Can We Enter the Heavenly Kingdom by Emulating Paul?
When I was 18 years old I believed in the Lord Jesus because of my illness, gradually I recovered as a result of the Lord’s grace. To repay His love, I determined to work for the Lord all my life. Then I joined a church choir and became a singing teacher. I often sang hymns and prayed in praise of the Lord with brothers and sisters. Besides that, I performed Christian drama and preached the Lord’s gospel in many places. When I followed the Lord, I had particular faith in what Paul said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). I often taught brothers and sisters to sing this song, believing that as long as we are willing to sacrifice for the Lord, we can obtain His approval, enter the heavenly kingdom, and get a reward. So I would feel abundant happiness every time I thought that in the heavenly kingdom there would be no arrest and persecution of the Chinese Communist Party, no ridicule, slander and judgment from the world, no suffering, tears, sadness, and death; but instead, there would be the eternal days with the company of angels, filled with cheers and laughter in the presence of the Lord. When preaching and working for the Lord, I often had to face the CCP’s arrest and persecution. However, as soon as I thought of the Bible saying, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), I would believe there would be eternal blessing in the heavenly kingdom in the future. All of this was worthwhile no matter how much I suffered and how many tears I shed for the Lord. Therefore, I was resolved to spend my whole life preaching and working for the Lord.
Once while in a co-worker meeting, Sister Zhou proposed, “What about fellowshiping how to enter the heavenly kingdom today? I’m still not clear about it.”
Then, I said with full assurance, “Sister Zhou, about this question, Brother Paul had already told us clearly, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness’ (2 Timothy 4:7-8). As long as we emulate Paul to sacrifice everything and work hard for the Lord, we can certainly be brought into the heavenly kingdom when the Lord returns.”
Sister Zhou said, “I have a different opinion about this question. Although we can work hard and sacrifice everything for the Lord, we still live in the state of committing sins and confessing them. We often tell lies, act willfully, and can’t practice much of the Lord’s word. It seems that all these still cannot please the Lord. The Lord is holy and no man shall see the Lord without being sanctified. Then how can we who work hard for the Lord, but still commit sins too often, really enter the heavenly kingdom? Can the Lord rapture us into His kingdom when He returns? I’m really dubious about it.”
I said, “Sister Zhou, it’s true that we often commit sins, but the Lord knows our stature and He has bountiful grace. He will absolve our sins. We are justified by faith and saved by grace, and shall also enter the heavenly kingdom by grace. Now we can sacrifice everything and spend for the Lord, this is extremely blessed by the Lord. Paul said, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness’ (2 Timothy 4:7-8). So people like us who work hard for the Lord can certainly receive the Lord’s approval and be brought into the heavenly kingdom when the Lord returns. We should have such faith.”
Brother Wang said seriously, “Sister, I think it’s not right that you take Paul’s words as the standard of entering the heavenly kingdom. After all, Paul is a man and man is corrupted by Satan. No one can guarantee that man’s words contain no personal motivation and adulteration, no personal ambitions and exaggerate desires, and no satanic corrupt disposition. I think since we are believing in the Lord, we should understand everything according to the Lord Jesus’ words. This is the most reliable way. And we should go by the Lord’s words more, especially on the matter of entering the heavenly kingdom. Only by doing this can our understanding be the most correct. The Lord Jesus’ words are the only truth, and the Lord Jesus is the only King of the heavenly kingdom. But Paul was only an apostle preaching the gospel. He was not the king of the heavenly kingdom and could not represent the Lord, so his words were not the truth, and his path was not necessarily the way to the heavenly kingdom. If we choose the path to the heavenly kingdom only according to Paul’s words, then we will easily go astray. The Lord Jesus said, ‘Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21). God’s words make it very clear that only the ones who do the will of God can enter the heavenly kingdom. So practicing the Lord’s words is the only path to entering the heavenly kingdom.”
It was hard for me to accept brother Wang’s words. So I said, “Brother Wang, what you said is reasonable. It’s true that we can only enter the heavenly kingdom by doing the will of God. But I don’t understand: We emulate Paul to work hard, sacrifice and spend for the Lord—spread the Lord’s gospel everywhere, set up churches, and bring people before the Lord; aren’t we following the Lord’s will?”
