A Brief History of Everything

Sometimes it is encouraging for the saint to take a view of God’s purposes in the history of the universe from a “mountaintop” perspective. A mountaintop allows us to see for many miles in one direction, then again in the opposite direction, if we are enjoying it on a clear day. There are many passages in the word of God that help us to enjoy His purposes clearly, and some of these use words that we usually use in order to define periods of time: beginnings and endings.

As we look briefly at a few of these portions, it is of the greatest benefit to our souls to start with the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who speaks of Himself three times in the book of Revelation in this manner: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending . . . which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). All God’s purposes throughout all ages, and from before time even began, are centered in Him, “for whom are all things, and by whom are all things” (Hebrews 2:10). Any focus or occupation of mind short of Christ’s glory will surely leave us open to the errors of philosophy, ritualism, or worldliness.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3).  This “beginning” establishes the eternal existence of God, and if we would take the time to read further in this wonderful passage in John’s gospel, we would catch a glimpse of the eternal relationship of love between the Father and the Son, who is also the eternal Word, the One who perfectly reveals the mind and heart of the triune God.

“We are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (II Thessalonians 2:13). Before time began, God the Father and God the Son, together with the Spirit of God, chose for eternal blessing many from among a rebellious and lost human race. We who have the immense privilege of being Christ’s were given to Him by His Father, completely outside of the realm of time (John 6:39-40; 10:29; Ephesians 1:4). What a magnificent view the scriptures give us!

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In a manner of speaking, this first “beginning” in the Bible happened long after those we have just referenced above. It is when time actually began and matter began to exist, for before that, we believe, there was only spirit, perhaps including the angelic spirits. The “ages of time” began at this juncture (Titus 1:2, Darby).

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us)” (I John 1:1-2).  This is another beginning that the apostle John brings before us, but here he is writing of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God’s gift to a lost world, and the One who along could bring “life unto the world” (John 6:33), that eternal life which is enjoyed by all who believe on Him. The incarnation began a completely new thing in the world, for Jesus also speaks of Himself as “the beginning of the creation of God” (Revelation 3:14). Only by Him could God now begin to bring all of creation, material and spiritual, into harmony with His purposes. What began at the incarnation was formally proclaimed in power by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead (Romans 1:4): God’s new creation in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). Its consummation is yet future, as we’ll see in a moment.

There are several distinct endings that we should notice as well.

“He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26 ESV). In the preceding ages, God had created the worlds by His Son, and having created man, He tested Him in various ways over thousands of years. Christ’s death on the cross came at the end of those ages of testing, and is the dividing point of history. God has been propitiated by the death of that perfect Victim, and He can now show mercy to ruined man, who had failed every test that God put him under. What a changing of scenes here!

“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). Here is another ending that occurred at the same time as the one just above, at Christ’s death, but it gives us more of a doctrinal aspect than a historical one. God has made a final end to any thought of man to become righteous before God on the basis of law-keeping.

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:13-24).  This marks the end of the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) and the “great tribulation”. God will then usher in a restoration, or a “regeneration” (Matthew 19:28), which differs from a “beginning” in that He uses as His material that which existed already, bringing it into conformity to His mind and will as another manifestation of the “creation of God”.

“Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (I Corinthians 15:24-27).  This final ending marks the termination of time and matter as we who are finite beings know it.  It comes at the end of the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ over all things, and is the occasion of the final judgment (Revelation 20). At this point, God will “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5), which is the ultimate goal and result of the “creation of God”, of which the incarnate Son of God is the beginning.

What an amazing view of history we have, and what a glorious future is ours, who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the “Beginning and the Ending”!

Full Assurance: Can You Have It?

A Christian once introduced another believer as someone who seems to think he can tell God what He should do, while giving himself the credit for simply listening to God and doing what God tells him to do. The implication was that the believer being introduced was so assured in his beliefs that he might not shrink from attempting to convince God to see things his way. Putting aside the question of the legitimacy of that charge, this scenario does raise the question of the believer’s assurance and how it is gained, enjoyed, and worked out.

