OUR EARTHLY TENT

Our earthly tent - body and brain

For we know that if our earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made by hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed, in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling FROM heaven, since in fact after putting it on, we will not be found naked. For indeed, we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a pledge. (2Cor5:1-5)

“Our earthly tent” – this is how Paul describes the body in which the God-given soul resides. So also does Peter (2Pet1:13-14). But it is of course not just the body but the brain also – both were procreated from our earthly parents and both shall return to dust – whereas the human spirit “shall return to the God who gave it” (Eccles12:7). And that spirit/soul is itself a memory-retaining intellectual entity. As Scripture affirms, the rich man wondering why he must experience suffering in Hades was told by Abraham to “remember that in your lifetime you received good things and likewise Lazarus evil things, so now he is comforted and you are tormented“ (Lk16:25) – an interesting statement in itself which we won’t deal with here. 

Inner conflict

It may be stating the obvious to some, but it follows from the above that as earth-bound human beings our thoughts and actions derive from two sources: the brain and the internal “psyche” or whatever you wish to call the intellectual, memory-retaining spiritual entity that leaves the body after death. And these sources conflict with each other as Paul teaches in Romans chapter 7. They have opposing laws or governing principles: “For I am gratified by the law of God in my inner man, but 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 (Rom7:23). The “law in my bodily members” refers of course to the bodily senses as they are processed through the brain. Truly, it is our earthly tent and the brain in particular that is the SOURCE of mankind’s problem, not his God-given soul/spirit. The problem is therefore temporary, not eternal. However, whilst the soul is pure, it is also pliant, i.e. liable to corruption, and that can have consequences that extend beyond our earthly life which Jesus refers to in the context of salting with fire (earlier post). Only the Christian is given the spiritual resources “to possess his own vessel (tent) in sanctity and honor” (1Thes4:4). That is what effectively the apostle (and bible) means by being saved: “O wretched man that I am; who can deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God it is through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom7:24-25).

Once the above is understood, many theological conundrums are resolved, not least Augustine’s unsavory teaching that infants who die unbaptized “must endure sensual pain throughout eternity, albeit to a mild degree” – either to pay for Adam’s sin or the depravity of their own God-given souls [ref# 1]. Such was watered down to an extent by the Catholic Church but they still effectively taught (until Vatican II) that Jesus Christ would not tolerate the souls of any unbaptized infants in Heaven (characteristics somewhat at odds with the Gospels’ accounts of the Savior’s dealings with children). Also, the dilemma for many creationist Christians who rightly discern that the spirit/soul is not derived from sperm or ovaries but is planted by God at birth – unavoidably implying in the context of Augustinian/Reformed theology that a God-given entity is corrupt and itself hell-deserving. Absolutely not, the source of the problem is man not God. My sin-infested intellectual vessel (earthly tent) was derived from my earthly father, ultimately from Adam, That which God supplied was pure, albeit liable to corruption (1Pet2:11) once one is of an age to discern good from evil.

THAT is the true nature of original sin – not a soul corrupted at birth or Adam’s guilt imputed to everyone’s account, but God-given souls operating within their temporary housing that was conceived in sin (Ps51:5). This is not to deny that mankind is indeed paying a price for Adam’s sin through the corrupted vessel/tent we have inherited. But as hinted at in my recent posts even this is an act of supreme love on God’s part, especially in view of the implications to His Son in remedying the situation. God’s mysterious strategy was in the context of mankind’s glorious destiny and how it should best be accomplished and perfected (Heb2:10 cf. Rev10:7).

Re-clothing the soul

So, returning to the featured passage it is no wonder Paul writes “In this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling that is from heaven, since in fact after putting it on, we will not be found naked” (vv2-3). This affirms the related truth that the Christian’s destiny is not fulfilled when his or her spirit enters heaven, which Paul here describes as being naked and elsewhere as being asleep, but when one is re-clothed in that which is FROM heaven. Not so as to be spiritual entities at rest in their heavenly home but for the soul to reside in a glorious resurrection body, in which unlike the situation in Romans 7, material and spiritual co-exist in perfect union. Then one can truly be united to the Man who is God and actively participate within His realm. That will be joy unspeakable and full of glory.

How the above is reconciled with Scripture as a whole is set out in The Little Book of Providence:

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Related post: awaiting final redemption

Ref #1: Latin: paena sensus . (cf. New Advent: Catholic Encyclopaedia under headings “Unbaptized infants”, “Limbo” and the “Teaching of St Augustine”).

THE GOD OF THIS AGE

Depicting the god of this age

4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they will not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants on account of Jesus. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen containers, so that the extraordinary greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves…  17 For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2Cor4:4-7;17)

Firstly, a point about translation. Many bible versions have “god of this world” (v4) whereas the Greek is as translated above. The god of planet Earth is God – He created it, sustains it and shall one day renew it (cf. 2Pet3:13; Rev21:1-3). It is true to say that Satan is the prince of this world order (Greek: archon tou kosmou) for that is how Jesus refers to him in Jn12:31. But both Paul and Jesus were referring to the situation in the current age (Greek: aionos) and that is the word Paul uses in verse 4.

