James Patrick’s Blog

March 22, 2010

Apostasy in Light of Faith and Grace (Winds of Doctrine #11)

In the last eight posts we have seen how the Early Church that had demonstrated Jesus to be the Messiah in the 30’s AD, welcomed Gentiles in the 40’s, and reaffirmed God’s plans for the Jews in the 50’s, had to endure mighty winds of heresy and persecution in the 60’s, and then recover their ‘first love’ for each other again in the 70’s.  The 60’s had brought a widespread apostasy, or ‘falling away’, in the church, which some at the time may have interpreted as the prophesied final apostasy that would sweep through the Church before the Great Tribulation and the return of Jesus (cf. 2Thes 2:1‑12).  Clearly Paul, Peter and John all recognised that a greater one was still to come (cf. 2Tim 3:1‑9; 4:1‑4; 2Pet 3:1‑18; 1John 2:18‑19, 28; 4:1‑3), whether or not they expected the final one within decades rather than millennia.  It is vital that we consider the nature of that first great apostasy, though, that we might be prepared for the final one that will soon be upon us.

1 Timothy 4:1 makes it clear that “in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons”.  Hebrews warns believers not to “fall in the wilderness” through disobedience like the generation of Moses (Heb 3:7‑17; 4:11; 6:4‑8; cf. 1Cor 10:1-12).  Whereas Paul is referring to specific fallen individuals in his congregation, whom he has ‘handed over to Satan’ for discipline, the writer to the Hebrews is offering a more general warning from Scripture, confident that his hearers will turn back from the brink and inherit the promises after all (Heb 6:9‑12; 10:23‑39; 12:12‑13).  The reality is that there are in every generation individuals who in practice ‘fall away’ from the Christian beliefs and lifestyle they once had.  Most of those who read this will know several such people, and the issue therefore becomes one in which we have intense personal interest.  Others might be genuinely afraid that they themselves might ‘fall away’ at some future point, and the doctrine of ‘perseverance of the saints’ (“Once saved, always saved”) can sometimes be applied too quickly to dismiss people’s real concerns.  Probably the single most fundamental key to this whole topic is a correct understanding of ‘faith’, a word we looked at in detail above.

Faith in God’s Grace

‘Faith’, or ‘trust’, is the only appropriate response to the ‘grace’ of God, and these two terms sum up absolutely every element of the Christian teaching.  They are the truth that distinguishes Christianity from every other religion ever taught, because they teach that as humans we have nothing to contribute to our relationship with God, and can only trust Him to bring about in our lives what is pleasing to Him.  Jesus is the fullest expression both of the grace of God towards humanity and the world, and of the faith in God which God considers to be true ‘righteousness’.  We receive ‘salvation’ and enter into God’s family when we share the ‘faith’ of God’s unique Son Jesus, and this has two elements according to Romans 10:3‑13.  The first element is the conviction that God alone can raise the dead to bodily life, which Jesus went to the cross believing, and therefore that God did indeed raise Jesus to permanent bodily life.  The second element is the willingness to surrender one’s life completely to the direction of this God like Jesus did, which Jesus describes as ‘take up your cross and follow me’.  The writer to the Hebrews says that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him’ (11:6).  There are many who have heard about Jesus, admired Him, and even dedicated their lives to imitating His good works, but none of this matters at all if they have not understood that the only way of pleasing God and receiving eternal life is to accept that Jesus has done everything required, and to put one’s life entirely in His hands.  Even this decision itself is a work of grace in the believer’s life.  As Luke points out in Acts 13:48, ‘as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed’.

If a person has truly understood that they can do nothing of any value without God’s gracious giving, they will be in the right place to receive His Holy Spirit, who gives us everything we need for life and godliness, empowering us to do what God has called us to do.  This is the beginning of a life of trust, or ‘faith’, in which time and again the believer comes back to God asking for grace to accomplish what he or she has been given to do.  If at any point we turn back to our own wisdom and strength, we have ‘turned away’ or ‘fallen away’ from faith, or from ‘the [life of] faith’.  ‘Whatever is not from faith is sin.’ (Rom 14:23)  Paul expresses exactly the same concept in Galatians 5:4, when he tells those trying to be righteous by keeping laws that they have ‘fallen from grace’.

