To Hold the Truth In Love

There is no bane so avoidable in the church, and no missed opportunity for blessing so regrettable, as failure by saints in the body of Christ to hold the truth in love.  Let us consider the scriptural imperative for carefully maintaining both of these balancing principles: truth and love.

The church of God is presented in the New Testament using several different analogies, including a “house” and a “body”. In I Timothy 3:15, we read of the necessity of appropriate behavior in the “house of God, which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth.” Pillars and bases (foundations) are architectural elements that go along with the picture of the church as a building, and we can understand from this passage that God’s revealed truth is to rest firmly here. Other religious groups or societies, including parachurch organizations, may seek to maintain Christian principles and biblical teaching, and that is commendable. However, it is to the assembly of God alone, functioning according to the New Testament’s teaching on the church, that God gives the commission for upholding (as on a well-grounded pillar) divine truth.

It should be clarified at this point that the church as such does not teach, as organized religion has commonly held over the centuries. Rather, the assembly of God is taught by those teachers and pastors (shepherds) whom God gives as gifts to it. The assembly, if in a good state collectively, then judges the truth or error of that which is taught in it, receiving and growing by the truth, and rejecting the error. Assembly discipline and even excommunication is appropriate when a teacher persists in teaching error, and especially so when that teaching denigrates the glorious person of the Son of God or the infinite worth of the work of Christ.

As vital as it is to maintain the truth in every local expression of the body of Christ, we find in Ephesians 4 some very specific teaching on how it should be held or practiced. We are taught in that chapter about the body of Christ and its essential and practical unity, of the gifts given to build up the body, of its end goal of growing up to the “perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The process of growth to that end, to the “unity of the faith”, assumes that the body of Christ is exercised in “holding the truth in love,” while taking care to avoid the deception of false teachers and their systematized error.¹

A Bible teacher once wrote: ‘But God is never satisfied with negative results, and it is not enough therefore that we should be shielded from error. He desires something more for us, that we, “holding [not merely speaking] the truth in love, may grow up unto Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ.” The knowledge of the faith is, as we have seen, the weapon which alone enables us to “hold the truth” amidst the “opposition of science falsely so called.” But there must be a corresponding state of soul, showing that the truth is operative in the heart as well as the mind, that it is forming the affections as well as the intellect. Hence the truth must be held in love; for without both of these there can be no “growing up unto Christ in all things.” Where, on the other hand, the truth of God is really held, not simply as an intellectual creed, but in love, the believer will grow up unto Christ – will become more and more assimilated in his walk and ways to the blessed Lord.’ ²

Attempting to maintain the truth of God without being collectively exercised about the imperative of doing so “in love” will eventually lead to legalism and division. The apostle Paul by the Spirit is careful to direct the hearts of the Corinthians to the “more excellent way” of love, after laying out for them the principles of truth as the body of Christ in I Corinthians 12 & 13. Without love, there is a real danger of pride and sectarianism, as Paul cautioned in using the body analogy practically in the second half of chapter 12.

In his second epistle to the Corinthians, in chapter 2, Paul begs the assembly to reaffirm their love toward the man they had had to put away because of the truth, for fornication (I Corinthians 5). For to put away a person so that the assembly can “keep the feast . . . with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”, and yet to fail in being ready to manifest love toward such as soon as there is evident repentance, is to fail to hold the truth in love. If love is already in proper exercise in the assembly, this display of love in restoring the backslider will be no difficulty, but will flow naturally from the hearts of those who are controlled by the love of Christ (II Corinthians 5:14).

When a local assembly fails to maintain the truth as taught by the Spirit of truth, it fails objectively as a testimony to the One who is “the Truth”.  And when such an assembly fails to maintain or hold that truth in love, it fails to subjectively demonstrate the love of God in Christ toward souls. Dispensing with the truth for the sake of an emotional love may draw in many souls with more interest in good feelings than truth.  Conversely, lacking the exercised energy of God’s love (agape) and brotherly love (philadelphia)³ will cause assemblies that hold objective truth in a cold or clinical way to wither over time. Sadly, we have all seen examples of both of those imbalances.