The scriptures use the phrase “full assurance” three times, and it is significant that it is found only in the epistles of the New Testament.¹ It is only believers in the finished work of Christ that are exhorted to this high level of certainty, for it is only Christians who are sealed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God.  “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things” (I John 2:20). The context of this verse makes it clear that the Christian has the capacity to know the truth revealed by the Spirit and passed along to us in the inspired, written Word of God. Moreover, we who have the Spirit are able to distinguish between truth and error with confidence because of the knowledge He bestows.

In terms of the timeline of our Christian experience, the first kind of “full assurance” we have both the privilege and the responsibility of possessing is that of faith.  “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22). A believer in Christ may know all sins forgiven, and can enjoy the perfect peace of a purged conscience, though he has to do with a holy and righteous God that cannot allow sin in His presence. It would not be at all appropriate for a Christian, no matter how young in the faith, to come into the presence of God, to worship within the veil of the heavenly sanctuary, while still having doubts about his sins or sinfulness. The believer’s sins are gone because Christ bore them on the tree (I Peter 2:24), his conscience has been cleansed by the blood of Christ applied to his soul at the moment of faith, and he is washed by the water of the word, which regenerated him and set him in an entirely new position before God, where sin can no longer attach itself.  To present oneself before God as a worshiper without that full assurance of complete acceptance by Him would be a contradiction of the saint’s position, as “holy and without blame, before Him in love”.²  What blessed assurance is ours!

Hebrews 6:11 brings before the Christian pilgrim the need for spiritual diligence to be able to enjoy “full assurance of hope“. The context here is not worship, but perseverance to the end of the path of faith, in that way (after that fashion) to inherit the promises of God. Those promises, to be realized at the end of the pilgrim journey, could not have been made more certain for the believer now, for God swore by Himself that Abraham would receive the promise made to him, and the promise of eternal life to a believer in Christ is no less sure.³  However, in order to properly enjoy in this life those “exceeding great and precious promises” while bearing fruit for God, and in order to better enjoy at the end of this life a richly furnished entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 1:4-11*), diligence and perseverance is required. That diligence brings with it full assurance of our destiny without a shadow of doubt, which allows us to enjoy the Lord Jesus here while we wait for glory with Him, no matter how difficult the path. This is the essence and relevance of the Christian’s hope. It provides boundless encouragement to go on for Christ in this life.

Finally, God desires the Christian’s growth in the knowledge of Himself, and this godly process should characterize a mature believer as much as a babe in Christ. There is no plateau on which a saint may finally stop “growing by the true knowledge of God”, but there are heights that may be reached in the “full knowledge of the mystery of God”, and where one may enjoy “all riches of the full assurance of understanding” (Colossians 1:10*; 2:2-3*). This understanding goes beyond the basic Christian truth of the Son of God sent into this world as the Messiah, as the Lamb of God sacrificed for sinners, the “bread of God” come down from heaven and giving life to the world. This elementary line of truth might be considered “the word of the beginning of the Christ” (Hebrews 6:1*), but there is much more that the writer to the Hebrews wanted to explain to them, and there was much more that Paul desired the Colossians (and the whole church) to be occupied with, namely, the “mystery of God”. In it are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, as having to do with Christ as the Head of His body, exalted in the heavens above all things, and more than that: Christ Jesus is Head over all created things to the church, His body and bride. Furthermore, He was among the Colossians who were Gentile believers, as “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27), for His body is a unity made of up Jewish and Gentile believers alike, who wait for Him to return in glory with them to reign over the earth in “the administration (dispensation) of the fullness of times”, when all things are headed up in Christ (Ephesians 1:10*). All these wonderful things, and more, were not known before the cross, but we have the privilege and the exhortation to be fully assured in our understanding of  them. They comprise the “mystery”, God’s secret now made known to the church for our everlasting wonder and praise.

There is immense blessing to be had by the Christian in the possession of full assurance of faith, hope, and understanding, when enjoyed in communion with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and all the more so by saints whose hearts are united together in love.°

 

¹   Colossians 2:2; Hebrews 6:11; 10:22

²   Titus 3:5; John 13:10; I John 3:9; Ephesians 1:4

³   II Timothy 1:1, 9; Titus 1:2; Acts 13:48

°   Colossians 2:1-2

*  Darby translation

 

God’s Grace Toward My Dad

Posted here is an audio recording of remarks made by me at the memorial service for my father, Reuben Kulp, on July 23, 2018. A transcript is given below. At about the nine-minute mark, you will enjoy an a capella version of the moving contemporary hymn, “In Christ Alone”, sung by the largely Mennonite audience, in four-part harmony.

