Becoming a Member

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Becoming a Member

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the
only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Jesus (John 17:3)

Life’s greatest achievement is not measured by position or
wealth but by being part of the Kingdom of God. It should
not surprise us, then, to find frequent discussion of this Kingdom
in the Scriptures. During the time Jesus was teaching
there were those who not only claimed to be Kingdom members,
they were widely considered the custodians of membership.
We’ve already looked at them, the Pharisees, the religious
leaders of that day. They set the rules and kept the
records. Without their approval, you could get thrown out of
the Temple. One day, this happened to a man whom Jesus
had healed. We will see the Pharisees again.

The Blind Man Who Saw
The Apostle John recorded the captivating story of the
man Jesus had healed. He was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples
asked a question that reflected the thinking of that time:
“Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Disabilities such as
blindness were considered to be the result of specific sin.
Jesus explained that this man’s blindness happened “so that
the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Jesus then
made some mud, placed it on the man’s eyes and instructed
him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man followed Jesus’
instructions and was able to see for the first time in his life.
(John 9:1-7)

Since all this took place on the Sabbath, neighbors who
knew the man and his previous condition took him to the
Pharisees. The Pharisees began a series of interrogations.
First, the man himself; second, they sent for and questioned
his parents. Finally, they again questioned the man. (John
9:13-26). The problem as seen by the Pharisees was that this
healing involved forbidden activity on the Sabbath. Making
mud and washing it off was work. By their Sabbath rules,
this work was not permitted. Of course, others saw it differently.
They argued that if this blind man had received his
eyesight, an obvious miracle from God had taken place.

This debate placed the Pharisees in a dilemma. To admit
to a miracle would put the “miracle worker” above their
rules of the Sabbath. That they could not concede without
recognizing Jesus’ authority. So, the Pharisees argued, perhaps
it was a case of mistaken identity—it really wasn’t the
previously blind man now standing before them. It was all a
farce. However, all their questioning confirmed that the man
before them was the man who had been born blind.

Regardless, the religious rulers were not about to have
anyone (even someone sent from God) challenge their
authority. So they instructed the man, “Give glory to God;
we know this man is a sinner.” (John 9:24). The Pharisees
continued to pepper the man with questions. In exasperation,
the man put an embarrassing question to those harassing
him: “He answered, ‘I have told you already and you did not
listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to
become his disciples, too?” (John 9:27). At this point, the
man had gone over the line. The Pharisees could no longer
stand his directness. “Then they hurled insults at him and
said, ‘You are this fellow’s disciple! We are the disciples of
Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this
fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.’ ” (John
9:28, 29).

The Pharisees thought they had put the man down. But
he responded with a devastating argument. “Now that is
remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he
opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners.
He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody
has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If
this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John
9:30-33). At this, the Pharisees exploded. “ ‘You were
steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they
threw him out.” (John 9:34).

The explanation for the Pharisees expelling the man from
the Synagogue is simple. They were in charge of the religious
rules of Israel. In addition to God’s law, they had set up
many other regulations to qualify people for membership in
God’s Kingdom. And they were in charge. If God Himself
did not keep their rules, even He would be excluded. In other
words, the religious leaders of that day superseded God’s
rule and authority. The man born blind saw that clearly; the
Pharisees missed it.

Remember that early in His teaching on the mountainside,
Jesus told the multitudes “unless your righteousness
exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will not see the kingdom of
God.” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus’ statement contradicted popular
opinion and angered the Pharisees. They were not about to
change their ways, their thinking or their rules. Keeping their
authority was more important to them than delivering someone
from blindness.

You see, the Pharisees had set up activity as the basis for
Kingdom membership rather than relationship. Jesus wanted
to clarify the truth for all involved. He went to find the man
so He could explain the nature of God’s Kingdom and membership
in it. When Jesus asked the man, “Do you believe in
the Son,” He showed again that family relationship with God
is what brings a person into the Kingdom. With Jesus’ explanation,
the man gladly accepted the condition for membership,
and he worshiped Jesus. (John 9:35-38).

