a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 78
A rather large number of people in the body of Christ, the Church, labor under the misguided counsel of a popular myth. This myth--never formally chronicled, but long established in our traditions--considers life in the Kingdom to be something akin to a 1950s sitcom.
For many of us who grew up during that decade, the memories remain vivid: Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, the Donna Reed Show. Every one of them presented the classic picture of the American family:
- The husband worked, usually as a professional--a doctor or lawyer or engineer--always gliding off to work every morning wearing his well-pressed suit and tie. Upon arriving home he was pleased to play catch with his son or build a doll house for his daughters.
- The mother stayed at home, performing the household tasks of cleaning and cooking and making sure everyone got off to work and school every morning--the kids with their well-balanced lunches waiting at the door. Even when keeping house she wore a dress, and when her husband arrived home from work she met him at the door with a smile and dinner in the oven.
- The family had the requisite two or three children who wore sneakers and periodically got into a little bit of mischief, but never anything really bad. The boys rode their bikes and caught frogs down by the creek; the girls played with dolls and learned from their mom how to cook and sew.
In these imaginary families the father was always wise and understanding, the mother always quick to forgive and ready to comfort with a hug and a kiss, and the kids always (eventually) obeyed their parents and thought themselves fortunate to be who they were.
All neatly sanitized. Every problem solved in thirty minutes, and every show had a rainbow finish.
This is how many people see the Christian life. After the threshold of salvation is crossed, everything becomes rosy, every problem is solved, and every brother and sister in Christ is happy and pleasant, honest and good.
But we know that, as pleasant as the image may be, not all families-- even those back in the Fifties--are like those in the television sitcoms:
- Some fathers work where they get dirty and greasy, and they come home tired and short-tempered. Some fathers don't have a job outside the home, whether they want one or not. Some family men are not fathers at all, and some that are don't have the time or the inclination to play ball with their kids. And whatever else they may be, very few are nearly so wise and understanding.
- Some mothers don't even know how to cook--and, frankly, don't care. They have better paying jobs than their husbands, and if they had the time to make everyone's lunches, they'd use the time instead to sleep in for a few extra minutes. Some women choose to not be mothers, and some that do, shouldn't.
- In many families who have them, the children live in a world and time set apart from their parents; their interests and affections never intersect with those of their parents. Instead of playing ball or house, they play at being an adult, spending their time on pursuits well beyond their fragile years. Instead of catching frogs down at the creek, they catch only new ways to rebel against authority.
In the real world, not all parents are Ozzie and Harriet, and not all kids are as good and respectful of their parents as Wally and `the Beav.' And in the real world, problems are not always solved in thirty minutes.
Likewise, life in the Kingdom can be tough and gritty and filled with moments of strife. It can be frustrating, disappointing, and something less than glorious. Life in the Kingdom can be tough slogging, making tough calls, and a place where faith can turn fragile.
Though He could have, God never removed us from the rigors of humanity. The Godhead could have established the method that at the moment of conversion--at the moment in which we accept Christ as Savior and Lord --the new believer is suddenly whisked off the earth to dwell for the rest of eternity in the peace and joy of heaven. But He didn't.
Jesus, on the night of His arrest, could have prayed, "Father, I love my disciples, so I want to take them with me when I leave." But instead He prayed
"I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." John 17:14-18
Just as God could have removed us from humanity--but didn't--He also could have removed the humanity from each of us--but chose not to.God respects the individuality of His followers; He wants their devotion to be genuine. He's not interested in people who follow Him because they've been so programmed. He is a God of honesty and truth. So those who make the decision to believe in Him come away from the moment with their humanity intact. Some of us may come to regret that Divine decision, but it's the one He made. Whatever His reason, God decided to let the conflict remain.
For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. Galatians 5:17
Because of our experience in the day-to-day realities of Kingdom living it's easy to divide our existence and draw a line of demarcation between earth living and heaven living. Kingdom living here amidst humanity can be, frankly, something less than encouraging. So we gaze longingly toward heaven, and what we consider real Kingdom living in the presence of the Lord.
Here is how many of us think of our relationship to eternity:
I.H. (In Heaven) ------- ^ | | | B.H. (Before Heaven) | | | A.D. (Anno Domini) ------- B.C. (Before Christ)
In fact for many of us there is an almost unconscious tendency to think that eternity does not even begin until after we have crossed that profound divide between B.H. and I.H. But eternity has already begun, and real Kingdom living means living as if we are already in the presence of the Lord.
