God Enters Into Covenant

Why does God enter into relationship specifically through covenant? Maybe a more specific question would be: What is it about God and His nature that would cause Him to enter into relationship through covenant? The question, of course, begs to ask a second question. What exactly is covenant, or specifically, what exactly is the covenant that God has chosen to enter into relationship through? It is a perplexing questions when left vague, because who can truly understand what it is about covenant that fills God’s heart with joy? However, when we dive into the secondary question, clarity emerges.

If we trace through the Old Testament the times when the word covenant is used, specifically by the prophets or God Himself, we find that God does seem to have a singular eye. He talks to Israel about “My covenant”.1 It isn’t “covenants”, as if with different people at different times, and in different dispensations, God is giving different covenants, or relating with humanity in different ways. God enters into relationship through one covenant exclusively, and all aspects of that covenant are displayed throughout all times and ages. Where our confusion so often enters is in the issue of the Jewish calendar, the sacrifices, the laws and ordinances, and these sorts of stumbling blocks to the Gentiles. Simply because we as Gentiles find the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to be archaic, or worse, and therefore outdated or obsolete does not mean that God thinks in the same way.

We’ve been taught to think of these things as types and shadows, but the real substance is Christ. And we’ve been shown examples of how the sacrifices are all fulfilled in Christ, and how the feasts are all fulfilled in Christ, and therefore because Jesus has already come and gone, we think of these things as no longer relevant in discussion. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. In every way that we can see the sacrifices, the feasts, the laws, the statutes, the ordinances, and the other aspects of the covenant as fulfilled in Jesus, we can see them eschatologically as well. The book of Revelation masterfully paints a picture of the end times with Jewish imagery, much of which coming directly out of the Torah and the traditions associated with the feasts. They who are in white robes waving palm branches in Revelation 7 is a direct reference to the tradition of the Feast of Tabernacles. The Lamb that has been slain, who appears in Revelation 14 as well as Revelation 4-5, is a direct reference to Passover. This is not to mention that immediately after Passover is first fruits, which just so happens to be the whole point of Revelation 14:1-5.

My whole point here is that God’s heart is not one of divorcing the old to be enthralled with the new. God has told us that we should not commit adultery,2 and that if we divorce for any reason other than extremes (such as infidelity),3 only to then take up a new spouse, that we are committing adultery. How is He now going to reveal to us that He has divorced Israel and the Old Testament to be married unto the Church and the New Testament? I am depositing here another way of looking at things. God enters into covenant with the whole of creation, and not merely through humanity, and therefore His focus is upon the redemption and restoration of all things. When God made promise in Genesis 3 that there would be a seed of the woman, that promise has the unspoken connotation of bringing things back into Eden. When God made the promise to Noah, that everlasting covenant that He made was with the whole earth. When He made the covenant with Abraham, that covenant was specifically to bless all the nations, and it had a very specific piece of land associated with it.

Immediately when I say such things, whether in conversation or on media, my experience has been that I get a slew of questions of how I can believe that God would be want the Jew and not the whole world, or why God would want the land of Israel. Don’t I know that God isn’t in real estate? And don’t I know that God has broken down the wall of separation? Don’t I know that there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ? But who exactly are we attacking in these questions? Are these questions directed at me, or at God? It is almost as if without saying it, people are making the very bold and irrational declaration that if God is like that, I can’t, and won’t, follow Him or believe in Him. If God would choose one nation out of all nations, in order to bless all nations, that through the blood of the everlasting covenant we have been grafted into and made a part of that nation, then I want nothing to do with that sinister God of yours. And if God would choose one piece of land over and above all pieces of land, that He should establish a Kingdom upon the earth from which to rule over all nations, that there would be world peace and everlasting righteousness and justice, then you can give that God the finger for me, because I hate Him.

We would never say these thing out loud, and yet the very foaming at the mouth in the heated discussions that I’ve encountered does indeed say this loud and clear. Why is there such rage and animosity if all we’re talking about is the possibility of God doing things one way or another? Either this jives with God’s character or it is out of keeping with His character. If it is out of keeping, then let us reason together and explain why. If it is not out of keeping, then why the hostility? Is it a rage against a doctrine, or a rage against the everlasting covenant itself? Do we not see in Daniel 11 that this is exactly what the antichrist does: rage against the covenant?

1Genesis 6:18, 9:15, 17:7, Exodus 6:4, 19:5, Leviticus 26:9, Deuteronomy 31:20, etc

2Exodus 20:14

3Matthew 19:9

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Utilitarianism

For the sake of posterity, utilitarianism is the belief that actions, deeds, mindsets, etc are good and right when they are of benefit to the majority. We believe, in a general sense, in a God that is utilitarian. The majority of Christianity speaks of a God that is benevolent, and seeking the benefit of the majority, if not all. Yet, this is not the way that God Himself speaks of Himself. It is not that God does not have care upon all, nor that He does not desire the benefit of all, but that our view of benevolence and welfare are not God’s view. Yes, He does give rain to both the just and the unjust, but that does not then mean that God is somehow acting in a utilitarian manner, and I think that every Christian would agree with this.

