We will begin this sermon by turning to Ephesians 1 where I left off the other day, expounding on Paul's statement regarding "heavenly places in Christ." I said then that Christianity is an "other worldly religion." Heavenly places identifies the source of our election and calling. It is where our leadership is headquartered, and from which our guidance is given, and the standards are set. We are to live life in this present evil world all the while focusing on the "other" world, guided and activated by faith, not by sight. Paul stated this in Colossians 1:1-4 which I will read to you just to remind you what he said.
Verse 4 is one of the clearest statements in the entire Bible as to what God and our purpose in life should be—". . . that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." That word "holy" comes from a root that means "to cut," and thus to separate one thing from another. So generally we understand "holy" as being something that is separate; in this case, separate from the world.
The meaning or the definition or the use of even that Hebrew term was at least fairly common to the time when maybe big cow herds ceased to be a thing, but the cowboys would talk about cutting cattle away from a herd. What they meant is that they were going to separate certain ones away from the herd for whatever purpose they wanted. Well, we are to be cut away from the herd that is the world.
That word also carried another implication within it, and that is it can mean "a cut above." In other words, indicating not just different, but better, purer, cleaner, according to the standards of God and not just the standards of men. Both of those senses are applicable to us, that we are cut out from the world to be separate.
We are also cut out to be above, greater, purer, cleaner than others, according to the standards of God. Our purpose is to become incorruptible, undefiled, and holy. It is interesting, because God is holy. In other words, we are to strive to match the character, the maturity, the cleanliness of the One who is the source of what we are doing. So this is our focus, and if it is, God's blessing that comes to us "in Christ" will be of great value.
We must come to believe and accept this as a fact so that we can live at peace, because this "cutting away" causes certain difficulties that you are well aware of, but one of the most interesting ones is found in the book of Galatians. This is something that we have to believe, and we have to accept, and we have to deal with it.
The apostle Paul explained it another way in a great bit of detail. In Romans 7 he defined the difference as "the law of my mind" on the one hand, and "the law of sin and death" on the other. They were just as contrary to one another when he wrote Romans as when he wrote Galatians, and he tells of the struggle he had making the choices he wanted to make, or knew that he should make. So what we have to believe and accept is that we have become, in a sense, double-minded.
There are two natures within us: (1) the carnal nature that remains over from the time that we were born, and (2) then the spiritual nature that God implants within us. So there is one spiritual, and one carnal, and they are at war with one another. It is almost as if we have two parallel existences, two outlooks on life, and each one struggling to dominate, and always confronting us with choices. You can see that God did this deliberately to make us choose, and we must choose to take the correct fork, or the result will be a created evil within ourselves. I will explain that in just a minute.
It is God's Holy Spirit that enables us to make the right choices. If we do, a sense of good well-being is produced, but the alternative, if we make the wrong choice, is guilt and an unsettling sense of failure, that we did not live up to what we are supposed to.
So these two natures are a reality, and we have to accept that fact as truth, and we have to deal with it in life, and the best way to deal with it in one sense is to make the right choice all the time. Now we all know that is very difficult to do, but I can explain it very simply: Just make the right choice, and you will have a sense of well-being. The wrong choice is going to bring a guilty conscience.
If our heart is truly in heavenly places where the Father and the Son dwell, growth and a sense of satisfaction occur whenever we do make the right choice. It is interesting that it was just a little bit later, actually in Ephesians 4:30, that the apostle Paul said, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit." That is what happens whenever we make the wrong choice.
I will just insert here an aside. It was this very thing that was working within me that made me have to preach those "Born Again" sermons. I came to see what Jesus said in John 3 was not to be taken physically in any manner, shape, or form, and it was to be taken in like manner to what He said just before that when He said, "I will be a temple." It is to be taken and understood spiritually. I began to realize that nowhere in the New Testament does God perceive us as a fetus in a womb. If I did not change my teaching, I would not be teaching the truth.
