Tag Archives: The Gospel

Present Truth

The apostle Peter in his second epistle commends those to whom he was writing, acknowledging that they already knew the things he was writing about, and were “established in the present truth” (1:12). Even so, he wanted them to be able to have these things—this present truth—in remembrance. Thus, and very thankfully, we have his two epistles.

What is present truth? Perhaps we ourselves need to be reminded lest what was once truth present with us is now only a distant past we have forgotten. Or, perhaps we have put off into the future what is already present truth, and is therefore to be embraced by faith, and walked in now.

Peter has much on his heart this matter of spiritual memory, aware that living truth must be spiritually maintained, continually refreshed to the mind. And so he writes to “put you always in remembrance of these things” (2 Pt. 2:12). He writes to “stir you up by putting you in remembrance” (1:13). He is aware that very shortly he is about to put off his tabernacle for a permanent dwelling place, and wants those among whom he ministered “to have these things in remembrance” (1:15) after he is gone. In Chapter 3 he uses the same words as in 1:13, saying that in both of his epistles his intention has been to “stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance” (2 Pt. 3:1).

And so in his second epistle he lays out for his readers how the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is supplied to them. It involves an ever-increasing growth in spiritual virtues beginning with faith—mark that: beginning with faith—and culminating in love, all of which will involve them, he says, “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is just after this that Peter writes the words we’re focusing on:

Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.

(Do you catch in this the fragrance of the great humility of this great man? “You’re already well established in these things; I’m just refreshing what you already know.”)

Present here is a Greek word which transliterated is parousei. It is an adjective, a qualifier. What kind of truth? Present truth. The Strong’s definition is “to be near, at hand.” That is, present.

The same word stem is found a little further on when Peter speaks of “the power and coming (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pt. 1:16). Strong’s defines parousia as “a being near, that is, advent.” In the King James Version it is translated coming, or presence. In 2 Pt. 3:4 and 3:12, and in several other places in our New Testament, it refers to Christ’s second coming. But the word is also used of the coming of disciples who had not formerly been present, and had now arrived (1 Cor. 16:17, 2 Cor. 7:6). It also means simply presence. “His bodily presence is weak” (2 Cor. 10:10).

Present truth is truth that has arrived and is now here.

Vincent’s Word Studies points out that the phrase in 2 Peter 1:12 is also found in Colossians where Paul thanks God for their faith and love, and also “for the hope that is laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you…” (Col 1:6). Or, as Vincent has it, “is present unto you. Has come, and is present.” Come is the Greek parantos, which has the same word stem as parousei in 2 Pt. 1:12.

So there it is. What is present truth? The word of the truth of the Gospel.

There was a time when this truth of the Gospel was not present. It was prophesied of by prophets who longed to see, but did not, “the things that are now reported unto you…” (1 Pt. 1:10-12). It was “kept secret since the world began, but is now made manifest…” (Rom. 16:25). It was “hid in God” (Eph. 3:9)—the Good News of a very great salvation that would embrace both Jews and Gentiles in “the mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed…” (Eph. 3:4,5).

That is present truth—the now of the wondrous Gospel of Christ.

With this in mind, let’s look at another place where the word present appears in Peter’s second epistle, and we have already alluded to it. It’s back in verse 9, where Peter has said, “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins (2 Pt 1:9). According to Vincent’s Word Studies again, he “that lacketh these things” is he to whom these things are not present.” Present is the Greek parestin, which has the same word stem as the adjective in verse 12.

And so, the present truth for which Peter commended his readers is not present with the one who has forgotten the purifying from his old, his former sins. There is a lingering darkness in the conscience, the result of which is the stunted development of all the beautiful graces Peter mentioned. The one with whom these things are not present is blind and short-sighted—and forgetful. He has forgotten the foundational truth of the Gospel—that he was “purged from his old sins.”

Peter, tender and loving shepherd that he is, is doing some reminding here; this has been the object of his epistle. He is calling the flock of God, those who have obtained the same precious faith he himself had obtained, to remember that their sins are not with them anymore; they are old history.

When did this happen? It was the work of Christ at Calvary, who:

…When He had by Himself purged our sins sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Heb. 1:3).

How, then, was this wondrous work of Calvary effected in the lives of those Peter wrote to? It was simply, or shall I say purely, because they had “received like precious faith with us through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 1:1).

Peter in his first epistle marks this same truth concerning Christ and those who receive and believe Him:

Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness, by whose stripe ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but have now returned unto the Shepherd and bishop of your souls (1 Pt. 2:24,25).

Note the before/after in these verses.  Note the now. You were as sheep going astray. Now you have returned unto the Shepherd and bishop of your souls. You were once sick with the mortal sickness of sin. He Himself in His own body bore the stripe that slew, and healed, that sickness. The result is that now you are dead to sins. That is present truth. Now you live unto righteousness. That is present truth.