In the final verses of this story, Jesus restated what is the
first step we must take to become members of the Kingdom:
“ ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the
blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some
Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked,
‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you
would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can
see, your guilt remains.’ ” (John 9:39-41). Admitting to your
blindness, Jesus said, will open your eyes to the truth.

In the earlier explanation of this principle Jesus said
Kingdom membership begins when individuals recognize
their true spiritual condition: Poverty (blindness) of spirit.
(Matthew 5:3). He said the Kingdom of heaven was theirs.
They can enter. Those who refuse to recognize their blindness
(spiritual poverty) cannot enter. The Pharisees who
claimed to have sight denied what was evident to the “blind”
man: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

The question for us today is: If you recognize your true
spiritual condition, have you asked God’s forgiveness for
your sin and submitted to His Kingship? That point is often
missed. God cannot admit a person into His Kingdom who
does not submit to the King’s rule and authority. It’s a
contradiction to say I belong to God’s Kingdom and at the
same time be in rebellion to the King. That was the
Pharisees’ problem; they wanted inclusion in the Kingdom
but didn’t want God to rule their lives. What Jesus said then
remains true for today: It can’t be. So, lets examine what it
means to submit to the King.

The Nature of the Relationship
When Paul the Apostle wrote to the Christians at Rome,
he explained the process of submitting to the King. “The
word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that
is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess
with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart
that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it
is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is
with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the
Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put
to shame.’ ” Romans 10:8-11). Let’s look at his explanation.

First, Paul is saying, it’s a matter of the will: I agree with
God’s evaluation of my condition and accept God’s provision
for Kingdom membership. The word he used here is
believe. It’s the same word Jesus used with Nicodemus and
the man born blind. To believe just means accepting what
God has said and acting on it. Then the Apostle illustrates:
“What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and
it was credited to him as righteousness.’ ” (See Romans
4:1-8). Paul’s word of encouragement was, “Say it with your
mouth and believe it in your heart.” And if you want, write it
down in “black and white,” and sign your name.

You see, God has already put His signature on it. That
was done when Jesus died on the cross for you. He wrote His
name on the contract in blood. You can’t beat that. And your
name appears in heaven, written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Jesus is standing there to make sure. No one can remove
your name from Jesus’ control. He underlined that when He
said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they
follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never
perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father,
who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can
snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are
one.” (John 10:27-30; see also Hebrews 12:22-24;
Revelation 21:27).

The voluntary death of the eternal Son of God satisfied
all the demands of a Holy God. He personally invited us to
be a part of His family: “I tell you the truth, everyone who
sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in
the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets
you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36). That
means I have a choice to either accept or reject the salvation
God has provided through Jesus. That is the only choice God
gives (John 6:38-40).

Substitute methods or schemes may have the backing and
support of religious leaders and rulers of our day as they did
in Jesus’ time. Jesus told His hearers on the mountainside
that unless I know you (through relationship) you aren’t
living in eternity. You aren’t a part of God’s Kingdom. He
warned, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did
we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out
demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them
plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
” (Matthew 7:22, 23). Relationship may be imitated on the
outside, but Jesus examines the heart. The question for each
person is, Do I know Him?

Let’s look at some of those who knew Jesus. How did
they respond to His invitation to enter God’s Kingdom?

The Disciples’ Relationship with Jesus
From beginning to end, Jesus was always teaching that
membership in God’s Kingdom comes through relationship.
In a discussion with His disciples as He neared the time of
the cross, Jesus revealed what was about to happen. “ ‘We
are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of man will
be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They
will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the
Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and
kill him. Three days later, he will rise.’ ” (Mark 10:33).

Remember that Jesus was talking with those who had abandoned
everything to follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22). Quite
simply He said I, your Leader, am on my way to be executed
by crucifixion like a common criminal. John reported the
same statement on another occasion (John 13:21, 31-33).
What do you think swept through the disciples’ minds at
that moment? How would you have felt? If this were going
to happen to their Teacher, what could they expect? Yet at
this time of great fear and dread for His closest followers,
Jesus said that He and God the Father were about to be
glorified. To these shaken disciples, Jesus said that the
crucifixion would unveil His most magnificent hour.

Magnificent? Yes! He told them the cross and the
resurrection would forever display the glory and honor and
power and wisdom of God.

