Lesson Number 23
DO NOT REFUSE GOD!
"Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears." (Hebrews 12:14-17, NKJV)
This is the practical section of the book of Hebrews the part that unveils the connection of truth with practical living. The power of the truth is found in its integration with the life of faith. Until that blending takes place, the truth has no immediate and profitable impact upon the individual. Much of the contemporary representations of Scripture is merely theoretical, and is used to develop positions designed to promote religious organizations. This is an abuse of the truth of God. Jesus said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). This knowledge is existential in nature. Mind you, the truth is not established by experience, as the existentialist affirms. Rather, it is confirmed and implemented in experience. No person is spiritually free who has not experienced the truth. This occurs when the individual, by faith, moves out upon the truth of God, acting upon a personal persuasion of it. As Jesus said elsewhere, "If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine . . . " (John 7:17, NKJV).
The book of Hebrews has effectively announced and expounded the preeminence of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. God now speaks to us through the Son. He is the Administration of God's great salvation, both authoring and finishing our faith (Heb 12:2). Marshaling angelic hosts as our enthroned King, He mediates the new covenant to those who have believed on Him (Heb 1:13-14; 9:15). The benefits of this covenant may only be experienced from the position of closeness. Those who draw back, choosing to live at a distance from the Savior, displease the Lord (Heb 10:39). All heavenly citizens are urged to "draw near," and to run with endurance the race set before them while fastening their eyes upon Jesus (Heb 10:22; 12:1-2).
As I have emphasized before, no aspect of salvation occurs automatically. Divine means are employed in every facet of redemption. The benefits of the covenant, for example, are ministered through a Mediator, and appropriated by faith. Christ dwells in our heart "by faith" as we are strengthened in the inward man by the Holy Spirit (Eph 3:16). Too, we live "by every Word of God" (Luke 4:4). That is, spiritual life is maintained by exposing our hearts and minds to, and believing, Scripture. There is not a single dimension of salvation that excludes the LORD Jesus Christ or the participation of the saved ones. No covenantal blessing is brought to us independently of our faith, or without our desire for the same. It is not possible to live in the dark and experience the blessing of the light; to live according to the flesh and have spiritual blessings. As obvious as that may appear, it is staggering how much of contemporary religion supposes otherwise.
This section of Scripture calls us into involvement. It summons us to participate in this salvation with all of our heart. Aggressive words and concepts are used to show us the nature of the Kingdom. The Holy Spirit will not allow us to be passive without issuing a stirring challenge. He will confirm that just as Israel had to possess Canaan, so you must possess the blessing. When the ancient people arrived at the promised land, it was inhabited by other peoples--nations that had to be forcefully expelled. Moses told the Israelites of their responsibility before his death. "But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell" (Num 33:55, NKJV). Joshua, inspired by God, told the people of the liabilities associated with failing to drive the current dwellers from the land. "Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations; these that remain among you; and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you" (Josh 23:12-13). Alas, Israel did not do as they were commanded, and thus fell into a most grievous snare.
In spiritual life, there are things to be opposed and things to be earnestly sought. Remnants of the old nature remain in us that must be refused dominance. Our responsibility is lay hold on eternal life at all cost (1 Tim 6:12). Aspects of our lives that inhibit this quest are to be suppressed. If these hindrances are not thrust violently from our lives, they will eventually cause our exclusion from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power. Passivity and indifference, therefore, are thieves that rob us of the blessing of God.
This is not "the peace of God which passes all understanding." That is granted to us through our faith. As it is written, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:6-7, NKJV). Being justified by faith, we presently "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:1). A good fight of faith will maintain our grasp on that peace.
The peace of reference in this text is "with all men." That requires an aggressive effort because we have not been reconciled to all men, as we have to God. Our reconciliation to God, in fact, has separated us from the course of this world, thus alienating us from those who are not in Christ Jesus. However distasteful it may appear, it is still true: "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). Thus it is written, "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you" (1 John 3:13). It is true of those who have believed on Christ through the Apostolic word, just as surely as it was true of the Apostles: "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:12). Yet, we are admonished to "pursue peace with all men!"
