GOOD, BUT NOT THE BEST
Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
We Christians in America have a problem. Our culture offers so many opportunities that we are tempted to spend our time and strength on things that are good, but not the best.
The Scripture admonishes us to redeem the time because the days are evil. We are in the world but not of the world. From this point forward we are going to have to put seeking Christ as our first priority, even though this does not leave much time for our hobbies or entertainment.
GOOD, BUT NOT THE BEST
Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:14-16KJV)
If there ever was a passage that applies to many of us Christians in America, the above is it. To be circumspect is to be heedful of ones circumstances and aware of harmful consequences. Are we Americans too careless? Are we making the best possible use of our time?
There are so many things we can do that are not sinful in themselves, such as investing in the stock market, pursuing higher education, developing a hobby, enjoying ourselves with various forms of entertainment.
Some of these pursuits may be profitable. The problem is, they require time and strength that should be used for pursuing the Lord.
They may be good things to do, but they are not the best. Today is a momentous hour in the Kingdom of God. The day of our visitation is here. There are, of course, duties we must perform if we are to fulfill our responsibilities in the world, such as taking care of our family. But ordinarily there is time and strength left over to seek the Lord, and we cannot dissipate these on entertainment, or hobbies, or other activities that are not essential, if we are to lay hold on that for which the Lord has grasped us.
Ours is a dangerous hour, and also a wonderful period. Passages of Scripture that have not been understood are now being emphasized. Thrones are waiting for those who care enough to seek Christ diligently and earnestly. Many who are last in time shall be first in the Kingdom of God.
I think we Christians often are smothered with a blanket of inevitability. The overemphasis on grace has led to the belief that it doesnt matter what we do, we all will go to Heaven by grace and receive the same reward.
The very opposite is the case. Between justification and glorification, our assigned states from the foundation of the world (I am speaking of Gods elect), is a period of time during which we may fall away altogether; or lose part of our inheritance; or attain exceedingly great glory in the Kingdom. There are no guarantees, only callings and opportunities.
Christ always will remain faithful and keep that which has been entrusted to Him. But whether we reap one hundred, or sixty, or thirtyfold depends on how vigorously we pursue eternal life each day of our discipleship.
The goal of redemption is not a place, such as Paradise. The goal of redemption is the fullness of eternal life. We humans are intelligent dust. We were fashioned from the dust and are dust. In Christ is eternal life. That Life is the Presence of God and the personal knowledge of God. Christ is the Way to the Father, that is, to eternal Life. Until we partake of that life we are no more than intelligent dust with a spirit that can communicate with God. No animal possesses the ability to communicate with God, and this is how we are different from animals.
We are so busy in the activities of the American culture that we are in danger of neglecting the salvation being offered to us. I am speaking now of the people chosen from among mankind to be members of His Church, His called-out holy ones.
We need to keep in mind that many are called but few are chosen. We are told in the Book of Matthew that of those who were called to the Kingdom, many are cast away as being unworthy. (The destructive teaching of eternal security has invalidated this and similar warnings found in the New Testament.)
As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:40-42)
"Weed out of his kingdom"!
On the other hand, we are invited to sit in the supreme Throne with Christ, and participate with Him in the work of judging the world.
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21)
Spending our time and energy on activities that are good, but not the best, very well may result in our not only losing our inheritance as a member of the royal priesthood but in our falling away from Christ altogether.
A time of tremendous danger and tremendous opportunityit is the day of our visitation.
The problem with the customary Christian plan of salvation is that it is static in nature. We are advised to "accept Christ," in one manner or another, and this acceptance, this initial profession, is regarded as our being "saved." We have taken the required steps and now we are saved. When we die we will go to Heaven instead of to Hell.
Some organizations maintain this is all we are to do. Others stress Christian works, whether in the form of evangelism, or necessary social endeavors such as feeding and housing the poor.
This is the traditional understanding of the work of redemption, and it is unscriptural and destructive of Gods intention.
