The Abortion Rights Deception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Keeping His Commandments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

¹   Deuteronomy 4:13; 5:7-21

²   Matthew 5-7

³   Genesis 15:6; Romans 4

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

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

This Is Life Eternal

The Apostle John wrote more on the subject of eternal life than all the other inspired writers combined, for that line of truth was given him by the Spirit of God for our enjoyment in that life. It is too grand a subject to cover in detail here, but as eternal life is both precious and underappreciated, a few moments of meditation on it may serve to enhance our appreciation of its infinite value.

The Lord Jesus as Son of God came to manifest that eternal life which was with the Father from an eternal past. The Son had that life in Him, for eternal life, and light, and love, were intrinsic to the nature of the Godhead in trinity “in the beginning”.

But was the human race in a condition to be able to apprehend or appreciate the glory of the Word made flesh, the only-begotten Son come from the Father?  No indeed, and Ephesians 4:18 makes clear for us the character and state of fallen man after Adam and Eve were shut out of the Garden, where the tree of life remained unpartaken-of by man. Death reigned after Adam’s fall, and men became “darkened in understanding, estranged from the life of God” through ignorance and hardness of heart. We may therefore rightly use the term “divine life” to set forth in a general way the life that was in God, that is essential to His nature. We may also infer from this verse that God desired to share this life with the man whom He created, but that evil had brought in a terrible hindrance.

There was but one way in which God the Father could bring His fallen creature man into the sublime enjoyment of His life, eternal life. It was by sending His Son as the Word of life, to be made flesh and dwell among men, thus manifesting this life to them as the “light of men”, and finally as the Lamb of God who gave His flesh in death for the life of the world. Those to whom the Son gives life by His own gracious will are those who receive His testimony and walk in the light of that life, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses them from every sin.

Someone might ask: Did saints of old have divine life, given that they missed the privilege of seeing and receiving the Son sent into the world by the Father? For Jesus makes clear in His prayer to the Father in John 17 that the essence of life eternal is to know the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He sent. That relational knowledge (of God as Father and the Son sent by Him as Savior) is really eternal life in the believer, the abundant life that the Lord spoke of in John 10. Believers before Christ therefore could not experience the life of God in its fullest character as “eternal life”. They looked for an everlasting life on this earth, but what God the Son came to reveal was a heavenly life that takes the possessor of it outside of space and time, up to heaven and the Father’s house. The Son will soon return for those who now have eternal life, as well as for all those of past ages who by abundant grace were quickened on the principle of “justification of life”.

II Timothy 1 helps us to understand better the change that occurred after the Lord Jesus came and the gospel began to be preached. It presents “our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has annulled death, and brought to light life and incorruptibility by the glad tidings.” Incorruptibility refers to the resurrection and glorification of the bodies of saints, and before Christ came, there was virtually no comprehension of that truth, for it is likely that they understood the resurrection of the righteous to be a sort of everlasting life on this earth, with bodies still made of dust. Incorruptibility has been brought to light for us by the glad tidings, but so also has the broader companion truth of “life”, eternal life in the Son. These precious things we take for granted were shrouded in mystery until the gospel of the Christ brought life and incorruptibility into the bright light of God’s revelation of Himself in the Son.

Now the psalmist David may have had more of an understanding of the life of God than others of his day, for he prophesied of the Messiah’s resurrection and life beyond the grave in Psalm 16: “Thou wilt make known to me the path of life: Thy countenance is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” Then in the 36th Psalm, he makes mention of those things that can only be enjoyed by those who have God, the source of life: “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house; and Thou wilt make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures. For with Thee is the fountain of life: in Thy light shall we see light.”  David by the Spirit caught these glimpses of that which we who possess eternal life can now enjoy to the fullest of our partial capacity, which increases as we grow in Christ:  Enjoyment and satisfaction in God, spiritual abundance, heavenly pleasures, and heavenly light.

The doctrine of eternal life is precious, for it is known only in Him who is “the true God, and eternal life.” And while it is as permanent as our position “in Christ” is permanent, eternal life is yet very subjectively enjoyed (or not) by the individual Christian. A brother now with the Lord used to give the analogy of an undersea diver with an air-supply tube sustaining him in a hostile environment, with the air picturing eternal life. We who believe may enjoy as much of it as we might want for the satisfaction of our souls while we live in this evil world, but we look forward to the day when we burst into that environment of heaven where eternal life pervades all, and the ebb and flow of our enjoyment is forever past.

 

Scriptures referenced:   John 1:1; Ephesians 4:17-18; I John 1:1-2; John 1:4; John 6:51; John 5:21; I John 1:7; John 17:3; John 10:10; Romans 5:17-18; II Timothy 1:10; I Corinthians 15:47; Psalm 16:10-11; Psalm 36:8-9; I John 5:20

 

Fear Not, Little Flock

Weakness and littleness are not qualities that the natural man values, and Christians also shrink from being perceived as insignificant in the world around them. The Lord in His goodness taught the apostle Paul the value of considering himself weak, through the instrumentality of a “thorn in the flesh”, lest he should become prideful and exalted in his thoughts as to his privileges and achievements.

