Building Strong Believers
HOW NOT TO BE A SPIRITUAL WIMP!
The Pauline Design for Edification
BY RICHARD JORDAN
Paul's purpose in penning
his treatise to the Romans is his treatise to the Romans is stated quite clearly at the outset:
"For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual
gift, TO THE END YE MAY BE ESTABLISHED;
"That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the
MUTUAL FAITH both of you and me" (Rom. 1:11,12).
The book of Romans is establishment truth, written to ground
its readers in "the mutual faith." This, of course, is not merely a reference to a desire to get
them saved for the epistle is addressed to those who already were saints (v.7). Rather Paul's desire was that they
be firmly fixed and settled in the same understanding of the grace of God to us in Christ which he had.
Paul envisioned strong believers. Saints who would not be
"tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine." Saints who would not succumb to "the slight of men
and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." Saints who could endure hardness. Saints
who were spiritually tuff and resilient. He knew this did not "just happen," but that it was the
result of being established in sound doctrine.
After masterfully setting forth "the faith" he desired
the saints to mutually share with him, he concludes with a further statement concerning establishment truth:
"Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to
my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret
since the world began,
"But now is made manifested, and by the scriptures of the
prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
"To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever.
Amen" (Rom. 16:25-27).
This concluding benediction has often been overlooked both as to its purpose and content. It is, in fact, a concise
statement of Paul's design for the establishment of believers in "the faith."
If the Body of Christ is to be edified by "perfected saints"
doing "the work of the ministry," as Eph. 4:12 suggests, it is vitally important that we be--and that
our ministries produce--perfect saints. How better to do this than to allow the one who gave us this charge to
also instruct us as to how to produce perfected, established and matured saints for the work! Hence Paul's explanation
of how believers are established is basic to doing the work of the ministry his way.
Look again at these verses. It is God Himself who alone has the capacity to establish--to stabilize and make strong--the
believer. And how does He do so? Paul clearly sets forth a three-fold process:
"Now to Him that is the power to stablish you ACCORDING TO
THE PREACHING OF JESUS CHRIST
ACCORDING TO THE REVELATION
OF THE MYSTERY...
THE SCRIPTURES OF THE PROPHETS..."
The three-fold pattern is clearly defined:
1. My Gospel: This is the foundation of God's purpose.
Knowing the details of the gospel of grace committed to Paul gives an orientation to Gods grace which equips
us to live on the planet earth for His glory.
2. The preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation
of the mystery: This is the fullness of God's purpose. Understanding God's previously unrevealed
intend to form a new agency, the Body of Christ, gives us an orientation to God's goal which grounds
us in the ultimate plan of God.
3. The Scriptures of the prophets: This is the future
of God's purpose. While the first two comprise the scope of the special message committed to Paul, the "scriptures
of the prophets" encompass all of Scripture--in light, of course, of Paul's revelation. Understanding how
the programs of prophecy and mystery relate into one great overriding purpose provides an orientation to God's
glory as we see these programs come to fruition.
This a progressive pattern designed to set forth "the
form of sound words" committed to our trust (II Tim 1:13). And it is this form--this pattern of
divine thinking-- which produces the "godly edifying" that results in spiritual maturity. Let's
look at it briefly.
This is a reference to the special message committed
to his trust by the risen Christ. Notice the two basic issues which lay the foundation for stability:
"MY gospel"--Dispensational Distinctions. Failure
to recognize the distinctive nature of Paul's apostleship and message brings endless confusion as to where we stand
in the program of God. Such confusion is foolish, however, for Paul plainly declares:
"For I SPEAK TO YOU GENTILES, INASMUCH AS I AM THE APOSTLE
OF THE GENTILES, I magnify mine office" (Rom 11:13).
