THE KEYS
OF THE KINGDOM
A STUDY BY
GARY RAY BRANSCOME
Lesson 16


    By telling His disciples that He was the door to eternal life, Jesus made it clear that there is no salvation apart from Him (John 10:9). At the same time, because it is only through the gospel that we receive God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ, the gospel is the key that opens that door (Romans 1:16, John 3:16). Jesus is the door, the gospel is the key. Therefore, when Jesus told Peter that He would give him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” He was telling him that He would give him the knowledge that opens the door to eternal life (Matthew 16:19). However, because that knowledge is not limited to Peter, but belongs to everyone who trusts in Christ, all believers have the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:18, John 20:21-23). “According to Scripture, the power to absolve, or the power of the keys, belongs not to one person or to a few persons in the Church, but to all who have received the Holy Spirit, hence to all Christians without exception.” (Christian Dogmatics, by Dr. Francis Pieper, Volume 3, page 193) [John 20:23, 1Corinthians 5:1-5, Matthew 18:15-18, 1Timothy 1:15,20, Luke 22:32, Romans 3:23, Acts 4:12, John 10:9-10, Luke 11:52, Hosea 4:6, Mark 16:16, John 3:16, Romans 10:14-17.]

FORGIVING SIN

    We use those keys whenever we tell others about Christ, or assure those who are contrite, of forgiveness in Christ. And, that is exactly what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them” (Luke 24:47, John 20:22-23, see also Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18). In other words, we have the power to forgive the sins of others by telling them about Jesus, and pointing them to Him for forgiveness. Furthermore, the way in which we are to do that is revealed by the way in which Christ forgave sins. Therefore, it is important to notice that He never used self-exalting language to magnify His own importance, but instead simply said, “Be of good cheer your sins be forgiven thee” (Matthew 9:2, Luke 7:48, Philippians 2:5-7).

    That being the case, in dealing with a person who is sorry he sinned, but unsure that God will forgive him, we follow Christ’s example by saying, “Be of good cheer God has forgiven your sins for Christ's sake.” And, because that word of forgiveness is the Word of God, all who believe it receive forgiveness, not because of us but because through us they have come to faith in Christ (Ephesians 4:32, Galatians 3:6,22, Romans 1:17).
In other words, Christ is the source of forgiveness, not us. Faith simply receives the forgiveness that Christ obtained for us through His death on the cross. Therefore, we have no reason to boast, and should never act as if the power to forgive somehow lies in us. In fact, egotism only undermines our credibility. Instead our aim should always be to lift up Christ, pointing people to Him as the source of forgiveness. When that is done, the Spirit of Truth will bless our efforts and use us to build up the faith of others (Romans 10:17 and 1:17, 1John 5:10).

BAPTISM AND FORGIVENESS


    The key to understanding what the Bible says about baptism, lies in realizing that any mention of forgiveness in connection with baptism, is a promise of forgiveness in Christ (Acts 2:38 and 4:12). Moreover, because it is a promise of forgiveness in Christ, it is only through faith in Christ that we have access to what is promised (Galatians 3:22). Those who fail to understand this often assume that the ceremony conveys forgiveness automatically, but the Apostle Paul clearly taught that everything God promises us comes to us through faith in Christ, not by what we do (Galatians 3:22, 2Corinthians 1:20).
    In other words, even though God uses the ceremony of baptism to give us His promise of forgiveness in Christ, because that promise is only meant for those who trust in Christ, it is only through personal faith in Christ that we receive what is promised (Romans 5:2, Galatians 3:22). Therefore, just as someone can listen to a sermon yet receive nothing because they fail to look to Christ for forgiveness; someone can be baptized for the remission of sins yet receive nothing because they do not regard Christ as the source of forgiveness (Hebrews 11:6, Mark 16:16). In contrast, those who come to baptism believing that there is forgiveness in Christ, go away assured that when they came to Christ their sins were washed away (Acts 2:38 and 22:16, Galatians 3:6,22, Ephesians 2:8-9).