That is the Gospel, and when received, when believed… God imparts to the believing ones His Spirit bearing witness to Christ and His completed Calvary work, thus purifying their hearts by faith (those are Peter’s words in Acts 15:8,9). And, hearts now no longer in darkness, hearts now wide open to the healing rays of the Sun of righteousness, begin to bring forth unto God the beautiful fruit of the Gospel.

It is tragic when the wondrous present truth of the Gospel has been forgotten, even more tragic when it is entirely relegated to the future, and the saints are taught that they can never be completely purged, cleansed, of sin as long as we poor mortals continue to dwell in houses of clay. No. That is not so. This cleansing is for here and now. One who believes the Gospel does not await Heaven for this cleansing, nor even a mighty move of the Spirit in the future—although we anticipate such things and know that many in darkness shall yet be brought into the present truth. Even so, for those who now believe, it is present truth now. It is present truth to be embraced by faith, and walked in… and built upon, and enlarged, and added to, from faith to virtue to knowledge to temperance to patience to godliness to brotherly kindness to love. It is present truth that means growing and abundant fruitfulness, and the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

 

Now The Good News

First the bad news: we wrote about that last time.  Now the Good News.  That is God’s order, which we see in the way He sets forth the day in Genesis.  First evening, then morning.  First darkness, then light.

The dimensions of the Good News are greater than the universe, so I am acutely conscious of the smallness of this blog entry.  But simply put, the Good News is light shining in the darkness—light that opens the eyes of the spiritually blind.  If it is just words (and oh, we have so much that is just words), people’s eyes will not be opened to see their grave condition.  Make no mistake: the bad news of man’s spiritual state is very bad news; any thought people have that things are not all that bad is a serious deception with serious consequences.  And people cannot be talked out of their blindness; their eyes must be opened so they may see and be convicted, and come to repentance, and turn from darkness to light, from the authority of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18).

Here again is that passage in Ephesians we enlarged on last time, and notice again how Paul sets forth the bad news in the past tense.

And you… who were dead in trespasses and sins
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the age of this world, according to the prince of the authority of the air, the spirit that now worketh in [energizes] the children of the disobedience;
Among whom we all had our conduct in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others” (Eph. 2:1-3).

Why the past tense?  It’s because the people to whom Paul is writing are “saints… the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1).  They are no longer in Adam, but are now, joy of joys, in Christ.  And so he says that they were dead in trespasses and sins.  Now they are alive with the life of Christ.  Further, in the past they walked according to the age of this world and the spirit that has authority over the children of the disobedience.  They walk this way no longer.  They are no longer within that spirit’s domain.  They are not under his authority now.  They once had their conduct in the lusts of their flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.  Not anymore.  They are no longer children of wrath.

What made this possible?  Paul hastens on to tell us.  He had introduced this passage with the words, “And you…”  Now come the words, “But God…”

But 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 are ye saved);
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus;
That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Following the bad news that Paul has first opened our eyes to, this is good news, exceeding good news!  It is mind blowing, in fact, stretching beyond its limits our capacity to comprehend it all.  I read this and other passages, and… am I dreaming?  Can this be true?  Can mortal eyes actually be reading this?  You mean those in Christ are no longer in the domain of sin and death? They are in another kingdom now, where grace and life reign?  Is that not a wonder?  Is that not astonishing good news?  Yes!  And cause for great joy!

Yet those words, “for His great love wherewith He loved us,” were written, I am sure, with tears, and we must go to other scriptures to find out more fully what this love involved.  If those to whom Paul was writing had been quickened together with Christ, and raised up together with Him, and seated together with Him in the heavenlies, it was because through faith in Jesus and baptism into Christ they had become partakers of what God accomplished on the Cross of Calvary, where Christ was baptized into the death that Adam in his disobedience had brought upon himself and all his progeny. Since all those in Adam were dead in sin, Christ died to sin, so that all who are baptized into Him might be dead to sin and live unto God, unto righteousness (Rom. 6:1-11, 2 Pt. 2:24).  He who knew no sin—shoes off, please—was made sin for us, that we might become nothing less than the very righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Back to the Ephesian passage: let’s continue to pay attention to some tenses, and the reason we are doing this is because all too often much of this is relegated to the future or to Heaven.  Not so.  Those to whom Paul was writing, those in Christ, were quickened (at a past point in time) together with Christ.  They were raised together with Him.  This is also the past tense.  When did this happen?  It happened when they were baptized into Christ.  (It is baptism in Holy Spirit that accomplishes this, not baptism in water, which is also necessary.  But this is a topic too large; it will have to wait for another time.)  Baptized into Christ they are no longer in Adam now.  They are in Christ; it is His resurrection life they are now partakers of.  Walking with Christ in resurrection life is the present reality of those in Christ (Rom. 6:4).  Further, they are even now seated together with Christ in the heavenlies.  This also took place in their baptism into Christ, since this is where He Himself is seated at the right hand of God.  Then comes the future, and what a future it is.  “…That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  It appears that it takes eternal life in the ages to come to explore this great salvation that is in Christ.

