God’s elect, His Church, is part of God’s eternal purpose. We are directly related to God’s kingdom, power, and glory.
Ephesians 3.9-11 “…and to bring to light what is the fellowship of the mystery which from eternity has been hidden in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ; so that now to the rulers and powers in the heavenlies might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord…”
The glory of God has three aspects: His nature, His work, and His satisfaction.
If God’s glory were only related to his nature, there would be no part for us in his glory. God is self-sustaining, lacks nothing and needs no one’s help for his well-being.
But our God is a God of purpose, so his glory radiates beyond his nature itself and comes to also rest upon his work. And our God is also infallible. Whatever he chooses to do, he will be able to do, he will be able to accomplish, and he will be able to finish to his final satisfaction. Therefore his glory also rests upon his total satisfaction.
But once God starts to work, he is executing his will, and his will includes the church. We can only thank God for that, because it is on that basis that we become partakers of God’s glory. In fact the church did not just get picked up on the way by God out of mercy, but rather plays a positively critical role in God’s eternal purpose.
Let’s take heed of what happened in the heavenly even before the creation of man. The arch angel Lucifer was corrupted by his own vainglory and eventually became the enemy of God.
If it were just a matter of who wins and who is stronger, the outcome of the battle between God and Lucifer would have been determined instantly with little for us to talk about, and much less for us to actually participate.
But God chose not to defeat His enemy directly using his sheer power. He chose to defeat his enemy with his wisdom, and his wisdom is to defeat, convict and condemn the enemy, and put his enemy under shame through a creature called man who is not only weaker than the arch angel , but is smaller than any angels.
Defeating Satan this way, God would not only be victorious, and would further not only have gained a new universe which includes a new heaven and earth, but he would have also gained a Kingdom with his beloved people as the object of his love in His Son Jesus Christ.
This is a mystery of God’s eternal purpose.
To fulfill this purpose, salvation must come to man in the way it did, which is through Jesus Christ; and Jesus had to overcome Satan by destroying his power over man.
And what power does Satan have over men? It is sin and nothing else.
And to do that, Jesus must do it on behalf of man, that is, as the son of man, not as the son of God (which he is), so that his victory can be counted as man’s.
This includes not only his personal victory of perfection as the Man as manifested on the Mount of Transfiguration, but more importantly his sacrificial victory of submission on the Mount Calvary.
Thank God for his plan. As a result of his wisdom and love, in the eternity, our story will be forever a sweet story of salvation, in which the legitimate Heir of the Kingdom sacrificed himself for our sake and came down, down, and down, to the point of death, and was subsequently elevated by God up, up and up, followed by those who are saved.
If this does not mean much to us, then just imagine the opposite: We live in an eternity in which the only story there will be is so dishonorable that it cannot be told openly but can only be kept in secret as a scandal, which is that the dis-honored leader was not a legitimate heir of the kingdom, and he grasped what did not belong to him by trying all his might to go up, up, and up to elevate himself, but was eventually thrown down, down and down by God as a result of his unrighteousness.
Let’s not even think about our fate in the hands of someone of such character and history (shouldn’t it be clear how someone who tried to steal from God is likely to treat his companion?). Isn’t the contrast of these two stories alone enough for us to thank God for his salvation, which comes not only with his power, but with his wisdom, character and glory?
That is our salvation accomplished in Jesus Christ according to the eternal love of God.
But God’s plan does not stop here. God wants not only the redeemed to be an object of his mercy, but also an object of his rich grace which leads to glory. That is, God not only saved us from the suffering in sin, he wants us to be partakers of his glory, partakers of his life, partakers of the good character of his Son Jesus Christ, to an extent that he will not be ashamed as a Father to call us his children, and our Lord Jesus will not be ashamed to call us his brothers.
In that, God worked in history, patiently did he, in man’s lives, so that he will gain a people who become partakers of God’s divine life through Jesus Christ the Savior, and partakers of God’s glory.
This work of God was illustrated vividly in the Old Testament. Abraham and Moses are two great examples.
Through the life of Abraham, God obtained an individual who saw, knew and testified that God is the true and only God of this universe.
The principle of Abraham’s life is a very simple and clear one: leave the world and enter into God’s glory
Through the life of Moses, God obtained a people to demonstrate his power.
The principle of Israelites’ life is still the same, that is, to leave the world and enter into God’s glory. Only difference is that Abraham was called as an individual, but Israelites were called as a people.