The apostle John is occupied much with both truth and love in his gospel and epistles. He records the last hours that the Lord Jesus spent with His disciples in that upper room, where the Lord referred to Himself as “the Truth”, and then promised the “Spirit of truth” who guides into all truth. But even more of His time with them there was spent, in exhortation and prayer, to the end that they should love one another, as He had loved them, and to have in themselves the same love with which the Father loved Him.* Those eleven disciples (and some others) would form the original local expression of the body of Christ and house of God on the earth. It is the truth they taught, maintained in the love of Christ that they enjoyed in their hearts, that is still able to bring growth in the body of Christ, satisfying His heart, while we await perfection at His coming.


¹    Ephesians 4:11-16 (Darby translation).  There is no word in the Greek for either “speaking” or “holding” in this verse; rather, the word for “truth” is given in verb form.

²    T. B. Baines, “The Christian’s Friend” (1879): Edification of the Body of Christ

³    Romans 12:9-10; II Peter 1:7

*    John 15:26; 16:13-14; and see all of John 13-17.

Learning From an Apostle’s Failure

There is a tendency within us to project the faultless character of the inspired scriptures onto the fallible vessels used by the Holy Spirit to write them. Upon reflection, we might remember that the apostle Peter was rebuked for his error by the Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, for his hypocrisy in separating from Gentile believers for fear of the reaction it might cause among Jewish Christians (Galatians 2).  But while Paul was singularly used of God in the revelation of His mind as to the mystery of Jew and Gentile believers being united in one body by the cross of Christ, we can discern his failure in not wholly following the Spirit’s direction during one period of his ministry.

In Acts 16, we read of the clear direction of the Spirit of God forbidding Paul and his company from preaching the gospel in Asia. While we may not at first understand this restraint by the Spirit in the spread of the gospel of God’s grace, we must bow to the implied truth that the time is not always ripe for the gospel message to be proclaimed in a particular place or to certain people. Paul came back to Asia later, as seen in Act 19, and his labor was rewarded in Ephesus with many believing souls. But first, the Spirit uses the vision of the man from Macedonia to lead Paul into Europe, where many were saved in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth.

It is in Acts 18:18 that we first find an indication that Paul’s former devotion to law-keeping had not completely fallen away to give way to walking by the Spirit on the principle of grace.¹  He had taken a vow that apparently ended with his head having to be shorn. We find no defense of this practice in all of the New Testament’s doctrinal teaching, nor for the vows and offerings that Paul later becomes party to in Acts 21:20-28, after arriving back in Jerusalem for the final time. God mercifully intervenes before Paul, at the behest of James and the elders, carries out the animal sacrifices that would only serve to compromise the Christian testimony with non-Christian ritual.

On his way back from Corinth to Jerusalem, Paul stops briefly in Ephesus, but though it might have seemed to be of the Spirit that he stay there for a while longer, for the Ephesian Jews desired that he stay, he is determined to “keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem” (Acts 18:21). Paul had a real love for his “kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3), and being with them in Jerusalem for a “feast of the Jews” still tugged strongly at his heartstrings.

We read of him purposing “in his spirit” to return to Jerusalem again for the feast of Pentecost, after traveling again to Ephesus and Macedonia on his third missionary journey.² We find no indication that he was being led of the Holy Spirit to return to Jerusalem, and we find further that the Spirit used certain prophets to specifically warn him against going there at that time. He sailed to Tyre and tarried there for seven days, during which some disciples “said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.”³

Paul had a heart that was true to his Lord and Savior, and no one should doubt his devotion to the glory of Christ. His zeal for God after his conversion is perhaps unmatched in the history of the church, and yet he failed for a time in this, that he was deterred from fully following the Spirit’s direction because of love for his Jewish brethren and an understandable hesitation to give up the trappings of the law of Moses. The words of Jesus in Luke 5:39 even applied in part to Paul: “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth the new: for he saith, The old is better.” It took the Lord’s chastening hand upon him in what befell him there in Jerusalem and afterwards to bring him to the point where he could write to his fellow Hebrews: “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle . . . Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:10-13).

Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians, who were Gentiles in danger of being led astray by Judaizers, that “if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit”.*  This is perhaps the greatest practical truth of Christianity, and we all fail in it often. And there are a few lessons we can learn from the temporary failure of the dear apostle Paul, to whom we owe so much for being used of the Lord in making known the surpassing truth of Christianity:

  • The “honey”° of natural affection, family ties, or ethnic loyalty often become hindrances to following the leading of the Spirit.
  • The “old wine” of Judaism, as well as any other religious tradition, may also hinder believers in walking by the Spirit.
  • If we fail to wait on the Lord’s counsel or follow our own desires or natural affection, the Lord will send leanness to our souls (Psalm 106:13-15), and may chasten us in various ways to bring about the “peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11).
  • A man may have a heart exercised unto godliness and an irreproachable walk before others, yet still fail to walk by the Spirit in certain matters where the faith to do so would take him down a lonelier path of reproach for Christ’s sake.
  • While we may be persuaded in our spirits that we are walking according to the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the matter of worship and ministry, we must learn to take care not to set at naught or make little of other godly believers who may not yet be similarly exercised.

