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’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: 

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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Is Repentance Necessary to be a Christian?

I used to know someone, we’ll call him Fred, who boasted about his Christian faith while talking about his party lifestyle. He would do whatever he wanted all week long and party hard on the weekends. But he always made time to go to confession on Saturday to make sure he was “all set” before God. But my question is this: does that work?

Is it enough to believe in your mind certain truths about the gospel and lay hold of the promise, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:1)?

Here’s the short answer: Saving faith in the gospel moves us past confession into repentance.

The Difference Between Confession & Repentance
The heart of confession is telling the truth. Telling the truth about God, and telling the truth about yourself. There are two kinds of “confessions” necessary:

  • Confessing the truth about God. If we don’t know the truth about who God is and what he’s done, then we cannot place our faith in the good news of Jesus Christ. At minimum, we need to understand who Jesus is, what happened on the cross, why it was necessary, and what God expects of those who confess faith in him.
  • Confessing the truth about yourself. We need to admit to God and to others that we realize our complete inability to save ourselves. When we come to recognize the severity of our sin, and the wrath that is rightfully ours, then we confess our great need and God’s greater provision.

Meanwhile, repentance is a change in behavior. Where confession has to do with the mouth, repentance addresses the hands and feet.

  • Repentance is a change in direction. It’s an about-face: whereas before you were walking in one direction you have stopped, confessed “I’m going in the wrong direction!,” turned around, and begun walking in the correct direction.

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Are These the End Times?

Eclipse

Wars. Terrorism. Earthquakes. Increasing racial and political tension. Even a solar eclipse! Some people may be wondering, “Are these the end times? These must be signs that we’re nearing the end, and Jesus’ return is soon!”

In what is known as the “Olivet Discourse” (because the conversation took place on the Mount of Olives), Jesus addressed the end times with a small group of his apostles. That conversation is relayed for us in Mark 13. Here are a few of the highlights:

“Do you see these great buildings (the Temple)? Not one stone will be left upon another—all will be thrown down.”

“Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed; these things must take place, but it is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.”

“But in those days, after that tribulation: The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. He will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“Now concerning that day or hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven nor the Son—but only the Father. Watch! Be alert! For you don’t know when the time is coming.”

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