Rights, Authority, and Gender

In recent centuries, the rights of man have come to be seen in the Western world as taking precedence over the divine right of kings, and as we know, major revolutions resulted from that philosophical shift, in America, France, Russia, and many other places. This observation should not be viewed as a comment on the morality of any of these revolutions, or to compare their causes or outcomes in any other way but in the clash between these two opposing principles.

Thomas Jefferson codified for himself and millions of Americans the view that a Creator God endowed the human race with certain rights incapable of being surrendered or taken away, and among them are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  More on God-given rights later.  But let us notice in passing how this short list of purported rights has grown in recent years in the West to include a supposed right to privacy, to employment or a universal minimum income, to government-funded health care, and even abortion rights under the guise of women’s rights.

The women’s rights movement is not really new, but it has morphed from a relatively inoffensive discussion on suffrage and societal respect into a framework for justifying the casting off of the natural gender roles that have for thousands of years served mankind pretty well. One might even conclude, after a look at human history as well as at the animal kingdom, that our race was designed male and female with a real purpose in mind, particularly for its perpetuation, order, and enjoyment. 

What is it that has set in motion this resistance leading to rebellion against divinely-ordained order as to gender roles in the home, in society, and even in the Christian testimony?  Why is it that even many Christians have come to find fault with the apostle Paul’s teaching on the role of Christian women in the home and in the assembly of God? No doubt there have historically been legitimate grievances stemming from male insensitivity and leadership failure, but in a modern society where women have more options and are afforded more respect than ever before, it is evident that something else is going on. One who is taught by the Spirit of God realizes that there is a spiritual battle occurring here, and particularly as feminism and the women’s rights movement has permeated the visible church, which is the house of God, His habitation here on earth.¹

Paul uses the phrase “What if God” (Romans 9:22, KJV, ESV) to argue in defense of God’s rights over His creature, in the face of a hypothetical skeptic’s questions. Permit me to use it in a similar way.

What if God in infinite wisdom chose to create millions of servants, intelligent beings with whom He could communicate and in whom He could take pleasure, placing them in different categories or orders with a structured hierarchy of authority, and with differing roles and responsibilities?  Would anyone find fault with God’s wisdom or fairness for setting some of those servants in a position of authority over others, or for giving them different roles to play in their service for and at His pleasure?  Perhaps by now you have perceived that I am referring to God’s creation of the angelic realm, of which enough has been revealed in Scripture to come to some conclusions about angels. We know:

  • That although angels are genderless, they were created in different orders or kinds, some with more power or authority than others, and those that sinned retained their power and authority even when fallen.  (Colossians 1:16; Luke 20:34-36; Daniel 10:12-21; II Peter 2:10-11; Jude 9)
  • That these superintelligent beings understand far more clearly than does feeble man how virtuous is the wisdom of God in establishing and maintaining an authority structure among His creatures. (I Corinthians 11:10)
  • That there will occur in the future at the resurrection of the saints an inversion, or at least a major modification, in the authority structure of mankind and angels, when human gender roles will no long apply, and when redeemed men will not only “judge the world”, but will also “judge angels”, indicating some measure of authority over them. (Matthew 22:30; I Corinthians 6:1-3)

Now, following long after the creation of angels, what if God in infinite wisdom chose to create a lower order of intelligent beings out of the dust of a world He had created and prepared — a being composed of body, soul, and spirit, which He called Man? And what if God formed a companion for man of a highly similar yet markedly different and complementary nature, for the purpose of blessing and providing for their enjoyment through physical and emotional intimacy and the miracle of procreation? Could anyone find fault with God for establishing between them an authority or leadership structure, ordered for His own pleasure, for a display of His wisdom to the angels, and for the fulfillment and happiness of both the man and the woman, who if married are heirs together of the grace of life?²

We read clearly that man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man.  Had they continued sinless, this order might have remained indefinitely. But after their respective roles in eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, an additional aspect of authority and subjection is added, for God gives Eve this instruction in wisdom: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16).  The woman’s proper and dignified role in the home and in the church of God, after the fall and in light of that sentence, is reflected and clarified in I Timothy 2:8-15: “Let a woman learn in quietness in all subjection; but I do not suffer a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over man, but to be in quietness; for Adam was formed first, then Eve: and Adam was not deceived; but the woman, having been deceived, was in transgression. But she shall be preserved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with discretion.”

