In the Q&A in this week’s Update, we address, among other concepts, the need for the Church of God to continue preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God. We show from Scripture that God will still do a powerful short Work just prior to Christ’s return. In a recent sermon, I explained that God is not trying to convert all people right now and lead them to salvation at this time–and neither should we! For most, their opportunity will still come in the future–AFTER Christ’s return!
In this day and age, God only calls the very few–the firstfruits–the “little flock”–those who were “predestined” to be called from the foundation of the earth–in fact, before time began. He wants His Church today to announce, as a witness or testimony, that Christ’s return is imminent and that the Kingdom of God will soon be established on this earth (Matthew 24:14). He wants His Church to warn the world of what is going to happen, and to proclaim the need to repent and to change (Luke 24:47). Most will reject our message–but some will listen and respond. We don’t know who will change their lives because of our preaching–but God knows. He knows whom He WANTS to call OUT OF this world, and whom He IS calling. He expects us to do our job of preaching the gospel, because how can they believe in the true God unless they have heard Him proclaimed first (Romans 10:14-15)?
But then what? In order to be saved from this present evil generation, one must receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are clearly taught in the Bible that God promises His gift only to those who repent, believe and are baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38; 4:4; 10:43). God is not giving His Holy Spirit to those who refuse to obey Him (Acts 5:32)–and God will take His Holy Spirit away from those who turn away from His truth after they have embraced it, and who will live again a life of disobedience (Hebrews 6:4-8;10:26-29; 2 Peter 2:20-22).
Once someone has responded to God’s call and has received His Holy Spirit, such a person is then able to comprehend more clearly the mysteries of God. Prior to God’s involvement or calling, a person cannot understand the truth. Once God’s Spirit begins to work with a person and opens his mind, he will be able to comprehend some of it–enough to show God that he is serious by obeying Him. But it is only after the receipt of God’s Spirit that we can begin to really comprehend the truth more and more perfectly–that we can really grow in the KNOWLEDGE OF JESUS CHRIST (2 Peter 3:18)–the knowledge WHICH CHRIST HAS and which He wants to share with us.
Notice that the Bible gives us an order or time sequence which pertains to collective and individual salvation!
In 1 Corinthians 15:22-24, Paul explains that there is an order of salvation for mankind:
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive [through a resurrection from the dead]. But each one in his own ORDER: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are [or “were” at the time of their death] Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father…”
The “end” includes those in the “second resurrection,” who will be “raised up” from the dead after the time of the Millennium. (Compare the commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, equating “the end” with “the general resurrection, and final judgment and consummation.”) Revelation 20:4-5 refers to the first and the second resurrection. We read about those in the first resurrection–who were in Christ and Christ in them, when they died: “And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”
Verse 5 clarifies that this describes those in the “first resurrection.” But the same verse speaks also of those who would be resurrected later: “But the rest of the dead did not live again UNTIL the thousand years are finished.” Their resurrection after the Millennium is described in Revelation 20:11-12–a time referred to in the Bible as the “Great White Throne Judgment” period.
Jesus referred to that judgment period in many passages. For instance, He prophesied the resurrection “in the judgment” of the men of Nineveh, the queen of the South and the Jews at the time of His first coming. He showed that they would all be resurrected AT THE SAME TIME. They will all be RAISED TOGETHER–in the second resurrection–and it is THEN that they will be offered salvation.
Note Christ’s exact wording in Matthew 12:41-42: “The men of Nineveh will RISE UP in the JUDGMENT WITH THIS generation… The Queen of the South will RISE UP in the JUDGMENT WITH THIS generation…” Christ also spoke of the resurrection of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah at that time of “JUDGMENT”–the Great White Throne judgment period of the second resurrection (compare Matthew 10:15; 11:24; compare also Luke 10:13-14).
As God deals with collective salvation according to a time order, so He deals with individual salvation in progressive stages as well. He does not reveal all of His truth right away to a newly-called person. It requires time to grow in spiritual knowledge, and it is impossible to do so unless God’s Spirit dwells IN us and is used by us.
Notice Christ’s sayings regarding the progressive stages of individual salvation. First, the gospel must be preached as a witness or testimony. That includes the preaching of repentance. Regarding those who respond to the preaching, Christ said in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Go therefore and make disciples of [“from among” or “in,” compare Living Bible] all nations, baptizing them in [“into,” compare “Literal Translation of the Holy Bible”] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe ALL THINGS that I have commanded you…”
First comes the preaching of the gospel, including the admonishment to repent or change. Those who respond, being called by God, believe and become obedient to what they understand, are to be baptized, as an outward sign of inner repentance. Christ did not say, of course, that all nations are to be baptized today–only THOSE who RESPOND to the preaching.
John Gill’s Exposition to the Entire Bible explains that the command to baptize “them” does not refer to “all nations” “since… the words for ‘all nations’, are of the neuter gender, whereas ‘them’, is of the masculine: nor can it be thought that it should be the mind of Christ, that all the individuals of all nations should be baptized, as Heathens, Turks, and Jews…”
Those who ARE properly baptized receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at the time of their baptism, and with the help of the Holy Spirit which now dwells within them, they are able to understand God’s truth more and more, and the need for their obedience of ALL THINGS which Christ teaches to His Church.
We see the same pattern of individual growth INTO the knowledge and obedience of Christ in John 14:15-17, 23:
“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper that [it] may abide with you forever–the Spirit of truth [which] the WORLD CANNOT receive, because it neither sees [it] nor knows [it]; but you know [it], for [it] dwells WITH you and will be IN you… If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
Note the time sequence. First, we show that we love God by keeping His commandments. However, we can only show true love for God and His Word, when God the Father draws us to Christ (John 6:44, 64-65)–when the Holy Spirit of God works WITH us. Then, when we are ready, we will be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which will then dwell IN us–not only WITH us. Both God the Father and Jesus Christ will live IN a converted person by and through the Holy Spirit. They will make their HOME with him, or, as the New Jerusalem Bible translates John 14:23: “.. and we shall come to him and make a home IN him.”
The Holy Spirit, living IN us, will gradually guide or lead us into all truth (John 16:13). But we must OBEY God FIRST–to the extent that we understand His commandments–BEFORE we can even receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And once we have received the gift of His Spirit, we must continue to GROW in godly understanding and OBEY God MORE and MORE–not less and less. Christ said that when we TRULY love Him, we WILL keep His Word.
How WONDERFUL and exciting are “the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33). As He deals with mankind at large, pursuant to a time order to lead them to collective salvation, so He deals with us today individually, pursuant to a time order, to lead us to our individual salvation (Romans 13:11; Matthew 24:13).
But we need to respond to God, on an ongoing basis! How receptive are we to God’s lead? How much have we GROWN in knowledge and understanding since the time of our baptism? How much have we grown within the last year? Are we holding on to wrong concepts, even though we see them disproved in the Bible? Are we refusing to accept knowledge which God may reveal to us through His true and faithful ministers (compare Ephesians 4:11-13)?
Are we refusing to GROW in the knowledge of Christ–including how to live better Christian lives? Are we becoming more and more obedient to God’s words–or less and less? Are we going forward on our path to our salvation, or backwards? God has no pleasure in those who draw back (Hebrews 10:38). Therefore, let us not be “among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will posses [eternal] life” (Hebrews 10:39, New American Bible).