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11. Renewal: Fulfilling Our Calling in Christ

Chapter 11

Renewal: Fulfilling Our Calling in Christ

1. Christ in Our Image, or We in His?

The goal of renewal is perfection, which is to be like Christ. This is the direction in life for every true disciple of Jesus.

In this chapter we consider again some of the weighty matters discussed in the preceding chapter, looking at them from other angles, with the hope of gaining some further insights of im­portance.

What does being like Christ mean in practice? Does it mean to be “gentle, meek and mild”? But Jesus was not always “meek and mild” as we understand that phrase. There is the danger of fashion­ing Christ in our own image or according to our own ideals, instead of letting God fashion us in Christ’s image. We must never define holiness merely in terms of human virtues. God’s character is not man’s character, nor are His virtues mere human virtues.

Was Jesus “meek and mild” when he drove the merchants out of the temple, and overturned the tables of the money­changers (Jo.2.14-17; Mk.11.15-17; Mt.21.12-13)? His actions disturb us because they don’t conform to our human notions of virtue. The Lord’s holi­ness, here expressed in his fashioning a whip and overturning tables, doesn’t conform to our concept of holiness or “saintliness”. Therefore when we speak of becoming like Jesus, we must keep in mind the Jesus of the Scriptures, not the Jesus of our imagination.

Most importantly, to be like Christ is not only to imitate his character. It is both to be transformed into his image by the Spirit of God and also to fulfill the mission that he himself fulfilled. It is to this that he calls us as his disciples. This is the essence of disciple­ship. Jesus walks in front, and we follow “in his steps” (1Pet.2.21)—something that few Christians are doing today.[30]

2. What is Our Calling in Christ?

In the last chapter we discussed the important state­ment: “He who believes in me, the works that I do shall he do also” (John 14.12). We saw that this statement does not apply principally, much less solely, to miracles. Here “works” refers to the whole mission that God had entrusted to Jesus. And the statement, “He who be­lieves in me,” allows for no exception whatsoever. Every true believer, every true Christian in the Biblical sense will certainly do the works that Christ did for the salvation of mankind.

Many Christians are puzzled by Paul’s state­ment: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil.1.29). Most Christians try to ignore God’s call to live as Christ lived and to suffer as he suf­fered. But do we think we can disregard his call with impunity?

The apostle Peter says the same thing, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps” (1Pet.2.21).

We are called to suffer not be­cause God de­lights in allowing us to suffer, but because suffering is inevitable when we part­icipate in Christ’s mission of bringing salvation to the world. We cannot, of course, die for the sins of the world. Jesus did that; and only he, the sinless one, could. Yet every Christian is called to suffer in order to bring Christ’s saving work to every person in the world.

But even if a number of believers aim to be Christ-like, and are prepared to participate in his sufferings for the salvation of man­kind, can this saving mission be accomplished by them alone? Was it in God’s plan that this mission be accomplished by a small band of the faithful, or be accomplished by His church as a whole? Is it the case that the church doesn’t need to be faithful as a whole, but only a small band within it? Do the Scriptures we have just read indicate that only a few have been called to suffer for his sake, and not the whole community of the church? If indeed the whole church has been called to bring the gospel to the whole world, then clearly the evangel­izing of the world must start with the spiritual rebuilding of the church. Her breached and fallen walls must urgently be rebuilt. We need to pray that God will find the person, or persons, to accomplish this task.

3. The Spiritual State of the Church Compared with that of Israel

This is the reason for our study of Ezekiel 22.30 in the last chap­ter. Let’s look again at Yahweh’s striking statements in verses 29-31:

The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice. I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD. (NIV)

God looked through the land of Israel for just one man, but what did He see? He saw people practicing extortion and robbery. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Israelites were robbing each other at knife­point. But they were taking advan­tage of their fellow Israelites to benefit themselves. The whole context speaks of people who have disobeyed God’s “law” and profaned God’s “holy things” (v.26). They have turned their backs on God’s com­mands, including the two foremost: loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength; and loving your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor as your­self? Well, that was tossed out the window. Righteousness had been sent into exile; holiness had departed from Israel.

Does this shameful lack of love for one another, and lack of practical holiness, describe only the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day or does it speak also to us, God’s people in the present time? Is there love for one another in the church as Jesus commanded it? He said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (Jo.15.12). Have we loved in this way if we have ever loved at all? Isn’t it true that holiness is seldom mentioned and is actually regarded as optional in most churches? Have we not also tossed it out the window?

Ezekiel wasn’t charging all Israelites with unrighteous and rapacious behavior but it was rampant enough to call for severe condemnation, for it has no place in the community of God’s people. Is unrighteous behavior not common among those called “Christians” in the churches? Party spirit, strife, stealing, lying, arrogance, immorality, slande­ring, need we go on? In what way are we better than the Israelites whose lives invited God’s wrath?

Again, this is not to say that all Christians are guilty of these iniquities. But do we suppose it is not widespread enough to call forth God’s scorching condemn­ation of the kind spoken through Ezekiel? Do we think that God will tolerate this sort of situation in His church? Ezekiel 22.31 (quoted above) tells us that it brings forth God’s indig­nation and fiery wrath.