This teaching did not originate in any church council or conference, nor even with Moses or with Paul, but it originates with the Spirit of God, who simply used these two scripture writers to reveal to us the mind of God in the matter of the gender roles and order that He established for His pleasure. It should be our pleasure to simply bow to that inspired word, without allowing modern humanistic reasoning to blunt its effect on our consciences.

As to God-given rights, and how they relate to gender distinction, we can perceive God’s wisdom in this:  Those who believe on Christ have the right to be the children of God, to take that place (John 1:12 Darby). Of course, this right is not handicapped by one’s gender.  Both women and men who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb have a right to the tree of life (Revelation 22:14 Darby). A husband and wife have equal rights to each other’s bodies (I Corinthians 7:3-5). These are some of the basic rights God gives in Christianity, and we can see that they have nothing to do with authority or leadership in the home or assembly.  Leadership brings with it responsibility, not rights, in God’s economy of grace.

“O depth of riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable His judgments, and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counsellor? or who has first given to Him, and it shall be rendered to him? For of Him, and through Him, and for Him are all things: to Him be glory for ever. Amen.”³  A simple “Amen” is all we can rightly add as we stand in awe of God’s wisdom and His ways.

 

¹   I Corinthians 3:9-16; Ephesians 2:22; I Timothy 3:15

²   Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-24;  I Corinthians 11:2-15; I Peter 3:1-7

³   Romans 11:33-36, Darby

Communion With God

“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (I John 1:3-4).  In this manner is the exalted theme of John’s first epistle introduced, that of fellowship or communion¹ with the God.  John also gives warnings against the Gnostic deceivers of that day, but the aspect of truth we can perhaps most benefit from by this apostolic letter regards the knowledge and enjoyment of communion with God and with His children.

Communion, or fellowship, has the meaning of sharing or partaking in something in common with another or others. So then, as it relates to communion between God and His children, we now have in common the life of God communicated to us in the Son, which allows for the flow of love, enjoyment, and shared appreciation between those who possess that life. As another has written, eternal life is “the basis of intercourse between man and God”², and that intercourse is communion.

Apprehending, or laying hold of by faith, the apostolic testimony as to the Word of life come from the Father is the beginning point for fellowship. That eternal life in the incarnate Son of God has been communicated to those who have been brought out of the darkness to live and walk in the light. We have God presented to us here as being “light”, and Jesus Christ as “the eternal life”, so that being made alive spiritually and being brought into the light brings us into fellowship with the Father and the Son positionally and characteristically.  “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:1-7). What characterizes being “in the light” is this communion, along with the knowledge of complete cleansing from sins by the blood of Christ.  As will be noticed when contrasting the two positions in verses 6 and 7 (walking in the light as opposed to walking in darkness), our position is a matter of where we walk, in which realm, rather than how we walk, though that question is addressed elsewhere, chiefly in Paul’s writings. And contrary to what some teach, believers do not walk from the light to the darkness, and then back to the light again, each time needing a fresh cleansing by the blood of Christ. What blessedness to be in the light and clean, brought into communion with the Father and the Son!

Now there is an aspect of communion that is experimental³ and that is enjoyed by degree, for it has to do with our state of soul in the light, in the presence of God, “as He is in the light”.  Some speak of communion being broken by sin in a believer’s walk, and we understand what they mean by that, yet it seems more in keeping with John’s doctrine to say that the allowance of sin brings in a hindrance to, or an interruption in, the liberty that ought to be experienced in communion.  Confession of that sin is then called for, and the advocacy of “Jesus Christ, the righteous” with our Father allows for our restoration to a state in which we can again fully enjoy communion with Him. Our relationship as children with the Father is fixed, as is our position in the light, but our enjoyment of and confidence in Him may vary, and we have a responsibility in the maintenance of a joyful Christian experience through communion with Him.

