Category Archives: eternal purpose

The goal of the gospel

Matthew 26:6-13 contains one of the most beautiful stories in all of scripture. Jesus is at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. John’s account tells us that Lazarus is also there, along with Mary and Martha (who is serving the dinner) and other of Jesus’ disciples. Even a large crowd of Jews shows up for the occasion, not just to see Jesus but Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead.

At some point in the meal Mary comes and kneels at Jesus’ feet. She breaks an alabaster box of very expensive perfume and begins to wash his feet, wiping them with her hair. Fragrance from the perfume fills the entire house.  But not everyone is pleased with this extravagance.  Certain of the disciples, namely Judas, asks indignantly about the purpose of this waste (take note, however, that Matthew records it as being not only Judas but all of the disciples who were upset).

But Jesus stands firm against their callousness. The woman “has done a beautiful thing to me,” he says, and then adds, “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

Whatever took place in that moment of time, then, to the Lord Jesus at least it had tremendous significance. I find it interesting to observe this setting. Here you have a dinner being given for the Lord. He is the centerpiece around which everyone present is gathered. However, different people are there for different reasons. The motives of the people in attendance are mixed. Some are there as his followers and disciples, learning from him as they do every day. A few, like Martha, are there to serve him. Others are there merely to see the power and outcome of his miraculous deeds. Among the Jews also there were probably some present who were involved in plotting to kill him. And then there was Judas, who had no genuine care for the poor but was there to use his position with the Lord as a means to his own end. So there are mixed motives present with everyone in the house.

Yet there is one among them whose motivation, beyond any other, is out of pure love for her Lord. And with no regard for appearance she pours out an extravagant display of affection toward the One she loves. Her display draws an immediate reaction from those watching and from the Lord himself. They are repulsed; He is pleased. And the remark Jesus makes about Mary’s devotion is chock full of wonderful meaning.

When the Lord said that what Mary did on this occasion would be told in memory of her wherever the gospel was preached He was saying something very significant. At the heart of the gospel story is a woman who wastes everything she has on the Lord Jesus Christ, for this is what the gospel is intended to produce: a people (a corporate woman if you will, the Bride of Christ) whose lives are spent so lavishly at his feet that even many of His well-meaning followers will look on and ask “Why this waste? This person has such talent, such gifting, such ability that could be put to good use. Why would they waste it all in this way?”

Angus Kinnear tells the story of a young Watchman Nee going once to visit an old friend and mentor. The story is taken from his book Against the Tide: The Story of Watchman Nee, and it’s just too good to not include here. Fighting tuberculosis, Watchman refused to invoncenience his friend by staying and decided to return home by the river…

“But on the two-hour journey his fever returned, and with it the devil to assail him by using the depressive effects of the tuberculosis to draw out his inner resentments. ‘You had a bright future, full of possibilities, and you gave it up to serve God. That was splendid. But then you had a promising ministry in which, with your gifts, you were assured of success; and that, too, you threw away. For what? You relinquished so much; what have you gained? Sometimes God hears your prayers. Often enough He is silent. Compare yourself with that other fellow out there now in the big evangelical system. He, too, had a bright future, and he has never let it go. He is spiritually prosperous and God honors his ministry. He gets souls saved and they go on with God. And moreoever, he looks like a Christian, so happy, so satisfied, so assured. Do you? Take a look at yourself!’

“Disembarking, he went to his parents’ home on the waterfront to pay them his respects and attend to the business that had brought him… Next day he ventured out into the town, sorrowfully avoiding the two meeting places of the long-divided local church. Below the bridge the cormorant fishers were at work, and he paused to watch them as he used to when a child, marveling at the patience of the captive birds. He walked slowly, leaning on a stick.

“All at once, there on the street, whom should he encounter but one of his former Trinity College professors. He greeted him with a bow, and the man took him into a tea shop where they sat down. After a few sharp inquiries he stopped and looked Watchman up and down. ‘What is this?’ he exclaimed with evident dismay. ‘We thought a lot of you at high school, and had hopes that you would achieve something great. Do you mean to say you are still like this?’

“Traditionally the Chinese student holds his teacher in high regard, returning to him formal thanks for each scholastic success; so the very pointed question struck cruelly home. Here was one whom Watchman instinctively honored and who saw him merely as an educational dropout. He quailed before the man’s penetrating gaze. For it was true: his health was broken, his prospects gone; what had he to show? And here was his old teacher of Chinese law asking, ‘Are you still not an inch further forward? No progress, no career, no nothing?’ In that moment Ni To-sheng, grown man as he was, was close to tears.

“And the very next instant (as he tells us), ‘I really knew what it meant to have the Spirit of glory resting upon me. I could look up and say, “Lord, I praise You that I have chosen the best way.” To my professor it was a total waste to serve the Lord Jesus; but that is the goal of the gospel-to give everything to God.’

