I received an interesting inquiry following my last article, “No Simple Salvation.” Not for the first time nor the last, my attempt to explain a truth actually clouded an issue that many people have thought settled for many years.
This person commented that they were familiar with the ABCs of salvation, because preachers have used it repeatedly. Since I have been critical of this interpretation of the plan of salvation, this person legitimately asked, “If the ABC plan is not correct, then what does a person have to do to enter God’s kingdom?”
This person asked their question in a text, which is not a format for lengthy or involved answers. I sent them the following reply:
Hopefully, I will answer this in future posts. The short answer is that a profession of faith that is not accompanied by good works according to the will of God is an empty profession that doesn’t lead to salvation. The only faith that saves will be accompanied by obedience. 1 John: Faith without works is dead. That’s why it’s not ABC, but DTF.
Since I promised to explain, I will attempt to do just that. However, I will take a somewhat circuitous route and a series of articles to reach the conclusion, so stay with me.
First of all, the answer to this question, as well as any question of doctrine, begins with the doctrine of God. If we get that doctrine wrong or our knowledge of God is skewed or incomplete, then all of our other doctrines will suffer.
A person can be saved without understanding everything about God, but will never fully understand everything about what happened in salvation until they have a clear understanding of God – not a perfect understanding, but one that develops from a committed study of the word.
In light of this belief, I would like to recommend that you purchase a copy of Knowing God by J.I. Packer. This is one of the most powerful books ever written on the subject of the person and character of God. I can also recommend the writings of A.W. Tozer, especially his book Knowledge of the Holy. You can download this and two others of his books in Kindle format for free here. Finally, at least for now, I would also recommend John Piper’s book, Desiring God.
With all of that as preamble, let’s continue answering the question of what one has to do to enter the kingdom of God.
In essence, this is the same question asked by the rich young ruler. The Amplified Version paraphrased the man’s question: “What must I do ‘to partake of eternal salvation in the Messiah’s kingdom?’” What he wanted was a simple A-B-C plan. “Do these three things and all of your worries are over.”
Jesus addressed the young man at his level of understanding. He challenged the man on his behavior. “Are you good enough to be part of the kingdom?” The man’s answer was, “Yes, I certainly have proven that I am by keeping all the commandments.”
Then, Jesus raised the stakes. In verse 21, He called the man to discipleship (“…take up the cross, and follow me.”), accompanied by a test of the man’s willingness to sacrifice (v. 21 “…sell all that you have and give to the poor…”). When confronted with the risk or the cost of following Jesus, the man turned away.
The reason was simple economics. None of us will spend our money on an item unless we believe the value of the item to be equal to or greater than the price we have to pay. This young man did not believe the rewards of the kingdom were of great enough value to lose all that he possessed.
The rich young ruler was not interested in the kingdom of God, but the rewards and the pleasures that accompany the kingdom. He had a price he was willing to pay, but the offer Jesus made was not in line with his budget or his expectations.
Many people today who call themselves Christian care much more for the salvation than they do the Savior. They love the rewards of the kingdom, but have no desire to participate in the work of the kingdom. They love being friends with Jesus, but are not interested in being co-laborers with Him.
However, when Jesus called people into the kingdom, it was always about works – about service.
I can hear the alarm bells going off now. “Whoa! We are not saved by works, but by grace!”
This is true, of course, based on what Paul wrote in Eph. 2:8-9, among other references. We are saved “not of works.” Yet then James turns around and writes, “Faith without works is dead.”
What sounds contradictory is actually complementary. The problem is that we confuse the “works” that are being addressed.
Paul explains that we can never do anything to merit the salvation of God. Yet he also writes in Ephesians that we are saved unto good works. James writes to explain that anyone who truly knows Christ as Savior will be actively involved in the ministry of the kingdom. The conclusion of both Paul and James is that there is no true belief that leads to salvation apart from works.
Jesus said to the first disciples, “Follow me. I am going to make something out of you.” And what He proceeded to make out of them was not members of some exclusive spiritual society, but missionaries and martyrs.
The church is not a social organization, but a group of individuals committed to God, to each other, and to obedience to the work and will of God. All who claim to be members of the church who are not actively involved in the work and the will of God are not saved people, but religious people like the rich young ruler, desirous of the gifts, but caring nothing about the Giver.
Here is Jesus’ invitation to salvation: “If you want to be part of the kingdom of God, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me all the way to death.” He never mentioned an invitation, or a prayer, or walking an aisle, or getting baptized, or anything that we normally associate with “becoming a Christian.”
Jesus, because He is God, knows that all things that happen in creation – including the act of redemption – are the working out of a master plan that God established in eternity before there ever was a creation. He determined to carry out that plan through the labors of people whom He would call into the kingdom’s work. This is why there is a plan called redemption.
The work to which the Christian is called requires obedience to the will of God – obedience that would honor God and give Him glory – obedience that ends in promised reward that is beyond comprehension, eternal and infinite in its nature.
John Piper made a bold and profound point in a recent message entitled “Forgiveness is not the Gospel.” Here is a portion of that article:
First Peter 3:18: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” That’s the point of the gospel: to bring us to God. And what does the Bible say we find when we get there? Boredom? Misery forever in his presence? That’s blasphemy. Self-denial in heaven is blasphemy.
It says, “in whose presence there is fullness of joy” and “at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). That’s why he died. “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we now have the reconciliation.” “We rejoice in God through whom we have the reconciliation” or “Jesus through whom we have reconciliation” (Romans 5:11).
If the gospel only brought us forgiveness, if the gospel only brought us justification, if the gospel only brought us propitiation, if the gospel only brought us escape from hell, eternal life, health and wealth, and did not bring us into the enjoyment of the person of God, it would not be good news.
Salvation is not about us. It is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. God saves us “unto good works.” (Eph. 2:10)
The short answer: We do not enter the kingdom of God by inviting Jesus into our hearts. God calls us into the kingdom. He enables us to enter the kingdom by personal invitation.
It’s called grace.