For, extraordinary as it appears, God has permitted his archenemy to have an ongoing controlling influence in the world. The current epoch is not really the “age of Christ” as some describe it, that has  yet to come, in spite of the fact that the resurrected Jesus declared “all authority has now been given to Me”. It has been, but it is not being exercised in the usual executive sense on planet Earth. Rather, Christ’s Kingdom here is being inaugurated through the Church, Currently they alone acknowledge Him as Lord or observe His royal charter. It is why the leaders of this world are not all men and women “after God’s own heart”, some far from it. It is why Satan is able to blind people’s minds concerning “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (v4). The Apostle John also affirmed that the whole world is currently under the sway of the Wicked One (1Jn5:19) and that only the Christian can be entirely delivered from its controlling influence through the power of the Holy Spirit.

It follows from the above and is more explicitly affirmed elsewhere by the doctrine of election that those who do respond to the Gospel do not do so through any wisdom or virtue on their part. Quoting Paul again, gospel salvation is a result of the “One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (v6)The apostle, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, arch-persecutor of Christians will have known that very well. Now as a leader in the work of God’s Kingdom, he was experiencing persecution: “We are constantly being delivered to death for Jesus’ sake so that His life might be manifest in our mortal flesh” (v11). And more generally the apostle has stated that Christians must expect to suffer with Christ in the present so that they may reign with Him in the future (cf. 2Tim2:12), to which Paul now adds, “For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (v17).

Such is God’s thoroughly intelligible goodness and justice towards all people: towards His elect who bear affliction for Christ’s sake to attain the aforementioned “eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison”. But also towards people of good will who have not received “the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ but respond positively to the divine light they have received engrained within the spiritual faculty we know of as conscience (cf. Jn1:9 King James Version; Rom2:15). As explained in a recent post, such are justified by an underlying faith that works through love and shall also be accepted into God’s Kingdom (Mt25:40).

As for the rest, it should be evident that a God who is Love would never act cruelly or mercilessly towards anyone. But it is surely right and just that those depicted in Matthew’s gospel as “goats” devoid of any compassionate concern for the needy with whom the Son of Man personally identifies should go on to receive post-mortem punishment (Mt25:45). As to why the devil and his agents have a continuing role within God’s extraordinary plan to raise the sons of earth, a clue may be Heb2:10 – a detailed biblical synopsis being provided in The Little Book of Providence:

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ON SPIRIT AND LETTER

Augustine's treatise on spirit and letter with which this author disagrees
Augustine’s treatise with which I can no longer concur

 2 You are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read by all people, revealing yourselves, that you are an epistle of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence we have toward God through Christ. Not that we are adequate in ourselves so as to consider anything as having come from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. (2Cor3:2-6)

For all their faults, Paul is here depicting the Corinthian Church as “an epistle of Christ”. He is saying that their lives reflect the teaching of Christ that the apostle and his fellow workers had imparted to them. That pertained not only to their service to God but was something that could be observed by the world: “an epistle known and read by all people” (v2). But the key point I am drawing out from this passage concerns the relationship between the spirit and the letter, misunderstood amongst others by the ultra-influential Augustine of Hippo.

God’s Law imparted through Moses had been inscribed on tablets of stone but now such had been inscribed on believers’ hearts by the Holy Spirit (v3). However, contrary to the translations in many versions of the bible, Paul’s later reference in v6 to the letter killing and the spirit giving life is not referring to the Holy Spirit.  If you examine the Greek interlinear translation of 2Cor 3 in the Bible Hub (available HERE), you will note that in verse 6 πνεῦμα (=“spirit” in the nominative case) has been translated  “Spirit” (by implication the Holy Spirit) in many versions (e.g. NASB), whereas in verse 3 which is indeed referring to the Holy Spirit Πνεύματι (“Spirit”  in the dative case) has a capital Pi “Π”  rather than a lower case Pi “π”

The Bible Hub Greek text is utilized by the Berean Interlinear and literal Bible. It is the highly regarded “Nestle 1904” version and corresponds exactly in this regard to the Textus Receptus followed by the Reformers translating the English Authorized Version of the Bible (note 1). Yet most Protestant bibles translate πνεῦμα   as “Spirit” (i.e. the Holy Spirit) rather than “spirit” so as to support their particular theological understanding (referred to below). Of course, the Holy Spirit does “give Life” but that is not what Paul is alluding to in 2Cor3:6. Rather, he is contrasting the letter of the Law with the spirit of the Law – comparing a slavish observance of dead ordinances on the one hand with heart-felt obedience that fulfils the spirit (i.e. ultimate intention) of the Law on the other.