And so when Paul now pens everybody’s favourite verse, let us bear in mind what he has in mind—the immense dimensions of the salvation he has just been speaking of:

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.

This is Good News—the salvation that God has freely prepared in Christ for any who are willing to receive Him.  Salvation by grace through faith is the wondrous gift of God in Christ.  (For salvation is not a product we receive apart from Christ Himself.)  And yes, His grace means the forgiveness of sins because of His death.  But much more, grace also means salvation from sin’s power in the life of an entirely new creation Man who is no longer under the reign of death.  They have “passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24).  They have eternal life—even now (1 Jn. 5:13).  In due time this eternal life will catch up to their bodies (Rom. 8:23), but even while yet in mortal flesh, those in Christ have eternal life, and even now reign in the power of that life (Rom. 5:17).

What Does This Look Like?

 If this is the present reality of those in Christ—being made alive together with Christ, being raised up with Him, being seated with Him in the heavenlies—what does this look like?  What does reigning in life look like while we are yet in mortal flesh?

It looks like love.  Love is the primal characteristic of those who live, those in whom death no longer reigns.

We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.  He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.  Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him (1 Jn. 3:14,15).

Eternal life, then, reigning life, finds its expression in love.  In its many facets of patience, endurance, faith, forbearance, forgiveness, humility, obedience… love is revealed, reigning where sin and death once reigned, ruling where pride once ruled.  I think you may see where I’m coming from here, and where I’m going.  Remember (from last time) the route that Lucifer mapped out for himself?

I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will be like the Most High.  (Isa. 14:13,14)

Christ took a different route.  He thought it not rapine—a thing to be taken and held by force—to be equal with God (Phil. 2:5-8).  Rather, He emptied Himself, becoming in the likeness of men.  No, not famous men, not rich men, not high men.  He took on Him the form of a bondslave.  And being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself even further, and became obedient unto death.  No, not a noble death, not a hero’s death.  The death of a despised criminal.  The lowest of the low.  The death of a cross.

That is a different pathway than the one Lucifer sought to take, and into which he invited Adam to turn and walk with him, to the ruin of the race.  Christ’s pathway was in the opposite direction—His motive was love—to the salvation of a new race.  Being found in fashion as a man, instead of seeking the heights, instead of seeking to ascend into heaven, instead of seeking to sit in a throne above the stars of God, instead of seeking to ascend above the heights of the clouds, Christ descended into the lower parts of the earth—which meant taking upon Himself the apron of a bondslave who washed the feet of others, always the duty of the lowest slave.  “I am among you,” He told His disciples, “as one who serves” (Lk. 22:27).  He called this service love (Jn. 13:1).

But then, His love going deeper, He went even further, and walked in obedience unto death, a death that was in His case unjust.  Yet this route took Him to the destination that Lucifer never arrived to by his own self-seeking route.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him… (Phil. 2:9).

His motive was love.  He is there for our sake, not His own, that in the power of His Spirit we may live as He lives, love as He loves—reign as He reigns, in our own cross, and in all circumstances, just as He reigned in His.  This, beloved, is the way of salvation—the way of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the way of the Cross—the way love.  He humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of a cross.  It was there on the Cross that He died to the root of pride in the heart of man.  His humiliation is our salvation.  Those who are seated together with Him in the heavenlies—it is His throne they are in, it is He who is exalted.  Gone now is any thought of exalting our own throne, gone is the Serpent’s poisonous thought of reigning above the stars; rather, we reign in the humility of Christ, knowing that the kings of God’s kingdom are servants of all, bondslaves who serve others in love, laying down their lives for one another in love.  As their Lord had done, so do they (Jn. 3:16, 1 Jn. 3:16).  This is their greatest honour.

It is the lowliness and love of God in Christ that overcame the pride of the Serpent that man was infected with in the beginning.  Instead of the poison of the Serpent coursing through us—pride, envy, malice, hatred—the love and humility of God now flows in and through those who are in Christ, motivating all they say and do.  That is salvation.

And what is the purpose of all this—this so great salvation?  It is to the intent that God may be glorified in a Man who is His very image and likeness.  God said in the beginning, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” and formed Adam of the dust of the ground.  The Serpent determined to efface that image, and did.  So entered the bad news.  But God foiled the Serpent in his purpose, for, even before the beginning God had the Good News in mind, and in the fullness of time, brought forth out of Adam another Man.  His eternal purpose was not in Adam, but “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11).  It is this Man who is the true image of God (2 Cor. 4:4, Heb. 1:3).  But when this Man came on the scene, Satan determined to efface Him as well.  He was foiled again.  This time utterly.  In the wisdom of God, the very cross upon which Satan conspired to have Christ crucified became our salvation.

