7-1-3 The True Christians Aren't Good People
The more closely we analyze the Bible heroes, the more apparent it is
that they were shot through with weakness; and some of those weaknesses
it seems they unsuccessfully battled with until the day of their death.
I think of Jacob, always trusting in his own strength, being progressively
taught to trust in Yahweh's strength. And yet right at the very end of
his life, he lets slip a comment which would seem more appropriate to
his earlier life: " Shechem...which I took out of the hand of the
Amorite with my sword and with my bow" (Gen. 48:22).
The wrongness of this attitude seems to be alluded to in Josh. 24:12,
which says that God drove out the Amorites " but not with thy sword,
neither with thy bow" . And Ps. 44:3,6 also: " They got not
the land in possession by their own sword...I will not trust in my bow,
neither shall my sword save me" . So Jacob, right at the end of his
life, still hadn't completely overcome that besetting weakness of self-reliance.
This is, of course, a dangerous road to go down. In no way can we be complacent
about our urgent need for spiritual growth. But on the other hand, we
will never reach the stature of Christ without righteousness being imputed
to us. In this sense, true Christian believers aren't good people.
The lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons are held up in the NT
as our examples. And yet those records are absolutely shot through with
reference to the spiritual weakness of those men, and even the suggestion
that as men they were not 'nice' people. They, the archetypical believers,
aren't good people. Indeed, the records seem to juxtapose their weakness
against the more humanly acceptable behaviour of the world around them.
The whole business of Jacob obtaining the blessing from his slightly drunk
father Isaac is almost comical; dressed up with skins, with his mum prodding
him under the ribs saying " Go on, go on, it's my sin not yours"
; Jacob must have been willing the old boy to hurry up, knowing as he
did that Esau was about to come in with his meal. Yet this was the
most Godly family on earth at the time. Consider further examples:
The household of faith
Abraham tells Sarah to say she is his sister, not his wife, and
(by implication) let the Egyptians sleep with her rather than
kill him. And straight after this, God blesses Abraham with
riches (Gen. 12:11 - 13:2).
The surrounding world
Pharaoh was attracted to her, and took her into his house. But
he didn't sleep with her, and was willing to allow a period of
time to elapse before marrying her, in order not to insult her
dignity (cp. Dt. 21:13).
Abraham made the very same mistake with
Abimelech of Gerar (Gen. 20:1-13); and it seems he did it many
other, unrecorded times (Gen. 20:13).
Isaac does just the same with Abimelech (Gen. 26:7-11). And again,
God blesses Isaac straight after this faithless, immoral incident
(Gen. 26:12). Believers aren't good people!
Isaac's criticism of them seems unreasonably aggressive and paranoiac:
" Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me?" (Gen.
Abraham ought to have apologized to Abimelech.
But instead Abimelech gives him a present (Gen. 10:14-16).
Again, Abimelech and his people do the honourable thing. The
people of Gerar surely had the impression that the Abraham family
were a faithless, unprincipled lot compared to themselves.
Truly could they reply: " we saw certainly that the Lord
was with thee... we have not touched thee, and as we have done
unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace"
Abraham and Sarah doubt God's promise
of a seed, and so Sarah pushes Abraham to have an affair with
Hagar her servant. When Hagar gets (understandably) full of womanly
pride at her conception, Sarah persecutes her and drives her out
to certain death in the wilderness. True believers aren't good
or nice people!
God seems to take Hagar's side, He hears
her affliction, He looks upon her, and makes a covenant with her
(Gen. 16). Hagar believes God's promise to her, and praises Him
for it. Sarah laughs at God's promise to her as being a joke (Gen.
18:12-15). And even worse, when she is reprimanded for doing this,
she flatly denies she ever laughed.
Sarah again tries to kill Hagar and her
son Ishmael, apparently because of the teenage Ishmael mocking
the baby Isaac. Whilst this incident is symbolic of the persecution
of the righteous by the wicked (Gal. 4:29), this in no way justifies
Sarah's behaviour. And yet straight after this shameful business,
God blesses Abraham in all that he does (Gen. 21:22).
God again justifies Hagar and takes her
side against a rather unreasonable mistress (Gen. 21:12-20)- who
is held up in the NT as our example, although, it is stressed,
not in her weaker aspects (1 Pet. 3:6).
Jacob, on a human level, compares unfavourably
to Esau. He cruelly deceived his brother, and all his life long
hated him and lied to him (consider 33:13-15).
Mal. 1:4 makes the point that Edom (Esau) was zealous to return
and rebuild the ravaged land which God had once given him, whereas
Judah took a Canannite woman and shamefully treated her (38:2)
When Esau had the chance to take vengeance
on Jacob, he wonderfully forgave him. He never lied to Jacob.
And yet despite this, God says He still chose to love Israel
(Jacob) and hate Esau. His behaviour in this is an example of
how He saves by pure grace and not works.
Esau took Canaanite women, but married them and treated them
Dinah goes downtown to have a fling.