What Jesus taught in John 3 is every bit as miraculous a spiritual event as anyone of His healings. It is a birth from being spiritually dead to spiritual life, and as Paul said, it is new creation. It is akin to Adam and Eve when God breathed into them (breath is a type of spirit) and they became living souls—instantaneous adults prepared to make choices as responsible adults. So how God perceives us is what matters in order that we have a correct perception of ourselves. His view is that we are adults of free moral agency, capable of cooperating with Him to build character, capable of gathering facts, judging, and by faith choosing between two realities.
Our receiving of God's blessings did not begin with His calling of us, nor did it begin when we accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior. It did not even begin with the work of Jesus Christ on earth. It began with God electing to do so. Now notice when Paul said it began.
It began in eternity, before time as we know it. This is a staggering thought. Now the Bible is the revelation of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do in regard to His plan for mankind. The plain and simple and yet profound truth is that those who enjoy the spiritual blessings in heavenly places do so because they have been personally chosen by the very God of creation to do so. This wonderful epistle of Ephesians begins with this thought to purposely stir our appreciation, to help us to build trust.
Now the decision to build an institution called the church was made before creation was made. One reason this statement is made is so that we can understand that God is faithfully carrying out His purpose, and His purpose was firmly made before He began. Who knows, it may have been billions of years ago, but God has not been turned away from that purpose. He is continuing, billions of years later, to carry out that purpose.
Know of a surety that God is not making things up as He goes along. He is not playing His program by ear, and we are now part of that program, completely apart from any contribution that we have made to earn it. We do not understand these things by accident, and this is an incredible truth made especially profound when we read that God deliberately has chosen the foolish, the weak, the base, and the despised of the world in order to purposely and with intent confound the mighty. And while doing this, it also humbles us by means of the realization that we have been so spiritually gifted all out of proportion to what we are humanly; it ought to make us pause to consider what David said in Psalm 8:4: "What is man, that You are mindful of him?"
When we consider ourselves against the mass of mankind and all of mankind's wonderful accomplishments, it appears that we must be near the bottom of the barrel by comparison; or as Richard Plache used to say, "the cream of the crud." But we have been given these gifts, and they have not.
What we are talking about here in Ephesians 1:4 is not the only place that this appears in Scripture.
We are elect according to the foreknowledge of God, set apart by the Spirit for the purpose of obedience and being forgiven.
Now we are going to go to I Corinthians 2, verses 7 through 10, and then 12 and 13.
There is a time element in many places, and from this we can understand that we believe, for this reason only, namely because God elected us and willed that we have His Spirit. The spirit was given so that we could grasp spiritual truth, and thus live by faith.
We are going to turn to a scripture that we have seen a couple of times, but it is worth repeating because it impacts upon this message.
I believe that the NKJV version does not use the word "veiled" as the KJV does. Actually, the NKJV version is worded better. We are not veiled. Veiled indicates to blur, to make obscure rather than distinct. Now Satan's purpose is to make God's truth ambiguous and vague, but because God has personally intervened in our life by His election and calling, His truth has shined into our hearts in a meaningful light-changing way. How "meaningful" we will continue to unveil here as we turn to Revelation 13.
First, a reminder that Jesus Christ was slain from the foundation of the world; and as we saw in Ephesians, God has called us from the foundation of the world.
We find here that there are people's names who are not written in the Lamb's Book of Life.
Notice the Book of Life, "whose names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world." Now because it was said from that, I think it implies very strongly that there are those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life from the foundation of the world. Guess who that is. We will continue to unfold that.
God has chosen us to be delivered from the hopeless chaos and the bewildering and violent confusion of this world "according to the good pleasure of His will," as it says in Ephesians 1. We had nothing to do with His choice of us anymore than Jacob did in the Romans 9 illustration. Paul said, "Great is the mystery of godliness." The Bible does not give us specific answers to questions about our election and calling that are undoubtedly going to arise. The Bible does not pretend to give us a detailed answer or a long philosophical explanation. It does not have to because its truth comes from God. He is not required to answer us. We answer to Him. He does, though, expect us to believe it, and deal with it as a working part of our trust in Him, and thus we are commanded to live by faith.
