Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
A concept is presented in the New Testament that often is overlooked in todayís Christian preaching and teaching. The concept is that of worthiness to be part of the Kingdom of God. The present teaching has God anxiously wringing His hands, hoping someone will accept His freely given pardon. But the Bible tells us in several passages that we must be proven worthy of the Kingdom of God.
WORTHY OF THE KINGDOM
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. (Revelation 3:4,5)
To soil our clothes is to sin. As I understand it, "their clothes" refers to the robe, or house, that is being formed in Heaven as a result of our behavior on earth. When we confess and turn away from our sins, our robe, which was given us when we received Christ, remains sparkling white. But when we are overcome by sin, not confessing and renouncing it, our heavenly robe becomes soiled.
The reward for being diligent in overcoming sin is to walk with Jesus Christ in the white robe of the royal priesthood.
There were a few people among the Christians of Sardis who will be with Christ as members of the royal priesthood. It is true of all other victorious believers that they also will wear the white robe of the priesthood.
We understand therefore that there is more to the Christian life than receiving Christ. We must be faithful in confessing and renouncing sin if we are to be raised from the dead and rise to meet Christ when He appears; for such resurrection and ascension is reserved for the members of the royal priesthood.
Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)
The scriptural concept of being worthy to be raised from the dead and to rise to meet Him in the air is not often thought about carefully it seems to me. But with the coming of the Lord so close at hand perhaps we should turn our attention to this teaching.
The following statement in the passage above, "I will never blot out his name from the book of life," also merits our consideration. Todayís Christian preaching is way off balance in the matter of the security of the believer. We are preaching human sentiment rather than the Word of God.
Is it possible to have oneís name in the Book of Life and then have it blotted out?
If our name can be blotted out, it follows that at one time our name was written in Godís book. A name cannot be blotted out unless it was there originally.
But how can it be that our name could be in the Book of Life and then be blotted out? If our name is not found in the Book of Life at the time of the final judgment we will be thrown into the Lake of Fire; and we never would think of a Christian, no matter how worldly and sinful, actually being thrown into the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.
The answer to this question is: Christ said there is such a danger, and therefore such danger exists.
Our tendency as a human being, and especially as a Christian, is to think "This could never happen to me!"
I do not understand why we are so constituted as to not believe something terrible could happen to us. In this morningís paper we read that a seven-year-old girl is missing from her home. In our culture, this means there is a possibility she will be found hidden in some bushes, having been molested and strangled. We certainly hope and pray this will not be the case and the little darling will be found unharmed. Our heart goes out to the mother who no doubt is suffering the worst agony of her life.
Her mother was at a social gathering the preceding evening. I am certain her mother has read in the paper of similar cases involving female children, for such events are not uncommon in America. But prior to this time the mother might have thought, "This could never happen to me of to one of my children."
There are people with AIDS, or who are serving time on death row, or whose child has developed leukemia, who at one time thought, "This could never happen to me."
What is there about our mental processes that we cannot accept the fact that dreadful things do happen to people, and sometimes to us. We are no exception.
Perhaps the deceiver is still whispering, "You shall not surely die!"
When the Bible states we will not walk with Christ unless we overcome sin, it means exactly that. Unless God intervenes in some manner, there are millions of Christian Christians who will not be raised from the dead and rise to meet Christ in the air when He appears. They are not confessing and renouncing their sins. They are not diligent in looking to Christ for the power to turn away from sin. Their pastors are telling them that they could not possibly hear anything negative at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
When the Bible states that only the victorious believer has the guarantee that he or she will not be blotted from the Book of Life, it means exactly that. The non-victorious believers are exposed to the danger of being thrown into the Lake of Fire. If this is not true, neither is John 3:16; for the same author wrote both passages.
We need to consider what the New Testament states concerning our need to be worthy of participation in the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, among Godís churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that Godís judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. (II Thessalonians 1:4,5)
The believers in Thessalonica were counted worthy of the Kingdom of God because they exhibited perseverance and faith in the persecutions and trials they were enduring.
It follows that if they did not demonstrate perseverance and faith in the persecutions and trials they were enduring they would not be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God.
We can see clearly that it is not enough to claim we will go to Heaven on the basis of our belief in Christ independently of the manner in which we behave. In the first place, the issue is not that of going to Heaven (which is not the scriptural goal of salvation) but that of entering the Kingdom of God. In the second place, we have to be proven worthy of the Kingdom.
