1 Corinthians 9: 25
“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This is the 30th session of the ‘Heaven’ lecture series.
Continuing from the last session, I will talk to you about the First Kingdom of Heaven.
The 1st kingdom of heaven is a place for those who are at the second level of faith; namely those who have received salvation by faith and tried to cast off sins and live by the word of God.
And actually, this stage is the time that people feel is the most difficult in their process of spiritual growth.
Through the Holy Spirit they discover their sins and also the sinful natures which they were not aware of before are revealed. They are surprised at themselves and also become disappointed in themselves.
They also make up their minds to live by the word of God, but sometimes they fall so easily despite their determination.
Likewise, knowing the word of God, if we do not keep our hearts, but are tempted by sin, our hearts feel more afflicted than when we didn’t know the word of God.
It’s because the Holy Spirit in us is lamenting what we’ve done, and the good part of our conscience also lets us know that we shouldn’t do it. But, we must not give up at this point.
When toddlers begin to walk, they fall and even cry many times, but because they keep on standing back up and trying, they can finally walk by themselves. If these children were to just give up because it’s difficult to walk, then, they would never be able to walk.
It’s the same in Christian life. At the second level of faith, where we feel the greatest difficulty, we must not give up, but instead we must ask for the grace and strength of God and the help of the Holy Spirit.
Then, we will be able to act by the word of God and grow up to have greater faith.
Therefore, I urge you in the name of the Lord to make this message your strength. Break up and get rid of the congestion slowing the progress of your Christian life, and grow into having more perfect faith.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the second level of faith, at which we can receive the 1st kingdom of heaven, is the level of faith of trying to live by the word of God. And, it’s not merely trying, but there will be substantial changes if we are really trying our best.
For example, suppose you got angry 10 times the previous month. But as you try to show your deeds of faith, the number of times you get angry will be reduced.
If you do not just try only with lips, but with actual actions in truthfulness, there will surely be changes.
So, in the next month, you will get angry only 8 times a month, and in the month after that 4 times, and then 2 times.
In any kind of situation, even if you are upset in your mind, if you can control it and keep it just within you, not showing your anger on the outside, it means you have just entered into the 3rd level of faith.
Of course, merely not getting angry and showing it on the outside does not always mean you are at the 3rd level of faith. Getting angry is just one example from among so many deeds of untruth that are shown on the outside.
Not only this, but you also have to keep the whole Sabbath and give proper tithes. At a minimum, you must not do anything in action that God’s word tells us not to do.
But this is difficult, because it’s like trying to go upstream in a boat.
If you do not row, the boat cannot go forward, and instead, it will go backward.
While in the second level of faith you may feel it is difficult to cut off all the works of the flesh (sin in action), but if you do not try your best to live by the word of God, you will either be stuck at one spot or backslide.
You may go back to the first level of faith, or may even just go back to the world completely.
Let me tell you one story that can let us realize we should never give up in our struggle against sins. There is a mountain villa on top of one of the mountains in Alps.
And about 5 meters away from the villa, there is a grave with a cross on it. The story is as follows:
There was a mountain-climber who met with a big snow storm while he was climbing the mountain.
Because he knew that there was a mountain villa on the top, he tried his best to get to the top.
But to make it worse, the sun went down, and complete darkness covered the mountain.
He kept on climbing in the dark in the snowstorm that was getting heavier, but he couldn’t find the villa.
He was wandering around and he couldn’t even see 1 meter ahead of him. He finally thought he was lost. He collapsed in despair and just gave up. Next day, the storm was gone. There were other people climbing the mountain who found a person who died near the top of the mountain.
And the place he died was just 5 meters away from the mountain villa.
If he had just gone 5 meters more, without giving up in the heavy snowstorm, he would have survived. But he fell into despair and gave up.
In your walk of faith going towards your final goal, New Jerusalem, you may face hardships that are like heavy snowstorms.
You may face situations where you feel like you are walking through complete darkness with no way out.
At these times, I hope you are able to recall the story about this mountain climber, and keep on going, just ‘5 more meters’.
