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12. Renewal: Fulfilling Our Calling in Christ


– Chapter 12 –

Renewal: Fulfilling Our Calling in Christ

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

What does “being like Christ” mean in practice? Does it mean that we’re 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 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 (Jn.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.

To be like Christ is not only to imitate his character, but it involves two aspects: to be transformed into Christ’s image by the Spirit of God, and to fulfill the mission that he fulfilled. This is the essence of disciple­ship. Jesus walks in front, and we follow “in his steps” (1Peter 2:21) — something that few Christians are doing today.[1]

What is our calling in Christ?

In the last chapter we studied the vital 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. The words, “He who be­lieves in me,” allow for no exception. Every true believer, every true Christian in the Biblical sense, will do the works that Christ did for the salvation of mankind, except for being an atonement for sin.

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). Peter says the same: “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 making us suf­fer, but because suffering will come when we part­icipate in Christ’s mission of bringing salvation to the world. We cannot, of course, die for the sins of the world. Only Jesus the sinless one can do that. Yet every Christian is called to suffer in order to bring Christ’s saving work to everyone in the world.

Even if a number of believers are willing to participate in Christ’s sufferings for the salvation of man­kind, can this saving mission be accomplished by them alone? Is it in God’s plan that this mission be accomplished by a small band of the faithful, or is it to be accomplished by His church as a whole? Does Scripture say that only a few are 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 world, then this work must start with the spiritual rebuilding of the church, to repair her breached and fallen walls. We need to pray that God will find the person or persons to accomplish this task.

The spiritual state of the church and that of Israel

In the last chapter we discussed Ezekiel 22:30. Let us revisit verses 29 to 31 in which we find striking statements made by Yahweh God:

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, and what did He see? He saw people practicing extortion and robbery. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the Israelites were robbing each other at knife point, but that they were taking advan­tage of their fellow Israelites. The whole context speaks of people who disobeyed God’s law and profaned His holy things (v.26). They turned their backs on God’s com­mands, including the two foremost: loving God with all your heart, soul, and strength; and loving your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor as your­self? That was tossed out the window. Righteous­ness was banished to exile; holiness had departed from Israel.

Does this lack of love and rejection of holiness describe only the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day or does it also describe God’s people at the present time? Is there love for one another in the church as Jesus commanded? “This is my com­mandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Ezekiel wasn’t saying that all Israelites were guilty of unrighteous and rapacious conduct. But it was rampant enough to call for stern con­demn­ation. Is unrighteousness not also common among Christians today? In the church we see party spirit, lying, arrogance, immoral­ity, slan­de­ring, need we go on? How are we any better than the Israelites? Will God tolerate this situation in His church?

And isn’t a higher standard expected of the church than of Israel? Jesus make this clear at the start of his teaching ministry, in the Sermon of the Mount. In Matthew 5:2-48, the words, “You have heard that the ancients were told … but I say to you,” are repeated several times, in each case changing the emphasis from an external legal stipulation to a new inner attitude, from the letter to the Spirit (2Cor.3:6).[2] We are living under the terms of a new and better covenant (Heb.7:22; 12:24), estab­lished in the blood of Jesus, and 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, are we congratulating ourselves by supposing that the situation of the church with its breached walls is not as bad as that described by Ezekiel?

Sin breaches the walls

In Ezekiel 22, God first denounces the extortion and rob­bery practiced by His people, and then 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 people would not let him. Final­ly God instructed Jeremiah not to stand in the gap, for the people were beyond rescue. God was now obliged to pour out His wrath upon Israel (v.31) — 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. Before this, the Israel­ites believed that the Holy City was impregnable, and that no matter how they lived, 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 and where He dwells. They concluded that He must and will protect it under any circum­stance. It is eternally secure! Even sinners can rest secure within the city of God.

