AMP - 3 And said, Truly I say to you, unless you repent (change, turn about) and become like little children [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving], you can never enter the kingdom of heaven [at all].
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The apostles had asked Jesus about who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Other gospel accounts of this incident (such as Mark 9:33-37 and Luke 9:46-48) indicate that the apostles had actually previously been arguing among themselves -- but out of Jesus' hearing (or so they thought) -- as to which of them was the greatest.) Jesus then called a young child over, set him in the midst of the apostles, and spoke the words cited in the question. In doing so, He was contrasting the prideful vanity and the self-centered pursuit of personal glory that the apostles had displayed, with the humility, unpretentiousness, and willingness to learn and be instructed that characterized the child. Those attributes, along with a willingness to serve others (just as Jesus had accepted incarnation as a human in order to suffer and die to redeem humanity (Matthew 20:28; Philippians 2:5-8)) were to be regarded as the true goals and marks of greatness for those who would seek to enter God's kingdom. They would have to admit their own inability to save themselves because of their sinfulness, and acknowledge their need for a Savior by placing their faith in Him (rather than in anything that they had done or could do) in order to receive salvation and eternal life (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The question really is: "How do I become childlike in order to be saved?" So what characteristic do children have that adults do not have? A child is more likely to admit they are a sinner than adults. The first step to salvation is the realization that we are sinners and are condemned to hell. Jesus said: Luke 24:47 “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” The next step is believing that Jesus was God, born of a virgin. Children do not understand what a virgin is, much less how the virgin birth is unique. So a child is willing to accept that Jesus was God come in the flesh. Adults find it very hard to accept the virgin birth of our Lord. So I submit you must become like a child to believe the plan of salvation. Eph. 2:8&9 tells us that God gave us the gift of faith to believe.
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