Be At Peace Among Yourselves

The admonition to be at peace among ourselves in local gatherings of saints is a brief one (I Thess. 5:13), but it requires much spiritual exercise in the form of prayer, wisdom, self-judgment, and brotherly kindness (brotherly affection – philadelphia).  “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Romans 12:10).

Posted below is an audio recording of remarks made to a group of Christian young people at a Bible conference in St Louis on the subject of maintaining sincere love and affection for each other, and on the very real need for peacemaking at home and in the assembly, beginning early in life. “Let no one despise thy youth, but be a model of the believers, in word, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12 Darby translation).

Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God

On Saturday, October 27, 2018, a hate-filled gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh while a Jewish congregation was holding Sabbath (Shabbat) services, killing eleven worshipers and injuring seven more. This trajedy was the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history, and its shocking nature, as well as its implications for the Jewish comunity in the Western world, reverberated through the press and social media.

Condemnation of anti-semitism in light of this horrible massacre was certainly justified, and was almost universal, although it is noted by some that while Jew-hatred in the West is condemned across the political spectrum, the same cannot be said of the Western prejudices that Jewish people face who are in their homeland, defending it from their Middle Eastern enemies. It is probable that very many who now give lip service in opposing anti-semitism will in the not-so-distant future be indifferent to the Great Tribulation persecution that Jesus foretold would come upon the Jews, who are properly the decendents of the biblical nation of Judah.

How ought those Christians who love the God of Israel regard and respond to events like this, or more broadly, to enmity against Jews wherever they are found in the world?  In the Christian profession, attitudes toward the Jewish people range from indifference to emulation, advocacy, or solidarity, but perhaps relatively few seek to understand the mind of God on this important subject. Resorting to humanistic political reasoning is exclusive of seeking to intelligently understand the dispensational ways of God, as laid out in His word.

It is possible to grieve for and with the Jewish people when such hatred is displayed against them, without running ahead of God’s program for them. In due time, He will bring them through intensely deep tribulation before blessing a large remnant of all twelve tribes of Israel in sovereign grace, by which He will quicken millions of souls and establish them in their land for a millennium. As Christians, we ought to look forward with great expectation to that time, for we will be reigning with Christ in glory, enjoying His rightful exaltation over this world that crucified Him. Our primary business as Christians is to wait for the coming glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, while showing compassion to, and grieving over the injustices perpetrated on, all the “offspring of God” (Acts 17:29) because of the corruption of sin.¹

At the present time, God is dealing with all of mankind according to this framework: “Jews . . . Gentiles . . . and the church of God” (I Corinthians 10:32). The church (assembly) of God is made of both Jews and Gentiles (all who were by nature not Jewish) who have received the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and the “middle wall of partition” has been torn down by His mighty work on the cross.²  Not only is there no longer a wall between Jewish and Gentile believers, there is also no recognition by God of a different pattern of worship for Christians of Jewish heritage. We all know that the first Christians were Jews by birth, and God was patient with them as they continued their Jewish rituals, feasts, and even sacrifices for decades after Pentecost, but in the Epistle to the Hebrews, God makes clear that the era of Jewish tradition in the assembly of God was over. “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle”, and “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13). It seems evident that this reproach accompanies a leaving behind of all that pertained to the camp of religious Judaism. And this direction to separate themselves was given to believing Hebrews after the writer of the epistle goes to great lengths to show how that Jesus Christ is better in every way than the shadows and figures that the Law of Moses prescribed.