Perhaps the concept of worthiness to enter the Kingdom of God needs to be emphasized more than it is in todayís preaching and teaching.
There are other verses that emphasize the need for our being worthy of the Kingdom of God, or of Christ.
Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; And anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37,38)
How do you feel about the need for being found worthy of Christ? This idea goes against the popular idea of salvation through belief alone, doesnít it? If we do not love Christ more than we do our mother and father we are not worthy of Him. If we do not take up our cross and follow Him we are not worthy of Him.
How many of todayís Christians love Christ more than they do their own relatives?
How many of todayís Christians are carrying their cross behind Christ?
These are worthy of Christ. The remainder of the believers are not worthy of Christ.
What do you imagine will be the destiny of those who have not been found worthy of Christ? Will they stand in the Presence of Christ even though they are not worthy of Him?
It is fashionable today to say "Only Christ is worthy. I am so unworthy!"
This is an excuse for living a careless, lukewarm Christian life. The Lord Jesus is not interested in our bowing in abject humility and proclaiming how unworthy we are and only He is worthy. The Lord would say to such, "Awake to righteousness and cease your sinning! Why are you calling me Lord, Lord, and not doing what I have commanded!"
Announcing how unworthy we are and only He is worthy is what we term in America a "cop out," that is, a means of escaping responsibility.
Are there other passages that speak of our worthiness?
But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, And they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are Godís children, since they are children of the resurrection. (Luke 20:35,36)
We must be found worthy of taking part in the new world of righteousness that is on the horizon. We simply cannot assume because we have met the requirements of some Christian organization we automatically are candidates for the resurrection unto eternal life.
One of the problems with Christian thinking is we attempt to "balance" truth by using one passage to offset another. For example, we would say that we need not worry concerning whether we are worthy to participate in the new world because, according to Ephesians 2:8,9, we are saved by grace and not by works of righteousness we have done.
We cannot please God by taking part of His Word and removing the other or weakening the other part that seems to conflict with what we wish to believe. To do this is to give a private interpretation of the Scripture, that is, an interpretation we have chosen in spite of conflicting passages.
If there is anything Christian people need to understand it is that the entire Scriptures are inspiredóword for word. When two passages appear to conflict we are not to seize upon one and neglect the other. We are to accept both verses as equally true and wait for God to show us how they go together.
This is not true concerning the Law of Moses and the new covenant. We have enough statements to understand the Law of Moses has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and we are not to return to any part of the Law. We now are under the law of the Spirit of Life, a law superior to and that takes precedence over the Law of Moses.
The Old Testament does however contain numerous passages that apply today, either directly or symbolically. What would we do, for example, without the Book of Psalms?
But when we come to the New Testament, every word is to be embraced as Divine truth. Even though some verses appear to conflict with another, such as passages describing faith, and others that speak of works of righteousness, we never are to maximize one and minimize the other. We are to take all the passages as inspired equally by the Spirit of God.
Thus it is true that we are saved by grace and not by works of righteousness we have done. It is equally true that we must be found worthy of being raised into the new world of life and righteousness. We thank God for His grace and we labor diligently that we might be found worthy of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. It is just as simple as this.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:1,2)
We need to pursue humility, gentleness, patience, and bear with one another in love.
What if we do not do this? Will we enter the Kingdom anyway?
Probably not. We have not lived a life worthy of the calling we have received, the calling to be a member of the royal priesthood.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel Without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be savedóand that by God. (Philippians 1:27,28)
Paul was in danger of his life, being imprisoned in Rome, when he wrote the above words. "Whatever happens" appears to mean whatever happened to Paul, whether he received the sentence of death or was granted freedom.
"Given this fact," Paul is saying, "you are to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."
He then tells us what it means to be worthy of the Gospel of Christ:
Stand firm in one spirit.
Contend as one man for the faith of the Gospel.
Do not be frightened by those who oppose us.
If we do this, Paul maintains, our behavior will be a sign to our enemies that they will be destroyed but we will be saved.
What if we do not behave in the above manner? Two things: first, we will not be behaving in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ; second, we will not serve as a sign to our enemies that they will be destroyed and we will be saved.
We see from this that there is more to being a disciple of Jesus than just making a profession of faith. Our behavior is critical!