And isn’t a higher standard expected of the church than of Israel? Didn’t Jesus himself make this clear at the start of his teaching ministry? Doesn’t the whole section in the Sermon of the Mount from Matthew 5.2 to 5:48 speak of this very thing? Here we hear the ringing contrast in “You have heard what the ancients were told … but I say to you” repeated again and again, in each case changing the emphasis from an external legal stipulation to a new inner attitude, from “letter” to “Spirit” (2Cor.3.6)[31]. We are living under the terms of a new and better covenant (Heb.7.22;12.24), one that is established in the blood of Jesus. We have been given the Holy Spirit. And we must not forget that “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Lk.12.48). In view of these facts, can we still comfort ourselves by assuming that the situation in the church is not quite as bad as that described by Ezekiel? That the walls of the church have indeed been breached but not quite as badly as they were in Israel?

4. Sin Breaches the Walls

In Ezekiel 22, first Yahweh God denounces the extortion and rob­bery practiced by His people, and then He sadly announces that He has found no one to stand in the breach. What is the connection between the two? What is the connection between extortion and robbery in the first statement, and the breach in the second? Isaiah 30.13 links them together: “This iniquity will be to you like a breach in a high wall.” Iniquity is like the breach in the wall that leaves the people without defense. To “stand in the gap” means to repair the breaches caused by sin, ensuring that the city will survive the enemy’s attacks.

Ezekiel 22.30 reveals God’s heart and feelings. He found no one to stand in the breach, no one who was concerned enough for the welfare of God’s people that they should not be destroyed. Even when there was someone willing to stand in the gap such as the prophet Jeremiah, the perverse people would not let him. Final­ly God also instructed Jeremiah not to stand in the gap, because the people were by then beyond rescue. God was now obliged to pour out His wrath upon Israel (v.31). This was God’s judgment against His own people, not against unbelievers.

God’s word was fulfilled in 587 B.C. when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem and destroyed the Holy City, level­ing it to the ground and burning down the temple. Up till then, the Israelites believed that the Holy City was impregnable, and that no matter how they sinned, they would be safe within its walls. They thought that God would never allow it to be destroyed because it is God’s city: it is where His temple is; it is where He dwells. Therefore, they reasoned, He must and will protect it under any circumstance. It is eternally secure! So, sinners can rest secure within the city of God.

There was no lack of prophets who were assuring the people that all will be well. These prophets of assur­ance, who never wearied of proclaiming their soothing, pleasing, readily accepted, sleep-inducing message of “Peace, peace” (Jer.6.14; 8.11; Ezek.13.10), were in the majority by far. Hence the people thought that the minority of prophets who warned of the city’s impending destruction must certainly be wrong.

But these few prophets of God rejected by the people proved to be right. The city was utterly destroyed. The unrepentant sinners who weren’t killed within its walls were dragged away in chains into captivity in exile.

Micah had warned Israel: “Zion will be ploughed as a field. Jerusalem, the Holy City, will become a heap of ruins” (Micah 3.12). And how did the people of God react to this? They retorted, “Trea­son! How dare you say that? God dwells in the Holy City!” We are inclined to think, as did the Israelites, that God destroys only the unbelievers but never the believers, not even if they sin. This is a tragic error. Yet it is the basis for the “assurance” of many Christians and for much preaching on “assurance”. We do well to heed the apostle’s warning:

For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying “Peace and safety!” (the favorite theme of false prophets in the days preceding Israel’s demise) then destruction will come upon them suddenly…and they shall not escape. (1Thess.5.2,3)

5. Five Scriptural Principles on How God Relates to His People

Let us now, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, consider five import­ant principles that will help us better understand God’s char­acter as both holy and loving; this will help us to see how He relates to His people in action. The spiritual signi­ficance of the picture of a breached wall and the ensuing destruction will come into sharper focus as a result.

First Principle: God is Savior but also “Man of War”

The first principle is this: The Old Testament portrays Yahweh God as Savior, but also as “Man of War”. Indeed, it is precisely as “Man of War” who vanquishes the forces of evil that God becomes the Savior of His people. This finds clear expression in the Song of Moses:

Yahweh is my strength and my song, and He has be­come my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him. Yahweh is a man of war; Yahweh is His name. (Exodus 15.2-3)

Yes, the Old Testament portrays God as a man of war. This is seen again and again in Isaiah, where God is either called a “man of war” (42.13) or described in equivalent terms (e.g. 66.15-16).

A “man of war” is a warrior, a soldier, a military man, a man who does battle. “Man of war” refers to the soldier’s activity, not to his rank. A man of war can be a king or a foot soldier, or to use mod­ern terminology, a general or a private. King David was called a “man of war” because he was almost constantly engaged in warfare and was skilled in battle (1Samuel 16.18, ESV).

The Lord, as man of war, is mighty in battle against evil and unrighteousness. Psalm 24.8 says, “Yahweh, strong and mighty; Yahweh, mighty in battle.” Many Old Testament verses speak of God fighting for His people.[32]

The picture of God as a “man of war” who fights for His people is found also in the New Test­ament. Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom.8.31) If God fights for us, who can defeat us? Anyone who fights against God’s people is fighting God Himself.