The word of God is something that is real. It touches the very nexus of our lives, and the way that we react to that relationship will determine the way that we react to all relationships. Jesus’ infamous question of, “What is it to you” reverberates through the question of Paul, “Who are you, a man, to answer back to God?” Our issue that is being rooted out is not the issue of talking back, but the issue of desiring the expedient and utilitarian thing. Fairness means that God treats all the same, and because one has been treated one way, and another treated another way, the balk is that God is now unfair. Why should Abraham be chosen, and why should God love Jacob? What is it that Israel has, that God would choose them over every other nation, so that to this day we Gentiles in Messiah are still perplexed by that election? What is it about us that we are so hostile to the holy covenant? If God is God, then let Him choose. Who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Is this not asking the question of whether God is big enough to include even they who are far off, and to bring them near, even unto the commonwealth of Israel? And, if God has brought you near, then why such glorification or hostility of the one who was originally called?

At the heart of all theological endeavor is the contention between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the principalities and powers. They are utilitarian, teaching us to view the world in a Marxist manner, whether that shows up in communism, democracy, capitalism, socialism, or in the dictatorships of monarchy and tyranny. It does not matter which government you choose, they are all the same fallen government, but different sides of the same coin. God is not it any of it. He doesn’t subscribe to our governments, nor is He limited to using our nations, as if the only way for Him to achieve anything in the world is for the Western empires to do Him a service. If even the Nazi soldiers could wear banners that claimed “Gott mit uns”,1 then who are we to claim that God is also with us? Do we have such magnificent morality that we can make merchandise of the name of God, as if His favor is upon they who are most thoroughly devoted to being a Christian nation? And, if Jesus was the herald of non-resistance, turning the other cheek, giving to they who ask, not returning evil for evil, but doing good to they who hate you, praying for they who persecute you, loving your enemies, and even all of His apostles showed that exact same fortitude of denying themselves, spending all and being expended, for even their own enemy’s sake, then why do we believe that as a “Christian nation” it is our duty, honor, and privilege to attack, scrutinize, belittle, assail, and go to war with the nations that have offended God? Is God for the mass annihilation of souls, and stacking corpses in piles, simply because Israel is God’s nation and we’re going to be there to defend them? Is God for the extermination of an entire people, simply because they are the enemies of God’s people? Or, is there something else that is happening in those Scriptures, and for us to use them as our right and obligation to uphold world peace, ironically using war and devastation to do so, because we believe in a “just cause”, is to fully embrace utilitarian mindsets at the expense of another.

It is detestable enough for a nation to do this, thinking that they are blessing God Himself. How much more heinous is it for the very people who claim to be God’s people, whether Christian or ethnic Israel, to have the same opinion of other nations? If we do not draw the line in even these matters, then where will we draw the line in any of the issues of hearing the word of God? God’s word itself is not utilitarian, seeking the best and most benefit for the world, as if world peace is what God is ultimately after. Who exactly are we worshiping? Certainly the God of the Bible has told us that He has not desired the nations of this world, with their governments as we currently know them, to drop their swords and live at peace with one another. Such a peace is a false peace, purposefully not bombing one another while we think disdainfully toward one another. Peace in truth is a peace that loves, and not simply a peace that has agreed to stop fighting.

To take the Scriptures and use them for the sake of utilitarian values is to attack the very truth and word of God that we claim to proclaim. It undermines the very reality by which we say that we live by. A people who have submitted to that kind of perversion of truth will inevitably look for an escape of the false reality through any means necessary. The very soul of man was made to live in truth, and to swallow the deception for decades displays itself in every means possible to contend against the monotony. As a society we are raising our children to be numb, because truth cannot be truth, and God cannot be God, and the word of God is neutered. Every teenager knows what it feels like to feel nothing, and seek for alternative means of expression and cognizance. Life blurs together in a haze, seeking for reality and truth, but finding pollution and more unreality.

The utilitarian god is not God. Though pulpits proclaim him, he is forged in our own image, seeking to make justification of our actions as Christians built upon a bloody history, and as Christians who identify with our nations more than with Zion. God speaks. He acts. He moves. He feels. He cares. He loves. He lives.

Any theology that is an approach to the Scripture through expediency and utilitarianism is a false theology. If we are seeking that we would have the correct answers in order for a kingdom to be built that benefits us, then we are inevitably seeking first our own kingdom, and none of “these things” will be added unto us. Any search for a kingdom that has us at the center, because “we are the people of God”, or any other misguided, conceptual justification, is not a kingdom whose builder and maker is God. With this as the obvious focus of most of what calls itself Christianity, it is little wonder, then, why we are continually asking where the power of God is, why we don’t hear the Spirit, why there are so many different opinions about various doctrines, and all of these kinds of things.

God does not relate to us through utilitarian mechanisms. He relates to us on the basis of truth and reality. The offense that the old covenant became was that it was made into an expedient mechanism of how to manipulate God. If we would only act in this manner, as it says in the Scriptures, then God would hear us, and we would have such and such blessing. Over and over again God pleaded with Israel, but they would not listen. Over and over again God spoke through the prophets of the things that He approves of, and what His heart truly is, but what was sought after was the list of prescribed actions so that they might please God. Dare we make the New Covenant into the exact same mechanism, only with new, polished gears?