There was no lack of prophets who were assuring the people that all would be well. These false prophets proclaimed a soothing and sleep-inducing message of “Peace, Peace” (Jer.6:14; 8:11; Ezek.13:10); they were the majority by far and hence were accepted by the people. But the people rejected the true prophets, few in number, who warned of the city’s impending destruction.

But this handful of rejected prophets proved to be right. The city was utterly destroyed. Those who weren’t killed within its walls were dragged off in chains into exile captivity.

Micah had already 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 shouted, “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 unbelievers but never believers, not even if they sin. This tragic error is the basis for the “assurance” of many Christians, and for much preaching on assurance. Paul says:

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 common theme of false prophets in the days preceding Israel’s demise) then destruction will come upon them suddenly … and they shall not escape. (1Thessalonians 5:2,3)

Five principles on how God relates to His people

Let us consider five import­ant principles that will help us better under­stand God’s love and holiness, two aspects of God’s char­acter. This will help us see how He relates to His people, and bring into sharper focus the spiritual signi­ficance of a breached wall and the ensuing destruct­ion.

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 a “man of war” who vanquishes the forces of evil to become the Savior of His people. We see this 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)

The Old Testament portrays God as a man of war, as seen again and again in Isaiah, in which God is called a “man of war” (42:13) or its equivalent (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 his rank. A man of war may be a king or a foot soldier, a general or a private, to use mod­ern term­inology. King David was called a “man of war” because he was con­stantly engaged in war and was skilled in battle (1Sam.16:18).

As a man of war, Yahweh God is mighty in battle against evil and unrighteous­ness: “Yahweh, strong and mighty; Yahweh, mighty in bat­tle” (Psalm 24:8). Many Old Testament verses speak of God fighting for His people.[3]

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.

Revelation 19:11-16 gives a remarkable description of how God will vanquish the forces of sin and darkness which are gathered on earth to fight against Him and His people:

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.”’

To be like Christ is not just to imitate his meek­ness and humility, but just as importantly to follow him in battle for holiness, righteous­ness and the truth. It is a battle for liberating mankind from the bond­age to sin and from the forces of evil that 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. That Holy City is Zion (Isa.52:1; Heb.12:22,23). It is holy because it is where He has chosen to dwell. Psalm 135:21 says, “Blessed be Yahweh from Zion, He who dwells in Jeru­salem!”

Similarly, God’s people form God’s dwelling place. 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). God’s people are a city that, like Mount Zion, is set on a hill that cannot be hidden, from where it radiates God’s light into the world (v.14).

Let us be clear about our mission in the world. God didn’t save us just for the sake of our salvation, but that we may be a light to those living in darkness. We cannot shirk our responsi­bility, and tell people, “Don’t look at us; look at Jesus. We are just a bunch of failures in the church.” That kind of attitude is a rejection of God’s will for us, for we are called to be 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 because of disobedience?

Yahweh’s salvation is a wall of peace, 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 the gates with joy and praise because the walls are Salvation, proclaiming that Yahweh has saved them. But if the walls symbolize salvation, why are they crum­bling? 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 that it is the walls! The walls are the most vis­ible part of ancient cities, and can be seen from afar.

When people look at the spirit­ual Jerusalem, the church, what will be visible at first glance? The walls of salvation! Those who come near will see people who have been delivered from sin and transformed by grace. But is that what people see when they look at the church today? Do they see God’s glorious salvation? Probably not. The reputa­tion of churches is so poor that if you invite some­one to become a Christian, he might say, “Well, just 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 they look at the church, the light of the world? How else will people see God’s saving power? How will they see Christ unless they see Christ-like people?

Is God’s power evident in those who profess to believe in Jesus in some vague sense? Or in holy people who have been truly freed from sin? Where is God’s power seen if not in transformed lives? What is the point of preaching about Jesus if people look at me and see only greed and selfishness? Why talk about God’s salvation if my conduct shows me to be no different from unbelievers?

As you approach an ancient city, you will see its walls from afar. So God has purposed that the world will 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. (Isaiah 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!”

