STEWARDS OF THE MYSTERIES OF GOD

This is the way any person is to regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of GodIn this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is an insignificant matter that I would be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself. However, I am not vindicated by this, but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before ]the time, but wait until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of human hearts; and then praise will come to each person from God (1Cor4:1-5)

The Corinthian church were inclined to put their faith in those they regarded as great men such as  Paul, Peter or Apollos. But Paul adjures them to regard someone like himself as merely “a steward of the mysteries of God”. The Holy Scriptures and the Good News they contain are by no means straightforward, lucid or as some have maintained: “perspicuous”. No one in the Bible utilizes the term “μυστήριον” (mystery or secret) more than the apostle Paul. There is the mystery of godliness (1Tim3:16), the mystery of the Church (Eph5:32), the mystery of the gospel (Eph6:19), the mystery of the faith (1Tim3:9), the mystery of lawlessness (anomias – 2Thes2:7), together with that which I am seeking to unravel – the fellowship (or dispensation) of the mystery, being the unforetold nature of Gentile inheritance and its implications to wider providence (Rom11:25, Eph3:9; Col1:27). Only when the latter has been apprehended can the final, yet more awesome mystery be appreciated,. It is summarized in Revelation (10:7) as “the mystery of God”. Its divulgence shall be sweet to the taste but will leave a bitter feeling in the gut with regard to what had earlier been assimilated.

SALTING IN FIRE

10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each person must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each one’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each one’s work. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet only so as through fire. [1Cor3:10-15]

Rather like Paul’s opening remarks here regarding himself, the apostle had earlier exhorted his readers in Rome concerning spiritual gifts that it should be “according to the grace that is given to us, such as prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith (Rom12:6). I now apply this to myself, for as a result of a spiritual experience I had some years ago whilst studying for the ministry at Bible College I came to a radically new understanding of the Scriptures. That in due course led to the writing of “The Little Book of Providence” and these posts that complement it. The contents of that book I believe to be at least partly prophetic and intended to be shared with the churches. That is in view of the extraordinary nature of the spiritual encounter that preceded the writing, substantiated (at the personal level) by the fact that the new interpretations resolved virtually every “tension” I was previously aware of, thus enabling Scripture as a whole to cohere at last.  

Yet possessing a prophetic gift does not mean one has an unerring understanding of every passage of Scripture – and Paul’s teaching here concerning being saved through fire is a case in point, so I will merely make a few observations.  Firstly, it is not obvious whether Paul is referring exclusively to people like himself involved in the establishment and oversight of churches or all Christians when he speaks of “the quality of each one’s work” being tested (v13). It would be surprising if the same principles of judgement and rectification did not apply to all.  As for the fire itself, even if it is intended literally its primary purpose is not to hurt and punish but to test and to purify. For each one’s works shall be tested by fire (v13). It will burn away the dross (wood, hay straw) such that only that which is of genuine value (gold silver, precious stones) shall remain. In terms of the individual, Paul affirms that, at the very least, not all Christians shall be rewarded equally – some shall “suffer loss” (v15). But in some cases the individuals themselves shall be saved “as through fire”. I believe this to be akin to what Jesus teaches in the Gospels concerning the need for his followers to control their bodily members to avoid the need for more radical action. I commented on these passages in my book, from which I will now quote:

“The self-mutilation passages recorded in Matthew5:28-30 and Mark9:43-48 are referring to those who would be Christ’s disciples’ requirement to control their “bodily members” so that the soul or “heart” is not polluted. It is clearly allegorical for it is obvious that cutting off an arm does not make someone a better person: they will still find a way to steal if that is their inclination. Jesus is highlighting the need for a disciple to keep his bodily members under tight control otherwise the whole person will be damaged.