The reason I make the point about the Holy Spirit (apart from the fact that my interpretation is supported by the Textus Receptus) is that those who are not privileged to possess the divine Spirit’s presence (i.e. virtually everybody in Old Testament times and proportionally speaking the vast majority in the current age) are, contrary to the teaching of Augustine and the Reformers, well able to fulfil the spirit of God’s law, the heart of which is a love for humanity: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal5:14). Such were the “sheep” in Mt25:31-46, being the definitive New Testament passage on final judgement – a passage in which religious faith or a personal knowledge of Christ as Savior are not so much as mentioned. For as I have been outlining, what Scripture refers to as “salvation” does not itself determine “who goes to Heaven when they die”. Neither is the possession of the Holy Spirit essential for that purpose.

However, the Spirit’s presence, His energies and a personal knowledge of Jesus as Lord and Savior are essential for those who are to be “saved”, i.e. delivered from the overriding influence of what Paul describes as “the body of this death” (Rom7:24-25). By that he is referring to the sin-polluted intellectual vessel (body and brain) procreated from our parents that the soul inhabits and utilizes during its earthly existence (cf. Eccles12:7; 1Thes4:4; Rom7:23). Those of God ‘s children chosen for His Son (note very carefully the wording of Jn17:6) need to be cleansed of their sin and receive ongoing sanctification so that they may become “free indeed” to serve the living God whilst in mortal flesh. As Paul has just affirmed to the Corinthian Church, they then become “a (living) epistle of Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (v3). Also depicted as the Body of Christ, these people have been called out from the world to be prepared for unimaginable glory in the ages to come – corporately to be betrothed to Christ and even to share His throne (Rev3:21 & 19:7). As for their precise activity it is not currently lawful for anyone to state it (2Cor12:4), but we are offered clues (cf. 1Jn3:2; Rev2:26-29; Gen15:5). It is a destiny for which those who do not come to know Christ as Savior or gain possession of an indwelling Holy Spirit cannot possibly attain, at least in the age that follows this one.­

Such sublime providence could never be substantiated from mere philosophical reasoning, a few passages of the bible, still less from wishful thinking. A re-synopsis of the whole bible is what is needed, one that could be verified or otherwise by its intrinsic coherence. Albeit shabbily presented, such has now been provided in The Little Book of Providence:

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Note 1: It should be pointed out that the original New Testament text was written entirely in capital letters with no spaces or punctuation. So, whether the Greek word for spirit was a capital or lower case Pi is a scribe-based rather than genuinely textually based issue. But the point is that in all cases my interpretation is in line with that of the scribes with regard to whether Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit, the human spirit. or as in this case the spirit in the sense of fulfilling an aim or purpose (i.e. the spirit of the law) .

Related posts: Faith establishes the Law    &    Love fulfils the Law   &   Spirit or letter?

PAUL: CHIEF OF SINNERS?

The apostle Paul writing - no longer the chief of sinners

As the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are partners in our sufferings, so also you are in our comfort… …12 Our exalting is in the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you. (2Cor1:5-7;12)

Many Christians understand Paul to have regarded himself as “the chief of sinners”, but that statement should be understood in context. For every account of Paul’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 behavior set a pattern for his converts to follow (1Cor11:1). Speaking of himself and his fellow workers in this passage he writes “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” (v12). 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.

“Chief of sinners” pertained to the past, but the conversion and subsequent apostleship of the fanatical Christ-hating Saul of Tarsus reminds us again that God’s elective choice is entirely a matter of grace. As for those who are chosen, it is not so that they might join “an assembly of justified sinners”. As Paul would tell Titus: “Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from all sinful activity and purify unto Himself a peculiar people filled with zeal to do good works” (Tit2:14). And in terms of the Corinthian Church to whom he was writing, he regarded them as “partners in the apostles’ sufferings” (v7). Such they needed to be if they (or indeed we) are to become “the heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; providing we suffer with Him so that we may also be also glorified with Him” (Rom8:17). The Protestant Reformers had insisted on emphasizing “the theology of the Cross” and it is certainly the case that apart from Christ’s Passion there would be no salvation for anybody. But Christ’s suffering and ours (if we are truly His disciples) are not ends in themselves but the means to an end, and that end is glory: “because it was fitting for (Christ) 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).

**********************************************************************

All is worked out in detail and reconciled with Scripture as a whole in The Little Book of Providence:

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STING OF DEATH IS SIN?

Portrait of G F Handel who wrote Messiah incorporating the words "the sting of death is sin"
George Frideric Handel

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, incorruptible – and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on what is incorruptible, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this corruptible puts on that which is incorruptible and this mortal puts on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. 55 Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Cor15:51-57)

The sting of death is sin

Still in 1Cor15, the featured text includes one of my favorite passages from Handel’s famous Christmas oratorio “Messiah”. That is because, with Paul I regard resurrection as the apotheosis of Christian salvation, rather than the spirit’s temporary abode in the spiritual realm when the body dies, which Paul again here refers to as being asleep (v51).