While meditating on that portion of scripture in II Corinthians 12 recently, it struck me that, although the scope of the passage is really individual, we may well be comforted and encouraged by applying these principles corporately (at least in part) to a little testimony of believers gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul took pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in straits, for Christ, “for when I am weak,” he said, “then am I strong.”  How could this paradox be true? It was in finding the grace of God to be sufficient for him in his confessed weakness, so that the “power of Christ” could dwell upon him. Ought it not be so collectively also, where little gatherings of believers, exercised likewise as individuals, are satisfied to take a weak and insignificant place in the world for Christ’s sake? Then all credit for any blessing through us accrues to Him. I have no doubt this would be according to “the mind of Christ”.

This is not to say that weakness in Christian assemblies is never due to worldliness and departure from “first love”. Sadly, that is too often the case, we ought to confess. But it was the Lord Jesus Himself who encouraged a few of His own, and by extension the “two or three” or more who would later be gathered in His name, when He said to them: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”¹  That natural tendency to fear might be in expectation of coming persecutions, but in the context of the Lord’s word to them here, He seems to be referencing the fear of not having a place in this world, of being poor and despised as a little group of His followers.

To the assembly at Philadelphia, the Lord Jesus offers this encouragement: “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name” (Revelation 3:8). This assurance is remarkable in that Jesus invites them to take courage in the blessed fact that He will act for them and for His glory by opening the doors they were powerless to open, and because the littleness of their power is linked to their devotion to His word and name. In stark contrast, Paul uses irony to challenge the Corinthian church’s high thoughts of themselves, when he writes: “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong” (I Corinthians 4:10). The fact that he just a few verses later speaks of them as being “puffed up” also indicates that the assembly at Corinth had very soon dispensed with the spirit of dependence upon the Lord that comes from rightly considering oneself weak and unimportant in the world.

Throughout the church age, starting not long after the church was established in power at the beginning of this dispensation, it has been the poor, despised, and weak saints that have the approbation of the Lord because of their dependence upon Him. We are assured of this first of all in the person and testimony of Paul, for at the end of his path of service, he was generally forsaken or thought lightly of by most in the Christian profession.²  The inspired record also tells us that the church at Smyrna was poor (yet rich spiritually), and Philadelphia’s weakness and devotion has been noted above (Revelation 2 & 3).

Church history bears witness to the same principles of riches in poverty and power through weakness. After all, the Head of the church “was crucified through (on the principle of) weakness”, yet He lives by the power of God (II Corintians 13:4).  The Paulicians of the seventh and eighth centuries were severely persecuted and decimated for seeking to follow Paul’s spirit and doctrine. The Waldensians of the later middle ages had a bright testimony for Christ against a backdrop of great spiritual darkness in the mass of the Christian profession. The earliest Anabaptists of the 16th century, though severely persecuted (and in some ways misguided), challenged the status quo of the church-state marriage that had obtained for more than 1000 years, the bane of which the much larger Protestant movement has never really understood or renounced even up to the present day. The far-reaching but largely unpopular (so-called) Plymouth Brethren movement of the 19th century had the benefit of a relatively tolerant era, along with the scholarship and faith of many individuals going before, so that according to one evangelical scholar, it had a significant impact on evangelical Christianity quite disproportionate to its numbers. Dispensational truth, the expectancy of the Lord’s imminent return, and a return to first principles in the body of Christ and house of God are all results of doors opened to the brethren by the Lord Himself.

It is not a virtuous thing to be few, despised, and weak, but saints nonetheless can take courage in knowing that the Lord Jesus takes note of and rewards not only individuals, but also gatherings or companies of saints that seek in dependence on Him to bear a clear testimony to His name. Given this truth, where would you be inclined to cast your lot in the Christian profession? With a religious system numbering more than a billion souls that claims succession from the apostles and has used its political power and power over consciences to reign on the earth while the Lord Jesus is gone to receive for Himself a kingdom?³  With an evangelical denomination claiming an attendance of millions each Sunday that only thinly veils its political power in swaying American elections?  Or with the largest or most vibrant church in your town, because you see power being manifested there in the music, the programs, the pastor?

“Who has despised the day of small things?” was the word of Jehovah regarding the small contingent of just a few tens of thousands of Jews whom He brought back from their captivity to build the second temple, a mere shadow of the one built by Solomon and indwelt with the glory of God.*  So let us take care to not despise littleness or apparent weakness in the collective testimony of a few that the Spirit of God has brought back to scriptural principles, and that He has raised up to bear witness to that wonderful name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

¹   Matthew 18:20; Luke 12:32

²   II Corinthians 10:10; 12:15;  II Timothy 1:15; 4:10-17

³   Luke 19:12

*   Zechariah 4:8-10; Ezra 3:8-13; II Chronicles 7:1-3

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