And so it turns out that what we said about the Good News following the bad news—yes, that’s true, but God had the Good News in mind even before the bad news.  He could never have endured the bad news of what was going on in his creature man if He had not, before it all, prepared “a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:18).  This was God’s comfort of hope in the bad news He knew was coming.  The Gospel.  The Glad Tidings.  The Good News.  The Lamb of God.  Our Lord Jesus Christ.

First The Bad News

You know how it is in our cynical world: someone tells you they’ve got good news for you… and bad news.  They give you the good news but you’re already steeled for the letdown.  “What’s the bad news?”  The bad news that follows always eclipses the good news.

It is not so with God.  With Him, the bad news is first.  Then the good news.

Here is the bad news as set forth by the apostle Paul.

And you… who were dead in trespasses and sins
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the age of this world, according to the prince of the authority of the air, the spirit that now worketh in [energizes] the children of the disobedience;
Among whom we all had our conduct in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others” (Eph. 2:3).

This is the grave diagnosis of the human condition.  Let’s look at it a little closer.  “And you,” Paul says.  He is writing to people who were once in Adam, but are now in Christ (Eph. 1:1).  What then was their former state?  What is the state of all those in Adam?  He says they are “dead in trespasses and sins.”  They are “the children of disobedience.”  Actually in the Greek it’s “the  disobedience”—Adam’s disobedience, which opened the door for an alien spirit to begin working in him, and consequently, because he was the head of the race, in all his progeny.  Every person born into the human race is in a state of spiritual death because the Serpent succeeded in exporting his own sin into the world through the disobedience of Adam.  This is what Paul says in Romans 5.  “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed through unto all men, because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12).  A few verses later Paul talks of death reigning (Rom. 5:14,17).  And so death is not just an event that terminates mortal life.  Death reigns over all those in Adam from the moment they are born to the end of their life.  Even while they go about their lives in this world, they are in a state of death.  They are, as we read here in Ephesians, “dead in trespasses and sins, wherein in times past ye walked…”  All those in Adam are, then, as all those in Christ once were, the walking dead.

That is their state.  And they are under a domain.  “…Wherein in times past ye walked, according to the age of this world…”  Being dead in trespasses and sins, their walk (their way of life) accords with this present age, which is an evil age—“this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4).  This age has a prince over it whose domain is “the air.”  Paul is not really talking about the physical atmosphere of our planet, but the “atmosphere” of this present world system in which people attempt to thrive even while dead in trespasses and sins, building their world even while denying they are in a state of rebellion against God.  It’s all largely the attempt to be independent of Him, free of Him.  It’s the greatest of bondage, they are far from free; they are under the rule and authority of another, they walk “according to the prince of the authority of the air…”  Who is this prince, who has authority over the air?  He is a spirit.  “…The spirit that now worketh in [or, energizes] the children of the disobedience.”  It’s Adam’s disobedience, as we said.  But going deeper, it’s the disobedience of this angelic prince who rebelled against God some time prior to the events of Genesis Chapter One.  We are told very little in our Bible about this rebellion, but we are shown its essence in Isaiah 14 where the prophet is given revelation as to what happened in the heart of a heavenly being once named Lucifer.

For thou hast said in thine heart,
I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will be like the Most High.

Note the refrain.  “I will.”  The insistence, “my throne.”   It was rebellion against the will of God, and the throne of God.  And back in the Garden of Eden this prince succeeded in bringing Adam into his rebellion.  The day that Adam bit into the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it was disobedience to God, and he died for it.  Actually it was Adam who was bitten that day by the poisoned-tongued Serpent.  In that moment the venom of the Serpent began to course through his being, and he died.  Now all in Adam have in their systems this Serpent’s poison, this prince’s fundamental principle: not God, but I.  Not God’s throne.  My throne.  Not God’s will.  My will.  I will, I will, I will…  They are the disobedient children of Adam’s disobedience, dead in trespasses and sins.

“…Among whom we all had our conduct in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others” (Eph. 2:3).

That is the bad news.  It is very bad news.  That is why our world is in the state it is in.  All those in Adam have been poisoned with the venom of the Serpent.  They are dead, and dying, because of it.  They are “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18).  And no man has in himself or in all his worldly resources any serum capable of remedying this condition.

“And you…”  It was with those two words that Paul began to relay the bad news.