We find several principles in this first epistle of John that, if they exercise our hearts, will help us to more fully enjoy communion with God.

First, in chapter 2, verse 5, we read: “Whoever keeps His word, in him verily the love of God is perfected. Hereby we know that we are in him.” Being spiritually exercised to imbibe and keep the word of God by faith will have a definite positive effect in the life of a believer. As a result of communing with God in deep appreciation of His revealed mind and will, the love of God will gradually take over (so to speak) in the Christian’s soul, and there will be growth toward perfection or full maturity in that love, which flows from God by the Spirit (Romans 5:5). This love for God and for our brethren provides us with assurance that we are “in Him”, in that place of intimacy and communion with Him.

Next, we are also brought into the knowledge and enjoyment of the end result of God’s love for His children, when we read in I John 3:1-3:  “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the [children] of God . . . Beloved, now are we the [children] of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”  It is the appreciation of God’s sovereign love toward us that assures us that we will soon be with and like the blessed Son of God, our Savior. And that hope enjoyed in a believer’s soul has a purifying effect within him, for the object of his heart is Christ in glory. Having the soon-to-be-manifested Christ before the heart will have the natural effect of turning a saint away from all that would hinder his communion with Him.

Then, we find that our enjoyment of God and confidence in Him are affected by the state of our hearts. The children of God ought to love “in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God” (I John 3:18-22).  In chapter 2, John shows that love for the world is incompatible with the love of the Father in us. If the lusts and pride of the world attract a believer’s heart, then it follows that his heart will condemn him. Consequently, there will be a lack of confidence or boldness in his communion with God, although God is still over all and meets all of our failure and divided affection with the loving discipline and fatherly care that only He can show. If our heart is filled with divine love for God and for the children of God, then communion is unhindered and we can pray confidently with His interests on our heart, receiving what we ask because we do that which is pleasing to Him. Oh, to have that “love out of a pure heart”!*

Much more could be and has been written on the subject of communion with God.  But learning about communion is no substitute for enjoying it in His presence. Of utmost importance is the needed exercise of heart in simply maintaining and enjoying it, for our own blessing, and for the pleasure of Him who created us in His own image for that very purpose, and who cleansed us and gave us eternal life so that communion might finally and forever be enjoyed.

 

¹    Fellowship and communion can generally be used interchangeably for the same word in Greek, which is koinónia.

²    J. N. Darby: Notes on the First Epistle of John

³    That is, relating to Christian experience.

*    I Timothy 1:5

The Lordship vs. Free Grace Controversy

For several decades now, a battle has been going on in Evangelical Christianity between those who espouse what has come to be known as “lordship salvation” on the one hand, and on the other side, those who champion “free grace” as the only scriptural ground for receiving eternal life and having assurance of salvation.

The doctrine of the necessity of submitting to Christ’s lordship in order to obtain final salvation and entrance into heaven seems to have arisen out of the concern of many Chrisitan teachers and evangelists in the middle decades of the 20th century, as they saw the trend toward license and lukewarmness among believers who professed Christ as Savior.  Billy Graham, A. W. Tozer, and John MacArthur were just a few of the proponents of this lordship approach to the gospel of God.

Rising up against the apparent legalism of this emphasis on submitting to the lordship of Christ for salvation were teachers like Zane Hodges, who wrote “Absolutely Free” in 1989 as a response to MacArthur’s book, “The Gospel According to Jesus”, published the previous year.  Bob Wilkin, founder of Grace Evangelical Society, has written often and taught much against lordship salvation and in defense of “free grace theology”.

While both camps teach a measure of truth, it is regrettable that they have by their on-going rhetorical exchanges implied that their respective views are the only doctrinal positions to hold intelligently and consistently, that either you are in the lordship camp or then you must embrace the oppostion’s version of free grace teaching. As concisely as possible, given the enormity of  the subject, I hope to bring a few scriptures to bear on what I believe has turned into a false dichotomy between the two ideas, each seemingly sustained by a reaction to the other side, however well-intentioned and godly may be the respective protagonists.