A Needful Exhortation
This is a needful exhortation because of the enmity that is produced by our faith. Salvation is experienced in the presence of our enemies--in a hostile and cursed world. We pursue peace with all men like Abraham pursued it with the herdsmen of Lot. "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy headmen; for we be brethren" (Gen 13:8). In this case, separation was necessary. Yet, Abraham pursued peace, making every effort to have no part with friction and enmity. The peace may not be able to be made and kept by you, but you can seek it fervently, as did the Psalmist. "My soul has dwelt too long With one who hates peace. I am for peace; But when I speak, they are for war" (Psa 120:6-7).
Pursuing peace often involves a soft word, which "turns away wrath" (Prov 15:1). The servant of God is to avoid things that make for fleshly strife and agitation (2 Tim 2:23-24). It also requires pleasing the Lord, who can make our enemies be at peace with us (Prov 16:7). Remember, our Lord Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God" (Matt 5:9, NKJV).
Why Pursue Peace?
The New Covenant is one of peace
Why should we pursue peace with all men? How does this exhortation fit into the high emphasis of this book? The New Covenant, as administered by the Lord Jesus Christ, is the major theme of this book. In a very real sense, the New Covenant is "a covenant of peace." Ezekiel spoke of this covenant. "Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore" (Ezek 37:26). This covenant is characterized by "peace with God" (Rom 5:1). The variance between God and man is brought to a grinding halt in Christ Jesus. This peace also exists among the members of Christ, who are charged with keeping "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3). They start out in harmony with their brothers and sisters. Their job is to maintain that unity.
Peace is to the spiritual life like a calm sea is the sailor. It enables the child of God to make progress in the new life. Just as it is difficult to navigate the sea in a storm, so negotiating the sea of life in an unpeaceful environment is hard. A little personal reflection will confirm this to be the case. Particularly in the New Covenant, "the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:18). The nature of this covenant demands that we energetically pursue "peace with all men." It is within the framework of peace and tranquility that we will enjoy the fulness of God's blessing.
This is why we pray for kings and those in authority. "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (1 Tim 2:1-2). Our primary interest is not the political arena, but advancement in the Spirit. There are enough difficulties associated with spiritual growth without having needless agitation all about us. If we do not zealously seek peace with all men, we will be hindered by the lack of that blessed condition. How fervently we should pray for such an environment. It is a better course of action than political activism. God has an interest in His people. He is more apt to hear prayers offered for their maturity than for the recovery of a nation, however noble that may appear.
Because of our lower nature
There is a propensity in the natural man to actually shun peace. The fallen nature seeks selfish interests, with no desire to adapt to the needs of others. Every day a thousand reasons will seem to justify discord. The "flesh," or sinful nature, is inclined to "hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, and heresies" (Gal 5:20). The fallen nature is assertive, refusing to remain idle. It must be crucified and subordinated with zeal. Particularly among brethren, it is imperative that peace be maintained. "Be at peace among yourselves," the Spirit exhorts (1 Thess 5:13). In seeking peace with all men, considerable effort will be expended in the subduing of our "flesh." As it is written, "you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice . . . "(Col 3:8), and "laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking . . . " (1 Pet 2:1). These are all fleshly expressions that disrupt peace. Our effort to maintain "peace with all men" is made in the acute awareness of the liability of our own "flesh." Well did James say, "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?" (James 4:1). A state of agitation is fraught with danger!
Because of our adversary
Satan is ever seeking to cause disruptions among the redeemed. If we do not "pursue peace with all men," we will fall prey to his snares. Once he caused disruption in heavenly realms. As it is written, "And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought" (Rev 12:7). We should not be surprised that he is aggressive to produce such conflict in the world. If we are not alert, he will cause brethren to fight among themselves, thus creating an arena in which the forces of darkness can freely work.
As much as possible
Peace with all men is not a mandate, but it is a pursuit. It is not a commandment, but a preference. As it is written, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Rom 12:18). Peace is not to be sought at the expense of holiness. As the righteous woman said to Joab, let each of us say, "I am among the peaceable and faithful in Israel" (2 Sam 20:19). As the Psalmist said, "I am for peace" (Psa 120:7). As we appropriate the wisdom that is "from above," we ourselves will become "peaceable" (James 3:17). At every point the peace depends upon us, it will come to pass. "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." All the while, we remember the words of our Lord Jesus. "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt 5:9). Your own experience will confirm to you that perceiving the Lord is more difficult in times of agitation and turmoil. A peaceful surrounding is to be preferred by all believers.