Brother Wang continued to say, “Sister, what, in fact, is following the will of God? We can’t understand it by our own notions and imaginations. Instead, we should understand it according to the Lord’s words; only then will our foundation be correct. The Lord Jesus said, ‘Not every one that said to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? and in Your name have cast out devils? and in Your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity’ (Matthew 7:21-23). His words put it clearly that those assiduous workers preached, cast out demons, and performed many miracles all in the name of the Lord. Not only were they not praised by the Lord, but they were determined as wicked by the Lord. This is enough to prove that working hard for the Lord does not equal doing the will of the heavenly Father. Let’s recall the Pharisees under the law: They traveled over sea and land to preach the gospel, toiling and laboring. Judging by our notions and imaginations, they must have done God’s will by spending and suffering like this. But what are the facts? When the Lord Jesus came, instead of accepting Him, they instigated the Jews to crazily condemn and resist Him, and even colluded with the Roman government to crucify Him on the cross. Eventually, they were punished and cursed by God because of their numerous evil deeds. It can be seen that it’s incorrect to judge whether one does God’s will only by one’s outward suffering and sacrifices. It’s most important and crucial to make a judgment by seeing whether one’s motivation is to truly love God, and one’s expenditure and toil to sincerely satisfy God. Take Paul for example. He suffered much and paid many prices in preaching the gospel. But the motivation of his sacrifices was not to love and satisfy the Lord, nor even to do God’s will, but instead to gain the crown and the Lord’s rewards. Just as Paul himself said, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness’ (2 Timothy 4:7-8). This suffices to prove that Paul was carrying out a transaction with the Lord using his spending and devotion, and was to achieve his own purposes with his outward sacrifice and suffering. How can such sacrifices be approved by the Lord or for doing God’s will? We can suffer and expend ourselves for the Lord, but it’s undeniable that we can still commit sins too often. It indicates that we still belong to Satan; we are still filthy and corrupt; and we can still oppose and betray God. Then how can we be fit to enter the heavenly kingdom? We can sacrifice for the Lord, spread the gospel, build churches, and support believers, and so on; these are our responsibilities and duties. If our performing duties is to love God, to obey and satisfy God, and without individual impurities and transactions, only such spending and devotion can be approved and blessed by God. If our spending and devotion is to carry out a transaction with the Lord, to satisfy our fleshly interests, to enter the heavenly kingdom and receive rewards, and if we treat these as bargaining chips for our entry into the heavenly kingdom, such spending and devotion are of a deceptive nature and go against God. Then how can we be called the followers of the heavenly Father’s will by making such efforts?”
After hearing Brother Wang’s fellowship, I fell into deep thought, thinking: Lord, I have been emulating Paul since I believed in You; am I really wrong? Brother Wang’s fellowship is quite practical. My belief in You indeed has many impurities and is indeed to gain blessings. Lord, is such toil really not approved by You?
So I asked another question, “Brother Wang, your fellowship today really pricked my heart, leading me to reflect on my desire to obtain blessings by making deals with the Lord. But there is still a question I don’t understand: Paul endured prison many times for preaching the Lord’s gospel; he encountered so many dangers and suffered so many hardships. This is a fact recognized by the entire religious world. Then how should we discern it?”
Sister Zhou said smilingly, “You raised a good question. If we can’t make out Paul’s substance, we will emulate Paul and take the wrong way. This really involves the great matter of our salvation and our entry into the heavenly kingdom. Brother Wang, please fellowship more with us.”
Brother Wang raised his cup and took a drink. Then he said, “There is great need to fellowship this question. If we can’t discern Paul’s words and his substance, then it will be very easy for us to listen to and worship other people, and to walk upon the path of resisting God. Let’s review Paul’s words again, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness’ (2 Timothy 4:7-8). According to Paul’s words, if people simply work hard for the Lord, they can enter the heavenly kingdom, even if they don’t follow God’s word or attain holiness. Then how can God’s righteousness and holiness be known? Paul’s words are enough to show that he completely went against God’s will. He is denying the words of the Lord Jesus, and is disrupting and disturbing God’s work. So, is simply fighting a good fight and finishing the course doing the heavenly Father’s will? Following the heavenly Father’s will is following God’s words, His commandments, and His instructions. If man doesn’t act according to the Lord’s word, their labor has nothing to do with ‘doing the will of the Father which is in heaven.’ Paul’s words were born purely of his own notions and imaginations, and they are enough to show that Paul was not really doing the heavenly Father’s will. If he were a man who did God’s will, then why hadn’t he taught the believers to follow the words of the Lord Jesus? Why did he preach notions that betrayed the words of the Lord Jesus and contradicted Him? He used his own absurd views to mislead and deceive others, obstructing others from walking the way of the Lord Jesus, and making His word hollow. He asked man to follow him and betray the Lord. This shows us that Paul was not a seeker of truth or a follower of God’s will.”