She ends up sleeping with the prince of Shechem. As a result of
this, her brothers trick the men of Shechem into being circumcised
and them come and murder the lot of them. Humanly, the sons of
Jacob, unrepentant as they were (34:31), should have taken the
consequence of their evil at the hand of the vengeful surrounding
tribes. But God, in His grace, preserves them by a miracle (35:5).
The Prince of Shechem didn't rape her,
and he didn't just discard her. He could easily have just taken
her as his wife with no more discussion with her family. He did
the honourable thing in that he honestly wanted to marry her,
and would do absolutely anything to enable this (Gen. 34).
It's often been observed that there are so many people in the world who
are 'nicer', 'better' than we are. And in some ways, on a human level,
this seems true. Christian believers aren't good people. And yet we
have been called to salvation, not them. I would guess that the more reflective
among the Abraham family had exactly the same thought. And yet God chose
weak, apathetic Israel- not because they were righteous, but because they
were predestined, unconditionally as far as we can understand it, to this
calling. And the calling of spiritual Israel is no different. In the fact
God called Israel to be His people we see the depth, the very essence,
of salvation by grace, not works or committed righteousness. The desperate
sinners, not the apparently righteous, are the ones God calls. Israel
were warned that they were being given the land (cp. salvation) "
not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart...for thou
art a stiffnecked people" (Dt. 9:5,6). These words are picked up
in Tit. 3:5 and applied to the new Israel: " Not by works of righteousness
which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing
(baptism) of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit" - by
His grace alone.
Those who enter the Kingdom will genuinely, from the very depth of their
being, feel that they shouldn't be there. Indeed, they shouldn't be. For
Christian believers aren't good people. We are saved by grace alone. The
righteous are " scarcely saved" (1 Pet. 4:18). The righteous
remnant who spoke often to one another about Yahweh will only be "
spared" by God's grace (Mal. 3:17). The accepted will feel so certain
of this that they will almost argue with the Lord Jesus at the day of
judgment that He hasn't made the right decision concerning them (Mt. 25:37-40).
It's only a highly convicted man who would dare do that. Thus the Father
will have to comfort the faithful in the aftermath of the judgment, wiping
away the tears which will then (see context) be in our eyes,
and give us special help to realize that our sinful past has now finally
been overcome (Rev. 21:4). We will be like the labourers in the parable
who walk away clutching their penny, thinking " I really shouldn't
have this. I didn't work for a day, and this is a day's pay" . Therefore
if we honestly, genuinely feel that we won't be in the Kingdom, well,
this is how in some ways the faithful will all feel. Although by the very
nature of being in this state, just knowing this won't change how we feel.
We won't think " Oh, I feel I'll be rejected, so, great, that means
I won't be" . But we must simply be aware that it is God's earnest
desire to save repentant sinners. He will even bend His own laws to enable
this. Consider how within His own law, it was an abomination for a man
to re-marry the woman he had divorced. Yet this notwithstanding, God abases
Himself in asking worthless Israel to re-marry Him (Dt. 24:4 cp. Jer.
3:1). Even though leaven was prohibited in offerings (Lev. 2:11), God
was willing to accept a peace offering with leaven in it (Lev. 7:13).
And for a freewill offering, He would accept a deformed animal (Lev. 22:23),
even though this was against His preferred principle of absolute
perfection in offerings. There was no atonement without the shedding of
blood; and yet for the very poor, God would accept a non-blood sacrifice.
This all reflected the zeal of God to accept fallen men. The relationship
between Solomon and his bride in the Song is evidently typical of ours
with the Lord. Yet she has major problems: he always addresses her directly,
yet she always answers indirectly (“he cometh...he standeth...he brought
me”), often with some awkwardness and sense that she is unworthy of his
love, and that his glowing descriptions of her are exaggeration. She is
depicted as in doubt, lost, asleep, uncertain, reluctant, moody, sometime
in love with him sometimes not, in need of reassurance despite the greatness
of his love (“let him kiss me...”).
I can't help but end on a positive note. Believers aren't good people.
But the Biblical evidence is that those who will be in the Kingdom basically
love God, but really feel they shouldn't be in His Kingdom. There is much
Biblical reason to believe that we should be positive about the fact we
will surely be in the Kingdom. And yet the Biblical pictures of the judgment
indicate that the accepted will not have grasped this aspect as strongly
as they might have done. And this is exactly, exactly the position which
I sense so many of us are in: not believing as strongly as we might the
positive fact that we really will be in the Kingdom because we are in
Christ, and yet experiencing answered prayer, basically holding on, albeit
with a deeper sense of their unworthiness than of God's grace. These characteristics,
which are clearly seen in so many of us, are the very characteristics
of the faithful in the Biblical descriptions of the judgment. And therefore,
many of us will be in the Kingdom of God. This isn't playing
with logic or the semantics of Biblical exposition. Like Peter, I am "
exhorting and testifying, that this is the true grace of God
wherein ye stand" (1 Pet. 5:12).
(1) See Study 1.2 The
Problem Of Certainty.
(2) See Study 4.1 We're