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1;9-12)
Paul prayed for the saints at Colosse that God would fill them with the knowledge of His will, this knowledge to proceed from spiritual wisdom and understanding.
Paul prayed for such knowledge for them so they would live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way.
Paul desired that they bear fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God.
Paul prayed that they would be strengthened with all power so they would have great endurance and patience, and joyfully give thanks to the Father who has qualified them to share in the inheritance of the saint in the kingdom of light.
Paul speaks of a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to Him in every way.
Paul equates such worthiness with:
Bearing fruit in every good work.
Growing in the knowledge of God.
Being strengthened with all power in order to have great endurance and patience.
Joyfully giving thanks to the Father.
Being qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in the Kingdom of God.
The question sometimes arises: "But will I be saved anyway, even though I donít bear fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God? Even though I do not live a life worthy of the Lord?"
By "will I be saved" we mean, will I go to Heaven when I die?
We notice first of all that the objective is to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Nothing is said about going to Heavenóhere, or anywhere else in the New Testament.
Will we share in the inheritance of the saints even though we do not live a life worthy of the Lord?
Perhaps we will; perhaps we wonít. Only Christ will determine this.
But wonít we be saved by fire if we donít serve the Lord?
All people, even the most righteous, are saved by fire. The question is whether or not we will have an inheritance in the Kingdom of God.
There are numerous passages in the New Testament, such as the parable of the talents or of the foolish virgins, that warn us of the danger of not serving the Lord diligently. God may save us into His Kingdom because of the prayers of a godly relative, as He did Lot; or He may not. We have no guarantee we will escape the Lake of Fire unless we diligently confess our sins and turn away from them.
Our preaching today, with its "You shall not surely die," is more of Satan than it is of God. The Christian churches in America are lukewarm, in many instances, filled with spiritually lethargic individuals who are complacent because of the idea that God loves us unconditionally and we have nothing to fear.
Unless God intervenes in some substantial manner in the United States, there are multitudes of Christian believers who will discover, when they die, that they have been misled. They will not hear "Well done, good and faithful servant." Rather they will stand before Christ and His saints and receive the good and the evil they have practiced while living on the earth.
A point of view that contradicts what we have said above is not taking into account the numerous New-Testament warnings to the believers.
To the church in Thyatira:
I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:23)
The above warning was addressed to the church in Thyatira as well as to all the churches of history, including today. Each of us will be repaid according to our deeds. Either we will be found worthy of the Kingdom of God or else we will not.
But are there other passages that speak of the need for worthiness?
Encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (I Thessalonians 2:12)
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (II Thessalonians 1:11,12)
It appears Paul was praying for the saints in Thessalonica that God would count them worthy of being called into the Kingdom of God.
Would we of today pray for Christian people that God would count them worthy of being called into His Kingdom? Probably not. We would assume if they had received Christ they already were in the Kingdom of God and the concept of being worthy was not relevant.
Since our concept is not in line with the Word of God, we have a faulty understanding of the Gospel of the Kingdom. We do not ordinarily, at least in America, notify the believers they are required to behave in a manner worthy of their being called into the Kingdom of God.
There is a part of the Bible that speaks of Godís love and His desire that all people be saved.
There is another part of the Bible that speaks of the need for diligent application to the life of victory over sin if we are to inherit the Kingdom of God.
Which part is true? They both are equally true. God desires that all be saved. God also requires that we behave in a manner worthy of His invitation. We cannot enter the banqueting room of the King unless we are dressed appropriately.
There is a time to stress the love of the Shepherd, that He will leave the ninety- and-nine and seek out the lost sheep.
There is a time to stress the severity of the Lord when He calls His servants to account for the diligence with which they invested the talents He gave them.
In our day, the love of God is emphasized again and again. It often is true that the severity of God is not given its rightful place in our preaching.
Also, we have postulated an unscriptural "state of grace" that shields our behavior from Godís sight. The hastiest review of the New Testament will reveal that its emphasis is on our behavior, not on a "state of grace" that hides our behavior from Godís eyes.
We are living in the last days and have been deceived, as Jesus warned. We have become lovers of ourselves. We have heaped to ourselves teachers who tell us what we desire to hear.
We cannot blame our teachers if we do not live a godly life. We ought to know God has called us to holy, righteous, obedient behavior in Christ. If we have never read the Bible, we know God is holy and righteous and those who belong to Him must be holy and righteousónot by imputed righteousness alone but as a result of a transformed moral character.
