31-12-17 THE WILL OF GOD
IN GRACE - TWO PART SERIES
By John Aldworth
Published December 31, 2017
The will signed in blood
For those affected by it, the last will of a loved one can be a precious document. For it contains what the deceased person wills to happen after their death. And that will, when attached as a condition to a bequest, for example, may be taken far more seriously than any admonition given by the dearly departed while they are still alive.
Scripture records that the Lord Jesus Christ left just such a will for his Hebrew people. What’s more He ‘signed it in his own blood’, as it were. In Acts 20:28 the Apostle Paul reminds the Ephesian elders that this is how their church began:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with his own blood.
Here we learn that something came into being as a result of last will and testament of the Lord. It was the Acts period ‘Church of God which He hath purchased with his own blood’. We also learn that the risen Lord in the form of the Holy Ghost is Himself the executor of this will, which is, of course, the New Testament, or New Covenant. Note that the ‘beneficiaries’ of this will are not the whole of Israel but rather those ‘called’ out of the apostate nation, as the following verse explains:
And for this cause He is the mediator of the New Testament (i.e. latest will) that by means of death for the redemption of transgressions under the first testament, that they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15).
The Lord’s last will and testament
Now, not only did Christ leave a will for his Israelite people, He also did God’s will in taking away the first (testament or will) … to establish the second’ (Heb. 10: 9-10). Verse 10 says that it is by this new will, or New Covenant, that Hebrew believers are ‘sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’.
Although the Hebrews letter was addressed to Jews, and not to Gentiles, the Apostle Paul’s pre-prison epistles clearly show that salvation under the New Covenant was indeed extended to Gentiles in the Acts period, for the gospel message at this time was ‘to the Jew first but also to the Greek’ (Rom. 1:16).
So then, Gentiles were being saved during this Pentecostal dispensation, but only courtesy of an extension of the will (i.e. the New Testament) which the Lord caused to be proclaimed as the gospel after his death for his people Israel. It was the Lord’s will unbelieving Israel should be ‘provoked to jealousy’ by saving Gentiles who were ‘no people’ (Rom. 10:19).
It was also ‘present truth’ for the Acts period (but not for us in the current dispensation of the grace of God) when Paul declared that ‘(God) ... hath also made us able ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit…’ (2 Cor. 3:6).
Two important distinctions
Today many Christians wrongly believe they are saved under the auspices of the New Testament. Innumerable communion services are held daily to commemorate the Lord’s Last Supper proclamation that the ‘cup’ he shared with his 12 disciples ‘is the blood of the New Testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins’ (Matt. 26:28).
However, trying to invoke such blessings from an earlier time and different dealing of God flies in the face of two important dispensational distinctions clearly set out in the Bible. First up is the truth that both new and old testaments were made only with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Not with Gentiles.
‘Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. Not according to the covenant that I made with the fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, which my covenant they brake, though I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord’ (Jer. 31:31-32).
Thus scripture is clear that, whether old or new, the covenants, or testaments, were not made with Gentiles and did not and do not apply to them. It is for this reason the Apostle Paul calls the time period of the Book of Acts prior to the revelation of the Mystery doctrine ‘time past’. And in ‘time past’, he says, saved Gentiles were ‘... aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise’ (Eph. 2: 11-12).
Fact is that in the Acts period Gentiles were only saved through the ministry of the entirely Jewish-led ‘Church of God’ (1 Cor. 1:2). Indeed some Hebrew believers in Jesus demanded Gentile converts be circumcised to qualify for entry (Acts 15:1). What’s more position in the Church of God hierarchy was confined to Jewish brethren; Gentiles did not hold leadership positions; they remained ‘second class citizens’.
The second truth ignored by those who today cling to the Judaic practices and doctrines of the Pentecostal administration, is the huge change that occurred at the end of the Book of Acts. Careful reading of Acts 28: 25-28 discloses that the means of salvation through Israel was set aside when salvation was ‘sent to the Gentiles and they will hear it’ (Acts 28:28).
True, there remained ‘a remnant’ of Israel saved by grace, but the nation as such was ‘cast away’ for their blindness and unbelief. Erring Israel had been given in fact a space of 40 years in which to repent. (This time of probation ran from the Lord’s ministry on earth through to the sacking of Jerusalem in 70AD). However, years before it came to such a tragic end, God had already begun setting the nation Israel aside. This is intimated in Rom. 11: 7, 11 and 12 which traces the process of the Israelites being first blinded and made deaf by ‘the spirit of slumber’, then cast away.