At this very instant, Jesus reintroduced the subject of
relationship. He brought them back to eternal reality. He
said, “My children . . . ” “Yes, I will be leaving you shortly,
but don’t ever forget Who you belong to and to Whom you
are related: You’re related to Me and to God the Father.”
This takes us right back to Nicodemus and Jesus’ explanation
to him about the new birth. That spiritual birth joins
us permanently to God the Father as His children because of
Jesus’ death and resurrection. That new birth was not some
passing earthly fad that would fade and disappear. Being
born of God, into His family, connects us forever with God.
We are living in eternity (John 13:31-14:14).

The Impact of Relationship
After revealing He is going to the cross, Jesus then revisits
what He had told the multitudes during the mountainside
Sermon. Your relationship with God that confirms
Kingdom membership also releases you from isolation and
self-centeredness. It empowers you to be in loving relationship
with other Kingdom members. In fact, Jesus states, the
hallmark, the proof of your relationship with Me and the
Father is your love for each other. “ A new command I give
you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love
one another. By this all (people) will know that you are my
disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34, 35).

Jesus said, “People will know we are related because of
your loving relationship with each other.” The evidence that
you belong to God and His Kingdom is not beautiful and
expensive structures, not entertaining programs, nor even
miracles. The one thing that cannot be purchased or faked is
genuine love for each other. The Apostle John expanded
Jesus teaching. He wrote that if we don’t love our fellow
Kingdom members, we have not received the new birth. We
don’t have eternal life! “We know that we have passed from
death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does
not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a
murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in
Him.” (I John 3:14, 15).

While these are strong words, John went on to explain
why the absence of love contradicts Kingdom membership.
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love
God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar . . . And he has given
us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his
brother.” (I John 4:19-21). John identifies the one critical
and essential ingredient: We can love others because He
brought us into His Kingdom of love. You see, not only does
God surround us with His love; He generates new life in us
so we can obey His command to love each other.

This is all amazing. When we enter the door into this
eternal relationship, friends will watch and exclaim, “Wow,
what’s happened to him?” “Do you see how she’s changed?”
They are going to notice the new you. They may even begin
to question you. You will want to tell others what’s happened
in your life. It’s all normal. It’s impossible to change from
living for today to living in eternity without dramatic impact.
God brought you into His eternal Kingdom right out of the
kingdom of this age. That’s a 180-degree turn. It means
stopping right where we are, turning around and starting in
the opposite direction. Here and now God wants and expects
the new life He has implanted in us to begin growing.

Being born again doesn’t mean crossing a mystical line
and continuing just as we were. Remember, Jesus spent three
years teaching His disciples to bring them to the week of the
crucifixion. Even after that, they sometimes missed the point.
For example, while on the way to the city of His execution,
they were still seeking ways to get the advantage over each
other. “An argument started among the disciples as to which
of them would be the greatest.” (Luke 9:46-48). We’re no
different. Like the disciples, we constantly need His teaching
about growing up.

God Expects Growth
What I’m writing now is as important as anything written
so far. It is frequently missed: You and I need to grow in our
relationship with God. God requires and expects us to grow.
More people fail to grasp this truth than any other major
truth in the Bible. The failure to grow is the most crippling
sin in the church today. The results are devastating. It is
deadly to the church because the consequences emerge at
every level of its life. I believe it’s a communicable disease.
It is the sin that lays the groundwork for all other sin seen in
the church today.

Let’s quickly reflect on what happened when we first
entered into relationship with God. At the moment you
became a child of God, He placed in your soul a “hunger
and thirst for righteousness” that was not there before. Your
life is different because He is now living within you. You are
living in eternity. According to Jesus, the desire for spiritual
food and growth is the first indicator of new life, showing
that a person has submitted to God’s rule (Matthew 5:6).

To illustrate this principle, let’s look at Jesus’ use of children
as role models in His teaching. We noted earlier that
children came gladly to hear and to be with Jesus. At one
point He said, “Unless you become like little children, you
will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). On
another occasion while He was praying he said, “I praise
you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because have hidden
these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to
little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good
pleasure.” (Luke 10:21, 22). The Apostle John declared that
when we “receive him” He gives us the “right to become the
children of God.” (John 1:12, 13).