Amen! May the Lord find such a people, like Mary, and like this brother… a people whose lives are wasted in love upon Him for the full satisfaction of His heart’s desire. And may the world, through this people, come to see just how worthy He really is!


The greatest prospect ever given to man

It is all too common for people to look at the life of Jesus Christ-even we Christians who hold Him to be sinless, the perfect Man, and the full expression of the Godhead-and miss seeing the wellspring of His incredible life. It is also possible to so overemphasize the deity of Christ that the fact of His humanity is lost sight of. Jesus was a man, a man just like you and me. Yes, He was God, but he was also just a man. He was flesh and bone, he got tired, and he wrestled with every anxiety and temptation known to mankind. Jesus was fully human, the son of man.   

And yet look at the life He lived! He did wonders. He healed the sick. He loved people. He spoke with an authority no one had ever heard before. He threatened the whole superstructure of the religious system. He shook the Empire to its very core.

And He did it all… as a man. Don’t you ever stop to wonder at the source of such an incredible life?

Simply put, the source of the Jesus’ living was the indwelling life of His Father. His own confession-“I do and say nothing but what I see and hear from my Father”-signifies as much. There was a Divine life within the spirit of this simple Nazarene which moved Him to do and say the things He did. What a thought!

But that’s only the half of it. The most incredible prospect ever to graze the consciousness of man is found in what Jesus said in John 6:57:

“As the living Father sent me, and I live by the Father, so whoever feeds on me will live by me!”

Can you see what the Lord is saying here? Basically He is saying that what the Father was to Him He is now to us, and that just as He lived by the life of God in His spirit, we too may live by His life in us! No difference! No separation! No one kind of living for the Lord Jesus and another kind of living for us! The same life Jesus lived by is the life we have to live by as well! What a prospect!

The fact is most of us have never seen this. I can’t tell you how many days of my life I’ve overlooked it. Jesus of Nazareth did not get out of bed each morning and live by a certain ethical code or set of rules. He did not read the scriptures as a manual on “how to be the Son of God.” He enjoyed communion with God in His Spirit as a man just as He did in the eternals before taking on flesh, and His daily living was regulated by the flow of that life within Him. This was His wellspring for being. This too is our source of life. This is the prospect He left us with which we so often overlook. Jesus was a man, and the life He lived came out of this inward fellowship He experienced with His Father. We have been called into the same fellowship. So turn within to your spirit. Quiet yourself and wait before the Lord until you sense the presence of His life deep inside. Behold Him there. Practice turning to Him throughout the day, moment by moment if you can. Let the transformation that comes from this daily exchange be the source of your living just as it was for the Lord.  


Living a church life that involves ALL God’s people

The brothers and sisters I meet with on a regular basis are few in number. It’s been that way all three years we’ve been together. And while I am thoroughly convinced that it is not our number but simply what we are that makes for the Lord’s testimony, we often long for more fellowship with other believers. So in the past six months or so, as the light of the local church being the fellowship of all God’s people in a given place has dawned upon me, I’ve been moved to more actively seek out fellowship with other believers beyond the “walls” of our particular circle.

Thus far, the results of this endeavor have been both rewarding and frustrating. While we have been able to connect with many brothers and sisters who have different backgrounds and emphases of truth, at the same time it’s been difficult to gain any kind of reciprocation to our reaching out. Whether they are too busy, too cautious or simply do not see the importance of it, many saints don’t seem to have much desire to really go beyond their own congregation to have fellowhsip with other local believers. It’s heartbreaking, really. 

Even still, we press on. If the church is really one, and if the practical expression of that oneness is the local church in the city, made up of all believers who reside in a given locality, then we are obligated to go beyond our little circle to embrace fellowship with all believers. Even as we seek to be true to the truth the Lord has committed to us and to go forward with the light He has granted, we must walk in step with this realization that the local church is not just my little organic group. The local church encompasses all the saints in my city who call upon the name of the Lord, and even if they will not live like it I must. To do any less than this is to be a sect and not a church. To whatever degree possible, even as I seek to move forward with the few brothers and sisters I share life with on a day to day basis, I still have to find some way to experience and display a practical unity with all the believers in my town. Anything short of this will never come close to fulfilling God’s purpose.

So then, we must be true to what we see. We must go forward upon the ground of oneness, meeting simply as fellow members of the church in our city, expressing the Lord Jesus in truth and fullness. But we must also put into practice a local church life that extends beyond our own borders, for though we are taking our stand according to the way we believe God views the situation, the fact remains that we are not the only peeps in town who are “of Christ”. Therefore our fellowhsip must never be confined to any particular group or party. It takes “all the saints” to comprehend the awesome depths of the love of God, and only together will we ever come to know Him in His fullness.