1 God with us

That They May Be One

The eternal covenant is the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. It carries with it the sense of eternality, and hence the term itself. By being eternal, it transcends time and circumstance. The fact that God works in an eternal covenant then also seems to demand an eternal election. After all, no matter what part of history you are examining, past, present, or future, the eternal covenant is in existence, and it is something that pertains to that time. How is it that the eternal covenant, which parallels so steadfastly with the new covenant, is contained within the Old Testament to an elect people that God has foreknown and loved? The answer should not be so difficult. What makes it difficult is because when we take that same language into the New Testament, we don’t want the same answer.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame in love: having predestined us into the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise and glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

Eph 1:3-6

The concepts that are in this passage, which continues on from here, are grounded in the Old Testament. Paul does not bring in new and unheard of language, nor does he have the authority to do so. Being an apostle does not grant Paul the power to now bring forth an entirely different frame of view than what the prophets before him declared, because if he did, he wouldn’t actually be an apostle. What exactly are the spiritual blessings in heavenly places? Well, through context it is obviously what Paul goes on to explain: being chosen, predestined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, given an inheritance, etc. Yet, for me this isn’t sufficient – specifically where do we find a “heavenly blessing” in the Old Testament? If Paul is building upon what was already laid by the prophets and Jesus Himself, then we should be able to find this kind of pattern or mindset in the Old Testament.

We do. It isn’t outright declared, but the pieces are indeed strung together, maybe especially when we consider Hebrews 11:10. The concept of the New Jerusalem, or Zion, which we have been brought unto, the City whose builder and maker is God, which Abraham himself sought after, is throughout the entirety of Scripture from beginning to end. Zion is the place where God dwells, whether in heaven, or on the earth. Wherever God is, it is Zion. It is Jerusalem. It is the City of peace. It is God’s City. It is where righteousness dwells. It is where the righteous rejoice. It is the wisdom of Proverbs that was with God from the beginning, from before the foundations of the world. It is the polar opposite of Babylon, which is the harlot, the woman who waits in the streets for the young fools who pass by. Wisdom and Babylon both cry out in the streets, but we choose which one to listen to.

Jeremiah proclaims that God cast the beauty of Israel from heaven to earth.1 How is it that this sinful nation, which is in judgment because of its debauchery, is somehow dwelling in heaven with God? The only way is that there is an eternal election, and therefore an eternal security, for that one nation, whether they are in keeping with the covenant or not. Apparently there is indeed a heavenly dwelling for the people of God in the Old Testament, and the prophets saw it. That same place is where we have received blessing, and where we are seated with Christ even now.

What shall we say about being chosen? Does the election, or the predestination, apply in the Old Testament? Is it solely the remnant?

For thou art an holy people unto the LORD your God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people2 unto himself, above all people that are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people.

Deuteronomy 7:6-7

For the LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure.

Psalm 135:4

But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.

Isaiah 41:8-9

To me the scandal is not the election of Israel. The scandal, which might even be a conspiracy, is that we have read these texts and taken them to mean the church. And, we don’t even mean church like Stephen used the word about the whole congregation of Israel in the wilderness at Sinai;3 we mean the Gentiles who are in the faith currently, as a completely separate entity from what was happening back then. Where else do we find what it means to be holy and without blame, except from the very words of the covenant in Leviticus and Deuteronomy? Is it not the very text of Leviticus that Peter is quoting when he tells us “be holy as I am holy”? If Leviticus had that much bearing upon Peter and those who he was writing to, then why do we think it has absolutely no bearing upon us? Because we’re not Jews? What a shameful and arrogant thing to believe, let alone to declare. Who are you, who has surpassed the holiness and righteousness of even the apostles?

Are you even aware that the phrase “blessed be God” is rare in Scripture, and is most often used in relation to God’s faithfulness unto the covenant? Yet, this is how Paul starts the very statement of our election and call. Even Jesus when speaking of the end of the age speaks of the eternality of His covenant by claiming that the Kingdom was prepared from before the foundation of the world. The whole passage drips of the language spoken to Israel in the prophets. If that is the case, then where do we have validation that Ephesians 1 is speaking about something other than Israel?

If we continue in the passage, we see that the inheritance is spoken of in two ways. First, it is that we have obtained inheritance in Christ. Second, it is that our inheritance has been guaranteed, or we’ve been given down payment on it, until the redemption of the purchased possession. What in the world is the purchased possession? Doesn’t it say elsewhere that we were bought with the precious blood of Messiah? Notice Deuteronomy 32:6 and 9. The language is similar here, that God has bought Israel – the context being even they who are disobedient. It even says that the LORD’s portion is His people, and Jacob is the place of His inheritance. Do you see the similarity in language here? It is not a stretch that I’m making, but rather a pulling the strings together. If that be the case, then we can see quite clearly that God has one Bride, one dwelling, one people, one Messiah, one faith, one Spirit, one Father, one Body, one Tabernacle, one covenant, and anyone who is unwilling to be grafted into that one tree shall be deadwood that is good for nothing but fire.

1Lamentations 2:1

2Is this where the idea of being called a peculiar people comes from?

