What It Means To Be A Christian # 14
The Prospective Element In The New Testament, continued -
And how much there is in the Word in the nature of an urge and an imperative to wholeheartedness, to utterness. All the time the Apostles are urging us, bringing upon us the weight of this great imperative to go on - go on - go on! By exhortation, by warning, they are constantly saying to us, "Go on and ever on! Have no margin of life that is not burnt up for God!" And the point of that argument, or that urge and imperative, is the coming eternity. All this is in the light of the afterward. We must, they say, be utter for God because of what is going to follow, because this is not the end. There is that which, coming afterward, will show the justification for having been utter for God.
The Comparative Element In Eternity
Now, that leads us to the next thing in this connection - the comparative element in eternity. There is, I think we agree, a prospective element in the Christian life which occupies a great deal of the New Testament. Cut out that prospective element from the New Testament and how how much you have got left, whether it be Gospels or Epistles. You are not going to have very much left if you take that out. It is there and it is mightily there. But in addition to it, there is in the New Testament what I am calling the comparative element in relation to the coming eternity. I mean by this that things are not all going to be on one 'mass production' level hereafter. There are going to be differences where the children of God are concerned, and very great differences.
It was to this, of course, that the Apostle was pointing when writing to the Corinthians. Speaking about foundations and superstructure, he said: "The foundation is laid. Now let every man take heed how he build thereon. If any man build thereon wood, hay, stubble, gold, silver, precious stones, every man's work shall be tried by fire" (1 Cor. 3:10-13). And, he implies, if it is wood, hay or stubble, it will all go up in smoke. And then he brings in this tremendously forceful word (verse 15): "If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire." That is, the man may just scrape through, as a kind of "emergency" - just managing to get in, as we say, "by the skin of his teeth." But everything else has gone. The argument surely is that that is not what God intended. Over against that we have a phrase like this: "For thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom" (2 Pet. 1:11). On the one hand, we see the possibility of just getting in, with our life and nothing more: on the other hand, an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom. You see, there are differences, there are comparative features about the afterward.
What about those messages to the seven churches in Asia, which we have at the beginning of the Book of the Revelation? I believe that the people in those churches are true Christians and not merely professors. If you grant that, then you have got to face this, that between Christian and Christian there is a difference, and there are some very distinct promises given to certain Christians there. "To him that overcometh ... to him that overcometh ... to him that overcometh will I grant ..." Surely logic implies: 'If you don't then you won't. If you don't overcome, then you won't get what the Lord offers.' There are differences. I do not believe this is a matter of loss of salvation, but it is something more than just being saved, just getting in.
Relationship With The Lord For Eternal Vacation
What is the nature of the difference or the differences? Some people will say, 'Well, of course, it is reward.' But what does the New Testament show to be the nature of the reward? The answer is quite clearly this. The reward relates to "calling." It is vocational - it is always vocational. "And His servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face" (Rev. 22:3, 4). It is service, but service without all the burdensome elements that are so often associated with service now: service to Him without limit, without restraint, without opposition, without suffering. To be able to serve Him! Surely there can be no greater joy than just to be able, without all the straitness and limitations and difficulties of the work now, to serve the Lord in fullness.
Now that is where the New Testament puts its finger. It is calling, vocation, and this, it goes on to show, is a matter of positions in relation to the Lord, different positions for service. Take an illustration of this from one of the messages to the churches. "He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne" (Rev. 3:21). There you have two ideas. One is a very close relationship with the Lord, a very intimate nearness to Him; the other, royal service - the service of the throne. What is your conception of sitting with Him in the throne? Let us not have pictures of sitting on golden or ivory thrones, and so on. This simply means union with the Lord in the administration of His eternal kingdom. That is service. But that is said to be a special gift to certain people - it is their reward, if you like. The point is that it is vocational, and it is a matter of relationship to the Lord.
The final picture that we have in the New Testament, while so full of symbolism, is an embodiment of these spiritual principles. It is the picture of the City. Now again get your mind clear, and do not think of a literal city. It is only an illustration, a figure, a symbol. This city is undoubtedly the Church. Need I argue that? "The Jerusalem that is above ... which is our mother" (Gal. 4:26). "Ye are come unto ... the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22). "Ye are come ..." We are not coming later on, afterwards. "Ye are come .... unto the heavenly Jerusalem ... and to the ... church of the firstborn." So that that city which is said to be the "new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Rev. 21:2) is the Church. Now, like a capital city, it is put into a particular and peculiar position, and the idea of such a city is that it is an administrative center. We are told that "the nations walk in the light thereof' (vs. 24). You see, there is something at the center for government, and there is much more that is not at the center. Here is proximity to the Lord, relationship with the Lord for eternal vocation in administration in His kingdom.
(continued with # 15 - The Urge and The Imperative)