"Pursue . . . holiness, without which no one will see the Lord." Here is a subject rarely emphasized in many religious circles. The contemporary church spends more time trying to explain the lack of holiness than in the pursuit of the same. It has developed purported experts who deal with the effects of unholiness, or a lack of holiness. No such emphasis is found in Scripture. The New Covenant does not allow for an unholy state. This is a covenant that results in holiness--a holiness so effective that sins and iniquities are remembered "no more" (Heb 8:12; 10:17). It is founded upon the removal of sin (Heb 9:26), and provides for cleansing from "all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Sin is repulsive to God (Heb 1:9), and participation in the New Covenant makes it repulsive to us also.
Holiness consists of two things: a response to righteousness, and one to iniquity. It is said of Jesus, "Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows" (Heb 1:9). The response of the Father to these traits of His only begotten Son tell the story: "therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." No person is holy that does possess a fundamental love and preference for righteousness. By this, I mean that competing interests are viewed as an intrusion. Likewise, holiness cannot be attained apart from a hatred of iniquity. If our spirit is not repulsed by sin, we are unholy! If we do not have a basic hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are unholy.
Unfortunately, unholy responses are resident in our "flesh," and seek to assert themselves. There are unchangeable tendencies in our "members" that must be "mortified," or put to death. These are "things" which will cause "the wrath of God" to come upon men (Col 3:5-6). We do not need professed experts to consume our time explaining why these tendencies are there. They are resident in us because "all have sinned and come sort of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). We are members of a fallen race, from which salvation is extricating us.
There is a sense in which Divine acceptance depends upon our holiness. After we have heard and embraced the blessedness of imputed righteousness (Rom 4:22-24), and acceptance in the Beloved (Eph 1:6), we are to engage in a fervent pursuit of holiness! Holiness, in this case, is the effect of imputed righteousness. It results when we appropriate grace to help in the time of need, and fight the good fight of faith. There are realities that may not be possessed without consistent effort on your part--holiness is one of them. The redemption that is in Christ Jesus enables us to "serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life" (Luke 1:74-75). Jesus was raised from the dead "according to the Spirit of holiness" (Rom 1:4). The same thing occurred in you when you were baptized into Christ.
The Holy Spirit reasons with us on this matter. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life . . . Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.. . . Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God . . . Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? . . . I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness . . . But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (Rom 6:4-22).
Holiness, in this context, is death to sin, and life [or response] toward God. We are stewards of our "members"--every aspect of our persons that is capable of expression. Inwardly, it is our soul, our affection, and our will. Outwardly, it includes our eyes, mouth, ears, hands, and feet. No part of our persons is to be allowed to express itself in unholy ways. You will not live long in Jesus until you will find this is a gigantic assignment! Involuntary eruptions of the sinful nature are a grief to the children of God. They occur frequently enough to provoke this response, "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Rom 7:23). For those living by faith, these eruptions are not voluntary. They are intrusions that offend us. As it is written, "For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I" (Rom 7:15).
Not to drift from our subject, this condition requires that we "pursue holiness," striving to have it in perfection. The word "holiness" comes from agiasmon (ag-i-as-mon), which means consecration, dedication, sanctification, or holiness. It does involve a moral condition, but extends beyond that definition. It involves consecration to God. Dedication is related to a willing committal of the life to the Lord. Sanctification is being set apart from the normal for Divine use and fellowship. So far as we are concerned, we are only available to do the will of God. We acknowledge that we have not "already attained, or are already perfected; but we press on, that we may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of us . . . we do not count ourselves to have apprehended; but one thing we do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, we press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:12-14). That is the pursuit of holiness! Heaven will not be gained without it!