While Paul was in custody before the high priest after his arrest in Jerusalem, he uttered a few more hasty comments that he regretted later, giving evidence that he was not in the state of soul that would make it natural for him to take the spiritual high road.°° But after the Lord worked to bring about restoration and redirection, Paul seemed at the end of his path of service to take a softer approach toward those saints who fell short in walking by the Spirit in Christian fellowship and ministry.  He simply sorrows that “all they which are in Asia” had turned away from him (II Timothy 1:15). He grieves that “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present age”, and then asks for the Lord’s mercies upon those that forsook him: “At my first defense no man stood with me, but all deserted me. May it not be imputed to them” (II Timothy 4:10 & 16, Darby translation).

May we by the grace of God learn from Paul’s failure to distrust our flesh and natural desires in seeking to follow the Spirit’s guidance, while we have long patience with and loving care for all our brethren seeking in any measure to walk by faith.


¹    Galatians 5:16-25; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 13:9

²    Acts 19:21 (Darby trans.); Acts 20:16

³    Acts 20:22-24; 21:4-14

*    Galatians 5:25 (Darby translation)

°     See Leviticus 2:11

°°    Acts 23:2-10; 24:21

Divine Life and Salvation: An Outline

At the request of some young friends at a recent young people’s Bible Study on Romans 7 and 8, I have made an attempt at outlining graphically what the scriptures teach on the subjects of the believer’s two natures, of the new birth and divine life, and of salvation. It is laid out in the form of three separate timelines portraying the lifetimes of three classes of men, from natural birth to eternity, and it is filled with scripture references. Complex as this graphic is, it is far from an exhaustive treatment of the wonderful subject of how God in grace works to save souls, and many applicable textual references and clarifying comments have been left out for lack of space, because it is merely an outline.

I insert it here as an image file, but if you wish to study it further and would like to have a pdf file sent to you by email, or a hard copy by mail, you may find my contact information by navigating to About Greater Riches on this site, or request it by commenting below.  You may also click here for a Dropbox link to the graphic.

I welcome any comments or corrections.

Soteriology chart

Do Mormons Believe On Jesus?

The short but incomplete answer to the question above is: It depends on what you mean by the words “believe” and “Jesus”.  No doubt many Mormons believe in the same way that many in Jesus’ day believed in His name when they saw the miracles He did, and like Simon the sorcerer did when the preaching of the kingdom of God in Samaria was accompanied by miracles and signs.¹  However, a fleshly belief in an intellectual or religious construct, no matter that you might be impressed by the supernatural power of the divine Person that provides the building blocks for your construct, cannot save your soul from hell and the wrath of God.

Thomas Monson, long-time “apostle” and president of the Mormon Church (“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”), died this week at age 90. In a brief commentary on Monson’s life and death, Christian apologist James White wrote this just yesterday: “It should bring deep sadness to our hearts to consider how many times he uttered the name ‘Jesus Christ’ and in each and every instance he was referring to a fictional character who does not and never did exist. Oh the impact of false religion!”  It is not now necessary to go into the depths of the false doctrine that Mormons hold as to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, but suffice it to say that they do not view Him as the uncreated Creator of all things, eternally “the same”.²

But the very character and meaning of faith, or believing, is at issue here as well. I was perplexed to find this on the website, where even official Mormon teaching tries to distinguish between various forms of belief or confidence in Jesus Christ:  “Millions of people know about Jesus Christ. Is it enough to know who Jesus is and His role in our Heavenly Father’s plan? That knowledge is really only the beginning. Understanding and embracing Jesus Christ’s role as Savior is key to every Christian faith. And it requires more than having a theoretical belief that He lived and accomplished great things. It requires having confidence that He was indeed resurrected and that He suffered not only death but also spiritual pain for our sins.” An unsettling aspect of this quote is that it almost reads like it could have been spoken by a preacher of the gospel. Is there something lacking in this statement that would preclude the salvation of one who apprehends it? Let’s dig a little deeper into what it means to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life.

