The mystery of our existence has puzzled humanity for some 6,000 years. We are curious beings—acutely aware of our good green earth and its marvelous material mechanisms. But why is this uniquely inhabited planet here at all? We probe the universe for answers when they are deftly hidden right here before us in the Bible.
Scientists and would-be scientists write books searching for a "theory of everything"—some unifying framework that would explain and tie together all the loose ends of our existence. Science desperately wants to discover an all-encompassing theory that would solve the many great problems that seriously threaten human survival.
For centuries many have dreamed of humankind eventually bringing about a universal utopia on earth. But the opposite has happened.
Movies have been made that make fun of the meaning of life. Yet philosophers, scientists and theologians continue to diligently look for it.
It's rational to contemplate: Were we intelligently designed and put here to achieve a great plan and purpose? Or was it a great cosmic accident? Logically, life must have meaning and purpose. We should further ask, then, what is that purpose? Does one particular phrase made up of just four words sum it all up?
The pearl of great price
Mainstream Christianity speaks continually about Jesus Christ. Yet it never seems to emphasize what He really said. Christ constantly spoke of the Kingdom of God to His followers. In parables He compared this spiritual Kingdom to earthly, material things so they could begin to grasp its vital meaning and significance.
Jesus stated, "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matthew:13:45-46, emphasis added throughout).
Jesus' clear point is that the Kingdom of God is so precious that it becomes worth sacrificing everything else to actually enter it. The previous parable makes the same point: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid, and for joy over it goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (verse 44).
This Kingdom of which Jesus spoke embraces the solution to all our human problems and dilemmas. It answers everything! This Kingdom should be the primary goal of all mankind—the central focus of all our necessary subordinate goals.
However, a supremely clever but perverted spirit being has sidetracked humanity into believing all kinds of other philosophies and religions, teaching a witches' brew of false gospels of every type (see Revelation:12:9; Ephesians:2:1-2; 2 Corinthians:11:13-15). Even many if not most churches have lost the plot!
Can people really enter the Kingdom?
Jesus Christ spoke of the prophets and patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being in the Kingdom of God (Luke:13:28-29). Matthew in his parallel account uses the term "kingdom of heaven" (Matthew:8:11-12), employing "heaven" as a synonym for God since he was writing to a Jewish audience who avoided using the name of God.The terms Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven are thus synonymous.
Just before His suffering and subsequent death by crucifixion, Christ said to His original apostles: "But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke:22:28-30).
Jesus is clearly talking about a literal kingdom, with literal people whom the apostles would "judge"—lead, guide, train and teach!
But the Kingdom will encompass many more than just the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets and the New Testament apostles. The apostle Paul, facing the end of his life, wrote to his beloved friend Timothy the evangelist that "there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord [Jesus Christ], the righteous Judge, will give to me in that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy:4:8).
These biblical passages show us that people can definitely enter the Kingdom of God. All true Christians will participate in and have their part in it!
The clear boundaries of the Kingdom
The Bible's "resurrection chapter," 1 Corinthians 15, contains a rich repository of many critical biblical truths. Verse 50 in particular focuses on our present humanity and mortality. This human, flesh-and-blood physical existence was never intended to be an end in itself; it serves only as a training ground for the Kingdom.
Notice what the apostle Paul wrote here: "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God; nor does corruption [decay] inherit incorruption." Our human bodies age and run down over time. We simply cannot exist permanently in the material flesh. In fact all physical matter, however long it takes, remains in a process of change toward disintegration and decay.
So, then, how can we enter and become a part of the spiritual Kingdom of God? How does God make it possible for flesh-and-blood, mortal human beings to enter that Kingdom?
Paul outlines the solution in the next few passages of 1 Corinthians 15: "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep [in the grave], but we shall all be changed —in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead [in Christ] will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (verses 51-53).
In a similar account in 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul corroborates these awesome truths. "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord . . ." he writes. The truths that follow in this passage are not his personal ideas, but rather teaching obtained directly from Jesus Christ.
Continuing, he says: "We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep [in death—with no consciousness at present]. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven . . . with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (verses 15-17).
However, we will not be able to meet Christ this way while still existing as human flesh. "For our [Christian] citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly [ fleshly, perishable ] body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able to subdue all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20-21). Jesus is God along with the Father! They know how to accomplish the transformation. We don't!
Jesus Christ will do for us what we simply cannot perform for ourselves. But there remains something we can and must do in intimate partnership with God and Christ: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). We have to embark on a series of necessary spiritual steps to overcome the obstacles in our way.
Sin stands ominously in our path
Whether we realize it or not, our mind and thinking are hostile to God and His law of love (Romans:8:7). We have all been stained by sin. As long as we remain in this rebellious attitude of defiance and disobedience, we are unfit for the Kingdom of God. As a first step to embracing the road to eternal life, we must understand what has already gone awry in our lives.
Sin stands in the way of God's great plan and purpose for human life—directly in opposition to our eternal salvation as potential sons and daughters in the everlasting Kingdom of God. Sin remains such a stubborn, implacable, deep-rooted enemy that only the death of God's Son could cancel and blot out its horrendous consequences.
The Bible usually depicts death as the natural consequence of our sins. Disobedience to God's law of love brings divine punishment (Romans:6:23). So Jesus Christ, completely and totally without sin, died the death which our sins so richly deserved (2 Corinthians:5:17-21)—giving us the awesome opportunity of obtaining forgiveness and full reconciliation with God the Father.