 

My father’s spirit is with Christ, in unspeakable bliss, and his body is asleep in Jesus.

I would like to share with you some things that I know about my dad.  Sometimes I feel I didn’t know my dad very well, and my siblings likely knew him better, but I’d like to speak briefly about five things that I know for sure, without a doubt, about him.

We will find these things in the word of God. I’m going to turn to Ephesians 1:4-6:  “He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace wherein He has made us accepted in the beloved.”    God in eternity past desired to have holy children, to have more sons like His beloved Son, and so he chose my dad, and me, and many others as a gift to His beloved, only-begotten Son.  My dad was one of those that God the Father chose to give to His Son, with the purpose that he would forever be before the Father in unsullied light and unhindered love, accepted in Christ, so that the glory of God’s grace might be eternally praised.

The second thing I know about my Dad is that he was saved by grace, and for that assurance, I want to turn to over to the next chapter in Ephesians, to chapter two, and verse four:  “God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Even though my father was once dead in sins, by nature and by practice, as all of us once were, he was quickened (made alive), and saved by God’s marvelous grace, through believing in Christ and His work on the cross of Calvary.  And that faith is itself a gift of God’s grace. Dad’s salvation was not by works, and I never heard him boast of any works that he had done for God in order that he might be saved, or to be worthy of His grace.  Dad knew that he was but a sinner saved by God’s unmerited favor – His grace.

And there is yet another thing I know about my Dad’s life of faith on this earth, and that is that he was kept by the power of God through faith. I find that piece of information about him in I Peter 1:2-5.  It’s speaking of believers here: “Elect (chosen) according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively (living) hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” After writing about how believers have been chosen and born again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead, Peter assures saints that an eternal inheritance is reserved in heaven for all those who are kept by the power of God. Dad was saved by God’s grace and kept by God’s power. He took no pride in his own faithfulness, but I believe that he simply enjoyed and rested in God’s keeping power in his life, and I believe even more so the older he became.

The fourth thing that I want you to know about my Dad is that he will be changed! That salvation to be revealed in the last time that Peter wrote about refers to a time yet future when a physical, bodily salvation or redemption will take place for all believers, whether dead in Christ or still living like we may be. Let’s read a couple of verses in Philippians, chapter three, and verse 20: “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our [body of humiliation],¹ that it may be fashioned like unto His [body of glory],¹ according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.”  Our dear Dad certainly had a body of humiliation and he had a lot of pain, and that has already been referred to (by others), but very soon, at the rapture, that same body will be changed right there in that grave where he was lovingly laid this morning, and he will rise up out of the ground to meet the Lord in the air. If the Lord Jesus should come today, or in a year from now or ten years from now and we are still alive, I will get a changed body just like Dad, and like the Lord’s, by God’s almighty power, and if you trust the Lord Jesus Christ to save you, just like Dad did long ago, you will be caught up together with us to meet the Lord in the air, and so forever be with the Lord.

Now for the last thing I want to share with you that I know about my Dad.  He is going to reign!  Even though that is not something that he ever aspired to on this earth, he is soon going to reign with Christ. Paul told the Thessalonians that “them who sleep in Jesus will God bring with” Christ back to the earth after their change has come in the “first resurrection”, after they rise to meet their Lord. Let’s read one verse yet, in Revelation 20:6.  “Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection; on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” After all those who have been chosen, saved, and kept are either changed through resurrection, or changed without dying, we will come back with Christ to reign with Him over the earth for 1000 years.  Now, this is all still future, and Christians now are bearing Christ’s reproach and often persecuted, but it’s only a matter of time until my Dad and all his fellow-saints will come back with the Lord Jesus to reign over the earth in the millennium of Christ’s glory, because the Lord Jesus has title to the earth, as a result of His death, to rule the nations with a rod of iron. My Dad and I, and all who have put their trust in Christ, will have power over the nations, and will judge the world, and angels, according to the scriptures.