Without question, and first of all, the Jesus that one must trust for eternal life has to be the One revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and cannot be a counterfeit, or an intellectual construct. But as to the essence of the faith that has Christ as its object, there are Christian teachers who have a rather reductionist view of the gospel, pointing to John 3:16 (“whosoever believeth in Him”) as almost like an evangelical “theory of everything”. Certainly, every single soul could be saved by hearing that verse alone in a gospel message, but to understand the gospel of the grace of God and the nature of “sincere faith”,³ more teaching is needed from both the Gospel of John and the book of Romans.

For example, Paul writes in Romans that justification requires “faith in His blood” as well as “believing in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26). He adds to that in chapter 4:24 the necessity of “believing on Him (God) that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead”. And then in Romans 10:9, Paul stipulates that salvation comes by confessing with your mouth and believing “in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead”. John 1:12 speaks of “receiving” the One who is the Light, and in John 5:24, the Lord adds another factor prerequisite to having eternal life: “He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life”.  Also, in Ephesians 2:8, the required faith is declared to be not from oneself, but is the gift of God. Now it soon becomes evident that that wonderful and multi-faceted scheme of redemption accomplished by Christ and offered to man cannot be reduced doctrinally to one verse or phrase, even though a verse like John 3:16 (I repeat) is able to save any soul who hears it by faith. We cannot here cover all the facets of redemption and how believers enter into the enjoyment of all their spiritual blessings in Christ by faith.

However, one aspect of faith is too often missed, and even rejected by many, and that is that genuine faith is much more than (and different in character from) the kind of faith one might have in the laws of gravity or astronomy. It must be the result of a quickened or born again soul, that is, of a “new heart” given sovereignly by God (Ezekiel 36:26). When many believed in Jesus’ name after seeing the miracles, we are promptly instructed by John how that the Lord Jesus didn’t entrust Himself to them, because He knew what was needed first: new birth, a quickening work in the souls of men. Only then, only after insisting to Nicodemus that new birth was necessary to address “what was in man”, does Jesus reveal eternal life to be the result of God-given faith in Him. Read John 2:23 through 3:16 (especially connecting 3:2 with 2:23) to gain an understanding of what the Lord Jesus knew, and what He mandated as the requirement for faith to be effectual, that a man might even be able “to see (by faith) the kingdom of God”. Effectual faith must have the born-again soul as its spring, and any “faith” because of miracles, or any “belief” arising from the will of man, is still rejected by God as the fruit of the flesh, which cannot please Him. See John 1:12-13 and Romans 8:7-8.

No matter what a morally upright Mormon might believe, if he sees no need for a “new creation” order of faith and divine life, then his knowledge of Christ and his faith in Christ will be strictly “according to the flesh”.*  And when once a Mormon soul is quickened by God’s sovereign grace, his or her faith will come to rest on the One who “is the true God, and eternal life”,° and will no doubt soon turn away from the counterfeit construct the LDS system has set forth for fleshly belief. And many have already done so, praise God!


¹    John 2:23; Acts 8:5-24

²    “Thou art the same” (atta hu) is a Hebrew designation for Jehovah found in Psalm 102:27; also Hebrews 1 and 13:8

³     I Timothy 1:5 and II Timothy 1:5, ESV

*    II Corinthians 5:16-17, Darby’s New Translation

°    I John 5:20

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Political shock waves have rippled through the world for days after last week’s announcement by the Trump administration that it would begin the process of moving the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  I do not wish to debate the political wisdom or timeliness of this move, but rather, accepting the policy change as the new reality, I hope to encourage my readers to take the longer view and to acknowledge God’s ways in the preservation of His earthly people from behind the scenes.

God chose the nation of Israel for the once and future administration of this earth, but because of their treachery and Jehovah’s consequent judgment upon them, we are more than 2600 years into a period the Lord called the “times of the Gentiles”. Jerusalem was taken captive and left to languish by the Babylonians around 600 BC.  During the ministry of the Lord Jesus almost 2000 years ago, He foretold the sad state of the city He mourned over, which would last from the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its temple until “the times of the Gentiles (nations) be fulfilled.” That once-beautiful city, so favored by Jehovah, would be “trodden underfoot of the Gentiles” during that time (Luke 21:24).