The fact that some are elected by God to receive salvation at this time raises a very interesting issue that really bugs human nature, and this is the matter of equality. Human nature demands that everybody be treated equally. You might remember from the French Revolution that one of its slogans was "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality."
When people begin to learn of election of some and not of others, they say that God is not fair. They might say, "I'm just as good as they are." They may even say they do not want to worship a God who picks and chooses like this. They believe it is cruel of Him to pass right on by some; and then because these demands are not met, it produces within them envy, anger, despondency, and often a very strong competitive spirit in order to rise above their feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. But it is true. God does not deal with everybody equally. Now God does treat everybody fairly, justly, but He does not treat everybody equally in every area of life. Can we accept this? Consider this in terms of election.
Let us go to II Peter 3:9. This is a familiar scripture.
With that thought in mind, we are going to go back to Romans.
Can we say that God treated them equally, when out of His own mouth He said, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated"? Neither one of them had been born yet, but God did not treat them with equality.
First, God tell us that He is not willing that any should perish. But brethren, that does not mean that all will be saved. It also does not mean, if and when He calls them, He will gift them equally. This is a little bit more of the same thing, but in a different area. So let us go to I Corinthians 12:4-11 and then to verse 18, because this applies directly to you and me. We have been elected. We have been called, and we have been gifted, but we need to consider, brethren, is everybody gifted equally? This is part and parcel of our calling from God.
You see, it pleased God to elect you, and call you, and give you something that He is withholding from others who may be far better (if we can put it that way) than you, yet He has chosen you and is treating you more equally than He did others. Is that not true? Yes it is. And now we find when we are in the church, Paul carries that one step further, and we find that everybody in the church is not gifted equally either.
There is no doubt that all of us have some measure of all of those gifts, because they are necessary for salvation that all be given some of them, but some are given gifts by God in much greater proportion than they are to others, and He does it according to the good pleasure of His will for the good of the church. That is very plain.
So both election and gifting are purposely distributed by God. Let us look at a place where this caused a measure of trouble. You are familiar with it. It is in Numbers 16.
This is an example, taken from God's called-out ones, under the Old Covenant. Under the New Covenant God continues to follow the same pattern of assignment and judgment. Korah's group took offense, believing that they were dealt with unfairly by God, but at what they took offense was God's prerogative. This is why Paul said in Romans 9, "Why are you arguing with God? It is His creation, is it not?" It was God's prerogative in the first place; however, they made move to take their offense out against Moses and Aaron as if God was not in the picture at all.
Let us go back to the New Testament again.
Paul said that he spoke in more languages than all of the Corinthians. Why was he so gifted? We might speculate, but the Bible gives us no specific answer. The issue here regarding equality is God's sovereignty, and us living by faith. Now David understood. Do you know what he said? He said, "I would rather be a doorkeeper." It shows his humility. He would accept whatever God dealt him, and he would be content and happy within it.
We are going to go back to Romans 9 once again. In Romans 9, the issue with which Paul was dealing there was more serious than the event in Numbers 16, or Paul's gifting that was just mentioned. The issue here is that God is not even electing and calling the bulk of mankind, and some were upset because they felt that those people were lost without even being called. The inference, from the book of Romans, is that it was the Jews in the congregation who were offended because Gentiles were being called and elected, and they were not, and they felt that they were just as good as those Gentiles. The Jews called the Gentiles "a foolish nation," and it offended them.
Today, it is very easy, if somebody knows if you are in the church of God, and you feel you have been elected, that it would offend people. [They might say] "You think you are the only ones." Well, we may truthfully be the only ones amongst all the rest that God has elected, but it is not something to be proud of because we had nothing to do with it. It was completely and totally God's decision to choose you and me.