Consider this remarkable prophecy of how God vanquishes the forces of darkness and iniquity gathered on earth to fight against Him and His people (Revelation 19.11-16):

And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and he who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteous­ness he judges and wages war.

And his eyes are a flame of fire, and upon his head are many diadems; and he has a name written upon him which no one knows except himself.

And he is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and his name is called The Word of God.

And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following him on white horses.

And from his mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it he may smite the nations; and he will rule them with a rod of iron; and he treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.

And on his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”’

In summary, we see that to be like Christ is not just to imitate his meek­ness and humility, but just as importantly, to follow him in his battle for holiness, righteousness and the truth. It means to follow him in the battle for the spiritual liberation of mankind from bondage to sin and from all the forces of evil which keep men in that bondage.

Second Principle: God’s People are a Holy City in which God Dwells

The second principle is this: When God saves His people He makes them a holy city, a people of righteousness. God’s Holy City is Zion (Isa.52.1; Heb.12.22,23). It is holy because He has chosen to dwell there. Psalm 135.21 says, “Blessed be Yahweh from Zion, He who dwells in Jeru­salem!” Similarly, God’s people form a dwelling place for God. Paul says to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1Cor.3.16; cf. 6.19)

God’s Holy City is His special possession. In Psalm 48 it is called the “city of our God” (v.1) and the “city of the Lord of hosts” (v.8). Jesus calls Jerusalem “the city of the great King” (Mt.5.35). Christians—God’s people—are a city, like Mount Zion, set on a hill that cannot be hidden, and radiate God’s light into the world (v.14).

Brothers and sisters, let us be clear about our mission in the world. God didn’t save us just for the sake of our own salvation, but also that we may be a light to those in darkness. We cannot shirk our responsi­bility and start telling people, “Don’t look at us; look at Jesus. We are just a bunch of losers in the church.” That would be to reject God’s will for us, for we are a “city set on a hill” for everyone to see. But in reality, what do people see when they look at the church? God’s glory? Or breached walls that are crum­bling as a result of disobeying Him?

Yahweh God’s salvation is a wall that provides security and salvation. “Violence will not be heard again in your land, nor devastation or destruction within your borders; But you will call your walls Salv­ation, and your gates Praise” (Isaiah 60.18; cf. 26.1). What a beauti­ful picture! People will go in and out through the gates with joy and praise, because the walls are Salvation, for Yahweh has saved them.

Now, if the walls symbolize salvation, what then are crum­bling walls? What are the breaches in the walls of salvation?

(1) Breached Walls

As you approach an ancient city, what is the first thing that strikes your eyes? Those who have visited the old city of Jerusalem would know. It is the walls! The walls are the most vis­ible part of ancient cities, and can be seen from afar. Likewise, when people look at the spiritual Jerusalem, the church, what should be visible? Salvation! Those who come near should be able to see people who have been delivered from sin and transformed by grace into new persons.

But in reality, is that what people see when they look at us, the church, today? Do they see God’s glorious salvation in us? Probably not. The reputation of churches is so poor that if you invite some­one to become a Christian, he might say, “Well, take a look at the churches!” Then we come up with the standard answer: “Don’t look at the church, look at Christ.” But why shouldn’t people look at the church, which is called to be the light? How else will people see God’s saving power today? And how will they see Christ unless they see him in Christ-like people?

Is God’s power seen in people who simply profess to “believe” in Jesus in some vague sense? Or is it seen in holy and right­eous people who have been freed from sin? And where is God’s power to be seen if not in transformed lives? What is the use of preaching about Jesus if people look at me and see only greed and selfishness? Why talk about God’s saving power if my conduct shows me to be no different from unbelievers? What is there to draw people to Jesus if they don’t see his beauty in us?

As you approach an ancient city, you can see the walls from afar. Likewise God has intended that the world may see the walls of salvation:

Yahweh has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God. (Isa.52.10)

And how will the earth see God’s salvation? Verse 7 says:

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Verse 9 says, “He has redeemed Jerusalem.” People will see God’s salvation in Zion, and His redemption in Jerusalem. Yahweh bares His holy arm, the arm that brings about Jerusalem’s redemption. And when God redeems His people—the church—the world will see His mighty salvation. They will look at the church and say, “Here is God’s salvation!”

But is that what we see today? Do people look at the church and say, “We see God’s salvation with our own eyes!” Or do they see spiritually mediocre people whose lives are no credit to the God they profess to believe in?

As Jesus looks at the church today, will he wonder what he had died for on the cross? Did he die to raise up a people who selfishly claim salvation for themselves, without any concern for those who perish in sin? Or selfishly live as they did before becoming Christians, except that they now attend church?

People who attend church regularly are considered good Christians. If they take up church activities, they are regarded as outstanding Christ­ians. But is this all that Jesus died for? Some churches even talk about regeneration, or being born again, but what about renewal? The new person is created in Christ Jesus in “righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph.4.23-24).