The doctrine known as “lordship salvation” promotes in general a commitment to Christ, obedience to Him, and the need for perseverence in following Christ to the end of one’s life, in order for a soul to be finally saved.  Regrettably, this teaching blurs the distinction between salvation by grace alone and the call to discipleship, which are as distinct from each other as the parables we find in Luke 14. In verses 15-24, Jesus teaches the blessed truth of the role of God’s electing, compelling grace in the eternal salvation of souls, but in verses 25-35, it could not be clearer that discipleship is the subject.  To ignore the obvious change of subject between 24 and 25 would be to do violence to both the concepts of God’s grace and of our discipleship.  So, other than the fact that many who hold lordship salvation also incidentally teach the truth of unconditional election and security, and that they are rightly distressed at the lack of earnest discipleship among Christians, their lordship view in and of itself has little to commend itself in light of the word of God.

Now, “free grace theology” rightly warns against the lack of doctrinal integrity in the lordship view, but has its own blind spots. The most glaring of these blind spots is a chief proponent’s contention that “Faith in Christ is intellectual assent”. This teacher, Bob Wilkin, goes on to argue for his proposition in this way: “Stripped of its pejorative connotation, ‘intellectual assent’ is a good definition of what faith is. For example, do you believe that George Washington was the first President of the United States? If you do, then you know what faith is from a Biblical perspective.”  Both the premise and the argument supporting it could hardly be further from the truth of what faith really is.  For his camp, there are no examples of spurious or feigned faith found in the New Testament, and every occurence of the word “believe” is of necessity an account of a soul or souls receiving eternal life, no matter the context or commentary surrounding the term in the text. So, to them, Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8 was a genuine Christian from the day he heard the gospel, saw the miracles, and was baptized, in spite of Peter’s subsequent judgment of him as being yet “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity”, and having “neither part nor lot in this matter” of the Holy Spirit’s reception and indwelling. Furthermore, they would claim that the many who believed when they saw Jesus’ miracles at the feast in John 2:23-25 were necessarily saved eternally, although the divine commentary is that Jesus would not entrust Himself to them. Why not? Because they lacked the new birth and a new nature, and “He knew what was in man”, flesh “born of the flesh”, as He explained to Nicodemus immediately after the mistakenly-placed chapter break, in John 3:1-12.  It is not without cause that this version of free grace is often called “easy-believism”, for its teaching on the nature of faith is false and in some respects humanistic.

In order for faith to save the human soul, and to keep it by the power of God to the end, that faith must be supernatural in its origin, for natural belief in the accuracy of the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection will never bring about new creation life, repentance, or salvation from sin. It is for good reason that the scriptures speak of “unfeigned faith” (as well as of “unfeigned love”)¹, for it is not only possible, but sadly often the case, that believing is with hypocrisy or pretense. A simple word study would bear out the reality of the marked difference between a faith that is genuine and one that is pretended.²

It is only by being born again, being quickened (some have termed it “regeneration”), that genuine faith is even possible. Jesus referred to this truth when He told Nicodemus: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). “Seeing” here indicates spiritual eyesight, or faith, and must be distinguished from the parallel claim of the Lord a few verses later, that one not born again cannot “enter” the kingdom of God.  The scriptures teach us that new birth is the cause of life, and its effect is faith in the testimony of God as to His Son (John 1:12-13; I John 5:1; James 1:18).

New birth is both initiated and effected by God, and it is neither invited nor expected by man. So also with the quickening of Lazarus from the dead, by the sovereign call of the Lord Jesus from outside his grave. Lazarus’ resurrection was a lovely picture of the spiritual truth the Lord gave in John 5:21: “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will.”