A friend brought to my attention some ministry written close to a century ago and before the Jewish Holocaust, which I give here in part: “Men would do well to let God do His own work in His own time, and in His own way. Human meddling with God’s purposes can only lead to disaster. Amongst the many movements of our own day, all solemnly suggestive that the end of the age is approaching, is the proposal of the British Government to re-establish the Jewish people in the land of their fathers . . . Their restoration lies altogether outside men’s political arrangements.” (W. W. Fereday)   This is certainly true when the scope of our preview is what the Lord will work in and among his people to bring them to faith and establish them in triumph over their enemies in that day of Christ’s manifestation in this world. After God’s judgment on them for rejecting their Messiah, during that Great Tribulation, they will be given new hearts and a new spirit, as well as God’s own Spirit.¹ God will sovereignly quicken them, and no political maneuvering will have a hand in bringing this miracle about.

However, this blessed prophecy does not preclude God from using man’s political arrangements for the protection and prosperity of His earthly people even while they are under the sentence of Lo-ruhamah and Lo-ammi (I will not have mercy; and, you are not my people).²  In the book of Esther, we see how God protects and prospers the Jews in spite of the vitriol aimed at them by the Agagite Haman. Though God is not even mentioned in that inspired historical account, yet He was certainly working behind the political scene found there in Shushan and Medo-Persia.

More recently, God ended the career of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich long before he could snuff out European Jewry, the object of his maniacal hatred. No doubt God’s protecting hand might be viewed as only sparing them temporarily for a yet greater judgment to come in which two-thirds of them will perish³, but any delay in judgment gives more opportunity for repentance and salvation for individual Jews during this day when God’s grace reigns.

But what about the Trump administration’s announcement fully recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? Was this man’s meddling with God’s purposes, or was it God working on behalf of His ancient people by way of a man’s political ambition? I suppose the only way it could truly be “meddling” is if the agents were purporting to act on behalf of God, otherwise He is simply using the agents unwittingly to set the stage for the prophetic clock to start ticking again, after the church is raptured to be with Christ. Either way, the case could be made that the recognition of Jerusalem is of the same order as, and simply a logical consequence of, the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine many decades ago, and the establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948.

Early teachers of dispensational truth predicted that the Jewish people would have to flock to their ancient land, including Jerusalem, even while in a state of national unbelief, so the events of the last 100 years have not caught by surprise those who learned that truth from the scriptures. As an example, A.J. Pollock wrote this soon after World War I: “The Bible tells us that the Jewish nation is to go back to its own land in unbelief. Ezekiel 37:21 says, ‘Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land.’ History is penning the fulfillment of these lines. In 1882 Jerusalem numbered 24,000 inhabitants, 4,000 of whom were Jews. In 1910 there were 100,000 inhabitants, 80,000 of whom were Jews. That is to say, in less than thirty years the population more than quadrupled, whilst the Jewish portion multiplied twenty times. This increase can only be attributed to God’s power; cities have been known to spring into being with mushroom growth, but there have been patent reasons for their so doing, such as big manufactories being set up, demanding labour, or the discovery of gold in the vicinity attracting population. But no such reason even remotely governs the increase in Jerusalem’s population.

How should a Christian respond to, or what sentiments are appropriate to, the rise of Jerusalem politically? There is nothing inconsistent about hoping to “see the good of Jerusalem”° on the one hand, while mourning its unbelief on the other. The Lord Jesus wept over that city with all the deep feeling of unrequited love and compassion, and yet He could pronounce centuries of judgment and desolation upon it in these words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together . . . !  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”*  For the fulfillment of this prophecy that previews an awakened desire for Messiah, the Jews must  have returned to their land in unbelief, and Jerusalem not only inhabited, but central to a collective Jewish psyche.

It really does not matter how you or I feel about the political wisdom of President Trump’s action on Jerusalem, or of the risks taken in doing so. The stage is being set for Israel’s greatest national trial and subsequent restoration, and that from a position far higher than an American president. But we who trust in the living God can rejoice that Israel’s preservation and prosperity, and even the very existence of the Jew, his land, and his precious city, is abundant testimony to the world that God is still moving behind the scenes to bring about blessing through faith for both Jew and Gentile, and for the glorious exaltation of His beloved Son over all this earthly scene.