And the Holy Scriptures are where I find all that I truly know about our dear Dad, how that he was chosen, saved, and kept, and how he will be changed and reign with Christ to the ages of ages, to eternity. All the enjoyment and hope that we as Christians can ever really experience here on earth and in eternity is found “in Christ alone”, and all because of God’s “amazing grace.”

 

¹   (As given in the Darby translation.)

 

In Christ Alone

(This song was suggested for Dad’s memorial service by my sister Margaret.)

Polygamy, Slavery, Racial Prejudice, and Military Conquest: Then and Now

It may be jarring to the Christian conscience to allow it to sink in that King David practiced all of the social evils listed in the heading above:  polygamy, slavery, racial prejudice, and military conquest.¹  Carrying on in these seemingly abusive or destructive ways, at least by modern Western society’s standards, did not not annul the testimony of David that he would be a man after Jehovah’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14). God called Abraham His “friend” after he was long dead (Isaiah 41:8), yet the patriarch accepted and practiced some of the ills on this list, as so many other godly souls did in ancient times.

It may be tempting to believe that Western society has moved beyond these practices in recent decades through what might be called “social evolution”.  The Mormon religion practiced and encouraged polygamy in America until it was outlawed over 100 years ago. Slavery has only been eradicated (or at least has gone under cover) from the Western world for a little over 150 years, and institutionalized racial supremacy for a little more than 50 years. Militant imperialism mostly faded away in the West as a result of the Second World War.  Progressive humanism takes the credit for improvements in the fabric of society and in the national and international laws that allow men to live free from these threats and abuses, while at the same time accepting many other moral evils that are just as destructive, but more insidious.

However, there is no doubt in the mind of an instructed believer in Jesus that Christianity, not humanism, and not any other religion or belief system, was and is responsible for the change in the way modern civilized societies view these scourges. It is greatly to be regretted that many who organized themselves under the Christian banner, from Constantine and the Roman church, to the Mormon cult, to the Southern Baptist sect, championed or defended one or another of the ideas or ideologies in the list above during various periods of the Christian era. If anyone is in need of a brief refresher course in Christendom’s history, it was Constantine’s “conversion” in 312 A.D. that introduced the idea of employing carnal weapons of war² to conquer under the sign of the cross, purportedly seen by him in a vision. The Roman church continued that ideology through the centuries until it became politically expedient to use less violent means to their ends. Mormon polygamy has already been pointed out. And many in this century have likely forgotten that the raison d’être of the Southern Baptist Convention was the defense of slavery based on a faulty understanding of the scriptures. Of course, the racial prejudice and segregation that were integral to the institution of slavery in the Americas has died a very slow death in some segments of the Christian profession. Oh, the leavening effect of these and so many others of Satan’s devices that has permeated the “great house” of Christendom.³

Why did God allow these ideas and practices among His people of old, even among true saints, before Christ came?  This article is too brief to cover this question in detail. In any case, we should be careful not to consider them as moral equivalents of each other across the board.  We cannot but believe that polygamy was never in God’s plan for His people, for the practice originated among the early descendants of the rebel Cain, although the Law that Moses received from Jehovah in the establishment of the old covenant did not forbid it. The Law did restrict some of the worst abuses of polygamy (Deuteronomy 17:17 and 21:15) as it regulated the related practice of divorce, both of which were results of the selfish and lustful hearts of men. But perhaps God allowed this perversion to continue under regulation for the ultimate purpose of setting forth in stark relief the surpassing character of Christ’s and Christianity’s teaching on the dignity and worth of the woman. Matthew 19:3-9, I Corinthians 7 and 11:11-12, and I Peter 3:7 are abundantly clear as to the equality of rights enjoyed by male and female in the marriage relationship.

Slavery and servitude was regulated under the Law of Moses as well, but the practice predates the Law by centuries, no doubt.  One who was really a “bondman” and not merely a “hired servant” (Leviticus 25:6) had no right to direct his own activities or live according to his own rules while under bondage. However, passages such as Exodus 21 give rules for the fair treatment of slaves, and in Deuteronomy 23:15-16, we find a refreshing provision that further distinguishes Old Testament slavery from the evil depths to which a “Christian” America descended, as epitomized in the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in the place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.”

