"BRETHREN, not as yet am I reckoning myself to have grasped, yet one thing -- forgetting indeed those things which are behind, yet stretching out to those in front -- toward the goal am I pursuing for the prize of God's calling above in Christ Jesus" (Phil.3:13,14).
As ambassadors for Christ we are graced with the most glorious and privileged position in the universe. How shall we express the happy evangel of our embassy? What words might we summon to describe adequately this astounding declaration: "For Christ then, are we ambassadors, as of God entreating through us. We are beseeching for Christ's sake, 'Be conciliated to God!' For the One not knowing sin, He makes to be a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God's righteousness in Him" (2 Cor. 5:20,21).
In every denomination of Christendom, incompetent evangelists are striving to "bring men to Christ," when our loving Father would have us all "bring Christ to men." This, rather than the fearful, threatening uncertainty of repentance is the real gospel, or good news.
"How grand it is to fall back upon God Himself! He will see to it that everyone whom He has selected will be invited and justified and sanctified. And He does it in spite of all the stumbling blocks we put in the sinner's way. Some preach law outright, some regeneration, some the spirit's work, some baptism, some repentance -- but none of these are good news; indeed there is no good news apart from Christ.
"Let it be our precious privilege to preach Christ crucified to those who know Him not; and to those who know Him, Christ glorified. Let Christ be first and Christ be last and Christ fill all between. Let us not look back and vaunt ourselves with, 'I prayed, I repented, I was baptized, and I...' but let us rather shout with the Apostle `no longer I, but CHRIST!' If I had a hand in my salvation it must needs contain a flaw, for I find failure fills everything I do. But if Christ alone deserves the crown, then all like Him is perfect and immutable."(1)
This loving evangel of conciliation is not the first gratuitous gift from God. It follows upon His complete settlement of the sins of His enemies! Justified by the blood of Christ we can now, in growing appreciation, be conciliated by the death of God's Son. Reconciliation is possible only after our sins have been dealt with. "If God is for us, who is against us? Surely, He Who spares not His own Son, but gives Him up for us all, how shall He not together with Him, also, be graciously granting us all?" (Rom.8: 32).
When God calls out His ecclesia, members of the body of Christ beloved in the Lord, there are so many variables in each individual circumstance. Common to all in the process is thankful reliance. How may any repulse the love of God which is lavished so unstintingly?
In our various paths to maturity there will inevitably be many grievous memories which will certainly distress. In Paul's case it was how he "...inordinately persecuted the ecclesia of God and ravaged it" (Gal.1:13). Recognition of this painful emerging from the slavery of sin prompted the apostle to request a further spirit of wisdom and revelation into the realization of God's loving provision.
Rescue alone, or mere restoration can have no part in God's grand and glorious purpose in creation. Through the loving sacrifice of His own dear Son, He has determined to be, universally, All in all! The declaration that He is "...not reckoning offenses..." and that this is the day of salvation, is more than our doubting spirits, disabled through the corrupting and baneful evil antagonism of our adversaries, may comprehend. Holy spirit patiently escorts us into maturity, yet still there is nervousness, and in some cases, a little awkwardness. The following was composed by the writer during these early, maturing years:
|When you speak of the love of Christ Jesus |
With words which are simple and plain,
You claim that I'm free from chains which bound me,
But dear friend, I yet feel their pain.
Now you insist that still I am doubting,
And that God has erased the blame,
But molded by years filled with guilt and fears,
This clay is a vessel of shame.
You describe once again our Lord's anguish,
And my spirit is shocked, dismayed.
Oh, how may I face this amazing grace,
Believe that the price has been paid?
All these years I have sought God's forgiveness,
For the sin, the shame of the past.
I thought I could pay in mankind's own way,
Be rid of this burden at last.
Now my spirit stirs, trembling within me,
Beseeching the truth of this grace.
God's love shall increase though sin may not cease
In This weak flesh so vain and base!
Ah, such wonderful, blessed assurance
Of glorious love so divine!
Christ Jesus has bought the justness I sought.
From this moment Lord, I am Thine!
Initially, we can scarce wait for some opportunity to share this good news. Naively, we assume that everyone, especially those who are privileged to acclaim our Lord as Saviour, will be only too delighted to discover the peace which such glad tidings impart. Now we may shake our heads and smile at such exuberance. But how it grieves our hearts to be scorned. We heed the apostle's words, and we herald the word, opportunely, inopportunely. We bear with much evil. God's love trains us in meekness and patience.
