A Flood of Righteousness

In our home there hangs a beautiful photograph of Avalanche Creek flowing through a narrow gorge in Glacier National Park. The Scripture that accompanies the scene is taken from the book of Amos:  “Let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” That text provides me comfort when I grieve in my spirit over the flood of unrighteousness and humanism that covers our world today, causing a deepening moral darkness even in places where Christianity once had an enlightening effect upon society.  The reason for my hope has nothing to do with man’s schemes or programs, nor has it primarily to do with the gospel of the grace of God, as powerful as those “glad tidings” are now in the salvation of individual souls from despair and judgment to come. The implication of this verse in Amos 5, and of many others like it, is that in spite of man’s blatant disregard for God’s claims on him throughout the ages, there is coming a time when “a King shall reign in righteousness”, and when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”¹

The scriptural concept of righteousness entails much more than a humanistic “no harm, no foul” attitude in which a sin or a transgression only occurs if another person suffers some harm or damage to his or her welfare.  Joseph C. Sommer has described the belief system he is dedicated to in this way:  “Humanism is a philosophy of life that considers the welfare of humankind – rather than the welfare of a supposed God or gods – to be of paramount importance.” In this statement we find the claims of a Creator, the living and true God, to be completely set aside.  But the doctrine of the “righteousness of God” maintains that God must act consistently with His own holy character in judging man for lawlessness and disobedience toward his Creator. So, for example, if God forbids and condemns fornication (sexual immorality), as He does consistently throughout the Bible, then He must mete out punishment for that unrighteousness in order to maintain His own righteousness, regardless of whether another person seems to have suffered harm or not (Romans 1:16-32).

In order for there to be an appreciation for the expectation that “the sin of the world” is soon to be taken away by judgment, there must be a “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6), and it ought to be clear to us that God’s righteousness is the measure or standard here. The Lamb of God was once slain to provide the righteous basis for sin’s removal, which will begin to be accomplished when He comes to “judge the world in righteousness”, ruling the nations “with a rod of iron” for 1000 years.²  For those who now believe on the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no more guilt or imputation of sin, for God in perfect righteousness dealt with Christ on the cross of Calvary, and “raised [Him] again for our justification.”  Justification means God declares the believer righteous because He has accepted Christ’s perfect work on our behalf (Romans 3-5:11).

Do you look forward to that future period when the Lord Jesus will reign in righteousness, vindicating God’s righteous claims on the man He created? Even if you are doubtful about Christ’s reign in a literal millennium, are you not as a believer in Him looking forward to the time when righteousness will dwell in the new heavens and the new earth (II Peter 3:13)? Do not be deceived by the humanist deception  that magnifies the importance of real or imagined social evils  at the expense of the truth that all unrighteousness is preeminently an affront to a holy God who dwells in unapproachable light (I Timothy 6:14-16).  The Law, the prophets, the Lord Jesus, and the apostles all gave first priority to the claims of God upon His creature man, and references could be multiplied as evidence for that assertion.³

Righteousness will yet vanquish evil in the world, like the waters of a flood (Isaiah 28:1-18), and what a blessed thing that will be for the earth, and for those who love Christ’s appearing. But most importantly, what a glorious vindication of the righteousness of our God, who in love sent His only Son, so that all who believe “might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).

 

¹  Isaiah 32:1; Isaiah 11:9    ²  John 1:29;  Acts 17:31; Psalm 2:8-9; Revelation 20:1-6    ³  Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 51:4; Mark 12:30-31; Acts 9:4

 

Salvation unto Israel My Glory

The tiny nation of Israel has been a flashpoint in the Middle East for a very long time, and that ought not be puzzling to those who know the Bible.  Genesis 21 gives us the account of the friction between Ishmael and Isaac, the putative heads of the Arab and Jewish peoples, respectively.  Galatians 4 recounts to us this quarrel between Hagar and her son Ishmael on the one side, and Sarah and her son Isaac on the other, in the presence of Abraham, the reluctant arbiter who caused the trouble in the first place by acting in the flesh with Hagar at Sarah’s instigation.  The apostle Paul speaks there of Ishmael’s attitude toward Isaac as “persecution”, and while he was using this ancient story as an allegory to make a larger doctrinal point, it is evident to any observer that the underlying friction between the two parties has never been resolved.