Christians are instructed to be even more merciful toward those who serve them, as we find in passages like Ephesians 6:9 and Colossians 4:1. There is no thought here of holding a person for service against his or her will. The apostle Paul pleads with the godly Philemon for the elevation of his former slave (bondman) to a position of equality in Christ.  So while God allowed slavery to be practiced in former times as an example to the believer that we are not our own to do as we please, but are rather the bondmen of Christ (I Corinthians 7:22), He clearly puts servitude and employment on a much higher and more dignified plane in Christianity.

Racial prejudice was used by Jehovah, in commandments found in the Law, to make a clear distinction between Israel (whom He had chosen for His own pleasure) and the ungodly, idolatrous nations around them (e.g.: Deuteronomy 23:3). Of course, there are many examples of individuals from those nations that believed the living and true God. But that racial distinction that Jehovah made has as one of its purposes to teach believers now that there is a “racial” distinction between those who are born again and have received “justification of life” (Romans 5:18; I John 5:1-4),  and those who are still by nature the “children of wrath”. Now under the blessing of the teaching of Christianity, as to the racial differences of ethnic heritage and skin tone, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

As to the use of military power to conquer or subjugate other peoples, or even in defense of a land once conquered thus, there is no pattern nor command in all of the New Testament that indicates this is meant to be the place of a believer in Christ.  The Christian’s portion is heavenly, and we “wrestle not against flesh and blood”, but with spiritual weapons against (quite literally) spiritual enemies. God had His purposes in using His saints of old in earthly warfare, both for the judgment of His enemies (the ungodly nations), and to prefigure the heavenly warfare that the Christian ought to be fighting with all courage and faithfulness (Ephesians 6:10-18). The very character and nature of Christianity is contrary to the use of force to obtain or maintain temporal benefits, and scriptural texts to that effect are almost too numerous to list (e.g.: John 18:36; I Thessalonians 5:15; Hebrews 12:14; etc.).

The shining light of Christianity, as taught by the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles, brings with it blessing, peace, and hope wherever and whenever it has been received and practiced in faith. Where it has been perverted or corrupted by the mind of the flesh in man, there has been sorrow and misery.  Where that light has been violently extinguished, or where it has not yet reached, it is surely by the sovereign goodness of God’s restraining hand that nations and cultures have not succeeded in destroying themselves.

 

¹    I Chronicles 14:3; 18:9-13

²   See II Corinthians 10:4

³   See Matthew 13:33 and II Timothy 2:20

 

Healing and Peacemaking in the House of God

Audio version:

For almost as long as the church of God has been in existence on the earth, Satan, enemy of all God’s purposes in Christ, has worked to cause difficulties among Christians. We see this near the very beginning, in Acts 6, when discontent and complaining arose among the Grecian (Greek-speaking) Jewish believers against the Hebrew believers, because of the very practical matter of neglect in distribution to the widows. We are not told how serious was this neglect, nor whether there was hypersensitivity on the part of the murmurers, but we can be reasonably certain of these few facts: the potential rift was not doctrinal in nature, so that revealed Christian truth was not in imminent danger of being compromised; and that the twelve apostles, of Hebrew stock, were led to appoint the Grecian men whom the “whole multitude” had selected to administer the distributions and resolve this practical dilemma.

Sadly, since that happy ending to a tense situation, the Enemy has had much success over the centuries in dividing and alienating even real believers due to an endless number of disagreements over practical matters and personal feelings. Preferences or even godly personal exercises regarding matters of appearance and conduct, language or translation usage, hymn selection, locations and times and frequencies of meetings, involvement in gospel efforts, and many other similar practical considerations have played a part in the offences that brethren have allowed to divide them.

Suppose a situation in an assembly gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in which a disagreement over a practical matter results in one or more of the brethren absenting themselves from the regular meetings of the assembly. Now we know that forsaking the assembling of ourselves together is exhorted against in Hebrews 10. It is also clear that any breach of fellowship between saints is the result of the allowance of the flesh, even a religious working of the flesh, and that the Spirit of God cannot approve of parties that, by their very existence, prove failure in keeping the unity of the Spirit. He cannot deny Himself by approving of sects that disregard the unity which He has formed in accordance with His own unity (Ephesians 4:3-4).