"Our trouble is that we think of ourselves as being alone. Let us correct the error by thinking of ourselves as standing by the bank of a full flowing river; then let us think of that river as being none else but God Himself. We glance to our left and see the river coming full out of our past; we look to the right and see it flowing on into our future. But we also see that it is flowing through our present. And in our today it is the same as it was in our yesterday, not less than, not different from, but the very same river, one unbroken continuum, undiminished, active and strong as it moves sovereignly on into our tomorrow." A.W. Tozer
There are, naturally, valid reasons to yearn for the living conditions which will exist in heaven. In the new heaven the Lord promises that
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Rev. 21:4
Physical and mental ailments that exist in the Kingdom B.H. will happily be absent once we pass over the threshold into the Kingdom I.H. Wicked people will also be excluded, so that conflict will be removed.
Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Rev. 22:14-15
Temptation, and those who tempt, will not be included within the Pearly Gates.
Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. Rev. 21:27And who can say how our attitudes and behavior will be altered in heaven. Pain and sorrow will vanish, leaving us with bodies in the peak of health, but what about our minds? All we can say with assurance is that we will be 'changed.'
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed--in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Cor. 15:51-52
To some the eternal Kingdom of God is a far-off country, something only imagined, something only attained by death. To others, the Kingdom is the formal structure of the church universal, made up of the vast millions of believers living today. To still others the Kingdom is a mystical realm of transient thought and metaphysical aesthetics, a place where only philosophers might feel welcome.
Throughout the gospels Jesus makes it clear, by way of stories and parables and examples, that the Kingdom of God is all of the above--and much more.
Taken as a whole, Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom describe something difficult to comprehend. It is described in the past tense, the future tense, and the present tense; it is described by the use of morality parables, stories about truth and justice and fairness, and in almost mystical terms not easily grasped. But one thing is clear: for the believer, the Kingdom is something all-encompassing.
When the Pharisees put the question to Jesus regarding the Kingdom's time of arrival, He said:
"The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, `Look, here it is!' or `There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst." Luke 17:20b-21 NASB
The mistake we make is in somehow removing from our perception of the Kingdom any and all imperfections, for as soon as we remove imperfections, we remove ourselves. The Kingdom of God is not constructed of plastic and sheet metal but of flesh and bone and blood. God's Kingdom is not restricted to those who are incapable of error.
When Jesus looked the Pharisees in the eye and said, "the kingdom of God is in your midst," He was the only human in all the world capable of living perfectly. Yet Jesus' illustrations of the Kingdom encompassed far more than just the members of the Godhead.
Membership in God's eternity is not by merit, but by grace, and since God does not remove our humanity upon our induction, this ensures that the Kingdom is filled with imperfect people.
God's grace and the broad sweep of His Kingdom eternity are beautifully illustrated in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Here we see itemized those participants in the grand procession of God's history--the history of His working in the lives of flesh and blood people toward their salvation.
Here is the roster of faith, the men and women who proved themselves faithful and, as a result, were declared righteous, and worthy of "a better country, that is a heavenly one." Not only were they declared righteous, but God bestowed upon them a most gracious and generous honor, declaring that He was "not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them."
Who were these supermen and superwomen, these demigods brought down from the purity of the heavens to people holy Scripture? In truth they were people made of dust, imperfect souls just like you and me.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Hebrews 11:7
Noah was a singularly righteous man in the heathen society of his time. And he was a man of God.
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth Genesis 6:8-10
One day this man of God received word from his Lord that time was running short. God was planning on dealing with the people of this young earth in a most decisive way.
So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth." Genesis 6:13
Noah obeyed his unseen God, and because of his obedience God again declared him righteous.
Noah did everything just as God commanded him. The Lord then said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation." Genesis 6:22-7:1
But in his righteousness--even though his faith and obedience were sufficient to save him and his family alone among all the people of the earth--Noah was capable of base sin. After the Lord brought them to dry land, and they were once again given the opportunity to set down roots, Noah did a foolish thing.
Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father's nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father's nakedness. Genesis 9:20-23
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:8-10
It was with Abraham (earlier, `Abram') that God made His covenant promise that if this Chaldean (who would become the father of the Jewish nation) would only walk blamelessly before Him, Abraham would become "the father of a multitude of nations" and that his people would be deeded the land "from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates."
Jehovah God promised Abraham that if he obeyed Him and kept His covenant, He would make him "exceedingly fruitful" and that "kings [would] come forth from" him.