Note the reflexives: “If your eye OFFENDS YOU pluck it out; if your arm ENSNARES YOU hack it off” etc. As with Paul’s teaching in Romans chapter 7, this pertains to the disparate moral dispositions of spirit/heart and body. The “you” that is offended, ensnared or led into sin is the spirit/soul/heart, being that which is from God and survives physical death; the offenders or ensnarers are the bodily members driven by the physical senses processed through the brain pertaining to what Paul describes as our temporary earthly tent.  If the latter is not controlled, it pollutes the former and the soul may need to be purged or salted in fire (Mt9:49-50). In other words, Jesus’ references to being cast into fire pertain to purification as much as punishment. For note how the Lord adds in Mark’s account:

“For everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. SALT IS GOOD: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mk9:49-50 King James Version)

It should also be evident from another passage in which Jesus refers to hell that he could hardly be referring to eternal punishment:   

But I say unto you that whosoever is angry with their brother without a cause will be liable to judgement; and whosoever shall say to his brother Raca! [vain fellow] shall be in danger of the Sanhedrin; but whoever shall say Moros! [idiot or moron] shall be in danger of hell fire” [Mt5:22]  

The idea that calling one’s brother vain, a Jew may still go on to enjoy eternal bliss after a hearing with the Sanhedrin, whereas calling one’s brother stupid or foolish may result in eternal torment is clearly absurd. Given the gradation of insults outlined in the passage and the fact that Jesus is adamant about the reality of punitive fire, it is indicating the need for final purification for those who grossly insult and belittle a fellow Jew. Even where hell or punishment is specified to be eternal in the Latin Vulgate or English translations, the Greek text reads “aionian”, referring to an age – and there are to be numerous ages. Such linguistic issues may be studied in more detail on the internet.

Redistributive Justice

The one reference to an individual’s experience of the afterlife in the New Testament concerns the rich man and Lazarus, the text of which requires careful attention. The one stated criterion distinguishing these two men was that one had had a life of ease and comfort whilst the other had been poor and wretched. It can be deduced that the rich man was suffering partly because of the way he had utilized his wealth; failing to show care and compassion to the likes of Lazarus. Yet no reason is provided as to why Lazarus should be comforted after his death other than that he had experienced a life of poverty and sickness; so had he been salted. The redistributive and compensatory aspects of judgement at death are also emphasized in the letter of James who exhorts the oppressive rich to weep for the miseries that are to come upon them (Jam5:1), and by Jesus, particularly as recorded by Luke:

How blessed are you who are poor; the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry now: you shall have your fill. Blessed are you who are weeping now; you shall laugh” (Lk6:20-21)  

   Whereas –

“Alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. Alas for you who have plenty to eat now: you shall go hungry.  Alas for you who are laughing now: you shall mourn and weep” (Lk6:25) 

As well as redistributive justice this also relates to the role and necessity of human suffering outlined in the final chapter of my book. Luke’s interpretation of Jesus’ teaching needs to be taken alongside Matthew’s emphasis on more spiritual and moral qualities: poverty of spirit, hunger for righteousness, kindness, compassion and purity.

Excerpts from “The Little Book of Providence – chapter three [Free PDF HERE

Finally, note how Malachi describes the coming again of the Messiah. The “soap” referred to is clearly for cleansing, but so is the fire – so that those elected to the priesthood of God may present to the Lord an offering in righteousness:

“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like launderer’s soap.  And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.  Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old, and as in former years” (Mal3:2-4)


CONCLUSION

This is undoubtedly a perplexing area of biblical study and not surprisingly has been a catalyst for distortions in both the presentation and practice of the Christian faith. It ultimately pertains to the mystery I have been unfolding concerning that eternal law by which a measure of suffering must be endured by beings who are  to be elevated and  glorified. That applies to humanity as a whole (Rom8:19-20), God’s elect in particular (Rom8:17) and even to the Lord of Glory Himself:  
For it was fitting for Him for whom are all things and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory TO PERFECT THE ORIGINATOR OF THEIR SALVATION THROUGH SUFFERING (Heb2:10).

THE CHURCH – GOD’S HUSBANDRY

And I, brothers and sisters, could not speak to you as spiritual people, but as fleshly, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to consume it. But even now you are still not able, for you are still fleshly. For SINCE THERE IS JEALOUSY AND STRIFE AMONG YOU, ARE YOU NOT FLESHLY, and are you not acting like ordinary human beings?For when one person says, “I am with Paul,” and another, “I am with Apollos,” ARE YOU NOT ACTING LIKE ORDINARY HUMAN BEINGS? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now the one who plants and the one who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; YOU ARE GOD’S HUSBANDRY, God’s building. (1Cor3:1-9)

The Church at Corinth’s immaturity and carnality was especially reflected in their factionalism. But the language Paul uses to chide them is significant in the context of some of my comments concerning Paul’s letter to the Romans. The jealously and strife resulting from the church’s infighting showed that they were “fleshly” as opposed to spiritual. For here is the genuine dichotomy: not that at a cosmic level material is bad and spirit is good (Manichaeism) but as a result of the Fall, at the anthropological level the (material) part of man procreated from our parents has one set of laws and instincts whilst the spirit/soul given to us by God at birth has another: “For I delight in God’s law in my innermost being but I see a DIFFERENT LAW in my bodily members waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin that is in my bodily members” (Rom7:22-23).