There is no way for us to know whom God has chosen and is calling. From our individual experience we must conclude that our own case was quite hopeless, yet how we were tenderly led, in grace, to acclaim His beloved Son as Lord!
"Almost all who have attained to maturity have had to put aside some childish and mistaken beliefs. If we, like the man in Thessalonica, had died before we could have learned the later truth unfolded by Paul, would we not like him, respond to the call of our Lord when He comes to the air? It is a question of God's designating us in love for sonship, not of our understanding or appreciation, or response. Rather, it is in accord with His own purpose, and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian (2 Tim.1:9).
"Paul prays for those who are sealed with the holy spirit of promise, the earnest of our allotment for a further spirit of wisdom to perceive what is the expectation of their calling and the riches of their allotment and the power at the rousing of Christ (Eph.1:14). This makes it evident that they lacked this added endowment and that the earnest of the spirit which is the portion of all, does not include a knowledge of the higher truths for today.
"Yet this does not invalidate our pre-expectancy. Under the law, and even in the Circumcision evangel, some response is necessary, or the blessing is withdrawn. Not so in grace, apart from law. Grace operates even better in the midst of failure and opposition than otherwise, for these provide a background for its display." (2)
"TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!"
With heartfelt gratitude and praise we embark on our ministry of conciliation here, long before we are snatched away to proclaim this among the celestials. But in this administration humanity spurns the gracious gift of our Lord's loving sacrifice. Again and again our good news is treated with indifference and even contempt The suffering we experience is bearable, for only thus may we know Christ and the power of His resurrection.
We esteem it a privilege to share in His sufferings, but when the vile opposition is directed against Him then this is so painful that our spirits suffer. We listen to saints in Christendom earnestly sing of amazing grace, but in the next breath they roundly condemn us and our proclamation of conciliation! "This is dangerous!" they charge. "We agree that in grace we are saved, but it just cannot be as simple as that. By your teaching you imply that all our sins are of little consequence! That they are not important!" Sometimes, like the scoffers at Golgotha who sneered, "Others he saves! Himself he can not save" (Matt.27:42), they cynically conclude, "This is just too good to be true!"
When did we ever teach such a thing? When did we ever subscribe to the heresy that God is not judging the world? "Now let God be true, yet every man a liar" (Rom.3:4). We are justified gratuitously. We have God's own righteousness through the faith of Jesus Christ, and now, beyond all condemnation, no longer His enemies, we may be having peace.
A great deal has been written concerning the love of God. Well might the apostle Paul stress the paramount grandeur of love. Above all else this deep, unchanging affection of the Creator for His creatures is such, that He yearns toward us and provides us with the most gracious means of comprehending the nature of this love, by granting the tenderness and intimate relationships of parent and offspring. Hence He presents Himself as Father for all the vast numbers of His children. Shall He casually lose one, even one? Would we? Is there any real offense which would irrevocably turn us away from our own beloved?
When attempting to understand the deep significance of what it meant for our Father to turn away from His Firstborn, then we must call on the sacred filial ties of our own dear ones. Corrupt and calloused reasoning or philosophy, resulting from the base influences without and within, can never help us in this understanding. Here, we are on the rare ground of love and faith, which alone will ensure that vital and precious trust.
"May we prayerfully grasp the necessity of evil as a back- ground for the display of God's grandest glories and our perpetual praise of Him. Only then will we be prepared to endure with thankful hearts all the trials and tragedies in the present which He sends to us.
"All of mankind must learn to realize what God is to them by an actual experience of what it means to be without Him. Then they will be able to give Him the unforced outflow of their hearts. Then they will appreciate it when His judgments permanently right all wrongs and eliminate all evil, through the suffering Sacrifice He has provided." (3)
"My faith has found a resting place, not in device nor creed;
I trust the ever-living One, His wounds for me shall plead.
I need no other argument, I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me."
(1) Unsearchable Riches, vol.10, p.275.
(2) Unsearchable Riches, vol.45,pp.167,168.
(3) A.E.Knoch: The Problem of Evil and the Judgments of God, p.7.