Based on the trust God was placing in him, one would expect Abraham to be just about perfect, upright--even sinless. But Abraham was just a man. In fact, as it turns out, Abraham was a bit of a coward who was willing to place his wife and people--even all the inhabitants of a foreign land--in jeopardy to save his own skin.
As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, `This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you." When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.
So the subterfuge of passing off his wife as his sister not only saved his neck, but ended up adding to his already considerable wealth. But, as with most sins, there came a day of reckoning.
But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, `She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!" Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had. Genesis 12:11-20
This was a pattern of behavior for Abraham. And, to his shame, the behavior resulted in heathen kings appearing to be more righteous and upright than this one in whom God had entrusted the heritage of His chosen people.
Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, "She is my sister." Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, "You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman." Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, "Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, `She is my sister,' and didn't she also say, `He is my brother'? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands." Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die." Early the next morning Abimelech summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said, "What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done." Genesis 20:1-9
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. Hebrews 11:21
Jacob became the true father of the nation of Israel. In fact, later in his life, God actually gave Jacob a new name, the name of `Israel.' He was God's man, and just as He had with his fathers before, God made a promise to Jacob to "keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
But in human terms, Jacob obtained this place of honor by treacherous means. With the help of his mother, Rebekah, he stole his older brother's birthright, and the blessing from their father, Isaac.
When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, "My son." "Here I am," he answered. Isaac said, "I am now an old man and don't know the day of my death. Now then, get your weapons--your quiver and bow--and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die." Genesis 27:1-4
Isaac's wife, who favored Jacob over Esau, plotted to deceive her husband so that the younger--instead of the rightful elder--son would receive the blessing.
The plot took advantage of Isaac's blindness. If they could only make Jacob feel and smell like his brother, then Isaac would be fooled.
Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made. He went to his father and said, "My father." "Yes, my son," he answered. "Who is it?" Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing." Isaac asked his son, "How did you find it so quickly, my son?" "The LORD your God gave me success," he replied. Then Isaac said to Jacob, "Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not." Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him. "Are you really my son Esau?" he asked. "I am," he replied. Then he said, "My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing." Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. Genesis 27:15-25
As soon as Esau returned from his hunt, and prepared the requested meal for his father, the plot was quickly exposed. But the blessing could not be retrieved, and Esau saw his future wither before his eyes.
After Isaac finished blessing him and Jacob had scarcely left his father's presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, "My father, sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing." His father Isaac asked him, "Who are you?" "I am your son," he answered, "your firstborn, Esau." Isaac trembled violently and said, "Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him _ and indeed he will be blessed!" When Esau heard his father's words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, "Bless me--me too, my father!" But he said, "Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing." Esau said, "Isn't he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he's taken my blessing!" Then he asked, "Haven't you reserved any blessing for me?" Isaac answered Esau, "I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?" Genesis 27:30-37
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. Hebrews 11:24-26
To Moses Jehovah God entrusted His laws and the leadership of the people of Israel from the bondage of Egypt to the promised Land, Canaan. To Moses God spoke audibly, favoring him with an intimacy not experienced by a human since the Garden of Eden.
But once again, the man of God's choosing had not shown himself particularly worthy of such a relationship and high level of responsibility. Once again it was God's grace--not man's merit--that made the difference.
For you see, Moses had not only been raised since birth as an Egyptian (though, by blood, a Hebrew), and worshipper of multiple gods, but he was also a murderer.
One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, "Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?" The man said, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "What I did must have become known." Exodus 2:11-14
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; Hebrews 11:32-33a
Samson was a judge over Israel during the period before it had a king. The thirteenth chapter of the book of Judges tells a story with parallels to the birth of Christ, in which an angel from the Lord visits a woman who has been childless and announces that she will indeed bear a child and that he would be a deliverer.
The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him, and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. Judges 13:24-25
In our day Samson already has a tainted reputation because of his famous episode with Delilah. But throughout his entire adult life Samson had a heart overwhelmed with lust for women.
Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, "I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife." Judges 14:1-2
One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. Judges 16:1
Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. Judges 16:4
In God's sovereign wisdom He uses sinful people for His holy purpose. But sin in the life of a believer--even someone with whom God has entrusted the leadership of His chosen people--exacts its toll.
The story is familiar: Delilah eventually succeeds in robbing Samson of his supernatural strength and he is reduced to a life of blind servitude. But even here God's grace is displayed--even here we see God hearing and answering the sincere prayer of his child.