But the main point of this post is to observe carefully what the apostle writes concerning sin and death vv54-56: “The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law”. The converse idea, namely that the sting of sin is death is better understood and Paul quotes as much from Hosea (25:8). But as I have often intimated, the apostle generally intends exactly what he writes (even in Rom11:11,12 & 15!) Here he is confirming among other things that when speaking of death it is not referring to a state of damnation for in Paul’s recapitulation of Hosea’s teaching, sin results from death as well as leading to it. Something being already spiritually dead has resulted in sin, that something being the mortal body and brain which Paul has elsewhere referred to as our vessel (1Thes4:4), tent (2Cor5:1+4) and most pointedly “the body of this death (Rom7:24).

For in responding to the body’s natural inclinations, the soul rebels against the divine light of conscience and so disrupts the relationship with the Source of its spiritual life. For what had been conceived in sin (Ps51:5) has “died” leading in turn to sin that destroys Life once the “law” (a sense of right and wrong) is perceived and invariably breached (Rom7:9). Hence “the sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law“. Hence also, the need for heavenly grace by which one can be spiritually purified, receiving ongoing cleansing of the soul so that those God has chosen for His Son (Jn17:6) may serve Him whilst in mortal flesh in preparation for their eternal Courtship (Rev19:7).

The apostle had further asserted that “death will be swallowed up in victory” (v54), yet even celestial grace does not fully resolve the problem of mortal embodiment. God intends to save our soul and body, but He does not do so simultaneously. So even the Christian is tempted to sin whilst in mortal flesh which is why it is his body that is to be offered as a living sacrifice “so that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk after the flesh but after the spirit” (Rom8:4); for it is the spirit that having been supplied by God loves His law and wishes to serve righteousness.

Not until “this corruptible” (body) has been transformed at resurrection will death (physical and spiritual) finally be swallowed up in victory when the body itself is redeemed (Rom8:23). The soul’s vessel in its current degenerative state is the cause of the human problem being the outworking of original sin – sin being the result of that death (Paul’s point). The final solution will not be for the soul to lose a body altogether and be eternally at rest in the spiritual realm (a spurious dualism), but to be re-clothed in a new body which is from heaven (2Cor5:2) and to be united to the Man who is God and actively participate within His realm; that will be joy unspeakable and full of glory.

All this and how it fits in with the rest of Scripture is worked out in detail in “The Little Book of Providence”:

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Related post: The body of this death

CHRIST THE FIRST FRUITS

"Christ" can refer to the person of the Messiah but also His people the Church

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is in vain. 15 Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ only in this life, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 However, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man death came, by a Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to our God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. (1Cor15:20-24)

Unusually, I did not provide a post for 1Cor14 which concerned speaking in tongues and the role of women in the Church, for unlike virtually every chapter of the New Testament covered so far it has little direct relevance to the subject matter in hand, being the scope of God’s benign providence. But there is more to focus on in 1Cor15 although I shall only do so here briefly for it is likely to become a recurring theme. Paul is dealing with those in the Church who questioned whether there or not there was to be a resurrection of the dead. No doubt they believed that if you were a Christian your soul will go to heaven when you died, so, thought they (as do some today), isn’t that salvation done and dusted? On the contrary, it is just the beginning: disembodied spirits reposing in heaven is an interim, albeit blissful state that Paul here describes as being asleep (v20). An influence in the early stages of my spiritual journey, Prof. Tom Wright* would sometimes quip, there is life after life after death. Paul points such doubters of the resurrection to Jesus, who died for our sin, was buried, raised on the third day, ascended into heaven, being “the One whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things” (Acts3:21). But to Paul the vital aspect was the Lord’s resurrection by which God had vindicated everything Jesus had done, most vitally the accomplishment of human salvation: “for if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (v17).

But Christ is risen, Hallelujah! And “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”. However, as Paul goes on to say there is to be an order in terms of who are to be made alive and when: “everyone in his own class (Greek: hekastos de en to idio tagmata): Christ the first fruits, afterwards, those who are Christ’s at His coming (v22-23). Later he writes to the Thessalonians along similar lines concerning the Lord’s return: “Christ shall be glorified in His saints and be marvelled at by those that believe on that day, just as our testimony among you was believed (2Thes1:10). The key to understanding the providential implications to this is exactly what Paul meant by “Christ the first fruits”. Is it Jesus or His people? I have become clear it is the latter, particularly in view of what else has been brought to light. In terms of the Corinthian passage, I made the following observation in my later book from which I will quote to close:

Christ the first fruits

“Christ the first fruits” refers to the Church, which a couple of chapters ago Paul had simply referred to as Christ (12:12) for it is, after all, His mystical body on earth. Christians are the first fruits of creation (Jam1:18). Jesus is also described as first fruits (of them that sleep) but He was never “dead in Adam” in the Pauline sense being Himself the Second Adam; and He cannot be a “class of those in Christ” for He is the Christ. Moreover, Paul is referring to those who would be made alive in the future which cannot include Christ Himself but refers to Christ’s elect and those who believe at His coming. This aligns with Old Testament prophecy that all who shall call on the name of the Lord will be delivered from perdition. Logically the same principle applies to those who have died having never had the opportunity to know the Saviour, and that is substantiated on two occasions in the first epistle of Peter (3:18-20 and 4:6). On the other hand, those alive at His coming who are not of God and refuse to obey the gospel of Christ will in Paul’s language be set ablaze (2Thes1:8), removed from God’s presence and everyone else’s. By “not obeying the gospel” is meant refusing to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ even after His identity has been manifested. For one can only obey or refuse to obey what has been clearly presented and understood. So, when Christ re-appears on earth and indeed wherever He has presented Himself in person there can be no excuse for those who reject Him. Likewise, if a universally agreed announcement of the coming Kingdom of Christ were provided to the world from a re-unified Church it would be a clarion call that would seriously need to be heeded (Mt24:14).  And such would be the roll call: Who is on the Lord’s side; who will serve the King? [Extract from “The Little Book of Providence” chapter seven]

If I were dependent on a passage like this to prove that God’s kindly intentions extend far beyond Israel and the Church, it would be flimsy evidence indeed. But no, the Little Book of Providence** utilizes the bible from cover to cover to explicate such munificent providence, adducing in the process that the fruits of Christ’s Passion avail, albeit at a two-fold degree, for all true humanity.

* N.T. Wright – former Anglican Bishop of Durham (England); Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity St Andrews University (Scotland); Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University

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Related post The Body of Christ

THE NATURE OF GOD’S LOVE

A hymn referring to God's love as it was revealed in Jesus

 Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1Cor13:4-8a)

The previous post focused on love as being the supreme human quality (13:13); here we affirm its divine origins and consider whether God’s love is the same in nature as our own. The Apostle John wrote eloquently about the subject in his epistles, especially his statement that “Love is OF GOD, and everyone who loves is born of God and has knowledge of God whereas he that does not love does not know God, for God IS love” (1Jn4:7,8). It also needs to be affirmed that human love is the same IN NATURE to that which God possesses, having been displayed to perfection in the earthly ministry of Christ. When asked by disciple Philip to “show us the Father and it will satisfy us”, Jesus’ replied, “Have I BEEN WITH YOU ALL THIS TIME and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father ?” (Jn14:9). This affirms that even during His earthly ministry, Jesus was the exact image of His Father (Heb1:3). And that image related to nature, not appearance – “being the image of THE INVISIBLE GOD” (Col1:15). Likewise, when God created man “in His own image”, that must also relate to nature. Of course, in man’s case that image has become tarnished by sin, but in the Christian at least it is being restored. For following Jesus’s retort to Philip, the Lord went on to say in the next verse, “For I am in the Father and the Father is in Me”. But the Christian can say, “I am in Christ and Christ is in me”. And if something of Christ’s nature is not already reflected in our lives and behavior, we are none of His.

The nature of God’s love

The quality Paul describes when he writes “Love is patient, love is kind” etc. (v4) whether human or divine, cannot by its very nature be selective or exclusive. A loving earthly father may have a special affection for his wife and family but will show kindness and tolerance towards all, FOR THAT IS HIS NATURE; likewise our Father in heaven. Equally, the instincts that a Christ-like person should possess concerning what he or she knows to be right and just are not mere human reasoning but the outworking of a God-given human spirit. And instinctively, all right-minded people know in their hearts that it would be cruel and hateful to punish a living creature for not doing what it is innately incapable of doing, let alone banish its soul to eternal misery. And yet traditional (Augustinian-derived) Western theology implies just that concerning the Creator’s intentions towards much of humanity – the only explanation offered being that the divine nature is entirely beyond human comprehension and comparison. But as we have just shown, that contradicts the teaching of Christ concerning Himself as God-incarnate, and His beloved apostle John’s teaching concerning the nature and origin of love. Apart from which, if you do not already partake of the divine nature YOURSELF, you cannot be a Christian (2Pet1:4). For it is not God’s nature but His WAYS that are currently incomprehensible (Rom11:33-34). Consequently, it is no surprise that anyone reviewing human history and perceiving the world around them poses the question: “How could a loving God possibly allow such suffering and injustice to prevail so extensively and enduringly?” Well, Paul and the writer to the Hebrews in particular have dropped clues (Rom8:20-21; Heb2:10), whilst the book that these posts are promoting fills them out in more detail according to what I understand the Spirit to have revealed to me on the subject.

