Gaining Entry to God’s Kingdom
In the past few years, there has been a lot of emphasis placed on entry criteria, especially for those traveling to a foreign country. When my wife and I made plans to attend the 2022 Portland camp meeting, I had just been in the United States five months earlier. Yet we still checked and rechecked the requirements for entering the country. I told the airline clerk, “We just want to make sure nothing will prevent us from getting in.”
Earlier that year, the whole world had witnessed an example of what could happen when a country’s stipulations were not met. A well-known tennis player had traveled to participate in a major tournament and was not allowed to enter the host country. Though he was the world’s top-ranked male player, he was turned away because he did not meet the requirements!
The consequences can be great for not meeting a country’s entry criteria—the tennis player suffered a considerable setback to his career. However, it is much more important to meet the conditions for entering God’s Kingdom, because failing to do so has eternal consequences.
In Psalm 24:3, we find two questions put forth by the Psalmist David: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?” These are rhetorical questions; David was not asking for a list of names. Instead, he was provoking thought about what conditions must be met or what criteria are necessary for a person to enter God’s presence.
David followed his questions with what could be considered God’s entry criteria. He named character traits belonging to those who abide in God’s presence, both here and in eternity. In Psalm 24:4, he described one who “hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.” By examining these traits and a few others, we can learn what God requires of us, so we can meet His conditions and be admitted into His Kingdom.
“Hath clean hands, and a pure heart”
The first criterion David named for standing in God’s holy place was having “clean hands.” To stand in the holy place of God means to be in His presence. We can enter God’s presence and have a relationship with Him while we are still here on earth. The foundation for this relationship is having clean hands, or being blameless, and this can only be obtained through salvation. The moment we repent of our sins, God forgives us, wipes away our sins, and establishes His Kingdom in our hearts.
The Apostle Paul was speaking of this when he said, “Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after” (1 Timothy 5:24). Those who confess their sins to God in this life will find them paid for by Christ’s sacrifice and blotted out, leaving clean hands. Alternatively, those who conceal their sins will carry them into the Judgment and pay for them there.
We are told in Proverbs 28:13, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” God is merciful; He wants to forgive our sins and give us new lives with clean hands. He will do this for all who turn from their sins and submit their lives to Him.
The Lord also wants to purify us, making our hearts perfect toward Him, and this is what sanctification does through the Blood of Jesus. Christ not only died to free us from our committed sins, but also to cleanse us of the underlying sinful disposition we inherited from Adam. We read in Hebrews 13:12, “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.” After salvation, when we fully consecrate ourselves for God’s purpose, He purges us of the sinful nature, bringing our hearts into harmony with Him.
Jesus desired this fellowship for His disciples and us as well. Before He went to the Cross, He prayed, “I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:19-21).
Living with clean hands and a pure heart is a beautiful life. In addition to victory over sin and fellowship with God, His Spirit brings us such blessings as peace during trials, daily guidance, and fulfillment.
Living with clean hands and a pure heart is a beautiful life. In addition to victory over sin and fellowship with God, His Spirit brings us such blessings as peace during trials, daily guidance, and fulfillment. Those who are saved young will also be able to look back later with the testimony that God spared them from much heartache.
While it is wonderful to experience God’s presence in this world, there is something better. We must be diligent in continuing our walk with Him here, so we can spend eternity with Him in Heaven. The Bible warns us in Ezekiel 18:26 that those who die in a sinful state, even if they once served God for a time, will spend eternity apart from Him. It says, “When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.” Likewise, a lifelong sinner who turns from his sins before death will be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven. The next verse tells us, “Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.”
It is not sufficient to start on the pathway toward Heaven; we must continue until the journey is complete. God will give us clean hands at salvation and a pure heart at sanctification, but then we must determine that with His help, we will not return to a life of sin.
“Hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully”
One way to keep our actions and motives pure is to pay attention to where our focus is. As David continued his description, he said the one who will stand in God’s holy place is he that “hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.”
