The definition of credentials (according to the dictionary on my iPad) is as follows: evidence of authority, status, rights, entitlement to privileges, or the like. A lack of credentials can close doors for us. But some credentials can open a lot of doors. They can boost our status, give us special rights and privileges and back up our authority in specific areas. They can certify that we are a medical doctor, lawyer or many other positions. But when this life is over, the credentials are no longer valid.
The spiritual credentials we have are much more important than the credentials of this world. We may be ‘somebody’ according to this world’s standards, but what sort of authority, status, rights and privileges do we have in the kingdom of God? That’s what really counts because that is what is eternal. That is what we will answer for in the day we stand before God in judgment. Our meager excuses will carry no wait, neither will our earthly credentials.
The apostle Paul explained all of his credentials for being a Pharisee, a teacher of the law. This is what He said. “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:4-6)
He was a “card-carrying” Pharisee who had impeccable credentials. No one could argue against his training or his authority and right to teach the law. Plus, he had received his training from the well-respected teacher of the law, Gamaliel. But Paul found out that all his human wisdom and training was nothing. His confidence in his credentials took him in the wrong direction until He met Jesus Christ. He had put all his dependence on himself and his achievements until he found the truth in Jesus. That’s why, after listing his religious credentials, he went on to say, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)
Why did Paul give up his lofty position and prominence? Because he came to realize the futility of all his efforts and all his so-called achievements and success in the religious hierarchy. He had accomplished nothing and now it was all rubbish to him. But when He met Jesus and surrendered his life to Him, He began working in the kingdom alongside the Lord. That’s when he began to make a real difference in the world. He had rather suffer for the cause of Christ and achieve something eternal than parade around in the robes of a Pharisee and be honored by men. He called himself the servant or slave of Jesus Christ. In other words, he became totally surrendered to Him. His eternal credentials were impeccable.
Jesus also tried to help others understand the credentials God was looking for. “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men - extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
The Pharisees often performed their religious rituals for show among the people. Their clothing even set them apart as ‘important people’. They made a big display when they fasted or gave money to the temple treasury. But their hearts were not right with God. They were depending on their earthly credentials and works to save them. (See Matthew 23)
This particular Pharisee in Jesus’ parable seems to have considered himself one of God’s choice people and could not see that he was very much in need of the righteousness that comes only from Jesus. He was so sure of himself and his accomplishments that he was blinded to the truth that he was a religious sinner, not a child of God. Because he would not admit his need of a Savior, he continued in his sins, believing a lie that would keep him out of the kingdom of God.
The tax collector, which was considered one of the worst of sinners, admitted his sin and asked God to forgive him. He asked God to show him mercy (to refrain from giving him what he deserved). He knew what he deserved. And he went to the right place to receive pardon. Those who confess their sins and turn from them are justified. Those who dress them in religion remain in sin and will face everlasting punishment.
1 John 1:8-10 makes this very plain. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
Take notice that sandwiched between verse eight and ten is a chance for forgiveness, just like the tax collector received…”If we confess our sins”. Many have their confidence firmly planted in ‘self’. But there will come a day when they will face God and will finally see how sinful they really are and how much in need of the Savior they really are. If that happens in this life like the Apostle Paul’s experience, they can confess their sins, repent (turning from sin) and find new life in the righteousness of Christ. If they wait until they stand before God in judgment, then it’s too late. We cannot save ourselves. We need the blood of Jesus to cover our sins. The sooner we learn to surrender to His will, the sooner we will receive eternal credentials.
The credentials of a true servant of God are true repentance and humility (total submission to Jesus). That is what Jesus is looking for.
Jesus spoke about humility, but He also showed us His humility as He was obedient to the Father in every situation, even His death on the cross. Our repentance and submission (humility) to Him are credentials that open the doors of His kingdom for us.
Andrew Murray said that humility “is in truth nothing but the simple consent of the creature to let God be all, in virtue of which it surrenders itself to His working alone.” When we acknowledge the truth of our sinfulness and surrender our lives to Jesus, we can begin to live a life that is more abundant because it is rooted in the kingdom of God. God becomes all in all to us and He fills us with His Spirit, opening the treasures of His kingdom to us as we seek for them.
Earthly credentials can deceive us into believing we are ready for eternal life. But the credentials needed to enter the kingdom of God are true repentance and humility, not something we can do on our own. Once we get those credentials, then we can begin to receive added credentials that are eternal. They include authority, status, rights, and entitlement to privileges that only children of God can receive. We have the right to approach the throne of God, the status of being God’s children as His heirs, authority over the enemy, and more privileges than I can name. He even transforms our fallen nature to a new nature that is in His image.
So, what are your credentials? Are they rooted in this world? Are you still counting on your best efforts and religious rituals to save you? Or are your credentials rooted in the kingdom of God?
It is not wrong to have credentials in this world. To practice law or medicine or many other careers, certain credentials are required. But we need to place the greater emphasis on our spiritual credentials. Our eternal life depends on it.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.