Things can only get better!
My subject today gives me great hope for the future, for I firmly believe that for every Child of God, the best is yet to be!
My Christianity is not some “pie in the sky” religion, – it is not about some distant dream becoming a reality. My faith is not about some heavenly blessings and benefits that are coming my way, for while much of what God has for me does lie ahead of me, there is also a very real sense in which my faith brings me right now into what God has for me. In the moments left to me today I want to look at what I am calling,
A Present Faith, A Process of Faith,
and A Perfected Faith
And in order to make it easier to understand these three aspects of faith I have chosen as my text, or as my prompting, the words we read a moment ago from 1 John, 3: verse 2. “Beloved NOW are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him …”
Let us consider first of all our …
“ Present Faith”
We as Christians, who do truly love the Lord Jesus, and have freely welcomed Him as our Saviour, believe that we have entered into eternal life already. We do not have to wait for it until we die, rather it is ours by faith now. The apostle John writes “Beloved NOW are we the sons of God, …” In other words we have already inherited the present privileges of
the children of God. Appreciating this glorious fact, and appropriating it are often very different. Knowing that I am a “Son” implies that I have a “Father”, and understanding the depth of this relationship is achievable only by faith, not by feelings. In our human relationships with our Parents,
we are aware that human parents are prone to failing, misunderstanding, selfishness, and every other human weakness. But in the Divine relationship,
none of those failings or weaknesses exist. It is impossible for God our Heavenly Father, to fail us. We may fail Him, but he cannot fail us. When we walk by faith as Sons and Daughters of a Divine Father, He makes some changes in our lives. We begin to fear less, and trust more, to deny self-will and yield to his will. We begin to expect great things from God, and to attempt great things for God. We soon learn to lean and rely on Him, on His power to do with us, in us and for us those things we cannot possibly do ourselves. We also learn not to depend on the world around us, nor to seek its praise or approval. When we are unfairly criticised, or unjustly condemned, it becomes “like water off a ducks back”!
We walk by faith not by feelings. Things around us may look very bleak, friends may have deserted, pressures may have mounted, and troubles may be legion, but we walk by faith. Our Father is still our Father, and he “calls the things that are not as though they were”. Heb.11:3 The Devil hates us just because we love God, and he will do everything possible, (if God allows him) to test our faith and our following. Jesus himself said,
“a servant is not greater than his master: If they persecuted me, then they will persecute you.” John 15:20
So even though we are Sons and Daughters, we are not free from persecutions and testing times. Faith may bring immediate results, but sometimes Faith calls for endurance, the patience to wait for a result. However if we can approach all of our problems from the standpoint or the position of “Sons” then any present difficulties will seem much less threatening. The apostle Paul tells us that we have been made “joint heirs with Jesus” (Romans 8:17) and that where he is, all things “have been put in subjection under his feet” ( Hebrews 2:8) This means that these things are under our feet also. Don’t allow what God has placed under your feet, to go over your head! Don’t allow the already defeated enemy to get victory over you.
I heard a story recently of a Church Congregation that faced a law suit running into ¾ of a million dollars, due to a safety oversight. In spite of an appeal in the appeals court, and in spite of their charitable status, the Judge ruled that their Church and all its related properties should be sold to pay compensation and that that if the monies raised were insufficient, then the Trustees properties and securities should also be sold.
The Pastor writes “I was in the deepest of depression, even to the point of suicide” In this crisis, God was teaching him, and his Church members a valuable lesson. It is so easy for us to talk about “faith” and to declare that we are men and women of “faith” until there is some crisis in our lives! These are the tests of faith, which God must allow in order to prove our faith. As a result of Prayer and trusting in their wise and loving Father in Heaven, this Church congregation suddenly and unexpectedly heard that an unknown Millionaire appeared and offered to clear the debt there and then, and announced that the Church could return or refund the money to him “interest free” as and when they were able!
This is what it means to have a “father in heaven”. There is no other explanation, it had to be God! “Beloved NOW are we the sons of God” and if you believe it, you will never worry about anything again.
This leads me to the next part of my text and to the
“Process of Faith”
John says, “…it does not yet appear what we shall be”
or what we will be when God has finished with us. Many years ago, when I first learned this valuable lesson, I wrote inside the front cover of my Bible these words, … “Please be patient, God has not finished with me yet.” God is not so much concerned with what I am, but with what I can become
as clay in His hands, the potters hands.
