What Jesus Meant by Entering the Kingdom as Children

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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

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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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