“But God…”  With these two words he begins to proclaim the good news that follows the bad news.  That is God’s order.  First the bad news.  Then the good news.  His good news is the Gospel—the Glad Tidings, the Good News—of Jesus Christ.  It is very good news, unspeakably good news, utterly eclipsing the bad news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romans Project

I have been a Christian for something like forty years.  Yet several years ago I realized I still did not have the book of Romans “under my belt,” although I loved certain passages of it.  So I began reading it, especially chapters five to eight, over and over again.  And again.  I have often gone away from my reading rubbing my eyes.  Surely I cannot be reading such things.  Am I dreaming?  This is astonishing truth.

That is why I want to encourage any who participate in A Mending Feast to become involved in The Romans Project.  It is a series of studies on the whole book of Romans by UK Bible teacher Ron Bailey and I highly recommend it.  I have found Ron Bailey’s teachings on Romans perceptive, clear, inspiring… and challenging.

It is in Romans that the apostle Paul lays out the most important thing in the universe: the gospel—the good news—of our Lord Jesus Christ.  With the indispensable help of the Holy Spirit, what Paul has written in this book may become revelation to us—light we can live and walk in, to the glory of God.

That is why I say, “become involved in” this project.  Passive listening will not accomplish much; God wants us involved in His gospel.  We are actively involved when we believe, that is, lay to heart, the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as laid out in Romans, and by God’s enabling grace, walk in the light we have received.

I realize that taking in something like this involves considerable time in a day when there are innumerable things that consume our time.  You sometimes hear people saying something like that.  “It’s so time consuming.”   May I suggest that involvement in this project is an opportunity to redeem some of that time.

The Romans Project has six sections, which are: Introduction.  Guilty.  Justified.  From Death to Life.  What About Israel.  The New Life.  Each section consists of a number of sessions.  The first series of sessions (nine in all) took place over the winter of 2013-2014.  The second series is now underway (winter of 2015).  They can all be found on a Youtube channel called Biblebase Romans Project:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGysPuyWzV6DI58gK7PWGYejmXXMUnJJs

 

For those who are into Facebook, notifications of each new session may be found at Friends of Biblebase:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/875185179188358/

 

For those not involved in Facebook, please check the Youtube channel for postings of new sessions, which are scheduled every two weeks till March, 2015, at which time there will be a break till the sessions are resumed in the fall and carry over into 2016.  The whole project (now in its second year) will be three years in the making.

Born To Die

The other day I was in a store when Charles Wesley’s famous hymn came over the sound system.

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn king…

I lifted my head and listened. It’s one of my favourite hymns and always stirs me deeply. I sometimes sing it to myself… even in summer. As I listened I watched others preoccupied with their Christmas shopping, even while astonishing words such as these were being sung:

Mild he lay His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

What words of wonder. Born that man no more may die? Born to raise the sons of earth? Born to give them second birth? I looked around me, and… why does this not arrest the other shoppers as it does me? Why are they not stopped in their tracks asking, “What is this, can I believe my ears? If this is true this is phenomenally Good News.”

The first who heard this Good News (that’s the meaning of the word gospel—good news, or good tidings) and later verified it to be true were shepherds watching over their flocks the night of Jesus’ birth. An angel of the Lord appeared to them in the dark of the night, first quieting their fear at the sudden appearance of the heavenly apparition, and then pronouncing:

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (Lk. 2:10,11).

Or, as the old Wycliffe translation has it:

I evangelize to you a great joy…

A great joy. There can be no greater.  Jesus.  A Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

I realize that Wesley wrote this hymn with Jesus’ birth in mind—the incarnation. But it is actually Jesus’ death that accomplished this great salvation, and I am sure Wesley also had that in mind as he penned his words. Jesus was born… to die. To die on the behalf of those appointed to death. He died that man no more may die. He was raised from the dead in order to raise the sons of earth. He ascended to Heaven and sent His Spirit to give second birth to those who believe…

…To make us new creations over whom sin and death no longer reign, new creations who are partakers of His own eternal life.

It is utterly the most wonderful, astonishing Good News, and words fail to describe it, man having worn out all the superlative adjectives on lesser things.  As one who was once dead in sin myself, I am overwhelmed with thankfulness.

And it troubles me, burdens me, in fact frightens me, that such joyful tidings have become no more than background music to busy shoppers.

But I understand why. It’s just words. Words they’ve heard so often, and, well, they just don’t seem to be true. And besides, they don’t really see the need for them to be true. For most, at least in our land, life is good, they are happy. So they continue in their unbelief because of the veil that lies heavily on the hearts of those who do not believe. There is a veil on their hearts that keeps them blind to the light of the Gospel, as the apostle Paul explained.

But if our gospel be hid (veiled) it is veiled in those who are perishing,
In whom the god of this world (this age) has blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them (2 Cor. 4:4).

Them that believe not? Remember there are two states of unbelief. There is ignorant unbelief, the unbelief of those who have not heard the Gospel (1 Tim. 1:13), and there is willful unbelief, those who have heard and rejected the Gospel (Heb. 3:12, Rom. 3:3, Rom. 11:20). I think Paul had in mind here those who resisted his Gospel and were in a state of willful unbelief. But as with ignorant unbelief, even willful (that is, disobedient) unbelief can also be reversed upon repentance (Rom. 11:19-32).

