A number of scriptures in the Bible seem to indicate that various above-average achievers, including some types of religious leaders, wealthy people, and wise people will not be able to enter the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. Although proud people are not necessarily above-average achievers, we will also include them in our discussion.
We will consider specific scriptures in the Bible which indicate that those whom we have categorized as above-average achievers will not enter the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus Christ declares, “I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” [For a discussion of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven, click on “What is the Kingdom of Heaven and When Is It Coming?”]
It can be inferred from this scripture that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, who were Jewish religious leaders at that time, was not sufficient to enable them to enter the kingdom of heaven, since Jesus told the people to whom He was speaking that they could not enter the kingdom of heaven unless their righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees.
In regard to the same scripture, John Gill.s Exposition of the Bible states,
He [Jesus] mentions the Scribes, because they were the more learned part of the people, who were employed in writing out, and expounding the law; and the Pharisees, because they were the strictest sect among the Jews for outward religion and righteousness; and yet, it seems, their righteousness was very defective; it lay only in an external observance of the law; did not arise from a purified heart, or the principles of grace; nor was it performed sincerely, and with a view to the glory of God; but for their own applause. . . .
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary indicates that Matthew 5:20 makes a distinction between genuine righteousness and the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. The former “consisted in mere outward, unspiritual conformity to the Mosaic code, even though scrupulously observed. The believer’s righteousness is based upon that imputed righteousness of Christ obtained by faith. . . .”
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible asserts in reference to the same scripture, “Our righteousness, then – if it is to contrast with the outward and formal righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees – must be inward, vital, spiritual.”
Matthew 23:13 makes it even clearer that the scribes and Pharisees would not be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven. In this passage, Jesus states, “[W]oe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
This scripture indicates that not only were the scribes and Pharisees not going to enter the kingdom of heaven themselves, but because of their false teachings as religious leaders, their influence was preventing others from entering the kingdom of heaven.
However, neither of the two preceding scriptures means that none of the scribes and Pharisees would be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven. For example, it is generally believed that Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee, became a genuine follower of Christ (see John 3:1 and 19:38-39).
In Mathew 19:23-24, Jesus says to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” [Note: Mark 10:23-25 and Luke 18:24-25 make essentially the same statements.]
With regard to Matthew 19:23-24, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible states,
The way to heaven is to all a narrow way, and the gate that leads into it, a strait gate; but it is particularly so to rich people. More duties are expected from them than from others, which they can hardly do; and more sins do easily beset them, which they can hardly avoid. . . . Rich people have a great account to make up for their estates, their interest, their time, and their opportunities of doing and getting good, above others. It must be a great measure of divine grace that will enable a man to break through these difficulties. . . . [T]he conversion and salvation of a rich man is so extremely difficult, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle . . . . This is a proverbial expression, denoting a difficulty altogether unconquerable by the art and power of man; nothing less than the almighty grace of God will enable a rich man to get over this difficulty.
It is important to note, however, that the verses that immediately follow each of these referenced scriptures support the belief that it is not impossible for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God.
For example, Matthew 19:25-26 says, “When His disciples heard it [i.e., what Jesus Christ said in verses 23-24], they were exceedingly amazed, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” [Note: The wording in Mark 10:26-27 and Luke 18:26-27 is essentially the same.]
In regard to these last three similar scriptures, Wycliffe says, “The disciples apparently subscribed in some measure to the prevailing view that riches indicated divine favor.” Wycliffe goes on to state that “Jesus succinctly avowed that salvation is the work of God.” And. Wycliffe adds, “The difficulty with wealth lies not in its possession (many righteous men in Scripture had wealth – Abraham, Job, Joseph of Arimathaea) but in the false trust it inspires.”
Returning now to the discussion of Matthew 19:23-24, John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible explains,
[T]here have been, are, and will be, some that are rich, called by grace, brought into a Gospel church state, and are heirs of the kingdom of heaven; though these are but comparatively few: nor is it riches themselves that make the entrance so difficult, and clog the way, either into grace or glory, but putting trust and confidence in them. . . .