    Once we understand the relationship of God’s promises to faith in Christ, we can see that when Peter called on his listeners to “Repent, and be baptized… in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” he was saying “there is forgiveness in Christ” (Acts 2:38). Or, to put it another way, He was using baptism to say to all who came, “Be of good cheer your sins are forgiven for Christ's sake” (Acts 2:41). For that reason, he did not see baptism as a work, but as a proclamation of the gospel to which a visible element (water) had been added. Once this is understood, it should be obvious that God never intended for people to be pointed to baptism for forgiveness, as if the ceremony was the source of forgiveness. Instead, the ceremony was intended to point people to Christ as the source of forgiveness (Acts 4:12). Therefore, the act of coming to baptism should be seen as an expression of faith in Christ, not a work. [Note: We retain the sins of those who do not believe, by withholding baptism from them (Acts 8:37, John 20:23).]

THE LORD'S SUPPER AND FORGIVENESS


    When Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, He never intended for people to be pointed to the ceremony itself, as if the ceremony was the source of forgiveness (ex opere operato). On the contrary, the Lord’s Supper, like baptism, was intended to point people to Christ. And, the way it points them to Christ is by assuring them that Christ’s body and blood were “given” and “shed” for them for the remission of sins. Therefore, the key part of the ceremony is the gospel message that it was designed to proclaim, the good news that Christ affirmed when He said, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you” and “Drink ye all of it // This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:19,20, 1Corinthians 11:24). All who partake of the ceremony believing that Christ’s body and blood were “given” and “shed” for them, receive the forgiveness promised to them in the ceremony (Galatians 3:22). [Note: We retain the sins of those who are unrepentant, by excluding them from the Lord’s Supper (1Corinthians 5:1-11).]
    
    Since the Lord’s Supper was designed to proclaim the good news of forgiveness in Christ, whenever the one administering the Lord’s Supper repeats Christ’s words, Christ, in effect, says through him, “Be of good cheer, “My body” was “given for you” and “My blood” was “shed for you for the remission of sins”. Therefore, like baptism, the Lord's Supper, is a proclamation of the gospel to which a visible element (the bread and cup) has been added.

RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD


    One point that I have been trying to make throughout this essay is that when we proclaim the gospel we forgive the sins of those who believe. However, in order to avoid misunderstanding, I want to make it clear that no one is forgiven because they believe. On the contrary, it is Christ’s death on the cross, not our faith, that is the source of forgiveness. Our faith simply accepts the forgiveness that Christ died to obtain for us (Romans 5:2). My reason for stressing the fact that we only receive what is promised (in either baptism or the Lord’s Supper) through personal faith in Christ, is to make it clear that God’s grace does not come to us simply by performing a rite (ex opere operato). While God may use the rite to give us His promise, we fail to rightly divide the Word of truth if we give the unrepentant the impression that they can escape God’s wrath or receive His grace, simply by taking part in a ceremony (2Corinthians 1:20, Galatians 3:6-22).

CONCLUSION


    In order to rightly divide the Word of Truth, the law must be used to show people their need for forgiveness, while the gospel is used to assure those who repent of forgiveness in Christ. In short, the entire purpose of preaching (and of God’s Word in general) is to point people to Christ for forgiveness (1Corinthians 1:21, 1John 5:13). And, when it comes to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, that is only being done, when we make it clear that Christ is the source of forgiveness, and that we only receive God’s grace through personal faith in Him.
When we proclaim God’s Word in that way, God uses us to forgive the sins of those who repent, while binding the sins of those who harden themselves in unrepentance (John 20:23, 1Corinthians 5:1-11, Acts 8:37, Luke 10:16).
 

STUDY QUESTIONS


1- What is the key that opens the door to eternal life?
2- Who has the keys to the kingdom of heaven?
3- What do we accomplish by telling others about Jesus?
4- What is the key to understanding what the Bible says about baptism?
5- How do we receive what is promised to us in baptism?
6- Did Peter see baptism as a work?
7- How does the Lord’s Supper point people to Christ?
8- What is the entire purpose of preaching?
9- How do we receive God’s grace?
10- What are two ways in which we retain sin.