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Inheriting the Kingdom of God
By David A. DePra
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envying, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21)
At first glance, it would seem that Paul is saying that these works of the flesh Ė and some of them are much worse than others Ė are enough to keep us from being saved. Or it might seem as if Paul is saying that if a Christian does any of these works that he will LOSE his salvation. What leads us in that direction is the phrase, "they which DO such things." Paul is talking about DOING and about WORKS. And he is saying that if we are guilty of doing those works, we cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
But if Paul is speaking about salvation being based on whether we DO these works of the flesh, we have a big problem. We already know that what we DO isnít what determines our salvation. In fact, Christians are quite capable of some of these works of the flesh. So how can Paulís warning be true? How can it be that Christians which DO these things, indeed, that anyone which DO these things, are kept out of the kingdom on the basis of their works? Isnít salvation based on faith alone?
Some people have tried to explain the passage by saying that Paul is speaking about people who live habitually in these works, and so their doing proves that they arenít saved. But this is an explanation that simply doesnít work here. Paul calls these sins, "WORKS of the flesh." No mention of faith, or the lack thereof. And he says that they which DO these things shall not inherit the kingdom. What is Paul talking about?
This passage of scripture is often misunderstood because of another, more basic misunderstanding: What is the kingdom of God? Once we understand the kingdom of God, the meaning of this passage becomes clear.
The Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God isnít heaven, the church, or the millennium. Neither is the kingdom of God salvation. There is, of course, a relationship between the kingdom of God and all of those things, indeed, an overlap. But the kingdom of God is not exactly synonymous with any of them.
The kingdom of God is the RULE of God. But not the place over which God rules. The kingdom of God is Godís rule over any place, or person. Thus, heaven isnít the kingdom of God, but under the kingdom or rule of God. Same thing for the church and millennium. And as far as salvation goes, salvation isnít the kingdom of God. Rather, it is through the new birth, which is salvation, that we enter into, or under the kingdom of God.
It is especially important to see this relationship between salvation and the kingdom. The kingdom of God is the RULE or sovereignty of God. Thus, to enter the kingdom of God, I must surrender my rule over myself, and come under Godís rule. But why ought this to be a surprise? Isnít that what Iím supposed to be doing when I am saved? We say that we are, "giving our lives to Jesus." Now we can see that if we are to be saved, that this is exactly what we are to do. We are to completely relinquish our own rule, sovereignty, and kingdom, over to Jesus Christ. He becomes our Lord.
One thing we see here is that there is no concept of salvation other than complete surrender to Jesus. By definition, salvation is the relinquishment of self-ownership. That is why the Bible says, "You are not your own. You are bought with a price." Through the new birth we leave our old life at the Cross of Jesus, and are born again into the kingdom of God. We are now citizens under His sovereignty, realm, and rule.
Now here is the important thing to see: Through the new birth Ė the one-time, once-for-all event of our salvation Ė we are BORN into the kingdom of God. But at that point, we are only BORN into a new realm, under a new rule. We know little about what it means to live in the kingdom. And more importantly, we have barely begun to take possession of the kingdom.
God doesnít simply want us to be saved. He wants us to take possession of everything that salvation holds. This is typified in the fact that God gave Israel a promised land, but expected them, under His power and rule, to go in and take possession of it. They were given the inheritance through no efforts of their own. But they did have to exercise much effort, howbeit in faith, to drive out the inhabitants and take possession of their inheritance.
The same thing goes for us. We are given all things freely in Jesus Christ. But we have to actually walk through the experiences and wage the warfare by faith to take possession of what God has given.
Why? Because it is one thing for God to give us eternal riches in Jesus Christ. It is an entirely other matter for us to be able to live in them. You will notice I said ABLE. This isnít about God letting us live in them Ė He has already given all things to us. This is about us being SPIRITUALLY ADJUSTED to that which is of the kingdom of God. And the fact is, it is only by our, "taking of the land," and by our, "driving out the inhabitants," that we become adjusted. It is the warfare itself that makes us fit for the inheritance.
If you and I still think that Christianity is nothing more than a theological position, or a glorified Bible study, then none of this will make sense. But it is not. God is preparing us for the eternal ages Ė and we only begin that once we are saved. He is adjusting us to be able to live with Him forever, by using those things which we encounter NOW. He is making us able to faithful heirs of the kingdom of God.