Our response is to be thankful, to be humbled by it, to be appreciative of it, and to accept it at face value which is awesome indeed. We must deal with it and make the very best use of it we possibly can, knowing that this is in God's power to do whatever He wants to do with His creation. Right now it includes us. As I mentioned earlier, this is hard for some to accept.
Now regarding this, it must first be understood, that despite man's puffed up belief about himself, our God does not owe any man anything. This is where we start our understanding. Nobody is owed by God anything. This is hard for some to accept, and it is man's feelings of self-importance that drives him to believe that he deserves better, that God is treating him unfairly, so why should he have to put up with this? This is a very common carnal reaction when we lose track of who is responsible for what.
A second truth is that God does not force anybody to disbelieve Him and sin against Him, thus bringing the death penalty upon himself. Adam and Eve are good examples. God simply left them to their own devices, and they sinned all on their own. They could have obeyed, but they did not. There is a subtle difference between Him forcing people to disbelieve rather than Him simply not calling them.
Let us go now to Romans 2, and we will add something to this.
I just want to point out here that we are fully capable of disbelieving God without Him doing a thing, and we will sin despite the fact that God has given all of mankind a basic conscience that defines right and wrong even though they do not have the law; and God thus retains the right to operate His creation as He sees fit. So absolute pagans know something of God's law. They would not accredit it to God, but they know, in their broadest application, that it is wrong to murder, that it is wrong to commit adultery, and things of that nature.
There are some very definite positive spiritual benefits to us, because God is operating in this manner. The first benefit, brethren, should personally be very important to us. It is that His election of you should assure you that God is faithful to His purpose which He began before the foundation of the earth. Because you have been elected and called, you should be able to grasp that He is being faithful to His purpose. Because you believe, it is proof that He is being faithful to you personally. He does not make promises He does not keep. You have heard, you believe, and you are obeying. That is a witness against us.
A second benefit is this, and this ought to help us to deal somewhat with apostasy. We all know people who seemed to believe for a time, but then fell away. Are they lost? Not necessarily. It most often means they were not really converted in the first place. In many cases they were fellowshipping on the strength of the spirituality that even the carnal mind is capable of. Man has a spirit. He has a spiritual capability right within him right from birth. We all start off on the wrong side of the track, but for some God removes that impediment so that we can see it from His point of view, from His perception. With those He does not, there is a natural religiosity, and they may sincerely believe, but they are not converted.
A third benefit is this, and this is a big one. It should help us to understand the exceedingly important truth that salvation is entirely by grace. If everybody was being saved, it could easily be concluded that God owes salvation to us, and that He is going to save all regardless of the source and quality of their spirituality. Or we might even conclude that He saves us simply because of who and what He is, and that is that He is a big sugar daddy soft-touch who gives everybody everything. Oh, no! We are saved only because He has had mercy on us, while at the same time He demands that we meet defined responsibilities to Him and each other for the purpose of glorifying Him, building character, and proving loyalty. His purpose involves far more than being saved.
Humanly we have the tendency to think that we are owed things, and that we have rights with God. Brethren, we have no power over Him. He owes us absolutely nothing, but lo and behold, He does want us in His Kingdom in a definite configuration, and brethren, that is awesome to meditate upon.
We are going to go back to Ephesians 1 again.
Of course verse 3 says "in Christ." He chose us "in Christ." He chose Christ before the foundation of the world. Does that—"before the foundation of the world"—mean that John Ritenbaugh was chosen to be born in the 20th century, to be converted, and to become a minister of God? There are some who believe this, but I do not. I might add that neither did Herbert Armstrong. I am in no way trying to tell you that such a thing would not be possible for God to do, but at the same time I also believe that He would not do such a thing because it would not be good for His purpose for each of us.
The basic reason I believe that He has not done this is because it eliminates free moral agency, personal responsibility, and personal accountability to God. If He did that, we would be nothing more than puppets on a string or a chess pawn being moved about on a board. This would make God personally guilty of the sins that have been committed, because He would be pulling the strings and making them happen. How could we follow His command to choose if He were pulling the strings? You see, it eliminates free moral agency.
