IN CHRIST JESUS
The Sphere of the Believer's Life
Arthur Tappan Pierson,
As we review our studies of this sevenfold group of letters to the early Christian disciples, we find, first, a very remarkable completeness of presentation of this great privilege of the believer. He is in Christ Jesus. In Him, he finds a new sphere of life with sevenfold blessing.
First, justification with its new standing and acceptance before God.
Second, sanctification with its new power for holy living in the Spirit of God.
Third, fellowship with God in the actual practical walk in newness of life.
Fourth, exaltation to the heavenlies in an earnest or foretaste of a heavenly life.
Fifth, compensation for all present self-denials and sufferings and renunciations for Christ's sake.
Sixth, identification with Christ in His present hidden life at the right hand of the Father.
Seventh, glorification when He comes to be admired and adored of all His waiting body, the members, whose manifestation awaits His final epiphany as their head.
To this scarce anything could
be added. All that subsequent epistles can do is to amplify what is here
We notice also a marked progress of thought which is the more remarkable inasmuch as the canonical order of the books we have studied is not their chronological and historical order. As to the composition of these letters, First Thessalonians, one of the last, belongs first. We might almost say the canonical order reverses the historical. And yet the order of the teaching, as we have seen, is exactly correspondent to the order of events in our Lord's human life, so that we cannot imagine these epistles to have fallen by accident into their existing arrangement any more than "a dropped alphabet could be picked up, an Iliad," or fragments of many-colored glass could be thrown together into a mosaic. Behind the order of these books, as they appear in our New Testament, must lie a guiding hand.
Manifestly there are, in our Lord's human and mediatorial life, seven marked stages, which naturally associate themselves with certain events whose order is unchangeable:
1.His death, burial, and resurrection
2.His breathing of the indwelling Spirit into His disciples
3.His forty days of walk in resurrection newness of life
4.His ascension to the heavenlies and gift of the Spirit in power
5.His compensation for suffering in the joy set before Him
6.His session at the right hand of God―the hidden life above
7.His manifestation or final epiphany in His second advent
But this is exactly, and in every particular, the order of thought as found in these epistles, which, as we have said, are not in the order of their production by the inspired writer.
It might be observed that this order is conspicuously similar to that in the intercessory prayer in John 17,
["1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up His eyes to Heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee: 2 as Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give Eternal Life to as many as Thou hast given Him. 3 And this is Life Eternal, that they might know Thee the Only True God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent. 4 I have glorified Thee on the Earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine Own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was. 6 I have manifested Thy Name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me; and they have kept Thy Word. 7 Now they have known that all things whatsoever Thou hast given Me are of Thee. 8 For I have given unto them the Words which Thou gavest Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me. 9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine. 10 And all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I am glorified in them. 11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep through Thine Own Name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as We are. 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy Name: those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the Son of Perdition; that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 And now come I to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them Thy Word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them through Thy Truth: Thy Word is Truth. 18 As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the Truth. 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. 22 And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are One: 23 I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me. 24 Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world. 25 O Righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee: but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me. 26 and I have declared unto them Thy Name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:1-26).]
where we are led on from the
sanctity, or separation unto God, of the believers, to their unity with Christ
and each other, and then to their final beholding and sharing of His glory.
The present schemes for church unity too often overlook the fact that the basis for all true unity must be found, not in a new organization more compact in character, but a new sanctification, more complete in its nature. The Epistle to the Ephesians first, of all the epistles, unfolds the oneness of believers in Christ Jesus. Paul ascribes to Him the making one of both Jew and Gentile, and the breaking down of the middle wall of partition―that balustrade of stone separating the court of the Gentiles from the holy place, beyond which it was death for any Gentile to pass. And there was a further "middle wall of partition," which excluded even Jews from the court of priests, and from the holiest of all (Ephesians 2:14).
["For He is Our Peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us" (Ephesians 2:14).]
That epistle, which also in
the fourth chapter gives the septiform of Christian unity, teaches us that it is
a unity of the Spirit, and only as that Spirit of God is in actual control, can
there be a true inward unity. Such unity as Christ prayed for is dependent on
sanctity, and prepares for glory. Let us be content with no other―unification is
not always unity.
The companion thought to all this is one which ministers to our highest consolation and comfort: "Herein is our love made perfect that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world" (I John 4:17). The only way for love to be made perfect, so as to cast out fear, and so that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment, is to remember and realize our complete oneness with Him―that, as He is there, so are we here; all that He is and has attained, obtained, secured, by His atoning death and holy obedience and mediation, He is and has, as our representative―the second Adam.
Neither the day of judgment nor the day of reward is wholly future. Every day is one of award. Whenever we confront the Word of God, His Holy Spirit, His law, our own conscience, the all-knowing God Himself, we are in the virtual presence of His mercy seat and judgment seat. And in the midst of all the terrors of His omniscient eye, there is but one deliverance from mortal fear―we are in Christ and identified with Him. God sees us not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Christ Jesus; and condemnation is impossible, as impossible to us as to Him. And so, wonderful as it seems, because we are in Him, His reward is ours, and to realize in any measure our oneness with Him is so far to anticipate and make present in foretaste our day of coronation and glorification. Our one aim should therefore be a full appropriation by us of all that is freely given to us, and appropriated by God for us in our Lord Jesus. We should seek to cast out unbelief, and in faith receive and enjoy all that our God has bestowed and challenged us to claim as our own, in Him.