If you try to stand up by faith even in very difficult situations, God the Father will not just leave you to be alone. He will certainly give you strength and power.
Then, please believe from the heart that after receiving strength and power you will not just walk feeling it hard, but you will be able to even run.
Isaiah 40:31 says, “Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.”
Therefore, the more difficult you may feel your Christian life is, I hope, the more you will earnestly ask for God’s strength and come into spirit and whole spirit with that strength.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in our life in faith, we have to keep on going up towards the top of the mountain like in mountain climbing.
But some people just stay at the second level of faith. This is like just staying at the foot of the mountain because it’s too difficult to climb the steep hills.
Then, you may forget about your goal to climb to the top of the mountain, and you just find something easy to do at the foot of the mountain.
In a Christian life this is same as just trying to do many other things instead of struggling against sins because it seems too difficult.
For example, you just think, “I can just do a lot of voluntary works,” or “I can just try my best in singing and dancing.” But, the only way for our faith to grow is to cast off untruths from heart. This is the circumcision of the heart.
Only to the extent that we cast off untruths from our hearts and fill our hearts with the truth instead, to make our hearts true, only then can God the Father give us spiritual faith from above so that we can have perfect faith.
Therefore, when you do various voluntary works, the works must be accompanied by circumcision of the heart.
Of course, it’s easier to become sanctified doing some voluntary works and other services, rather than not doing anything like these at all.
As you fulfill your duties, you encounter other people who have characters, personalities and thoughts different from you, so you can find sinful natures of which you were not aware.
When you fervently pray about these sinful natures that you find, God’s grace and strength come upon you, and you can also receive the help of the Holy Spirit. Then, your desire to commit sins will become weaker, and the desire to practice the truth will become stronger.
But even among those who fast and pray a lot for the kingdom of God, there are surprisingly many who are staying at the second level of faith.
Those who pray for the kingdom of God, if they pray with true faith and love following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will certainly circumcise their heart as well.
But just as there are people who just enjoy voluntary works, there are also people who enjoy the act of praying itself.
So, even though they pray so much for the kingdom of God, they just pray for what they know with their knowledge. Some others become satisfied with themselves that they pray so much.
It’s the same with fasting.
Those who fast properly following the will of God and please God with their fasting will receive the answer to their desires. But some people fast to cast off their sins, and they misunderstand that their sins will be cast off just by the act of fasting itself, and they are satisfied completing only the act of fasting.
Fasting is a way of earnestly seeking and asking God something, and also, it’s a way to keep something in our mind so deeply and beat our body into submission to make it obedient.
Thinking about the pain and hardship you have during the fast, you determine again and again not to commit sin again.
Please remember that fasting and prayer in itself doesn’t circumcise your heart. The circumcision of heart is done by making up your mind and bringing down the grace and strength from God through the fasting and prayer.
Therefore, your fasting and prayer should be powerful ones that bring down God’s grace and strength. If your fast and prayers are not of such kind, you should understand that your progress in going into spirit is slow, even though you pray and fast so much.
Whether you fast, do voluntary works, or sing praises, or preach the gospel or make visitations to other members, in whatever you do, the actual purpose of all these is to have growth of faith through circumcision of heart.
But because some of you just concentrate on the prayer itself, voluntary service itself, and the duty of praising God itself, you cannot go up higher than the second level of faith, even though you seem to be a faithful worker for God on the outside.
And the case of an elder I am going to introduce to you is also one of these kinds of people.
He fulfilled his duty as a member of the financial committee, and also did many other voluntary works for God’s kingdom and received the title of an elder, too.
But because he had the mind of seeking his own and his own thoughts, he could not walk the right way in his business, so he many times caused disgrace against God.
He lacked truthfulness in his words. He disobeyed God in many aspects and also had problems with many people.
So, with his faith, it was enough for him to be saved and go to paradise. Of course, on the outside, he seemed to have faith.
He kept the Lord’s Day, always attended Daniel prayer meetings, and seemed to be faithful in all his duties.