This new nature gained through new birth very soon causes the quickened soul to feel the weight of the sin of the “old man”, and the believer repents, justifying God and accepting His counsel against himself as a sinner (Luke 7:29-30).  The “new man which according to God is created in truthful righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:20-24) now characterizes the Christian life. Godly obedience, perseverance in good works, and conformity to the Son are what God by His Spirit works in us and expects from us.³  This is quite distinct from the notion of a “lordship salvation”. This truth of new birth and new creation is also distinct from the wrong teaching of the “free grace” camp, which says that faith is no more than mental assent to facts.  For although the real believer may struggle and fail and sin often, and even languish in a backslidden state, yet he or she has (by virtue of a sovereignly effected quickening and the subsequent sealing of the Spirit) the innate desire and capacity for both “unfeigned faith” to overcome the world, and “unfeigned love” for Christ and the brethren.*

 

¹   I Timothy 1:5; II Timothy 1:5; Romans 12:9; I Peter 1:22

²   From HELPS Word-studies: anypókritos (an adjective, derived from alpha-privative A “not” and hypokrínomai, “to act as a hypocrite”) – properly, not a phony (“put on”), describing sincere behavior free from hidden agendas (selfish motives) – literally, “without hypocrisy” (unfeigned).    (Compare also Luke 20:20 for the word hypokrínomai in context.)

³   II Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10; Romans 8:28-30; John 15:1-8

*   I Peter 1:22-23; I John 3:23; 4:19 – 5:5

The Snare of Self-Conscious Christianity

The testimony of the Lord is best honored and served, and the body of Christ best built up, when and where Christians avoid the self-consciousness that necessarily goes along with an emphasis on what distinguishes them from other Christian groups.  Majoring on such distinctions is sectarian in spirit: one may as well say that “I am of Paul” or “I [am] of Christ”.¹  To give just one example, if you would say “Come to my church, because we have a great program of worship and service,” or if I should say to you, “Come meet with us, because we don’t have a program, but allow the Lord to lead in worship and ministry,” we both to a degree promote ourselves.  There is an inward focus in this natural tendency of ours, and it is thus we become sectarian in thought and word.

On the other hand, should believers in simplicity and humility make endeavor, as members of that “one body” of Christ, to hold to its Head, and to hold the truth in love, letting faith work by love, then souls who have “learned Christ”² will be attracted to nothing but Him who delights in being in the midst of His own “little flock”. Where much is made of the Lord Jesus, and self not entertained, the calm assurance of His presence may be experienced, for it is by the indwelling Spirit of God that the earnest saint will able to discern where the Shepherd’s voice would lead them, and where He can be enjoyed as among His own.³  It will be there that the sheep of Christ, in the enjoyment of being a part of that “one flock”, may find the peaceful pasture of His gracious provision.

 

¹   I Corinthians 1:10-13

²   I Corinthians 12:12-14; Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:15, 20-24; Galatians 5:6; Luke 12:32

³   John 10:1-30; Matthew 18:20

How Can Ye Escape the Damnation of Hell?

The subject of hell is not a pleasant one to consider. However, since the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of it more than any other teacher recorded in the Bible, we ought not to shun the topic, but rather to seek to learn and hold the truth as to it, and to warn souls of its terror. Most importantly, it ought to be our aim to justify God in His consignment of fallen angels and intransigent men to an everlasting hell, and to glorify God for sparing not only His elect angels, but also for saving so many millions of us humans from that place we all alike deserve.

We cannot cover all that the Scriptures teach on hell in a short article, but we can set forth the reality that its environment is characterized as a lake of fire and as outer darkness;¹ that its inhabitants will experience the timeless torment of both an internal “worm” (of conscious and consuming enmity) and an external “fire” (of judgment and wrath);² and that their everlasting occupation will be that of weeping, and of gnashing the teeth.³ We may assume that some of the language the Lord Jesus used to describe hell is figurative or pictorial, as in the experience of the rich man in Luke 16, because condemned spirits and men with resurrected bodies will no doubt experience sensation differently than we do who are alive on the earth. But it has been well said that figurative language like this “is the Lord’s picture, who meant to teach us [something] by it”,° and He did not mean to teach that men are either unconscious or annihilated in that terrible place of torment.

For those who believe and hold dear the Word of God, hell is a defined reality. What sometimes causes Christians difficulty is the permanence of that state, along with the impossibility of change or repentance in the utterly lost soul. Throughout the history of Christendom, these objections have fostered various false doctrines, such as soul sleep, annihilation of the soul, purgatory, and universalism.

