The Principal Truths Of Christianity
Tonight I would like to present the principal truths of Christianity, and I would like to divide them in three parts. The first part deals with the appearance of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the second, the gospel of God, and the third, the mystery of Christ.
1. The Appearance of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
I will read three passages in that connection.
"But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10).
"Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: him, being delivered by the determinate council and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:22-23).
"This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear" (Acts 2:32-33).
Christianity began with the appearing of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and this appearing contains five facts.
i) The Incarnation
Two thousand years ago our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ lived on the earth, and Acts 2:22 shows us two great facts about this life. Firstly, He is "Jesus of Nazareth", this means that He became truly man, but also that He was despised of men. The second fact of His life is that He was "approved of God among you". He was approved of God as being pure and holy. Yet living as a humble man on earth He was at the same time the eternal God - omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. These are the two great truths of His life. Peter summarised this saying, He was rejected of men but chosen and precious with God.
ii) The Cross
Acts 2:23 presents the two great aspects of Golgotha to us. There He was delivered of God but also murdered by men. I would like to mention the two trees in the garden of Eden in this respect. Firstly, from the tree of life proceeds the grace of God through the history of man. We could show many instances where the grace of God was active in this world, but the climax of the grace of God was the gift of His Son at the cross of Golgotha. Secondly, from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil proceeds the line of the responsibility of man. Always when we contemplate the responsibility of man throughout the centuries we find failure. We could say much about the failure of man under responsibility, but the climax is Golgotha where the Prince of Life was killed by us men. This is the second great fact of His appearing.
iii) The Resurrection
"This Jesus hath God raised up" (Acts 2:32), and in doing so He confirmed two facts. Firstly, the perfect purity of His life, because He would not "suffer [His] holy One to see corruption" (v.27), and secondly, the perfection of His sacrifice at Golgotha, because He "would not leave [His] soul in hell (literally 'hades')" (v.27).
iv) The Ascension
This Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God (v.33). Luke describes this in his gospel and also in the Acts. It is a wonderful scene. Our Saviour went out to Bethany with His disciples and then He lifted up His hands and blessed them and was taken up into heaven. God put Him into the place of honour. It is a very important fact in Christianity that now there is a man in heaven. This makes clear that Christians have a heavenly character, but it shows something else, namely, that the end of every Christian is heaven.
v) The Descent of the Holy Spirit
The fifth fact we find in the same verse, God the Holy Spirit, came upon earth firstly in order to indwell every individual believer, and secondly, to dwell in the assembly corporately. This is the great privilege of all Christians, that this Divine Guest indwells our bodies as well as the assembly. These are the five facts in relation to the appearance of our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.
This appearance does not only apply to His birth, but also His life, His death upon Golgotha, His resurrection, His ascension, and also the coming of the Holy Spirit upon earth. This is what Paul has in mind in 2 Timothy 1:10 "But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel".
2. The Gospel of God
Again we read three passages.
"In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the richness of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7).
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans 8:1-3).
"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into the grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:1-2).
Had we continued reading in 2 Timothy 1:10 we would have found that the gospel is now preached on the basis of the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the apostle Paul was the herald, the apostle, and the teacher of this truth. As the herald he was the one who cried out this message, as an apostle he had authority to bring this message, and as a teacher he explained it in all it's details.
The gospel of God, presented in Romans, meets the two great problems of mankind. Ephesians 1:7 can be thought of as a summary of the epistle to the Romans and mentions two things which the believer receives. Firstly, he receives redemption from the inherited slavery to sin, and secondly, he receives forgiveness of his sins. This is the message which we find in the epistle to the Romans. If a man acknowledges that he is a slave of the sin which indwells him, and if he comes to the Lord Jesus with this problem and takes refuge in His work on Golgotha, then what we read in Romans 8:1-3 becomes true for him. When a man is converted, when he accepts the offer which God makes through Christ and His work on Golgotha, then he is allowed to know that for him there is no more condemnation; this is Romans 8:1. The sin is still in him but nonetheless he is "in Christ". Paul often says that we are "in Christ", and although he does not always mean the same thing, he is always referring to our position as Christians. What he has in mind here in Romans 8:1 is that in Christ we are completely protected from any judgment from God.