God’s purpose for man is in the earth

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Notice here that Jesus does not say, “no one gets to heaven except through me,” but “no one comes to the Father except through me.” You might think this is nothing more than a slight semantical difference, but really it represents a huge gap between today’s popular evangelical teaching and the message proclaimed by the apostles in the first century.

I wonder how many of us ever stop to think about what God’s purpose was for humanity before man fell into sin. The way most people talk you’d think God created man just so He could save him. But there was a will, a purpose, and a mission all before sin ever came into the picture, and it was planted firmly in the earth. God did not originally create man with the purpose of getting him to heaven one day after he died.

God’s purpose for man was, and still is, found in the earth!

Then consider the general concept most people have of what is called “eternal life”. Popular opinion says eternal life is an endless existence in heaven.  But where does this idea come from? A better translation of that phrase would be “the life of the ages.” This alone puts a whole new spin on things. Here again we may take the words of the Lord Himself on this subject:

“This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

So Jesus plainly states that eternal life is knowing God, or in other words being one with God. Nothing about living forever in heaven. To have eternal life is to possess the life of the ages, which possession begins here and now.

All this leads me to believe that we have somewhat overlooked the point of things when it comes to the nature and goal of our salvation. For instance, when the angel spoke to Joseph did he tell him to “call him Jesus, for he will save his people from hell?” No! He said, “call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins!” (Matthew 1:21) Yet the popular evangelical gospel being preached from most pulpits every Sunday spells out a very simplistic gospel which says little more than this: “God is holy and you are a sinner. Jesus endured God’s wrath in your place so one day when you die you will have Jesus’ perfect righteousness trasmitted to your account and you’ll get into heaven.” And it is precisely this kind of partial gospel that is failing to bring forth the full purpose of God in the earth. It may get people to an altar, it may give them an assurance that one day they’ll go to heaven when they die, but it is not producing a people in the earth who are conscious of God eternal purpose for their being here and who are living towards the realization of that purpose with every ounce of their being.  

What am I trying to say? Simply that salvation is not merely a matter of dodging hell and getting to heaven one day where we’ll have a blissful endless existence on streets of gold. It’s about being delivered from the power of sin unto a possession of the life of the ages, which life we have in union with the Lord who indwells our spirits here and now… that through our fellowship with Him in the church we may make a way in the earth for the bringing in of His kingdom in resurrection!

May the Lord hasten that glorious day!     


The church as a beachhead for the Lord

The goal of the gospel is not to get a bunch of people saved so one day they can escape this world by way of some rapture. The ultimate goal of the gospel is that God, through a people, will re-take this earth for Himself and prepare a way for His return!

The dictionary defines a beachhead as 1)the area that is the first objective of a military force landing on an enemy shore, or 2)a secure initial position that has been gained and can be used for further advancement. This is an incredible picture of God’s purpose for the church.

If you take into account the entire revelation put forth in scripture about what took place before the creation of the world as we know it, you see that when God made mankind and placed him in the earth He did so with the rebellion of Satan in full swing. In relation to this cosmic battle man’s charge was two-fold: Bear God’s image and exercise His authority in the earth. Through man the Lord intended to put down the rebellion of the snake and restore order in the cosmos. To do this He established a beachhead in the earth in the form of a garden and told Adam to keep it.

All this takes on the most significance when you view it in the context of the conflict of the ages. Sometime before the creation of the visible universe the Father loved His Son with an unspeakable love. Out from this love He decreed that a kingdom would come forth over which His Son would be Head. The Son would be pre-eminent in all things. The angel named Lucifer came to detest this proclamation and intention, desiring for himself the place that was said to be God’s alone. Upon this jealousy and hatred for the Son of God the rebellion began.

Earth had been the domain of Lucifer’s rule, under God. After he came out to challenge the pre-eminence of the Son he claimed the earth as his own. Rather than deal with His adversary directly God chose to make mankind, and through union with man (by which means the image of the invisible Godhead would be made visible in the earth) to deal with the situation that way. So the purpose of God for man from the very beginning has had a great deal to do with re-taking the earth for Himself. When Adam forfeited the beachhead God established in Eden Satan became established as the undisputed god of this age. Even the Lord Jesus, when tempted by the devil in the wilderness, did not go so far as to dispute Satan’s claim of being ruler over all the earth, for it was true at the time. Good news was the Lord had come to overthrow that rule.

So we see that the Lord Jesus came into this world in order to deal with sin, make a way to the Father, and re-establish a beachhead on the earth for the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose! Enter the church!