3Acts 7:38

The Eternal Covenant

Within the pages of the New Testament, the word covenant comes up over 30 times. It might be surprising to find out that most of the time, it is not the “new” covenant. In fact, the term “new covenant” is only found about 10 times, and that includes in Hebrews 8 when quoting Jeremiah. The question that forms in my mind is why the new covenant is not utilized so much more regularly, if what God is so zealous for is a new covenant that is “better” than the old. Yet, when we read the conclusion of Hebrews, it is not the new covenant that the author mentions in his benediction, but the everlasting, or eternal, covenant.1 For the author of Hebrews, while there was much argument given about the “new covenant” being the “better covenant”, the conclusion was a blessing through the blood of the everlasting covenant.

Apparently, if we are to use easy deduction, the everlasting covenant is the same thing as the new covenant.2 It is the same Messiah, the same Shepherd, the same blood, and the same glory of God that is being worked in you, through your being made complete in every good work to do His will. Shall we then expect that there is somehow a disconnection, or even two different covenants for two different peoples? No, but the eternal covenant is the common thread that links all of history unto the end of the age. Whether we are looking into the past, and seeing the great promises that God has given, or whether we are looking unto the future, and reading the prophecies of David ruling over Israel, we can see the term “eternal covenant” used in both cases. Abraham was promised the Land and the inheritance as an eternal covenant, and David was also promised an heir that would sit upon his throne forever as an eternal covenant. Yet, the prophets use this term in eschatology as the moment when all Israel is saved, and David rules over them, and the nations themselves study war no more.

What are some of these passages that I’m speaking of?

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you – the sure mercies of David. Indeed I have given him as a witness to the people, a leader and commander for the people. Surely you shall call a nation you do not know, and nations who do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you.

Isaiah 55:1-5

And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the foreigner shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But you shall be named the priests of the Lord, they shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame, you shall have double honor, and instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs. For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering; I will direct their work in truth, and will make with them an everlasting covenant. Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people. All who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the posterity whom the Lord has blessed.

Isaiah 61:4-9

Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in my anger, in my fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be my people, and I will be their God, then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all my heart and with all my soul.

Jeremiah 32:37-41

Notice that these passages, with the potential exception of the first, cannot simply be explained away as pertaining to the church. The very people who were scattered are the people who are regathered. The very cities that were made desolate and a wasteland are the ones that are rebuilt. The very people who were in judgment, driven away in God’s anger, wrath, and fury, are the ones who God declares that will be brought back to this place, the very place from where they were scattered, where they will be given one heart and one mind – which Paul quotes and says that we should have now3 – that they may fear God forever, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. You can’t rid this promise from the very people who are under judgment. Just like Paul expresses that his heart in speaking difficult and reproving things to the Corinthians was not in hostility, but rather to show his great love for them,4 so we see that Jeremiah 32:37-41 ends with God saying that He will plant “them” in “this land”, with all of His heart, and with all of His soul. That quote is God quoting His own command unto Israel in Deuteronomy 6. Just as Israel shall love the Lord their God with all of their heart and soul, God is zealously proclaiming that the glory that shall be theirs, an eternal inheritance where heaven and earth touch, is the display of God loving Israel with all of His heart and with all of His soul.

Shall we attempt to pass by this? Shall we attempt to negate this? Who are we to claim the potter should have made us more glorious than He made others? Are you in the place of God? Do you not know that after Jeremiah 31 comes Jeremiah 32? And do you not know that after Jeremiah 31:31-34 comes Jeremiah 31:35-37? And do you not know that in that passage God declares that the new covenant is not for Gentiles that have taken the place of ethnic Israel, through whatever circumstances, but for the very ones that God led out of Egypt by His own hand? This is what makes it eternal. It is everlasting because from the beginning, and even before the foundation of the world, God has destined that He would have a people who would be made into His image and likeness, and whatever people that might be, it would be Israel. Ziba, the servant of Saul, loved David, and David loved Ziba, even though he was not ethnically Israel. Does that stop him from receiving honor in being counted as part of Israel? Such a question shows the lack of understanding God’s perfect love.

It does not seem like God is an either/or kind of God. Does the inheritance mean a heavenly inheritance? Yes. Does it mean an inheritance of the land of Canaan that has been promised Abraham? Yes. Isn’t that contradictory? God forbid that you should think that. When God establishes an eternal covenant, says that ordinances shall be for all generations, an everlasting ordinance, a statute forever, what other wording could God have used to say that this is going to last forever? How can we take this as meaning only until the heavenly thing comes into being through this hidden or mysterious entity called the church?