But how shall those who are blind in mind be made to see? But that is exactly why Paul now goes on to show that we who do believe, and have an unspeakably valuable treasure within us as in “an earthen vessel,” are to become part of the shining forth of that treasure. What is the treasure? It is light. The light of the Gospel. Paul is talking about the Gospel in this passage (2 Cor. Ch. 4). The Gospel, the light of the Gospel… do we grasp what he is saying? The Gospel is not just a message in word only; the Gospel is the very light and life of Jesus Himself. And that Gospel must shine forth.

How does it happen? It happens when in troubles, distresses, perplexities, persecutions, things aimed to put the Christian down, the very opposite happens. The light within begins to shine forth. Paul sums it all up with these words:

For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:11).

Made manifest: it means to shine forth as light. That’s what happens when the forces of darkness attempt to quench the light in those who live—earthen vessels with a treasure within them.

Jesus was born to die, and His death—mystery of mysteries—became the way of salvation. You and I who are born again as a result of that great salvation, we too must die… for His sake. We who were once dead in trespasses and sins and are now alive with the life of Jesus our Saviour… we who are born from above… it is not just so we may go safely and happily to Heaven above, but that we may now die with the dying of the Lord Jesus. When that happens, the greatest of mysteries takes place. The life of Jesus within begins to shine forth as light.  Minds once blind to the Gospel are now caused to see… and either turn to the light, or attempt to put it out.

And so, what of my crowd of busy Christmas shoppers? That is what they need, as do all the sons and daughters of earth. They need to see a demonstration of a Gospel with the kind of authority that has overcome sin and the whole domain of death that all those in Adam are born into. I wouldn’t attempt to judge who in that store were in ignorant unbelief and who in willful unbelief. Some who had heard the Gospel were no doubt in a state of willful unbelief. Most, I would say, were in a state of ignorant unbelief—yes, in spite of living in a society where Christian carols are piped over the store intercom, in spite of living in a land with churches on every corner, in spite of perhaps having heard many times what is called the gospel, a gospel that goes forth in word only. They have not yet seen the living Gospel shining forth.

They will only see Him as we ourselves, that is, we who live, are delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus might be manifested—shine forth as light—in our mortal flesh. That is the calling—and privilege—of those who live. It is to be delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the powerful eternal resurrection life of Jesus within us might shine forth in saving power. We who live must take up our cross and bear in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the Gospel of eternal life might be made manifest, that is, shine forth in us.

This is our calling, beloved Christian, for Jesus sake—that we become a shining forth of the Gospel to those beloved of Jesus the Saviour in the world round about us… a Gospel that will first open the eyes of their mind and utterly devastate them with the awareness of their need… and then save those who believe.

I am not much of a singer, but I just have to sing this old hymn by Charles Wesley, and I invite you to join me. I always like to punctuate the first line like this:

Hark! The herald! Angels sing!

(…Listen! Do you hear the herald—the angels crying out? Bringing the Good News?)

Here. I found the hymn with some good singers on Youtube. Let’s sing it together with them.

Understanding Paul

The apostle Peter wrote that the apostle Paul had written some things “hard to be understood” (2 Pt. 3:16). A friend of mine once observed that he found in Peter’s epistles some things hard to be understood as well.  I agree with my friend.  And I agree with Peter, too.  Paul has certainly written some things that are hard to understand.  For example, have you ever wondered why Paul, after saying we are dead with Christ (Col. 2:20, 3:3), exhorts us to mortify (put to death) our members that are upon the earth?  Why, if I am already dead with Christ… why do I need to put my members to death?

Let’s see if we can find out. Come with me for a ride in my new vehicle—a Heavenrod, Model BTS Traveller.  (The BTS, I am told, stands for Beyond Time and Space, and I’m sorry I can’t tell you how it works; I never was much for understanding what goes on under a hood.)  But anyway, please step inside.  Wait a minute, first I need to see your ID.  Okay, you’re a baptized believer.  Now that we’re in with seat belts buckled and the doors shut, I just press this button, and… lo and behold, immediately we are in Heaven!  Yes, I knew you’d find it amazing.

And what do we see now that we are here? Or rather, who do we  see?  Here is our Lord Jesus Christ seated on a great throne!   And we see that, although He was once dead (He shows us His hands and His feet), raised from the dead He dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him.  For, He died to the cause of death—sin—and now is alive forevermore unto God.  How amazing is that.  What is more (and this is even more amazing) we see that we too, having been baptized into Him, are as dead to sin and alive to God as He is.  We see, in fact, that we are entirely new creatures over whom the law of sin and death no longer reigns, new creatures in whom eternal life now reigns—His own eternal life.

