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FEBRUARY 7 2016

Accountability Under Grace Part Three

(Final)

 

We have been considering God’s grace towards us and why that grace must show itself in the form of discipline when God’s children refuse to conform themselves to the image of their Master. This passage has featured prominently in this consideration.

 

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

(Colossians 3:23-25 ESV)

 

We established that this passage has to do with God’s own people, the redeemed, Christians, believers. This passage is not about the lost. The lost need to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and turn away from their sins. When they do that they receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in them, giving them a new and joyful life. Last week we saw that the wrongdoer, the Christian who persists in wrongdoing, will be paid back for the wrong that they have done at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This will be when the Lord returns to the earth.

 

There are at least two things that will be involved in this “paying back.” One is an administration of pain, which Jesus likens to a beating in Luke 12. This “beating” may be severe or it may be light. But it will happen to those disciples who do not comply with the Lord’s will. This week we will consider the other consequence of failing to be faithful. Hence, this is another message that is a warning for us. The Bible is full of warnings for God’s own people and the proclaimer of God’s word must be faithful to announce and elucidate the same warnings that are in His word. We will return to messages that are predominantly positive soon enough.

 

The other consequence of faithlessness is found right here in our passage in verse 24. The faithful disciple “will receive the inheritance as” their reward. This implies that the unfaithful one will not receive the inheritance. What is it that we may inherit? It is the kingdom of Christ that is coming.

 

We have already established that eternal life is God’s free gift for the one who believes into Christ. Now we must see that:

 

[1] The believers’ participation in the kingdom of Christ is conditional on their conduct, good or evil.

 

The terms “kingdom of Christ,” “kingdom of heaven,” and “kingdom of God” are synonymous terms. They mean the same thing. The kingdom has more than one expression. It can be said truthfully that those who are in the church now have an experience of Christ’s kingdom presently. However, in the letters of the apostles Paul and Peter in the New Testament, the term “kingdom” most often refers to the kingdom that is coming when Jesus physically returns to the earth. This is also called “the times of refreshing” (Acts 3:20), “the time for restoring all things,” (Acts 3;21) and “the millennium” (Rev 20:1-6). It will be a golden age where sin will be repressed and the nations live in peace. Peace and safety will be the realized watchwords of that era. So unlike the watchwords of this era, which are conflict and peril. In our own community and in most communities here in the U.S. we do have peace and safety. But this cannot be said about many places in the world – Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Indonesia, and even places right here. When I say “East St. Louis” do you think of the word “safety” or does the word “peril” come into your mind? In the day that is coming there will be peace and safety over the whole world because Christ will reign in person and that era will begin with everyone being in right relationship with the Lord.

 

This coming kingdom is spoken of as the time of reward for the persecuted in this life.

 

            “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

            “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

(Matthew 5:10-12 ESV)

 

Notice that the phrases “kingdom of heaven” in verse 10 and “your reward” in verse 12 are juxtaposed in these verses. If one is persecuted for righteousness’ sake then they will receive the kingdom of heaven. Jesus then says immediately after this statement that if one is persecuted they will receive a reward. The implication is that the reward is the kingdom itself.

 

One of the most grueling of all bicycle races is the Tour De France. A contestant in that event, Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, describes it in a National Geographic article titled, "An Annual Madness." The race covers about 2000 miles, including some of France's most difficult, mountainous terrain. Eating and drinking is done on the run. And there are extremes of heat and cold. To train for the event, Lassalle rides his bicycle 22,000 miles a year. What kind of prize makes people endure so much hardship and pain! $10,000? $100,000? No. It's just a special winner's jersey. What then motivates the contestants? Lassalle sums it up: "Why, to sweep through the Arc de Triomphe on the last day. To be able to say you finished the Tour de France." If  bicyclists can sacrifice so much, training 22,000 miles per year (that is equivalent to peddling across the United States five times in a year!), watching what they eat and drink, ensuring adequate sleep and rest, forcing their bodies to the limits – for just a jersey (!) – cannot we give ourselves for the greatest reward of all?!