While God can use people who do not seek to be used by Him (Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius), such usage is not for their personal benefit. Sanctification, or holiness, includes partnership with God. It is more than mere employment, or being a servant. Salvation brings the individual into close relation with the Lord--a relationship that extends beyond that of a servant. As Jesus said, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). In Christ, we become "workers together with God" (1 Cor 3:9), and in "fellowship with His Son" (1 Cor 1:9), we are "heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:17). Such glorious benefits cannot be enjoyed while sin clings to us! When temptation assaults us, we must resist the devil, and deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. Unholy people will not inherit God or be joint heirs with Christ! The unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God! Those who choose to live in sin, relinquish the privilege of Divine fellowship and blessing!
When the Spirit says "pursue holiness," He is summoning us to intimacy with God. He is calling us away from the allurements of "this present evil world," into a life of harmony with a Savior Who is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens" (Heb 7:26). We thus relinquish the right to direct our own steps, and joyfully yield to His direction. We refuse to devote ourselves to sin, or even to mundane matters that do not appear immoral. Whatever separates us from God or neutralizes our efforts for Him must be placed behind us if we are to "pursue holiness." This is a state of detachment from the world, and is imperative for every believer!
Without which no man will see the Lord
Without question, this is one of the most solemn statements of Scripture. It is brief and to the point, yet powerful enough to reach into the inmost part of us. "Pursue . . .holiness, without which no one will see the Lord." This word will not be retracted for any reason. There is no circumstance of life that can diminish its power or bring into question this affirmation. God has spoken, and will not repent. "No man" will see the Lord without holiness--NO MAN!
There is a sense in which "every eye shall see Him" (Rev 1:7). There will be kindreds of the earth that will "wail because of Him," together with those who "pierced Him" (Rev 1:7b). These will see Him, but not as the redeemed behold Him. They will not see Christ as "Savior," "Captain," or "Finisher." They will not behold Him coming "without sin unto salvation" (Heb 9:28). What they will see is "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah" (Rev 5:5), coming to "execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him" (Jude 15). For the ungodly, or unholy, Jesus will appear to punish them "with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess 1:9). The sight of the coming King will constrain the unholy to cry "to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Rev 6:16). How tragic that day will be for them. They will join with the amalgamation of the lost in the doleful song of the damned, "The harvest is past, The summer is ended, And we are not saved!" (Jer 8:20). Everyone lacking holiness will be in this category, lamenting the very day they were born. Indeed, we are dealing with a most serious matter!
In this case "see" means see Him "as He is," or in His fulness (1 John 3:2). This is the type of sight to which Jesus referred, when He said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God" (Matt 5:8). In the Hebrew phrase, seeing God means enjoying Him. It goes further than mere vision. It is what the patriarch Job longed for: "And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:27). The vision shall prompt a joyful response from the holy ones. "Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation" (Isa 25:9). No unholy person will participate in this vision.
Without holiness these responses will be impossible. When Jesus appears, every spirit that is out of harmony with Him will shrink back to perdition. His glorious appearing will reveal the variance that exists between their persons and Himself. Those who are not oriented for heaven will not dwell there. The soul that did not walk with Jesus here, will not reign with Him there. See, when our Lord returns in resplendent glory, no ones' basic nature will be changed! The only thing that will be transformed is the body. The spirit that is defiled will remain defiled, and the one that is holy will remain holy (Rev 22:11). Now is the time, and here is the place, to become holy. Now is time to "pursue holiness" earnestly and relentlessly.
The fact that we are exhorted to "pursue holiness" confirms it is within our reach. We can advance in this noble pursuit. If the woman with the issue of blood could reach the hem of Christ's garment, you can touch the border of holiness! Christ will intercede for you in this quest. The Holy Spirit will strengthen you within, even making intercession for you in groans that cannot be uttered. The angels will minister to you as you progress to the goal. The Father's eye will be upon you, and His ear will be open to your cry! This is not a vain endeavor. All of heaven is behind you! Pursue holiness! Pursue it aggressively! Pursue it consistently! Pursue it in faith! Pursue it with anticipation. If you will not see God without it, you will surely see Him with it! Wage war against competing pursuits. Put to death any tendency in you leading away from this quest! You must have holiness if you are to see the Lord! Sanctification must be yours if you are to dwell in the house of the Lord forever! The New Covenant provides for the realization of this condition in this world.
" . . . looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God . . . " Here is another weighty word! It postulates a fierce enemy, evil surroundings, and an adverse climate. You are presently in the realm of danger. There are pits all around you into which you can fall. Salvation, however, has brought resources that make you equal to the situation--but you must use them. You can successfully "resist the devil," but you cannot be "ignorant of his devices" (1 Pet 5:8; 2 Cor 2:11). Deliberation, vigilance, and consistency are all required in this activity.
We are not only exhorted to "Look," but to "Look carefully" or "diligently" (KJV). The thing we are seeking to avoid is failing of the grace of God, or falling short of it (NKJV). The NIV reads, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God." The RSV reads, "See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God." This is not written to alien sinners, but to those who are in Christ. The people to whom this is addressed "were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" (Heb 6:4-5). There was a time when they "joyfully accepted the plundering of their goods, knowing that they had a better and an enduring possession for themselves in heaven" (Heb 10:34). Already they had "come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel" (Heb 12:22-24). But they were not in heaven yet! They remained in "the land of the enemy," and needed to be diligent in their avoidance of sin and appropriation of holiness.
A timely word
If ever there was an appropriate word for our generation, it is this one! I do not find much "diligent looking" in the professed church. Sin arises too easily in it. It is simply too easy for leaders to fall away, and teachers to succumb to temptation. There is not enough "diligently looking." Too many are caught unawares, snared because of spiritual simplicity and slothfulness. One writer has said this involves Looking about, over, and upon; being constantly on your guard.
Vigilance, or "looking diligently," is required because of our present situation! "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8). In a moment, he can bring a person down! Think of Eve, deceived by him (2 Cor 11:3)! Think of Achan, succumbing to covetousness (Josh 7:1-20). Think of Ananias and Sapphira, at the very threshold of the church, lying to God (Acts 5:4). Ponder David on the rooftop (2 Sam 11). If you imagine you do not have to look diligently, consider Israel murmuring three days after their deliverance (Ex 15:24). Consider Moses smiting the rock when provoked to anger (Psa 106:33), or Aaron constructing a golden calf (Ex 32:4), or Peter denying Jesus (Matt 26:70-74). Unbelief crept up to blameless Zacharias (Luke 1:18-20), Peter sank in the very waters upon which he was walking (Matt 14:30). Though once involved in the work of the Lord, Demas forsook Paul, "having loved this present world" (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:10). Let there be no sleeping one among us! This is the time to be alert, awake, vigilant, and diligent! As it is written, "knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed" (Rom 13:11).
Missing the grace of God
Let no one take the notion into their mind that there is such a thing as "irresistible grace!" Do not think that God's grace works upon those who do not look for it! The grace of God can be "missed," even though it is brought very near to us. This is revealed in Christ Jesus coming to His own people, the Jews. It is written, "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11). Jesus brought words from heaven, and faithfully declared them to those for whom they were intended. Yet, He said, "And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony" (John 3:32). Our Savior's lament over Jerusalem rushes over my soul like a mighty torrent. "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:42-44).
When Jesus came, He was filled "with grace and truth," yet His generation fell short of it--and it was for them to possess! He brought benefits that belonged to Israel. He brought it in a day when they could be possessed, and when peace with God could have been realized. But they fell short of that grace, because they were not aware they were being visited by "Dayspring from on high" (Luke 1:78). There is simply too much in God's Word about this for any person to adopt a theological position that denies one can fail to appropriate the grace of God AFTER having tasted of the Lord.
Everything is moving toward an appointed end or objective. Therefore, grace is not static, remaining, as it were, in one place. Everything is moving toward "our salvation," and that time is "nearer than when we first believed" (Rom 13:11). Grace has been provided for spiritual progress! It is granted "in the time of need" so that melioration may be realized.