There is more. This throne we see Jesus seated in…  we too are seated with Him, reigning with Him, even over all orders of angels whether dark or light.

You are awestruck, I know.   So am I.  Truly, He is a wonderful person, and this is truly a wonderful place!

But this is just a sneak preview; now we must go back to earth. No need to sigh, we don’t need to go back reluctantly.  For—the most amazing thing of all—God has made provision for us to live on this sin-broken earth in the very reality of Christ and Heaven that we have just visited.

That provision is a facet of the Spirit of God called faith.

What does it mean to live by faith?  It means walking in this earthly realm according to an invisible heavenly reality.  It means knowing by faith that what Christ accomplished in Himself is our salvation.  He died to sin?  In Him we are dead to sin.  He rose from the dead?  In Him we too are risen.  He is seated at the right hand of God in the heavenlies?  We too are seated in the heavenlies.  Although we do not see this yet (for, “we walk by faith, not by sight”) our walk of faith with the help of the Spirit here on earth is a walk of alignment with the heavenly reality that is in Christ.  By faith we seek, and are enabled, to conform to what is true in Him, are enabled to live the very life of Christ here on earth.  For, “The just shall live by faith.”

You mean living by faith is just a sort of “pretending” we do here on earth till some day in Heaven we enter into the reality?   No, that misses the mark.  Faith is an appropriation of the heavenly reality so that it is just as real here as there.

And since that is so, this reveals to us the nature of faith: to live by faith is to cease from our own strivings.  By faith, the rest of faith, we abide in a heavenly reality that has already been accomplished in Christ rather than by working toward this reality.  It is not by our own endeavours that we accomplish the death or the Life; it is by faith that we walk, God’s objective being to conform us fully to the image of His Son while here on earth so that as He is—dead to sin and alive to God, and therefore walking in love—so are we in this world.

And so, it is because we who have been baptized into Christ are dead to sin (Christ having died to sin) that we, by the Spirit, mortify our members which are upon the earth; it is because we are risen (Christ being risen) that we “seek those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”  It is by the operation of faith—the faith of the operation of God—that we who are yet on earth in mortal flesh align ourselves with the heavenly reality.

Again in Romans Six Paul states the eternal fact that since Christ died to sin, we too are to reckon (account) ourselves “dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:11).  But then he goes on to say, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body…”  Here again, why, if I am dead to sin, must I refuse to allow sin to reign in my mortal body?  It is because, once again, God has made provision for the reality of what is in Christ at the right hand of God to be our experience while yet on earth in mortal flesh.   The Christian, the one who has been baptized into Christ, is free from sin the moment he is baptized into Christ.  For in Christ he is dead to sin.  “Being then made free from sin…” (Rom. 6:18).  And once having received the Spirit of the risen Christ, he is now enabled to obey a different Master—righteousness.  It is by faith that this is accomplished.  For, faith is an operation of the Spirit of God.  “Buried with Him in (the) baptism wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation (working) of God who hath raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12).

See what Paul is saying? Faith is the divine enablement, the operation of God, to walk according to the invisible (or unseen) reality of Christ—His death and resurrection and ascension—while yet in mortal flesh.  “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

This is why Paul in another place said he pressed toward the mark, while yet in mortal flesh, if by any means he might attain to the resurrection from among the dead (Phil. 3:11).  He knew the resurrection was coming.  By faith he meant to appropriate it now.

“Not having my own righteousness, which is of the law,” says Paul in that same passage, “but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith…” It is a ceasing from one’s own works, and, by faith, aligning with the truth of Christ, the truth as it is in Jesus.  The walk and warfare of faith in mortal flesh corresponds with the heavenly reality.

So this puts us in the place of needing to “work out our own salvation.” Not that we are not saved, on the contrary.   We are saved; therefore let us walk in that salvation, work it out, here and now.  It is the work of faith. Although our old man was crucified with Christ, it is necessary to walk in the Spirit by faith, and not in the flesh, in order to experience the fullness of that salvation.  If we walk in the flesh we alienate ourselves from what is ours in Christ.   We must walk in the Spirit, and not in the flesh, in order for the heavenly reality of His resurrection life to be our experience here in the earth.

…And the heavenly reality of His death as well.  Job in his misery longed for death.  “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.  There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.  The small and the great are there, and the servant is free from his master” (Job 3.17-19).  Beautiful release.  But those in Christ need not wait for that day of release; baptized into the death of Christ they are already there; in the cross of Christ, who was crucified to the world, they too are dead to the world, and are at rest, and cannot be troubled by the wicked.  As A.W. Tozer once said, “The Christian’s grave is behind him.”

In other words, the reality of the powerful death of Christ and the beautiful life of Christ… it’s so elusive, who shall descend into the deep to bring that death up?  Or who shall ascend  into Heaven to bring that life down?  But that kind of travel is not necessary.