A majority of Christendom (i.e., those from the historical Protestant denominations, Catholicism, and Eastern Orthdoxy) would deny or question Israel’s right to exist as a nation in their own homeland, for a variety of reasons. Recently, I heard a recorded address by an educated convert to a very conservative segment of the Anabaptist movement, in which the speaker denied that God had anything to do with Israel’s return to its ancient land.  While he could not account for why that amazing in-gathering actually did occur, he sought to make this point against the teaching of dispensationalism and “Modern Zionism”, and I paraphrase here:  It could not have been God that brought the Jews back to their land in the 20th century because they and their advocates did not and still do not adhere to the teaching of the Lord Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7). Now, this is just one example of the faulty reasoning used by the “Christian Palestinian” movement, and by those who espouse Covenant or Replacement Theology.

Two of the overarching principles of a dispensational understanding of the prophetic Scriptures are these:  (1) That Israel and the church of God are two completely separate entities, dealt with very differently in the purposes and ways of God, and (2) that Israel must return to its homeland in the latter days, where Jehovah will deal with them, first in judgment, then in marvelous grace.  Bible teachers like John Nelson Darby and others even predicted many decades in advance that the Jews (but not the 10 “lost” tribes) would return to their land in unbelief before the “Great Tribulation”, because they believed the prophecy and warning of the Lord Jesus in passages like Matthew 24:3-28 simply cannot apply to the church, for it is entirely heavenly in its character and destiny.

It may be easy enough for a Christian believer to think in terms of a heavenly inheritance, in contrast to an earthly one that includes real estate. However, we should not project our own heavenly point of view upon the child of Israel, who was always promised earthly blessing and an earthly kingdom.  One can hardly read through the last dozen chapters of Ezekiel without being impressed by the clarity of God’s promise to His earthly people to raise them up, give them spiritual life, and bring them back into their land (chapters 36-37), to judge their enemies before them (chapters 38-39), to cause a magnificent physical temple to be built (chapters 40-42), and to endow that temple and the whole, enlarged land of Israel with His own glory and blessing (chapters 43-48).

There is a glorious day yet coming for this earth, after the bride of Christ is taken home to be with Him forever, when Jehovah will fulfill all His promises to Israel, including this precious gem: “I will give salvation in Zion, and unto Israel my glory.”¹  The Lord Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, will have His excellence and majesty placed on display through His earthly people, before a wondering world that once rejected and crucified Him.

 

¹  Isaiah 46:13, JND translation

The Morning Star: Can You See It?

IMG_0317 brightI do not spend much time stargazing, but I often have the privilege of enjoying a clear, starry sky in the early morning hour when light is creeping up over the horizon in the east. Recently I enjoyed such a scene in which I was able to capture in one frame the first five planets from the sun, with planet Earth in the foreground, of course.

When reference is made to “the morning star”, it is often the planet Venus that is being referred to, because for many months at a time the bright orb appears as a harbinger of the dawn.

As is the case with many other things in God’s wonderful creation, in both the terrestrial and the celestial realms, we find the demonstration of a spiritual principle in the morning star’s appearance while the sun remains hidden below the horizon.

In Revelation 22:16, we find one of the many beautiful names of the Lord Jesus Christ, “the bright and morning star”.  Jesus introduces Himself to us in this special and even mysterious way at the end of the very last book of the Bible after He promises to “come quickly”, and just before He closes the Scriptures by reiterating that promise so precious to the hearts of millions of believers: “Surely I come quickly.”

For it is especially to the heart that the Spirit of God speaks when we are first introduced to the morning star by the Apostle Peter.  Referring to the preview of the coming kingdom that he and the sons of Zebedee were given on the mount of transfiguration, Peter encourages his Christian brethren with these words: “We have the prophetic word made surer, to which ye do well taking heed . . . until the day dawn and the morning star arise in your hearts“.¹  Some have taken this as an allusion to the rapture of the church prior to the long-prophesied dawn of the millennial day of glory, when the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2).  I believe this is a lovely application of Peter’s words, but it is still preeminently to the heart that the Holy Spirit speaks by the underlined phrase above.  It seems that even the word order in that verse, which inverts the natural chronology of a morning star arising before the dawn, would indicate to us that the event of the Lord’s coming for us is not what is primarily in view here; the Lord Jesus desires that He Himself be the object of our hearts’ affections and gaze. When that is true of our hearts, then I suggest we are much better able to enjoy His final promise to us:  “Surely, I come quickly.”

Finally, I would just notice one more reference the Lord Himself makes to the morning star, in speaking to the overcomer in the church at Thyatira,² which represents an adulterous segment of Christendom soon to be judged by “great tribulation”. While they await judgment who are taught by that morally bankrupt “Jezebel” (the figurative embodiment of evil teaching), “he that overcomes” and is taught of God has for his portion the “Morning Star”, while he waits for, and watches by faith the approaching of, that great day of judgment and reward.³  What a wealth of comfort and hope may be found for our hearts in this enchanting figure of Him who is soon to come: “The Bright and Morning Star”!