God is looking around today, but can He find anyone to stand in the breach and rebuild the walls? If anyone preaches holiness today, he will find no lack of Christians who protest, “You’re preaching salvation by works!” I know this from first-hand experience, as have many others including that faithful servant of God, John Wesley. In some churches, the possibility of being thrown out for preaching holiness is quite high. So anyone who is willing to stand in the breach to repair it may experience the same kind of treatment that was meted out to the prophet Jeremiah.

(2) Justification and Salvation: How are they Related?

There are those who talk about “justification by faith” in a way that makes holiness irrelevant, unnecessary and superfluous. We most cer­tainly thank God from our hearts for justifying us sinners through the death of His Son at the cross. We praise Him for the greatness of His grace in justifying us. But there are those who talk about justification as though that is all that Jesus accomplished for us, as though there is no other subject in the whole Bible. Some people dwell on “justification by faith” and think they have covered the sum total of theology.

Justification is certainly a vital stage in the whole process of salvation. But it is just one stage, and it corres­ponds to “the washing of regener­ation” (Tit.3.5). The other import­ant stages of growth and renewal, of maturity or perfection, cannot by any means be omitted or neglected if we hope to arrive at salva­tion in its final consummation, when “we shall be saved”. We are “justified by his blood” (Ro.5.9), “how much more, having been reconciled (to God), shall we be saved through his life!” (v.10)

One of the dangerous errors that contributes signi­ficantly to the dis­regard for holiness in the church is the notion that once we are justified or reconciled we proceed automatically, as it were, to final salvation. It is just a matter of waiting to get to hea­ven. Justification and final salvation are, in effect, one and the same thing. The one somehow leads inexorably to the other. But there is no basis in Scripture for this persistent error that has misled multitudes of people.

We dare to put our faith in this “automatic” connect­ion between justifi­cation and final salvation only if we dare to ignore the conditional statements that show that the con­nection is contingent on continuing in the faith. The statements are perfectly clear and require no explanation:

Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine” (Jo.8.31).

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off (Ro.11.22).

He has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blame­less and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel (Col.1.22,23).

The one that endures to the end, he shall be saved (Mt.24.13; Mk.13.13).

These are some of the conditional statements that we ignore to our cost. We would be foolish to imagine that as believers we can ignore righteous­ness or continue in sin with im­punity. Let us listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah speaking to Yahweh on behalf of the nation, “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continue to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?” (Isa.64.5, NIV)

We recognize that left to ourselves, we can never meet the condition of persevering to the end. But the whole point is that we are not left to ourselves. The Holy Spirit indwells all those redeemed by Jesus’ blood, and God will certainly keep us from falling if we abide in Him, drawing upon His bountiful grace.

What we see in the Bible is not a salvation by holiness, but a holi­ness that comes after we have been saved from the guilt and power of sin. Holiness is result of salvation, not its cause. Therefore when we emphas­ize, as Paul did, the indispensability of holiness in our lives and in the church, this has nothing to do with salva­tion by works. Rather, we are talking about the purpose of Christ’s death: “He has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blame­less and beyond reproach” (Col.1.22).

Third Principle: If the Holy City Becomes Unholy, God Will Judge It

If we claim to be God’s people, yet remain unholy, what will God do to us? The standard answer is, “Nothing! God won’t do anything to us because Jesus died for us. If possible, you shouldn’t continue in sin, but even if you do, God won’t do anything to you. Christians will never come under judgment, for Jesus paid it all!” This is in effect a license to sin with impunity, covered by the words, “Jesus died for us.” What perversity!

Some years ago, a group of Christian leaders at a large conference insisted that once a per­son becomes a Christian and is saved, he can under no circum­stances ever be lost. I asked them, “What exactly do you mean? Do you mean that if a Christian commits adultery or murder or any other major sin, and does not repent of it, he or she will be saved all the same?” The incredible answer of one of them (presumably speaking for the group) was a firm “Yes”! The others remained silent and expressed no disagreement, so it must be assumed that they (or most of them) were of the same opinion. I told them that if this is what they thought was Biblical teaching, then perhaps they were reading a different Bible!

I refuse to be party to this falsehood. We come, therefore, to our third principle: When God’s people become unholy—when the holy city becomes unholy—God will fight against His own city and destroy it. The Old Testament bears abundant witness to this, as we have seen. If we think that God’s dealings with the Israelites are not relevant to us because we live in the New Testament age, then we have evidently not heard what the apostle Paul said: “These things [that happened to the Israelites in the wilderness] … were written for our instruction upon whom the end of the ages has come” (1Cor.10.11).

Do we suppose that God has changed or lowered His stand­ards? Have we forgotten that to whom much is given, much will be required (Lk.12.48)? If we, as Christians, think we can get away with unrighteous­ness, and that God will close His eyes to our sins because we are somehow “hidden” behind Christ’s right­eousness, we are living under a deadly false illusion.

Where is the person who stands in the gap today? There may be some in the church who think there are no gaps today in the impregnable walls of the “city set on a hill” (Mt.5.14)—God’s holy city, the church—so we can rest secure within its walls. What need is there for anyone to stand in a gap that doesn’t exist? Moreover, didn’t Jesus say, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Mt.16.18)?