The study of this subject, as thus unfolded in these epistles, is:
A study of salvation. This word is used in the New Testament in at least three very distinct and yet associated senses:
1.Of an accomplished fact (Luke 19:9). "This day is salvation come to this house."
2.Of a process to be carried on through life (Philippians 2:12). "Work out your own salvation"―work out thoroughly, carry to completion.
3.Of a final result in perfection in glory (I Peter 1:5). "Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last day"―to be brought to light as something hitherto hidden.
It is worthy of particular
notice that the first and last are simply bestowed by grace as a gift of God,
not of ourselves or having any direct connection with our endeavors or
cooperation. But the second depends upon our joint action with God. "Work out
your own salvation... For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to
[work]." All through, the salvation is wholly a divine work; but it is beautiful
to observe how clearly defined in each case, and how distinct, our attitude is.
When salvation comes to us as to Zacchaeus, our attitude is simply that of the
faith which receives, accepts, appropriates the gift of God. The salvation,
which we work out with fear and trembling, demands a love responsive to God's
love, and which yields our will to His will, and leads us to work as He works in
us. The salvation which He reserves for us and reveals at the final advent of
our Lord in glory, is one upon which our hope is to fix its gaze and which it is
to hold in perpetual contemplation.
Taken together these three give us the complete conception of salvation. It begins in justification, which is received at once and forever as the free gift of God by faith in Christ. The process of salvation is sanctification, in which our new love to God leads us to will what He wills, and work out what He works in. The completed and glorious salvation, which awaits us at the last day, is our glorification, which our hope is to anticipate and contemplate as a final state of perfection.
A comprehensive presentation of the whole matter may be found in Titus 2:11-13,
["11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the Great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:11-13).]
which is a very conspicuous
statement of the entire work of Christ in human salvation. Here are two
appearings, or epiphanies, of our Lord. At the first, there is a salvation
brought to all men; at the second, a salvation perfected in glory for saints;
and, between the two, there lies the experience of the disciple in this present
evil age, when he is to work out his own salvation―by denying himself
ungodliness and every worldly lust, and by living soberly (as to himself),
righteously (as to other men), and godly (as to God) .
No man has any proper sense of the grandeur of Christ's work of salvation, who does not apprehend the threefold aspect of that work; and much confusion of ideas will be avoided so soon as we get these distinctions clearly fixed in mind.
For example, how much needless mystification has come from not properly understanding the two apparent conditions of salvation in Paul's famous "word" or message "of faith" in Romans 10:8-10.
["8 But what saith it? The Word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the Word of Faith, which we preach; 9 that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the LORD Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:8-10).]
Here inquirers after salvation have often stumbled, because confession with the mouth seems coupled with belief in the heart, as though the two were equally necessary to salvation; whereas, in no other case is confession thus made essential. For example, Philip told the eunuch, Acts 8:37: "If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest." And Paul told the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:30-31): "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved."
["30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 And they said, Believe on the LORD Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house" (Acts 16:30-31).]
There is no mistaking New Testament teaching on this point. See Acts 8:38-39, where Paul in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia says: "By him all that believe are justified from all things."
["38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. 39 And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the LORD caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:38-39).]
How then can this same Paul
teach Roman Christians that confession with the mouth is essential to salvation?
If we notice carefully the language he used, we shall see that the reference is not the same, in the two parts of his message.
The message of faith: With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation; the former is the salvation that comes at once to faith―righteousness mainly in the sense of justification; the other salvation is that which is to be worked out by us in obedience and conformity to God, and, of this obedience, confession is the first great act. Hence also Paul says, if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord―that is as actual ruler and sovereign of thy whole self―thou shalt be saved.
Again let us observe the growth of this complete salvation. Justification is instant deliverance from the penalty of sin; sanctification is progressive deliverance from the power of sin; glorification is final deliverance from the presence of sin.
How blessed practically to learn this holy lesson! We first repent of sin and believe on the name of the Son of God. We have thus immediate salvation. We are accepted in the beloved and have new standing by grace, out of the reach of all condemnation and judgment. And now, as saved saints, we are to begin a life of new and loving conformity to the will of God. We are first of all to confess Him as both Saviour and Sovereign, Prophet, Priest, and King. Then we are to study conformity to His will and consecration to His service, and so grow in grace and knowledge of Himself, changed into His image from one degree of grace and glory to another; and so we shall find our salvation itself growing; we shall be saved from the dominion of sin, the sway of self, from unfruitfulness and unfaithfulness, and saved from final apostasy.
And when He comes again our blessed hope will find fruition in the perfection of a faultless as well as blameless character, and a perfect condition of heavenly bliss and glory.