Having worked in construction for more than a decade, I think I understand that when a building is planned for, first an overall concept for the building's purpose is made. Once that is determined, detailed drawings are made to meet every purpose and operation for which the building is intended. Men can do these things, and I believe God is telling us in these simple statements that so does He by means of these verses that we have just read here. He is assuring us that His program is proceeding, and that the operations of its construction are nearing a critical conjuncture.
We know from His word that we have been chosen to be a part of that building. Have we not? Sure we have, and I believe that He has in mind the kind of person He needed for such and such a position and operation, and then He elected us by His own choice from what was available when a time arrived in the outworking of His construction for that position to be filled. I believe, that in a general way, He has done it, though I also believe, without doubt, that from time to time He has directly intervened in the first processes to make sure that such and such a personality was on hand to do the job He wanted them to do. Thus, He still does not run their lives. They are free moral agents.
In John 14 Jesus alludes to this fact that God is building something.
There in a simple statement is Jesus Christ's responsibility as our High Priest. He is preparing us for an office, for a position in the kingdom of His Father. I do not believe that it would be an act of love on God's part toward us to not allow us the opportunity to grow into functioning to the very best of our ability in the job He is preparing us for. What I believe He did was determine before the foundation of the world that He would build a church, which is also His family, which would be redeemed from sin through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.
How then can it be said that our names are written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world? The answer is actually very simple. It is because we are "in Christ." Let us note Romans 4:17.
God calls things that do not exist as though they did. He does this because that is the way He sees them. I have been telling you that the way God perceives us is what is important, and we need to understand the way He looks at us, and what He sees when He looks at us so that we can adjust our understanding to what He thinks rather than what we think. And so, in regard to this, in His mind these things are as good as accomplished. Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world, and those redeemed through that sacrifice would then be "in Him" as though they had always been in Him, because God had things plotted out that He is producing from the very beginning. He is not playing things by ear.
Let us go now to Exodus 32. Moses is speaking.
This is the earliest reference that we find that God has a book in which He places names. Moses was already in that book, and Moses knew and understood about that book.
We will go now to Revelation 3:5.
We have here information from Jesus Christ that the people to whom He was speaking, their names were already in the Book of Life, but He warns that if they did not continue on track, then their names could be erased from the Book of Life.
Now we are going to go to the book of Luke, chapter 2, and begin to explore how it is that people's names can be entered into the Book of Life, and we will look at secular history and learn a little bit from that.
Ancient civilizations, including the Israelites, were doing similar things to what we do in our day. Now depending upon the scale of the operation, they took censuses. The one that the Roman Empire did was a major undertaking, but others, such as an individual community, did them on a smaller scale. They registered a person's name in a book when the person was born. Now why did they do this? For tax collection, of course. They did it for tax collection. Nothing has changed. Of course there were other community plannings which were going on as well. There is nothing new under the sun.
Very interesting there. "The book of the living" gives us another clue as to how the ancients operated things. The process was like this. When a baby was born its name was entered into the rolls of the living in the community, and when they died, their name was erased from the list of those registered who still lived. Can you begin to see a similarity between what God says He is doing and what people commonly did and are still doing in our communities to this day?
How does a person get his name in God's Book of Life? Well, it is in the same general way an ordinary human gets his name in the community's book of the living: by being born.
Now in our spiritual case, though, it is being spiritually born again through God's election, calling, and repentance. It follows after baptism, which pictures a burial following death and then a raising to life.
The receiving of God's Spirit makes the person spiritually alive for the first time in the person's life, and that, brethren, is when a person is born again, and that is when his name is entered into the Book of Life. The person is then "in Christ," and it is though he has been there in the mind of God from the beginning, because Christ was there from the beginning. The person is born again, with a definite purpose in mind.
Brethren, God's family is a planned family. Things are not happening haphazardly. And what is our purpose? First, it is to witness for God, glorifying Him and His family by life, while at the same time being prepared to fulfill a role in God's family kKingdom when Jesus Christ is sent to fully establish His rule over Earth and its people.
