“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
“…set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).
IN MY LAST article I wrote of what our freedom in Christ is and although short and from far from exhaustive, it touched on the peripheral realities of a life set free in Christ.
We often confuse our earthly freedoms – human rights or civil rights, whatever you want to call them – with our status of eternal freedom in and through Christ; we equate our physical freedoms in this life as being free through the gospel and although that may have some measure of truth in it, because the effects of the power of the Gospel has a transforming influence sociably where we enjoy such liberties, there can also be a great misleading. Encountering social freedoms and advancements as a result of the Church’s influence on society is a foreshadowing of the perfect world to come; they convey a type of a new heaven and earth; God dwelling in our midst, where no sin, suffering, misery, injustice, darkness, tears of pain mars our existence.
The error in measuring our social freedoms, that reflect the fulfilment of the Human Rights Act, to determine our actual freedom in Christ is to completely misunderstand our status in Christ. We are to be thankful unto God for such times of ease – a season of refreshment, renewal, resting but not to squander selfishly. Have we discerned that in times of ease as being the church’s opportunity to advance the gospel in various ways?
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things in this life: work, home, marriage, friendship, leisure; and recreation. God wants us to enjoy all good things. The error comes in when we seek to enjoy those things as our source of fulfilment. We have heard this countless times but it bears great significance to hear again as Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” and our hearts are to continue finding rest (fulfilment) in Him.
Quoting again, “As Christians we shouldn’t be surprised at all the evil in this world; what should surprise us is that any goodness still remains in it” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones). That’s not to mention we grow accustomed or apathetic to what goes on, but rather our world of existence should not collapse because of it. Yet, we find many shocked and in despair at the revealing of what goes on. We react as if sin does not exist and live in denial that sin will always be the problem that plagues humanity outside of Christ. The nearer to the time of our God and Saviour returning in unimaginable awesome power, the powers of evil will manifest in greater measure. We will all feel – Christians and non-Christians alike – the repercussions of it but what each of our perspectives are makes all the determining difference.
If we find ourselves panicking over a change of circumstances due to government leading – whether that be in our favour or to our disadvantage – to where we lose peace, stability and direction, it seriously comes into question as to whether we had the stability of biblical peace and direction in the first place, for the very reason how situations negatively controlled us mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The reality and power of Scripture ought to be our governing factor, our true light that determines balanced and wholesome thinking.
Christians do have a place, at the right time and in a right way to intervene sociably and politically, to oppose evil and everything that stands against God. We are called to take our stand in this world and oftentimes that is by refusing to conform to the pattern, system and regime of this world, but there are other times when some of us will oppose governments that defy God in their agendas of tyranny and oppression. That may be in the sense of defending one’s own civil rights and liberties or on behalf of others.
The apostle Paul used his civil rights to appeal against decisions made by the authorities and there are Christian organisations that do contend for human freedoms/liberties and rightly so. In our protests as Christians we are to display humility, first and foremost in recognising that God controls the governments in power and through them, as a part, His will for our lives comes to fruition. Even when civil freedoms are denied by a corrupt government we still have to entrust our lives in God’s hands because He is ultimately the One Who determines the outcome for our best and His glory.
What of those times where the early Christians joyfully accepted the plundering of their possessions, the stripping of their human rights, freedoms, being confined to prison and yes – the loss of their lives? Surely they were not free; surely they lived under too much of an oppressive regime to declare their freedom in Christ. Everything physically around them denied such realities and yet they knew inexpressible joy that we have not even begun to fathom in our day. “Entertainment is the devil’s substitute for joy. The more joy you have in the Lord the less entertainment you need” (Leonard Ravenhill) and such words hold us accountable in our day, ringing more true than they ever have. There was too much being encountered in God’s arena for the early church to be tied to mere drama as the height of their excitement.