The seven strikes against Israel
Six times in scripture Isaiah’s prophecies about God giving Israel ‘eyes that can’t see and ears that can’t hear’ are repeated, the last occasion being in Acts 28:26-27 when the Apostle Paul speaking on God’s behalf to Jewish leaders in Rome finally summed up their fallen national condition:
‘For the heart of this people is gross and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them’.
He then pronounced: ‘Be it known unto you therefore that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles and they will hear it’ (Acts 28-28).
So what happened to the remnant of Israel saved by grace, you might ask? The short answer is that they passed off the scene, having largely refused to follow Paul into the new dispensation of the grace of God and the Mystery. The book closed on the miracles, tongues-speaking and other supernatural occurrences of the Pentecostal dispensation, God having achieved his purpose in saving a remnant of Jews and ‘grafting in’ Gentiles to this ‘Church of God’ company He will resurrect to live again on earth in the Day of Christ yet to come.
Today, in sharp contrast to the situation that pertained in the Book of Acts, there is ‘neither Greek (Gentile) nor Jew’ in the ‘One New Man’ which is the Body of Christ (Col. 3:11), since ‘Christ is all in all’. Meaning, as the Apostle Paul clearly explains in Eph. 2:11-13, that while at one time Gentiles were ‘aliens from Israel and strangers from the covenants (wills) of promise’, ‘yet now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh (to God that is) by the blood of Christ’.
That is to say, there has been a change of dispensation for Gentiles. No longer are they being offered salvation through the New Testament (or New Will) ordinances given to the ‘Israel of God’ as they were in the Acts period. Now, by contrast, in the current and very different dispensation of the grace of God and the Mystery (Eph. 3:1-4), they are saved purely by grace. This is effected through the Father’s universal quickening of mankind (Eph. 2:5) and his baptising of believers into Christ (Col. 2:13-14).
Thus it is through the ‘operation of God’ in placing them in Christ (Col. 2:12), not water baptism, that believers today are made members of the church of God’s current calling, the ‘Church which is his Body’ (Eph. 1:22-23). This is a very different church to that of the Acts period. It is a new creation. It is ‘the One New Man’ (Eph. 2:15).
A new body and doctrine
And where there is a new calling of God there is both a new body and new doctrine. This new body of teaching is set out in Paul’s prison epistles. And ‘of necessity’ where there is new teaching and a new way of salvation there is also a corresponding new will. Accordingly, scripture reveals that since salvation through Israel was set aside in Acts 28:28, all men are now saved through the will of the Father rather than a covenant or will made only with the ‘Israel of God’ and those Gentiles in the Acts period then grafted into Israel’s tree as ‘wild’ olive branches (Rom. 11:17ff).
An important aspect of this newly revealed will of the Father is that instead of extending grace only to believing Israel and the comparatively small number of Gentiles added to the Church of God in the Book of Acts, God now wills that all men everywhere should be saved. This is, so to speak, his last will and testament recorded in scripture. Indeed, it is the latest report received from God. Since revealing the fullness of grace and the mystery to Paul He has maintained silence. Indeed, He will not speak again to mankind until He does so in the Day of Christ. Then all men will hear his voice.
This will is writ large for all to read in 1 Tim. 2:4 which states that …
… (God our Saviour) … will have all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
The ‘present truth’ (2 Peter 1:12) for the time in which we live is not only that Christ died for all men – that was known in the Acts period – but that God now wants all men saved; indeed He is the ‘… living God who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe’ (1 Tim. 4:10).
When Israel had pre-eminence as the vehicle for salvation, Gentiles were considered ‘afar off’ (Eph. 2:13). Now in grace, however, they are ‘made nigh by the blood of Christ’ without outward forms of repentance, water baptism, turning over a new leaf or any other rites formerly required by Judaism.
Importantly, God’s present saving of all mankind, effected when each person believes and receives present truth of being saved ‘by grace through faith’ alone, is part of the Mystery revealed to the imprisoned Apostle Paul in Rome at least two years after the close of the Book of Acts. It had been hidden in God from all previous ages and generations of men (Eph. 3:5 and 9) and therefore was unknown to the Church of God believers in the Acts period.
By the way, in stating that it is God’s will all men be saved, 1 Tim. 2:4 deals a death blow to Calvinistic pretensions that today God chooses to save some but not others. No, He doesn’t. His will is that all be saved. So who are Calvinists to defy the latest will of God? Answer: They are Bible re-interpreters who have failed to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’ as all men of God are instructed to do in 2 Tim. 2:15.
In particular, they have failed to distinguish God’s programme of salvation for believing Israel (and Gentiles added to her) in ‘times past’ (see Eph. 2:11-12) from the ‘present truth’ of being saved by grace through faith, not works (Eph. 2:8-9). Hence they practice water baptism, tithing, keep Sabbaths and do other works only required of Jews. What a denial of the grace they claim to preach!
