What Jesus Meant by Entering the Kingdom as Children

Boy with Bible Laughing

I am convinced one of the most misunderstood Bible passages is where Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4) Why would Jesus say we need to enter the kingdom of heaven as children?

I’ve heard many explanations about how children are obedient and respectful, and so we should be the same way towards God. At the risk of sounding like a terrible parent, this simply isn’t how I’d describe my parenting experience. Being a father is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Sometimes it’s downright painful. Kids have a way of knowing they’re not in control but they keep grasping for authority.

Don’t we do that same thing to God? We know we aren’t in control, but we grab every opportunity whenever a window cracks open to exert our authority and try to grab control over life. Like the child who wants a suitable explanation for every decision, we keep asking God, “Why? Why? Why?” And if his answers are unacceptable (or if he simply says, “Because I said so.”) then we stomp our feet and look for someone else to tell us what we want to hear.

We don’t enter the kingdom of heaven as children because we have become so gentle and obedient. We enter as children because of our Heavenly Father. To boil it down is this: Christians have been adopted as children of God. This is why Jesus said you must be like a child to enter the kingdom.

When the disciples tried to keep the children from coming to Jesus, I am convinced that Jesus was urging his disciples to remember their status as disciples had nothing to do with their own importance. The disciples believed they were more important than those kids. But Jesus rebuked them and set them straight. Only those who are children of God will enter the Kingdom of God. It depends on their relationship with the Father, not because of their own value.

Remember, in the ancient world, children had barely any status – their value and importance came from their daddy. The good news of the gospel is this, “But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Those who lay down their status and declare their only entrance into heaven comes from Jesus Christ their Savior (remember, the end of Mt. 17 emphasizes Jesus as the Son of God)… those are the people who will be given entrance. Salvation isn’t a result of works, it is a gift of grace because you have been adopted as a child of God (Eph 2:8-10).

So next time you hear someone talking about how Jesus wants us to be gentle and cuddly little kids, you can smile to yourself and say, “Yes, we should be that too. But we aren’t. In fact, lots of times we’re pretty disrespectful children. Praise be to God that he’s a gracious Father!”

What We Say to God When we Sin

Tunnel

I am convinced if we realized all the things we were saying to God when se sin, we’d turn to God more and we’d sin less. There’s a lot of overlap between these statements, but hopefully these will help you better understand the deceitfulness of sin. We see these statements all reflected in the very first sin (Genesis 3), and they’re equally true of our own temptations today.

“I know better than you.” 
We redefine what is sinful and what isn’t sinful… while sexuality is the obvious example today, it’s far from the only example. Do you copy music or watch pirated movies online? Do you login to someone else’s Netflix or Spotify so you don’t need to pay for services you are receiving. The Bible calls this stealing, and that’s a sin. When we do this, we are justifying our sin by telling God that we have better judgment about right and wrong.

“I don’t trust you. You Don’t care about me.” 
One of the devil’s earliest tricks is to attack our trust in God. The serpent led Adam and Eve to question God’s goodness, and this still happens to us. When we trust that someone else is wiser than we are and they truly care for us, then we’re likely to take their advice… especially when we’re not sure what to do. And yet, in times like that, we are often tempted towards mistrust rather than trust when it comes to God, because temptation relies on driving a wedge of mistrust between us and God.

“I’m happier without you.”
Temptation is tempting because it looks good and promises happiness. If we believe that sin is more exciting than godliness, then we will obviously be more drawn to sinfulness. But if we believe that God truly satisfies our longing for joy and pleasure and happiness then we’d be able to stare temptation in the face and say, “You have nothing for me but cheap thrills and I want more than that.”

Reconsider how you view sin and how you view God. Do you believe that God’s Word is truth, that He truly loves you and and that rich and lasting joy is found through intimacy with God? As the Francis Chan video below says: “God is better.”

So how do we fight sin and overcome temptation? I’ve written two articles that address those questions, you can read them here:

What’s the Difference Between Grace and Mercy?

The Bible is full of references to grace and mercy, and yet many Christians can attend church for years without being able to give a clear and simple explanation of the difference.

To put it simply, the difference is this: Mercy is “not receiving something you deserve” while Grace is “receiving something you don’t deserve.” We see mercy in action when we get pulled over for driving too fast but receive a verbal warning instead of a hefty fine. Similarly, grace is at work and on display when a victim’s family forgives the man who murdered their son or daughter.

Mercy is an expression of grace, but they are not the same thing. Here are a few examples from Scripture and what they have to do with the gospel.

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Why Church Membership?

Open Church Door

No one needs to be a church member in order to attend the church’s worship services. There are many places where non-members can happily serve and participate outside of Sunday morning. The local church is not like a private golf course where you need to be a member, dress a certain way, and pay your membership dues in order to participate. But does this mean that church membership is unimportant and optional?

The Bible doesn’t contain a verse specifically commanding church membership, but Scripture routinely assumes that the people of God will gather together and be committed to each other. The early Christians did not have the ability to “church shop” or have a casual relationship with their local church. In the same way, Christians who live in the midst of persecution find themselves needing to choose whether or not they’re “in” or they’re “out” of the church, the family of God.

