Therefore, let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls. (Heb. 12.1-3)
God places two considerations before men: first, He presents eternal life to sinners; and second, He presents the kingdom to all who already have eternal life. All who believe have eternal life; nevertheless, as Jesus said to His believing disciples, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5.20). The Lord Jesus also declared this: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7.21). Thus we are shown that to have eternal life one need only believe, but to enter the kingdom one is required to fulfill another condition.
Soon after a person is saved he is set by God on a specific course that lies ahead of him. The entire life of a Christian can be likened to running a race. Yet this is not a racing towards the goal of eternal life. It does not mean that he who wins this race will have as his prize eternal life; on the contrary, only the person who has eternal life is qualified to run. No, the result of this race is that some of the participants are to be crowned while others will not be (see 1 Cor. 9.24-25).
What is meant by the crown? The crown represents the kingdom. It signifies reigning, having dominion and glory. And thus to obtain the crown means to gain the kingdom—that is to say, to reign with the Lord Jesus and to have dominion and glory. And to lose the crown means to not have the kingdom—a not reigning with the Lord nor receiving dominion and glory. Hence the crown is the symbol of the kingdom. For a Christian, having eternal life is already a settled matter, but having the kingdom depends on how that Christian runs.
As soon as a person is saved he is set by God on a course which leads straight to the kingdom. His words, his conduct, his thoughts, his life—in fact his everything—is related to whether or not he may gain the kingdom. Now the believer who refuses to run the race judges himself as being unfit for the kingdom; and the believer who runs poorly jeopardizes his chances of winning the kingdom. Now God has already placed every Christian on this course. Yet whether or not he shall win the kingdom is a matter that can only be decided by his own self. His consecration, faithfulness and victory will help him to receive the crown. But for those who love the world and follow after the flesh, they shall not gain the kingdom of the heavens—even though they are the possessors of eternal life by having trusted in the Lord Jesus.
The Eighth Way to Hell—Nominal Christianity
If I am speaking to so-called Christians—even to pastors and preachers—then you must be careful lest you assume that all who go to hell are outside the church. I fear there are too many in the church who will go to hell. The people in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were indeed burned to death, but even the wife of Lot also lost her life. How pitiable that many who join the church are nominal believers who in their hearts have not really believed in the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus. They are not saved, nor do they have eternal life. They merely bear the name of being church members. They are not Christians.
Let us read a Scripture passage here: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7.21-23). These are words spoken by the Lord Jesus himself, in which He reveals the situation at the time of future judgment. Many so-called Christians—even preachers and miracle workers—shall be driven away by the Lord. They will wonder why people like themselves cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. The Lord Jesus tells them explicitly the reason for this: “I never knew you.” Do be careful, therefore. Do not think because you bear the name of Christian that your future will necessarily be different from that of the heathen.
Many so-called Christians sing along with the others, “O Lord, O Lord.” They conclude that the problem of their salvation has been solved by such singing. Yet the Lord says that “not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Many consider themselves as knowing how to pray. They also know, after the congregation has finished praying, how to say Amen. They themselves will pray, “O Lord, O Lord.” Consequently they surmise they must be saved. But the Lord declares: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Many can preach and call themselves servants of the Lord. They speak from the pulpit on the first day of the week and are busily engaged in many works. When they sermonize, they mention “O Lord, O Lord.” Surely they account themselves more advanced than the laity and thus conclude that they will be saved. Yet the Lord makes clear that “not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Many are not only church members, they sometimes even have supernatural power to cast out demons and perform wonders. Naturally they esteem themselves worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Who knows but that the Lord may have to say: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
For this reason, you must be careful. Never infer that you must surely be saved because you are a church member, because you know how to pray and sing, because you frequently attend church services, or that you often contribute money, or that sometimes you try your best to persuade others to join the church. Do not be so absolutely certain! He who is a Christian outwardly may not be saved. In fact, many church goers will instead be gathered with unrepentant prostitutes and pleasure-seekers in the same hell.
Who does the Lord Jesus assert can be the one to enter the kingdom of heaven?—“he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven” (v.21b). What is the will of God? Do listen carefully to this Bible verse: “[God] would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2.4). Hence the fundamental will of God is that men be saved. Yet how are they saved? Not by singing hymns, nor by praying, preaching, or giving. (Please note that I am not saying to you that you should not sing hymns, pray, preach, or give. Every Christian will at least do these things. Nevertheless, these things will not save you.) For salvation does not come by singing hymns, praying, preaching, or giving. How, then, will people be saved? “Believe on the Lord Jesus,” says God’s word, “and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16.31). There is only one way to be saved—by believing in the Lord Jesus. Believe in His substitutionary death and you shall be saved. There is no other way. If you do not follow God’s will of salvation, you will go to hell. If you do not trust the Lord Jesus as your Savior and be saved according to the will of God, your knowledge of many religious rituals plus the rules of your denomination will never save you.
Take note of the fact that there is a great principle hidden in the Bible passage before us. As the people mentioned there come before the Lord in the day of judgment, they all speak of themselves in this fashion: “Did not we . . .” They do not come and say, “Did not Christ . . .” They do not claim salvation by saying the Lord Jesus has died for them and that they trust in the finished work of His precious blood. They speak instead as follows: “Did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works?” In this world there is really nothing better than preaching, casting out demons, and doing mighty works; nonetheless, these things cannot save people. “I never knew you,” the Lord clearly tells them; “depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” What! Did Jesus indeed say, “ye that work iniquity”? But did they not prophesy, cast out demons, and do mighty works? These things were not evil, were they? Yet in spite of all their excellent works, the Lord Jesus asserts that their works will not save them. For salvation is not based on how many good works you have done by yourself; it is based on what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for you before God. Salvation is not according to your working for the Lord Jesus; it is according to what the Lord Jesus has worked and done for you. Salvation is not the wages of your works; it is the gift of the finished work of Christ.
These in this passage erred in trying to exchange their own works for the salvation works of God. They viewed salvation as though they could purchase eternal life with their works. Do realize that God will only accept us in the Lord Jesus; He will not accept our works for our own sake. If we have not been accepted by God on His terms, all our works are as nothing to Him. Only as we first are saved can our works have the possibility of being accepted by God. Otherwise, however good our works are—and despite the fact we are called by the name of the children of God—such efforts will not be accepted by God. Will you therefore accept the Lord Jesus as your Savior? Will you not flee from eternal death out of fear of future wrath? I pray so; for what is there left for you to do if you still prefer to go to hell? You can only continue being a nominal Christian. Yet never fancy that all who descend to hell will be hideous sinners. That is a terrible misconception of the truth. If you keep on doing good, being zealous, attending church service, praying and singing, giving, and even preaching, but without first believing the Lord Jesus as your Savior according to the will of God, you will most certainly end up in hell.