A few observations on the nature of timeless permanence may be in order. While it is impossible for us to come close to comprehending it fully, it is not wrong for us to make an attempt at understanding the eternal state a little better. Our mortal bodies are necessarily bound to both space and time in this physical creation, but it is probable that neither our spirits nor our future resurrected bodies will be sensitive to duration of existence. There will be no conception of the future following the present. Even the past may seem current to the soul in hell, in all but actual state, for it is the passage of time in this life that allows memories to fade in our physical brains. I have no doubt that our spirits retain a memory of all the experiences and emotions and inclinations we’ve ever had (I Corinthians 2:11), excepting perhaps those that God may mercifully cause His saints to forever forget.  But while still alive on the earth, the imperfection of our physical brains hinder or limit the cognitive ability of our mind, which includes our spirit, and one needs only to refer to an infant or an Alzheimer’s patient to understand that.

Now as to the impossiblity of repentance in hell, we may be confident that there will never be a soul in hell that is inclined to repent and glorify God by it. One might try to object by pointing to the rich man and Luke 16, who desired that his brothers not come to where he was, requesting not that he himself be able to warn them, but that Lazarus might rise from the dead to move them to repentance. But in all this, he took for granted the impossibility of his own repentance or release from torment, and any regret he had  was over the loss of his comfortable life exchanged for torment in the flames of God’s judgment. Man simply will not repent except they are given new life and faith, so that the obstinacy of a perishing soul in this life simply continues in the next where time is no more. Think of Esau: he found no space for repentance because he was never thus inclined, but he regretted much the loss of the birthright blessing and benefit, lamenting it with careful tears (Hebrews 12:16-17). If souls are spared from going to hell and a lake of fire, which we all deserve, it is solely because they are brands plucked out of the fire, and not because of any inclination in their naturally evil hearts.

Think also of the earth-dwellers in Revelation 16, who, when punished to an extremity for their sins, still do not repent, refusing to give God glory, and moreover increase their blasphemy against Him. Consider the unrepentant abuser or abortionist or terrorist of our day, as well as their apologists and defenders. Why should we suppose it possible that the heart set against God in this life, be that life ever so many years long, should be softened once time ceases? Here, one experiences God’s mercies and his goodness that should lead to repentance, but every inducement and favorable environment that God has put in place here does not and will not cause souls to come to Christ. God, if we might put it this way, is left with one means by which to incline a man to himself, and that is to take the initiative and do the unilateral work of quickening, causing the soul to be born again through no inclination of its own. And we may say further, that if God does not quicken the souls of men (give them spiritual life) outside the realm of time, and we believe He will not, then men will in that timeless permanent state of things continue in their hatred for their Creator. That is what is portrayed in the term used by Jesus: “gnashing of teeth”. We may tend to think of gnashing of teeth to be similar in meaning to the phrase “gnawed their tongues for pain” (Rev. 16), but gnashing of teeth in the Bible consistently speaks of extreme hatred and an intense desire to destroy its object, were it possible.  So it will be with those unrepentant gnashers of teeth in that everlasting hell.

Perhaps we wonder about those whose apparent moral uprightness seems to make them unlikely candidates for condemnation. We cannot know God’s thoughts and purposes toward them, nor their thoughts toward God, and without a doubt, the Lord knows them that are His when all may be unclear to us. And it may be that He quickens many more souls, even at the eleventh hour, than we might imagine.  But this at least we can be certain of, that every soul in hell will be there because they hated God and despised His goodness until the end in this life, and will forever continue in that hatred in a permanent, timeless experience of damnation and darkness. No doubt this will be Satan’s everlasting demeanor as well.

It befits the character of a merciful and righteous God that He would grant the soul He must cast into hell a perfect understanding of why it must be there, while also removing a comprehension of the duration of the punishment. The torment of the flame that brings ungodly regret and weeping, and the undying worm of hatred that causes teeth-gnashing, take place in the eternal present, void of even a concept of time. Indeed, the “Judge of all the earth [shall] do right”(Genesis 18:25).