When, then, do men "fail" or "fall short of the grace of God?" When does grace become inaccessible to them? It is a frightening thought, is it not, that such a condition is possible? It is when they are not vigilant--when they are lulled to sleep by the devices of the wicked one. Mind you, no man can be saved without the grace of God, and yet there is a spiritual condition in which the individual becomes oblivious to that grace. Spiritual stupor is the blight of the Western church! It has become complacent and sluggardly because of its seeming success. Its lack of vigilance has made it the laughing stock of its enemies! Contemporary theology has bent low to put its ear to the ground. Its direction is determined by the fickle will and temporal needs of the masses. The grace of God, however, prepares men for another world, orienting them for eternity in the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power. As men become earth- centric, grace loses its relevance, and extends beyond their preference and reach. That is why they fail to obtain it.
The Holy Spirit states this same case in another place, and with other words. "We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor 6:1). What a dreadful thought--receiving the grace of God in vain! Being rescued, but returning to bondage! Getting out of Egypt, and yet never entering into Canaan! It is possible to receive the grace of God, and yet not ultimately benefit from it! To "fail of the grace of God," or "fall from the grace of God" is to have received it, yet to have fallen from it. It is to start the race, but be unable to finish it.
Now, this is a liability for us all. Not a single believer "in the body" (Heb 13:3) has advanced beyond the realm of danger. Let all be assured, we are not speaking of weaving in and out of the Kingdom like a weaver's shuttle. What is being said is this: once we are in Christ Jesus, the grace of God is available for advancement in the faith and the subduing of the sin that is in our members (Col 3:5). If, however, we choose to be distracted, ceasing to advance, while becoming enamored of the pleasures of sin for a season, we enter an area where grace is not operative.
Grace will not sustain us in sin! It will not strengthen the alienated! Grace orients us for and gets us into glory. It has no personal utility if these objectives are not ours. When our eyes are set on this world, we cannot reach the grace of God. When men have an appetite for sin, they are NOT mindful of God's grace. Our preferences will determine the accessibility of the grace mentioned in this text. If we are alert and watchful, and desiring to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, we will find God's grace abundant and sufficient. If, however, we choose to live at a distance from God, it will not be long until the grace of God passes from our consideration, thereby becoming inaccessible to us.
Let us look at it another way. How shall we fare if God be against us? How could anyone hope to enjoy the Lord forever who was His enemy here? Yet, Satan has deceived some into thinking God's grace may be accessed while one occupies a place that is loathsome to God. We have already been apprized, "Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him" (Heb 10:38). The Psalmist said, "For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, Nor shall evil dwell with You" (Psa 5:4). There was a time when God said to His own people, "I have no pleasure in you, Says the LORD of hosts, Nor will I accept an offering from your hands" (Mal 1:10).
It is written, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:39). But what if He is NOT for us? What if God Himself is against us? Do not think this an impossibility for those who have named the name of Christ, yet live at a distance from Him. Jesus told His followers to "abide" in Him (John 15:4). He warned of those who did NOT abide in Him, becoming fruitless (John 15:6). He spoke of abiding in His "love" (John 15:10). John admonished us to "abide in Him" (1 John 2:28). Jude exhorted, "Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 21). John admonished, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen" (1 John 5:21). Why were these words spoken? Because we are in a war zone! We are wrestling against foes that are not intimidated by academics, life disciplines, language expertise, or organizational excellence. Only the grace of God can help us in this zone! Be sure you do not fall from it!
The church is reminded of Israel, once the favored of all peoples in the world. "But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness" (1 Cor 10:5). If the warning has no relevance for believers, it would not have been written. We are told God was "grieved" with that generation (Heb 3:17), and that He "destroyed" the very people He had "saved"(Jude 5). Contradicting theologies notwithstanding, we have before us a statement requiring our attention. We are to make sure we do not fall from the grace of God, or come into a position where it cannot be appropriated. Were there no danger of this occurring, it would be the height of absurdity to speak in this manner.
THE ROOT OF BITTERNESS
" . . . lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled . . . " Here is a matter of critical importance. Doubtless, reference is being made to words spoken through Moses. "Therefore keep the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do. All of you stand today before the LORD your God: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives; also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water; that you may enter into covenant with the LORD your God . . . so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood; and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, 'I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart'; as though the drunkard could be included with the sober" (Deut 29:9-19).