Oh yes! The church and the church life is of far greater significance than most people ever come to see or appreciate. The church-in particular the local church in every city-is a beachhead for the Lord Jesus Christ, established for His purpose of re-taking the earth! Turn on your radio. Go through the shelves of your local Christian bookstore. Switch on Christian television. Listen to the message being preached from most pulpits Sunday after Sunday across the land. How often do you hear this message and this purpose of the gospel being proclaimed?

Regardless of the spiritual impotence of popular Christianity, this is the ultimate intention and goal of the gospel. Not to get a people “saved” in the common evangelical conception, so one day they can go to heaven rather than hell. That kind of gospel is weak, it is shallow, it is partial, and it is failing in the full purpose of God for this age. The ultimate aim of the good news of the kingdom of God is to call a people out of this world, to give new birth in their spirits and a re-establishment of contact and fellowship with the Triune God indwelling their inmost being, and through the gathering together of that people in every city on this planet to raise a banner to the supremacy and centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ as Head over all things!  Praise the Lord!

You and I must ask ourselves: Is there such a beachhead established in my city? Is there this testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ as pre-eminent in all things? Is there a true expression of His church-local, organic, and dwelling as one with all believers-through whom the Lord is gaining full expression? This is the ultimate issue of the universe and of our very existence. To be found in this purpose is our grand calling. Until you’ve glimpsed this vision in your spirit you will never long for it in life. Until you’ve touched it in practical experience you will never abandon your whole life toward its fulfillment. But the Lord is willing! Let us pray together for an overwhelming revelation of the greatness of our Christ and the vastness of God’s purpose concerning Him. Then we will begin to have clarity on how our lives are to count toward its living realization.

Amen!


The apostles’ teaching

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” (Acts 2:42)

What was the teaching of the apostles to which the early churches devoted themselves? Perhaps the best definition given to us in scripture is found in 1 John 1:1-4:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowhsip with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that your joy may be complete!”

Does it get any more beautiful than that? Can’t you just picture John, along with Peter and the other apostles, saying this to the newly baptized church in Jerusalem the morning following Pentecost? What an introduction to their new journey! What an awe-inspiring vision and insight into the meaning, the way, and the goal of the Christian life!

At any rate, this is the closest thing to a definition of the apostles’ doctrine, or teaching, that we find anywhere in scripture. Not a combination of verses drawn from the Bible to form complex theological systems of belief, but the simple proclamation of this glorious Person, the Lord Jesus Christ!

This Christ who existed from the beginning, whose fellowship we have experienced in practical, tangible ways; this Christ who is eternal life, who was with the Father and was made manifest to us, this Christ we proclaim to you! We proclaim Him so that you too may have fellowship with us, for our fellowship is with the Father and the Son! Enter into this fellowship of the Godhead with us and your joy, like ours, will also be complete!

Amen!


Three views on the church

Look at church history and you will see many repeated patterns. For instance, in every generation there are differing opinions regarding the church. First you have those who think the prevailing institutional church of their day is where it’s at. These folks are either unconcerned about the disparaging difference in form and appearance between the many churches of Christendom today and the churches of the first century, or they believe that what exists by and large nowadays represents the natural development an infant church to the more mature thing that exists in Christianity today. These are our more traditionally-minded brethren. 

In the next line you have the reformers. They sense the need for change-even radical change perhaps-but their way of going about it is by changing the structure from within. Rather than “bucking the system,” these brothers and sisters advocate using the system to achieve God’s end, though they themselves admit that the system itself is contrary to His design. Within this camp there are two kinds of reformers, the passive and agressive. Your passive reformer advocates for peace over any radical upheaval. He is willing to wait many long years if necessary to see gradual transformation take place. The aggressive reformer, on the other hand, says things need to change and they need to change now. For a good example of the difference between these two types see Erasmus and Luther during the time of the Reformation.   

Then go one more aisle over and you have the third bunch. Crazy lot, these people. Known throughout church history as “separatists” or “dissenters”, these brothers and sisters claim that in order for God’s end to really be reached we must go outside the camp entirely unto something wholly different. No point in trying to change the establishment, they say, but rather to start anew. Even among this group you might say there is somewhat of a distinction between the passive and aggressive. The passive brother is hesitant to join himself to any kind of visible expression of the church, perhaps for fear that it might become the same thing he once separated from in order to be one with all fellow believers (which is a healthy fear, I might add). The other brother says that though the risk may indeed be great, the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose demands a visible testimony. Therefore we must dare to come together as His Body-apart from all institutionalism and traditionalism-and gather regularly as a true expression of Christ’s church, as true an expression as is humanly possible at least.

So, what do you think? Is this a fair assessment of church history? Where do you fall in this lot? What are your reasons for feeling the way you do about the church and how she is to reach God’s end?