How then may separated souls be brought back into the enjoyment of practical fellowship with each other, so as to be able to keep in united testimony the unity of the Spirit? How can healing be wrought and peace restored among Christians? If these who have separated from each other through disagreements on practical matters condescend to viewing and treating each other as divisive persons as in Romans 16:17-18, it is doubtful that restoration “in the uniting bond of peace” will soon result. But a deep exercise of self-judgment and humility in communion with Christ will bring with it manifestations of the “fruit of the Spirit”, which alone can bring about restoration to real enjoyment of the Spirit’s unity. Disunity through lack of sincere love, and all of the fleshly manifestations that go with it, are in fact the context and reason for that wonderful list of spiritual fruit enjoined in Galatians 5: “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control.” This is the path to peace among brethren.

We must stipulate that unity or reconciliation of separated groups of Christians based on the principle of mutual concession is not of the Spirit of God, for that principle presumes to allow for compromise as to the truth. But it is reconciliation between individuals that may find its happy result in restored fellowship together at the Lord’s table, and it is most beautifully done through mutual confession of faults and failures. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed.”

This humble confession of fault or failure may be done at almost any time and under most circumstances without compromise to the truth of God. A company of believers professing to maintain a unity according to God on scriptural ground should never be guilty of uncaring attitudes or harsh words toward their brethren in Christ. Notice the fleshly character of Rehoboam and Judah during that awful rending of Israel’s unity.¹  Contrast against that the godly character of Hezekiah’s humility and confession that called forth and gave weight to his invitation to the tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, to the end that they should repent and return to worship at Jerusalem, the place of Jehovah’s choosing.² Godly humility encourages repentance in others,³ and paves the way for the restoration of some who may be languishing in carnality or bitterness of soul.

We would do well to imitate the spirit of godly Hezekiah in his desire to bring some of his estranged brethren back. There are numerous New Testament principles that will aid us in the carrying out of such a desire, without conceding truth or compromising righteousness in our dealings, and here are some of them:

  • The strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak (Romans 15:1);
  • The worshiper ought to seek reconciliation with his brother before bringing his gift (Matthew 5:23-24);
  • Spiritual brethren are to take the initiative in restoring those overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1);
  • A believer ought to take the initiative in gaining back a brother who has sinned against him (Matthew 18:15-17);
  • Humility and submitting one to another in practical matters is a scriptural expectation (I Peter 5:5-6; Ephesians 5:21);
  • Saints are exhorted to confess their faults to one another, and prayer and intercession ought to be made on behalf of those in need of spiritual healing (James 5:16-20);
  • Christians are enjoined to “make straight paths for your feet, that that which is lame be not turned aside; but that rather it may be healed. Pursue peace with all, and holiness” (Heb. 12:13-14, Darby trans.); and
  • We may practice James’s teaching on bridling the tongue and wisdom from above, ending with this summary: “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18 ESV).

The crowning joy of Hezekiah’s desire, confession, and prayer for collective pardon, was the blessing contained in this divine commentary: “The Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people” (II Chronicles 30:18-20).  No doubt this was felt by all the godly souls there.  These things are examples for us who are responsible in the house of God, which is the church of God, and we can learn much from that which the Spirit records of their failure and healing. That healing is God’s work of grace, but peacemaking is our labor of love toward those whom He loves.

 

¹    I Kings 12

²    II Chronicles 30

³    I Peter 5:5-6

 

The Abortion Rights Deception

Today, the nation of Ireland held a referendum on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment to its constitution, which was originally introduced after a referendum in 1983.  This amendment has effectively banned abortion in Ireland for decades, but the status of that amendment and the abortion ban is in question, pending today’s vote. It came as a shock to many in the pro-life movement, who are largely conservative or traditional Christians, that the Irish rock band U2 and its lead singer, Bono, while they had curried favor in religious circles for calling themselves “Christian”, have come out in support of repealing the abortion ban.