Man by nature tends to be dominated by the desires of the flesh; the Christian is intended to put to death the deeds of the body and be led by the spirit (Rom8:13). Regrettably, that was not the case with many Corinthian Christians of Paul’s day. But note how he chides them: “You are acting like ordinary human beings!” (vv3,4). But aren’t Christians mere human beings: “an assembly of justified sinners” as I once would have depicted the Church? Not according to Paul: “God has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world on account of lust”.  And as  hinted at by Paul in the previous chapter, that is just the start: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and which have not entered the human heart – all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1Cor2:9)

Such mysteries are examples of the “solid food” that Paul recognized the Corinthians in their current state could not digest (v2). They were acting like spiritual pygmies; like natural humans devoid of the Holy Spirit’s energies. They needed to remember that they were “God’s husbandry” (Greek: γεώργιον – v9) which speaks of the idea of a field that is being cultivated. Whilst by no means the sole recipients of God’s love or benevolent intentions, the context of the Church within divine providence is that she is  “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people FOR GOD’S OWN POSSESSION so as to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvellous light” (cf. 1Pet2:9).

HAVING THE MIND OF CHRIST

A natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But the one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is discerned by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? BUT WE HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST. (1Cor2:14-16)

There are certain spiritual truths that only those whose spirits have been united with Christ’s can discern (1Cor6:17). Now if as Paul writes, the Christian has the mind of Christ (v16), it follows that he or she must also have the mind of His Father. Clearly that cannot apply to God’s omniscience or power of thought – only He could create a universe and He did so through the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ (Eph3:9). However, if Christians have the mind of the One who in turn has the mind of God it does mean that God’s nature is neither alien nor entirely unknowable. So, when a Christian knows in his innermost being that it is cruel and unkind to punish someone for failing to do what they are incapable of doing, that will accord with Christ’s own instincts and in turn with that of His Father. Yet that same Christian, for example if he or she happens to be a Calvinist as I was for 25 years, must believe that God intends to do exactly that; namely that our Creator is predisposed to bring eternal misery upon those who fail to do what both Jesus and Paul repeatedly affirm is quite impossible – to come to Christ as Lord and Savior unless God has predetermined it and subsequently enabled them (cf. Jn1:13; Jn6:44 & numerous Pauline texts). Whatever else He might be, such a God would not be kind or loving, let alone a God who could be depicted as love personified (1Jn4:8) – a quality that is itself defined in Scripture (1Cor13).

The potential meeting of minds should be no surprise since mankind was created in God’s image, a depiction that cannot relate to appearance but to nature and (ultimately) to function. At least the latter shall be the case providing the ravages of a sinful nature resulting from the Fall can be rectified. Thanks to Jesus Christ they can be, and in the Christian that process has already begun. He or she already partakes of the divine nature (2Pet1:4) but something more is required before any mere mortal may be adopted into the Divine Family, namely the redemption of the body (Rom8:23). That shall occur at resurrection, or for those living at the time at the coming again of Christ. As for the aforementioned “tension” between how the Bible describes God’s character and what many Christians currently understand to be His intentions towards the bulk of humanity, that is primarily what these posts and The Little Book of Providence** are endeavoring to elucidate.

**Free PDF HERE

HINTS OF GLORIES TO COME

We  speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of THE RULERS OF THIS AGE, WHO ARE TO BE RENDERED INOPERATIVE; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written: “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND WHICH HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HUMAN HEART -THE THINGS WHICH GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” (1Cor2:6-9)

Towards the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul urged Christians to regard the worldly authorities as “ministers of God” that were to be obeyed (Rom13:6). Now he is making the point that such leaders are ultimately to be abolished or made inoperable (Greek: καταργέω). “Ultimately”, that is in terms of God’s timetable for we are still waiting, and in a recent post I explained why that should be .

