Can you imagine Jesus himself telling you, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.” Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Mark 12:32-34 NLT
Part of me wants to see this as encouraging, while the other part of me is fearful of making it to the gate but not through the door. Being not far from something still doesn’t mean you’re “in”.
I can be not far from the shore and get attacked by a shark. I can be not far from the safety of a safari caravan and be devoured by a lion. I could be in hell, close enough to see Father Abraham in heaven and beg him to send Lazarus with a cool drink of water, but still in eternal flames outside the Kingdom of God.
Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.
“Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.
“The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’
“But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’
“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’
“But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’
“The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’
“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Luke 16:19-31 NLT
So this statement silences me in the fear of God, just like it did those listening to the answer that Jesus Christ gave this man. They realized the danger in falling short. They realized the fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of God’s wrath. They understood that it wasn’t just about knowing, but doing. This man admitted to KNOWING the Word of God, but did not admit to DOING the Word of God.
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
James 1:22-27 NLT
People can practice religion and fool themselves.
Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. For anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us.
Hebrews 10:23-29 NLT
Oh, Lord. Help us to not be religious studies and forget the doing, the loving, the serving, the sharing your gospel, the building up of one another, the encouraging and helping one another – living a life to bring you honor and glory. Don’t let us just come close. Don’t let us turn back or hand from the plow. Let us cling to the hem of your garment. Let us know your healing touch. Tell us to “Go and sin no more” and in your authority, let it be so on earth as it is in heaven.