In the Old Testament prophecy of Jeremiah, which we read earlier from Chapter 18, – I noticed in verse four, it reads:
”the clay was marred, so he made it again”. This is, in my opinion, one of the most wonderful verses in all of the “Old Testament” – for it is the message of the “gospel” in a nutshell! Many, if not most of you will have seen a “Potter” work with clay at the wheel. You will also have seen a pot fashioned, and maybe ruined, and remade or remodelled by the potter, – then fired in the kiln, and then displayed for sale! We may call this the “processing” of the pot. In the same way, God too has a process through which he moulds and makes his children after His will, His purpose and His chosen destiny for them.
Sin has marred and broken many lives, and God has lovingly remade many a broken vessel into a vessel of great honour and dignity. May I go off on a tangent for a moment and say a few words about SIN. Many of us understand that when sin entered into the world, and death by sin, that that sin effected and affected all of Gods creation. Indeed all that God called “good” in Genesis 1:31 was itself marred or spoiled, or polluted, or perverted, or diseased, or infected, or touched by sin! The whole of the creation awaits the redemption from this curse. Romans 8:23. So then it is important that we also appreciate that all sin, is a transgression of the law of God. However, it seems to me, that there are still some within the Church today, as there were in the early Church, who are quite happy to categorize sin, and make some more heinous than others. My grandmother used to say “its as big a sin to steal a pin, as it is to steal a cow!“ (a wise woman) All sin is the result of the fall, and all sin will be judged – not by the Church, or the congregation, or the elders and deacons, or the dioceses, or the Bishop, or some religious order – all sin will be judged by God!
It is possible that we may harshly judge something that seems repulsive or disgusting – while at the same time hold pride or jealousy to a lesser account. Indeed we may think ourselves spotless when really we are filthy! Before we open our mouths to condemn others, Jesus said we should first look at ourselves, and “let him that is without sin, cast the first stone”. While Jesus hated the Sin, He loved the Sinner, – so can we please
try to do likewise?
Now let’s go back to the Potter and his broken vessel. In his studio or workshop it is extremely unlikely that we can have any idea what the finished pot or vessel will look like until it has been thrown on the wheel, moulded, and fired. That is why John says of US “it does not yet appear what we shall be.” Like the apostle, we may base our ideas of the finished product on the person of Jesus. Indeed as a role model, and as a perfect example we could not find better. However, if John says, “it does not yet appear” he implies, that Jesus in his earthly life and ministry was not as he will one day appear to us. I can concur with that! Jesus left his heavenly splendour, His heavenly Glory which he shared with the Father from the beginning, ( John 17:5) he lowered himself to even less than an Angel, and became a man. Because we a fallen humanity, could not climb up to Him, He came down to us! Now it is true that when we eventually join Him, we join him in that Glory, and shall be like Him in that Glory. (more about that in a minute) John is simply telling us that “things are going to get better”!
As clay in the Potters hand, moulded or broken, remade or restored, God will make us what He wants us to be, and if we will give him Lordship in our lives. If we can say like Jesus “not my will but thine be done” – then the vessel produced by the hand of God will be a bigger, a better vessel that we could ever imagine. We may have been spoiled in the years we have spent in the world, and we may also be scarred or marked by the residue of what the world has left on us, – but God is the Potter, and He can remake us, and restore us, New Creations – even if we have been broken by the experiences of life. Give your life completely to God, and I can tell you this, that whatever he makes of you, God never yet made a mistake!
So we have seen something of our Present Faith, and the Process of Faith …
This leads us to the Final portion of the scripture and to what John says about what we will call…
“ Perfected Faith”
Thus he writes … “but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him …” 1 John 3.2.
I am regularly asked the questions, “What happens us when we die?” or “what will Heaven be like?” I want to approach what is sometimes a troubling and confusing issue, from the words of the Shorter Catechism of the Presbyterian Church, words which I learned by heart as a child in Sunday School, and words which remain with me, as a comfort and strength. We read: “The Souls of Believers are at their Death made perfect in Holiness, and do immediately pass into Glory, their Bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in the Grave, until the Resurrection.”
Although these words are not directly taken from any portion of Scripture, they do however accurately embody the tenor or teaching of both the Old and New Testaments on the subject.
A lot of confusion exists, even in the understanding of Believers, about what actually happens when God calls us home. Sometimes, we as Clergy help to compound the confusion, by not making clear the theological statements we pronounce at
funerals and so on. I have discovered that sometimes too much theology, and not enough common sense can cloud important issues, and create confusion, and therefore unnecessary anxiety.