But that will not be the result of humanity transitioning into a spiritualized eternity, but as explained in that same post it is because a new order is shortly to be established on terra firma as the “Kingdom of God” currently inaugurated through the Church becomes fully established, That will be at the coming of the One Paul describes as “the Lord of Glory” (v8). Then it will not be the worldly wise who participate in the glorious reign of Christ but those who have received a wisdom from above such as Paul is about to impart to the Corinthians (v6). However, the precise detail of the elect’s involvement has yet to be revealed, but as the apostle infers it is likely to be spectacularly glorious: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the human heart – those things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (v9).

GOD’S ELECT – LOSERS BY THE WORLD’S STANDARDS

26Consider your calling, brothers and sisters, that there were not many wise by human standards, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and GOD HAS CHOSEN THE WEAK THINGS OF THE WORLD TO SHAME THE THINGS WHICH ARE STRONG, 28 AND THE INSIGNIFICANT THINGS OF THE WORLD AND THE DESPISED GOD HAS CHOSEN, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no human may boast before God. 30 FOR IT IS DUE TO GOD THAT YOU ARE IN CHRIST JESUS, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification and redemption 31 so that, just as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1Cor1:26-31)

I referred to this passage when considering Romans 8 and the doctrine of election: i.e. that “those whom God foreknew, He predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers;and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified (Rom8:29-30). The apostle is saying much the same in this opening chapter of 1Corithians. Here he is emphasizing that the wisdom, righteousness and sanctification the Christian obtains is because he or she is in Christ. These qualities are not imputed to us as some believe with regard to righteousness (we could hardly possess God’s own wisdom either), it is that Christ has become the source and resource by which these qualities are nurtured as the Christian participates in His life (Rom5:10). Yet again Paul puts paid to the idea that God wishes all humanity to come to Christian salvation or that man by nature has any ability to do so: “for it is due to God that you are in Christ Jesus (v30; cf. Jn6:44). So whilst our Heavenly Father loves and desires the wellbeing of humanity as a whole (1Tim2:4), He does not intend that all should marry His Son (Rev19:7).

But what of these children of God that the Father has given to His Son (Jn17:6 nota bene)? As I previously observed, by the world’s standard they are a bunch of losers (vv26-28 of our passage). Losers indeed, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but WHOEVER LOSES HIS LIFE FOR MY SAKE will find it” (Mt16:25). God is fair to all: those destined for unimaginable glory as Christ’s eternal Escort are in the meantime required to lose their very lives and what they might have wished for them in worldly terms – so that they might faithfully serve Christ. If only the mighty glory-seekers of this world were aware of what they were going to be missing in the ages to come (cf. Mt19:29-30).  That is why certain inessential mysteries of the Kingdom have been veiled through much of the gospel age even from the Church: so that the rich, the mighty, the proud and the glory-hunters might be detracted by the shame of the cross of Christ and humble cruciform service as His disciples; whilst the humble, the gentle, the poor in spirit and in material possessions who are rich in faith will be the true inheritors of the Kingdom and the Earth. Such is the wisdom of God.

INTRODUCING PAUL’S LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, just as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you eagerly await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christwho will also confirm you to the end, blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1Cor1:1-9)

Having introduced himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul addresses his audience as “the church which is in Corinth”. Of course, there were no church buildings as such in Paul’s time (probably until the third century), so “church” (Greek: ἐκκλησία) in Scripture always refers to a people, never a building. Christians don’t “go to church” – they are the church, for  ἐκκλησία literally means, “the called out ones”. People are called out, buildings are constructed and then may be set aside for a sacred purpose. Yet reading on through Paul’s introduction, that is rather like the Christian. Such, he says, were called and reconstructed so as to be “ἁγίοις”, often translated saints or holy ones. Again, ἁγίοις primarily invokes the idea of being set apart, by or for God, for sacred use.

As these descriptions should illustrate and I will continue to demonstrate, the Church is not the totality of people whom God loves and has great plans for; she is “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1Pet2:9). For “Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all; (a fact) to be testified in due time” (1Tim2:6).

THE PURPOSE OF PAUL’S APOSTLESHIP

14 And concerning you, my brothers and sisters, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given to me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of presenting the gospel of God such that the offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Rom15:14-16)

Coming towards the end of his Magnus Opus, Paul affirms the Roman Church of his time to be a people who were “full of goodness”, knowledgeable and able admonish one another (v14). Contrary to the depiction of some Christians, the Church is not merely to be an “assembly of justified sinners”. The people consecrated to Christ should aspire to be like the churches in Rome of Paul’s day which the apostle delighted in – an assemblly of those who like the seed that fell on the good ground are noble of heart, zealous for good works and bearing much fruit (cfTit2:14). As we shall shortly observe, the same could not be said of the Church at Corinth (1Cor3:3).