The codicils to the will
Further truth about this new will of God is found three times in Ephesians chapter two and elsewhere in Paul’s prison epistles: These references form the ‘codicils’ to his will.
Verse 5 tells us the Father has ‘predestinated us to the adoption of children by Christ Jesus unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of his will'.
In verse 9 the Apostle Paul boldly proclaims that the ‘God and Father of Lord Jesus Christ' (vs. 3) has ‘made known unto us the mystery of his will’. It is that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ…’
Verse 11 declares that we as Gentile believers have ‘obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will’.
Eph. 6:6-7 teaches us that we need to make God’s will our own. 'Not with eye service as men pleasers but as the servants of Christ doing the will of God from the heart, with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.’
Eph. 5:17 urges that we be ‘not unwise but understanding what the will of the Lord is’.
While this new will of God is clearly set out in the form of sound words found in Paul’s prison epistles it is also clearly written in our hearts by God Himself. Thus Phil. 2:13 attests that ‘it is God that which worketh in you (i.e. in believers both to will and to do of his good pleasure). Now, is that some of God’s will or all of it? The answer is found in Col. 4:12 where Paul records Epaphras as ‘always labouring fervently for you in prayers that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God’.
In the next part of this study we ask the question: Are the last written words of the Apostle Paul also God’s will and testament to us who believe?
THE WILL OF GOD IN GRACE
By John Aldworth
The will of the Apostle Paul
As the previous study asserted, the last will and testament of a person is precious. Not only does it impart their earthly goods to others; it often expresses the last wishes, desire and hopes of a loved one.
We found this was especially true of the Lord Jesus both for his Hebrew people and later in the ‘dispensation of the grace of God’ (Eph. 3:2) for Gentiles, indeed for all men. Now in this paper we look at the will of the Apostle Paul as expressed in his letters. We also explore his second letter to Timothy, considered by many to be his ‘last will and testament’.
To many it comes as a surprise to find that in scripture Paul expresses his will for believers just about as forcibly as the Lord asserts his own will. For example, in 1 Tim. 2:8 the apostle declares:
I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting.
And in Phil. 2: 12 he calls on the Philippians to obey ‘…as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’.
In several scriptures the apostle even issues direct commands:
2 Thess. 3:6: Now we command you brethren in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly and not after the tradition which he received of us.
2 Thess. 3:4: And we have confidence in the Lord touching you that ye both do and will the things which we command you.
Is obedience to Paul optional?
What’s more, Paul commanded his disciple Timothy to command others. ‘These things command and teach’ (1 Tim. 4: 11).
Today most Christians view the question of being obedient to Paul as optional. While often rigidly adhering to man-made church rules and regulations they for the most part ignore the apostle’s injunctions. They also pick and choose which parts of the truth revealed to him they will believe. Indeed, as one evangelist told me sadly, ‘They really hate Paul in the churches’.
It has been well said, regarding Gentiles, that ‘the Father sent the Son and the Son sent Paul’. Among the apostles Paul alone was authorised and empowered by the Father and the Son to proclaim and execute the suspension of God’s dealings with Israel and to personally convey salvation by grace through faith alone to the Gentile, indeed the whole world.
Yet Christendom at large fails to acknowledge his authority. Roman Catholics believe in the ‘infallibility’ of papal pronouncements made ex-cathedra, but refuse acknowledge the truly infallible truths revealed to the Apostle Paul and recorded in scripture for our benefit. The major Protestant denominations insist on their own ‘private’ (2 Peter 1:20) interpretations of scripture. They hold fast to traditions that ‘make the commandment of God of none effect’ (Matt. 15:6). They practice rituals and keep special days after ‘the doctrines and commandments of men’ (Col. 2:22).
The Apostle Paul’s credentials
An important question for the believing Christian is: How much weight should be given to the doctrine, message and commandments of the Apostle Paul as recorded in scripture? Answer: Just as much as you would give to the words of the Lord Jesus and God the Father since it is they who speak infallibly through Paul their chosen apostle of grace to the Gentiles. As Paul said:
If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37).
At the start of every letter he wrote Paul sets forth his God-given credentials as an apostle. In Eph. 1:1, for example he writes: ‘Paul an apostle by the will of God to the saints which are at Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus’.
He makes clear in both Ephesians and Colossians that to him, and him alone, was given ‘the dispensation of the grace of God’ for which he was ‘a prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles” (Eph. 3:1-2).