 The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith that we proclaim…” (Rom. 10:8).

Paul is talking about the living word of the Gospel, which when it goes forth, enables the responsive ear to lay hold of what it hears and bring it nigh– right into the mouth and into the heart… where, since it is alive, it begins to grow, and grow, and grow.  And the fruit of this living word of faith is that when Christ our life Himself appears,  and we see Him as He is, we discover that our obedience to the word, the obedience of faith, has resulted in our being conformed to His image; we are just like Him.  For we have received the end of our faith—the salvation of our souls.

Jesus My Forerunner

I have been dwelling much these days on the significance of Christ being at the right hand of God, and, as one who is seeking to come to God by Him,  I am increasingly aware that His being there is as good as my being there… while I am yet here.

For, as I mentioned last time, God has made Him my surety.  He who is both a king and a priest is my surety—yes, my surety—that God will bring me into the same relationship with Himself that my surety enjoys.   For, He who is my surety is also a forerunner.

That’s what we discover earlier in Hebrews in another passage where we are told that Jesus is before God on our behalf.  He is a forerunner who has entered into “that place within the veil” on our behalf.

Whither a forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

As with the surety passage, this too speaks of the great assurance we have—God’s promise and His oath.  Here he is talking about the promise God gave Abraham, confirming the promise with an oath.

Wherein God, willing (that is, desiring) more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel confirmed it by an oath;
That by two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong  encouragement who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope that is set before us:
Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil:
Where a forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:17-20).

What love.  He has entered there “for us.”  And notice the dynamic here—“we… who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope that is set before us.”  On the one hand we are fleeing something—fleeing—running away from something with all our might. Running for our lives!  But not aimlessly; we are headed toward a specific destination, running to a refuge that is set before us, where we can lay hold of a hope that is set before us.

And so there is something behind us, and something set before us.  But our pace tells on us, whether or not we take this seriously.  Are we just ambling casually along, stopping here and there to enjoy “the good life” this world has to offer?  If so, it is apparent that we do not see the peril we are in.  We have not seen that this present evil world is not our friend.  Its god is intent on our destruction, and has laced all the things our carnal appetite loves to feed on with a sleeping potion that will keep us in the sleep of death.  Do we not see this?  It grieves me deeply that there are so many who do not see it… or, if they have seen, are determined to continue deceiving themselves so they can enjoy its pleasures for a few more seconds.

Some, who have awakened, and do see, have fled, as from a building on fire, have “fled for refuge…”  That is the strength of the original Greek word here; it is fleeing with a destination in mind.  Now we come to another strong word: “to lay hold of the hope that is set before us.” There is a hope set before us—the hope.  Have we laid hold of this hope?  It is an anchor of the soul that cannot drift, and cannot break, for it enters into that Place within the veil where a Forerunner has for us entered—even Jesus, whom God has made a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.  He is saying, actually, that it is the Forerunner within the veil to whom our hope is anchored, joined.  And He cannot be moved.

The Lord Jesus Christ our hope (1 Tim. 1:1).

I think we see this same forerunner a little later in Hebrews, where the writer exhorts us to run with endurance the race that is set before us “looking unto Jesus” (Heb. 12:1,2).  He is there!  He has arrived!  “Where a forerunner is for us entered…”  But the significance of a forerunner is that other runners are about to arrive.  So, those in the bleachers on that side of the veil… I see them craning their necks to look behind the Forerunner to see who else is coming in.  Who would that be?

Forerunner for us, it says.  Are we running, then?  His being there is on our behalf—so that we might have strong encouragement, not just to hope, but to lay hold of the hope set before us—even that same relationship of eternal life that our Forerunner enjoys with His Father.  “Fight the good fight of faith,” said Paul, “lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:12).  It is the same eternal life that our Forerunner abides in—but abides in as a priest after the order of Melchizedek.  Meaning, He is there for our sake.  He is there (in the throne of God in the Heavens) in the power of an endless life, an indissoluble life, eternal life, His own eternal life, to the intent that you and I may live that same victorious eternal life—here on earth.  Christ has ascended to the Throne of God for this very reason—that in the power of His life we too might live.  “Because I live,” He says, “ye shall live also” (Jn. 14:19).

What wondrous words.  He lives—at the right hand of God, that we also, who are joined to Him by His Spirit, may live that same victorious eternal life right here on earth, might reign here on earth in the power of the throne of Heaven, reign in life, in the power of His own eternal life, in the midst of all we are going through…

…Right here in this present evil world.  Because, though we have fled this present evil world, though we are no longer part of it, though it is no longer our home, though we live in a realm above it all, we are not only kings, but priests.  We are still here for the sake of others around us, who, when their world collapses all around them, as it is going to, will be looking for a king and a priest.