 

¹  II Peter 1:19 (JND trans.)     ²  Revelation 2:18-29    ³  Luke 12:31-38; Hebrews 10:25

 

 

 

Freedom, Independence, and the Confederate Flag

Traveling the back roads of the American South affords a window into the history and culture of the region, perhaps more vividly than in any other part of the United States.  On display frequently in front yards, in windows, and on vehicles is the Confederate battle flag, which carries with it a potent reminder of what it stood for more than 150 years ago, and what it still represents in the minds of many today: the quest for independence from the impositions of a distant regime with foreign ethics.

Americans are used to thinking of freedom and independence together, and many celebrate freedom on Independence Day.  But while freedom from tyranny has thankfully been the result of some independence movements in history, these two ideas (freedom and independence) are not intrinsically bound together, as though one naturally flows from the other. For instance, personal freedoms may be very much limited in politically independent nations. The American Civil War was sometimes called the War for Southern Independence, but to have tied the ideal of freedom to that struggle for political independence would have belied the human bondage and slavery its position defended.

Obtaining independence from established authority is never held up as an ideal to be aspired to in the Word of God. (Avoiding practical dependence on others is admirable¹, but that is a entirely different matter.)  God created man and put him under the responsibility of obedience, and the concepts of independence and obedience are really mutually exclusive. When we are told in both the 17th and 21st chapters of the book of Judges that “in those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes”, it is not because Jehovah found delight in the Israelites being able to exercise their freedom in independence from kingly authority.  We are given this repeated epitaph to the sad decline in Judges to show that the spirit of independence leads not to true freedom, but rather, it tends toward bondage to sin and to self. Peter writes of those who “despise government”, are “self-willed”, and “not afraid to speak evil of dignities”, as being those who promise others liberty, while they themselves are slaves of corruption (II Peter 2:10-19).

It is a paradox that true moral freedom is inseparably connected to the principle of obedience. “Now, having got your freedom from sin, ye have become bondmen to righteousness.”²  The natural man looks to gain freedom through independence from authority, like Eve in Eden, like the children of Israel at various times in their history, and perhaps like many young people under their parents’ authority, but real freedom will not be gained through independence. The Apostle Paul knew what true freedom was, and enjoyed it as perhaps very few of us do, while at the same time writing of the need for “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5).

Obedience to God by faith, and a respect for the authority structures He has ordained in this world, affords the enjoyment of Christian liberty to the new creature in Christ³, as no flag and all it may represent ever could. “Christ hath made us free . . . [for] ye have been called unto liberty” (Galatians 5:1, 13). Freedom from the principle of sin in the flesh, which faith in Christ brings, allows the “new man” to do what it wants to do by its very nature: to please God through obedience.

 

¹ Galatians 6:4-5; II Corinthians 11:9     ²  Romans 6:18 JND trans.    ³ II Corinthians 5:17

 

Greater Riches Than Egypt’s Treasures

The border control agent was just performing his assigned duties by asking the travelers why they were entering Canada.  When he received a response, he asked in a mildly incredulous tone: “A Bible conference over Easter weekend?” He may have been able to think of many other more interesting or gratifying pursuits to fill up a holiday weekend than to spend it at a Bible conference.

Moses may have gotten more than just some incredulous questions or quizzical looks from his Egyptian “family” when at “forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel” (Acts 7:22-23). He had been “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians”, and no doubt there was a bright future in store for him, for the “treasures of Egypt” were his by right, as the heir apparent of Pharaoh’s daughter. However, there was a catch, as we would say, to his claim on those treasures. Moses knew in his soul, given a conscience taught by the flickering light of the promise of God passed along to him by his godly parents, that he could not accept that heritage and enjoy what Egypt had to offer without sinning against the God who had promised Israel the land of Canaan, not Egypt. The pleasures of this sin would have lasted but for a season, for even given Moses’ 120-year life, he had been a great loser to have gained the whole world, while losing his soul (Matthew 16:26).

Egypt is for the Christian a picture or type of the world, and its treasures are without doubt a picture of all that the world has to offer.  Much of what this world offers may seem pleasant or at least not too objectionable to the natural mind, but if these things are sought without reference to God, and with respect only to man’s natural desires, the treasures of Egypt will always take on the character of the pleasures of sin. It cannot be otherwise, for “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world”, and we know that “the whole world lies in the wicked one” (I John 2:16; 5:19 JND translation).  The “treasures of Egypt”, which must morph into the “pleasures of sin”¹, are being pursued by a large majority of men and women, old and young, in the developed world today.

