“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Luke 18:17, NASB95)
Jesus’ statement has a bit of mystery in it. The unasked and unanswered question is, “what does it mean to receive like a child?” What attitudes and actions does Jesus have in mind? Let’s look to the context of Jesus’ statement to find some answers.
Luke 18:9-27 begins with the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The parable reveals the hearts of both men through their prayers. The pharisee is prideful, arrogant, and judgmental in his prayers. The tax collector is humble, contrite, open, and trusting.
The next scene in this passage from Luke is filled with children. At first, the disciples turn them away, but Jesus invites them closer. “Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16, NASB95)
The scene following is that of the rich young ruler wanting to know how to inherit eternal life or, to put it another way – how to enter the kingdom. Jesus asks him if he has kept five of the ten commandments, the man replies that he has. Then Jesus gets to the core of the matter, his treasure. “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” (Luke 18:22–23, NASB95) Jesus commented on the man’s decision, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For 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.” (Luke 18:24–25, NASB95)
Based on the context, what does it mean to receive the Kingdom of God like a child? We glean from the tax collector the childlike attitude of humility and reliance. Children, especially young children, rely on their parents for all the basics of life. With that reliance comes a measure of humility. We glean from the children coming to Jesus a desire for love and acceptance. Children loved to be loved. With love comes an openheartedness or transparency. We glean from the rich young ruler the childlike attitude of trust. The man trusted his treasure more than he trusted God. Children, on the other hand, trust freely.
What attitudes are necessary to enter the Kingdom of God? Humility, reliance, love, openness, and trust. Those are also the attitudes we are to keep as we grow further up and further into God’s rule and reign in our lives. While not in the Biblical context, I would also add the childlike desire to explore and understand. Each and every child is a born explorer; ask any parent of a toddler.
The invitation today is to check our attitudes. Are they steeped with humility, reliance, love, openness, trust, and a desire to explore? What weed-like stumbling blocks are tripping up these attitudes and our walk with Christ?