What It Means To Be A Christian # 15
The Urge And The Imperative
That, surely, is enough to bear out the statement that there is a comparative element in the eternity to come. And that is the point of the urge and the imperative, that is the force of the constraint: "Let us press on unto full growth" (Heb. 6:1) - not looking back, but pressing on; it is the force for all the warnings - not looking back, but pressing on; it is the force of all the warnings - not that you may lose your salvation, but there there are positions and there is a vocation to which you are called in eternity, and you may miss that. I think Paul saw that in what he called "the on-high calling" (Phil. 3:14). He saw something of this reigning life in the ages to come.
Now, with God, nothing is merely official. God never appoints officers in His Kingdom. There are not politicians - political officials - in His Kingdom, neither are there ecclesiastics - ecclesiastical officials. With God, I repeat, there is nothing that is merely official. You know, God does not appoint officers in His Church. God's principles of appointment is always according to spiritual measure. Even now in the Church - where it is a spiritual thing, where it is according to His mind - God indicates those who are to have oversight as being men of spiritual measure; not selected, chosen and votes in by popular vote. That is the principle of the New Testament, and in the Kingdom it is like that. No one is going to have any position just because he is appointed officially to it. Not at all! Every position will be according to our spiritual measure.
Hence we are urged repeatedly - 'let us go on to full growth' (perfection). It is always according to the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). It is just how much of Christ there is, how big we are according to the standard of Christ. That is God's basis of appointment, and it will always be so. It is so now and it will be in the ages to come. It will always be that vocation depends upon how much of Christ there is in those concerned. God's whole thought, as we saw at the beginning of these meditations, is that Christ shall fill all things.
Now that explains our discipline, for our discipline is our training for then; and the nature of our discipline now is just to increase the measure of Christ and to decrease the measure of "I", of ourselves, in every way; to set aside the one man, that occupies the place of Christ, and to put Christ in His place. The one all-inclusive object of the Holy Spirit in this dispensation is to make Christ everything, and to get as much room for Christ as He possibly can - and that means, where we are concerned, as much as we will let Him have. That throws us back, of course, upon the question: Are we really going to be "utter?" The measure of our "utterness" will be the measure of our usefulness in the ages to come. This will be governed by spiritual measure and by no other principle.
Reward and Grace
Some people find difficulty - a purely mental one - in reconciling reward and grace. Some may want to say, 'Oh, but it is all of grace, and you are making it a work. After all, it is all of grace.' How can you reconcile reward and grace? Well, you have got to find somehow the place of rewards, haven't you? But it is not so difficult as all that. It is all of grace that I can be a Christian and that I can go on with the Lord, that I can serve the Lord even a little bit. It is all of grace. And if suffering is going to lead to glory, and the measure of the glory is going to be according to the suffering, then it will require all the grace of God for that. You can never get outside of grace. If ever there should come a reward - if you like to visualize such a thing as a reward being literally offered now, I tell you, dear friend, when we get to that point of full understanding and knowledge of all the forbearance and long-suffering and patience of the Lord, we shall fall on our faces and say, 'Lord, I cannot take any reward - it is all of Your grace.'
But then remember that grace is spoken of in more than one way in the New Testament. There is grace which gives us access and acceptance. "This grace wherein we stand" (Rom. 5:2). It is all the favor of God, without merit, that we are saved at all, that we belong to the Lord. Yes, that is grace. But then grace is also spoken of as strength - strength beyond initial salvation. It is what the Lord meant when He said to Paul in the presence of his affliction and suffering: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). Grace is acceptance without merit, but grace is also strength to labor, serve and suffer. However you look at it, it is all of grace.
Utterness For God
So now we have to focus down upon this, that there is in the New Testament a large place for our meaning business with God. It is not all willy-nilly - that you believe, you accept Christ, and that is the beginning and end of it; you get everything now. Surely all these entreaties, exhortations, beseechings, bear down upon this. Their burden is: Do not leave anything to chance. Do not say, 'Oh well, this does not matter very much, this will not hurt, there is not much wrong in this; I have got salvation, and the grace of God will cover all these imperfections; I can do all this and that, and it will not make much difference; God is a God of love.' The New Testament says, in effect, 'Do not take any risks.' If it does not mean as to your salvation ultimately, it does mean as to something. The whole force of the Word is: 'Look here, you be utter; God does not make provision for anything else. You go all the way with the Lord,for it is that to which you are called.' The Lord has never said, 'Well, you only need to go so far, and I will excuse you the rest.' No, it is always fullness that God keeps in view, and He is challenging us all the time as to whether we will mean business with Him. But there will be no place, in the end, for our boasting in our endurance, our success, our utterness. Even though we pour ourselves out to the last drop, at the last it will be ourselves, above all, who will be the worshipers - we shall be the ones who are down before Him most. The most utter people are always those who are most conscious of their indebtedness to the Lord.