Let it be remembered, that a single person can trouble many people. We have Achan as an example. One man and one sin--yet it brought a curse upon the entire nation. It is written, "But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the LORD burned against the children of Israel" (Josh 7:1). Divine disapproval was made known when a few men from Ai soundly defeated the army of Israel. When praying before the Lord about this illogical defeat, the Lord told Joshua, "Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you" (Josh 7:11-12). When confronting Achan, Joshua queried, "Why have you troubled us?" (Josh 7:25). Achan was a root of bitterness that troubled the camp! The presence of such individuals is paralleled to "the vine of Sodom and the field of Gomorrah" which yielded "grapes of gall" (Deut 32:32).
The Spirit admonishes us to be alert.Let us look at it another way. How shall we fare if God be against us? How could anyone hope to enjoy the Lord forever who was His enemy here? Yet, Satan has deceived some into thinking God's grace may be accessed while one occupies a place that is loathsome to God. With spiritual aggression we are admonished, "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice" (Eph 4:31). If such a quality is found in those professing faith in Christ, they are lying against the truth by professing identity with Jesus. That is why James wrote, "But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth" (James 3:14).
The defiling effects of bitterness are arresting. It never stays with the person possessing it. "Thereby," or by that very "root," we are told, "many are defiled" or corrupted. These things exclude people from the grace of God and cause the wrath of God to remain over the offender. Such "roots" have sprung up because of a lack of grace, and have thrust people even further from that needed grace. Each of us is like a garden, in which pleasant spices or noxious and poisonous weeds may grow. We want to be a "garden enclosed" for our Lord, out of which "pleasant fruits" and "fragrance" may rise to our Lord, giving advantage to our brothers and sisters (Song of Sol 4:12-14).
Where "bitterness" exists, we do not need an arbiter, or someone to survey its various causes. It is to be torn out by the roots, thrust from the people of God. In this case, the preservation of "the body" takes precedence over the individual, even as it did at Corinth (1 Cor 5:7-8). If you see "bitterness" beginning to sprout in your heart, pluck it up immediately. Refuse to let it grow by bathing yourself in the grace of God. Flee quickly to Jesus for refuge, and ask Him to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. The head of the "old serpent" is found in every "root of bitterness." Who can calculate the damage caused by bitterness among professed believers. All about us lies spiritual carnage in staggering amounts. It is there because of wars, fights, and bitterness among church members. Declare war on bitterness. Watch for it! Remove it!
DON'T MISS THE BLESSING!
" . . . lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears." The Spirit brings a Scriptural case before us. It is one which some may imagine inappropriate. He summons us to a consideration of Esau, twin brother of Jacob, and also a son of Isaac. He had the right father and mother, and was born at the right time. He certainly was in the right family, and raised in the right house! Unimaginable advantages belonged to him, but he did not have a heart for them. He was a "profane person"--conducting himself like a heathen, even though in the chosen family.
The case of Esau is nothing less than an exposition of a "profane man." This man, with remarkable advantages, had contempt for his birthright--the ultimate of all blessings for him. He did not relinquish his birthright for a land, or for a kingdom. He did not do it for a large sum of money, or for a position of prominence. He bartered it off for a single "morsel of food." And, it was not even superior food! He gave up his birthright for "bread and stew of lentils." His god was his belly, and he had no regard for the blessing! The Genesis record of this event states, "Thus Esau despised his birthright" (Gen 25:34). God's view of Esau is recorded by Malachi and quoted by Paul. "I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness" (Mal 1:2-3; Rom 9:13). God did not hate Esau because of his vigorous works (Rom 9:11-13), but because he despised the birthright. The blessing meant nothing to him.
For one morsel of meat, Esau did not offer prey gained in his cunning hunting (Gen 25:27). At the very first suggestion, he sold his birthright--at the first pangs of hunger. To his brother's suggestion he said, "Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?"(Gen 25:30). While many criticize Jacob, God hated Esau and loved Jacob! We do well to view both Jacob and Esau as our Father in heaven did!
Is it possible for such despite to arise among the people of God? Can those who have "known the way of righteousness . . . turn from the holy commandment delivered to them," choosing to dwell again in darkness? Indeed they can, as Peter affirms (2 Pet 2:20-22). And how does such a tragedy occur? It is through slothfulness and a refusal to stay close to the Lord, drawing near with a true heart and in full assurance (Heb 10:22). The admonition to "run with endurance" is not simply rhetoric. It is a clarion call from the Throne to the ONLY acceptable spiritual posture!