Then Samson prayed to the LORD, "O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes." Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. Judges 16:28-30
King David was also God's man. In fact the prophet Samuel told the first king of Israel, Saul, that God was replacing him with the young David, "a man after His own heart."
But this man after God's own heart was no angel. Mixed in with all his finer qualities of leadership, bravery and fine character were qualities of a decidedly more base character.
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, "Isn't this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, "I am pregnant." 2 Samuel 11:1-5
So David saw someone beautiful and he was tempted to commit adultery. He gave into that temptation and, as a result, she became pregnant. Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, was one of David's bravest and most valiant warriors and was devoted in his service to the king. In spite of this, David hatched a plot to do away with this inconvenient spouse. He sent a note to his general-in-chief, Joab--using Uriah himself as the courier.
In it he wrote, "Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die." 2 Samuel 11:15
The plot worked, and Uriah was killed in battle, leaving Bathsheba, after an appropriate period of mourning, available.
When Uriah's wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the LORD. 2 Samuel 11:26-27
As Scripture makes clear, David's life was never the same. Though his sin was pointed out to him, though he accepted responsibility for his actions and sought forgiveness from the Lord, though God did indeed forgive him--the scars from this transgression remained, and were passed down into succeeding generations.
These few men are only a small handful from the many examples in God's word of imperfect people who were not only used by God for His purpose, but were included in the highest ranks of His followers. Kings, prophets, priests, judges, great leaders of every stripe: all were found to be as sinful as anyone else--and all were a part of God's family.
When we read through the Bible as a whole--from Genesis to Revelation as a book, instead of picking out isolated passages--we are soon impressed with the organic nature of our God. Oh yes, He is Spirit, He is certainly holy and righteous; He is invisible and untouchable; and He is impossibly unreachable--except through the blood of Christ.
But with all this He is, nonetheless, a God not afraid to get His hands dirty. He is daily, actively involved in the details of human life; He seems to go out of His way to enlist the services of men and women who fall dramatically short of His ideal; and He was willing to send His Son to earth to personally experience what it is like to be made of flesh.
When we read the biographies of Biblical characters such as those just discussed, we are left wondering how they could possibly have been chosen by God to accomplish His sovereign will. Surely He should be, instead, thoroughly embarrassed by their behavior, and quick to disassociate Himself from them and their ilk. After all, they includeAdulterers Dirt-poor farmers and Fishermen Prostitutes Dishonest Politicians Cheats and Swindlers Egomaniacal Kings Idol worshippers Murderers Slaves and Slave owners
When we look around at those in the Kingdom today--indeed, when we look closely at ourselves--we can only wonder why our God would permit people like this to even follow after Him, much less serve Him in a leadership role.
What is the Lord's answer to this? How does He feel about these people who so terribly fell short of the mark?
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. Hebrews 11:1-2
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40
While these saints of old did not receive the ultimate promise to be fulfilled in Christ Jesus, they did receive every promise made to them by God, and were, thereby "commended for their faith".
"The attitude of the men who look ever forward, through the temporal, to the things unseen and eternal is worthy of their relation with Him, and it alone is worthy . . . As long as Christian people live like pilgrims and strangers, they are worthy of being called God's, and God is glad to be called theirs." Alexander Maclaren
Noah, after demonstrating uncommon trust in God's promise of salvation through the flood, fell into a stupor of naked dissipation, but because His faith did not waver, God declared him worthy.
Abraham had a serious character flaw that would seem to call into question his willingness to depend on Jehovah God's promises. But, instead, God honored the man, and declared him righteous through his demonstration of faith.
Jacob used deception and guile to acquire that which God said was already his, but because he continued to worship and call upon the one true God, that same God declared him faithful.
Moses was a murderer who sought by every means to avoid serving as God's messenger and prophet, yet through him a nation was begun and, though disobedient, it was declared that
Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face ... Deut. 34:10
Samson lived a life of flagrant debauchery, searching for pleasure in the arms of women rather than in the embrace of his God. Yet even in this he did not ultimately turn away from Jehovah, so that, in his final moment, God heard his plea, and in death he still served the Lord.
David was Israel's great king, and a man after God's own heart. But, as an imperfect man, he sinned. Nevertheless, God heard and answered David's prayer when he cried out
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Psalm 51:1-4
Though the rest of his life bore the scars from that sin, David was forgiven, and through his line came the very Son of David, even Christ the Lord.