God is simply not trapped by these sorts of methods. We can’t make a claim on God that He has to fulfill, because His word says so, and we know His word. The land, the people, the priesthood, and even the law are all reflections of things in heaven. Just as there were twenty four priestly families, there are twenty four elders before the throne of God. Just as there is an altar in heaven, there is an altar upon the earth. The startling conclusion of the prophets is that when they saw the earthly things being destroyed or taken away captive, they did not dis-include the heavenly, eternal things from what was being destroyed and taken away captive.5

We have rightly perceived that the earthly things, commanded in the first five books of the Bible, are patterns of eternal things. What we have not rightly concluded is God’s care (or lack thereof) of the earthly things. The eternal covenant is the embodiment of all of God’s words throughout the Scriptures, and come together throughout the life of all of His saints. The sublime scandal is the specificity of God to choose, and that His choosing is His prerogative. He shall have mercy upon whom He shall have mercy. And, if God is truly the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then His choosing and election is not something separated from love or “fairness”.6 The great rage against God’s election is not from any fault in God, but from our own arrogant high mindedness, being wise in our own conceit, and thinking more of ourselves than we ought.

1Hebrews 13:20

2Specifically, when comparing the passage of Hebrews 13 with the statements given of the new covenant.

3Romans 15:6, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Philippians 2:2

42 Corinthians 2:4

5Jeremiah paints this vividly in Lamentations 2:1, when his response of seeing the people being taken away captive is that God has cast “the beauty of Israel” from heaven to earth. Yet, these are the ones in judgment, whom we would have assumed are not “in heaven”, but rather too much in the earth. Even if that is true, it does not disqualify that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places, and that we are ambassadors, and that we are in the world, but not of the world. Where do you think such statements come from? They come from the very concepts painted in these sorts of verses and passages in the Old Testament prophets about ethnic Israel, even disobedient ethnic Israel.

6Since when is it appropriate to put such condescending thoughts upon God’s character? If God chooses something, it is in His wisdom and character that He chooses. Maybe that is the problem. We are altogether not like Him, and we don’t think like Him. The sin that God indicts Israel with in Psalm 50:21 is that they thought Him to be like them, and now we are performing the exact same sin.

The Love of the Truth 2

At the turn of the millennia, in the eleventh century and for the next five hundred years, there were reformers within Christianity who stood up and refused to be comforted by the Christianity that they had been given. It started fairly slow, at least when you regard that there are only a few names until about the sixteenth century that fall into this stream. One after another, these men defied the Catholic overlord, and even while some still desired to honor that Catholic root that they had been so devoted to, they were all deemed as heathens and rebels at the least, damnable heretics at the worst.

It is a misrepresentation to claim that these who rose up in severe adversity did so because the Bible was being misinterpreted. Another grave mistake is considering that these were heralds of the poor and oppressed. While both of these might indeed have been something that the reformers were passionate about, the secret of their defiance grew out of something else. There was a different “truth” that they stood upon. Scripture and doctrine were indeed very important, and of course the great solas of the reformation are heralded to this day by Protestants. More than Scriptural truth, however, was the love of Him who claimed, “I am the truth”. Beyond the reformers were the radical reformers, later called the Anabaptists, who simply wanted to live like Jesus in their own generation. Whether they got everything correct, or understood everything, is debatable, but the groundbreaking and radical position these ones took was far beyond what either the Catholics or the Protestants could bear.

To conclude our discussion of truth, I had in mind of discussing the word of truth, mentioned in Psalm 119, Daniel 10:21, and a couple places in the New Testament. I wanted to examine the way truth is mentioned in the eschatological passages, such as Daniel 8:10-12. Yet, I found myself unable to do so, because such a dissection of an important subject would lead to the subject being exactly that: a subject. You don’t dissect a living frog; you have a dead frog that you cut to pieces. And once the frog is cut to pieces, you might be able to mention a lot of fascinating things about the inner workings of the frog, but that frog can never be brought back together again. Truth, whether in a general sense, or in a specific narrow discussion of a connotation of the word, should never fall to such a discussion.

For a theology book, the discussion of truth has incalculable benefit, simply because we claim that the statements that we are believing are true. Yet, are the statements true because they are fact, or are they true because they are tangible? When we talk about anything within theology, we are talking about something real that we’ve all experienced, and thus we have something to talk about in connection with one another. To be led by the truth in theology is not to be led into all understanding, as many Pentecostals and Charismatics would like to believe. It is to be led into all experience with the truth. Salvation is a real thing, and not merely a doctrinal stance. While there are many discussions of how things work within theology, the leading of the Spirit into all truth is about having that relationship with these things in reality, and not in intellectualism.

As we continue into bibliology for our next unit and onward into other aspects of theology from there, let us not forget that our love is not of “truths”, but of the truth. May our zeal not be in something that we hold to doctrinally, and the tradition of our fathers handed down to us, but rather let our zeal be in truth according to knowledge. And let that knowledge be as Paul would express it in 2 Corinthians 4:6, that it isn’t merely “knowledge”, but the knowledge of the glory of God shown in the face of Jesus. Our fellowship with truth is only found in the fellowship we have with Christ our Lord. May that be our pillar and our anchor, and whether we attempt to understand the deeper aspects that are so nuanced that you can barely detect such an understanding, or whether we remain at the foundational level, may in both cases we do all of our studies unto the glory of God forever, amen.

Led By Truth

It is rich within the Psalms. There is a “path” and a “way” that the righteous walk in. In a couple places, that “path” is defined with the word truth. Psalm 25:5 says, “Lead me in thy truth, and teach me…” The previous verse is asking God to show His ways, and to teach His paths. Here there is a parallel happening, where the paths and truth are being considered related, and the last segment both speak “teach me”. Psalm 43:3 puts God’s light and truth together, asking that they would lead the psalmist. Where exactly are they leading? The verse ends with the answer: unto thy holy hill, and thy tabernacles. Psalm 86:11 asks that God would teach His way, and I will walk in your truth.