Paul further explains his unique apostolic role in verses Eph. 3:7 and 8:
Whereof I was made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ’.
Again in Col. 1:24-27 Paul cites his credentials as the sole apostolic minister of the Body of Christ and the dispensation (or revelation) of the mystery given to him that ‘fulfils’, or completes, the word of God. This revelation comprises the last and latest message from the Lord, for since then He has not uttered another word. Here Paul writes of himself:
Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake which is the church, whereof I am made minister according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you to fulfil the word of God.
Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints. To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery which is Christ in you the hope of glory.
Whom we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.
Paul’s last will and testament
The last writings of a truly dedicated man used of God are his will and testament to posterity. This is especially true of the Apostle Paul, since his last will and testament contained in his second letter to Timothy are his last recorded words.
Consequently, they are of the utmost importance to understand what God is doing now and what He will do in the future. The second letter to Timothy explains why the world is getting so much worse (2 Tim. 3:12-13); the nature of the ‘perilous times’ which are already here and why the professing church has abandoned the truth (2 Tim. 2:15-19). Truly we live in ‘the last days’ (2 Tim. 3:1-7) and Christendom is bedevilled by traitors who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof.
Despite that God’s purpose stands sure. For the present He is still summoning those who trust in Jesus to ‘…a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began’ (2 Tim. 1:9). This means that today, as insightful Bible teacher Tom Ballinger, has rightly said, God is acting only in grace, not judgement. If He can’t act in grace He doesn’t act at all. Consequently, evil and wickedness flourish and a corrupt, false Christianity that lacks the power of God abounds.
Already the time has come when ‘… they will not endure sound doctrine … and shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables’ (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Faced with this the man of God [that is, Timothy and anyone else who ‘holds fast to the form of sound words’ heard of Paul ‘in the faith and love which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 1:13)] should ‘… preach (i.e. proclaim) the word, be instant in season, out of season, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine’ (2 Tim. 4:2).
The legacy of the two appearings
Paul was ready to be offered; his time of departure was ‘at hand’. His second letter to Timothy was really his will. In it he leaves a legacy to those who would follow in his footsteps, believing the revelation of grace and the mystery given to the apostle while in prison in Rome.
Now a legacy is a bequest that is stored up to give lasting benefits far into the future. Paul’s legacy, to us who believe the message he was given by God, can be summarised as the two ‘appearings’. The first such appearing is found in 2 Tim. 1:9-11 where the apostle tells us that the new calling of God’s purpose and grace hath been manifest ….
…by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ who hath abolished death , and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles (2 Tim. 1:10-11).
In other words, there is a new calling, a new way of salvation and a new purpose God is now carrying out. And it is manifested by Christ’s appearing to the Apostle Paul in his Roman prison cell and imparting to him the never before known truth of the Mystery (Eph. 3:1-4).
An important part of this new revelation is that on the cross and in his resurrection Christ abolished death. This is so much more than the truth that He ‘died for our sins’; for it secures for us the very life of God to experience now with the good news that immortality can be ours in the future. This is why Paul writes in Titus 1:2 …
… In hope of eternal life which God that cannot lie, promised before the world began.
So Christ’s appearing to Paul in prison brought this good news to light and, note, only Paul is appointed an apostle to preach it, primarily to Gentiles, indeed to all men.
Now for the second appearing, which is also Paul’s legacy to us. This is found in 2 Tim. 4:1 and speaks of the soon coming time when God will make Himself hugely manifest to all mankind as He steps in to judge the world and put all that is wrong right. What a wonderful prospect. No wonder it is called ‘the blessed hope’ in Titus 2:13. Thus Paul writes to Timothy …
I charge thee therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom.
We live in a time between these two appearings. Right now God is lavishing us with the fullness of his grace and giving us his very life. However, this life is ‘hid in God’ until Christ’s (and our) appearing with Him in glory (Col. 3:1-4).
And when Christ appears He will not only judge the world and those alive and dead but also ‘change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body’ (Phil. 3:21). Right now we may be ‘suffering with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12) because of ‘this present evil world’ and the professing church’s rejection of Pauline grace truth and we who hold to it. But at his second appearing we ‘shall reign with Him’.
Have you believed all the wonderful new truth Christ generated to and through Paul for Gentiles at his (first) appearing to the apostle in his Roman prison cell? Are you now looking for his imminent (and second) appearing as God through Paul tells us to in Titus 2:13?
Looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
The two appearings are the Apostle Paul’s legacy to us. It his will and God's will that we should recerive this truth. May we prove ourselves worthy of his bequest by receiving and believing all that God through the Apostle Paul says in this, his last will and testament.