The Great Crisis Which Determines Everything
And now, as we draw to a close, we come to the great crisis which determines everything. It is always there in the Scripture, always kept in view: a great crisis - the coming of the Lord. It is there, it is then, that everything will be determined. Though we may have passed on before He comes, the Word makes it perfectly clear that makes no difference - we shall be there when He comes, and those who are alive when He comes will not get ahead of us. We shall be there together, and so we shall all be on the common footing; and then it will be determined what the future is going to be - just exactly what will be our place, what will be our function. That is a big factor in the prospective aspect of things. The Scripture always keeps in view the prospect of the Lord's coming. When we are saved, we receive a new hope, but as we go on as believers we find that that hope becomes something very definite and concrete. It is called in the New Testament 'the hope,' and the hope is related to the coming of the Lord.
So that all the appeals and all the warnings and all the entreaties focus down to this. The Lord is coming, and at His coming everything will be decided, everything will be settled. It is then that our future eternity will be decided upon. You recall all those appeals, in the light of His coming, for watchfulness, for being fully occupied, being on full stretch, till He comes, and the earnest warnings that, if we are not, something serious is going to happen - something is going to go wrong. I am not putting this into any system of doctrine, crystallizing it into any form of teaching; but these are the facts, pure, simple facts. At the coming of the Lord, great decisions will take place, and if we are not watching, if we are not occupying, if we are not on full stretch, something is going wrong. The Word makes that perfectly clear in various ways. Something is going wrong - I put it like that. I mean that something is going to be other than the Lord would have had, and what might have been with us.
So we bring the eternity that is ahead right into the present, and say that this is a tremendous motive. It gives a tremendous motive to the Christian life. Oh, the life hereafter - going to Heaven, or however we may speak about it - is not something that is just out there, in a kind of objective, detached way, and we are looking forward to that day, waiting for that day to come. Dear friends, that day is pressed right into the present. That day is here now in all its implications. There is little hope of our going to Heaven, if Heaven has not already come to us. Our place and our vocation in that day (though not our salvation) will depend very largely upon the measure that Christ has had in us in this life.
That again, explains many things, does it not? It explains, for instance, why the Lord very often presses into a short time a great deal of suffering, much affliction, much trial, that produces a wonderful measure of Christ. You can see the growth in grace. You discern the patience, the forbearance, the kindness, the love of Christ coming out in this suffering child of God. This is preparation for glory, preparation for service. It explains very much. We can go round it, and look at it from many different standpoints, but after all what it amounts to is this. The New Testament keeps the future in view as the great governing thing for the present. The New Testament says that it is going to make a difference in the eternity to come just how far we have gone on with the Lord, and how much room the Lord has gained in our lives now.
And it is going to be definite. The New Testament says the Lord is coming. The Lord will come in His own time, and then all will be decided. You see, so many people are interested in the second coming of Christ purely from a prophetical standpoint,as to events and happenings in the world, so so on, and so few Christians are alive, fully alive, to the fact that in the New Testament the coming of the Lord is always brought to bear upon our spiritual state. "He that hath this hope" - not 'he that hath this prophetic interpretation of the second coming' - but "he that hath this hope set on Him purifieth himself" (1 John 3:3): he gets ready, he seeks that his state shall be all right as well as his standing. It matters, and it will matter, a very great deal. So we must open the door wide in our Christian lives to that far greater life that is before us. At most this is a brief one, a small one; it is only the beginning; but in that day all its meanings are going to come out in fullness.
Will you hear the appeal? The Christian life, as we have said, is a tremendous thing, an immense thing. We are called with an eternal calling, unto an eternal vocation. Here we are just brought into relationship with the Lord, and then are dealt with by the Lord. We are allowed to serve the Lord; but even in our service we are in school, we are learning, rather than anything else. Do you not think that that is how it ought to be? Not just that we should be learning deeply in the school of experience. And it is all related to the calling on-high,and the great vocation afterward.
The Lord move our hearts to be utter for Him, to take no risks, to leave nothing to chance whatever, but, like His servant Paul, to go for the highest prize, the fullest thing that the Lord ever intended.