Let’s consider the lives of Abraham and Moses.
When God made the first explicit manifestation of His glorious eternal purpose to an individual, God chose Abraham to do so.
(1) The relationship between Abraham and God is represented by the alters he built.
The altar is a proclamation of God’s sovereignty and God’s right as the only master of heavens and earth. Altar is a confession that only God is and man is not.
(Here, note that Abraham is representing himself and confessing that he himself is not. He isn’t speaking on behalf of others as a leader, nor was he speaking on behalf of God as a prophet to call judgment upon the sinful world. This is the only right position for an individual, unless the person was called to be a prophet or leader. As individuals, everyone must have his own altar to proclaim such truth at a personal level.)
But most personally, the altar is consecration. Consecration does not suggest a status of perfection, it is in fact a progression, but nevertheless a wholehearted dedication. There is great meaning in when and where Abraham built his four alters, but that is another topic.
(2) The life of Abraham on earth is epitomized by his tent-living.
It would be a foolish mistake for us to belittle or slight this by assuming that Abraham was just a country bumpkin who had a backward lifestyle and didn’t know better.
First of all, we all know Abraham was a rich man, and second, we also know that even back the time, the rich and powerful already knew how to enjoy the luxuries of living in a big city. Pharaoh did. Abraham’s nephew Lot did. You may suspect that Abraham simply was being nomadic and enjoyed nomadism. And sometimes we might feel Abraham did that because that is a natural living style that must have pleased God. But none of these is relevant to the most significant side of the story.
Abraham, while living in a tent, saw a city, the eternal city of God, a city that represented the true nobility of a people and their living, far beyond anything on earth. No one before him ever saw that. And he didn’t take what he saw in the vision as being just one of many things in his life, but instead he knew it was the vision God gave him to tell him about God’s eternal purpose.
Abraham was rich and had abundant on earth, but he chose to live a heavenly life. He saw what was being built by God and what was promised by God in eternity, and he was willing to forsake all luxuries on earth.
What does the Holy Spirit say about Abraham thousands of years later:
Hebrews 11.8-10: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.“
Abraham saw a city which lasts until eternity. In contrast, his nephew (and companion) Lot lived in a city which led to destruction.
If there had been the greatest story of Tales of Two Cities, that would be it.
Some of the most heart-touching words in the Bible are those words that described how God appeared to Abraham at his tent while God was on the way to Sodom to destroy that city, especially when it is put in contrast with how God subsequently appeared to Lot at the city gates of Sodom.
Underneath the seemingly similar greetings to God by Abraham and Lot, what contrast it was with regard to the actual relationship between the two men and God, their spiritual condition, their family condition, and the result that came to the city on which they each set the hope, and the final result to themselves.
Abraham knew God, and took God to be the only God he may worship, and trusted him and was willing to do whatever his God asked of him. The test that Abraham’ heart went through was the ultimate test of a human being could sustain, namely willing to sacrifice his own son when tested by God.
God used Moses to call His people out of Egypt. God never intended to give salvation to just some individuals. He wants a people to himself because he has a kingdom to establish. God’s work starts with choosing and training a leader in Moses.
(1) Recognizing God’s authority is the necessary beginning and the foundation of heavenly living.
One must first come to a correct understanding of who is the true authority in this universe.
In the days of Moses, at a place where Moses lived, there was only one authority, which was Pharaoh. Humanly speaking, it was the most difficult environment for God to manifest his power, because people’s will were already subdued to the singular power, and their minds were conditioned to understand and accept no other power but Pharaoh’s.
Yet Moses was to learn about God’s authority in this very situation which God chose by design, not encountered by accident.
In today’s world, we no longer have a singular worldly power that’s being exerted on us. We live in the so-called “free society”, yet our hearts are so easily turned to worldly powers. Virtually anything that demonstrates some power attracts our attention, our affection or even idol worship.
How do I know my heart is blessed and inclined heavenward? It first starts at what authority I would recognize and submit myself to.
Dear brothers and sisters, what true authority do you recognize and submit yourself to? It should hurt us to see Christians contemplating certain matters concerning God as if these matters were theoretical and philosophical questions subject to our personal opinion with no actual regard to God’s authority.
God’s authority is a legal matter (I’m not talking about the laws of this world). It is also a basis for God’s judgment of the world. God judges his own people with his holiness, but God judges the world with his authority. God’s authority not only has to do with God’s reputation, it also has to do with God’s government over the heavens and earth.