But because he didn’t circumcise his heart, he sometimes showed his anger, had conflicts with many people, and disobeyed God’s word in many aspects.
God who sees the inner heart of men checked all these things.
But most church members do not really know other people’s inner hearts. They just judge with what is seen on the outside. So, in the elections at the end of the year to select leaders, he was also selected as a leader in Men’s Mission.
The church gives the conditions of leaders and suggest the church members that they select the ones who are most qualified by these conditions, but they sometimes select their leaders seeing only outward things.
But then, why did the members vote for him? It was because he loved the shepherd and followed him greatly.
He had always had the desire in his heart such as, “How can I make more money and become strength to the shepherd, pay back the loan the church received, and build the church?”
He had this good heart in him, but the problem was that he didn’t cast off the untruths in him but kept much of those untruths.
So, he did his business only with his own wisdom causing many problems again and again. He frequently borrowed money and could not pay back. As his physical situations got worse and worse, he also lost his spiritual fullness, and finally, he began to lose his heavenly rewards that he had stored before.
If God had left him that way in that situation, he would have fallen into paradise, and if more time had passed, he might have even risked his salvation itself.
But within God’s justice and love, God called his spirit so that he could barely go into the first kingdom of heaven.
He attended Sunday evening service, went back home and had his dinner and lied down, and suddenly passed away.
God let me know what he confessed staying at the waiting place of heaven, and I will introduce to you some parts of it.
“I troubled my shepherd so much when I was living. I disobeyed the shepherd so much. I had many conflicts with many people. I spoke so many words that were not truthful.
With my faith, it could have been impossible for me to receive salvation, and I couldn’t go to any other place but paradise, but just because I served one person my shepherd whom God loves so much since long ago, I can go to 1st kingdom of heaven. I am thankful for this.
I am sorry. I am sorry for many things.
I am sorry that I did not obey when I was in my body, even though my shepherd preached so earnestly. I am so sorry. I have done wrong.
When I was living, I was burdened because I couldn’t tell you these things in detail.
I am so sorry. I am sorry that I was not truthful. I was in the church filled with truth for so long, but I did not value the word of God preached by the shepherd. I did so wrong that I was always a worry to my shepherd.
Nevertheless, I thank You for bringing me to the first kingdom of heaven, not letting me stay in paradise as an elder.
It is in fact shameful that I am in the first kingdom of heaven as an elder of Manmin church. But because it’s much more glorious to be in the 1st kingdom than the paradise, my heart is comforted. Thank You.
I am just so thankful that I can go into 1st kingdom of heaven. And only now I tell you all the things in the past and repent of them, and please forgive me.
Now, I will stay here with gladness and happiness with the joy of salvation and the thanks for being let into the 1st kingdom of heaven.”
In the next session, I will give you one more example of a person who is going into the 1st kingdom of heaven.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in this session, I explained to you about the 2nd level of faith with which we can be granted the 1st kingdom of heaven, and I gave you one real-life example of an elder who went into the 1st kingdom.
As you listened to the message, can you confidently say your faith is better than this elder?
Amen! You should obviously be able to say it.
But if you have better faith than him, it means you do not commit any kind of sin in action.
You don’t ever get angry; and you don’t have any conflicts or quarrel with anybody.
Also, in any kind of situation, you keep the proper Sabbath and give proper tithes. You do not fall asleep during worship service, and because you have the faith of trying to live by the word of God, you pray.
If you are leading this kind of Christian life, you passed at least the 1st kingdom of heaven, and you can look up to better dwelling places.
If you are not doing better than this, you may go to the 1st kingdom, or if you do not have any genuine effort to live by the word of God, even 1st kingdom is difficult for you to get.
Therefore, from now, I hope you will check your faith and take hold of heavenly kingdom by force, with truthful deeds of cultivating your inner being.
I pray in the name of the Lord that you will finally get to the peak of a Christian life, the city of New Jerusalem, and enjoy the greatest and best joy and happiness given by God the Father.