Faith is just as necessary for one’s beliefs as it is for one’s life, because we are unable to arrive at the truth through our own wisdom or ‘rational’ thought processes.  God has deliberately planned it this way, so that those who come to Him are forced to accept what He says without the benefit of their own five senses.  If we were able to reason our way to the ‘meaning of life’, we would have no need for grace, and we could boast in our own wisdom.  As it is, God has chosen to save people through the apparent ‘foolishness’ of what is preached, the message of a crucified Saviour (1Cor 1:17–2:5).  Of course, that is not to say that God leaves us in the darkness just for the sake of it, or that He has not revealed elements of the truth about the world around us to those who do not trust Him.  Rather, God reveals more and more to those who keep coming to Him for wisdom, and He graciously enables others who do not trust Him personally to nevertheless recognise the divine order and beauty with which He created the world.

Ephesus According to 1 John (Winds of Doctrine #10)

As explained in two posts above, Ephesus had gone through a very turbulent time in the mid-60’s AD, with Paul and Timothy expelling elders from the church who were teaching heresy or living immorally or both, followed by a period of intense persecution when Paul himself was taken from them and executed.  Paul’s primary instruction to the church in his second letter to Timothy had been to cleanse themselves from wickedness and become sanctified for good works (2Tim 2:19‑21); a repentance that was even more of a priority than doctrinal correction, which could only follow repentance (2Tim 2:24‑26).  Partly from fear of a repeat situation, therefore (1John 4:17‑18), the Ephesian church had become very strict against sin, to the point of equating it with heresy (1John 3:10; 5:16‑17), and making it a justification for excluding immature Christian brethren from fellowship (1John 2:19; 3:23; 4:20–5:1) or denying them the benefit of material support from the church (1John 3:16‑18).  It is likely that the primary issue of sin in the church was the issue of ongoing participation in the idolatrous secular culture of Ephesus by recent converts (1John 5:21), whether just in terms of appreciating the aesthetics and achievements of that culture (1John 2:15‑17), or perhaps the issue of dining in idol temples with colleagues at official work functions (cf. 1Cor 8:10; 10:19‑22; contrast 10:25).  It is quite possible that the false teachers had been teaching that ‘righteousness’ is just a matter of the heart, and not a matter of outward actions (1John 3:7‑10).

John has a difficult job on his hands, therefore.  He has to be very clear in his instruction to the ‘little children’, the immature believers who were still engaging in sin, that they must not continue to sin.  But on the other hand, he has to appeal to the ‘young men’ who had stood firm under persecution and held to the truth (1John 2:13-14), and help them to see that they too could not claim to be without sin, and in fact by failing to love their weak brethren they too were committing a sin, as wicked as the sin of Cain (3:10‑18).  The ‘fathers’ of the church would certainly remember the ‘old commandment which you have had from the beginning’ (1:7; 2:13-14, 24; 3:11).   John has to affirm their rejection of the heretical teaching of those who had left the church (2:18‑26), while also urging them to continue to receive teachers from outside, like himself, who did speak truth (4:1‑6, 14‑15; 5:5‑13, 20).  As a result, his letter, which is more of an extended essay than a letter as such, moves back and forth between appeals to the little children to keep themselves from sin and idolatry, and appeals to the more mature members of the church to love and pray for their immature brethren like Jesus did (2:5‑6) rather than ‘hating’ them by excluding them (5:14‑17).