“He has redeemed Jerusalem” (v.9). People will see God’s salvation in Zion, His redemption in Jerusalem. Yahweh bares His holy arm to bring about Jerusalem’s redemption. When God redeems His people, 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 eyes!” Or do they see spiritually med­iocre people whose lives discredit God?

People who attend church regularly are considered “good” Christ­ians. Those who take up church activities are considered “out­standing” Christ­ians. But is this all that Jesus died for? Many churches 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” (Ephesians 4:23-24).

God looks around, but will He find anyone to stand in the breach and rebuild the walls? If anyone preaches holiness today, he will be opposed by Christians who say, “You’re preaching salvation by works!” I know this from personal experience, as have many others including that faithful servant of God, John Wesley. Some churches today throw out those who preach holiness. Anyone who is willing to stand in the breach to repair it may experience the same kind of abuse that was meted out to the prophet Jeremiah.

(2) How are justification and salvation related?

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

Justification is certainly a vital stage in the process of salvation. But it is just one stage, and it corres­ponds to “the washing of regener­ation” (Titus 3:5). The other import­ant stages — growth or renewal, maturity or perfection — must not be neglected if we hope to arrive at salva­tion in its final consummation, when “we shall be saved”.

Romans 5:9 says we are “justif­ied by his blood”. The next verse says, “how much more, having been reconciled (to God), shall we be saved through his life!”

One of the dangerous errors that contributes to the dis­regard for holiness in the church is the notion that once we are just­ified or recon­ciled, we proceed automatically to final salva­tion. It becomes a matter of waiting to get to hea­ven. Justification and final salvation are thought to be one and the same. But there is no basis in Scripture for this persistent error that has misled multi­tudes.

We accept this “automatic” connect­ion between justifi­cation and final salvation only by ignoring the verses which show that the final salvation is condit­ional on continuing in the faith. The statements are 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”. (John 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. (Romans 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. (Colossians 1:22,23)

The one that endures to the end, he shall be saved. (Mt.24:13; Mk. 13:13)

We ignore these conditional statements at our cost. It would be foolish to think that as believers we can ignore righteous­ness or sin with im­punity. Isaiah says 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?” (Isaiah 64:5, NIV)

Left to ourselves, we are unable to persevere to the end. But the whole point is that we are not left to ourselves. The Holy Spirit indwells all who have been redeemed by Jesus’ blood, and God will certainly keep us from falling if we abide in Him, drawing from His bount­iful grace.

The Bible does not teach a salvation by holiness, but a holi­ness that comes after we have been saved from the guilt and power of sin. Holi­ness is the result of salvation, not its cause. When we, like Paul, stress the necessity of holiness in our lives and in the church, this does not mean 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 is unholy, God will judge it

If we who are God’s people 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. Of course you shouldn’t continue in sin, but even if you do, God won’t do anything to you. Christians won’t come under judg­ment, for Jesus paid it all!” This is a license to sin with impunity, covered by the words, “Jesus died for us.”

Some years ago, a group of Christian leaders at a large conference insisted that once a per­son is saved, he can under no circum­stance ever be lost. I asked them, “What exactly do you mean by that? Do you mean that if a Christian commits adultery, murder, or another major sin, and does not repent of it, he or she will be saved all the same?” The shocking answer from 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 were of the same opinion. I refuse to be party to this falsehood.

We come 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. If we think that God’s dealings with Israel do not apply 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 still think that God has lowered His stand­ards for us? Doesn’t Luke 12:48 say that to whom much is given, much will be required? Do we think that God will close His eyes to our sins because we are “hidden” behind Christ’s right­eousness?

Where is the one who stands in the gap today? Many in the church see no gaps today in the walls of the “city set on a hill” (Mt. 5:14) — namely, God’s holy city, the church — so they think that we are secure within its walls. Where is the need for some­one to stand in a gap that does not exist? And didn’t Jesus say, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Mt.16:18)?

