To what degree can participation in the present kingdom of God be accounted to you as righteousness?
The whole Bible, back to front, is about the kingdom of God... what it looks like, what it was supposed to look like, who was supposed to represent it, and what happens to those who don't participate in it. The Old Testament kingdom of God was meant to be established by Israel, God's chosen people. They weren't chosen to be exclusive members in the kingdom, but to represent the kingdom to the rest of the people of the world. They did not fulfill their end of that bargain (between God and Abraham). They were not the blessing they were meant to be. I think the kingdom of God was to be far more advanced than it was when Jesus arrived. If he didn't already know the situation, I'd say he was likely to be disappointed to arrive on the scene to find that his chosen messengers were far from loving, far from generous, forgiving, healing, gracious and kind. In fact, the kingdom of God that was to be established through Israel was no where to be found. hmph.
Then Jesus spends much of his ministry reminding us... the kingdom of God is at hand, AND it's coming. It's here, and it's not yet here at the same time. The potential for all of us to participate in the kingdom of God is a present reality, but the fact that few of us actually are is also a reality.
Our post-Enlightenment Christianity has done much to separate salvation from participation in the kingdom. Martin Luther was the first to privatize faith, and reduce it to a you-and-God thing, which was a needed move at the time, but the long term effect has been the total privatization of faith to the stay-out-of-the-me-and-God-thing-it's-none-of-your-business-if-my-relationship-with-God-is-one-sided. It seems that the invention (yes, it's true we invented it) of the "sinner's prayer", has allowed us to also dualize the roles of evangelist and discipler. "Well he's a great evangelist, but he's not a very good discipler." Could someone show me where Jesus models that duality? Just curious.
So my question has extreme implications. If Jesus said there will be a lot of people who do cool parlor tricks in his name but never really know him, than what are we to do about people who "really know him" but don't do all the "churchy Jesus stuff"? Could it be that by responding to the Holy Spirit's pull on your heart, you could be loving and generous and kind (not for their own sake, but out of response to God) and participate in the kingdom of God without ever knowing the name of Jesus?
Yes, there is no other name by which we can be saved, Jesus made the way possible, and only through him are we saved, but do we interpret that to mean that: A - Those who say his name in a cheap 30 second prayer are "saved"; or B - Those who represent what he stood for by participating in the kingdom of God that he modeled for us (though they might not know his name) will be saved? or both? (I think we may not need the cheap prayer at all, but what does that mean for people of other religions who model Jesus' character out of pure concern for Jesus' pure concerns? Are they participants in the kingdom? Look up Rahab and Melchizzedek in your Bible, tell me what you read.)
Paul and James both said that Abraham's faith was accounted to him as righteousness. Paul said it was because Abraham believed God, James said it was because Abraham believed God so much that he did what God said to do. This is not salvation by works, but salvation by participatory faith, a faith that finds it's way through your hands and feet into the world around you. The age of fire insurance salvation is over, the kingdom of God is at hand.