Then in verse 2 Paul explains that the Christian is allowed to know a second fact. In the believer there are two laws (or principles), there is the law of sin and death and there is the law of the Spirit of life. The first principle is a bad principle. The sin is still in him and the sin always wants to seduce him to sin (this is a very strong principle), but because of his faith there is a second principle in him, the law of the Spirit of life. Now you get the important fact, the second principle is dominant over and above the first. Our experience appears to contradict this but faith takes hold of this truth. I would like to emphasise one phrase in this verse, this is "made free". I always think of this verse when I have to travel by plane. When the plane starts then there are two laws, firstly, there is the law of gravity, that the earth attracts the body, and this is a very strong law (it is the reason why a plane which weights several tonnes remains on the ground), but when a plane takes off then there is the law of speed and aerodynamics. This second law is dominant over and above the first, and so this plane which weighs tonnes is lifted up away from the ground. This is exactly what the Christian can experience daily. He firmly believes in faith that the law of the spirit of life is stronger than the law of sin and death and he can realise this daily in exercise of faith.
Then in verse 3 Paul shows the foundation for those two great truths. He mentions three things about our Lord Jesus Christ. Firstly, He came "in the likeness of sinful flesh". When He lived on earth, outwardly He looked exactly like those men who had sin dwelling in then, but sin was not in Him. It was a great humiliation that He came in the likeness of sinful flesh. Then the reason for His coming is mentioned. We could list a large number of reasons why the Son of God became man, such as to offer Himself as a king to Israel, and the highest reason was to reveal the Father, but the main reason was to bring in order this matter of sin in the sight of a holy and righteous God. Finally the result is considered. At Golgotha God judged sin during the three hours of darkness when He was made sin. What our Saviour suffered there we will not fully fathom even in eternity.
But there was a second problem for us men, we had sinned, we had had evil thoughts, we had said bad words, we had committed bad deeds and we had gone wrong ways, and because of this we needed forgiveness. There are men here on earth who know that their sins have been forgiven on the basis of Golgotha, a wonderful fact! God is holy and He must punish sin, but when sins have been forgiven there will be no punishment from God. But in Romans 5:1 the apostle speaks about justification. Justification is very close to forgiveness but it goes a little further. A justified man stands before God as if he had never sinned. As an illustration let us consider a father who had a little son and when the son was disobedient the father took a hammer and put a nail into the wall in the living room, and when the boy had admitted his disobedience then the father took a pliers and pulled out the nail - and this is forgiveness. When the grandfather came visiting he always went to the wall and counted the holes, so he could count how often his grandson was disobedient and how often this disobedience had been forgiven. The father was not happy with this and he found some putty and he filled the holes, so when the grandfather came back he had to assume that his grandson had not been disobedient a single time - this is justification, to stand before God as if you had never sinned.
In Romans 5:1-2 we have three perspectives of faith. The Christian looks back to his past, he knows he has been justified by faith and he has peace with God. His whole past has been ordered by the mind of God. Then we have the perspective of the present. In the present he has access to God. This is a wonderful truth! Christians have liberty to go to God. This is exactly what his sins used to prevent him from doing. We see this in the garden of Eden, after the first sin man was chased out of the garden, and cherubim and a flaming sword barred the way to God. On the basis of the work of Christ on Golgotha we have access to God daily as living men. I would like to ask you whether you use this freedom practically. Do you know such moments in your daily life where you withdraw behind a closed door in order to be alone with your God? If you do not know this then you do not know the best privilege which a man can have on earth, this wonderful hidden fellowship with God. This is the perspective of the present. Then there is the perspective view into the future. We "rejoice in the hope of the glory of God". We do not know what we are to experience tomorrow, but the Christian knows his future is perfectly ordered. God has not promised an easy way to us, He has not promised us a life without problems (and on my travels I often encounter Christians who go a very difficult way), but what He has promised us is that at the end of our pathway we will enter into the glory of God. This is what we can boast of with thankfulness.
3. The Mystery of Christ
We will read four passages.
"Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Ephesians 3:4-6).
"Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the council of his own will" (Ephesians 1:9-11).
"And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23).
"According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:4-6).
We have seen that the gospel of God has met our problem of sin on the basis of Golgotha. All things have been ordered. This is the riches of the grace of God. However, as great as all of this may be, there is something which is even greater, God has not only solved our problem of sin at Golgotha, but, on the basis of Golgotha and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, He has given new and wonderful things to the Christian. These are things which believers in Old Testament times did not possess, they are most closely related to the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and they are part of the basic truths of Christianity. The epistle to the Romans shows us how the problems of the old man have been solved; the epistle to the Ephesians shows us what God has given to the new man. If I have viewed Ephesians 1:7 as a summary of the Roman epistle, then in Ephesians 3:6 I find a summary of the Ephesian epistle. I am always amazed by how briefly the apostle Paul is able to put things. He summarises the whole doctrine of the Ephesian epistle in one verse, and in this one verse he shows us the three great presents of God for Christians.