Sin and death (Hades, the abode of the dead) will not over­whelm the church, for the church contains a lot of “wheat” (true believers) despite the “weeds” (cf. the Parable of the Weeds, or Tares, Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43). God’s Kingdom, 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 [wheat] will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (vv.42,43).

That the weeds thrive in the Kingdom is evident from the fact that it is not until “the end of the age” that they are pulled up and burned (vv.39,40). “The Son of Man will send out his angels and gather out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (v.41).

It is pointless to speak of a visible and an invisible church because weed is as visible as wheat. More­over, the weed that grows among wheat is hard to distinguish from wheat,[4] especially for city dwellers who know little about wheat or agri­culture.

Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, in a long article on tares or weed, provides us with a note on what the early 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 scientific knowledge, the point is that those who first heard Jesus’ parable thought of tares as “degenerate wheat”. Hence they perceived a dimension of the parable that we might not see, that of the danger of spiritual degener­ation. The case of Demas is a striking example; he degenerated from being a coworker of Paul to finally falling in love with the world and deserting Paul (Phm.1:24, which mentions Demas before Luke; Col.4:14; 2Tim.4:10).

We would be wise to take these lessons to heart, for the Scriptures were written for our instruction (1Cor.10:11). Many of the lessons have to do with the fall and destruction of Israel as a nation, and her being sent into exile. Have we learned the lessons of these tragic events? “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The walls of Jerusalem were being breached because of Israel’s persist­ent disobed­ience to God. Micah prophesied that the Holy City will become a heap of ruins, and that Zion — the city where the temple stands — will be ploughed as a field because of Israel’s sin and rapacity. Yet the people rejected Micah’s warnings of disaster, believing that God will never allow it: “Is not Yahweh in our midst? Calamity will not come upon us” (Micah 3:11).

Will we fall into the same deception? God never compromises with sin, especially the sin committed by those whom He has redeemed with the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.

(1) God will judge His people

A familiar Old Testa­ment theme is that God will judge the unrighteous among His own people. If we fail to see this, we must be reading the Bible with our eyes closed.

“Yahweh, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your wrath” (Psalm 6:1) When God’s people sin, the first thing that God will do 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 wait and see what God will do to you the next time you sin 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. 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 worry, for it means that He does not recognize you as one of His own. But if He chastises you, you would 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 as a child of God commit sin, His chastening hand will come upon you without fail. He will deal with you with measured severity. God disci­plines only those who are His child­ren. We don’t chasten someone else’s child. If the boy next door misbehaves, I won’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. The following passage speaks repeatedly of discipline:

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. (Hebrews 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,” v.4], 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. (Psalm 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 His children. Through the discipline we learn to refrain from sinning.

God will certainly punish those Christians who reject His chasten­ing, being stiff-necked like the recalcitrant Israelites who had sinews of iron and a forehead of bronze (Isaiah 48:4). If they 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 judgment. If a man does not 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” (Hebrews 10:31). This is not an Old Testament quotation but something written 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). Quoting two Old Testament verses, 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 non-essential, ignoring it and even rejecting it, we now have the dreadful situation in which 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 today? Peace and security! Brothers and sisters, 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”. The identifying mark of false prophets is their never-ending 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. (1Thessalonians 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.

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

An identical charge, almost word for word, 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. (Jeremiah 8:10-11)

These prophets and priests were motivated by a desire for “gain,” 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 will find himself out of a job, and will face fierce opposition.

“Peace and security” is the kind of “good news” that is always welcomed. Even the false 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 God’s Temple not located in Jeru­salem? Is the temple not God’s dwelling place? The Israelites even raise the question, “Is not Yahweh in our midst?” But Micah says that these are the words which false prophets use to justify them­selves. Micah 3:11 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.”