The truth is, an initial profession of faith in Christ is little more than an orientation to the actual program of redemption. The goal of redemption is to change us from dust to a life-giving spirit. The gate is small and the way is difficult that lead to life. Redemption is the way to a change in our personality, not a ticket that admits us to Heaven.
When the Apostle Paul wrote the epistle to the Christians in Philippi he was incarcerated in the city of Rome. He had founded churches and written letters that have had a profound effect on both Eastern and Western civilizations. He had had visions of Christ, and had been given the truth about the transition from the Law of Moses to the grace of God in Christ.
One would think of Paul as being as "saved" as it is possible to get.
But what does Paul say?
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)
"Not that I have already obtained all this." "All this" refers to the righteousness that is through faith in Christ.
Now consider: does Pauls testimony here sound anything like what passes today for salvation?
No it does not.
What is different?
What is different is the idea of pressing on.
Toward what was the Apostle Paul to press on? Whatever it was, or is, it is not known to most of us today.
We see from this that the Christian salvation is not static. It is a goal we have to press toward to each day.
The concept of pressing has to do with pushing against obstacles. This is anything but the static idea of "accept Christ and now you are saved." It is similar to the idea of "difficult is the path that leads to life."
One of the greatest of the obstacles facing American Christians is that of the anxieties of life. We are so tired from trying to take advantage of all the opportunities we have we are unable to even think about pressing forward each dayparticularly when we dont know there is a goal to be attained to.
Furthermore, we do not realize that a specific goal has been set before each member of Gods elect, and whether that goal is attained to depends on the willingness of the elect individual to lay aside all except the absolute necessities of life and strain toward that objective.
The goal set forth by the Apostle Paul is a state of being that is part of "all this," and that makes no sense to us in the present hour. It is as follows:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10,11)
What in the world is Paul talking about!
"To know Christ and the power of His resurrection." Well, I suppose that would not be unfamiliar to us, except that we would think we were given the fullness of resurrection life when we first professed faith in Christ.
"The fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death." I wonder how many believers are setting aside all else that they may share in the sufferings of Christ until they are "crucified" as He was. It is surprising, isnt it, that such would be the objective of Paul. Today we are more likely to hear "If you have faith you will never suffer"; or, "any moment now we all are going to be caught up to Heaven so we will not suffer."
We are a long way from the Apostle Paul!
But then Paul says something that is totally foreign to our thinking. Because we believe in the full inspiration of the Bible, and believe all of the Bible is necessary for our growth in godliness, we need to start thinking about passages in the New Testament that are totally foreign to our thinking. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will make them clear to us.
"And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."
Now, what does this mean? Have you ever heard this verse preached? Neither have I. Lets have a go at it.
First of all, we must understand that when Paul says "attain to the resurrection" the Greek is saying "attain to the out-resurrection." The term is used only once in the New Testament. It is, evidently, a special resurrection out from the dead.
Second, we need to think about the two great resurrections. The first comes at the beginning of the thousand-year Kingdom Age often referred to as the "Millennium."
The second comes at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age, and is the general resurrection of the dead.
The first resurrection, that which will take place when the Lord returns, is usually thought of as the time when all the saved are raised and caught up to Heaven. The second resurrection, that which will take place at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age, is usually thought of as the time when everyone else who has been born on the earth is raised, has his or her deeds examined, and then is thrown into the Lake of Fire.
It is my point of view that the above concept of the two resurrections is erroneous.
I believe, and I will give you Scripture for my belief, that the out-resurrection, or first resurrectionthat which will occur when the Lord Jesus next returns, is not a resurrection to salvation at all. It is the catching up of the Lords victorious saints in preparation for their descent with Him to install the Kingdom of God on the earth. It is only a firstfruits of the Church, a minority, a Gideons army.
The remainder of the Church, along with everyone else who has been born on the earth, will be raised from the dead at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age.
The first resurrection is for the governing priests. It is to this resurrection Paul was seeking to attain.
Now, I promised you supporting Scriptures.