Certainly sin and death (Hades, the abode of the dead) will not over­whelm the church, for the church contains a lot of “wheat” (true believers) and not just a lot of “weeds” (cf. the Parable of the Weeds, or Tares, Matthew 13.24-30, 37-43). The Kingdom of God, the present manifestation of which is the church, contains both wheat and weeds. The weeds will be “pulled up and burned in the fire” (v.40); “they will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous [the wheat] will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (vv.42,43, NIV). That the weeds remain and grow within the Kingdom is evident from the fact that it is not until “the end of the age” that the weeds are pulled up and burned (vv.39,40). “The Son of Man will send out his angels and weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (v.41).

It is therefore pointless to speak of a “visible” and an “invisible” church, because weed is just as visible as wheat. More­over, the kind of weed that grows among wheat is hard to distinguish from wheat.[33] This is true especially for city dwellers who know little about wheat or agri­culture. Likewise, people in the world may have difficulty distinguishing between the different kinds of people within the church.

Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, in a long article on tares (or weeds) provides us with a note about what people believed about them:

The Talmud asserts that tares are degenerate wheat; and Tristram (with Thomson and others) says that the pea­sants of the Holy Land believe that the darnel and the wheat spring from the same seed … and that in very wet seasons the wheat itself turns to tares.

While such a view is not supported by modern scientific knowledge, the point is that those who first heard Jesus’ parable thought of tares as “degenerate wheat”. It means that they perceived a dimension of the parable that we may not see. This dimension of the danger of spiritual degener­ation is something that describes people. The case of Demas is a striking example; he degenerated from being a co-worker of the apostle Paul to finally falling in love with the world and deserting the apostle (Phm.1.24, where Demas is mentioned before Luke; Col.4.14; and finally 2Tim.4.10). We are wise if we take these lessons to heart.

The Scriptures were written for our instruction (1Cor.10.11). A large part of it has to do with the fall and destruction of Israel as a nation, her being sent into exile, and the reasons for this tragedy. Have we learned anything from these somber and tragic events? Or has it fallen on deaf ears? Will we ignore the famous saying, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”?

Don’t we see the significance of the fact that the walls of Jerusalem were being breached repeatedly because of Israel’s persistent disobed­ience to God? Haven’t we understood Micah’s prophecy that the Holy City will become a heap of ruins, and that Zion—where the temple stands—will be ploughed as a field because of Israel’s sin and rapacity? The prophet records that the people were so deaf to the warnings of impending disaster that they still stubbornly insisted, “Is not Yahweh in our midst? Calamity will not come upon us” (Micah 3.11).

Will we fall into the same deception? Let us take heed of the fact that God never compromises with sin, and especially not with sin in those whom He has redeemed with the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.

(1) God Will Judge His People

The Scriptural evidence for this is abundant. A common Old Test­ament theme is that God will judge the unrighteous among His people. If we fail to see this, we must be reading the Bible with our eyes closed.

Psalm 6.1 says, “Yahweh, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your wrath.” When God’s people sin, the first thing that God does is to chasten or discipline them. Make no mistake about it. If you claim to know God as the living God who has redeemed you, yet ignore the truth that God will chasten you if you sin, then observe what God will do to you the next time you sin carelessly and do not repent.

If He does nothing to you, either He is not real or you don’t belong to Him. These are the only two possibil­ities. But those of us who follow God know from experience how real He is. So if He does nothing to you, then you have reason to be anxious, for it means that He does not recognize you as one of His own. But if He chastises you, then you have reason to be glad “because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son” (Heb.12.6).

If you commit sin as a child of God, His chastening hand will come upon you without fail. He will deal with you with measured severity. God disci­plines only those who belong to Him as His child­ren. We don’t chasten someone else’s child. If the boy next door misbehaves, I wouldn’t go over to punish him. That is his parents’ responsibility, not mine. But if my child sins, I will deal with him or her because I love my child and do not want him or her to fall into evil ways. Here is what that passage of Scripture, from which I have just quoted, says:

And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (Heb.12.5-8, NIV)

Knowing that he is a child of God, David repents under God’s heavy chastising hand:

Be gracious to me, Yahweh, for I am pining away; Heal me [i.e. “save me,” cf. last sentence of this quotation], Yahweh, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; but You, Yahweh—how long? Return, Yahweh, rescue my soul; Save me because of Your lovingkindness. (Ps.6.2-4)

David was languishing, so he pleaded for an end to the severe discipline that Yahweh was administering to him. David had com­mitted a serious sin, and God was obliged to deal with him sternly.

God disciplines us in order “that we may share His holiness” and yield “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb.12.10-11). God will discipline us if we are His children. That is how we know that God is real, and that we are truly His children. Through it we learn to refrain from sinning.

God will surely punish those Christians who disregard His chasten­ing, being stiff-necked like the recalcitrant Israelites who had sinews of iron and a forehead of bronze (Isa.48.4). If they still persist in their sins, this is what Psalms 7.12‑13 says will happen: “If a man does not repent, God will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready. He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons.”

God will sharpen His sword! And what do you do with a sword? Tap someone gently on the shoulder? A sword is for destruction. God will sharpen His sword with a whetstone. He will bend His bow and shoot the fiery arrows of His judgment. If a man doesn’t repent, he will be destroyed utterly.

