I remember the shock of reading the whole of Matthew's gospel through in one sitting, back in 1985. It was one night in a place called New College, an Anglican college attached to the University of New South Wales, where I was in my final year of a Computer Science degree. I was just starting out in Christian discipleship, though I had been attending church weekly all my life. I remember a sense of the fear of God coming on me. When we let the Word of God as a whole speak to us it can be transforming. What I think we tend to do, is dissect it in little pieces which we throw into a kind of theological sausage machine which transforms the Word of God to be something soft which conforms to our predetermined way of looking at things. Do you doubt this can happen? How then do you explain the persistence of all these contradictory religious systems in Christendom – Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Calvinist etc? There are people in all these religions that read the Holy Scriptures – and have been doing so for a long time!
Strong Exclusive Statements from the Lips of Jesus Christ
In Matthew 18 Jesus makes some very strong statements about who will be, and who will not be in the Kingdom of Heaven.
We were kind of taught more or less that if you accept Jesus Christ into your heart as Savior ("and Lord" – whatever that means) and that you totally relied on grace to cover your misdeeds, you could be 100% sure of your final acceptance with God. The only problem I have with that doctrine, is that it seems to be at odds with a lot of things that Jesus felt it was important to say and have recorded for us.
We Must Be Humble Like Little Children
"Assuredly, I say unto you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
If Jesus is not spelling out a condition for being part of God's Kingdom, I do not know how he could use language to make it any clearer.
As I see it, Jesus is saying that childlike humility and trust is a prerequisite for being accepted by God.
Jesus said it before in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for THEIRS is the Kingdom of Heaven."
"God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6). To enter God's kingdom, we need to renounce our attitude of "knowing it all".
Paul said it another way: "And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. " (1 Corinthians 8:2)
A smart-aleck attitude, an unteachable attitude can keep us OUT of the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those humble enough to come to God in simple faith, hear and obey the Lord can be saved.
We Must Stay Clear of Sin
A person may enter the Kingdom like this, like this little child, Then Jesus goes onto say, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to THAT MAN by whom the offense comes!"
This doesn't sound like eternal, unconditional salvation to me. This sounds like damnation. The one who tempts a young believer to sin, by false doctrine or bad example, is not on the path of life. Serious consequences of damnation loom for such a one. One could think of all the child molestors who worm their way into positions of trust and leadership in the churches of the world – especially, but not limited to the more liturgical ones. These people are heading for hell according to Jesus.
Jesus says that sin is so serious that we should do WHATEVER IT TAKES to get rid of it in order to avoid the HELL that the sin will surely lead us to. See Matthew 18:8,9
8 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.
To me this kind of teaching is totally at odds with the "easy-greasy" message of "play it cool" with God because all sins are the same, we all sin and its no big deal to God, because we are covered by God's grace no matter how we choose to live. If that message – the kind of message popularised by Bible teachers like Charles Stanley and Joseph Prince is correct, then Matthew 18 really has no place in God's Holy Word. Jesus is not telling us to relax about sin, or that it doesn't matter.
Jesus next goes on to talk about how a good shepherd goes after those who did believe in Him but were made to stumble by the pastors and leaders who believe that they are "God's anointed" with an untouchable, undeniable right to SIN and cause offense with impunity – teaching, as some do, that the great sin is not what THEY do, but rather, it is to "take offense" at their ungodly behavior. This is not the message I see in the words of Jesus at all. But Jesus is saying He will go after those lost sheep who have been bruised and beaten and savaged by wolves who gained trusted positions in the evangelical and charismatic or roman church – doesn't matter what brand the abuser/sinner has. Jesus will seek the lost sheep.
Jesus then tells us how we have to confront sin (Matthew 18:15-18), giving us a procedure for it. But then in verses 21 to 35 Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.
We Must Forgive Others
Bottom line here is this: you must forgive all who have done wrong to you – or YOU yourself will not be forgiven by God. So while we might be offended by the evil that is done to us and others by false wolves masquerading as pastors of God, we MUST forgive them (but not trust them) in order to inherit eternal life.
Because ALL of us are people in great need of mercy, with a great debt to God, and none of us can ever hope to pay this debt by means of our own moral, intellectual, spiritual or physical resources. We therefore must be merciful to others and forgive them. But whether God forgives them also is a matter between them and God. It is not our role to judge that. But it IS our role many times to confront those who have sinned against us. May God help us to have the courage to do that, as required.
We have seen then that Jesus puts conditions on salvation that we don't always hear preached.
1. Humility and childlikeness
2. Staying clear of gross sin
3. Not causing others to stumble by means of our own bad example or doctrine
4. Forgiving others the wrongs they have done to us
May the Lord God help us.