"Sin is the transgression of the law," we are told in 1 John:3:4 (King James Version). A more modern translation puts it this way: "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness" (New International Version). Both translations are correct. The apostle James states the same thing: "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors" (James:2:8-9).
We can fail to love both God and our neighbor by what we do as well as what we don't do. To neglect to do what you know is right can be as serious in its consequences as a deliberately conceived, lawless act with malice aforethought. "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James:4:17).
The apostle Paul views sin as a grim and dreadful activity. He regards unrepentant men and women as being "slaves to sin" (Romans:6:17, 20), "sold under sin" (Romans:7:14) and even being taken into captivity by it (verse 23). So we are sinners by nature as well as by choice (Jeremiah:17:9). And yet the sin of human beings can be completely and totally erased through the work of a loving Mediator.
Jesus clearly said, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth [crucified], will draw all peoples to Myself" (John:12:32). But the fact still remains that divine forgiveness can only occur in the lives of those who really repent.
Transforming our lives
Our first step on the road to ultimate salvation is genuine and heartfelt repentance. The apostle Peter said, "Repent therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts:3:19).
Jesus Christ continually stressed the importance of repentance. He stated, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance" (Luke:5:32). Christ plainly taught that our highest priority in life should be to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew:6:33). But repentance is the first in a series of basic steps leading to redemption and salvation. God the Father responds to the repentant sinner with total forgiveness, applying the sacrifice of His Son
to the humbled and repentant individual (1 John:1:7-9).
When is the best time to repent? Now! Ominous clouds of global turmoil and tragedy darken the horizon. Paul stated even during his day, "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts:17:30).
And what does Jesus demand of those who hear the message of the Kingdom of God? "Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand [in the person of Christ]. Repent, and believe in the gospel'" (Mark:1:14-15).
Everlasting life in the family of God is available to only those who repent of their sins. No exceptions are possible, because "all have sinned and fall[en] short of the glory of God" (Romans:3:23).
Repentance is not an ethereal concept which no one can fully grasp. In its most basic sense, it means to change. We are to change our minds, change our way of thinking, change our behavior, change our priorities, change our lives.
We are to demonstrate in our lives a changed way of living. This change away from our previous lifestyle will prove the genuineness of our repentance. "Let him who stole steal no longer," for instance (Ephesians:4:28). We should produce "fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew:3:8)—positive changes in our lives that clearly demonstrate that we indeed now put God first in our lives. Professing to know God, but showing no change in our lives, doesn't cut it (Titus:1:16 ; 1 John:2:3-6).
Like King David of Israel, we must ask God to create a "clean heart" and a right spirit and attitude within us (Psalm:51:10). Repentance produces a humbled and submissive heart, one that seeks and even begs for God's mercy (Luke:18:13). Then we are ready to take the next fundamental step, asking a true minister of God for baptism for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts:2:38).
Baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit
When the apostle Paul was miraculously struck down and called by God, what did the man to whom God directed him, Ananias, instruct him to do? "Why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins , calling on the name of the Lord'" (Acts:22:16).
Paul had clearly repented and was now willing to do whatever Christ asked of him. His deeply felt regret for his previous life of persecuting Christians emerges several times in his writings. His heartfelt goal was to put it fully behind him and press forward toward the Kingdom of God (Philippians 3:11-14). Later in life Paul never forgot that his old sins had been completely cleansed, washed away and totally forgiven. He had become fully fit for the family of God, enduring as a Christian to the very end.
Many biblical passages tell us that water baptism is a necessary step to obtaining salvation. The symbolism is very clear. Figuratively, our sins are washed away to lie at the bottom of a watery grave—and we should leave them there. This immersion in water pictures the death and burial of our old selves—the former man or woman of sin (Romans:6:2-6). We arise out of the water to begin a new life—ordered by God's great spiritual law, the Ten Commandments.
Jesus commanded His ministers to baptize repentant sinners (Matthew:28:19; John:4:1-3). In fact, Jesus set us all a right example by asking John the Baptist to personally baptize Him even though He had never sinned and had no need of repentance (Matthew:3:13-15; compare 1 Peter:2:21-22). Christ submitted to water baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness.
But this is not all. Scriptural example shows that, after baptism, the next step in the salvation process involves the laying on of hands by one or more of God's true ministers so that the repentant person may receive God's Holy Spirit. In the brief list of basic Christian doctrines in Hebrews:6:1-2, the laying on of hands is mentioned along with repentance, baptism and faith toward God.
The basic formula is plainly articulated in Acts:2:38 when Peter delivered His sermon on the day of Pentecost: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
A life of spiritual growth commences
This completes our brief study about how to enter the Kingdom of God. After an encouraging and joyous beginning, we are to grow in the Christian faith. Among the last words the apostle Peter wrote were that we are to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter:3:18). This is a lifelong process requiring dedication and commitment on our part.
We must also patiently endure the trials and tests that will inevitably follow, trusting in God for deliverance (Acts:14:22; Psalm:34:19). "In your patience possess ye your souls" (Luke:21:19, KJV).
Jesus Himself said in the lengthy prophecy of end-time events He gave to His disciples on the Mount of Olives shortly before His death, "He who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew:24:13). In context, the very next verse speaks of preaching the "gospel of the kingdom."
Finally, we need to recall an earlier admonition, also from the lips of Jesus Christ, in Luke:12:31-32: "But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things [our material needs] shall be added to you. Do not fear little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."