 

 

 

In keeping with the idea that participation in the coming kingdom is a reward, there are several Scriptures that also reveal that entrance into the kingdom is a matter of one’s faithfulness, one’s work, one’s worthiness. These things could never be said about eternal life since that precious and indescribable gift is never a matter of merit. It cannot be conditioned on either work nor worthiness. In fact, the apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear that being made right with God, and thus receiving eternal life, is “apart from works.” It is only those who are unworthy who receive eternal life. Those who think that they are worthy are disqualified (Luke 18:9-14).

 

Yet, we read this from the apostle Peter:

 

            For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(2 Peter 1:5-11 ESV)

 

Clearly, Peter is writing to believers. In verse 5 he says to “make every effort to supplement your faith…” They have faith.

 

In verse 8 he writes, “if these qualities are yours and are increasing…” The word “if” implies that they either may have them or they may not.

 

Verse 9 makes clear what verse 8 implies. “For whoever lacks these qualities…is blind.” A believer can lack virtue. A disciple can lack self-control. We may all, if we are not diligent, drift away from godliness. Do you know any Christians who lack love? I do.

 

In the second half of verse 10 he writes, “…if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Does this not imply that if you do not practice these qualities you may very well fall? Of course, it does!

 

Verse 11 begins, “For in this way…” In what way? In the way of “making every effort.” The Christian life is not a life of sitting back and waiting for heaven. If that is what you are doing then you will be sorely disappointed. Eventually, if you have been born again, you will be in the New Jerusalem. But, between now and then, if you are not expending effort to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and increasing in godliness, then you will be sorely disappointed.

 

The verse continues, “…there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” If we practice the qualities that the apostle has just enumerated then we will be provided an entrance. Does this not imply that if we do not practice these qualities – virtue, knowledge, steadfastness, and self-control – we will not be provided an entrance? Yes, it does.

 

What the apostle Peter only implies the apostle Paul makes explicit.

 

19       Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20   idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

 

We should always inquire: to whom is the author writing? He is writing to the “churches of Galatia.” (1:2) Ancient Galatia is where Turkey is today. It was called Galatia because it was settled by the Gauls.

 

In 2:16 he writes, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…” The “we” in this letter means Paul and the Galatians. They know that a person is justified by faith.

 

In 3:2 he asks, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” How they received it is rhetorical question. But they did receive it already. They received the Spirit and they received it with faith.

 

In 3:26 he affirms, “You are all sons of God…” They are sons of God!

 

There is no question that he is writing to Christians. He is referring to those who are already followers of Christ.

 

In our passage in chapter 5 he lists the works of the flesh. The first is sexual immorality. I do not care for this expression because it seems to depend on the mores of society. The older versions, like the KJV, read “fornication.” Fornication means sex outside of marriage. The next work of the flesh listed is “impurity.” The KJV and NKJV have “uncleanness.” It is, of course, not speaking of being physically dirty, but being morally dirty. It denotes sexual interests and activities outside the prescribed bounds of God’s will: things like pornography and fantasies.

 

Skipping sensuality, next is idolatry – the worshipping of idols, or the bowing down to idols. Then we see sorcery. In verse 21, drunkenness is listed.

 

Considering these sins, someone might say, “But pastor, someone who practices things like fornication, pornography, idolatry, sorcery, and drunkenness is not even a Christian.” And, I would agree with that person. While it is possible for a Christian to commit any of those sins, anyone who lives in those sins without any sincere attempt to flee from them has not been born again according to the apostle John (I John 3:6). I chose those sins from this list because those sins are particularly egregious and they carry a stigma in the church. They, usually, are not tolerated.

 

But, consider some other works of the flesh on Paul’s list.

 

  • Strife: how many churches have had internal strife and how many of those involved are under the delusion that they are in the right and, so, no repentance is ever realized? The answer is many. And, certainly, all of those involved are not false professors.
  • Jealousy: My! How this sin is seen often among God’s people! Those who are in it are often blind to its presence.
  • Envy: This sin, too, appears often among God’s own and I do not see much effort to deal with it.