In terms of doctrine, satanic agencies that hate God and resent his plans for humanity know that it is virtually impossible to love, delight and whole-heartedly worship One whose nature appears to oppose the noblest instincts of one’s own. The best one can do is to offer praise to such a Being for electing to be merciful TO ME, even if, as in my case, the majority of people I have ever loved and known must face a lost eternity “to satisfy God’s perfect justice” or “in view of God’s holiness” as if that holiness did not primarily comprise the sublime quality we have been considering. It is no wonder such a perspective has been rejected or watered down by so many. Aware of God’s loving nature, especially as it has been revealed in Jesus, many mistakenly assume that human beings have the innate capability of responding to the Gospel and that God wishes as many as possible to do so. In both respects, this is a contradiction of the teaching of Jesus (Jn6:44), Luke (Acts13:48), John (Jn1:13) and more comprehensively, the epistles of Paul. As was the case with God’s choice of Israel in the Old Testament, Christian salvation has been prepared for those appointed to it and God’s sovereign choice in the matter is on the basis of unmerited grace. That is virtually impossible to reconcile with the equitable and loving nature of the Divinity presented in the bible in the context of the traditional Western binary all-of-grace soteriological model. Hence the prevalence of Arminian dilution or liberal wholesale rejection of the bible’s irrefutable teaching on election. But all makes perfect sense within the broader providential context I have been outlining, affirming Paul’s own description of God’s elect as those “redeemed from all iniquity, purified to be CHRIST’S OWN SPECIAL PEOPLE, filled with a zeal to do good works” (Tit2:14). As such they become the agents of God’s loving purposes for the world, not the sole beneficiaries.

However extraordinary God’s strategy may appear, especially the seemingly avoidable admittance of sin and suffering into the world, God’s will, whether perfect or permissive, is bound to be motivated BY LOVE. As hinted at in the two cryptic verses referred to earlier, human sin and its resultant suffering have actually been a positive, providing the grist required to raise mere children of dust to a glory that is likely to transcend the angels (previous post). Allowing Satan his victory at Eden was actually the ultimate expression of divine love in view of God’s foreknowledge of the cost to Himself and His Son in remedying the situation. It also paved the way for the humiliating defeat of His enemy, who having lost his exalted place in heaven through his resentment of God’s plans for humanity has actually facilitated their development through the suffering he has inflicted upon them (Heb2:10 again). And the remedy needed required God’s Word to take on HUMAN flesh – by Whom the world could be redeemed and individuals sanctified to become “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, suffering with Him in the present in order to be glorified with Him in the future” (Rom8:17). Albeit feebly and inadequately, “The Little Book of Providence” goes on to expound God’s kindly intentions towards every member of the human race who can demonstrate by their love that they are in John’s words born of God (1Jn4:7), and by their acts of compassion that they already serve “Christ” (Mt25:37-40). I am careful to differentiate such “sheep” from those just referred to above who according to Christ “shall sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father in His throne (Rev3:21). Such unspeakable glory could hardly be reserved for the proverbial “world and his wife”, but it is for Christ and His (Rev19:7).

Why should there be such a disclosure at this time? I believe it is hinted at in Revelation (chapter 10), and more explicitly in the ex-canonical book of Enoch (Charles edition ch93:10 & ch104:11-13). An earlier post explained how that writing was regarded as inspired by many in the early Church and how its opening verse suggests it was never intended as a reference source for the Church throughout her history but for Christians living in the last days, hence its exclusion from the biblical canon. I would not dare presume that I or my writing directly pertain to these references, for prophets are generally clear that they are what they are, whilst I have received no such assurances. Yet if the venture is of God and genuinely Spirit-inspired it will prosper in due course. Alternatively, it may pave the way for someone clearly anointed to the task who can communicate effectively and with divine authority – a true “Elijah” that shall restore all things (Mt17:11), “turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk1:17). That is to complete the task that John Baptist could never fulfil through no fault of his own. It was simply not his time in view of the Father’s secret plan for the Gentile nations that Paul outlined in Eph3:1-11 and referred to again in Rom11:11-12, the dispensational and providential implications of which have not been grasped (the focus of my first book, but reiterated in condensed form in the second, available at the link below).

But why should such a prophet be needed in anticipation of Christ’s SECOND coming, and how could polemical writing like mine, finding as it does error in every quarter, contribute to a united Church or the unified gospel presentation the world needs to hear prior to Christ’s return? Mt24:14(NASB) may offer a clue, the key phrase being “this gospel”, i.e. the demands and rewards of heirship to God’s Kingdom that Jesus and His disciples had been heralding. Also, some final thoughts from my first book:

“Reconciliation (of the churches) could never be accomplished from a one-sided position of “Told you so” but rather by the acknowledgement of ERROR BY ALL PARTIES. Such would be an effectual predisposition for the separated children in the churches to be reconciled with their Catholic/Orthodox fathers in the Faith, whilst the Jewish Fathers of the Faith may be reconciled with their Gentile children of the Kingdom who had been grafted in to provoke them to jealousy (Rom11). Prevarication may prolong what the Church and the world have to endure (Mal4:6b) so woe to any who would engender it by their failure to acknowledge error, frustrating the process of reconciliation. With such a warning were the Scriptures of the Old Testament dispensation concluded” – [Extract from “Fellowship of the Secret” – chapter 7] ***********************************************************