God has given us an eternal inheritance. Really, this inheritance is HIMSELF. The Holy Spirit, the Bible says, is the down payment on our inheritance. But the Holy Spirit is God. Thus, the full inheritance is God. God is preparing us NOW, through our experience of the down payment, to live with Him forever, which is the fullness of our inheritance.
This is where the kingdom of God comes into play. If the kingdom of God is Godís sovereign rule, and you are, right now, NOT coming under that kingdom, how do you expect to live under it in the eternal ages? You wonít be able to. It isnít a matter of God letting you. You wonít be ABLE to. You wonít be able to because there will be NOTHING in you to be able to.
What Iím saying is this: Living under the rule of God isnít a matter of just following a bunch of rules. No. In order to live in the rule of God, the rule of God has to live in us. In other words, you have to be RECONSTITUTED to a relationship with God Himself. The kingdom of God needs to get to the place where God can just flow and we will go with that flow. Thus, this is a matter of our BECOMING one with the will of God.
To inherit the kingdom of God, you have to relinquish your life Ė your kingdom. You cannot have both. You have to relinquish the throne at salvation, and then step-by-step relinquish the territory to the new King after you are saved. The enemies parked on the land God has given us is really everything about us which hinders the kingdom of God flowing in and through us. The enemies are those things hurt the relationship God wants with us eternally.
Which Kingdom Rules Me?
Now the passage from Galatians begins to take shape. Paul is not talking about salvation when he speaks of the kingdom of God. He is talking about inheriting what salvation holds Ė about being able to experience everything God has for us. He is pointing out the fact that if you DO those works of the flesh, then you are operating under the kingdom of the flesh. And if you are being RULED by the flesh in those areas, then you are not under the RULE of God in those areas. Thus, you cannot inherit the kingdom of God in those areas.
Every aspect of the human person has a full potential of kingdom experience which God wants us to inherit. That potential is released only when we relinquish OUR kingdom or rule over it into the hands of God. Then the inheritance won by Christ Ė full resurrection life Ė floods and invades that aspect of our being. But if we continue doing the works of the flesh in those places in our lives, then FLESH IS RULING there. Not the kingdom of God.
If I walk according to the flesh, then I am living in the kingdom of the flesh. And I am not, on that point, inheriting the kingdom of God. I am not experiencing in my being, everything God has for me in Jesus Christ.
There is a simple cause and effect here; a law of sowing and reaping. If I relinquish my kingdom to God, I come under His kingdom. I then INHERIT everything He has for me in His kingdom. But if I hold to my kingdom on any point, I donít come under Godís kingdom on that point Ė despite the fact that I might be born again INTO His kingdom. I cannot have it both ways. I will either relinquish my self to God and inherit all, or hold back and have my kingdom.
Experiencing a Person
The kingdom of God is, of course, Christ in us. His life is Godís rule, order, and kingdom. Thus, to be constituted for the kingdom, we must be adjusted to a relationship with Him as Lord of us. But not just as a profession. Rather, as a possession. These things are to be LIVED, not just held as doctrines.
If I am doing one of those works of the flesh mentioned by Paul, can we see that, by definition, I am ruling myself? Sure. Thus, by default, I am not under Godís rule. Consequently, a dimension of experience in Jesus Christ in that corner of my being cannot be inherited by me as to experience. It cannot because I have fenced that area off from God and am using myself for my own purposes.
Again: If I do those works of the flesh, I cannot inherit the dimension of the kingdom Ė I cannot experience Jesus Christ Ė in the area where I am doing those works. That area is under MY rule, and not Godís. My works define that.
The good news is, Jesus told us to pray, "Thy kingdom come, and thy will be done." Thus, if we recognize that we are caught in a bondage of some work of the flesh, we can cry out to God along this line and invite Him to begin a work to invade our kingdom, bring it down, and set up HIS. Of course, we will, as earlier stated, need to surrender territory step-by-step, through faith and obedience. But God will answer this prayer. He told us to pray it to begin with!
God has a full inheritance for each of us. But the inheritance is His kingdom Ė His rule and sovereignty over us. We might not think that is much of an inheritance, but it is everything. To be an heir of the kingdom means that we are to the place where we can freely receive what God wants to freely give. And He wants to give us all of Himself.
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