But Moses forsook Egypt, and persevered in a course of faith, “as seeing Him who is invisible”.¹ His visitation of his brethren, his forsaking of Egypt and all it offered, and his choosing to suffer affliction and to bear the reproach of the Christ (the promised Messiah), all stemmed from his discovery of much greater riches, as he looked forward in time and to the resurrection of the just for his reward.  We Christian believers have much more to enjoy of Christ now, as well as having “exceeding great and precious promises”² for the future – more than Moses ever foresaw or enjoyed while in the body.  May we live in light of our position in Christ, enjoying the greatest riches God has ever made known to His creatures. The “unsearchable riches of Christ” are found in “the mystery of God, in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”³.

Perhaps we could sum up these thoughts by quoting the 20th-century martyr, Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

 

¹  Hebrews 11:23-27      ²  II Peter 1:4     ³  Ephesians 3:8; Colossians 2:2-3 (JND)

 

To Fall From Our Steadfastness

There is something that has been impressed upon me in recent years while observing the walk and the ways of Christians, and I include myself here. It is this, that there is a tendency in our hearts to decline from a more devoted and conscientious state to a state that is less characterized by these godly traits.

No doubt this decline was foretold by the Scriptures in passages such as Revelation 3 (the degraded state of Laodicea), and in the spirit of the Lord’s words when He told His disciples that false prophets would arise in a coming day to deceive many, and that iniquity would abound because the love of many would grow cold.¹  But although this decline ought not be a surprise to us, we are at the same time encouraged in the Word of God to guard against it, and to not fall from our steadfastness.²

A local radio talk show host (perhaps a believer, for he is favorable to Christianity) recently discovered that a moral  deviance he had condemned in the past was being accepted and lived out by his child, up until very recently unbeknownst to him. He now regrets his earlier stance on the issue, and is promoting tolerance, if not yet outright acceptance.  The question that arises is whether he had held his former position on the matter by faith and then gave it up, or whether he had spoken out in the past on the basis of what he merely preferred because of what was acceptable within his socially conservative circle.

The appearance of changing preferences due to shifting societal and ecclesiastical norms is troubling to witness when those norms are moral in nature. Now, if there was a legalistic motive for one’s former preferences, then a movement toward living the Christian life with the Lord Jesus as the object for faith, by the Spirit and in obedience to the Scriptures, is a praiseworthy cause for a change in one’s ways.  However, the matter of setting aside values or doctrines that a believer once truly held by faith is a very sad thing. How many parents have given up truth they once enjoyed by faith, in common with other spiritual Christians, primarily because devotion to their children (who became involved in activities or accepted liberal views their parents once shunned) gradually superseded devotion to Christ and faithfulness to the truth? Cases like this are no doubt included in Peter’s warnings to believers in a corrupt world, when he tells them to “beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness”.²  Loss of salvation or eternal life is of course not suggested here, but rather, the potential for losing a reward or a crown of righteousness.³

It is encouraging to see parents who maintain their exercises of faith and godliness in spite of the heartache or disappointment their children may cause them when there has been failure in transmitting those godly exercises from one generation to the next. And it is a happy thing to have observed many saints over the years still holding the moral and spiritual ground they held decades ago, still walking “worthily of the Lord unto all well-pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing by the true knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10 JND translation).

Jude wrote his epistle near the end of the apostolic era, and like Peter, he grieved over the decline and corruption in the Christian profession that threatened to have a deleterious effect on true believers. I will close by repeating Jude’s bright and positive encouragement to his beloved brethren, which I desire for myself and for my brethren as well: “But ye, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the [enjoyment of] the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Build, pray, keep, and look!

 

¹  Matthew 24:11-12 (although Jesus is speaking particularly of a period after the Church is gone, during the “beginning of sorrows”)    ²    II Peter 3:17     ³  Revelation 3:11; Colossians 2:18; I Corinthians 3:12-15

Woman – Glory of the Man

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

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

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

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

What respectable man does not take pleasure in appearing publicly with the woman he loves?  For she is his glory, being the one who completes him. Would there be glory for the man, or would his excellence be on display, had he not her to fulfill him?  The notion of a man glorying in his own appearance or hair is unnatural, for it is his “better half” that he ought to glory in.  It is clear from the Scriptures we have noticed that the woman was made of and for the man (while the man now comes by the woman), and that the chain of typical glories was only complete when God brought the woman to the man as bone of his bone. Only then, after His work on the sixth day of creating Man male and female, did God pronounce His creative work “very good”, and not before then (Genesis 1:26-31).

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

 

¹ Read these scriptures together: Genesis 2:18-24; Ephesians 3:8-11; 5:22-32; and I Corinthians 11:3-10.    ²  Colossians 1:10 JND trans.     ³  I Corinthians 11:7-15