As for the specific form of doctrinal heresy that John and the Ephesian church were facing, it is clear from the first paragraph of 1 John that it has to do with the identity of Jesus as both having been with the Father from the beginning and yet also having been a real tangible man (1John 1:1‑3).  The false teachers who had left the Ephesian church were those who denied that Jesus was the Messiah (2:22; 5:1), that Jesus is ‘Messiah come in the flesh’ (4:2), and that Jesus is ‘the Son of God’ (4:15; 5:5).  When John defines the ‘false-Messiah’ [i.e. ‘anti-christ’] teaching as the denial that Jesus is the Messiah, he is probably not referring to Jews outside the church who did not believe Jesus was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah (though that would also apply).  Rather, he is focusing on heresy within the church that redefines what sort of ‘Messiah’ Jesus actually is, which is just as much an ‘anti-christ’ teaching.  John clarifies further in 1 John 2:22‑23 that what he means by those who deny Jesus’ Messiah-ship is the denial of Jesus as Son and therefore of God as Father, something that the writer to the Hebrews emphasises also in his first two chapters about Jesus being superior to the angels.  The theme of Jesus’ divine sonship appears throughout 1 John (1:3, 7; 2:22‑24; 3:8, 23; 4:10, 14‑15; 5:1, 4‑5, 9‑13, 18, 20), but John deliberately mixes this with a concentration on Jesus’ very real humanity, whether that is His tangibility (1:1‑3) or His flesh (4:2), or His very real blood (1:7; 5:6‑8).  The ‘water’ refers to Jesus’ baptism at which God testified that Jesus is His Son (5:6, 9‑11), but this does not contradict the testimony of the ‘blood’ of Jesus poured out at death showing that Jesus is also human (5:6, 8), nor are either of these contradicted by the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers (4:13‑15; 5:6, 10), as the false teachers had evidently been claiming (2:20‑27; 3:24‑4:6).  The Spirit of Truth confirms to us both Jesus’ divine sonship shown at His baptism, and Jesus’ real humanity shown at His death.  The claims of the false teachers, that Jesus was one of the powerful angelic mediators spoken about in popular Jewish religious literature of the day, were inadequate both in their denial of Jesus’ superior divine sonship and unique mediatorial role (cf. 2:1) and in their denial of Jesus’ genuine humanity, and were thus presenting a ‘false Messiah’, an ‘anti-christ’.

September 27, 2009

Promised Land in Acts, part one [I&NC #9]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 9:13 pm
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It is interesting to note that the whole book of Acts, describing the Jewish mission to the Gentiles, is started by setting it in the context of the timing of God’s promised restoration of Israel’s possession of her land under her anointed King.  This restoration is referred to again in Peter’s second sermon in Jerusalem, which also mentions the mission to the Gentiles.  Finally, Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin picks up on Jesus’ prophesied judgement on the nation but sets this within the context of the eventual inheritance of the land [we will deal with this speech in the next post].

Acts 1:6-11 – Having looked at the parable of the minas in Luke 19:11-27 above, the disciples’ question to Jesus in Acts 1:6 makes a lot more sense.  Often it is assumed that the disciples are still foolishly fixated on defeating the Romans and recapturing their territory, and Jesus has to turn their eyes away from themselves once again.  This is far from the truth.  On Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem approximately seven weeks earlier, He had responded to their assumptions that the ‘kingdom of God’ (the territory of Israel in their understanding) would appear immediately, by surprisingly reinforcing their ideas of judgement on enemies and territorial rewards, but simply postponing these until after His return.  Then at their final Passover meal together He promised them twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30).  At the same meal He made it clear He was going somewhere that they could not follow, but He would return and gather the disciples again to live in His presence.  He explained that if He went away to His Father, He could then send the Holy Spirit who would bring them permanent joy and authority (John 14:3; 16:7‑11, 16­‑29).  He then spoke in His prayer about accomplishing His assigned task, being given all authority, and “now” coming to the Father, all of which would have later reinforced to them the idea that Jesus’ death was the prophesied ‘going away’ to the Father (John 17:1-5, 11-13, 24; cf. Luke 23:43‑46).

Therefore when Jesus returned from death after three days, He had to try as best He could to clarify that this return wasn’t the one He had been talking about; “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)  But then He met the disciples and told them to ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ He was breathing on them (20:22).  Later He spoke to Peter in Galilee about someone else clothing him and bringing him where he did not wish to go, which Peter may have initially interpreted as being ‘clothed’ with authority and returning to rule in Jerusalem (cf. Luke 15:22; Zec 3:1-7), for which he certainly felt unworthy and even unwilling (John 21:3, 15-18).  He therefore suggested John for primary leadership of the Eleven (20:21, cf. 20:15-17 and Luke 22:32), but Jesus said that He might well choose for John to ‘remain’ (in Galilee?) until He ‘came’ (back again from Jerusalem?); regardless of where John was assigned, Peter had to follow Him.  Clearly that conversation was reinterpreted subsequently more than once, but it is at least plausible that the disciples were quite confused about what exactly Jesus planned to do now that He had ‘returned’.

