How Do We Become Part of the Kingdom of God?

The kingdom of God appears early in the gospels. Matthew 3 reports that:

John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Remember that the ‘kingdom of heaven’ is Matthew’s favored term for the ‘kingdom of God’, but they are the same thing. According to Mark 1, John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This sounds like the language many evangelicals use when they talk about getting ‘saved’, but I don’t think it is. Repentance means changing your mind or direction and aligning with the kingdom of God.

John’s message really excited the Jewish people in the area. They flocked to the Jordan River to hear his message about the kingdom and were baptized by him in the river to show that they were identifying with the kingdom of God.

What was the significance of their identifying with the kingdom? What were the practical consequences? It seemed that those coming to be baptized wondered the same thing. John told them in Luke 3 to produce fruit in keeping with repentance, so they asked:

“What should we do then?”

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

So, apparently, the kingdom of God is not based on following religious rules or rituals but on treating people right. Where have we heard this before?

kingdom4

Jesus Tells a Pharisee about the Kingdom of God

Jesus was also baptized by John, and later he took up John’s message. Mark 1 says:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

When a leading Pharisee named Nicodemus came privately to Jesus asking about the kingdom, Jesus responded in John 3:

Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

Again, many evangelicals have taken ‘born again’ as another word meaning ‘saved’–a supposed transaction one goes through with God to become a ‘Christian’ and change one’s eternal destination from eternal punishment in hell to life in heaven. But I don’t think so. I suggest that entering the kingdom of God involves our changing our own direction and starting fresh as though we are being born all over again.

This sounds very similar to Jesus’ answer to his disciples when they ask who would be greatest in the kingdom. Jesus responded this way in Matthew 18:

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

What does it mean to become like a child? I think it means being fresh, receptive, and pliable. Entering the kingdom does not obliterate a person’s personality or individuality, but we cannot bring our old agenda into the kingdom. Choosing the kingdom is an ultimate commitment—not something we can simply add to our old paradigms. Becoming like a malleable, receptive child is a perfect metaphor for aligning with the kingdom of God.

Jesus seems to address this in a pair of other short metaphors.

The Parables of the Cloth and the Wineskin

Jesus was asked why his disciples did not fast as did the disciples of the Pharisees and John the Baptist. He replied in Luke 5:

He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.

And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

Fasting was a practice of the old religious orientation, but the announcement of the kingdom of God was about something new. We don’t take a piece of the new paradigm of the kingdom of God to patch up the old religious paradigm, nor do we take the new wine of the kingdom of God and put it into old, rigid religious systems.

The kingdom of God is something fresh, new, and dynamic. It is not enough to add aspects of the ‘kingdom’ to the old ways; we must be receptive and flexible rather than set in our ways like a well-worn shirt or a rigid wineskin.

It is similar to becoming like a child—being born all over again. This is the kingdom. It requires a new way of thinking; it can’t be simply an add-on to our old perspective.

More Insight Into the Kingdom of God

These are valuable insights, but Jesus does not leave us here. He explains more about the kingdom in a series of intriguing parables. We will talk about them next time.

Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.

Articles in this series: The Kingdom of God
What Is Heaven and Where Is It?
Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of God
How Do We Become Part of the Kingdom of God?
2 Parables of the Kingdom from Planting
The Kingdom of God is Like… (7 Short Kingdom Parables)
The Kingdom of God is Like Attending a Banquet

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24 Responses to How Do We Become Part of the Kingdom of God?

  1. Perry says:

    IMO: Kinda sad how some churches spend weeks at a time obsessing over every little detail of Revelation and how many years of this & that there’ll allegedly be, in a worldly environment where I wish more of our focus were on how to treat others. The “Kingdom of Heaven” beginning now in our hearts is what Jesus’ focus was when he was here in the flesh. That’s where abundant life is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Perry, I really like this: “The “Kingdom of Heaven” beginning now in our hearts is what Jesus’ focus was when he was here in the flesh. That’s where abundant life is.” I agree! And I also agree that some churches really get bogged down in the details of Revelation when the significant action is elsewhere.