If we would follow Paul's argument all the way through in Romans 9-11, we would see that shortly after Romans 9:21, before he got to Romans 10, he makes his case, drawing upon Old Testament scriptures to prove that God earlier had said that He would save a remnant of Israel, and add to them an unspecified number of Gentiles as well. Of course this is the church. That remnant about which He was talking is the church. Romans 9, verses 22 through 27 are especially clear on this subject.
Now by chapter 10, Paul clearly shows that Israel's problem of a lack of conversion is largely their own fault, not God's failure to elect them. First, they misinterpreted Scripture, and then went about vigorously attempting to establish their own righteousness. That is what he said was at the bottom of so many of their problems. They went about in a legalistic way, not having faith in the righteousness of Christ but in their own righteousness accumulated by obedience to God's law to some part, and their traditions to a major part.
And then Paul goes back to proving that those to whom he wrote that the Jews were not God's favorites. He clearly states that in chapter 10, verses 11 through 13, when he said that there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, that God responds to either depending upon their faith in Him.
He then reminds the Jews that their disbelief was their own fault, and one of the reasons God moved to call the Gentiles was to provoke the Jews to godly jealousy by electing what the Jews called "a foolish nation" (that is, the Gentiles).
In Romans 11, Paul begins to move toward even more comforting words, declaring that God has not forgotten Israel, and that always He has reserved for Himself at least a remnant according to the election of grace, and that is why Jesus Christ said the church will never die out, because God promised there would always be a remnant—an election according to grace.
In Romans 11:11 he again comforts by saying that Israel's stumbling is not permanent. He infers that it would continue for a while, but a time of reconciling all Israel to God would come. And then in Romans 11:25 he makes a very comforting statement. Paul calls this a mystery what we are talking about here.
The story continues, which I will not go into in very great detail. Isaiah 59:20-21 show it is very clear that the Redeemer has not yet come to Zion, and therefore they cannot but help to understand that Israel's national conversion is yet future because it certainly did not occur when Jesus came in the first century A.D.
There must be at least one hundred Old Testament texts similar in thought to this, and in Jeremiah too. Jeremiah was written before the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon when he made prophecy. Some might say those prophecies were fulfilled during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, but it does not, because those people immediately began to fall away again. The certainty of Israel's conversion is still yet future.
We could go into Ezekiel as well. He gives very much interesting information on this, but we will go to the very famous Ezekiel 37. You know it as "the valley of dry bones" prophecy.
He says, "I will open your graves." This is important because it does not apply to the return of Israel to the Promised Land at Christ's return. He is opening graves. These people are dead. They have been buried for millennia of time in many cases.
Those three verses show anybody with the Spirit of God that God is talking about what we call the "second" resurrection. These people are resurrected from their graves, and they are given life, and He also says, "I will put My spirit in you," and therefore they are being converted as well as merely being given life. What we see here is also what is going to happen to the Gentiles. Israel becomes the pattern that will continue until God has offered all of mankind salvation. Everybody then will have had an opportunity for salvation. This morning I believe it was Richard who mentioned Revelation 20. I want to go there and touch on something that was given in this sermon. We can see God is going to elect everybody, but each in his own order. As time unfolds, this will occur.
Those two books are opened—the books (plural) are the books of the Bible from which everybody is judged. Everybody must pass before Jesus Christ in judgment, and they will be judged according to those things that pertain to their works.
So in His faithfulness God will not ignore those who went into their graves not having what God considers a just, fair, and above all a merciful opportunity for salvation. Those graves will be opened, the books will be opened, people will have an opportunity to be judged against the books for a period of time, perhaps one hundred years; but whatever it is, it is going to be long enough, and God is going to be fair to those people in their judgment. Of course names are going to be added into the other book, which is the Book of Life, opened so those names can be entered.
Let us conclude in II Peter 1:2-12. I will just read through them, and that will be the end of this series. This scripture is written: