Heidelberg Catechism Q83

Q.83. What are the keys of the kingdom?

A. The preaching of the holy gospel and Christian discipline toward repentance. Both preaching and discipline open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.


What are keys? For someone who loses his keys often, I can assure you that keys are indispensable when it comes to entering a building legally.  Keys are a necessity if one wants to drive a car or keep intruders out.  When I lived in Zambia, the village people who had keys were rarely burglarized but those who didn’t have locks with keys frequently found themselves short of supplies.  Keys are important. They control access to important places.  So who serves as a key to opening up God’s kingdom to those who believe and what keeps those who don’t believe from entering?  Read John 10:27 and Revelation 3:20.  Jesus is ultimately the one who opens the kingdom by calling people to himself and he also closes it by not calling them.  We must never forget that Christ is our source and invitation into the kingdom.


Keys are a fascinating thing since they can be given to others to use.  Occasionally I will give the keys to my home to a friend who comes to feed and water my animals.  When I give him the keys, he gains a certain amount of power over my home.  He can enter and leave as he likes and allow others access to the home as well.  I have empowered him to act on my behalf in my absence.  The same is true for each and every believer.  When Christ left he gave us the power to invite people into the kingdom and to exclude them.  Read Matthew 16:19.


So what exactly are these keys that Christ entrusts us.  There are two keys: preaching and discipline.  Lets us examine preaching today and discipline tomorrow.  Each and every believer is called to testify to Christ.  We are called to proclaim Jesus to the world and to call them to repentance.  Some men are especially empowered to do this ministry and we call them pastors, but all people are responsible for ensuring that the gospel message is carried with them into every part of their life.  When this message is proclaimed, some accept it and repent of their sin and believe the good news.  Unfortunately, others reject it.  Either way the keys have done their work – the repentant are welcomed and the unrepentant are excluded from the promise of reconciliation with God.  The proclamation of the gospel message is the first of the keys.  Read Romans 10:14-17.


But there is another key and it is a key that is useful for the discipling of those who have already accepted the gospel message.  This key is called discipline.  Unfortunately this word has a negative connotation.  I assume this is because many of us grew up hearing a parent say something like, “Just wait until your Father disciplines you.”  But really discipline is an act of love.  Our parents discipline us in order to keep our lives consistent with their desires.  The same is true for Christ’s body.  Our Lord desires that his body not only profess faith but live it out as well.  However, when a brother or sister in Christ consistently refuses to admit their actions are sinful, then the church is justified in excluding them from receiving the assurance of God’s grace.  The church, all its members, agree that withholding the assurance of grace is the best way of helping a person to recognize the gravity of their lifestyle choices and calling them to repent and believe anew.  Read 2 Corinthians 2:6-10.


Both keys that Jesus entrusted to the Church are useful in bringing people to repentance.  The keys of preaching work on believers and unbelievers alike, while the keys of discipline are to be exercised only upon those who have publicly professed their faith but who are presently obstinate about their sin.  People like this require more aggressive means of allowing the word to penetrate their hardened hearts.  Read 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.


As we conclude this week, let us keep in mind that Christ is building his kingdom and evil will not overpower it.  Jesus has given us the authority and power to proclaim his word and speak about his life in order to encourage one another in the faith and to call unbelievers to repentance. But he has also instructed us to sharpen one another and to spur one another on to good works.  One of those works involves confronting our brothers and sisters of the sin in their lives.  Normally this will result in confession and repentance, but when it doesn’t we needn’t fear, our Lord has called us to exercise spiritual discipline and true discipline carried out in love is normally quite effective at turning a sinner from the error of his ways.  Read James 5:20 and Proverbs 27:17.

About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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