The Key of the Gospel
“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (vv. 35–36).- John 3:31–36
God has appointed the keys of the gospel and church discipline to open and close the door to His kingdom (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 83). As church elders are faithful to Scripture in the exercise of these keys, they help professing church members to understand who enjoys eternal life and who has not been forgiven by God (Matt. 18:15–20; John 20:19–23). They proclaim that heaven is open to those who are truly repentant and believe but closed to those who demonstrate that their profession of faith is false by their impenitence.
Question and answer 84 of the Heidelberg Catechism explain how the key of the gospel opens the doors to the kingdom of heaven. As the catechism tells us, the gospel grants us access to the kingdom because it proclaims to all true believers that the Father has forgiven our sins in Christ Jesus. Fallen men and women are under sin, and they are separated from the glory of the Lord (Rom. 3:9–20). The gospel proclaims that we can be released from sin and the wrath of God if we simply trust in Christ alone for salvation. In so doing, we receive the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness, and the Father forgives us of all our sins. We are enabled to stand in the presence of His glory when we are in Christ, for believing in Jesus, we are justified in the sight of God (vv. 21–26). This is the way to enjoy the full blessing of God’s kingdom, namely, eternal life in His presence (6:23).
Church elders are to open the doors of the kingdom to repentant sinners by faithfully proclaiming the gospel. They must do as John the Baptist did and point away from themselves to the Savior, declaring that all those who believe in the Son have eternal life. At the same time, they must warn people that the doors of the kingdom of heaven are shut to those who remain in their sin, to those who do not submit to Christ’s command to repent and believe (John 3:35–36).
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (v. 36). Everyone who repents and rests in Christ alone for salvation, demonstrating that belief in a life of true, albeit imperfect, obedience to Jesus, has eternal life. Church elders may freely tell such people that they have entered into the kingdom of God.
Preachers open and close the door to the kingdom not by their own authority but by the authority of God’s Word. As they faithfully preach the gospel, they open up the way of salvation and call people to follow this way into the kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ. But if they do not preach the gospel, they keep the door closed and the way of salvation hidden to unbelievers. We must therefore encourage our pastors as they preach the gospel.
Passages for Further Study
1 Thessalonians 5:9–10