i) Christians are Fellow-heirs with Christ
Paul explains this in chapter 1 verses 9-11. First he announces in verse 9 that he now communicates a mystery (a mystery is a truth that had not been revealed in the Old Testament). Then he says in verse 10 that the Lord Jesus, as man, is placed above heaven and earth. This is not really a mystery as it had been revealed in the Old Testament, Psalm 8:5 states "Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands". Ephesians 1:10 had been revealed in the Old Testament already, but the mystery is that the Lord Jesus will not take this inheritance alone, He will take this inheritance together with us believers. The Lord Jesus is the main heir, but we are fellow-heirs with Him, and we move towards this inheritance. This inheritance is the creation, the universe, which has already been acquired by the work of the Lord Jesus at Golgotha although it has not yet been redeemed. When this inheritance is redeemed He will take possession of it as the main heir, and we will be heirs with Him. We will have the administration of the angelic world and we will also have administrative duties in respect to the men living in the millennium. This is the inheritance of which He speaks here.
ii) Christians are "One Body"
Secondly, we are "of the same body". To be a Christian not only means to possess something wonderful personally, but it also means to possess something jointly. Together with all redeemed we form this one body, the assembly. Every believer is a member of the body of Christ, every one is a living stone in the house of God; this is our corporate part. In Ephesians 1:22-23 Paul shows us the greatest extent of the assembly of God, namely, all believers from Pentecost until the rapture. He shows in verse 22 how high a position this assembly has, the Lord Jesus has been given to the assembly as Head. This is what gives the assembly it's dignity. Then in verse 23 he shows the exalted task of the assembly. Can there be a higher task than being the fullness of the One who fills all in all? The assembly of God has a high dignity because Christ has been given to her, and she has a high task because she has been given to Christ.
iii) Christians have Eternal Life
Now we come to the third point in Ephesians 3:6; we are partakers of His promise. The apostle John writes in 1 John 2:25 "This is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life". Paul describes this in chapter 1:4-6. Christians have received eternal life and this implies two great truths. Firstly, according to verse 4, they are "holy and without blame before God". This means they now have the nature of God, or, to put it differently, they have become children of God. This did not exist in Old Testament times. Abraham was called a friend of God (a very high title), but only through the appearance of our Saviour Jesus Christ are there now children of God. To be a child of God implies two great truths. The first is that they receive the love of the Father. This is what I experienced in the first thirty years of my life in my earthly relations. I had an earthly father who loved me. But in the next thirty years I learnt a second thing, namely, the joy of a father to have children. These are the two great aspects of childhood. John writes "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons (literally 'children') of God" (1 John 3:1). But have you also thought about the fact that we are now for the joy of the Father, and that the Father now looks upon us and finds His own features in us? This is really something that gives joy to the Father. As fathers we do not like to say this, and yet it is true, we are happy to see our own features in our child. I experienced this when our seventh child was born. Most of our children have blue eyes, but the seventh has got my brown eyes and I was very happy every time someone noticed this. This is the meaning of Ephesians 1:4. God the Father looks down upon us and He sees us holy and without blame in love, of course, again, in Christ.
There is a second fact that is related to eternal life and this is what we find in verse 5, we have been predestinated unto adoption. Childhood and sonship (or adoption) are very close to each other. In order to understand the concept of being a child we must have in mind a little child, but in order to understand sonship we must think of a child that has grown up. There are two great truths in the word of God about sonship. Firstly, a son has insight into his father's thoughts, and secondly, he can represent the father in a dignified way. I would like to show the difference with an example. When my children were still small I was already travelling quite a bit and when I came home my children told me their experiences. They said 'My brother hit me' or 'I fell off my bicycle', and that is all right for children to tell their father, and it is all right for us to tell our heavenly Father if we have had an experience that was bitter for us; this is the privilege of the child of God. But once I came home and my eldest son did not start off by telling me what he had experienced, but he asked me 'How was your trip?' He had never done this before, and I said to him 'As of today, you are a son!' He was interested in me. Have you thought of going to the Father in this way, not only to talk to him about your difficulties and problems, but in order to ask Him what is it that fills His heart? If you come to Him in this way He will show you His beloved, only-begotten Son, and what He means to Him; then you have communion with the Father about the Son and then you will be able to represent the Father here on earth with dignity. Soon we will do this in perfection. Romans 8 speaks of this, saying 'Creation groans and waits for the revelation of the sons of God'. Then we will come with the Lord Jesus to this earth in glory and we will represent the Father in a dignified way in perfection. However, even now in our weak bodies we can do this. In our difficult circumstances we can go to the Father and ask Him 'What is it that occupies Your heart?' And then we can enter into the difficult circumstances of our lives and in them we can show something of our Father. These are the basic truths of Christianity - the appearance of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the gospel of God and the mystery of Christ.