Likewise, some Christians take comfort or alternatively believe it to be an act of piety for Paul to regard himself as still “the chief of sinners”. But every account of the Apostle’s post-conversion life and ministry shows him to be a thoroughly spiritual man who had “lived in all good conscience before God up to this day” (Acts23:1). He was someone whose behaviour set a pattern for his converts to imitate. Speaking of himself and his fellow workers “our exalting is in the testimony of our conscience that in godly sincerity and purity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God we have conducted ourselves in the world” (2Cor1:12). That is hardly the testimony of one who still regarded himself as the “chief of sinners” (1Tim1:15). That description had been in the context of what he had referred to just two verses earlier concerning his pre-conversion attempt to tear apart the infant Church of Jesus Christ. It was in the past but should remind us all that God’s elective choice is entirely a matter of grace.

And why was Paul chosen? It was “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of presenting the gospel of God such that the offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (v16). And it is also why he was called as the thirteenth faithful apostle “out of due time”. For as I have been endeavouring to explain, it was never foretold in the Old Testament that members of the Gentile nations could themselves become an offering to the Creator in the sense of a sanctified people chosen to participate as the Israel of God (cf. Rom11:24-25). This had been Paul’s Good News – in his words “that the Gentiles should become fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promises in Christ Jesus through the gospel of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ and to bring to light the dispensation pertaining to the secret (plan) which for ages has been hidden in God the Father who created all things by Jesus Christ (Eph3:6-9).

Or as Paul concludes his letter to the Romans:

Now to Him who is able to establish you ACCORDING TO MY GOSPEL and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY WHICH HAS BEEN KEPT SECRET FOR LONG AGES PAST 26 BUT NOW HAS BEEN DISCLOSED THROUGH PROPHETIC WRITINGS in accordance with the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations for the obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. AMEN.

[Rom16:25-27]

CONSCIENCE AN OBJECT OF FAITH

21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. 22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he allows. 23 But whoever has doubts comes under condemnation if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin (Rom14:21-23)

Whilst I am not claiming that the heading of this post is the point Paul is focusing on here, it does follow from what he writes and supports the broader providence I am outlining. The context of the passage is that Christians who, like Paul, know perfectly well that it is OK to eat meat and drink wine (or else Christ has sinned Mt11:18-19) should nevertheless refrain from doing so if it offends another Christian in their company who believes to the contrary. But the key point I am focusing on is Paul’s generalized statement in verse 23 that everything that does not spring from faith is sin.

The context makes it clear that the “faith” of which Paul speaks pertains to the conviction of one’s conscience – in this case whether or not it is right to eat or drink certain items. Any action on one’s part which the conscience opposes is indeed sinful even if what is being done is in fact pure and acceptable. But it follows that any action that one does as a result of following the dictates of one’s conscience is not only not sinful, it is itself an act of faith. This again can be demonstrated from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew chapter 25 – in particular the fact that “faith” in that context is not restricted to religious faith, such as a Christian’s trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The compassionate activities of the Matthew 25 “sheep” did not pertain to religious practice but were simply the response of a compassionate nature. Yet Christ declared them to be good – savingly good in terms of the “sheep” being accepted into God’s eternal Kingdom. These acts of compassion therefore must have sprung from some form of faith for the point Paul is making in our featured passage is that it is impossible to do anything pleasing to God except faith be present. Likewise, it is not the acts of compassion per se that justified the Mt25 sheep (being fallen human beings their acts of kindness were bound to have been incomplete and inconsistent). It was the “faith” from which they sprung. This is that “common faith” understood by some of the earliest Church Fathers and considered in more detail in one of my recent posts.