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

These leaders and prophets claim, on the basis of their supposedly valid reasoning, that their message of peace and security is justified. The people and quite certainly the prophets themselves are willingly de­ceived. How 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: it is possible to live in deep sin, 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 will touch him. He thinks he can continue to sin without fear or concern, for their “consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1Timothy 4:2).

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

This destruction is graphically described by Micah in the 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 destruction and desolation, with its people swept up in the 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.” (Jeremiah 8:12)

In the end, what happened to Jerusalem? Sure enough, the walls finally fell, the assurances of the false prophets notwithstand­ing. The Babylonian army “broke down the walls around Jerusalem” (2Kings 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. Build a thin whitewashed wall over the gaps to hide the cracks in the wall!” (cf. Ezekiel 13:10-15)

(3) God fights against His people if they persist in sin

God is a warrior who stands for truth and holiness. If His 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 then did Yahweh do? The same verse gives the answer: “He therefore 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 the 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.

Need we go on? Is it possible to read the Bible and not see how God deals with His own people when they sin? 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)

Do we have ears to hear? If we are living in sin, God will breach the walls that once gave us security. 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, verses 8-9:

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.

I previously 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 says 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 (Rom.11:21-22). Yet many preachers in the church today insist on proclaiming, “Peace and security! Don’t you worry, for the walls of the Holy City will never fall. God will never fight against us.” Do we hold back tears when we hear the chorus of “prophets” and 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 for the holy

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 with a false sense of the assur­ance of salvation, then we are fools in the Bible’s sense of “fool” (one who is out of touch with God and spiritual reality). The Word of God offers no assurance that is removed from holi­ness and righteousness.

Ezekiel chapter 13 is a lamentable record of “foolish pro­phets” who persuaded a people disobedient to God to feel secure in their 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. (verses 2,3,5,6,9,10,14,15 of Ezekiel 13)

The people ignored Ezekiel’s warnings that grated on their ears, making them squirm in discom­fort. 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 to those who walk in truth and right­eous­ness. But if we are living in sin, any assurance 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 (Romans 8:16). That is the basis of true assurance in Scripture. If you are living in sin, would the Spirit witness with your spirit? How can the Spirit witness in us when we are out of touch with God, and when sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2).

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. Neither does God delight in bringing judg­ment upon His people today. Would God have searched for some­one to stand in the gap if He does not, in His love and mercy, 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. He held back, earnestly looking for some­one to stand in the gap, to repair the breaches, to rebuild the walls, so that He may 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 this striking situation, God puts on the breastplate of right­eous­ness and the helmet of salvation. What are these armor items for? This passage indicates that they are used for achieving righteousness and salvation. We are reminded of the armor of God in Ephesians 6 which we, too, are called to put on.

An important aspect of being like Christ is to fulfill the 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 may 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 who 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 despite having a “belief” in Jesus.

Salvation starts with regeneration, which results in transform­ation and newness of life. Are we peddling a cheap salvation and a diluted gospel? The Biblical gospel is the one which 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: “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?

In this verse, “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 is 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 generation, through God’s indwelling Spirit, we follow in Christ’s steps to be like him.

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 him “who loved us and gave himself for us” (Eph.5:2; cf. Gal.2:20). 1John 3:16 says, “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 the ends of the earth may see God’s salva­tion.

[1] 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)

[2] 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 Jesus, we will look at everything (including the problem of divorce) from his perspective, and will deal with all things with Jesus’ heart and wisdom under the guidance of God’s Spirit. A bare prohibition doesn’t change the heart and won’t solve any problem at the fundamental level. That is not Jesus’ way of dealing with man’s problems.

[3] Ex.14:14,25; Dt.1:30; 3:22; Josh.10:14,42; 23:3,10; 2Chr.20:7,29, to name a few.

[4] 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. It is poisonous, produc­ing dizziness, sleep­iness, nausea, diarrhea, convulsions, gangrene, and some­times death.” Hastings’ Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels (boldface added).


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