The gravity of the theme is nailed down by a consideration of Esau's attempt to regain the blessing he once despised. "For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears" (verse 17). Such words should move us to fear and trembling! The man who once had the blessing was himself rejected. His heart was so hard, he could not repent of his wicked deed; i.e., "he found no place for repentance." His heart was so filled with bitterness and self-regard, there was no place left for repentance and recovery! He wept, and bitterly so. Scripture states, "he cried with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, "Bless me; me also, O my father!" (Gen 27:34). After being denied the blessing he had sold, "Esau lifted up his voice and wept" (Gen 27:38). But he did not regain the blessing! He could not move Isaac to change his mind, tears notwithstanding. Nor, indeed, could he find a place for repentance within himself.
The Spirit admonishes us not to allow such a person to rise among us. With sorrow I must acknowledge I have seen people sell their right to glory for a moment in the flesh. Their hearts grew adamant as the flinty stone, and they found no place for repentance, even though they sought favored status with much tears. Not a one of us can think ourselves exempt from this exhortation. It makes no difference how long you may have been in Christ, or how advanced you may imagine yourself to be. If you do not avail yourself of the advantages of salvation, they will drift away from you, and you from them. At the point salvation appears secondary, and we give place to lower impulses and desires, we are in danger of being rejected. Do not allow it to happen! Every temptation has a way of escape (1 Cor 10:13), and it is your business to find it and take it. God's grace will keep you, strengthen you, and make you equal to every challenge. However, at the point you consider grace unworthy of your greatest effort, it moves beyond your reach.
It is our business to see and prefer what God has offered us in Christ! Through His grace, He has provided justification "from all things" (Acts 13:39). We can be cleansed from "all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9), obtain grace to help "in the time of need" (Heb 4:15), and "draw near" to God Himself with a true heart (Heb 10:22). We can "resist the devil" (1 Pet 5:8), cast "all our care" upon the Lord, knowing He cares for us (1 Pet 5:7), and "stand in the evil day" (Eph 6:13). Our Father has provided an Intercessor Who "ever lives to makes intercession" for us (Heb 7:25). He has given us His own "Holy Spirit" to strengthen us within (Eph 3:16), and provided "exceeding great and precious promises," through which we can "participate in the Divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). How will those who neglect "so great salvation" hope to escape??
Every temptation that comes to you is monitored from above, and comes "with a way of escape" (1 Cor 10:13). Your Savior has already "destroyed" the devil, rendering him impotent in heavenly places (Heb 9:14). The principalities and powers that once captivated the world have been plundered by Jesus through the cross (Col 2:15). The "handwriting of ordinances" that was against us, and contrary to us, has been taken "out of the way," being "nailed to His cross" (Col 2:14). The way to God has been opened and sanctified for our travel (Isa 35:8; Heb 10:20), and God has issued the call, "Whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely" (Rev 22:17). Even the holy angels, innumerable in quantity, and excelling in wisdom and power, have been assigned as our ministers (Heb 1:13-14). The well of salvation can now be placed within the believer, springing up to life everlasting (John 4:14). From Satan's domain, we have been "called into the fellowship of God's dear Son" (1 Cor 1:9), Who has been made to us "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor 1:30). Everything belongs to us (1 Cor 3:20-22), and we can "do all things through Christ" which strengthens us (Phil 4:13).
As great as all of this is, it can all be forfeited by simply preferring other things. Esau preferred a "morsel" of food to his birthright. He received that "morsel," but lost his birthright. Demas loved the world he could see more than the one that is unseen. After spending three years in close proximity to Jesus, hearing His gracious words and seeing His wonderful works, Judas chose a few pieces of silver instead of reconciliation. Now God summons you to the consideration of His Son, His salvation, and your inheritance. It is worthy of your most arduous effort. Give yourself wholly to the obtaining of the prize, and allow no thief to take it from you. Our Lord has supplied everything required to give you the advantage. Keep close to Him!