      Like

  2. mkubo2013 says:

    This coming Sunday is Christ the King Sunday, so I’ve been looking at the gospel reading (John 18:33-37) where Jesus mentions his kingdom. But other than this and early on in speaking with Nicodemus, this gospel is absent kingdom language, whereas the Synoptics are full of its mention.

    I find the contrast curious.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mkubo, I find this curious as well, as the kingdom of God is a major theme in the synoptic gospels. These mentions of the kingdom are very sparse compared to the other gospels.

      Like

      • Dennis Wade says:

        I’m by no means a biblical scholar, but I wonder if why the gospel of John doesn’t refer to the Kingdom much is because John was writing for a different audience. Matthew, Mark and Luke were mostly written for Jewish people who were waiting for a political leader to set up a political kingdom (something a lot of modern day Christians seem to be also waiting for: some future date when Jesus returns to rule the earth and not putting much emphasis on being the kingdom now), and therefore used terminology of this nature to explain how Jesus was the fulfillment of this ideal, whereas John was writing for gentiles, and therefore used different terminology. He talked about the Kingdom in a different way, as the Logos, the very nature of God being born into the world and living as a perfect example of God’s Being. He also seems to talk about that Logos being born again in us when we open our hearts. He seems to be putting the emphasis on how we become the Kingdom when the Logos lives in us as it does in Jesus. To me, his emphasis is on the internal transformation, or “new birth” that happens when we open our hearts to this new life, becoming a “new creature” with a new nature. I would say John actually talks even more about the kingdom than the other gospels, without actually using that particular terminology.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Dennis, I don’t know why John did not mention the kingdom any more than he did. You might be right that he had a different audience or a different emphasis. But in light of this, I think it is significant that John does mention the kingdom of God in the two places that he does–and in important contexts. It shows that the kingdom was, indeed, an important part of Jesus’ message.

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  3. The comment about becoming like a child has always fascinated me. I feel like it does have to do with being open to guidance and being malleable. But there’s something more about it, and that mysterious feeling is like the depths of the kingdom of God to me. Kids are usually more accepting of each other, and there is this innocent acceptance of truth, trust, and beauty that kids just have by nature, maybe even unconditional love. I feel like we and the world we have created is what ruins our kids. We put up the barriers to love and communion, like a racist teaching hate to his children. See what I mean? There is this gentle, unadulterated peace and love that comes from the hearts of children, that is, until we show them ugliness and conflict.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Prog, I think you are right on target! Children seem to have a natural innocence and acceptance of others. I like memes that remind us that children are not born hating others; we have to teach them that.

      Thanks for your observation!

      Like

  4. newtonfinn says:

    God may seldom work these days through spectacular miracles, but He does seem to work in our midst through subtle and surprising synchronicities. I’m sure that many of us on JWOB would have stories to tell about coincidences that seemed to involve more than the random play of probability. So here I am this Monday, enjoying another thought-provoking commentary by Tim on the Kingdom of God, and then I switch over to a popular progressive website I often visit. There, staring me in the face, is my own article about the Kingdom of God published the very same day. Without desiring to politicize the fruitful conversation Tim has been eliciting, and knowing that many who participate on this blog will not agree with my point of view, I nevertheless feel compelled (called?) to provide the following link:

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/11/19/on-earth-as-in-heaven-the-utopianism-of-edward-bellamy/

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dennis Wade says:

      Newton, I followed your link and read the article. I’m surprised that I never heard of Edward Bellamy before this, as a lot of my thoughts lately have been going in the same direction.
      I am tired of the ideas that this world and this life are just something to be endured until we can get to our true home elsewhere. To me the promise of the Bible has always been that God started off by creating this world as a home for us, and promised to live here with us. We can argue about how this comes about, but like you said in the opening of your comment:
      “God may seldom work these days through spectacular miracles, but He does seem to work in our midst through subtle and surprising synchronicities. I’m sure that many of us on JWOB would have stories to tell about coincidences that seemed to involve more than the random play of probability.”
      God is a God of the living, alive right here in our lives right now, and I can attest to many synchronicities that have occurred and that keep occurring in my own life, often when I didn’t even expect them to.
      Jesus said the Kingdom is within us, right now, even in our lives in this very world, and I see those who choose to live by the values that He taught as agents of the Kingdom, acting to allow it to appear in this world for the benefit of all people.
      Now, I do know that even when we choose to live by those values, that we still have death, sickness, and other tragedies to bear, and maybe we do have to wait until some day in the future for the final answer to these things. But while I am alive here in this world I would like to live as if the Kingdom really were here right now, because I believe i my heart that it can be.
      Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to quietly sit waiting for the day when death will release them to the Kingdom. Instead, He told them to live that Kingdom right here in this life, by demonstrating that every life has value, that every sick person should be tended to, that every hungry person should be fed, that every stranger should be welcomed as if they were family. He didn’t tell them to wait for Rome to pass laws decreeing these things, but that we should do this in spite of what Rome does. And He didn’t tell us to just sit around waiting for God to do it for us in some future time.

      i do wonder ( and I include myself in this) why we have so much difficulty accepting that we are quite capable of establishing the Kingdom and its values on this earth. Is it because we really do not believe that we are good enough? Do we really believe that our old “sinful nature” is more powerful than our new birth? It was Jesus Himself who said that we would do even greater things than He did. Maybe we should start working on trying to accept that as an actual truth.

      Apologies for the length. I do tend towards long responses.

      Liked by 2 people

      • newtonfinn says:

        Thank you, Dennis, for some words and thoughts that deeply resonate with me. It’s one of life’s great blessings to know that you are not alone, and that God imparts pieces of his wisdom to others in similar fashion. That’s how I’ve come to know, like you, that the Kingdom is indeed in our midst and in our hearts. I appreciate you’re having taken the time to read my essay on Bellamy and to share your sensitive response to it. In case you’re interested, both “Looking Backward” and “Equality” are free to read on the net. You don’t have to buy into all of the details of Bellamy’s 19th Century vision (and I, too, have my differences with him), but he does manage, at least for me, to help one understand more clearly, actually begin to FEEL, what it might be like to live in the Kingdom come to earth in our troubled 21st Century. Has not Tim provided a rare and precious opportunity for meaningful and uplifting conversations like this one?

        Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Dennis, I agree that we are in the kingdom of God right now–right here on earth.

        Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, thanks for sharing this excellent article; I really enjoyed it! Filled with new information for me. Do you know whether Bellamy was a postmillennialist?

      Like

      • newtonfinn says:

        Tim, it appears that Bellamy, though the son of a Baptist pastor and devoutly Calvinist mother, dropped all strict doctrinal positions early in his adult life. He remained deeply religious (and Christian IMHO) in an idiosyncratic way, anticipating many aspects of the later Social Gospel Movement. In Dr. Nora Willi’s dissertation referenced in the endnote to my essay, she puts him, with ample justification, into the postmillennialist camp. Pertinent and perceptive question…as always.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Ken Hogan says:

    Your post lovingly relieves us of the burdensome baggage we pick up (or get saddled with) along the way. It’s at the heart of the JWB theme. Love ‘em all but ESPECIALLLY fond of this one, Tim.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: What Is Heaven and Where Is It? | Jesus Without Baggage

  7. Pingback: Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of God | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. Pingback: 2 Parables of the Kingdom from Planting | Jesus Without Baggage

  9. michaeleeast says:

    Tim, I enjoyed your analysis of the Kingdom of God.
    I agree that the KIngdom of Heaven is the same thing.
    I have experienced a kind of post-cynical innocence which is like becoming again like a little child. This is something which is born from God. LIke being born again.
    LIfe teaches us to be defensive and cynical.
    God teaches us to be innocent and good.
    God takes away the fear which creates our negativity.
    We are free to give and to love.
    Out of the abundance of God;s Love.
    This is my experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: The Kingdom of God is Like… (7 Short Kingdom Parables) | Jesus Without Baggage

  11. Pingback: The Kingdom of God is Like Attending a Banquet | Jesus Without Baggage

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