THE LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE” – Paperback, e-book and free PDF HERE

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THE SUPREMACY OF LOVE

If I speak with the tongues of mankind and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions to charity, and if I surrender my body so that I may glory, but do not have love, it does me no good. Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away with; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part and prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away with. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1Cor13:1-13)

It may surprise many that Paul teaches that genuine spiritual gifts such as prophecy and speaking in tongues are of no value to the practitioner if they are not accompanied by love. Likewise, seemingly selfless spiritual acts such as charitable giving, even a willingness to give oneself to martyrdom will do the individual no good unless the action has been motivated by love (v3). Yet this is entirely in accordance with what I have been testifying, namely the supremacy of love over everything else, even our faith and hope for the future (v13). And whilst some of the distinctly spiritual gifts Paul has been outlining are exclusive to the Christian, love as he describes it here (vv4-7) assuredly is not. All (bar a certain category of human – see below) possess this Quality to a degree. And wherever true charity and love are to be found, God is there. All who love are born of God, know Him and are responding positively to that knowledge (cf. 1Jn4:7; Jn1:9KJV). God and His Son before whom they shall be judged delight in their acts of kindness and shall receive them into His Kingdom (Mt25:40). All who love and show compassion to others are justified in God’s sight – not in view of the works themselves which, as in the case of the Mt25 “sheep” are bound to be inconsistent and incomplete, but because of the “faith” from which they spring. For faith works through love (Greek;: πίστις δι’ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη – Gal5:6). Love stems from faith; there cannot be the one without the other.

At the universal level, utilizing the language of second century Clement of Alexandria “it is that COMMON FAITH which lies beneath as a foundation that is built upon and consummated in those who come to faith in Christ”[note 1]. Such concepts of natural law were later set aside by the Catholic Church [note 2], especially through the influence of 5th century Augustine, and rejected altogether by the 16th century Protestant Reformers. Thereby has the breadth of God’s benign providence and the scope of Christ’s saving work been diminished. For as I have frequently pointed out, “natural law” is something of a misnomer for it pertains to innate spiritual faculties and to Christ’s identity as Logos and His activity as Savior of the world [note 3]. [No doubt to the displeasure of some readers, I have frequently had to return to this subject for it is an essential piece of the providential jigsaw].

The supremacy of love

 But I make no apology for returning to the subject of “ἀγάπη” – the supremacy of love and the essence of God (1Jn4:8); the defining marker for the bulk of humanity who have retained His image in their hearts – and the relative few who have not, being devoid of a functioning conscience to prompt or motivate them, they lack any caring compassion or empathy towards the rest of humanity – especially the weakest, aka Christ (Mt25:37-40). As for the equally substantial distinction between the many (Mt25 “sheep”) who through their acts of compassion show that they are born of God, and the proportional few incorporated into the body of Christ (previous post), it is only the latter who can receive the necessary preparation for betrothal to the Lord of Glory and share His domain through eternity (Rev19:7).

Prophecy and words of knowledge, including any I have proffered, shall pass away. For they are at best incomplete: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known” (v12). What remains and endures at the individual level is faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love.

NOTES

[1] Clement of Alexandria (A.D.153-217) The Stromata Book V chap. 1

2] The Catholic Church has subsequently and formally incorporated dogma regarding God’s gracious dealings with those outside the Church at its Second Vatican Council (1960s). The constitutions were framed in such a way as to try to avoid conflicting with earlier conciliar pronouncements, especially those which had warned of the perilous state of those outside the Catholic Church, Christian or otherwise. Though much to be welcomed, the about-face presents something of a problem for the Church whilst she continues to insist upon the immutability or infallibility of all earlier conciliar/papal decrees. And in the context of this exercise, statements such as “Divine providence shall not deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who without any fault of theirs have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life [Lumen Gentium 16]” will cut little ice with Evangelicals who rightly demand such decrees be clearly underpinned from Scripture. Regrettably, this cannot be achieved without some substantial deconstruction – particularly with respect to some of 5th century Augustine’s distinctive biblical interpretations, many of which became foundational to Western theology. Hence “The Little Book of Providence” and the measure of vexation it must unavoidably cause to some Christian traditions if God’s intelligible goodness and boundless benevolence is to be proclaimed and explained by the Church to the world – especially in anticipation of the imminent return of the One whom heaven has received until the period of the restoration of all things” (Acts3:21).

[3] Earlier posts most relevant to this subject:

https://richard777.blog/2021/03/20/conscience-and-the-cosmic-christ

https://richard777.blog/2021/01/11/love-fulfils-the-law

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THE BODY OF CHRIST

The Church is depicted as the body of Christ

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and individually parts of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, and various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And yet, I am going to show you a far better way (1Cor12:27-31).