It is the same in the New Testament: “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb.10:31). This is not an Old Testament quotation but a statement that applies to New Testament Christ­ians who, in blind recklessness, persist in sin and ungodliness, treating “as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace” (v.29). Applying two Old Testament verses to these perverse Christians, Hebrews goes on to say, “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people’.” (v.30, quoting Dt.32.35,36)

(2) False Prophets Preach “Peace and Security”

Because many Christians see holiness as nonessential, ignoring it and even rejecting it, we now have the dreadful situation where the walls of the “city on a hill” are crumbling, and God’s prophets—where are they?—have nothing to say. And what do people preach instead? Peace and security! Brothers and sisters, remember that the characteristic message of the false prophets in the Old Testament was peace and security! That is the typical, identifying message of a false prophet. In Ezekiel 13.9-11 God says:

My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations… be­cause they have misled My people by saying, “Peace!” when there is no peace. And when anyone builds a wall, behold, they plaster it over with whitewash; so tell those who plaster it over with whitewash that it will fall.

Verse 16 says that Yahweh God is opposed to the prophets “who pro­phesy to Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace”. Let us therefore observe that the identifying mark of false prophets is precisely their never-ending baseless talk of peace and security. This is also seen in the New Testament:

The day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly…and they shall not escape (1Th.5.2,3).

Jeremiah 6.13‑14 says:

For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, every­one is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, “Peace, peace,” but there is no peace.

There it is again, the typical message of false prophets: “Peace, peace! Everything’s fine and secure. Don’t worry about it. You’re saved, so stand in the assurance of your safety.”

An identical charge against these prophets and priests is repeated two chapters later:

Everyone is greedy for gain; from the prophet even to the priest everyone practices deceit. And they heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, “Peace, peace,” but there is no peace. (Jer.8.10-11)

These carnal prophets and priests were motivated by a desire for “gain,” as Jeremiah tells us. They wanted to enjoy the good life that comes from a good income. And how would that be possible if you don’t tell the people the things they want to hear, even if these are false? A preacher who preaches against the sins of the people may quickly find himself out of a job! Even worse, he will face determined opposition.

“Peace and security” is the kind of “good news” that is always welcomed. In fact, even the prophet or preacher desires it for himself, not just for his hearers! He can preach it with considerable conviction, especially if he can find a shred of what appears to be supporting evidence for it.

Is it not a fact that God’s Temple is situated in Jeru­salem? And is it not God’s dwelling place? This leads to the question, “Is not Yahweh in our midst?” But Micah says that these are the words the “prophets” use to justify themselves. As Micah describes the situation:

Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon Yahweh and say, “Is not Yahweh among us? No disaster will come upon us.” (3.11)

These religious leaders, priests and prophets claim that God is in their midst even though there is not a shred of evidence for that; this is a brazen claim given their shameful unrighteousness. But unde­terred by reality, they still dare to “lean upon Yahweh”—they still claim to have faith in Him! And they feel secure in their “faith”!

These leaders and prophets maintain, on the basis of their seemingly valid reasoning, that their message of “peace and security” is justified! Therefore the people and quite certainly the prophets themselves were willingly deceived. How deep and deadly, yet how convincing, are the pitfalls of deception and self-deception when we don’t walk on the path of righteous­ness that God has marked out for us!

This passage in Micah reveals a startling truth that we ignore to our eternal detriment and regret, namely, it is possible to live in blatant sin and yet have a faith that assures us that “no disaster will come upon us”. This “faith” causes the sinner to feel eternally secure because it assures him that no disaster of any kind will touch him. This being the case, he can continue in his sinful activities without any fear or concern. People with this kind of “faith” have convinced themselves that there is nothing incompatible between their faith and their sinful lives. Tragically, their “consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1Tim.4.2).

That kind of faith removes from a person any fear of God, any con­cern for truth or righteousness, and keeps him comfortably en­sconced in a life of sin. That kind of faith is the acme of self-deception. If anyone speaks of justification, salvation or assur­ance by faith, they do well to pause and carefully consider what kind of faith they are talking about, lest they lead themselves and others into destruction.

This destruction is graphically portrayed by Micah in the very next verse: “Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound over­grown with thickets” (3.12). The Holy City will be re­duced to a scene of utter destruction and desolation, with its inhabitants swallowed up in its disaster.

What does God say about the false prophets and leaders who have brought all this about? “Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time of their punishment they shall be brought down, declares Yahweh.” (Jer.8.12)

And what happened to Jerusalem in the end? Sure enough, the walls did fall, the assurances of the false prophets notwithstand­ing. The Babylonian army “broke down the walls around Jerusalem” (2Ki.25.10) in Nebuchadnezzar’s terrifying destruction of “indes­tructible” Jerusalem.

Yet today we hear the same message being preached. “Peace and assurance! Everything’s fine. Don’t worry. Build a thin wall over the gaps and white­wash it. That will cover over the cracks and make the wall look good!” (cf. Ezek.13.10-15)

(3) God Fights against His Own People if they Persist in Sin

God is a warrior who stands for truth and holiness. If God’s peo­ple live in sin, He will become their enemy and fight against them. This is a funda­mental principle of Scripture. If you are living in sin after God has redeemed you, He will fight against you.