We are in the midst of a great conflict between God and his enemy, and the conflict will quickly come to a climax and then an end. If we can’t do great things for God, we at least should be the faithful ones who stand on the right side of God’s authority.
May we be as little controversy as possible to God’s authority.
(2) Learning how to live a heavenly life is the biggest part of our faithful living on earth.
After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they immediately entered into the wilderness to start a different kind of life, which turned out to last 40 years. The life in the wilderness was to train God’s people to start to live a heavenly life. It taught them what source they could rely on in their life.
How do I know my living is blessed and inclined heavenward? It starts at what source I turn to and rely on for my daily living. This is the case for everyone.
And this takes time. It took less than two weeks for God to demonstrate his power in Egypt and convince Pharaoh and the people of his power, but it took 40 years for God to train his people to be used to a different kind of life.
Becoming Christlike by growing His life and character
Outcome of following God’s calling and living heavenward is always connected back to God’s character. God’s glory starts with his nature, goes on to his work, but the work always remains true to God’s character, or else it would not bring him total satisfaction.
There is a heavenly task which requires not power nor might but a nobility in the heart to accomplish. We seem to have only fictions to illustrate this element, because in our earthly reality, it seems that nobility in character is always but an ideal only, not the reality.
But this is the reality in a spiritual war. In the spiritual war, the physical strength that draws from ourselves never carries us to a victory. Only the noble character of one’s spiritual life that draws from the Lord’s life does. We cannot be blind to this truth.
Forgive me to use a secular fiction as an illustration, because I think it gives a great metaphor in this matter. The movie “The Lord of the Rings” is based on a novel written by Tolkien who was from a Christian background. I don’t believe any serious Christian can see it as Christian literature because it has at best a very inaccurate representation of salvation, but the story had several elements that are outstanding depictions of certain spiritual truth.
The first is the depiction of sin and its treacherous effect on a person through corruption. I am not aware of a more vivid and striking illustration of that truth in any other literature. But I will not go on elaborating that point here. What is relevant to today’s subject is another point that is also masterfully depicted in The Lord of the Rings, which is character and nobility being the strongest strength one can possess.
The story tells a fictional final war to determine the fate of the Middle Earth and the mankind. Everything is hinged upon good people’s attempt to destroy a master ring which is an embodiment of evil force. The ring can only be destroyed at the original place where it was made, and someone has to carry the ring to that place. But not a strong man can do. Only one who has a noble heart can do, because the ring exerts on its carrier an evil temptation, which effects as a terribly heavy burden that only the noblest could bear. It is hard to imagine a better illustration of this point than what Mr. Tolkien did.
Come back to our real life.
Who is the true Noble One but Jesus Christ? And what life has true nobility but the life of Jesus? And who will be the victor through the end but those who have the life of Jesus?
Very often, we have a wrong idea that God is like a police trying to enforce a good legal rule to ensure that we people make fewer troubles. But if that were all in God’s purpose, he wouldn’t have bothered to create us in the first place.
God has a glorious purpose. If put in our human language, God is so proud of his only begotten Son that he wants many to be just like his Son, that is to share his Son’s character.
Our God is always positive. Far more positive than just saving us from sin. If God only wanted to save us from the misery of sin, his work would have ended 2000 years ago after our Lord Jesus overcame Satan and his agent sin on the cross.
But God is building a Kingdom, to apply his goodness, exert his authority and manifest his glory. And he has appointed his only begotten Son Jesus Christ to be the King of Kings, and he has made sure that the Kingdom will be consisted of a noble people who run noble blood in their veins because they have inherited the noble life from the King.
We are part of that work. Regardless of how difficult and how everything may seem so indifferent to the physical eyes, there is something big and dramatic going on behind the scene in the spiritual reality. We are called to serve the King, not merely as bystanders to receive a few pities bestowed by the King who happens to be passing by our place.
I’m never afraid of losing my salvation, but I’m afraid every day that I may disappoint the King and let him down. And I admit that I still don’t have the full courage to utter those words of an elderly sister who went to the Lord a long time ago. She said these words when she was in her late 80s, when she was widely known by God’s people not only for her rare gifts but more for a sacrificial life lived before the Lord:
“If He would ask of me even today, I will not let him be disappointed.”
But I remember those words, and let us all remember them to encourage each other.