The early Church had such an impacting vision of the world to come they could not settle for second best in this world; everything paled to insignificance, seeing everything as temporary and futile compared to the eternal realities that shone more brightly than everything surrounding them in this world. Our level of being at home in this world determines our level of expectancy and perspective of eternal realities. The pressing question is: what burns brighter in our hearts; what grows stronger as professing Christians, fascination with this world or the world to come?
Are we too settled in this world? One of the transparent tests of knowing whether or not we are far too settled or too comfortable in this world is that we look upon the early New Testament Church as being too radical; we are often prone to viewing the spiritual dynamic of the early church as being confined to that era and that in our advanced 21st century we have no need to refer to such times as our blue print. This is one the greatest travesties of modern evangelicalism. The New Testament believers were endued with power; we have a form of it that lacks the very same power. We must not imitate the culture and customs of such times, but neither are we to neglect the ways in which the early church sought the face of God as if their lives depended on it. Nothing else mattered. The kingdom of God took pre-eminence over everything else and realising their own inadequacy to fulfil the great commission in their own wisdom and strength, such believers sought God until His presence was known, until they were empowered to speak with boldness and wisdom that the world could not refute.
We supposedly live in ‘desperate’ times and many fear for the security and rights of their lives and so you hear the many appeals by church leaders and wanna-be-leaders to repent and prepare for hard times ahead and if we don’t we’re going to miss the boat. All that is fostered there is a spirit and heart that looks out for self-preservation. The secret of power upon the early church was this in the words of the apostle Paul himself, “I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). The power of the Gospel so consumed the lives of early believers they were moved to count everything as loss and when fierce opposition came, they refused to run away from, escape trouble or cry to God to deliver them from the fires of persecution but rather yearned that God’s name and glory be known: “And now, Lord look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak Your word with all boldness, while you stretch out Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:29-31). What a radically different perspective to ours that needs no commentary except the fact we have lost spiritual backbone in our politically-correct and pleasure-anaesthetising society. The more easier, comforting, accommodating and aiding to all our wants in society has become the further we have drifted from the reality and power of God’s kingdom. The only kind of wake-up call we hear today is to run for the safety of our lives, fight for our rights until we have such security back in place so we can return to our normal way of life again. God deliver us from such a cowardly spirit.
It comes as the mercy of God to allow our little worlds of existence to be shaken back into reality. God has redeemed us with such an inestimable price that He will not allow us to settle for temporal cheap thrills, certainly not for a world that is fallen in depravity hidden by the allurements of lies and deceit that appear to be the answers in life we look for and pursue.
God will continue to unsettle us until our perspectives are realigned in the right direction as the early church: “setting our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
We would do well to be saturated with the wisdom of the early church that saw this world for what it is and may it be our prayer to see as she once saw of a world to come that perfectly reflects God in all of His perfect attributes – God dwelling with us with no imperfection in us to hide Him from our view – of His glory, His beauty, His majesty – oh these words we are so accustomed to using, we have no clue what we are saying or singing about!! When He draws near our language is ignited and transfigured with fire that goes way beyond words that fail to convey.
What is heaven like? That question that has us forever wondering, guessing and speculating. So many definitions and many of them do not leave me enthralled. One of them I often hear is, “Get use to this (while singing together out of harmony in church) because this is what heaven’s going to be like.” I sure hope not, I really do… but, I thank God it will not be. I know words fail to adequately express glories beyond our comprehension, but let us at least strive to outdo ourselves, even if we’re a million miles away in our expression, let us at least be on the right road! Not even Paul could describe heaven after seeing it; human language in all its greatest brilliance would fail deplorably to express what it’s going to be like, but suffice it to know that GOD will be unveiled before us, we shall behold HIM – that will be heaven – and if that alone does not make us stagger with wonder and awe nothing will!
We yearn for, we hope for, we look for a new world to come – a world that has been prepared for us, our inheritance guaranteed – and such hope does not disappoint us; it is as fixed as the rising and setting of the sun as God decrees, Who holds and sustains all creation by the power of His word; He cannot lie and can never fail His eternal promises though humanity greatly fails – He does not and cannot!