¹   Matthew 24:21; Ezekiel 36:24-29

²    Hosea 1:6-11, but see I Peter 2:10

³    Zechariah 13:8-9

°    Psalm 128:5

*    Luke 19:41; 13:34-35

I Only Am Left

It has been troubling to me to take note of Christian men who withdraw from fellowship with other saints because of the shortcomings they find in their brothers and sisters in Christ. I would not question whether these souls are truly the Lord’s own, or whether He can still use them in a limited way to advance His purposes in the kingdom of God.  But there is loss suffered in the body of Christ and in the soul, when a Christian eschews godly fellowship in the assembly, or avoids real engagement with other believers even while perfunctorily attending a church.

Standing aloof from one’s brethren because they are simply weak and failing brings to mind the prophet Elijah, whom Jehovah sent to the wayward and idolatrous northern kingdom of Israel.  Elijah performed great and terrible signs by the power of God, praying for a three-year cessation of rain, calling down fire from heaven on the sacrifice and altar on Mount Carmel, and even calling down fire to consume the emissaries of King Ahab (I Kings 17 – II Kings 1). No doubt all this was of the Lord in His ways of judgment among His people, to the end that their consciences would be smitten and so that repentance might result. However, Elijah was a “man subject to like passions as we are” (James 5:17), and he missed the mind of God in a few important points which I believe might be used to exercise the hearts of some who may feel the way Elijah did.

Many readers will remember that Elijah’s failure of interceding against the people of God is the only failure of an Old Testament saint found recorded in the New Testament (Romans 11:2-5). This is instructive for us beyond the immediate context of God’s election of a remnant by sovereign grace. I believe we could say that there was a serious flaw in Elijah’s otherwise godly character that made his prideful disdain of other Israelites so noteworthy, and the subject of the Lord’s rebuke and censure.

It was this root of self-importance that caused him to flee into the wilderness from Jezebel and there complain: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (I Kings 19). One only speaks this way if he had once thought himself to actually be better than his fathers; it was a pitiful admission of his pride. Soon after this, upon reaching Horeb, the mount of God, he manifests it yet again by his speech to Jehovah: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left . . .”  After Elijah repeats this defense of himself, Jehovah in grace gives the gentle yet pointed rebuke: “Yet I have left Me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him.” We are left to wonder why Elijah failed to seek out these godly ones so as to have some fellowship with them in their isolation, particularly when we notice that the remnant of returned Jews at a later time “spoke often one to another” (Malachi 3:16). This desire for fellowship with the faithful is normal and approved of by the Lord.

The God of Israel had an important mission for Elijah among those tribes that rebelled against the rightful king of the house of David. Following Jeroboam, they had left the divinely-chosen center for worship (Jerusalem) for their own artificial and idolatrous worship at Dan and Bethel. I have often pondered Elijah’s seeming lack of esteem for the place Jehovah had chosen to place His name (Deuteronomy 12), seeing there were other faithful ones from the ten northern tribes that gathered at Jerusalem both before and after the days of Elijah¹, during the reigns of Asa and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Why this lack and failure? True, he had been led of Jehovah to build an altar of precisely twelve stones on Mount Carmel², indicating his appreciation for Jehovah’s perspective on Israel as being one undivided nation in His thoughts, but why did Elijah not go further in his thoughts and desires, even to Jerusalem, where true worship to the Lord was to be offered? It was during Elijah’s ministry that godly Jehoshaphat gathered the faithful of Judah to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem “to seek the Lord”, and Elijah would have done well to be gathered there with them³.

Elijah’s service was special and singular, and on its principle God was pleased to pattern the ministry of both John the Baptist and a future prophetic witness during the Great Tribulation period.*  But he is not a model for the Christian man today, and his lonely and isolated ministry of judgment and restoration presaging an earthly kingdom** is suited to periods outside of this day when “grace reigns” (Romans 5:21). The Lord Jesus indicated as much when He rebuked His disciples when they invoked Elijah’s action° in entertaining the thought of calling fire down from heaven on Samaritans: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.”

The believer of this age ought to seek out companionship and fellowship with those “who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (II Timothy 2:16-22).  Truly, there should also be an exercise of conscience as to separation from evil doctrine and immoral practice among Christians. But it is antithetical to the proper spirit of a Christian to neglect this dispensation’s true gathering center for worship, prayer, and administrative authority (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ – Matthew 18:18-20), or to think so highly of one’s own spiritual state as to separate himself with complaining spirit from simple but godly saints who seek to be gathered around Christ. God in wisdom uses the “spirit of Elijah” to accomplish His purposes of blessing in other days, but the spirit of a Timothy or of an Onesiphorus°° is what He really delights in using for the blessing of saints now, in the church of God.