We don’t want to force these verses into meanings that
aren’t there. Certainly, we are always the “children of God”
and we should ever be childlike in our faith. However, Jesus
gave every indication, and the persistent teaching of Scripture
is we are not to remain children. For example, in that
great chapter on love, I Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul
talked about growing up and putting away childish things
(13:11). He was writing to a church he had established. Even
so he was greatly dismayed at the lack of spiritual growth in
the members of that church. He spoke candidly to them:

“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as
worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid
food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still
not ready.” (I Corinthians 3:1, 2).

As Paul evaluated the church members at Corinth, he
found them immature and stunted in their new life. Yes, they
had been “born again,” but they were not showing the signs
of new life. The writer of Hebrews spoke to a different group
with the same problem: “ . . . though by this time you ought
to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary
truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk,
not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an
infant . . . ” (Hebrews 5:11-14).

What is the point of all this? It is simply that God never
intends for us to remain infant Kingdom members! It is His
eternal will that we grow in our relationship with Him. As
the Apostle Peter put it, we are “to grow in the grace and in
the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (I Peter
3:18). It’s great to be born into God’s Kingdom family; it’s
tragic if we don’t grow up (Hebrews 5:11-14). It’s like little
babies—they’re so cute and loveable. But if ten years later,
the child is still in diapers with a bottle in his mouth, it’s not
cute anymore. It’s awful. So while we are the children of
God in relationship, we are to grow up in development.
You see, God has work to be done. He wants to see His
will being carried out in our lives and in the world. To
accomplish this requires His strength and energy. We can’t
do it as “infant” status Christians. He wants to share His
power with us, but that doesn’t happen without His character
being formed in our lives. This is called spiritual growth,
which is a day-by-day experience.

Power Through Relationship
So now we understand why daily contact with our King
is necessary! We are in a battle! Jesus, you recall, warned the
Apostle Peter that Satan was after him, but that He was
praying for him (Luke 22:31, 32). The Apostle Paul identified
the enemy as well. This war is between the powers of
darkness and God.

Even before creation, we understand that Satan was
active against God’s holy will. Paul said these powers are the
“ . . . rulers . . . the authorities . . . the powers of this dark
world . . . the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly
places.” (Ephesians 6:11, 12). Neither Jesus nor any of His
disciples took these evil forces lightly. This war took Jesus to
the cross. In many cases, the disciples also gave up their
lives in the struggle for the Gospel against these powers.

How do we do battle in such a war? The Apostle Paul
described the defensive equipment necessary for the Kingdom
member (Ephesians 6:13-18). However, only two weapons
were regarded as offensive—the Word of God and
prayer. Using these weapons produces the other necessary
protection. If we really want to end the plague of weakness
that so often characterizes the church and its leaders, there
needs to be a fresh commitment to daily, personal time in
prayer and meditation on God’s Word.

To be honest, all the activity, planning, programs, degrees
and titles are powerless in battling the forces of evil. The
Lord of the Church identified the primary weapons for our
warfare. The early church dropped the trappings of religious
activity because they knew where the power was: “They all
joined together constantly in prayer.” (Acts 1:14).

In a familiar example, we see the dedication to activity
when Jesus visited in the home of Martha and Mary. They
and their brother Lazarus were special to Jesus. At their invitation
Jesus came to their home. Martha was the attentive
hostess while Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to what He
said.” (Luke 10:39). Martha, who was so busy trying to
please Jesus, had to be reminded by Him. “Martha, you are
worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is
needed. Mary has chosen what is better.” (Luke 10:40, 41).

Martha was spending time in worthy and perhaps necessary
activities around the house. Her friends may have praised
her. Jesus, however, knew that Martha and all who would
follow her needed to distinguish between the important and
the imperative, between duty and devotion.