Notice that in all of these cases in the psalms, the truth that is being walked in, or is leading, is always in some way synonymous with God’s paths and/or ways. Jesus had spoken to enter through the narrow gate, and spoke of a difficult path for the righteous to walk. In the Hebrew mind, the paths and ways of God are the ways of righteousness, the manner of living and thinking like God lives and thinks. It is about learning what it means to be a living sacrifice, and now that we are no longer dead in our sins and trespasses, how ought we to live to reflect that we’ve been raised with Christ? The Psalms might not specifically give all of those details, but that is precisely what is being conveyed.

Colossians 3 begins by telling us to put our focus upon the things above. This makes sense, because we are not any longer of the earth, but now have been made in union with God through Christ Jesus, seated with Him in heavenly places. The old habits and lifestyle has been done away with; we are new creations. Maybe this is why the psalmist perceived that light and truth would be leading him to Zion, the holy hill of God, and the tabernacle where God dwells. The path of truth will ultimately lead us to God’s abode, the very place described in Revelation 4-5, which the writer of Hebrews calls the Holy of Holies, and tells us that we’ve been given access into that Most Holy place.

An infamous verse in John says that the truth shall set us free. What is the nature of truth to set free? What is the nature of truth to lead us unto Zion? What is the nature of truth to be what causes us to live in eternal life, rather than in the ways of death? The Holy Spirit is even called the Spirit of Truth in the Gospel of John, both in chapter 14 and in chapter 16. John 16:13 doesn’t give us the isolated term, but even says that one of the roles of the “Spirit of Truth” is to lead us into all truth. While it might be easy to say that this was only for those gathered around Jesus in that moment, I simply cannot believe that. If truth is not merely a matter of knowledge, but is a matter of reality and perception, a matter of a way in which we walk before the Lord, then certainly the Spirit of Truth shall indeed lead us in all things.

John rejoiced that the truth was in his disciples – a statement that should be dwelt upon for a while – and that they were walking in truth. He even says that he has no greater joy than to know that his children are walking in truth.1 In all of these things, the point is to say that truth itself must be something beyond a factual knowledge. While factual knowledge of how God demands that we live might be a part of it, I think that it misses the fullness of what God is speaking. There is a way that seems right to a man, even a studied man who has an impeccable Christian ethics, but the end thereof is death.

From my earliest time in church, when I was first saved, I was able to recognize two different types of Christians. There were they who had all of their ducks in a row, and they knew the Scripture, they knew doctrine. Yet, in all of their knowledge they seemed to lack the fire. They knew the Scripture, debated the Scripture, demanded that we walk according to the Scripture, had all of the seamless and pristine doctrines lined up, and yet in all of their ‘being scriptural’, it did not make them Christ-like. While all of their theology was in tact, and they were heralded by many as being elders and men of renown, something was strangely missing. It was assumed that in having all of the right understanding was what made them Christian, and made them mature in the faith. Yet, there were others who might not have been as deep in their understanding, and yet they walked like Jesus walked. They cried, they loved, they visited the orphans and widows, they gave richly to the saints who had need, they lived as if the things that they own were not their own. In all things, they communicated the wisdom of God, and the very heart of God oozed out of them in almost all matters. Why was it that the truth of the educated led them to making sure people believed correctly, but the truth of the less educated seemed to lead them to love?

Are there exceptions? Absolutely yes. Is this the guide by which you should measure? God forbid that you should think this. Paul, being educated beyond anyone that I know, was able to have the intellect and theology, and at the same time have emotion and compassion. It might be the common reality, but that doesn’t mean it should be. It is often the untrained that make the most impact. It is often the unorthodox that bring the most radical reformation. And, I would add that it isn’t always bad when they do. Let us not forget that our own patriarchs, the Twelve that Jesus chose, we mostly fishermen and louts, men trained in their father’s trade instead of theology. And the ones who Jesus most vehemently chastised were the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees who were the elite few. Of all people, they were the ones who knew their Bibles. If they didn’t have the whole Old Testament memorized, you better believe they weren’t a Pharisee or Sadducee. They were more studied than our greatest theologians, more familiar with the Scriptures than our sages, and more familiar with the interpretations of their fathers than our most scholarly church historians. And yet, in their own day, we see the same cycle that it did not cause them to know the heart of God and live in that “truth”.

1 3 John 1:3-4

Zeal Without Knowledge

Paul says of his Jewish brethren that they are zealous, but without knowledge. I think we can safely say the same for new believers. Sadly, we can say the same for many old believers as well. What constitutes the “zeal without knowledge” is not a lack of theological knowledge, nor a lack of biblical knowledge. To be quite candid, the Jews that Paul would have known, especially considering that he studied under Gamaliel, were much more studied and scholarly than our modern theologians and thinkers. The fact that you can come out of seminary without the New Testament memorized is a testimony of this. Those first century Jews would have had the entirety of the Old Testament memorized by the time they became a rabbi, let alone if they were a Pharisee. These were incredibly intelligent and studied men. Their “zeal without knowledge” cannot be a statement of a lack of study or biblical insight.