The Scriptural evidence for this is abundant. Yahweh says to Israel, “I Myself will fight against you” (Jer.21.5). God will person­ally fight His rebellious people.

Isaiah 63.10 says of Israel, “They rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit” (cf. Eph.4.30). What did Yahweh do to them? The same verse gives the answer: “Therefore, He turned Himself to become their ene­my, He fought against them.” Psalm 106.40-41 says, “The anger of Yahweh was kindled against His people, and He abhorred His heri­tage; He gave them into the hand of the nations.” Words such as “anger” and “abhorred” are forceful. Yahweh was dis­gusted with His own people, His own heritage. Psalms 78.59 says, “He was full of wrath, and He utterly rejected Israel.”

Returning to our picture of a breach in the wall, God’s judgment against His people is expressed in the words, “Yahweh had made a breach in the tribes of Israel” (Judges 21.15), a reference to the near-extermin­ation of the tribe of Benjamin. When Job was subjected to what he thought was God’s judgment on him, he said, “The Lord breaks through me with breach after breach” (Job 16.14).

Need we go on? Is it possible to read the Bible and not see how God deals with His own people when they sin? How could we be so blind? The walls of Jerusalem, the Holy City, were breached and de­molished, and Jerusalem fell in 587 B.C. This imagery is seen many times in the Psalms: “O God, You have rejected us, broken our de­fenses” (60.1). “Why then have You broken down its walls?” (80.12) “You have breached all Israel’s walls; You have laid his strongholds in ruins.” (89.40)

Brothers and sisters, do we have ears to hear? If you are living in sin, God will breach the walls that make your life secure; what you depend on for your security will fall apart. Lamentations 2.5 says:

The Lord has become like an enemy. He has swallowed up Israel; He has swallowed up all its palaces; He has destroyed its strongholds.

Israel’s protective ramparts were ruined and their gates destroyed. The whole of Lament­ations 2 attests to this, for example in verses 8 and 9:

Yahweh determined to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion… He has not restrained His hand from destroying; and He has caused rampart and wall to lament … Her gates have sunk into the ground.

In the last chapter, I said that the time for the church is getting short. Our days are numbered, because “the times of the Gentiles” (Lk.21.24) will soon come to an end. Romans 11 warns us that when Israel sinned, God cut off Israel. Likewise, if we the Gentile church live in disobedience, God won’t spare us, but will also cut us off (Ro.11.21-22). Yet many preachers in the church today still insist on proclaiming, “Peace and security! Don’t you worry, my friend, the walls of the Holy City will never fall. God will never fight against us.” Can we hold back our tears when we hear the chorus of these “prophets” or preachers confidently proclaiming this kind of “assur­ance”? They are like the false prophets of old who proclaimed, “Jerusalem will stand forever; no one can touch God’s city. Didn’t God turn back the Assyrians at the walls of Jerusalem?”

Fourth Principle: True Assurance is for those who live in Holiness

The fourth principle is this: We cannot have true assurance unless we are living in holiness and righteousness. If we claim to be saved, yet are living in sin and still insisting we have full assur­ance of salvation, then we are fools in the Bible’s sense of “fool” (one who is out of touch with God and with spiritual reality). Have we turned our eyes so far away from the truth as to allow Satan to blind us? The Word of God doesn’t offer an assurance that is disconnected from practical holi­ness and righteousness. We are called to true inner holiness, not just an outward show of piety. But many in the church have rejected holiness in favor of a false assur­ance divorced from holiness or right­eousness. Sadly, many prophets and teachers are propagat­ing this lie today, having been deceived by it themselves.

The whole of Ezekiel 13 is a lamentable record of “foolish pro­phets” encouraging and persuading a people who are disobedient to God, to feel secure in their delusion of false assurance. Yahweh God said to Ezekiel:

Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel…Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit…You [Israel] have not gone up into the breaches, nor did you build the wall around the house of Israel to stand in the battle on the day of Yahweh. They [the false prophets] see falsehood and lying divination who are saying, “Yahweh declares,” when Yahweh has not sent them…My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions…They have misled My people by saying, “Peace!” when there is no peace … So I shall tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash…and when it falls, you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am Yahweh. Thus I shall spend my wrath. (vv.2,3,5, 6,9,10,14,15).

But the people ignored Ezekiel’s unpopular warnings that grated on their ears, making them squirm in discom­fort. Happily for them, his voice was drowned out by the false prophets who were shouting in unison, “Peace and security!” Mean­while the walls of Jerusalem were crum­bling.

God certainly gives assurance, but only to those who walk in truth and righteousness. If we are living in sin, any assurance that we think we have is not from God. We have true assurance only when the Spirit of God witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God (Ro.8.16). That is the basis of true assurance in Scripture. If you are living in sin, would the Holy Spirit witness with your spirit? How can the Spirit witness in us when we are out of touch with God, and sin separates us from God. This is clearly stated in Isaiah 59.2:

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear.

How can anyone who is living in disobedience to God, and is thereby separated from Him, still imagine that he can stand com­fortably and securely in the assurance of salvation? Moreover, if we are living in sin, God wouldn’t allow us to have any assurance, would He? If He did, that would encourage us to continue in sin. Is there anyone who thinks God would do that?

