Not far from the kingdom

Years ago I became friends with a man who often attended our congregation.

He was intelligent, curious, and interesting.

We’d go to lunch and talk about different things, and he had a depth of knowledge about a wide range of topics, including the Bible.

He was good-hearted and generous and would help people financially with special needs. He would even contribute toward mission efforts.

But he was not a Christian.

He believed in Jesus, but something held him back from surrendering himself to Christ.

I could never figure out exactly what it was, though I believe he held a few intellectual objections that he couldn’t quite dismiss.

Not long after, his job moved him to another state, and we lost touch.

In some ways I think he was like the man to whom Jesus said: “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

Jesus meant that as a compliment. He and this gentleman had just had a brief conversation about faith, and the Lord knew the man was close to becoming a disciple. It seems that Jesus was gently nudging the man toward saving faith.

That’s the last we read of him, but I’d like to think he overcame whatever reservation he had and that he submitted himself to Jesus. I think we’ll see him in heaven.

It’s encouraging to know people like that—good-hearted folks who would do anything to help anybody.

But it breaks your heart to see some of them refuse to obey the gospel and be saved.

I try not to become too preachy in these devotionals, and I shy away from pressuring people to obey Christ.

But as I read this passage in Mark I wondered if perhaps some of our readers are like the man in this story: near—but not in—the kingdom of God.

I know it’s true of a lot of folks in the world.

Sometimes the barrier is our own good works. We’ve lived mostly clean, moral lives characterized by many of the Christian graces: love, kindness, mercy, and patience. We don’t come anywhere close to the stereotypical image of the anti-Christian or the raving atheist.

But we need to remember that good works won’t save us. We’ve all rebelled against God, and the only work that can save us is what Jesus did on the cross.

Sometimes we’re hindered by pride. We like self-sufficiency, and we simply don’t like surrendering our allegiance.

Maybe that’s why God mentions pride as a most deadly danger—it gives us a false sense of control and blinds us to our helplessness. Intellectually, we know what we ought to do, but we’ve got a streak of stubbornness that keeps us from doing it.

Some folks just put it off. They think of it often, maybe every day, and they plan to do it.

Soon. Very soon.

Just as soon as life slows down a little . . .

It’s sad to see, but I’ve watched as the gospel’s effect on someone’s heart becomes less urgent over time.

Not far from the kingdom of God.

In a way, that’s a great place to be, because it means there’s very little that’s keeping you from enjoying life in the kingdom.

In another way, it’s terribly scary, because some people believe that proximity is the same as acceptance. They live their entire lives just outside the kingdom of Jesus.

As with everything Jesus said, we ought to turn it back toward ourselves.

Where are we—in the kingdom, or standing just outside?

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