While it sounded like a rebuke to Martha, Jesus was summoning
her to relationship and away from activity. All the
activity of cultural mandates cannot make up for the lack of
relationship. Jesus’ word that seemed so strong was in fact
loving advice to a friend. Kingdom power is not generated
by frantic activity for Jesus. It comes from vital relationship
with the King. All too often, there is lots of hustle and bustle
that will end up being the wood, hay and straw burned up as
worthless (I Corinthians 3:12-15). The basis for Kingdom
membership and heavenly welcome, Jesus said, is relationship,
not activity (Matthew 7:22, 23).

The Source Is With Us
On the mountainside, Jesus told the audience that members
of His Kingdom are to be salt and light in the world.
Although Scripture has many comments about light, little is
said about salt. We do know that salt was used as a preser-
vative against infection and rot. Jesus described Kingdom
members as “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16). We
are to provide illumination of the truth and point others to
our heavenly Father. John introduced Jesus as “the true light
that gives light to every person coming into the
world.” (John 1:3-9). That means each person must decide
what he or she will do about the Light.

In His nighttime talk with Nicodemus, Jesus said that
God had already given His judgment about mankind’s
response to the Light: “This is the verdict: Light has come
into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light
because their deeds are evil. Everyone who does evil hates
the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his
deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes
into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has
done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21). Later on,
the Apostle John crowned his discussion about light by
proclaiming, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness,
we lie and do not live by the truth.” (I John 1:5, 6).

Nearing the end of his life, imprisoned on the island of
Patmos, John wrote about his vision of the resurrected Jesus:
“His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When
I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” (Revelation
1:16, 17). Jesus ended the revelation of Himself with the
words, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me,
and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I
am . . . the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:12-16). The
Apostle Peter wrote to the Christians of his time, “But you
are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a
people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of
him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful
light.” (I Peter 2:9).

As members of His Kingdom, Jesus has called us to live
in His light. There is no other way to fulfill His command to
be “the light of the world.” Then He added, “Put your trust
in the light while you have it, so that you will become sons of
light.” (John 12:35, 36).

Notice how clear the Scriptures are; Jesus has called us
to be light and salt to the world. He is the Source of power.
What greater privilege and joy can a human being receive
than to be a part of His work and be energized for that work
through daily, personal dialogue with the eternal God? John
said it like this: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and
heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our
fellowship is with the Father and with His son, Jesus Christ.
We write this to make our joy complete.” (I John 1:3, 4). Can
you think of a better reason for having a daily relationship
with our King?

Then one day there will be a full realization of our relationship.
We will be in the heaven He has prepared for us and
see Him face to face. “Everyone who has this hope in him
purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (I John 3:3). This
happens as we meet daily with our King. That is what He
wants; that is what we need. As the Apostle Paul wrote,
“Now we see but in a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we
shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know
fully, even as I am fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:12).

Growing To Maturity
Growing into maturity in our walk with God has additional
results. Jesus links our relationship with God into our
relationship with others. Notice how He joined these two:
“Jesus replied: ‘ “Love the Lord your God with all your
heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is
the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like
it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the law and
Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ ” (Matthew
22:37-40). The priority is relationship with God. But out of
that reality flows an essential secondary relationship—a
transforming love for others.

The Apostle John reinforced this when he wrote, “If we
walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with
one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from
all sin.” (I John 1:7). Our relationship with God pours into
that with others. It is our growing relationship with God that
creates the strength and vitality for our interaction with
others. It provides the energy to build those relationships. As
the Apostle later explained, “Dear friends, since God so
loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever
seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his
love is made complete in us.” (I John 4:7-12).

Can you see the maturity God wants for us? We can be
salt and light wherever we go. That is so incredible you may
want to read that passage again. We complete God’s love to
the world, John said, by displaying God’s love in our lives. It
is not some kind of controlled “biosphere” into which God
places us when we enter into His Kingdom. Living in
eternity is alive with problems and choices and amazing
opportunities.

Everyday, we enter a world that is hostile to holy living,
but dying to see God’s love somewhere. We have it! As we
keep a daily, living relationship with the King we grow, gain
strength and release that love to the world. It is sometimes
painful, but always exciting. Our King has been through it
all. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have
peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I
have overcome the world.” (John 16:33; see also Revelation
2:7-11, 12, 13, 21; 21:6, 7). Not only has He been there, but
also He leads us in paths where He is victorious.