There is a growing trend in American Christianity to minimize church membership. It is certainly possible to be a genuine Christian who is not a member in a local church, but there are many reasons why it is healthy and good for every Christian to be a member in their local church.

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What Does Baptism Mean (and why is it important)?

I didn’t get baptized until I was a Sophomore in college even though I started taking my faith seriously as a teenager. I just didn’t think baptism mattered. At the time, most of the people I knew who were getting baptized were either babies or other peers in youth group who I knew weren’t actively following Jesus outside of Youth Group. So I concluded baptism really wasn’t that important. I was baptized when I was in college after I learned more about the meaning and importance of baptism.

Baptism doesn’t “save” you and you can be a Christian without having ever been baptized. However, the Bible’s pretty clear that we who claim to live for Jesus should be baptized. Time and time again throughout the book of Acts people are getting baptized when they place their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior (Acts 2:41; 8:12; 8:36; 10:48; and tons more). Even Jesus got baptized to set the example for his disciples.

Baptism

What Does Baptism Mean?
First, baptism symbolizes what has happened between us and God. The Apostle Paul writes, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). Baptism symbolically represents that we “died with Christ” (going under the water is like burying our old way of life without Christ) and we have been “reborn/resurrected in Christ” (coming up from the water is like being born again with Christ). It is a visible demonstration of the new life we have in Jesus Christ.

Second, baptism foreshadows the Christian’s hope that we will be resurrected from the grave when Jesus Christ returns as judge. “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again” (Romans 6:8-9). The Christian’s eternal security comes from their union with Christ, which is made visible through baptism. 

Third, baptism identifies you as a member of the Church. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 makes it clear that every Christian is a member of the Church, the “Body of Christ.” Christians throughout history have seen baptism as the rite of entrance into the Church. It is a way to clearly say, “I am a Christian, and my life isn’t all about me anymore. Instead, I want my life to build up the Church for the glory of God.” This is also why baptism and membership in the local church where you attend naturally go hand-in-hand.

Why Baptism Matters
In the Bible (and in many places today) it was a very dangerous thing to be publicly baptized and identify yourself with Jesus Christ. This act of faith took guts and often brought serious opposition. Sadly, many Americans take their freedom and comfort for granted, and since baptism doesn’t “cost” them anything, they treat getting baptized as a casual and unimportant option.

“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.”
Romans 10:9

Baptism should not be a matter of convenience. Instead, it is a wonderful opportunity to publicly declare your faith to your nonChristian friends and family. Sometimes people put off getting baptized because they don’t like people looking at them or being the center of attention. When we know the sin and judgment from which we have been rescued because of the truth that baptism represents, then we should take the opportunity to put ourselves aside and confess what God has done through Jesus Christ.

If we are too timid to stand for Christ in a church full of people who believe as we do and before our friends and family (even if they aren’t Christians, they still care for us), then I wonder how we will boldly stand for Christ in the midst of persecution.

Baptism is a biblical and meaningful expression of personal faith in Jesus Christ. Whether you grew up attending church or not, being baptized is a turning point you can look to in seasons of doubt or temptation in order to reaffirm, “I have been buried with Christ, and I have risen to new life with him. He is my life and my hope. I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

A Final Word of Caution
Prayerfully consider getting baptized, but please do not get baptized because you feel pressured by people to do so. If you are not compelled to give your life to worship and obey Jesus Christ then you should not be baptized… even if your parents or friends or youth pastor is encouraging you to be baptized. Simply tell them “I’m not ready yet” and trust them to respect your decision.

Two articles I have found helpful regarding children and baptism: 

Three Things Every Christian Should Know

Evangelism has always been difficult. Gone are the days when even nonChristians generally understood what Christianity taught. Nowadays, even many professing-Christians struggle to articulate the essentials of Christian theology. Because we can no longer assume a general awareness of Christian thinking, evangelism will continue to require us to teach basic theological truths before we can be assured that people know enough to truly become Christians.

Here are three truths every Christian should know and be able to clearly explain to others.

Bible on Table

 

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Why Can’t God Overlook Sin?

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

The paycheck of sin is death. That is what we’ve earned. And yet, many of us struggle with the teaching that momentary sins would receive eternal death – it seems awfully extreme. It is a common question: “If God is love, why can’t God overlook sin?”

  • Johnny has disobeyed his parents all day long but expects to get rewarded with ice cream at the end of the day.
  • Suzie is hoping for a pay raise or promotion at her next review, even though she routinely ignores her boss’ instructions and does things her own way instead.
  • Bill doesn’t understand why he failed his math exam. After all, he recently discovered a whole new way of doing math that’s better than the “old way” of the past.

These simple examples reflect the justice and love of God. It would not be right or “good” for Johnny, Suzie, or for Bill to be rewarded. They have all disregarded human authority who has been rightly placed over them. And if it is good for us to receive appropriate discipline by human authority, why would God overlook our sin?

Forgiveness

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