What, then, is it that they lacked that Paul is saying that we have obtained? Is it only the knowledge of Christ, that this man Jesus died for our sins and rose again so that we might go to heaven when we die? Or is it that Jesus is Messiah, and that’s somehow enough to constitute that we have knowledge and they don’t? Where does Paul get off on saying something like this? Or, is it something a bit deeper than this, that if we could grasp what it is that Paul is saying we would suddenly gasp at the reality that we are not living up to?

For those of you who know the verse, you know the context is the righteousness of God, a phrase that came up earlier in Romans 1:16-17. The righteousness of God is shown to they who walk in faith, and are therefore justified by faith, and not through ‘righteous deeds’. We can conclude, then, that the knowledge that we have that they don’t have is one of righteousness through faith. Yet, I would still contend that there is a real sense in which this amazing truth has not yet settled upon the consciousness of many. We still speak of tithing, church membership, reading your Bible, serving in church, praying, and other sorts of activities as if they are acts that must be performed. Heaven forbid that you miss church a couple weeks in a row. Are you still even saved if you do this? And God forbid that you might start eating your food without praying first, especially when you’re in front of your fellow church people.

My point is that we have too often made much of the little things, and little of the big things. You’re never called a heretic for not feeding the poor, or willingly condemning someone that you disagree with, or purposefully walking on the other side of the road when you see someone in need. It is not the people who ignore the cry of the oppressed, or the ones who don’t ever help when the widows in their church can’t afford to have heat in the winter, or the people who don’t notice when the flock is searching like sheep without a shepherd – it is not these who are considered unrighteous by their unrighteous deeds. No, it is the people who dance too closely with their crush, or the girls who wear a shirt that fits perfectly (and is now “tempting” the men), or the pastor who allowed a secular marriage to take place in the church when sister Margaret came walking in unwarranted to hear that godless music (which was actually just The Temptations, but how dare we play non-Christian music in a church?).

How many times have we been zealous, but not according to knowledge? We have established our own church views and traditions, passed down by generations, thinking that we’re upholding the very faith itself, and yet it can be shown to be a fraud. Am I saved because I don’t wear the AC/DC shirts that I used to wear? Am I no longer saved if I find one of those shirts in the bottom of my drawer, and I decide to wear it for old times’ sake? This isn’t an issue of ethics, per se, but of the motives behind the offenses. For the Jews to have a zeal for God without knowledge is for the Jews to hold tightly to a law that they have poured over again and again to establish a code of ethics that then legislates morality to all. If you walk too far on the Sabbath, you are officially working on the Sabbath. In the same way, if you show up to church without makeup and jewelry, are you really wearing your Sunday best for God? They keep a kosher diet, which we think we don’t have to eat. Yet, we get downright offended when someone doesn’t like Chris Tomlin’s music.

Our spirituality stinks, and our theology reflects it. When you have to wear a tie in order to go to seminary, and you have to keep your hair a certain length (depending on if you’re a man or woman), otherwise you’re breaking their rules and regulations, I question entirely what it is that you’re actually teaching. It isn’t about the dress code. It is about the law that Christianity has made, all the while claiming to be ‘free from law’. Notice in all these things I have not mentioned things that are direct sins and in contradiction to what God has said. Some of what Christianity has given as a code of ethics is body shaming, and some of it is rejecting what God has called beautiful. Some of it is nit picking from the older generation that the younger generation doesn’t do things like they do. In none of it is the point to find God and learn what it means to live as Jesus told us to in our own day and age. It is not to continue the faith that has been handed down from the apostles, but the faith that has been handed down from ‘the forefathers’ – whoever they might be.

In all of this, the main point is still to focus upon truth. Truth sets free, and the many unwritten laws in church-ianity is not setting free. A theological system that can go through the doctrines of the faith without addressing these sorts of issues, setting free the captive while kicking goats and bashing wolves, is simply not Christian theology. Sometimes the sheep need you to take a knife and boar out the bottom of their hoof because it has begun to rot. The sheep doesn’t like it, but it needs to be done. Sometimes you need to take that knife and clean out a worm or bug from their nose. The sheep doesn’t like it, but it needs to be done. Whether we’re healing the sheep, kicking the goats, or chasing off the wolves, our focus should be upon the reality that is eternal, and the protocol that God has ordained from before the foundation on the world. Our zeal should be upon being those people that Jesus taught us to be, which is rooted in the Old Testament – as far back as Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Zeal with knowledge, which is to say, zeal in truth, is zeal that has been confronted with the Kingdom of God, and therefore spends all and is expended upon living in and for that Kingdom. It is like a man who finds hidden treasure in a field, and he then buries it to go home and sell everything, only to then buy the field with the proceeds. This is the simple faith, no gimmicks and no additives. If that doesn’t describe what you’re zealous for, then maybe your zeal is misplaced.