We cannot expect to enjoy eternity in God’s presence at the end of our journey here if our focus has been on the things of this world. During his reign, King Solomon was the wisest and wealthiest man who had ever lived, and he pursued everything this world had to offer. Toward the end of his life, though, he looked back on all he had accomplished and accumulated and declared that it was only “vanity and vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).
Synonyms for the word vanity include “emptiness” and “worthlessness.” Without spiritual purpose, worldly pursuits cannot satisfy the soul. In addition, earthly gains are fleeting and will ultimately be of no use or value, even when left for posterity. The Apostle Peter spoke of their conclusion saying, “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). College degrees, prominent careers, expensive cars, mansions, travel to beautiful places, and all the status symbols of this life are reserved for fire. One day, they will all go up in a puff of smoke, never to be used again. Peter followed this revelation with the admonition: “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.” Our focus needs to be on things of eternal value.
This does not mean that working toward an education or career is wrong. However, we do not want to let earthly pursuits take preeminence.
This does not mean that working toward an education or career is wrong. However, we do not want to let earthly pursuits take preeminence. We must make what is primary, primary! The salvation of our souls and the preparation to meet God in eternity is what matters most in this life. Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). We can keep our focus on eternal matters, because God has promised to provide for our temporal needs.
As well as avoiding vanity, it will take integrity to enter God’s presence. We cannot be among those who have “sworn deceitfully.” When we make a statement, it needs to be an honest one that others can trust. There should be no need to add anything to our words to make them stronger. Jesus taught, “Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matthew 5:37). Take a stand for the Gospel truths today and let someone come back in five years’ time and check where you stand then. Let your “yes” still be “yes.” Say “no” to the corrupt moral values of today’s society and let someone come back in five years’ time and find that your “no” is still “no.” It is about having integrity.
Psalm 15:1-5 offers more detail about the type of person who dwells in God’s presence. In the first verse, David asked, “Who shall abide in thy tabernacle?” and “Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” Then he listed several attributes that describe one who has met God’s entry criteria, including the following.
“He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart” (verse 2). When we become Christians, we begin to walk with God. An upright path may require closing off certain associations or avenues. As we spend time in prayer, submitting to His will, His Spirit gives us guidance to walk uprightly in our actions and strength to take a stand for the Truth.
Before I was saved, I was a troublemaker aspiring to be a career politician. I had a bad reputation, but when the Lord saved me, He helped me to walk uprightly.
“He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour” (verse 3). Jesus commanded us, “Love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mark 12:31), and He explained that our neighbor is our fellowman. We must take care that our words and actions do not intentionally harm another. When our priority is to see the salvation of souls, we will put others first.
“In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. . . .” (verse 4). We do not want to revere the ungodly or look to politicians, athletes, or celebrities for our role models. They will fail us because their first concern is for themselves. Instead, we should honor men of virtue and look for mentors among those who are devoted to God. When a person has a reputation for putting God first, then we can say, “I want to pattern my life after him.”
Others are watching how we conduct ourselves and are taking note. Our lives are epistles “known and read of all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2).
“. . . He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not” (verse 4). The person who abides with God is one who keeps his word even when circumstances change. This could include honoring business deals, marriage vows, financial contracts, or employment obligations. When the outcome no longer favors us, the wisdom of this world is to say, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to do it.” However, others are watching how we conduct ourselves and are taking note. Our lives are epistles “known and read of all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2). When we promise something, we need to stand by it.
“He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent” (verse 5). Are we trying to enrich ourselves at any cost or at the cost of others? Jesus taught that it is not possible to pursue both God and wealth. He said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
As we review David’s questions in Psalm 15 and 24 regarding who can expect to dwell in God’s presence, we must ask ourselves, “Do I meet the entry criteria?” If we are uncertain, we can pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). God’s requirements are not complicated, and He has given us the Holy Spirit to be our Guide. If we are prepared to listen and obey, the Blood of Jesus will cleanse our hands and purify our hearts of sin. We can be assured of abiding with God now and forever.