defined selfishly ambitious people as those who want to achieve political office by making themselves look bigger and better before others through trickery. Eritheia thus identifies heart motives of pride, self-love, and self-advancement. It reveals the drive to put oneself ahead of others, and to deceive by "spinning" the truth in order to look good and hide the inner selfish purposes as one pursues getting his own way.

Dissensions –             or seditions. Dissensions is a translation of the Greek word dichostasia, which literally means "standing apart”. Dissension means more than just disagreements or an emotional exchange of ideas. It indicates an "escalation" which may have originated in a simple discussion, which escalated to a loud exchange, which led to anger expressed loudly, to a loss of emotional control, to imputing motives, to name calling, and to finally even a potential fight. Thus we may have a “mild dissension” (An mild, emotional exchange, or a manageable argument), to a “strong dissension” which gets loud, intense, very emotional.

Factions –                   or divisions. Faction comes from the Greek erithia, meaning ambition, self-seeking, rivalry.  It means party-making. Vine says that it comes from erithos, a hireling, thus it denotes seeking to win followers. The word eritheiai and may be translated hostility or selfish ambition.  Selfish ambition or factionalism is serious. Those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness will receive God’s wrath and indignation and will experience tribulation and distress. If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. This selfish ambition that promotes a factious spirit is a deed or work of the flesh.

Envy –                          The secular definition of envy is a human emotion where a person lacks someone’s achievement, their wealth, their status, their possessions, their family and spouse, or any other thing or person that someone else has. 

Drunkenness –          The Bible affords ample proof that excessive drinking of intoxicants was a common vice among the Hebrews, as among other ancient peoples. This is evident not only from individual cases of intoxication, but also from frequent references to drunkenness as a great social evil. However, Ephesians 5:18 holds the key: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Two elements are being compared: alcohol and the Holy Spirit. Each has the power to take control of a person’s mind and behavior—with vastly different results. Getting drunk leads to a loss of self-control; being filled with the Spirit leads to more self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). We cannot be controlled by both alcoholic spirits and the Holy Spirit at the same time. When we choose to ingest mind-altering substances, we are effectively choosing to give ourselves over to the control of something other than the Holy Spirit. Anything that takes control of our mind, will, and emotions is a false god. Any master we obey other than the Lord is an idol, and idolatry is sin (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Orgies –                       The definition of an orgy is an overindulgence in something or a wild party, especially one where multiple people engage in sexual behavior.

All of these definitions describe behavior that is not characteristic of the nature of God. In fact, they’re the opposite. If you’re a child of God, then it’s your desire to be more like Him and leave behind the old nature (the flesh). But like Paul, a Christian will struggle. He or she will still sin at times. But that will not be characteristic of the believer.

Someone who’s not a Christian, the acts of the flesh pretty much define who they are. It is a pattern of their lives and there is no conviction of sin. They’re unrepentant. In fact, they’re drawn to the behavior because that is who they are. They live in darkness. Jesus said in John 3:19, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

Do they have to stay that way? No! By no means. In the previous verses in John 3, Jesus also said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…”

There is hope. If you believe in Jesus and ask Him to be your Lord and Savior, you can change from identifying with the acts of the flesh and identify with the fruit of the Spirit – “love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control”. Which are you? Will you be one of those who inherit the Kingdom of Heaven?