Such is the salvation found in Him who is the sphere of the believer's life, the object of his justifying faith, his sanctifying love, his glorifying hope. Where else has any such salvation been found, offered, or even suggested? We hear much of the other "great religions of the world," but not one of them has even hinted the possibility of such a salvation. For that the race had to wait for a direct revelation from God out of heaven.
One thought remains to be considered: the conditions of our entrance into this sphere of being. How am I to get into Christ Jesus and so abide in Him? There are two sides to this matter: by faith as my own act, by regeneration as God's act. On the one hand I repent of sin, and trust in Him as my Saviour. I deliberately choose to be in Him, in Him to live and move and have my being, to have Him surrounding and separating me from all else unto Himself, and providing me in Himself with all my needs and desires, and protecting me in Himself from all my fears and foes. But all this would not introduce me into Christ as the new sphere of my life, but for the power of God. It is not enough to enter a new sphere of life. I must have capacity to live in that new sphere and to breathe its atmosphere.
Every form of life has its sphere, and requires adaptation to it. As we have already seen, what is life to one animal may be death to another, and reversely. If the bird is to live in the water, it needs gills; if the fish is to live in the air, it needs lungs. Every sphere of existence has its laws, and demands adaptation of nature to enter into and live in the new element. Hence He who created us must recreate us, giving us the power or right to enter this new sphere of being, and the power or capacity to receive and enjoy life in Christ Jesus. Both sides of this great matter are presented to us in one or two verses in John 1:12,13, "As many as received Him, even to them that believe on His name, to them gave He power [right or authority] to become the sons of God; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Here the believing or receiving is the human act of faith, and the giving of power or capacity to become sons of God, to be born of God, is regeneration, the divine act of new birth.
What a privilege to be thus insphered in Christ! Who can describe the security, the absolute safety of a disciple who abides in Him? The more we search into the wonderful Word of God, the more shall we be persuaded that there are concentric circles about God, and that the closer we get and keep to Him as center, the more immunity we shall have from evils of every sort. In the inmost circle of intimate fellowship perhaps no saint has ever yet dwelt. But who can limit the possibilities of a holy life? What closeness of union and communion may yet remain to be enjoyed by some who more completely than has ever yet been realized, hide themselves in the pavilion of God and abide in the secret place of the most high, under the shadow of the Almighty, covered with His breast feathers and trusting under His wings! (Psalm 91).
["1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the LORD, He is my Refuge and my Fortress: my God; in Him will I trust. 3 Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. 4 He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His Truth shall be thy Shield and Buckler. 5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; 6 nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. 7 A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. 8 Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. 9 Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my Refuge, even the Most High, thy Habitation; 10 there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. 11 For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. 12 They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. 13 Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. 14 Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known My Name. 15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. 16 With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him My salvation" (Psalm 91:1-16).]
The whole challenge of our theme is in the direction of a full conformity to Christ. And what is conformity, but transformity! Romans 7:2.
["For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the Law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the Law of her husband" (Romans 7:2).]
To be conformed is to be
transformed, to be so assimilated to God as to lose one's spiritual separation
Dr. Edward Judson calls attention to a sort of fish, or water animal, "which resembles seagrass, and hides itself in the midst of marine vegetation. Below is the head, looking like the bulb of the plant, and above is the body and the tail, looking like the blade of seagrass. The ocean currents sway the fish and the grass alike, and so the little fish escapes being devoured by its enemies. It swims along, and one can hardly perceive where fish leaves off and the grass begins, so perfect is the disguise. So a great many Christians' lives are so blended with the world that they can not easily be distinguished. They are swayed by worldly maxims and habits; they share with the world in its sinful pleasures. The difference between such Christians and worldings is not apparent. If this is the kind of Christian life you are living, you need not be afraid of persecution; the world will not think it worth while to molest such a Christian as that. You will not know what it is to drink of the cup that Christ drank of, and to be baptized with the baptism that He was baptized with. But let a man come out into the front, let him engage in some aggressive Christian work, and he will meet the same opposition which was experienced by the One who said: "I came not to send peace, but a sword." [Matthew 10:34].
May we not add, that it is the privilege of a disciple, on the other hand, to be so insphered in Christ as to be identified with and inseparable from Him, so that it may be a grand fact, "For to me to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:12) . Oh, that the child of God might be so assimilated to Him that he could no longer be distinguished from Him in character and life!
What a life that would be that mortifies all that is evil and unlawful, and sanctifies all that is lawful and good.
Surely it is high time for believers to awake out of sleep! What awful apathy and lethargy exist in the matter of spiritual life and power and victory! If such final glory and triumph are assured in Christ Jesus, may not the very promise and prospect of such victory, the assurance of such a destiny, inspire and insure present holy living! These Thessalonians turned from idols to serve the living God and to wait for His Son from heaven. They served the better because they waited. Hope reacted on faith and love and obedience. No believer can truly believe that such final perfection of character, conquest, and reward is before him without being a stronger, better, holier man for the outlook. And the close of the first epistle is the sublime expression of this argument.
"Abstain from [every form] of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and... your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, Who also will do it." [1Thessalonians 5:22-24).]
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