Lets turn to the Book of Second Peter.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives As you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (II Peter 3:10-13)
Lets take a hard look at this passage, for it is key to what I am teaching about the two resurrections.
First of all, Peter was speaking of the Day of the Lord. At this time the firmament as well as the solar system, including the earth, will all pass away. The earth will not just "be laid bare," it will vanish with the rest of the physical creation. The earth and heaven will flee from the face of Christ.
The present earth is not nearly large enough to support all the people who will be saved, nor is it large enough to support a city of gold, a cube 1400 miles on a side.
All have vanished with a great noise.
To whom is Peter speaking?
Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: (II Peter 2:1)
Peter is speaking to the Christian people.
What is he telling them?
Peter is telling them to live holy and godly lives that they may speed the coming of the day that will bring about the destruction of the universe by fire.
Now, at what point will the universe be destroyed?
Will it be destroyed at the beginning or at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age?
It will be destroyed at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age.
Therefore Peter is telling the Christians to live holy and godly lives that they may be prepared to be saved on this great day of Gods wrath.
Right so far?
What does this tell us?
It tells us that Peter did not know about the first resurrection, the out-resurrection from the dead. At least, he ignored it completely. Perhaps none of the Apostles knew about the thousand-year Kingdom Age until it was revealed to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos. I have never found in the New Testament, other than in the Book of Revelation, an evidence of the thousand-year age. Have you?
However, Paul knew somehow that there was a resurrection to life that needed to be attained to.
Peter was speaking of the final judgment of the world, the time of salvation, the period when the books are opened and the dead are judged.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyones name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)
It is interesting that the Bible does not tell us what will happen to those whose names have been found written in the Book of Life.
This is what will take place, I believe. The Christians whose names are in the Book of Life, who are raised at this time, will be taken up to Heaven so they will be ready to descend with Christ and all saints as the holy city, the new Jerusalem.
Those who are not of Gods elect, the nations of saved people, the "sheep" at Christs right hand, will enter the new earth, the home of righteousness that Peter promised.
This makes perfect sense to me, and I know of no passage that it would contradict.
But now back to the first resurrection.
This is not a resurrection of salvation. There are no books opened. The dead do not stand before God. Rather the whole tone of the description speaks of an elite who had been judged previously during their discipleship on the earth, or in the spirit realm while waiting for the return of Christ to the earth. Peter, in his first epistle, speaks of Christ judging the dead as well as the living.
In any case, no books are opened at this time.
Lets think for a bit about this special group of Christians, this firstfruits of the Church, and see what characterizes them. (I think this is the group Paul was seeking to attain to. Kind of makes sense, doesnt it?)
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)
I believe the above is telling us about the "out resurrection" of the third chapter of the Book of Philippians, although Paul may not have known the details until they were revealed to the Apostle John.
"I saw thrones."
Can you see that nothing is said about the Book of Life, or about being judged, or being saved from the Lake of Fire? The issue here is that of thronesthe highest thrones of the universe.
"The souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus." This may or may not be the same group mentioned as being on the great thrones.
I think the meaning of "beheaded is that they have learned not to depend on their own thinking but have adopted the mind of Christ. This transfer from our own reasoning to looking to Christ for every decision is a key component of the life of victory in Christ.
"They had not worshiped the beast or his image." This means they refused to be part of the world system of money, prestige, competition etc. They lived in the world but were not of the world system.
"They had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands." They did not think in terms of the world nor did they act like the world. The power of the Antichrist system is money. The wisdom of the Antichrist system is education. The power of the victorious saint is the Holy Spirit. The wisdom of the victorious saint is the spirit of revelation.
"They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years." "They came to life" means they regained their body. I think this is the resurrection and ascension described in the fourth chapter of the Book of First Thessalonians. They regained their body and then were caught up into the air in preparation for the onslaught that will install the Kingdom of God on the earth. They are caught up into the air because that is where the thrones are that influence life on the earth.
After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (I Thessalonians 4:17)
In which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 2:2)
"The kingdom of the air"!
The idea today that the silly, lustful believers in the Christian churches will descend with Christ to install the Kingdom of God on the earth is absolutely ridiculous. They are not overcomers. They cannot rule their own passions. How then can they install the doing of Gods will on the earth? Many of them are good people, but they are not of the caliber of the saints who will be raised from the dead in the first resurrection, the resurrection that is out from among the dead.
"The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This tells me that the majority of Christians, those who were neither qualified nor competent to participate in the first resurrection, will be raised with the people of the world. They then will be brought up to Christ in preparation for their descent as the new Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb. The people of the world whose names are found in the Book of Life will, as I stated previously, be ushered into residence on the new earth. They will be given a portion of eternal life at the hands of the saints, who then will be life-giving spirits.
So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being" the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. (I Corinthians 15:45)
"This is the first resurrection." There will be no resurrection between the first and second resurrections.
"Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection." Do you see what I mean by stating that the tone of this passage is that of an elite? These people are characterized by being blessed and holy, the implication being that they are more blessed and more holy than the others.
These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. (Revelation 14:4)
There has been altogether too much of a democratic, egalitarian spirit in Christian thinking. This is not true of the Scriptures. In fact, the concept of identical destinies is largely responsible for the blanket of inevitably of which I spoke previously.
The fact that there are thrones to be gained is a powerful motive of those industrious saints who are pressing forward with all their might. They are aware of the reward!
He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Hebrews 11:26)
Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. (Revelation 22:12)
When the apostles approached Christ demanding to know what they were going to receive for following Him, He did not demure. He did not make a nice "churchy" pronouncement about how they should not expect to be rewarded for doing what is appropriate.
Rather, the King looked them in the eye and said: "You who have followed Me will sit on thrones judging the tribes of Israel."
There are ranks in the Kingdom, and they are appointed by the Lord.
There were thousands who followed Christ.
There were twelve who were chosen.
There were three on the Mount of Transfiguration.
God, and God alone, decides who will sit on the right hand of Christ when He descends in glory.
Each of Gods elect has been assigned a destiny. Whether he or she is willing to set aside that which merely is good, and spend time pursuing Christ, is a matter of individual choice. Some will reach their goal. The majority will not. Narrow is the way that leads to life, and few find it.
Whether you and I will be among the firstfruits to God and the Lamb depends on our response, our willingness to set to one side the numerous opportunities of our American culture and lay hold on that for which God has grasped us.
I am a man of hobbies. One of them is playing the piano. I would enjoy spending the hours a day it would take to master Chopins compositions. I love those pieces.
But God has assigned to me the task of teaching the Scriptures. This task requires every minute that is not spent on some necessity of life. There is nothing sinful about practicing the piano. But spending time at the piano will take away the time I need to reflect on what God is putting in my mind and spirit.
I have all eternity to play the piano. Right now the King needs me, and His needs take priority. Dont you agree?
The Lord said, "For them I sanctify myself." This is what we have to do. If we are to feed Gods sheep, we have to set ourselves aside to God for His holy purposes that we might accomplish our one sublime task.
Mankind is intelligent dust. Divine life can enter people from four sources.
From the Holy Spirit.
From the Words of Christ.
From the body and blood of Christ.
From a crucified life.
If we are willing to let the Holy Spirit cut off from us all that is not essential, and all that is not of God, bringing us down to the death of the cross, then out from our personality will flow the incorruptible, Divine, resurrection Life of God that is in Christ. The intelligent dust then will live, which means they will come to the Person and knowledge of God through Jesus Christ.
The Christian salvation does not consist of theological statements or information. Salvation is the entering of Divine Life, the Divine Nature, into the personality of the human being. Doctrine has its place. But our role is not to convert people to our way of thinking, it is to give them true life so they may know the Father and live in His Presence.
Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that bring us to the Father.
Eternal life is there for each one of us. But we have to leave all, so to speak, that we may take hold of it.
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (I Timothy 6:11,12)