If you are fearful of hell for your own soul, come to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith this very day. He is waiting to redeem you and bring you to God through faith in His precious blood (Romans 3:20-26).

What a debt of gratitude we redeemed ones owe to the God who chose us in His mercy and saved us by His grace, in spite of the judgment we deserved!

 

¹   Revelation 20:15; Matthew 25:30

²   Mark 9:48

³   Matthew 8:12; 22:13

°    http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/darby/DOCTRINE/10021E.html

The heading is taken from the words of Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:33.

Woman – Glory of the Man

Addressing the subject of gender roles and gender identity from a Biblical perspective is fraught with peril in modern Western society, because Scripture truth on it has perhaps never been more unpopular.  For many decades, there has been a drive toward gender “equality” in the workplace, in government, at home, and in the church, and it seems that few Christians even question the values and principles of this “equal rights” movement. More recently, the line of demarcation between the sexes in our society has been blurred even further, to the extent that genderless clothing, women in military combat roles, and the transgender agenda are being pressed upon society for its toleration and eventual acceptance.

A godly Christian might well ask the question: “Why this movement toward a gender-neutral culture, and why now?”  I would submit that what began perhaps somewhat innocently with women’s suffrage over 150 years ago gained steam from there and has developed to a point where nearly all restraint has been cast off, and society is not the better for it. Meanwhile, Western Christianity has suffered from accepting these societal innovations. No doubt there has been a concerted effort by the powers of darkness in these last days to weaken the church’s testimony to the world and to the whole angelic realm, by bringing innovation and the resulting confusion into the historical relationship between man and woman instituted in the beginning by God.¹  The Biblical practice of ladies covering their heads (while men properly uncover) in worship has almost disappeared in the West, and women taking on church leadership and public ministry roles is commonplace. Could a spiritual person truly characterize these recent changes as “growing by the true knowledge of God”² in His assembly?

But let us now turn to the positive and edifying teaching of the Word of God in this matter. We find principles in the New Testament that give us to understand the simple truth, should our minds and wills be open to it. This wonderful subject cannot satisfactorily be reduced to a short column like this one, so I would like to focus on one aspect of it for now.

The Apostle Paul makes an amazing statement when he writes that “the woman is the glory of the man” (I Corinthians 11:7).  What does it mean for something to be the “glory of” a person?  Generally, the glory of a being or entity is the thing that brings out the excellence or the worth of its subject, displaying it before a particular audience. A “glory” is made apparent to that audience by means of either physical or spiritual perception, and is something the subject of that glory may rightly take pleasure in, subject to godly order. So, for example, when it is said that a woman’s long hair is a glory to her, it is not difficult for us to grasp that her long hair conforms with what is naturally excellent and praiseworthy as to her womanhood. Accordingly, she should not be ashamed of that glory nor hide it, except when it is appropriate that she cover her head and her hair because of a greater glory that ought not be eclipsed or usurped; that is, the glory of God on display in the man during prayer and ministry.³

It is normal that a man should enjoy appearing publicly with the woman he loves, for she is his glory, being the one who completes him. Could there be this natural glory for the man, or would his excellence be on display as the crown jewel of God’s creative work, had he not a wife to fulfill or complete him?  The notion of a man glorying in his own appearance or hair is unnatural, for it is his mate that he ought to glory in.  It is clear from the scripture passages we have noticed that the woman was made of and for the man (while the man now comes by the woman), and that the chain of typical glories was only complete when God brought the woman to the man as bone of his bone. Only then, after His work on the sixth day in creating Man male and female, did God pronounce His work of creation “very good” (Genesis 1:26-31).

The glorious mystery of Christ and the church,¹ as well as God’s display of His own manifold excellence before the universe,³ is compromised in the minds of those (including Christians) who bring their own thoughts to bear on the matter of gender roles and distinctions.  Let it suffice for us to maintain that God is always wiser than men, and that He has revealed to us His mind on the work of His own hands, the man and the woman. It will be for our blessing and enjoyment to submit in simplicity to God’s infinite wisdom. How blessed are we who are allowed the privilege of participating intelligently in a scene that brings such glory to God and to Christ.