Paul is our Apostle--in contrast with Peter and the Twelve
who were Israel's apostles (Matt. 19:28, Gal. 2:8). Thus Paul's gospel is our gospel--in contrast to that
proclaimed by Peter and the Twelve before him (Gal. 1:11,12; 2:6-9). this is all the more important when we remember
Paul's solemn pronouncement that one day soon "God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according
to my gospel" (Rom. 2:16).
"My GOSPEL"--Doctrinal Orientation. It is not
enough to simply know who our Apostle is--we must know what he has said to us. We must be oriented
to the grace of God as revealed through Paul. It has too often been assumed that an understanding of the distinctive
ministry of Paul made one a "grace believer." This simply is not the case: We must go on to an
understanding of the grace and love of God to us in Christ if we are to be genuine grace believers.
That Paul's gospel deals with salvation in Christ through his work
on the cross is clear from 1 Cor. 15:1-4. To Paul was delivered the capstone of divine revelation concerning the
cross-work of Christ. In Romans Paul lays four foundation principles of grace:
Justification by grace (Rom. 1-5): The finality of the
cross is set forth here as nowhere else in Scripture. The justice of God is demonstrated to be free to give
eternal life to anyone having perfect righteousness (1:18-3:20). Since we lack this righteousness through the cross
of Christ. He is thus free to give both righteousness and eternal life to everyone who "believes in Jesus"
(3:21-4:25). This new "grace wherein we stand" provides complete security, both during present
tribulations as well as into eternity future (5:1-21).
Living under grace (5-8): The reality of the resurrection
life through our total identification with Christ is next set before us. Because we are no longer "in
Adam" but are now "in Christ" (5:12-21) we are to live consistent with our position
in Christ (6), the current program of grace (7), and the power of the Holy Spirit (8).
These chapters provide the largely untapped keys for the believer's
life in time: Rom. 6 identifies the step that deals with the principle of sin and provides the answer
to its power. Rom. 7 denotes the struggle with the principle of the law and shows the answer
to its bondage. Rom 8. sets forth the walk based on the principle of "life in Christ Jesus"
as motivated by the Spirit of life.
Dispensation of Grace (9-11): The fall and future
of Israel are examined so that no one will think Israel's program is still in effect today or that it has been
done away with permanently. The present interruption of prophecy and its future resumption are clearly explained.
Serving by Grace (12-16): The fruits of our Sonship status
in Christ are practically demonstrated. Practical instructions in grace-age-living give the believer a model for
decision making by the "renewed mind" grace produces.
Thus Romans gives the foundation for the grace-life. It
gives members of the Body of Christ an understanding of how we have been equipped and motivated to live on a daily
basis in the details of our lives by God's grace and for His glory.
THE MYSTERY PROGRAM
The next step in the edification process is built upon the previous. Once we understand
who we are in Christ and how that new identity has equipped us with amazing divine assets, we are
ready to move on to the advanced issues of just why God is forming the Body of Christ. This is the special
focus of "the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery."
This unprophesied program is, of course, in stark contrast
with the long prophesied program preached prior to Paul. A simple comparison of Acts 3:21 with Rom 16:25 sets forth
conclusively: In Acts 3:21 Peter is preaching that "which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy
prophets since the world began." The message of Rom 16:25, on the other hand, "was kept secret
since the world began." If words mean anything, these are two different messages.
Prior to the ministry of the Apostle Paul, Jesus Christ was presented
as the prophet, priest and king of the nation Israel (Deut. 18:15, Psa. 110:4, Jer. 23:5,6)--all in accord with
what God "spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began" (Luke 1:70,
Acts 3:21). When we come presented in a new way--as the head of the Body of Christ. This unprophesied
purpose of God is completely different from the way Israel and the prophets has viewed Christ.
||This unprophesied program was first revealed to and through the Apostle Paul. He declares:
"For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for
"If ye have heard the dispensation of the grace of God which
is given me to you-ward:
"How that BY REVELATION HE MADE KNOWN UNTO ME THE MYSTERY;
(as I wrote afore in a few words...)
"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 holy promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph 3:1-6).