I was filled with inward emotion: “Lord, today’s fellowship truly opened up my eyes. Otherwise, I would have no discernment of Paul’s substance at all. Without today’s fellowship, I would go on emulating Paul, practicing according to Paul’s words, and walking on the wrong way of resisting God. Today I have finally gained some discernment. I really must reflect on the path I’m walking earnestly. Oh, Lord! Thanks for Your salvation of me …”
Brother Li continued, “Brother Wang’s fellowship is reasonable. When the Lord Jesus did His work, He expressed many truths and performed many miracles. With Paul’s qualities, he should have recognized what the Lord Jesus did was from God. But Paul never verified it or sought the way of the Lord Jesus and preached everywhere and publicly opposed the Lord Jesus. When the Lord Jesus was nailed to the cross, the sky turned black, the earth shook, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And the Lord Jesus appeared to people for forty days after resurrection. These two greatest miracles shocked everybody in Judea, and the disciples also performed many miracles in the name of the Lord Jesus. Paul saw all of these things, but rather than admit that the Lord Jesus was God, he resisted Him more fiercely. He asked for letters from the chief priests himself, madly hunted, and persecuted the Lord Jesus’ disciples. It seemed that he wouldn’t give up if he hadn’t killed all the followers of the Lord Jesus. These facts are more than enough to prove that Paul was a man who deliberately resisted God, and devoted himself to disrupting God’s work, and that He hated the truth and opposed God by nature and substance. Or else, why could he have made an enemy of the Lord Jesus, who came to express the truth? I saw two passages in a book. Now let’s read them, ‘At the mention of Paul, you will think of his history, and of some of the stories about him that are inaccurate and out of line with reality. He was taught by his parents from a young age, and received My life, and as a result of My predestination he was possessed of the caliber that I require. … Nevertheless, his one imperfection was that, because of his talents, he would often be glib and boastful. As a result, due to his disobedience, part of which directly represented the archangel, when I became flesh for the first time, he made every effort to defy Me.’ ‘For, in the beginning, he persecuted Christ, and did not submit to Christ; he was inherently a rebel who deliberately opposed Christ, and someone who had no knowledge of the work of the Holy Spirit. When his work was almost concluded, still he did not know the work of the Holy Spirit, and merely acted of his own accord pursuant to his own character, without paying the slightest attention to the will of the Holy Spirit. And so his nature was in enmity to Christ and did not obey the truth. Someone like this, who had been forsaken by the work of the Holy Spirit, who did not know the work of the Holy Spirit, and who also opposed Christ—how could such a person be saved?’ These words have revealed Paul’s nature so thoroughly! Paul was a man who deliberately resisted Christ and made an enemy of God. And Paul never actually knew the Lord Jesus. His savage resistance to the Lord Jesus was due to his nature and essence of hating the truth and resisting God. His evil deeds before he saw the light were indeed loathsome; they showed that his nature and essence was too vicious and was exactly that of an antichrist.”
Brother Wang followed, “After Paul saw the light, he preached for many years and wrote many letters, but that doesn’t actually prove that he truly repented. Within his letters, we don’t see any real reflection upon or even awareness of his evil deeds in resisting the Lord Jesus or arresting His disciples. He merely admitted that he was a chief sinner. He never spoke about his nature and substance, and he never dissected for what purpose and reason he resisted the Lord Jesus. There wasn’t a single word from him on these matters. Does that sound like someone who truly repented? Why did Paul answer the calling of the Lord Jesus and work for Him? The truth is, he was completely unwilling. He knew that if he didn’t agree, he would be punished, and he would die. The suffering he underwent to preach the gospel was merely penance. Can a man merely paying for his sins have true repentance? Also, we can clearly see from Paul’s letters that within his preaching, he never exalted or testified the Lord Jesus. He never testified how the Lord Jesus saved people, supplied people, and led people. Moreover, he never testified that the Lord Jesus is the truth, the way, and the life, and that He is God’s appearance, God becomes flesh to do His own work. Paul never testified to the loveliness of the Lord Jesus. He never spread or testified to the whole truth the Lord Jesus expressed, or the words He spoke, nor did he exhort believers to obey the words of the Lord Jesus, and to follow, serve, and testify Him by the whole truth expressed by Him; nor did he fellowship about the substance of the work of the Lord Jesus and the fruits of it, or about how to follow the heavenly Father’s will to enter the heavenly kingdom. Instead he willfully explained the work of the Lord Jesus, and misinterpreted His words. Many of the things he said gravely disrupted and disturbed the work of God in the Age of Grace. Can any of that prove he truly repented? The work of Paul did not lead believers before the Lord Jesus to experience His words or understand that the Lord Jesus is the appearance of God. Instead he exalted and testified of himself, and more hatefully, he even said such rebellious words about God as ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,’ thus leading the believers before himself, and making them worship him as God. His nature is exactly like that of the archangel and his way the one of the antichrists. Can we receive the approval of the Lord and enter the heavenly kingdom if we follow such a chief sinner who resisted God?”
