The Two Opportunities for Justification--Part 2
Nov 21, 2011
Passover was the door through which Israel departed Egypt into the wilderness. So also is it with us, for we have faith in the Lamb of God and apply His blood to our "house." Being justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb of God is the door into the wilderness, where God matures us through many experiences and hardships.
The single most important event in the wilderness is pictured at Mount Sinai, where God came down as FIRE and spoke the Ten Commandments. This was celebrated thereafter as the Feast of Weeks, which was later called (in Greek) Pentecost. Pentecost is about the baptism of fire, pictured clearly when Moses was called up into the fire of God's presence. The rest of the people were also called to draw near to God, but they declined out of fear (Ex. 20:18-21).
Nonetheless, they did follow the pillar of cloud and fire as they journeyed through 41 encampments (Num. 33:5-48). The purpose of the wilderness was to increase their faith by obedience and by following the leading of the Spirit. This was their time of Sanctification. Paul makes it clear that Justification is given apart from Sanctification, but that Sanctification should always follow on the heels of Justification (Rom. 6).
Sanctification in the New Testament comes by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, also known as the baptism of fire (Matt. 3:11), "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
When God appeared to the Israelites at the Mount, He spoke from the midst of this fire, as Deut. 4:12 says,
"Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form--only a voice."
Fire consumes all flesh. The Israelites were to embrace the fire without fear in order to allow the flesh to be consumed. If they had been obedient, they would have had the faith to enter the Promised Land, for faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), and the Hebrew word for hearing is the same as the word for obedience.
The law that God gave at Sinai, then, reflected His character and was expressed as fire. Its main purpose was to consume the flesh, the carnal nature, of the Israelites, so that they could put on the mind of Christ. This, in turn, would lead to spiritual maturity as their faith increased "from faith to faith," qualifying them to inherit the promises.
Today, much of the Church has been taught (as I was in my childhood) that "getting saved" was all that I really needed to "get to heaven." The implication was that if I got saved today and died tomorrow that I would be a full inheritor of the promises of God. Justification by faith was presented as the only real requirement. It was many years later that I came to understand from Israel's wilderness experience the importance of growing up into the full stature of Christ.
All of the Israelites were justified by faith when they kept the Passover and left Egypt. But how many of them inherited the promises? Only the overcomers among them--Caleb and Joshua. The rest of the people were "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38), but they still died in the wilderness. Heb. 3:19 says,
"And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief."
This is not an issue of Justification, nor of faith in the blood of the Lamb. As the church, they did have enough faith to leave Egypt. As part of the body of Christ, they will indeed be "saved." But because their wilderness experience did not bring them into spiritual maturity, they will have to come into spiritual maturity at a later time--after they have died in the wilderness.
For this reason, Paul uses the "fire" metaphor in 1 Cor. 3:11-15,
(11) For no man can lay a foundation other than the one, which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (12) Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, (13) each man's work will become evident; for THE DAY will show it, because it is to be revealed with FIRE; and the FIRE itself will test the quality of each man's work. (14) If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. (15) If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.
This is the fate of the church in the wilderness. Will they be saved? Of course. But because their works were not built by faith, they will "suffer loss." When they stand before God, they will have to undergo another fiery trial to see if their faith is sufficient to receive the promises. If not, it will take further wilderness training in the fire of God's presence before they qualify for the Promised Land.
How did we lose this truth? In centuries past, the Roman Church linked men's justification to their Sanctification. This mixture was deadly, because no one then could know that he was justified until he had been perfected. Hence, virtually everyone would have to spend some time in Purgatory until their flesh was consumed.
The Protestants brought in the concept of Justification by faith alone. They were correct in teaching this, but unfortunately, they tended to neglect Sanctification as a prerequisite to receiving the inheritance. Justification is as insufficient for us in the NT church as it was for the Israelite church under Moses.
It is certain, then, that many Christians will not reach spiritual maturity in this life time. In Roman Catholic circles, they are hindered by fear and by a spiritual inferiority complex. In Protestant circles, many are complacent, because having gone to the altar, they think they now have their ticket to heaven and can live as they please.
God will not give anyone the inheritance until they have grown up into spiritual maturity. He will not give His authority to underage Christians. He is interested in more than Justification. He brought us out of "Egypt" in order to mature us to inherit all the promises of God. To mature us, He has given us the baptism of fire through the feast of Pentecost. If we do not submit to that discipline and cleansing fire in this life time, we will surely be subjected to it after the resurrection in the age to come.
It is not that God is being mean. It is rather that His purpose is to raise children to maturity. There is no direct route from Egypt to the Promised Land. It always goes through the wilderness where Sinai is located.
Not only will the Justified ones be "saved yet so as through fire," but also the rest of humanity. All of them will bow before Christ and swear allegiance to Him at the Great White Throne. There is a Second Passover for them, and they will also receive the baptism of the Spirit. They will lack just one element to receive the promises of God--spiritual maturity. The Great White Throne will be their moment of Justification by faith, but they will yet be unqualified to receive the promises of God.
This is why there awaits for them the "lake of fire" (Rev. 20:11-15). This "lake" is the result of the "river of fire" as per Daniel 7:10, which comes out of the fiery throne of God (Dan. 7:9). The throne signifies His law, and the fire is the judgment of God's law coming upon those being raised from the dead in verse 10.
The law of God does not pronounce endless judgment upon anyone. It is olam, "indefinite, hidden, obscure" in length, because everyone is different. The judgment always fits the crime, and it is limited by the law of Jubilee when all men are set free to return to their lost inheritance (Lev. 25:10, 13). Men must be judged to learn obedience, but that judgment is limited by the grace in the law of Jubilee.
This is the second part of a series titled "The Two Opportunities for Justification." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones