“giving light to the eyes of your heart to know the hope of his calling, which is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and which is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us, those who believe, according to the outworking of his power and might.”
Following the line of logic that this spiritual sight gives us assurance of our salvation, how is this assurance the “riches of the glory of his inheritance”? Usually when we think of “riches,” we think of wealth and gold and things that bring us physical comfort and pleasure. Or maybe, we might put it more succinctly, riches refer to those things of value in our lives.
Yet, beloved, what could be more valuable than the assurance of your salvation? Truly, there is nothing. The snakes that offer you a prosperity gospel think that worldly wealth is what is in sight here, but worldly wealth is not extolled in Paul’s writings especially. There may be places in the Old Testament where such is extolled but those Old Testament statements and pictures are shadows of a spiritual reality that is more fully revealed in Christ in the New Testament. And Jesus clearly teaches us that heaven is the only place where our treasures should be stored up.
So, indeed, our assurance is of the greatest value of all. And in that we find the riches and glory (think, “weightiness” or “importance”) of our eternal inheritance. And, to those who point you to wealth on earth, remind them that God only gives wealth on earth to be used for the building up of His Kingdom, pointing men and women toward Christ.
Museums can be a lot of fun to visit. They contain relics and artifacts from which we can learn a lot about our past. They are monuments and testimonies to where we have been as a culture and from where God has brought us as a civilization. They serve a very important role in our culture as they help us to appreciate the sacrifices and successes of those who have gone before us in the hopes that we do not become proud and arrogant as a culture and they provide useful instruction in terms of the mistakes of the past in the hopes that we do not repeat them. There are many kinds of museums, but they all have one thing in common…they do not contain any life.
Sadly, churches can also fall into the trap of becoming museums instead of being the living, breathing marks of the Kingdom of God that we are meant to be. This does not mean we oughtn’t look back and celebrate the blessings of God that have been brought in the past and not learn from our errors as well, but if we spend all of our time dwelling in the past—dwelling in the museum of antiquities—the life that we are meant to have will be sapped from us and we will decline into a testimony of what once was, and not to what is. Remember, God is a God of the living, not of the dead (Luke 20:37-38; 24:5).
Instead of a museum, we are called to build a kingdom (Matthew 6:33; Mark 1:15; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12). Our great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is to make disciples of all of the nations—that begins here at home. Our call within our church is to be at the task of disciple-making. Those who are not believers need to have the Gospel proclaimed to them and those who are believers need to be built up in the faith. We should learn from and celebrate the past, but we must never be tempted to dwell there. Like that favorite hymn by Sabine Baring-Gould:
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!
Like an army, we are to march forward, and for that to take place, though kingdoms rise and fall around us, we must always keep our eyes fixed upon our great and glorious captain, Jesus Christ, who leads us on. Let us never lose sight of the goal that the church is to march onward, breaking down the strongholds of hell in this world around us.
Also, let us count Jesus’ own words to one individual as a warning against dwelling in the past:
“And he said to them, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead;
but you, go and preach the Kingdom of God.’”
“and through which you are being saved. if you hold to the words which I preached to you—assuming you did not believe in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:2)
There are two things in particular that I want to highlight about this verse. The first thing is the word sw/◊zesqe (sozesthe), which is the passive form of the verb sw/◊zw (sozo). The verb means “to save” or “to deliver.” Yet, Paul very clearly uses this verb in the passive form which then means “to be saved.” Why do I make an issue about this? It is simply because salvation is something that is worked by God, not us. It is God’s grace and God’s grace alone. Too often we like to think that we bring something to the table in the work of salvation—even if we limit it to our own choice of God, but we must not do so, for were we to contribute to our own salvation, to use the words of Paul, grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:6).
At the same time, given that this verb is in the present tense, the implication is that the saving is ongoing. This is one of the thematic things that you will see not only in Paul but throughout the New Testament. We often speak of this as “the already and the not yet.” Jesus sometimes speaks of the Kingdom of God being here (Mark 1:15) and sometimes speaks of it as yet to come (Luke 17:20ff). This verse is another example of this theme; at times scripture talks of us being saved (Ephesians 2:8 ) and at times, as in this verse, the scripture speaks of being saved as if it is an ongoing process.
Jesus, through his life and death on the cross, inaugurated the end times. Things were begun in the sacrifice of Christ, yet will not come to consummation until his return. Why is that? God is still gathering the elect from the nations through history. God’s patience, as Peter puts it, means salvation for all of the elect (2 Peter 3:8-10). In other words, the kingdom is here in the church right now, but until Christ returns in glory, the fullness of God’s kingdom will not be revealed.
On a scaled down level, the same thing can be applied to our own salvation, and for this we have two important Biblical terms: justification and sanctification. Justification is the already. When God brings us to faith, he declares us justified because of the work of Christ. In justification, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (note the language of “impute”—Jesus’ righteousness is not imparted to us for we do not own it, rather it is imputed to us in a declarative way—we stand before God’s judgment seat in the robes of another). Sanctification is the not yet because it is ongoing. It is the language that Peter uses when he speaks of working to “make your election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) and Paul speaks of “working out your salvation” (Philippians 2:12).