Central to such “faith” is conscience, which does not pertain merely to the flesh but to the spirit, being that part of us that survives physical death. Unlike the body and brain, it was not procreated from our parents, ultimately from fallen Adam, for that part of man which is spiritual and eternal could never be derived from sperm and ovaries. As creationists rightly understand the spirit is directly planted by God at birth (Eccles12:7). The conscience, the promptings of which are of course processed through the brain, is a spiritual faculty. It has been universally provided but is not utilized by all. Paul when referring to certain false teachers speaks of them as having their consciences seared with a hot iron (1Tim4:2). The Greek word Paul uses is interesting: Kautériazó (G2743) from which we derive the word cauterize. It is as if the spiritual nerve endings of the conscience have been numbed such that the faculty no longer functions. If you research the internet you will see that this lack of a functioning conscience is sometimes evidenced in such people’s brain structure**.  Such, I say, are the children of the devil and they have been defined in Scripture: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil may be distinguished: anyone who does not practice what is right is not of God, neither is he who does not love his fellow man(1Jn3:10 cf. v12). Being God’s law written on the heart (Rom2:15), the conscience is ultimately concerned with how our actions impinge upon others. For as Paul affirmed in the previous chapter “loving one’s neighbor” is the summary and purpose of God’s Law, whether it be written on stone, parchment or the fleshly tablets of the heart (Rom13:9 cf. Jer31:33).

Such aspects of natural law determine what one is and where one is heading; the religious aspects that the Bible primarily focuses on concerns the preparation of the people of God: His elect who shall become the Consort for His Son (cf. Rev19:7-8). Another mystery necessary to appreciate God’s munificent purposes for humanity as set out in “The Little Book of Providence” (free PDF HERE)

NOTES

** The “lateral frontal pole prefrontal cortex” responsible for the processing of moral decisions and empathetic responses. Amongst mammals, only humans possess this feature which is not the conscience itself (for that is spirit) but the area of the brain in which its promptings are processed. For a few there is little to process and it is an area of the brain that has been found to be clearly and visually underdeveloped in the case of certain psychopaths that have been studied. [Caveat: not all psychopaths are criminals  – au contraire: 2Cor11:13-14]

WHY ARE WE WAITING?

11 Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light. 13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts . (Romans 13:11-14)

There are two familiar themes in these last few verses of Romans 13. The first is Paul’s exaltation concerning the Christian’s need for self-discipline. With him it is never a case of “Let go and let God” but a conscious and enduring effort of self-denial, particularly in terms of “making no provision for the flesh” (last verse). That pertains to the ongoing struggle that even those born again of the Spirit have to pursue as they “eagerly await the adoption, being the redemption of our body”(Rom8:23). That in turn explains Paul’s opening comments in this passage about our salvation being closer now than when we first believed. To Paul, salvation will not have been fully accomplished until “our lowly body has been transfigured to be like Christ’s glorious body” (Phil3:21). Then “making provision for the fleshwill not be an issue: the resurrection body and the laws that govern it will be in tune with our spirit – pursing a path of righteousness and peace. That will be very different from the “tent” the soul currently inhabits, concerning which Paul had written: “whilst I am gratified by the law of God in my inner man I perceive a different law in my bodily members warring with the law in my mind and bringing me into captivity to the sinful law that is in my bodily members. Even being “born again” of itself does not essentially change that dichotomy – what it does or should change is one’s ability to keep such lustful instincts in check (1Cor9:27).

Many commentators agree that it is evident from Paul’s overall rhetoric that for much of his Christian life he expected the Parousia to arrive soon, probably within his own lifetime. Even here: “The night is far spent: the day is at hand” (v12). Not in the mid-50s CE it wasn’t – it was barely eventide. But then Paul was an Apostle, not a prophet. So why the delay? In part it is as Paul taught earlier in Romans in the context of Jewish unbelief. It was to await the full complement of the Gentiles from every nation and each generation to come to salvation (Rom11:25). But why so many generations? Clearly, the current age does not exist merely to recruit Gentiles to the Kingdom. It has been the age of discovery for the whole human race – a gradual process and the reason for this epoch’s longevity. It has been the time when the whole world has engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, gained an understanding of science and the universe, discovered new medicines and developed ever more sophisticated means of transport and communication; knowledge and innovation that has progressed exponentially in the last century. This has all been working towards an end, which is not to prepare for global annihilation and a spiritualized eternity but for renaissance and resurrection. And that surely accords with Paul’s teaching earlier in Romans concerning the restoration and deliverance of the world and its inhabitants: “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only they, but we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, being the redemption of our body” (Rom8:22-23).

Are we beginning to get Paul’s drift? Salvation’s apotheosis is not the soul resting in heaven but resurrection in a glorified body within a restored heaven and earth. Well worth waiting for.

Exploring the mystery of divine providence