After spending some time in Galilee with the disciples (John 21; Matthew 28:10, 16‑20), Jesus returned with them to Jerusalem, and probably at that point, significantly during a meal (Acts 1:4; cf. Luke 22:28-30), He told them to stay here in Jerusalem from now on until they received the Holy Spirit “not many days from now”, something that He had said would happen after He had returned to the Father (John 14:25‑28; 16:7).  As they were probably unaware Jesus would be leaving for good within a couple of days, the most natural interpretation of His promise would be that having ‘gone away’ in death and sorrow (John 16:19-22) to His Father, He had now returned in fullness of joy, and once the Holy Spirit was received in a few days’ time it would surely be the fulfilment of His great kingdom established here in Jerusalem.  “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’”  Very good question.

In response, Jesus did not pick up on the issue of the kingdom being restored to Israel, which He acknowledged was an epoch that the Father had fixed by His own authority for a certain time (Acts 1:7).  Instead, He answered what they were really asking, that is, the question of timing, which had been puzzling them ever since supper in Jerusalem six weeks earlier.  His reply was that they would not be given precise timings (even as Jesus Himself had not been given them – Mat 24:36), but all that they had to know was that after receiving the Holy Spirit they would be sent out from Jerusalem to testify about Jesus “even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Clearly, the time of them inheriting their kingdom and ruling from Jerusalem was not for now; they had a mission to accomplish first, and only when “this good news of the kingdom will be preached in the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come” (Mat 24:14).  The rest of the book of Acts is therefore the beginnings of that mission to the ends of the earth, or at least as far as Rome, the centre of the ‘inhabited earth’; as Paul recognised, from Rome one would surely be able to reach even the furthest parts of the known world (Rom 15:20‑24; cf. Acts 28:23‑31).

Acts 1:6-8 is therefore both the most explicit recorded affirmation by Jesus of the future fulfilment of the Father’s promise of a territorial ‘kingdom’ for Israel, and also an equally clear clarification that the inheritance of this kingdom would only happen after the testimony about Jesus had reached the ‘remotest part of the earth’.

Acts 3:12-26 – In Peter’s second recorded sermon in Jerusalem, within weeks of Jesus’ ascension, we can sense his anticipation and impatience for the return of Jesus and the fulfilment of promised inheritance.  However here we also note a further element of the Early Church’s understanding about the end of this age.  Jesus had clearly declared to Jerusalem that they would not see Him again until as a nation they turned back to Him in repentance and welcomed His return with ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Mat 23:37‑39).  It appears that the twelve apostles initially expected this national repentance to happen within their generation, ushering in the return of Jesus (Mat 24:32‑35), but they had not given due weight to Israel’s hardness of heart and Jesus’ promise of certain judgement and exile, nor to the size of the task they had been given in first reaching the ends of the earth.  Perhaps they saw the national repentance as the best means of expanding the task force to reach the ends of the earth, and this is indeed suggested in this sermon of Peter’s.

Peter used the ‘perfect health’ of the healed beggar as an ideal example of what will be possible for the nation as a whole if they put their trust in the name of Jesus, the one glorified by the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  If the people as a whole repented and returned, their sins could be wiped away, ‘times of refreshing’ would come from God (presumably the empowering of the Holy Spirit for mission to the ends of the earth), and ultimately God would send the Messiah Jesus back to His people.  Peter now recognised from the prophets how Jesus would have to remain in heaven “until the times of restoration of all things about which God spoke”.  This reference to the words of the prophets would undoubtedly have included the permanent inheritance of their land, about which almost every prophet spoke.  Peter does warn that there would be judgement against those who refused to listen to the message of Jesus, but then encouraged the people that the days they themselves were living in had been announced ever since Samuel (cf. 1 Sam 2:10).

