A kingdom is a place, a domain, ruled by a king. A kingdom is the realm of a king. Entering God’s Kingdom then is about entering the place that is ruled by the King – Jesus. Of course this realm, this domain, includes heaven, the place where we go when we die. It also includes those places/hearts/issues on the earth that are submitted to his rule. So the Kingdom of God is a present actuality in heaven, but is being actualized on the earth and will one day be fully manifest on the earth. One day Heaven and Earth will be the same place. (see Revelation 21) Scripture makes it clear that it is possible to verbally ascent to entering the Kingdom but not actually enter the Kingdom. We can say “Lord, Lord” but not actually have a saving relationship with Christ. (see Matthew 7)
Being born again happens in a person’s life on the sole basis of faith in Jesus. When this occurs, two important things (at least) take place. First of all, that person’s guilt before God is removed. Secondly, that person receives a new nature. These are both positional moves. Here’s what I mean. My guilt is removed because now I am in Christ. He died therefore I died. He is risen, therefore I am risen. He is seated at the right hand of the Father, therefore so am I. On the other hand, I am a new person. I have a new nature because now Christ is in me. I am in Christ. Christ is in me. Both of these are the result of saving faith.
There are many who believe it is possible to receive one of these without the other; that it is possible to experience the removal of guilt without receiving a new nature, the very life and nature of Christ within. Biblically, this is not possible. This double-transaction that results from faith alone is instantaneous at the moment of regeneration. When I am born again, my guilt is immediately removed and I immediately receive a new nature. I am righteous before God. I am a totally new kind of person.
Sanctification is the process whereby I become conditionally who I already am positionally. It is the process whereby I am transformed from the inside out. The new life that I receive inwardly works within me to transform me outwardly. The same grace that removes my guilt powerfully works within to transform my character, my thinking, my decision making, my emotional responses and reactions, my behaviors, my relationships. What I inwardly become in a moment I am transformed into over a lifetime.
Because the salvation that we receive by faith transforms us in process, there is no expectation of perfect performance as an evidence of salvation. The concept that I am “being saved” is incongruent with the idea that “I’ve arrived.” Every believer then is somewhere along that process of becoming who they already are.
I’ve had the privilege of leading quite a few friends, family, and acquaintances to Christ. What I personally look for is not particular areas of struggle (I can always find those) but rather evidence that indicates this person is submitted to the process. There is something (or rather someone) new in them working his way out. As God is identifying and working on areas that are incongruent with the new nature they have received, they are yielding to that process.
This is how God’s Kingdom comes in our lives.