In a school essay, a child writes: “When Grandmother died, she went to party with Grandfather, and all the saints in Heaven, not forgetting, Holy God” – Written in school, this was the childish reasoning and understanding of a five year old . He was right, but he was also wrong. Some truth lay amidst the error of the statement, and some real damage both psychological and spiritual could remain for ever in the young boys life. He had heard the truth, but he had also heard much of human supposition, not based on any Biblical warrant, but more on “hear-say” even perhaps what Christians hear-say! (and hear-say is the root of heresy) As our text shows us, we have already passed from death into life. For every child of God death is now only a shadow. Psalm 23. 4.
I am going to make a startling statement, not one you will hear regularly, but make it I must, if I am to remain Loyal to Jesus Christ. I am not going to die! I will no doubt pass over and I may well have a funeral. It’s likely that some tears will be shed at my passing. I may well have a tombstone erected in my honour, and some who may read in the newspapers that I have gone, but it will not be that I have died, I will merely have moved out of time into eternity, out of my earthly environment into a heavenly one. Out of this dimension into another, a completely different one.
This moving does not involve my taking with me my body. My Body will rest in a grave, most likely in our family grave-plot. It will rest there until at the Resurrection, God will summon it (in dust or otherwise) to be restored and recreated in a glorified form and rise to be reunited with my soul (with me) in that
In 1 Corinthians 15, 51-58, the apostle Paul deals with the great triumph of the resurrection, saying that “this perishable body, must put on the imperishable, this mortal, (subject to dying) must put on immortality,” (eternal), and concludes that in this, the very “sting” of death is removed. This is why I can
wholeheartedly affirm that “I am not going to die!”
Grandma does not party now, well not physically, because the “Spiritual paradise” is not something of which we can have any earthly parallels, but she will most certainly party eventually, and it is an eternal party which begins when the children come home. Corrie Ten Boom used to say, “Death is just the old family servant that opens the door when the children come home”.
Now I must revisit at this point, the Shorter Catechisms assertion that the Soul passes into “Glory”. Is this a party?
If so, what sort of party is it?, If not, what is it?
In Romans 8.18. Paul speaks of the “coming glory” which is to be revealed to us. He reminds us that the present sufferings, or the effects of sin on our world and in our lives, are nothing compared to the glory which can and will be ours. As we have already noted, the whole creation, once beautiful, once sinless, once “Glorious” suffers because of the curse of sin. You and I also suffer because of sin. (Death is the result of sin) So the Glory we lost, is the Glory we will find. “The Paradise Lost will be the Paradise regained”. I cannot tell you what it is like, I have not (yet) seen it, but I can tell you, it is truly “out of this world”! Literally!
You see that wherever and whatever the “Glory” we pass away to, it will be a spiritual encounter and experience unlike anything we have ever known in our lifetime on this planet. What I can tell you is that in that “Eternal” dimension, there is
no such thing as time, and any reflection possible back to our
lives here in this time, will seem such an insignificant exercise, for all of life, however long or short is but a preparation for eternity. Things can only get better when we get our Glorified Bodies too! Remember the words of John in our text from 1 John 3.2. “we shall be LIKE HIM” The mind Boggles! We shall share in His glory, we shall possess that Glory, shall inherit a perfect paradise, a perfect heaven, a utopian environment where nothing is impossible and nothing that our hearts desire will be forbidden. We shall live with and serve our Blessed Lord Jesus for ever, and there shall be no more pain or crying, no more sickness or suffering, no more death or loss, and no more want or need.
Now this final word
Walking by Faith is never easy, – God is not impressed by anything that is not of faith. We must be careful that we do not possess a faith that is in word only, for that passes none of the tests, and buckles under pressure. If we say that “we believe God, and that what he says he will do” – then, we can be absolutely sure that God will allow our faith to be tested. Sometimes we think that God has abandoned his children because they are unemployed, or because they have no fixed abode, or have suffered a crushing divorce, or because they have a debilitating disease, or because they seem to be always in trouble. It is not that God has abandoned them, the greater the test means the greater the task God has ahead for them. It is easy to say we are Christian, or that we are trusting God, when we have regular employment, or a healthy bank balance, or all our bills paid, or all our Children healthy and so on, but if you lost your job, lost your child, lost your investment and business, lost your health or home, could you still get down daily to praise
Would you sing the Hymns as heartily in the Church on Sunday, would you still give to the widow or orphan, still share in the meetings for Prayer and Bible Study, and still give as generously in the offering?
These are the tests, and to be “more than Conqueror” you have to pass them. But if you pass them, I can assure you that “things will only get better.” You will be transported or promoted to new spiritual heights in God, a new dimension of faith, and a new level of Service, and remember the best is yet to be! May God bless his word to your heart today, for His dear names sake, Amen.