These were men who, through every failure, kept their gaze hard upon eternity. They were living not for some mystical tomorrow in which today would not matter; while they were, indeed, desiring "a better country, a heavenly one," that longing did not remove a steady, day-by-day walk with the Lord.
All these ancient saints had lives not unlike our own: moments of exhilarating victory and moments of depressing failure; days of steadily walking with God, and days in which they all but forgot about Him; lives filled with great zeal, anger, joy, religious fervor, otherworldly insight and worldly passions.
In a word: human.
We need not commemorate their failures, but we should heartily celebrate their vision of faith.
There's a lie floating around out there that says the Kingdom is made up of little angels. This lie heaps guilt upon those who are not, and has the effect of making many people feel as if they--by their less-than-perfect behavior--are unworthy to be numbered among Christ's followers. But the Kingdom consists of a vast and varied collection of misfits--people imperfect to varying degrees who are loved by their God anyway.
So long as we think of ourselves, in our imperfection, to be somehow inferior--somehow unworthy to be a part of God's Kingdom--we will remain ineffective in our service. Only when we see that it is precisely because of our imperfections that we belong, will we start being truly used of God.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:7-10
If we spend too much time looking into the future, toward the day when we will surely be better than we are now, then we will be of no use to Jesus Christ here and now.
Should we be changing? Should we be more like Christ tomorrow than we are today? Of course; that's what Kingdom living is all about. Should we be preoccupied with our sins, our failures? No, no more than we should be preoccupied with our righteousness.
Then what is to be our focus? How are we to rise above our imperfections --even, possibly, sift them out of our lives once and for all? As the writer to the Hebrews continues, he gives us the answer.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3
The Lord God takes all those saints who have gone before--those who in their imperfect lives witnessed to the power of God's grace and compassionate justice--and surrounds us with their testimony. Their lives encourage us, and testify to the involvement of God in our own.
We are to keep going, to persevere, by removing from our lives those things that hinder our communion with God. As imperfect humans we can so easily become entangled in those things that prevent the full-flowering of our relationship with the Lord--just ask king David.
Above everything else, however, we must focus our gaze intently upon the only truly perfect one: Jesus, our Lord. There is no point in following after ourselves; there is no point in following after our fellow pilgrims (those running alongside); nor is there any reason to follow even the lives of those saints chronicled in Scripture. We are to "fix our eyes on Jesus," the only one capable of showing us the way toward eternal perfection.
"One of Paul's most important teachings is the doctrine of what we call `justification by faith'. It frequently appears to the non-Christian mind that this is an immoral or at least unmoral doctrine. Paul appears to be saying that a man is justified before God, not by his goodness or badness, not by his good deeds or bad deeds, but by believing in a certain doctrine of Atonement. Of course, when we come to examine the matter more closely, we can see that there is nothing unmoral in this teaching at all. For if `faith' means using a God-given faculty to apprehend the unseen divine order, and means, moreover, involving oneself in that order by personal commitment, we can at once see how different that is from merely accepting a certain view of Christian redemption. That which man in every religion, every century, every country, was powerless to affect, God has achieved by the devastating humility of His action and suffering in Jesus Christ. Now, accepting such an action as a fait accompli is only possible by this perceptive faculty of `faith'. It requires not merely intellectual assent but a shifting of personal trust from the achievements of the self to the completely undeserved action of God. To accept this teaching by mind and heart does, indeed, require a metanoia [transformation], a revolution in the outlook of both heart and mind." J.B. Phillips
Issue No. 78
[1.] The Divine Conquest (Christian Publications, Inc., 1978) p23ff. (return to footnote 1)
[2.] NIV: "... is within you." For a discussion on the pros and cons of the two translations, see Walter L. Liefeld's commentary on Luke in The Expositor's Bible Commentary. (Zondervan, 1984), p.997. (return to footnote 2)
[3.] Ephesians 2:3-10 (return to footnote 3)
[4.] Hebrews 11:16. (return to footnote 4)
[5.] Genesis 17:5. (return to footnote 5)
[6.] Genesis 15:18.(return to footnote 6)
[7.] Genesis 17:6. (return to footnote 7)
[8.] Genesis 28:15.. (return to footnote 8)
[9.] 1 Samuel 13:14. (return to footnote 9)
[10.] See the May, 1996 issue of Aspects, "Dirt Under the Fingernails, Part One: The Gift". (return to footnote 10)
[11.] NASB: "gained approval". (return to footnote 11)
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