These are sins that existed among the NT churches and these are sins that are still with Christians today.

 

Now, soberly consider the last part of verse 21. Paul says, “I warn you…” Warn who? Warn the believers in Galatia! “…as I warned you before…” This is a serious enough matter that Paul found it necessary to bring it up on more than one occasion. What was his warning? “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

 

Well, there are genuine Christians who do some of these things. They will not inherit the kingdom of God. They will not receive the reward of the kingdom. They will not enter the kingdom in the next age.

 

Thus, we see that the believers’ participation in the kingdom of Christ is conditional on their conduct, good or evil.

 

[2] If the disciple does not enter the kingdom then where are they when the Lord returns to this earth?

 

Let us rehearse the sequence of events that will take place in the life of a believer after death.

 

  • When a disciple dies their body goes to the grave and their spirit goes to Paradise to join millions, even billions, of deceased ones who have died since the beginning of the world.
  • The Lord Jesus will return to this earth, judging all people alive. Those who have died in Christ, as well as saints from previous eras, will be judged also.
  • He will set up his earthly kingdom that has a heavenly nature because all sin has been dealt with.
  • There will be a long period on this earth when Christ rules from his throne. This is sometimes called the Millennium.
  • Near the end of the Millennium there will be a rebellion that the Lord will crush. Satan will then be finally and irrevocably cast into the Lake of Fire never to be allowed freedom again.
  • There will be a final judgment called the Great White Throne Judgment where the eternal destinies of all people will be announced and realized.
  • The New Jerusalem will come down to the earth and every member of God’s family will be there in peace and holiness.

 

At the Judgment Seat of Christ, at His return, where will the believers go who do not inherit the kingdom? The answer to that question can be found in more than one place, but perhaps the most forceful passage is the Parable of the Talents. Because our time is limited we will not be able to interpret this parable in detail. We will only read it and take note of certain features that identify it as a parable for the community of Christ and not as a parable mainly intended for the lost.

 

            “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

(Matthew 25:14-30 ESV)

 

Observe:

 

  • Those to whom the listeners and readers of this parable are meant to identify with are called “his servants.” That is, servants of the Master. They belong to the Master.
  • Over and over again, disciples of Christ are called his servants. This identification can be found in verse after verse. Just to look at two: “even on my male servants and female servants

                        in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

(Acts 2:18 ESV)

 And from the throne came a voice saying,

“Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him,

small and great.” (Rev 19:5)

  • If time permitted it can be shown that the talents are gifts of the Spirit. Only believers receive the gifts of the Spirit.
  • This parable follows, without interruption, the Parable of the Ten Virgins. In fact, they are linked together by the preposition “for” which begins verse 14. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins it is even more clear that all the virgins represent genuine believers. Since both parables are communicating similar messages, the characters in the parables are all believers.

 

Hence, those who do not inherit the kingdom will be cast into outer darkness during the time of the Millennium. Even this exclusion is a matter of God’s grace. It is gracious because the time outside the kingdom will purify the hearts of God’s people and, when the Great White Throne Judgment takes place, those who were cast out will not suffer eternal judgment but will finally be prepared to enter the New Jerusalem.

 

[3] In view of the great accountability we have under grace, what are we to do? We must stop living out a partial gospel. We understand the beginning of the gospel: that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, and that he arose from the dead. But some of us have neglected the rest of the gospel where Jesus said, “Follow Me.” Some Christians have gone back to living for themselves or their families rather than for Christ. Some Christians have never followed Christ at all. They just said some kind of a prayer and think that they have a ticket to heaven.

 

Following Christ is not optional. It is part of the gospel. Whether one has drifted away to living for self or whether one has never surrendered all to Jesus, the remedy is to do so now. It is to embrace the full gospel. It is to call upon the Lord for the strength to follow Him, not just as some kind of declaration, but to call upon Him so that we are true disciples rather than merely those who believe some facts about what Jesus did.