Theme: Holding to the Bible’s Authority
In this week’s lessons, we consider the difference between the City of God and the city of man.
Scripture: Revelation 21:1-2
The nature of God’s City also affects death and sorrow. We know now what it means to die, but death for the Christian is not like death for the non-Christian. For the believer it’s an entrance into life. As for sorrow, Christians know what this is, too. We truly grieve for many things, but not as others who have no hope, according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul. In other words, as we come to this great vision of the holy city, the Christian utopia, we come to it as a reminder of what we are now, what we are growing into as we are conformed to the image of Christ, and what we shall one day be. Knowing where we are headed, and to whose city we belong, we need to ask ourselves the following: Are we today as we should be? What can we do to be more? What would God have us to be as those who belong to his city in the midst of this world?
I think we have to begin with the fact that even the evangelical church is sometimes quite secular. Certainly, there’s a preoccupation with materialism, and there’s even at times uncertainty in the things that we believe. It’s often quite difficult to distinguish between those who are a follower of Christ and those who are of this world in terms of lifestyle. We have to begin with this problem and recognize that it is a problem, and that it affects the advance of the gospel and our Christian testimony before the world at large. What I think we need is for the evangelical church, the true City of God, to be distinct.
How is the church to be distinct? One area in which we need to be distinct is in a clear grasp of our authority. In our study last week on the secular church, I was speaking of authority and I pointed out that in past ages, the authority of the church has always been the authority of the Word of God. That has been eroded in religion in America.
Now the authority is the authority of consensus, even in the church, where you have men in positions of authority within the denominations who no longer feel bound by what the Word of God teaches. Unfortunately, this is sometimes also true of so-called evangelicals. I’ve been in many gatherings where an evangelical man who would say that he believes fully in the authority of the Scripture, but nevertheless says about some great problem of morality or issue of wrongdoing, “Well, that particular thing just doesn’t bother me.” It may be that it doesn’t bother him, but the question which follows upon that is why not? If this is something that’s contrary to the Word of God and our standard is the Word of God, then we must be bothered by it. And more than that, we must do what we can to see the things change. So if we evangelicals are really going to be evangelicals, we’re going to have to be distinct in this area.
We’re going to have to make a choice in such things eventually whether we like it or not, because when the drift of the culture is away from Christian moorings as our culture certainly is, then we don’t have the kind of support which we did have in earlier ages for evangelical positions. Not so long ago, we still had something like the remnants of a Christian culture in the United States. And although people who were living in that culture were not necessarily Christians, they nevertheless had inherited from the past certain laws and mores and patterns of behavior that were formed when there was a Christian consensus. The best of our nation’s laws are the result of the thinking of Christian people or those influenced by Christian people in previous ages. But all of that is changing. The laws are changing, and things are passing away. If we’re going to be distinct, we’re going to have to be aware of that and make a choice.
A great example of this is what happened in Germany in the period when the Axis powers took over. Here you had a case where the culture was moving rapidly in a non-Christian direction, and unfortunately it was carrying much of the established church with it. There was a group within the church of Germany that resisted the trend, banded together, and called themselves the Confessing Church. In effect, they said, “We are people of the Book; we stand upon the Bible regardless of the consequences.” Why did they have to make the choice? It was simply because in a time of rapid departure from a Christian view, the Christian position is not supported by any other field of knowledge within the culture.
So Christians are faced with the choice either of being swept along by the culture, as much of our Christianity is, or of increasingly coming to the realization that God has indeed spoken in the Bible and that the truths given there are our absolutes and by His grace, we’re going to stand by these things whatever comes. We’re going to have to be distinct in that area if we’re truly going to be the City of God.
How does the City of God affect death and sorrow for the Christian?
In what area was it said that the church needs to be distinct? Explain ways the church can demonstrate this.
Reflection: In what areas of your life do you need to interact with any unbelievers whose understanding of authority is different from your own? How can you maintain your own standards of right and wrong in a wise and gracious manner?