¹  II Chronicles 15:8-10; 30:5-11      ²  I Kings 18:31   ³  II Chronicles 20:3-5   * Revelation 11    **  Malachi 4:5-5; Matthew 16:28 – 17:11    °  Luke 9:54-56; II Kings 1     °°  Philippians 2:19-23; II Timothy 1:15-18

Blessed Are the Dead Who Die in the Lord

I recently attended the funeral of a relative whom I did not know very well. Some who knew the man well lacked assurance as to his eternal well-being, and sorrowed over the uncertainty.   The uncertainty was due to the inconsistent Christian walk and testimony of the deceased loved one. However difficult a person’s passing may be for family and friends, it would only be my desire with God’s help to speak comfort to their burdened hearts by bringing some scriptural clarity to what it means to have “died in faith” (Hebrews 11:13), or to “die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).

The Bible does not direct us to look at the failures of Christians who die, or we might never have the assurance that a soul is merely “absent from the body” but “present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). It is possible that even the godliest believer commits a sin of the flesh or spirit immediately prior to death, and if that disqualifies one from dying in the Lord, how can we have assurance for anyone in their passing?

Repentance from every sin committed, even the very last one, is sometimes put forth as a prerequisite for entrance into God’s presence upon death. However, repentance is a change of mind and heart toward God and His claims upon a person, and does not really refer to an exhaustive confession of individual sins committed throughout one’s life. How worrisome would it be to the soul if a believer lived in fear that some sin of the flesh or spirit was not discerned or properly confessed? This is not at all the will of the Father for His own dear children. When John tells us in I John 1:7 that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all (every) sin”, it is in light of the truth that He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24), and those who are “in the light” are in the good of this abstract and objective guarantee. The confession of our individual sins in I John 1:9 is in view of the practical cleansing a believer needs on a daily basis for fellowship with Christ and enjoyment of Him.¹

Hebrews 11 is often called the “faith chapter”, and we are given a long list of names in that chapter who “died in faith”. How many imperfections might we find in each of these who are commended by God for their faith? Was not Abraham justified by faith before his failure in the matter of Hagar and Ishmael? Was not David assured that the Lord would not impute sin to him,² though he sinned and acted foolishly numerous times? Was not Samson guilty of a sad departure from God, as well as a suicidal death?  (Judges 16:30)  Yet he also had faith, and it saved him in spite of all his failures, because God claimed him as His own. Jephthah was harsh and hasty, Isaac was apparently given to an inordinate appetite for good food that dimmed his spiritual eyesight, but what they did for God, they did by faith, and all is recorded for us to learn from. Their failures are all hidden in the New Testament, with but one exception.³

God’s dividing line in the matter of one’s eternal destiny is not whether or not every sin committed was properly confessed, or whether or not a man exhibits faith to his family and friends in the last days of his life. He divides the human race on the basis of whether or not one is born again by grace, and consequently has faith in the testimony of God with regard to His Son. The Lord Jesus put it plainly for the comfort of the believer’s soul: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). The Lord did not intend for this great truth to be weakened by our conditions.

For the possession of new life (the new creation – II Corinthians 5:17) is in the final analysis the determining factor in one’s eternal destiny. All who have ever had new life from God throughout history are enjoying Him now, awaiting the resurrection. New life in Christ does not guarantee sinless perfection, but neither is that new life (the new nature) affected by the believer’s failures in the flesh, when he or she stoops to heed the desires of the flesh for a time, incurring the Father’s chastisement (Hebrews 12:5-11). This teaching is shown to be true by the warning and assurance wrapped up together in one verse in Ephesians 4:  “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption”.

If the departed soul had eternal life and sealing by the Spirit, any fleshly act in his life no doubt grieved that Spirit.  But a sin could never negate the impartation of that life, nor undo the Spirit’s seal, which is unto the day of the redemption of our bodies, at the resurrection of the just. When a loved one dies who confessed Christ as Savior and Lord, our loving Father would desire to afford us the comfort of looking in hindsight for the evidences of that new life, which is the fruit of the Spirit of God, even if much of that Christian’s work may be burned up when “the day” declares it.*   For if he was a true believer, “he himself shall be saved”, but so as through the fire.


¹   John 13:7-11;  Ephesians 5:26

²   Romans 4:8

³   Romans 11:2

*   Galatians 5:22-23;  I Corinthians 3:12-15