Therefore, Matthew 19:23-24 and the parallel scriptures in Mark and Luke do not indicate that it is impossible for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God, but certainly indicate that it is very difficult for them to do so.
Matthew 11:25: [Jesus Christ says,] “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.” [Note: The wording in Luke 10:21 is essentially the same.]
Jesus Christ’s reference to these things apparently refers to His teachings regarding God’s plan for eternal salvation (i.e., the knowledge and/or understanding of how to be saved). And, the Greek term that is translated as the wise in this passage refers to the Jewish teachers at that time, according to Strong’s Concordance.
Although the referenced scriptures seem to infer that it is impossible for wise people to be saved, that is definitely not the case. There is nothing inherently wrong with being wise. A number of scriptures in both the New Testament and the Old Testament commend wisdom, or being wise. In fact, the Bible regards wisdom as a gift from God. For example, God gave Solomon wisdom (1 Kings 5:12) and in the New Testament, Christians are encouraged to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5).
Who then are the wise and prudent from whom God has hidden His plan of eternal salvation? They are those people who rely on only their own intellectual abilities in an attempt to understand God’s plan of eternal salvation.
Wycliffe states that “Spiritual awareness of Christ and his Kingdom is not arrived at through intellect or common sense” and goes on to indicate that everyone needs to “recognize their spiritual helplessness.” This does not mean that a person must completely disregard his or her intellect or common sense in order to trust in God for eternal salvation, but every person does need to have sufficient faith to accept that which they may not completely understand.
Psalm 10:4 states, “The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts.”
Proverbs 16:5a declares, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord. . . .
And, in Romans 1:28-32, the proud are included with a number of other evil doers in a list of those who “do those things which are not fitting.”
To clarify what is wrong with being proud, it is important to consider the meaning of the term pride. Webster’s Dictionary provides two very different definitions of pride with regard to a person’s self. The first is “an unduly high opinion of oneself; exaggerated self-esteem; conceit; . . . arrogance.” The second definition is “proper respect for one-self; sense of one’s own dignity or worth; self-respect.”
The sin of pride that is condemned by the Bible is the first type defined by Webster’s. God does not want people to be arrogant, because such people typically resist authority and, as a result, they are inclined not to obey the teachings of the Bible. They prefer to live according to their own selfish desires. It has been said that such pride is at the center of most, if not all, sin.
In contrast, there does not seem to be any indication in the Bible that it is wrong for a person to have proper respect for themselves. In fact, people who have proper respect for themselves are more likely than those who do not have proper respect for themselves to reflect the character that God wants everyone to have.
Although there may not be any scriptures clearly stating that people with arrogant pride cannot enter the kingdom of God, there is more than ample proof that such pride often causes people to reject both God and Jesus Christ, and as a result, they are not willing to humble themselves to do what God wants them to do to have eternal salvation.
Norman Geisler, Ph.D., on page 141 of Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Faith, states, “It’s not for a lack of evidence that people turn from God; it’s from their pride or their will.”
And on page 10 of Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell says, “The rejection of Christ is often not so much of the ‘mind,’ but of the ‘will’; not so much ‘I can’t,’ but ‘I won’t.’”
Above-average achievers can enter the kingdom of God and a number of them do. God makes it possible for them to do so the same way that He makes it possible for everyone else – through His grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “[B]y grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” In the context of our discussion, grace is the unmerited love and favor of God.
Note that Ephesians 2:8-9 does not indicate that above-average achievers will be allowed to enter the kingdom of God just because of God’s grace. The passage states that faith is also necessary. No one – above-average achievers or anyone else – will enter the kingdom of heaven without accepting God’s grace and having faith in (i.e., trusting in) Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation.
[For more information regarding how a person can receive God’s gift of eternal salvation, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Salvation?”]