The Consolation of Israel

https://youtu.be/VXKSfRbG_C8

I have begun working on a film called The Consolation of Israel. Above is a small trailer for it. I’m both humbled and excited to see what the Lord may bring. It will be about God’s heart in the end times, avoiding as much of the debate as possible to get to the heart of the issues. For those of you who feel you don’t have a good grasp on the end, this will be a great one to really steady your footing as you begin to contemplate what God has purposed for the end to be.

Worship in Spirit and Truth

In our generation, worship is an elusive term. While everyone would agree that worship is more than music and singing, every time the word is used, it is used in reference to music and singing. These words from John 4, that God is Spirit and we must worship Him in spirit and truth, seem both bizarre and out of place. They are bizarre because we simply don’t understand what worship means outside of the context of music and singing, or at least an artistic expression, and they are out of place because in the story of John 4 there doesn’t seem to be a reason that the discussion goes there. We might assume that the woman at the well has been asking this question, and now that a prophet is before her she is going to ask, or it might be that she has resentment against the Jews for their mistreatment of the Samaritans. Either way, this episode has a statement about truth that we must burrow into.

The woman speaks of worshiping on ‘this mountain’, as opposed to Jerusalem. Jesus then says that God is not interested in your location, but rather the character of the worship. In both cases, the worship being described here is sacrifices. Whether you are on ‘this mountain’, or in Jerusalem, the worship that the culture understood was the sacrifices to please and appease God. Yet, Jesus takes the focus away from that, and He tells the woman it isn’t about the sacrifice, nor the system that you subscribe to, but about what the sacrifice itself represents. Just as the Sabbath was not created to rule over man as a law that we must all obey and submit to, so too the sacrifices were not commanded for strict adherence in order to appease God. God is not hungry; He is jealous.

Worship that is in spirit and truth is worship that sees the Throne, and that Jerusalem is not chosen because God says so, but because it is the place of the Throne. One perceives God, and in that perception, the heart responds with praise. This verse captures my attention, because I recognize that often we think of spirit and truth as being opposed to one another, as if intelligence cannot be ‘in faith’. Faith and intelligence do not square off against one another, warring as if they are the flesh and the spirit. No, the spirit goes hand in hand with the truth, and the Holy Spirit is even called the Spirit of Truth. Worshiping in spirit and truth is worshiping God in His own nature, because we have seen God, and we know God, and we love God.

Taking these things seriously, worship is expressed in lifestyle as well as instantaneous and spontaneous expression. Within the first couple centuries, we can find exactly this sort of expression recorded in a few sources:

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word – what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.”1

They abstain from all impurity in the hope of the recompense that is to come in another world. As for their servants or handmaids or children, they persuade them to become Christians by the love they have for them. And when they become so, they call them without distinction brothers. They do not worship strange gods, and they walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them and they love one another. And when they see the stranger, they bring him to their homes and they rejoice over him as over a true brother for they do not call brothers those who are after the flesh but those who are in the Spirit and in God. And there is among them a man that is poor and needy and if they have not an abundance of necessities, they will fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with his necessary food. And they observe scrupulously the commandment of their Messiah. They live honestly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and all hours on account of the goodness of God toward them, they render praise and laud Him over their food and their drink; they render Him thanks. And if any righteous person of their number passes away from this world, they rejoice and give thanks to God and they follow his body as though he were moving from one place to another. And when a child is born to them, they praise God, and if again it chances to die in its infancy, they praise God mightily, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. Such is the law of the Christians and such is their conduct.”2

The early church fathers, called the ante nicene fathers, wrote about their lifestyle. It was communal, wrestling together daily with the saints. Whatever cares the world brought, whether from persecution or from the needs of life, they were counted as secondary in importance to the cause of Christ and living the message that He has given us to proclaim. The zeal of these first couple century saints is an indictment to our modern Christianity, in all forms, because we think that by having the same doctrines, or by progressing their thoughts a little further, that we are somehow in the same expression of faith. Our Christianity is utterly anemic in comparison, and even their Christian culture is anemic in comparison to the fervency the apostles and the Lord Jesus Christ have displayed and commanded. Those Jewish saints recorded in Acts had the Bible memorized, if not in its entirety, then certainly in its content and intention. They knew the words, and they lived the words. What Paul says of the Church in Corinth was likewise true of them in respect to Jesus: Ye are our epistles.

My own heart aches for the lack of this apostolic expression in the earth. It isn’t that no one is serious, but that our passion is either misguided or stunted. How is it that fishermen and the sinners were sent out, and within a couple handfuls of years cities were proclaiming, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also”? A single generation had not yet passed, and already their mark was made on the whole of the known world. Metropolises that were devoted to Caesar worship were flipped upside down to becoming epicenters of Jesus worship, and this is the very thing that got the apostles killed. So full of the spirit and truth were they that not a single one died easily, even though not a single one resisted. Their own physical bodies had so much life in them from the Spirit that they simply would not die, and the apostle John himself had to disquiet the rumors that said he would live forever.3 I conclude by asking the question, “Has the expression of worship in your life followed the example that has been laid before us?”

1 The epistle of Diognates A.D. 130

2 From The Apology of Aristides, an outsider view of Christianity being recounted to Emperor Hadrian A.D. 117-38.

3 John 21:22