We have stated that all believers are saved as by fire, the difference being that some receive a glorious reward and others enter the Kingdom by the skin of their teeth, so to speak.
In order to understand why all believers are saved as by fire we must revise our definition of salvation. To be saved is not to go to Heaven to live forever. To be saved is to be delivered from worldliness, lust, and self-will. If we are to enter the Kingdom of God we must be delivered from worldliness, lust, and self-will. The only manner in which anyone, no matter how righteous, can be saved, can be delivered from worldliness, lust, and self will, is by going through fiery trials. All true saints of God enter the Kingdom through much tribulation.
If we profit from our baptism with fire and are made holy, righteous, and obedient to God, and perform Godís will in the earth, we will receive a reward so fantastic as to be indescribable. It is "winner take all."
But if we do not profit from our baptism with fire, and become bitter and unforgiving instead of holy, righteous, and obedient to God, choosing to pursue our own pleasures instead of the will of God, we will receive no reward. If Christ should permit us to enter His righteous Kingdom, we will do so as an immature, naked spirit, void of any reward or inheritance.
The believers need to consider this carefully. They have been taught if they do not serve Christ diligently they will be saved by fire anyway. To their mind this means they will not have a superior mansion or any great inheritance, but the world they have been admitted to will be so much more glorious than anything they could experience in the present world they are not very interested in the extent of their reward.
In this they are dreadfully mistaken.
To not use the talents given us in a wise, diligent manner, is to invite the wrath of Christ. If He does admit us into His Kingdom, perhaps through the prayers of godly relatives whose joy will not be complete if we are hurled into the eternal flames, we will be without inheritance in the Kingdom. We will be ashamed of our spiritual nakedness when all around us are saints dressed in the glowing white robes of their own righteous behavior.
We will turn away and seek the company of others like ourselves who have been admitted to the new world. We all will be placed under the supervision of angels who will insure that we do not harm or spoil in any manner the pure, beautiful paradise in which the victorious saints are walking with the Lamb.
Perhaps after a long time we will be admitted to a less shameful environment.
To be thus admitted to a place of supervision and instruction would be vastly better for us than being placed in the eternal darkness where there is no hope. We know from the Scriptures that there will be human beings who will experience eternal separation from God. Like Satan, their incarceration will only make them more grotesque as the eons of eternity roll by.
Todayís preaching and teaching, as I see it, does not take the warnings of the New Testament seriously. For example: one commentator presented the thesis of the Book of First John as "assurance of salvation." The truth is, the Book of First John apparently is a reaction to Gnosticism and speaks rather harshly concerning those who do not keep Godís commandments. The epistle is anything but an assurance of salvation.
This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. (I John 3:10)
"Who does not do what is right." The Apostle John is not referring to "accepting Christ" but to godly behavioróbehavior worthy of the Kingdom. The individual, Christian or not, who does not behave righteously is not a child of God.
All we can see in the New Testament is assurance, assurance, assurance of salvation. Why are we blind to its warnings? Are we seeking to please people? I think we need to ask the Lord to give us eyes to see what is written plainly and the courage to proclaim it.
Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. (Revelation 22:12)
Does this mean everyone except Christians? Isnít the Book of Revelation written to Christians?
On the basis of Revelation 22:12, some professing Christians are going to receive a great deal of suffering.
"If the righteous are saved with difficulty, how will the ungodly fare?" Peter asks.
Or does this mean the ungodly will suffer unless they "accept Christ?"
We Christians have been deceived. Our eyes have been blinded to the truth of the New Testament concerning the result of not being found worthy of the Kingdom of God. I think God has sent a strong delusion on us because we have been willing to accept the lie that He will have fellowship with unrighteousness as long as we name the name of Christ.
I could say I hope I am incorrectóthat the professing Christians of America will enter gloriously into Paradise whether or not they have been transformed morally.
But I am not hoping for this. I do not want God to accept my sin or anyone elseís in His Kingdom. I do not want God to changeónot the littlest bit. I choose not to live among people whose only righteousness is that which has been assigned to them but who are continuing in hatred, covetousness, and personal ambition.
I do not want my sin overlooked or excused. I want it destroyed out of me, and I want to live among people who also have been morally transformed.
So let us read and believe the New Testament. Let us all live in such a manner that God deems us worthy of His Kingdom.