What are the Laws of the Kingdom?
A kingdom - like any nation today - cannot function without laws. There must be a standard of conduct for subjects and citizens to follow, or chaos and anarchy would result. Following the laws of a kingdom or nation does not grant a person citizenship - that is not the purpose of law. Law is simply a guide for people to follow to ensure cohesion, agreement, and peace in civil and interpersonal relationships. Without an understood standard, enforced by a sovereign ruler, everyone would act according to his own whim or desire, and nothing good or worthwhile would be produced (Judges 21:25).
The Kingdom of God is no different. God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33). His Kingdom will be peaceful and orderly because everyone who will enter into it will have voluntarily submitted himself to the law - the commandments - of God. God will not have anyone in His Kingdom who demonstrates, by the pattern of his life, that he will not obey Him (Matthew 7:21-23; Hebrews 10:26-31). Revelation 12:17 describes the saints as those "who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."
A Pharisee once asked Jesus, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" (Matthew 22:36). His response shows that the intent behind God's law is love - love toward God, and love toward fellow man:
Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)
These two statements - loving God and loving neighbor as oneself - encapsulate the first four and the last six commandments respectively. The commandments merely define further how to love God and love man. We love God in general by placing Him first, by not adopting physical aids in worshipping Him, by not bearing His name in vain, and by keeping the seventh-day Sabbath holy. We love man, in general, by honoring our parents, not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, not lying, and not coveting.
When Jesus Christ came, He revealed the spirit - the intent - of His law. He showed that the sixth commandment extends much further than merely prohibiting the taking of human life, but covers even hating (Matthew 5:21-22). Similarly, the intent behind the seventh commandment is to stop adultery at its source: the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Following God's commandments in both their letter and spirit ensures the best quality of life for everyone.
When Jesus was asked what one must do to have eternal life, His response was simple: "If you want to enter into [eternal] life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17). To reinforce this, in His last words to the disciples before His arrest and crucifixion, He had much to say about keeping God's commandments. He was giving them (and us) instruction that would not be absolved by His death:
"If you love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14:15)
"He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." (verse 21)
"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me." (verses 23-24)
The apostle James calls the Ten Commandments "the royal law" - meaning that it came from a King, and is worthy of His Kingdom:
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. (James 2:8-12, emphasis ours)
While a man cannot earn entrance into God's Kingdom - that is a gift that God must bestow (Ephesians 2:8) - it is plain from Scripture that willful rebellion against God's standard of righteousness will keep a man out of the Kingdom:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you. .. that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
I Corinthians 6:9-10 includes homosexuals (catamites), sodomites, thieves, coveters, and extortionists in the list of those who will be barred from entering the Kingdom of God. Revelation 21:8 mentions that the cowardly, the unbelieving, and the abominable will not live eternally. Revelation 22:15 adds "whoever loves and practices a lie." These examples show that there is a standard of conduct by which God expects the heirs to His Kingdom to live. After all, eternal life is more than just length of days - living forever would be a terrible curse if there were not also quality of life to match it.
Our Savior tells us what He means by eternal life: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). He defines eternal life as "to know God." "Know" suggests a close intimacy, just as a husband and wife are intimate in marriage (Genesis 4:1). It indicates experiential knowledge, not theoretical. In Amos 5:4, God exclaims, "Seek Me and live!" He is saying, "Turn to Me and My way of life; seek to know Me," not "Search for Me." He is saying, "Seek to know Me by living the same way I do." That is how experiential knowledge of Him becomes an intimate knowing of Him. We know Him, in large part, by living the same law of love that He lives by.
Next: Repentance, Belief, and the Gospel (7/12)