I do not write this to encourage believers to get involved in the political process to rid the world of the scourge of abortion (as one among many evils in the world), but I respect those whose consciences and love for nascent souls constrain them to speak and act in defense of the unborn. And I do not suppose that many who are taking the time to read these words need to be persuaded from the scriptures that an unborn child is human being as much as an infant who has seen light (Job 3:11-16).  My concern is rather that Christians can allow themselves to be affected or even deceived by the insidiousness of progressive, post-modern thinking in matters of morality.

The stealthy and insidious nature of moral progressivism may be seen even in the language or choice of words used to define moral issues. For example, the Hebrew word tsedeq is rendered in the King James Version using two almost interchangeable English words: “Righteousness” (from an Anglo-Saxon root) and “justice” (from Latin). But you will scarcely in our day hear or read the term “righteousness” outside of the realm of religious teaching, while the term “justice” (or injustice) is ubiquitous. I suspect that this is because the former reminds the worldly man that there is a righteous God who has moral claims upon him, while the latter term has over the years been all but stripped of reference to an absolute standard of morality, of right and wrong. “Social justice” has sadly devolved into the positioning of man at the center of the moral universe, and corresponds with the principles of secular humanism. It is noteworthy that most people fighting the political war for social justice are not particularly interested in eliminating the injustice of abortion.

The millions of innocent victims of abortion and infanticide should cause grief in the hearts of any who are old enough to be parents, not to mention brothers and sisters. It may be true that some of those whose lives were ended prematurely in this post-modern holocaust would have had a difficult life should they have been brought into the world, perhaps even worse than the temporary affliction Job complained about so bitterly when he wished to have died in his mother’s womb. Christians who understand and enjoy the power of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the human race are certain that these innocents (in will and practice) are safely with Him even now. In that, our grief for these little ones is tempered by the much better portion that is theirs in heaven (Matthew 18:10-14).

But this blessing for the individual soul that comes via a violent death could be said of martyrs for Christ just as well, for “to be with Christ . . . is far better” (Philippians 1:23).  A blessed end for the innocent or righteous does not mitigate the guilt of those that perpetrate the evil in any case, but rather, we could make the case from the Bible that the guilt of the murderer increases relative to the degree of innocence in the victim. We can see this principle in the murder of the Prince of Life, of whose guiltlessness there were seven distinct testimonies given within the last hours of His life. “Hands that shed innocent blood”¹ are among the greatest of abominations to God, as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Old Testament understands.

Above all, as to this matter of abortion rights, it is the deception of the progressive, post-modern system of morality that earnest Christians ought to be vigilant against and eschew.  That moral system and the social paradigm that comports with it have the interests, the supposed or arrogated rights, and the glory of mankind at their center, while the claims and prerogatives of God are largely ignored, as He Himself is ignored or marginalized. The principle of “sowing and reaping” is now despised as well. In the vast majority of cases in which abortion is desired or carried out, there were prior choices that the mother or the father, for whatever humanistic (self-centered) reason, wish not to have to bear the consequences of should the child be allowed to be born alive. In cases where the woman had no choice in the matter of the pregnancy, there is still the opportunity for choosing whether or not she will trust a compassionate God to comfort her and provide for her needs.   For as He alone is the One who gives life in conception, so He alone has the right to take an innocent life for His own glory and the child’s blessing, as the “Lord both of the dead and living”.²  Our entire system of morality and values hinges upon our view of God and His claims upon the man whom He created, and from whom He requires obedience.

“But this know, that in the last days difficult times shall be there [in the Christian world]; for men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money . . . disobedient to parents, ungrateful, profane, without natural affection . . . of unsubdued passions, savage, having no love for what is good . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; having a form of piety but denying the power of it: and from these turn away“.³ However, while the Lord knows how to punish these unrighteous ones in judgment in due time, it is most blessed to know that He knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation and deception,* and to keep them for His own pleasure and glory.

 

¹  Proverbs 6:17      ²  Romans 14:9      ³  II Timothy 3:1-5, Darby translation      *  II Peter 2:9:  Matthew 24: 22, 24

 

Keeping His Commandments

Many religious people believe the way to secure eternal blessing and avoid eternal destruction is through keeping the commandments of God. Some try to keep what are called the “Ten Commandments”¹ as found in the law of Moses, and others point to the principles of the kingdom of heaven that the Lord Jesus outlined in what we call “the sermon on the mount”.²  Still others believe that their final salvation is contingent upon their faithfulness in keeping all of the teachings of the apostles, variously given as commandments, ordinances, warnings, teaching, exhortations, etc. And it is certainly evidence of a godly state of soul for a Christian to be exercised about practicing New Testament teaching.