Having just celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we remember that His ascension soon followed. For He was the One whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things, about which God spoke by the mouths of His holy prophets from ancient times”(Acts3:21). Yet Christ has not entirely departed from the planet for the Church remains as “the body of Christ” as Paul outlines here. “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually parts of it” (v27). “For just as the body is one and yet has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ (v12). Note how Paul describes the Church here simply as “Christ”. That has providential implications to what he relates later in his epistle concerning the Lord’s coming again: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive23 But each in his own order: firstly Christ the first fruitsNote 1 , after that those who are Christ’s at His coming” (15:22-23NASB).

For as I am in the business of demonstrating, Christ’s mystical body does not comprise the totality of those God loves and towards whom His intentions are benevolent; rather they are the agency for a continuation of His saving work on earth as well as the company of people being fitted through the Holy Spirit’s energies and their own self discipline to become His Son’s corporate Spouse in the ages to come (1Cor9:27; Rev19:7). In the present, this mystical body is intended to show the Way, reveal the Truth and provide the means of Life to the rest of the world; the latter (spiritual life) only being provided to those who themselves become incorporated into that body. That is especially so that the latter might partake of the “cup of blessing” that Paul referred to earlier in his epistle (10:16) which I examined in my previous post. To this end, God’s Spirit has provided gifts to the various members of the body so that she may function effectively. Whilst it is by no means wrong for individual members to desire the greater gifts, Paul is about to demonstrate a still better way (v31). He shall explain in the next chapter that even the greatest gifts of the Spirit shall be of no avail unless their outworking is motivated by  “ἀγάπη” (compassionate love).

Note

  1. God’s elect (the Church) as well as Jesus Himself being referred to as “Christ” and also the “firstfruits of creation” (James1:18; 1Cor15:23)

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Related post: Christ the first fruit  &   The Jerusalem Council

THE LORD’S SUPPER

The first Lord's Supper

20 When you come together it is hardly befitting of the Lord’s Supper, 21 for when you eat, each one takes his own supper first; one goes hungry while another gets drunk! 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What am I to say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I do not praise you. 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord28 But a person must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern the body. 30For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number are deceased. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, have him eat at home, so that you do not come together for judgment. As to the remaining matters, I will give instructions when I come (1Cor11:20-34).

Whilst the first part of 1Cor11 dealt with the intriguing subject of why women should wear head coverings in religious assemblies (previous post) we now move on to the more crucial issue of the Lord’s supper and its precise nature. Paul doesn’t elucidate too much on the latter here; he is more concerned with how the Corinthians were conducting themselves at the Lord’s Supper – disgracefully in some cases, the narrative largely speaking for itself. But why are the penalties for partaking unworthily so drastic? “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number are deceased” (v30). Such would hardly be the penalty for half-hearted hymn singing or insincere praying – No, the Lord’s Supper is quite different and special.

A few chapters back Paul described the chalice as “the cup of blessing that we bless, being the communion of the blood of Christ” (10:16). For the first 25 years of my Christian life, I understood the bread and wine to be merely symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. My understanding has changed, particularly since the spiritual encounter that led to my book and these posts. That is especially in view of Jesus’ teaching in John 6, not least where He states:

“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. THIS IS THE BREAD THAT HAS COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN, so that anyone may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats from this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world also is My flesh.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” (Jn6:49-52)

This harks back to the previous chapter of Paul’s epistle currently being considered (1Cor10) in which he warned the Corinthian Church that they were no more spiritually secure than their Jewish forefathers who were as much “the people of God” as they were. However, there is a difference, for as the text from Jn6 indicates, until Jesus was incarnated, lived, died and was resurrected, the bread of Life and cup of salvation were not available. Yet if the latter were merely symbolic, why would that have mattered? But it did matter: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. I AM THE LIVING BREAD THAT HAS (ONLY NOW) COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN” (Jn6:49). Likewise, the symbolic “drinking from the rock that represented Christ” (1Cor10) did not result in the spiritual life to which Jesus referred. Neither did the animal sacrifices: “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the form of those things itself, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually every year, make those who approach perfect” (Heb10:1), whereas the blood of Christ can provide both pardon and sanctification to the participant. Again, if the latter were merely symbolic why would the animal’s blood and sacrifice that prefigured Christ’s atoning death not have been equally efficacious?

But then there is the witness of the earliest Christian writers concerning the Lord’s Supper and that is what ratified the issue for me. The matter is of such importance that I suggest you read my earlier post focusing on this subject. Then if (and only if) after perhaps months and years of prayerful research your understanding changes concerning “the real presence”, then regrettably you are likely to have to do as I did some years ago – reconsider your denominational allegiance.

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Related post: Feeding on Christ

A book exploring the mystery of divine providence