Let me hasten to make clear that there is nothing wrong with a Jewish believer in Christ having an interest in and a gratitude for his or her heritage as a child of Israel, any more than it would be wrong for me to have similar sentiments for my lineage that goes back almost exclusively through the Swiss and German Anabaptists. But neither case, neither heritage, justifies a sectarian communion or a differentiated program of worship, and Colossians 3:11 (among other passages) makes that abundantly clear: “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”

A regrettable incident took place in the days after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Vice President Mike Pence, an unabashed Christian, invited a rabbi from the Messianic Jewish group “Jews for Jesus” on stage at a campaign event to pray for the fallen Jewish worshipers and for their families, and for the United States as a nation. The Messianic rabbi, Loren Jacobs, invoked his “Lord and Savior Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah” in his prayer.  The Vice President was strongly criticized by the Jewish community for this incident, and while his motive may have been commendable, his understanding was faulty, and the backlash he received online and in the press should not be surprising to an instructed Christian. It is wonderful that many Jewish people have come to faith in their Messiah in recent decades, but there is still, twenty centuries after Pentecost, a real need for them to leave that attractive legal system of worship and religious identity in order to enjoy spiritual maturity as members of the body of Christ. God now sees them that way, as the scriptures make plain.

Judaism and Christianity ought not be conflated, for the Christian faith and its spiritual worship is not compatible with Jewish worship.³  The Lord Jesus taught this by parable in Luke 5:36-39: “No man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.”  We see the “bottles” of Judaism and Christianity both compromised when men try to bring them together or bridge the gulf between them, whether for political or sentimental reasons, or even to mitigate the reproach of Christ that usually accompanies the conversion of a Jew to Christ. No doubt new Jewish believers of the both the first and the twenty-first centuries tend to feel that “the old is better”, and God is patient with that sentiment, but at the same time, His desire is that they come into the full enjoyment of the better things* of Christianity.  The path of an ethnic Jew that believes on Jesus and embraces the simplicity of biblical Christianity is often not an easy one, but our God is so patient and merciful, and His grace is sufficient for it. He has promised it would be.

 

¹   Matthew 24; Ezekiel 36-37; Revelation 20

²   Ephesians 2:11-22

³  Philippians 3:1-11; Hebrews 13:15-16

*   The Epistle to the Hebrews uses the term “better” many times to distinguish between the old (Mosaic legal system) and the new (Christ and Christianity).

Animal Sacrifices in Israel’s Future

It may not be well-known among either Christians or Jews that animal sacrifices will once again be offered on an altar in Jerusalem, given that the Jews’ sacrificial program was ended violently nearly 20 centuries ago upon that city’s destruction.  Jesus foretold this suspension of Jerusalem’s place at the center of the Jewish nation and religion in Luke 22:24, saying: “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” But prophet after prophet in the Old Testament foretold the re-establishment of Jerusalem at the center of a restored Israel in the coming kingdom age, which we learn from Revelation 20 will be a millennium in duration. God used the prophet Ezekiel in a special way to set out the particulars of the geography of Israel, of the architecture of the final temple, and of future sacrificial ceremony and priestly service among His redeemed earthly people.¹

Christians may find it difficult to understand the clear references in Ezekiel to a new program of sacrifices and offerings, since the Epistle to the Hebrews so clearly presents Jesus, the Son of God, to be the fulfillment of all the types and shadow in the law, including the sin offering. “By one offering (Himself) He has perfected forever them that are sanctified”, the Hebrew Christians were assured, and as to the need for further sacrifice, it is written: “Now where remission of these [sins and iniquities] is, there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:1-18).  Yet Ezekiel speaks of burnt offerings, peace offerings, and sin offerings. How can this be understood?

Many teachers in historical Christendom have lumped these particulars in Ezekiel together with most other prophecies of a coming kingdom on earth and have explained them within the framework of amillennialism, preterism, or what we might loosely describe as “replacement theology.” In these systems of prophetic interpretation, most prophecy has already been fulfilled, there will be no literal future kingdom on earth, and the church has now replaced Israel as the spiritual heir of Jehovah’s apparently literal promises to the fathers and the prophets. However, these systems of interpretation do violence to the integrity of the scriptures, muddling things that differ and robbing God’s promises of their force, both in the consicence and in the heart of man.

Over the past two centuries, many Christians have come to understand and enjoy these very specific prophecies through the lens of what has been called “dispensationalism”, which sees God administering his purposes on earth in different ways, using different men (and even angels), during rather distinct time periods. Dispensational teachers largely embrace the prophecy of future animal sacrifices being offered, but have often been less than certain of their meaning and importance.