Coming closer to the essence of true Christianity, some may point to the “new commandment” the Lord gave His disciples in John 13:34, that they should “love one another”, as He has loved them. But I will be so bold as to make the claim that no one, not one soul, has ever been born again, or gained spiritual life, by keeping any commandment of God.

How is it that such an assertion can be made?  As to keeping the Old Testament law of Moses, it is very clear that the Lord Jesus Christ in dying annulled “the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15), and that He blotted out the “handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross” (Colossians 2:14). So that, if keeping the commandments of the Mosaic law is ineffectual for receiving divine life after the cross, keeping them could never in any age have been effectual for receiving the “life of God” from His hand.

When one pleads obedience to the teachings of Jesus or of the apostles as necessary to receiving new life from God, he disagrees with the clear teaching of the scriptures that neither the impartation of divine life to us, nor God’s imputation of righteousness to us, has anything to do with works or obedience to commandments. Abraham obeyed no commandment of God in order to be justified, and the scriptures could not be clearer on that account. He simply believed in Jehovah and His promise, and He counted him righteous.³

But what then is the meaning of the apostle John’s teaching in I John 2:4: “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him”?  I would submit that John wrote his first epistle for these two reasons, primarily:

  1. To give the believer in Jesus Christ the assurance that he (or she) has eternal life, because he has believed the testimony God gave of His Son, who “came in flesh” to the earth to shed His blood for the remission of sins (I John 5:6-21).
  2. To test the profession of those who claim to know God, but may be doing so falsely, as seen in the seven tests of profession in this epistle.°

John did not write his first epistle to give real believers any reason to doubt their profession and possession of eternal life, which they had gained by new birth and faith. If they sin, they have Jesus Christ the Righteous as their advocate with the One they already know as their Father (I John 2:1). If their hearts condemn them through some coldness or failure, they need the assurance that John gives — that God is greater than their hearts and knows all things, including the security of the relationship and how to restore the heart of His child to renewed confidence or boldness toward Him (I John 3:19-21).

We get some insight into what John means by keeping God’s commandments when we connect a few verses in this epistle. In I John 3:22-23, we find that the essence of keeping the commandment of God, what He commands, is to (1) believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and (2) to love one another, as Christ gave commandment in John 13 and 15.  This twofold commandment can be understood better when we look at two more verses:

  1. In I John 5:1, we read that “whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God”. The sense is given even better in another version: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God”, showing that new birth is the cause of faith in Christ, rather than the result.
  2. Also, in I John 4:7, we are told that “every one that loveth is (has been) born of God”.  Here, the evidence of new birth is a love that cannot be known or exercised by a person who is not yet born again.

So then, being born again and possessing eternal life do not come by keeping any commandments, for divine life is given when the Son of God, by the Spirit of God, communicates the Word of God to the soul of a dead, lost sinner. “The Son quickeneth  whom He will . . . the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live”.  The sinner does not even need to read the written word of the scriptures to receive new life, for the Lord Jesus still “speaks from heaven”, and “it is the Spirit which quickens”.*  It is the power of the living, life-giving Word of God, which never varies from the written word in the scriptures, that actually effects the change in a soul that the scriptures call the new birth.

Keeping the commandments of God, as given in John’s teaching, is not a grievous or difficult thing (I John 5:3), for it is a result of having the life and nature of God.  One who doesn’t believe on Christ or love the brethren is not keeping God’s commandments, and is shown to be lacking both a new birth and eternal life.  This wonderful epistle was inspired and written in such a way as to  provide both a true test of the profession, and a blessed assurance of the possession, of eternal life.

 

¹   Deuteronomy 4:13; 5:7-21

²   Matthew 5-7

³   Genesis 15:6; Romans 4

°   I John 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 6, 9; and 4:20

*   John 5:21, 25; 6:23; Hebrews 12:25; James 1:18