Wednesday, July 18, 2012

“He Takes Hold!”

I almost laughed out loud as I heard the words read, “He allowed God to continue to use him.”  Allowed?  You have got to be kidding me.  Since when does God require our permission? This question is begged by such a statement, “Where is the God of Isaiah, of Elijah, of Peter, of Paul?”  Which of these “allowed” God to use him?  I can recall one of John Wimber’s most profound sayings” “He’s God and I ain’t!” And another question arises, “What is the majority of modern evangelicalism forfeiting?” 
Did we allow Him in the midst of our utter depravity to save us (Romans 5:6) - or did the light of the glory of the gospel penetrate the darkness of our hearts by His own initiative: ‘For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 4:6

Does He help us - or has He taken hold of us? The difference is paramount for the fruit is either guilt or gratitude - passivity or perseverance.

Many years ago, during my devotional reading of the Epistle to the Hebrews, I was captivated by a marginal translation in the New American Standard Bible of verse 2:16.  It is commonly read as: “For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant(s) of Abraham.”   But what is not common is what the NASB says is the literal translation: “For assuredly He does not take hold of angels, but He takes hold of the seed of Abraham.” It is only by the immutability of this translation that we can truly have eternal assurance - an unshakeable confidence. 

And not to all of the descendants of Abraham - Ishmael - but to those who are of the divine seed of faith - Isaac - the son of the Promise.  It is important to note also that the noun is singular - seed - not plural - seeds.  ‘Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ.’  Galatians 3:16

The commentator and contemporary of the Wesleys, Adam Clarke, saw this striking difference: “This is the marginal reading, and is greatly to be preferred to that in the text.”  And he continues: “and it is strange that (too) many commentators should have missed so obvious a sense.”  At least one other commentator, John Gill, did get it also: “the word here used signifies to catch hold of anyone ready to perish, or to lay hold on a person running away, and with great vehemence and affection to hold anything fast, that it be not lost,...”  Reminds one of the conversion of the Apostle Paul.

Once having laid hold of the seed of Abraham is it then possible for Him to release His grip? Charles Spurgeon: “nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called.”

If He “helps” then we are reminded of the oft quoted verse from Hezekiah - or is it in 2 Hesitations? “God helps those who help themselves.”  Before we go too far with this parody let us note that this statement is actually from Aesop’s Fables and is in direct contradiction to the Word of God: ‘This is what the LORD says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD."’ Jeremiah 17:5 NIV Also: “He who trusts in himself is a fool...” Proverbs 28:26 NIV

If He helps, then we imply that He responds to our initiative. If He has taken hold - it has already been accomplished according to the plan of His will - and we are right square in the middle of it to the praise of His glory.  This - and only this - makes diligence possible.  “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy,” Jude 24

If our salvation depends to any degree upon ourselves it is partial - a shadow only. If it depends totally and completely on Him then it is whole and perfect - substance.  It is a fait a compli - the sufficiency of which is lacking no iota. The glorious majesty of its unalterability is without spot of tarnish.  “whence also he is able to save to the very end (uttermost, completely, forever), those coming through him unto God -- ever living to make intercession for them.”  Hebrews 7:25 Young’s Literal Translation

We are veterans of those various “Jesus Festivals” which began in the early 1970's.  While ankle - if not knee - deep in the mud of a Pennsylvania potato field I retrieved a publication the cover of which left an indelible impression on my being.  The depiction was of two hands with a human body stretched out between them.  The lower hand was dark with claws and obviously represented Satan while the upper hand was light (and well manicured) - the hand of our Father firmly drawing the person from the clutches below.  The scripture being portrayed here was:  “who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love;” Colossians 1:13 WEB

Let me ask you, “Did you allow Him to deliver you or did He snatch you out?”  Once again from Charles Spurgeon: “Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, ‘I ascribe my change wholly to God.’” The word help cannot come close to appropriating this truth.

Paul - the bond-servant of Christ - actually had his will overcome while he was resisting God.  “We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will (to kick against the goads - NASB).'” Acts 26:14 NLT Surely he had his own conversion experience in mind when he wrote: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Romans 9:16 ESV He knew that he was unequivocally the object of God’s mercy - there was no other way to explain his redemption and calling–to be propelled into the remotest parts of the earth.   

Not only are we sealed in Him by the work of the Holy Spirit, the outworking of His life in and through us is guaranteed as verifiable evidence.  “having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,” Ephesians 1:13b and “For we are His workmanship (masterpiece - NLT), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

This is achieved not through the machinations of an automaton - but by the divine motivation imparted into the hearts of sons and daughters - chosen children - of their eternal Father.  ‘but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons (sonship - NIV), by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"’ Romans 8:15b ESV Adopted children are selected - chosen- they are the objects of the desire of the parent.  Extreme - exquisite - gratitude can be our only response to this initiative with a consummate unyielding desire to be pleasing. “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead (to our old life NLT):” 2 Corinthians 5:14 KJV There is not the slightest hint of manipulation to be found here.

In John’s First Epistle we see a perfect illustration of this concept (1 John 2:1-3) - Cause (motivation) and effect (deeds).  In his missive John expresses his fatherly heart by addressing his readers as, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”  Yet he is quick to turn their dependence from his “sweetest frame” to the all sufficiency of their Father God.  “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father,” All of which is made effectual in His Eternal Son, “Jesus Christ the righteous;” “ and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.  By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” Obedience is the effect, not the cause–this must not be confused.

One evangelical mantras is “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?”  I have difficulty imagining a phrase that could be any more insipid - totally lacking in true Gospel power.  We don’t accept Him, we are accepted by Him - and by His acceptance His Lordship is received into our total being.  George Whitefield: “Man Is nothing: he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to will and to do his good pleasure.”  And from Paul: “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Ephesians 1:6 KJV Is it no wonder, that of the vast crowds that respond to such an invitation, only a very small portion persevere?

In a vain attempt to mitigate this disaster, some have advanced a religious philosophy of accepting Jesus as savior and then later “making” Him our Lord.  This scheme borders on gnostic dualism.  A.W. Tozer was quick to label it as heresy: “THE SCRIPTURES DO NOT TEACH that the Person of Jesus Christ nor any of the important offices which God has given Him can be divided or ignored according to the whims of men.”

Once while involved in “street ministry” I was engaged in a theological discussion.  (There are many theologians on the street.)  “Do you believe in eternal security?” was the question posed.  Knowing the connotations usually associated with such a statement and the self-justification of the lifestyle that might be speaking to me I replied, “No I do not--but I am eternally secure.  I am trusting His ability to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day.”  My reference is from Paul’s final letter to his young disciple Timothy (1:12) - which he wanted to leave with him as his race was almost complete.  The genesis of this is spoken by Spurgeon “-I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him.”

Christ and Christ alone is the ultimate agent of perseverance.  From the writer to the Hebrews: “and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith,” Hebrews 12:1b-2a  Indeed it is by compelling love that our gaze is transfixed upon Him and we are conformed into His image. This perspective is empowering–it is the great motivating factor producing - as a result - holiness of life.
A dependance - or confidence - in the flesh sets us up for failure. “nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13b Are we clinging to personal sovereignty or has the sovereignty of a Holy God taken hold of us?  This is where faith originates, is maintained and culminates - as embodied in Christ.  "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." The Revelation of Jesus Christ 1:8

Our hope that is both sure and steadfast is well expressed in the modern hymn In Christ Alone:

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

And from one who knew and lived out this sovereign truth, the Apostle Paul: “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 NIV

As one of my friends concludes his correspondence: “In His grip!”

Soli Deo Gloria!

Mzee Ron Thaxton

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