Those sacrifices are usually viewed as memorials of the work of Christ on the cross, which work will bring forgiveness of sins and assurance of it to each child of Israel in that future scene of earthly kingdom glory. No doubt there will be an aspect of remembrance in their worship, but I believe this explanation doesn’t go far enough to explain what those sacrifices will entail in their meaning to Jehovah and His people. Dispensational teacher and Bible scholar John C. Whitcomb provides some help with this question in an article originally published in 1985.  His broad point is that those future sacrifices will have an instructional, disciplinary, and ceremonial purpose. I will quote from that paper briefly, but recommend for the Bible student a reading of the entire piece at the link provided below.²

Whitcomb:

In the covenant at Sinai, God provided a highly complex and rigid structure for his “kingdom of priests.” Within that structure, national / theocratic transgressions would receive national / theocratic forgiveness when appropriate sacrifices were offered to God through legitimate priests at the tabernacle / temple altar. This “forgiveness” was promised regardless of the spiritual state of either the offerer or the priest. For example, for both believing and unbelieving Israelites in Egypt, God promised: “when I see the blood I will pass over you” (Exod. 12:13; cf. 12:23). However, such sacrificial blood could never cleanse the conscience or save the soul (Heb. 10:1–2), so God repeatedly sent prophets to call His people to love and obey their God from the heart. Apart from such genuine faith, all the ceremonially “kosher” animals in the whole world would avail nothing in the spiritual realm . . .

It was just as true then as it is today: “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). But it was also true then, under the Old Covenant, that “the blood of goats and bulls . . . sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh” (Heb. 9:13). In the words of F. F. Bruce,

the blood of slaughtered animals under the old order did possess a certain
efficacy, but it was an outward efficacy for the removal of ceremonial
pollution. . . . They could restore [the worshipper] to formal communion
with God and with his fellow-worshippers. . . . Just how the blood of
sacrificed animals or the ashes of a red heifer effected a ceremonial
cleansing our author does not explain; it was sufficient for him, and no
doubt for his readers, that the Old Testament ascribed this efficacy to
them.

Now what does all of this indicate with regard to animal sacrifices in the millennial Temple for Israel under the New Covenant? It indicates that future sacrifices will have nothing to do with eternal salvation which only comes through true faith in God. It also indicates that future animal sacrifices will be “efficacious” and “expiatory” only in terms of the strict provision for ceremonial (and thus temporal) forgiveness within the theocracy of Israel. Thus, animal sacrifices during the coming Kingdom age will not be primarily memorial, like the bread and the cup . . . any more than sacrifices in the age of the Old Covenant were primarily prospective or prophetic in the understanding of the offerer.

Then, after quoting many other Bible scholars, such as Walvoord, Gaebelein, and Kelly on both the similarities and the contrasts between old covenant and new covenant worship, Whitcomb concludes:

It is not only possible, but prophetically certain, that millennial animal sacrifices will be used in a God-honoring way (e.g., Psa. 51:15–19; Heb. 11:4) by a regenerated, chosen nation before the inauguration of the eternal state when animals will presumably no longer exist.

Before the heavens and the earth flee away from him who sits upon the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11), God will provide a final demonstration of the validity of animal sacrifices as an instructional and disciplinary instrument for Israel. The entire world will see the true purpose of this system. Of course, the system never has and never will function on the level of Calvary’s Cross, where infinite and eternal guilt was dealt with once and for all. But the system did accomplish, under God, some very important pedagogical and disciplinary purposes for Israel under the Old Covenant (Gal. 4:1–7). There is good reason to believe that it will yet again, and far more successfully from a pedagogical (instructional) standpoint, function on the level of purely temporal cleansing and forgiveness (cf. Heb. 9:13) within the strict limits of the national theocracy of Israel during the one thousand years of Christ’s reign upon the earth in accordance with the terms of the New Covenant.

The Christian can enjoy a place of intimacy with Christ and in Him, with no need for animal sacrifice and offering in a covenantal relationship, while at the same time marvelling at the wisdom of God in His dispensational ways with man, and with His elect, through the ages.