Finally Peter explicitly cites the covenant that God made with the Patriarchs, emphasising that his (Jewish) hearers were the heirs of that covenant and the promises made through the prophets, and therefore for the Jewish nation first (before all other nations), God had sent His Servant Jesus to turn them from wickedness and make them a blessing to every nation on earth.  Although by this early stage Peter has not thought through the pragmatic and theological implications of Jewish mission to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:28‑29; Gal 2:11‑14), his passionate, hope-filled emphasis on this mission, even while preaching to his own countrymen within his own promised land, is an example for all believers in their respective nations.  It is clearly possible to believe unreservedly in the certain future restoration of a nation’s territorial inheritance, according to God’s covenant promise, and still be enthusiastically committed to gospel mission to every nation.  The fact that the former cannot happen before the latter is completed will no doubt motivate the believer to go to the nations!

September 15, 2009

Jesus is taking back His unfaithful Bride!

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 10:15 am
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I interrupt this series of posts on Israel and the New Covenant to bring you breaking news:

With deep conviction and great joy I announce to you that revival is about to sweep through the Church in this nation.  The sign of this will be that Peter Andre will take back Katie Price to be his wife, just as Hosea took back his beloved yet adulterous wife Gomer as a sign to the people of Israel (Hosea chapters 1 and 3).  God will turn the heart of Jesus’ Bride back to Him, and there will be joy such as this nation has never seen in its history.

Ginny Burgin announced to her local church in Sheffield back in May 1997 that God was doing an unseen work in the heart of the nation of England.  As a sign of this, she prophesied that the nation would suddenly turn to mourning, and the whole nation would put flowers in their cities.  On the morning that Princess Diana died, Ginny received the second part of the prophecy: “as fast as that mourning went through the nation, joy will go through this nation”.  [For further information, see Terry Virgo’s blog <<www.janga.biz/terryvirgoblog/?p=66>>; Andy Moyle’s blog <<www.adventuresofachurchplanter.com/blog/index.php?blogId=1&op=Default&postCategoryId=4>> (16 Oct 2008, 09:52); and a collection of prophetic words from many sources <<propheticanointing.tripod.com/id13.html>>.]

Within days, there will be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit across this land, and wives will turn back to their husbands in churches up and down the country as evidence that the Bride of Messiah is turning back to her betrothed Husband, Jesus.  The name of Jesus will again be spoken with honour, and churches will be filled to overflowing – prepare for standing room only.  Church leaders will need to work closely together so that those who are unable to fit into one church can be directed to another church down the road.  Just as when Jesus commanded Peter and Andrew to let down their nets for a catch (Luke 5:1-11), the catch of people will be so large that our nets will break if we do not look to our neighbouring churches for help.  This is not a time to look out for our own interests; the time has come to stand shoulder to shoulder as believers in this nation and across the nations, calling on the name of Jesus our Lord with purified lips (Zephaniah 3:9).

This revival will spill over to many nations, and is the time of ‘latter rains’ of the Holy Spirit spoken of by the prophet Joel (Joel 2:23-29).  This is the great final revival of this age, and will bring the ‘fulness of the nations’ into God’s storehouse (Romans 11:25; Luke 21:24), completing the great commission Jesus gave to His apostles (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:7-8).  Just as the Church’s first experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost with the sign of tongues was in order that they might go to all nations with the good news, so we must recognise that this last outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church is given to equip her with the resources needed to go to all nations.  This calls for wisdom, determination and sacrifice on the part of every believer and every church in this nation.

Finally, this revival should be understood as the cry going out across the earth to awaken the sleeping Church – “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him.” (Matthew 25:6)  The return of Jesus to the earth is imminent, and like Israel in Egypt, the Church will rise up with power and confidence to proclaim the judgements of the Almighty God over the whole earth.  It is time for God’s people of every nation to come into their inheritance, so He is raising up a prophetic people, made up of Jews and Gentiles, as a testimony to rulers and authorities that His anointed Messiah Jesus has been seated as King over all the world (Psalm 2; Ephesians 3:4-12).  Jesus is coming for His Bride, and He will let nothing and no-one stand in His way.  May the Word of the Lord be fulfilled quickly in our day.

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