Listening to the fellowship of brothers and sister, I said abashedly, “Thank the Lord! From today’s fellowship, I see the Lord’s salvation for us. I have believed in the Lord for many years and have been emulating Paul all along. I personally believed that as long as I could suffer and spend for the Lord, then I am in line with the Lord’s will and I can be raptured into the heavenly kingdom when the Lord returns. Through your fellowship I can see clearly that Paul was the worst of sinners who resisted the Lord. He spent and paid to barter with the Lord and deceive Him so as to achieve his personal purpose of gaining blessings and rewards. In my many years of believing in the Lord, I have been emulating Paul with the purpose of entering the heavenly kingdom and receiving rewards. Without your fellowship today, I would continue to walk along Paul’s path. I see how blind and ignorant I was. I believed in the Lord, but instead of practicing the Lord’s words, I believed and pursued according to the words of humans. The consequence of my pursuit like this is that I will become an opposer of God and then be punished by God. It is not until today that I know I really can’t enter the heavenly kingdom by emulating Paul. And at the same time, I have seen God’s most true and real love for me. Although I have been treading the wrong path of emulating Paul, God hasn’t treated me according to my faults, but He saved me with kind intentions and hoped that I could repent and start afresh to become a new person. Thank God!” Tears of happiness and sadness trickled down my cheeks.
Then I continued, saying, “Now I know I shouldn’t emulate Paul to tread the wrong path of making deals with the Lord. But what’s the way of doing God’s will? I’m still not clear about this, please communicate it to me.”
Sister Zhou said happily, “This is a good question. Only the ones who seek the truth with a hunger and thirst for righteousness can really enter the gate of the heavenly kingdom. From today’s fellowship, we have gained some discernment of the substance of why we have walked upon the wrong path. It forces us to truly reflect on ourselves who emulate Paul to work hard for the Lord and only want to enter the kingdom. And we know that one can preach the Lord’s gospel and work hard for the Lord doesn’t mean that one is carrying out the will of the heavenly Father. But, I do not know what is doing the will of the heavenly Father, either.”
Brother Li said, “Truly doing the heavenly Father’s will is following the Lord’s way and His commandments, and doing our duty according to His requirements. Just like what the Lord Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-39). Doing the heavenly Father’s will means following and practicing what the Lord Jesus says. This is the most basic principle. If we do not obey the Lord Jesus’ words, but obey man’s words in the Bible, then we are not doing God’s will but are opposing God. People who do the will of God can submit to and practice whatever He says or does, and can exalt God and testify Him. Such people will receive God’s approval. Take Abraham for example. He was able to obey the commands of God, act according to God’s requirements, and endure pain to give back his beloved only son to God by offering him up as a burnt offering. Because of his absolute obedience, God blessed him to be a father of many nations and his descendants as stars of the heaven. Another example, Job feared God and kept away from evil. Even when tested with the loss of his possessions and children, he would rather curse himself than murmur against God. He still praised Jehovah God’s holy name. Because he stood witness for God and shamed Satan, he became a perfect man in the eyes of God. There’s also Peter. He followed the Lord Jesus all his life, thirsting and seeking after the truth. After he received the Lord’s commission, he abided by the Lord’s will and requirements to shepherd the church, finally submitting even to death, and loving God to the utmost. They were all people who feared and obeyed God. Such people are those who truly do the will of the heavenly Father. If we want to become the one who does the will of the heavenly Father, we must experience the words and work of God according to a belief that God is the Master of all things, so that we can throw off our corrupt satanic disposition, make God’s words our life, and seek to satisfy God with a loving heart. Only when we truly understand God’s almightiness and sovereignty, God’s righteous disposition that tolerates no offense, and God’s benevolent essence can we achieve true obedience and true worship to God. Only those who seek God’s will and requirement in everything and practice according to God’s requirements can truly do the will of the heavenly Father, and can earn God’s praise and enter the heavenly kingdom.”
I said, “Thank the Lord! Today’s fellowship has corrected my erroneous pursuit and now I know that only Abraham, Job, and Peter are worth our emulation. We should follow their examples to believe in God: We should give our true hearts to God, do everything based on God’s words, satisfy God in accordance with His requirements, and use ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’ as our motto to practice; we should pursue to know God with a loving heart, and achieve obedience to God and the love of God. Only by doing this can we enter the heavenly kingdom.”
Sister Zhou said with a cheerful tone, “Thank the Lord! I reap a lot from our gathering and fellowship today. Now it can be seen that only by practicing according to God’s words, pursuing to know God, and throwing off our corrupt satanic disposition can we be saved and enter the heavenly kingdom.”