 

¹   Ezekiel 40:38-43; 42:13-14; 43:18-26; 44:15-31; 45:13-25; 46:1-24

²   “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel”, by John C. Whitcomb. Link to article here.  (Note: While we might take issue with terminology in this article giving the appearance the author believes the church is under the New Covenant, I believe he only means to convey that we enjoy New Covenant blessings by grace. A few minor errors should be borne with as well.)

God’s Love for the World – and His Grace toward His Own

At the root of some of the doctrinal difficulty and disagreement in the Christian faith is a lack of understanding of the love of God and its relationship to the grace of God. For example, there are those who declare that God’s love would not allow any sinner to perish, or go to hell; this teaching is called “Universalism.” Several years ago, megachurch leader Rob Bell wrote a book to that effect, entitled “Love Wins”, in which he postulates that people are given an eternity of opportunities after death to respond to God’s love, and so none will be finally lost.  On the other side of the theological spectrum, if we might be permitted to speak that way, are those often referred to as hyper-Calvinists, who maintain that when the Lord Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:16 that “God so loved the world,” He really meant that God loved the world of the “elect”, and not the souls of all men.

Wisdom consists in part of the ability to distinguish between similar concepts that differ in important ways. The concepts of love and grace, although intimately related, are not used interchangeably in the Scriptures.  We read in I John 4 that “God is love”, and we understand by that expression that love is His inherent nature.  Another has said that the declaration that “God is love” reveals to us the energy of His nature, while “God is light” (I John 1:5) tells us of the purity of His nature, which necessitates His righteousness. I believe it would be correct to state that the love of God is the wellspring of all His activity in the universe, beginning with creation and culminating with the reconciliation of all things based on the infinite work of His Son on the cross to put away sin, done once for all “in the consummation of the ages” (Hebrews 9:26).

The grace of God, on the other hand, is the means by which God, in the perfection of His love, carries out His purposes in the lives of helpless, unworthy sinners. Grace is effectual, for God always accomplishes what He sets out to do by grace in the lives of His elect (Philippians 1:6; Ephesians 2:10). As difficult as this may be to comprehend, this grace was given to us who are saved “before the world began”.¹  God’s love is not spoken of in Scripture with this particularity, because love is the motive and mode of His activity toward all, whereas grace has the individual soul’s eternal blessing in view, and grace infallibly accomplishes its goal according to the purpose of God.²   John Calvin wrote of “irresistable grace”, but since that term has an objectionable connotation as indicating forcible entry into a soul, we might more accurately and carefully speak of the “effectual grace” of God.  In fact, to say that “grace wins” would be much more correct than the Universalist mantra “love wins”, for grace is effectual while love is motivational.

And what a motive was love in God! So much so that we can state and preach emphatically that God loved the world so that He gave His Son Jesus as the propitiation for the “whole world” (I John 2:2), and that all men are both invited to come and commanded to repent, since propitiation allows God to be merciful while remaining perfectly righteous. When sinners up until their final breath reject and disobey the gospel call, they experience permanent separation from the love of God, and from the God of love.³ However, the love of God is not compromised or diminished because He must judge the wicked, and judgment is His “strange work” (Isaiah 28:21).  We can therefore place both Universalism and hyper-Calvinism at the extreme fringes of the discussion of the love of God, and unworthy of godly consideration.

But grace is God’s unmerited favor toward individual sinners who are no better than “them that perish” – by grace God chooses them, quickens them, saves them, and glorifies them. God’s highest delight now and forever will be to glorify Himself in His Son through us who are saved, and who are the beneficiaries of “the riches of His grace“.   But lest we become overly occupied with our own interests and benefit in the matter of God’s working by grace, let us remember that the believer’s redemption, acceptance, and adoption will throughout all eternity be “to the praise of the glory of His grace.”²

¹   II Timothy 1:9

²   Ephesians 1:3-12

³   Romans 8:39; Matthew 22:13; Luke 14:24


(This article was originally published under a different title in June, 2016.)

 

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.)