It is vital that believers get the "big picture." Notice
that Paul assumes the Ephesians had already grasp "the gospel"--he assumes their prior grounding
in Romans-truth, just as Romans assumes the believer will proceed on to the further truths set forth in Ephesians.
These are not two different messages but rather two different aspects of one message: foundational truth
and advanced truth built on that foundation.
After being grounded in our equipping in Christ to function as
member of the Body of Christ on planet earth (Roman's foundational truth), Paul now moves on to explain the place
for this new agency in the plan of God. This is the special purpose of Ephesians. There we learn of our:
Calling(1-3): The wealth associated with our calling
as members of the body of Christ is detailed so that we might "abound in wisdom and prudence."
"The hope of His calling"--what He has called the Body of Christ to accomplish; "the glory
of His inheritance in the saints"--how Christ will take possession of a redeemed universe through the
saints; "the greatness of His power us-ward"--sharing in Christ's authority as head of all things;
these are the advanced truths which set forth the goal of God's present purpose.
Conduct (4:1-6:9): The worthy walk to be manifest
in our conduct as members of the Body of Christ is dealt with in clear and practical terms.
Conflict (6:10-6:24): The warfare brought about because
of our conflict with the Satanic policy of evil designed to thwart God's purpose for the Body of Christ
is explained and the believer's armor is identified.
These advanced truths erect a superstructure of divine edification
in the believer's soul and provide a spiritual edifice of sound doctrine which gives a sense of our place in the
overall purpose of God. With this "big picture" in hand, we are all able to move on to the final
step in Paul's pattern for our perfection:
THE SCRIPTURES OF THE PROPHETS
||As the first step orients us to the grace of God and the second to the goal of forming the Body of
Christ, this final crowning step in the edification process orients us to the glory of God to be manifest
in the ages to come.
Just as the great doctrinal books of Romans and Ephesians match
the first two, the letters to the Thessalonians fit the third.
I Thess. details the events surrounding the closing of the dispensation
of grace and the exodus of the Body of Christ from the planet earth. The Rapture is mentioned at the closing of
each chapter and we learn details concerning its pre-tribulation scheduling (1:10), the judgment seat of Christ
(3:13), the actual details surrounding our catching up to meet the Lord in the air (4:13-18) as well as the faithfulness
of God to see these events to completion (5:23,24).
In like manner II Thess. focuses on the revelation of Christ at
His prophesied "second coming" and its distinction from His unprophesied coming. Again, this prophesied
coming is detailed in two of the three chapters with one of the Bibles completest descriptions of the rise and
career of the Anti-Christ given in 2:3-12. II Thess. is clear that the only thing holding back these prophesied
events is God's present purpose--a purpose which has temporarily interrupted the prophetic program.
This edification process establishes the believer in the faith
and provides the capacity for the faithful service for Christ as we walk by faith. This divine design can be seen
in the way Paul's epistles has been preserved and collated in God's Word:
Romans not only stands first in the order of Paul's epistles,
it is also the great book of foundational doctrine about the cross. The next great doctrinal epistle
is Ephesians, which progresses on to the advanced mystery truths concerning the church, the
Body of Christ. The Thessalonian letters comprise the final great doctrinal books and focus on Christ's
coming both in mystery and prophecy. By the way, the Pastoral Epistles (I&II Tim., Tit., Phile)
detail the functioning of the local congregation as the manifestation of the Body of Christ. The epistles
lay themselves out thusly:
Faith looking back to the Cross.
Love looking around at the Church.
Hope looking forward to Christ's Coming.
Fellowship working in the Congregation.
About this edification process Paul wrote Timothy:
"As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went
into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.
"Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which
minister questions, rather that GODLY EDIFYING WHICH IS IN FAITH: so do.
"Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart,
and of a good conscience and of faith unfeigned" (I Tim. 1:3-5).
If we are to be--and produce--strong believers, able to be good
soldiers instead of hopelessly confused and impotent spiritual wimps, we must obey this commandment.
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