 

¹ Read these scriptures together: Gen. 2:18-24; Eph. 3:8-11; 5:22-32; and I Cor. 11:3-10.

²  Colossians 1:10 JND trans.

³  I Corinthians 11:7-15

(This article was originally posted on March 10, 2016. Minor revisions have been made.)

The Reality of Hope

Someone may take issue with a phrase like the one in the heading above linking hope and reality. How can hope, or something hoped for, be realized in the present? Is “hope” not by definition an expectation of an event or condition in the future that is not yet “reality”?

It is true that the man of this world would hear only dissonance should he hear the terms “hope” and “reality” linked together.  But the Christian has Christ Jesus as his Hope, and the operation of faith in his soul substantiates (gives reality to) what he knows is ahead for believers: glory with Christ.¹  Genuine faith in Jesus is the absolute prerequisite for hope; where faith is either feigned or rejected, souls have nothing that can really be called hope, for they have not Christ, and are without God in this world (Ephesians 2:12). Their wish for a blissful hereafter has no substance, and is no more real than a dream that vanishes upon awakening.

The spiritual reality of the Christian’s hope brings with it the potential for very much practical enjoyment in the walk of faith. Here are a few things that are found where hope is doing its special work in the believer’s soul:

  • “We have been saved in hope” (Romans 8:24*).  Yes, we are “saved by grace through faith” from a hopeless existence and course through this world, and from its judgment, but God ordained that hope would characterize and attend that salvation, working perseverance in us while we await the “blessed hope” of the Lord’s coming. His coming at the rapture to catch His own away is referred to in the phrase “the hope of salvation”, and that hope is a “helmet” of protection for our minds from the distractions that can cause even believers to slumber spiritually.² “Every one that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:3*).
  • “We boast in hope of the glory of God . . . hope does not make ashamed” (Romans 5:2-5*). Because hope to a Christian is but “deferred certainty”, as some have put it, he has a right to boast with God-given confidence in the reality of coming glory that accompanies justification and full access by faith into his perfect standing in grace.  And it is impossible that this hope will go unrealized and leave a believer ashamed and lost, for God’s love for him, once so fully displayed at the cross of Christ, is now shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit, and there is no possibility of separation from that “everlasting love”.³
  • “Be always prepared to give an answer to every one that asks you to give an account of the hope that is in you” (I Peter 3:15*).  How would anyone ever think to ask a saint to give an account of his hope?  Because he or she lives like that’s all that’s worth living for! While it may be more common for an unbeliever in modern societies to marginalize or ignore the Christian that lives according to the hope of glory, rather than to inquire about that hope, we can be assured that they notice and have difficulty understanding the phenomenon. They will answer to God for their willful ignorance.

The Christian’s hope is something that cannot be feigned or counterfeited, as has often been attempted with faith, by subscribing to a legalistic or humanistic belief system.  Even love may be feigned through a variety of counterfeits from legalistic service to hedonistic sensuality.  But while the apostles repeatedly called attention to the possibility of feigned faith and feigned love,° there is in scripture no corresponding admonition to maintain an “unfeigned hope”.  It is assumed to be the real thing whenever it is found in a believer who confesses Christ. Would it not be virtually impossible for a person to speak of eagerly awaiting the Lord’s return were he not truly “saved in hope”?

The exhortation to the believer in Christ is this:  “Hold fast the confession of the hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23*).  This living hope in Christ, held fast and enjoyed, is that which affords the Christian both the desire and the energy to endure with patience till the coming of the Lord.

¹   I Timothy 1:1; Hebrews 11:1; Romans 8:17

²   Ephesians 2:1-9; Titus 2:13; I Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11

³   Romans 5:1-11; 8:28-39; Jeremiah 31:3

°   I Timothy 1:5 and II Timothy 1:5; II Corinthians 6:6 and I Peter 1:22

*   Scripture references given in the Darby translation.