Sanctification is ongoing and will not be complete until we are glorified with Christ. God is still doing the work on us in sanctification, just as a potter works a lump of clay into a beautiful vessel, but at the same time, we participate in the process (or seek to resist it). How do we participate? First of all, we seek to grow in our lifestyle, putting to death the sinful habits of our life. Second of all, we seek to learn more and more about God through his word. That word will reveal more and more about our life that we need to clean out or change for the glory of God, so that we might be able to better enjoy him in this world. And third, as these things are an ongoing practice, we do so as part of a believing community, being exposed to the means of grace, we rejoice and suffer in fellowship with others. Lastly, we grow through trial and testing. This strengthens us in our faith often so that we might assist others better in their sanctification.
Never lose sight of the fact that God has begun a work in you and he will not rest until that work is completed—which means he will not allow you to rest in your own sanctification. Paul closes this verse with an interesting statement. What he is implying is that if you are not growing in your faith and sanctification, you may have believed in vain. Does this mean that you can lose your salvation? Certainly not! It does mean, though, that your belief was not genuine to begin with. Remember the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20). There are some seeds that do sprout, even though they fall on rocky or weedy ground. There are some people who will look as if they had a genuine conversion experience for a time, yet, will fall away. These are those that Paul is referring to. In a sense, he is pointedly asking the Corinthians whether they are people of stony or weedy soil.
Does this mean that we stop preaching to those whose soil is rocky, that have given evidence of salvation and then fallen away? Certainly not! We have been given the task of scattering seed; it is the Holy Spirit who works the tiller in the soil. Though the soil may be unproductive at one point, we do not know whether, in the providence of God, that the Holy Spirit will later strip the soil of its rocks and weeds so that the world will find a place to sink deep and productive roots. We are given the joy of participating in the process by scattering seed; we must trust that the Holy Spirit is sovereign in his preparation of the soil.
“And Jesus saw that he answered thoughtfully, and said to him, ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God.’ And no one was bold enough to question him any longer.”
And Jesus saw that the man had answered thoughtfully, or, as in many of our English translations, “wisely,” though the word sofi/a (sophia) is not used, which is the normal word that means “wisdom” as we understand it. The term that is used here is nounecwvß (nounechos), which is derived from the term nouvß (nous), which refers to one’s intellect. Thus, the response that the scribe gave to Jesus was one of thoughtfulness, though it was not necessarily one of wisdom. Sometimes we forget that there is a difference between intellect and wisdom in our culture. We think that wisdom is a result of great intelligence, and that is not necessarily true. Intellectual knowledge deals more with what you know and wisdom deals more with what you understand. Intellect is developed through education; wisdom is developed through Godly experience.
So what are we to make of Jesus’ statement that the scribe was not far from the Kingdom? Is that to suggest that the Scribe understood the gospel? I am not sure that the text gives us enough information about this scribe to go quite that far in our assumption, though the scribe was on the right path. Note, that Jesus does not tell the scribe that the Kingdom is his, but rather he is not far from it. For the scribe to have come into the kingdom, he would have had to become a follower of Jesus Christ and the text remains silent about this particular scribe from hereon out. What we do know, though, from this interaction is that there were some scribes that had not fallen into the legalism of the Pharisaical school, though who still had a high regard for the law. Sometimes, when we read the Biblical accounts, we automatically group all of the Jewish teachers and officials in the same category of legalism. While many did fall into this error, there were some that were faithful in seeking out the intent behind the law that God gave—instructions for holiness, not a license for legalism.
The second thing that we learn from this final statement of the interaction is that this is the last time during the Passion Week that the Jewish authorities question Jesus in this way. As the text records, they were no longer bold enough to challenge Jesus any longer. Was this due to Jesus’ fine answers? Probably not. The fact is that these Jewish authorities had been hounding Jesus with questions trying to trap him for the past 3 years—you would think that they would have gotten it by now and repented, following Christ as Lord and Savior—if they trusted the wisdom of his answers. It is most likely because they realized that Jesus had quite a bit of popular support from the crowd. Jesus’ enemies knew that they needed to arrest him and convict him at night where the crowds could not intervene. This event took place on Tuesday of Jesus’ last week, by Thursday evening, Jesus would be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. That time is coming, but for the moment, it is not quite there yet. Oh, beloved, one of the great difficulties of the study of this week is that we know the horrors that await our Lord. We rejoice that he would sacrifice himself for us so, but oh, how we agonize over the price that Christ had to pay for our sin. Beloved, in the shadow of the cross, remember this teaching of Christ—we are to love God with all of our being—every inch of our soul—and we are to love others as Christ loved us. Oh, how different our lives might be if we were able to faithfully live that commission out in all that we do.