Fifth Principle: God Longs for Someone to Repair the Breach

God does not delight in judging His people. In the wilderness He took no pleasure in allowing the Israelites, whom He had redeemed out of Egypt, to perish. And neither does God delight in bringing judgment upon His people today. Would God be searching for some­one to stand in the gap if He did not, in His great love and mercy, earnestly desire to spare the people from judgment?

Meditate once more on these poignant words in Ezekiel 22.30: “I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none.” Feel the pain in God’s heart. He was about to destroy Jerusalem and His people. Their stubborn recalcitrance left Him with no other choice. But He held back, earnestly looking for someone to stand in the gap, to repair the breaches, to rebuild the walls, and then He will rescue them from the catastrophe that could not be delayed much longer.

But God was “astonished” that there was no one to intercede or to build up the walls. Isaiah 59.16 says, “He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no one to inter­cede.” Yes, God was astonished! Isaiah continues:

And He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head… Ac­cording to their deeds, so He will repay, wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies. (vv.17-18)

In response to this astonishing situation, God puts on the breastplate of righteous­ness and the helmet of salvation. What are these items of armor for? Their descriptions clearly indicate they are used for the accomplish­ing of righteousness and salvation. They remind us of the armor of God in Ephesians 6 which we, too, are called to put on. An important aspect of being like Christ is for us to fulfill the same mission that he fulfilled; so we too must put on the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation. The Lord has salvation as his mission: to save people from their sins. We too are to wage war against sin, and bring people to righteous­ness.

We don’t just lead people to a mere “belief” in Jesus, but to a saving faith that results in their being transferred from darkness to light, from unrighteousness to righteousness, so that they become new persons in Christ.

Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteous­ness, like the stars forever and ever (Daniel 12.3, ESV).

The wise man is the one wins souls and turns people to righteousness, not just to church membership or a vague belief in Jesus. Anyone who has not turned away from darkness to light is not saved irrespective of his “belief” in Jesus.

Salvation starts with regeneration. Regeneration results in transform­ation and newness of life. Are we peddling a cheap salvation and a diluted gospel? The Biblical gospel is a gospel that brings us into a whole new life in Christ and makes of us new persons by God’s saving power.

Brothers and sisters, are we willing to stand in the gap? If so, Isaiah 58.12 has a vision for us: “And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundations; and you will be called the repairer of the breach.” Will God find someone in the church who will stand in the gap today? Or will He again be “aston­ished” that no one cares to inter­cede, or to stand in the breach and rebuild the walls of salvation?

Here “repairer of the breach” is men­tioned in the context of “right­eousness” and “wickedness” (vv.2,4,6,8,9). A repairer of the breach is someone who lives in righteousness and leads people to righteous­ness.

That was exactly what Jesus did. Jesus was preeminently the One who stood in the gap. At the cross he stretched out his hands to bridge the gap, to repair the breach, and to reconcile us to God. He laid down his life for us; and we, responding to his call and example, take up our cross and follow him. He is the supreme Repairer of the Breach. So in this present generation, through God’s indwelling Spirit, we follow in his steps to be like Christ.

Will you answer the call to walk in his footsteps? We are called “not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil.1.29)—for the sake of the one “who loved us and gave himself for us” (Eph.5.2; cf. Gal.2.20). 1John 3.16 adds, “He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Let us catch a vision of rebuilding the walls of salva­tion, so that the church may be restored to glory, and that the ends of the earth may see God’s salva­tion.

 


[30] Already about a thousand years ago, Simon the New Theologian (949-1022) wrote, “Is not Christ’s name spoken everywhere—in cities, in villages, in monas­teries, on the mountains? Search, if you will, and examine carefully whether men keep his command­ments. Truly, among thousands and tens of thousands you will find scarcely one who is Christian in word and deed.” (Catechetical Discourses 22:8) (BC)

[31] When this is perceived, it will be realized that Jesus’ teaching concerning divorce (v.32) is not correctly understood when it is taken as being just another external legal stipulation or command. Jesus did not come to add a new item to the Law or even to legislate us back to a state of affairs like that in the Garden of Eden (when divorce, of course, would not have been contemplated), but to usher in the New Covenant in his blood and a new way of life in him. When our minds are renewed in him, we will look at everything (including the problem of divorce) in his light, and will deal with all things with his heart and his wisdom under the guidance of God’s Spirit. A bare prohibition doesn’t change the heart and therefore doesn’t solve any problem at the fundamental level. That is not Jesus’ way of dealing with man’s problems.

[32] Examples include Ex.14.14,25; Deut.1.30; 3.22; Joshua 10.14,42; 23.3,10; 2Chr.20.7,29, to name a few.

[33] Under “Tares”: “(Mt.13.25ff.) the bearded darnel, a weed much resem­bling wheat in its earlier stages, and growing mostly in grain fields. Its kernel is black, bitter, and smaller than wheat. As a matter of fact it is poisonous, produc­ing dizziness, sleep­iness, nausea, diarrhea, convulsions, gangrene, and some­times death.” Hastings’ Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1909 (bold type added).

 

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